May 9, 2015

II Kings 3-5
Joram son of Ahab began his rule over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah. He was king for twelve years. In God’s sight he was a bad king. But he wasn’t as bad as his father and mother—to his credit he destroyed the obscene Baal stone that his father had made. But he hung on to the sinful practices of Jeroboam son of Nebat, the ones that had corrupted Israel for so long. He wasn’t about to give them up.

King Mesha of Moab raised sheep. He was forced to give the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and another 100,000 rams. When Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. ... The king of Israel, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom started out on what proved to be a looping detour. After seven days they had run out of water for both army and animals....But Jehoshaphat said, “Isn’t there a prophet of God anywhere around through whom we can consult God?”
One of the servants of the king of Israel said, “Elisha son of Shaphat is around somewhere—the one who was Elijah’s right-hand man.”...

Elisha addressed the king of Israel, “What do you and I have in common? Go consult the puppet-prophets of your father and mother.” “Never!” said the king of Israel. “It’s God who has gotten us into this fix, dumping all three of us kings into the hand of Moab.”  Elisha said, “As God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I stand ready to serve, if it weren’t for the respect I have for Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I wouldn’t give you the time of day. But considering—bring me a minstrel.” (When a minstrel played, the power of God came on Elisha.)

He then said, “God’s word: Dig ditches all over this valley. Here’s what will happen—you won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water and your army and your animals will drink their fill. This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you.... You will ravage the country: Knock out its fortifications, level the key villages, clear-cut the orchards, clog the springs, and litter the cultivated fields with stones.”  In the morning—it was at the hour of morning sacrifice—the water had arrived, water pouring in from the west, from Edom, a flash flood filling the valley with water.... When Moab entered the camp of Israel, the Israelites were up on their feet killing Moabites right and left, the Moabites running for their lives, Israelites relentless in pursuit—a slaughter. 

One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead. You well know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves.”  Elisha said, “I wonder how I can be of help. Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Well, I do have a little oil.”  “Here’s what you do,” said Elisha. “Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few—all you can get. Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside.”  She did what he said....She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, “Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what’s left.”

One day Elisha passed through Shunem. A leading lady of the town talked him into stopping for a meal. And then it became his custom: Whenever he passed through, he stopped by for a meal. “I’m certain,” said the woman to her husband, “that this man who stops by with us all the time is a holy man of God. Why don’t we add on a small room upstairs and furnish it with a bed and desk, chair and lamp, so that when he comes by he can stay with us?”

Then he said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the Shunammite woman I want to see her.” He called her and she came to him. Through Gehazi, Elisha said, “You’ve gone far beyond the call of duty in taking care of us; what can we do for you? Do you have a request we can bring to the king or to the commander of the army?”  She replied, “Nothing. I’m secure and satisfied in my family.”  Elisha conferred with Gehazi: “There’s got to be something we can do for her. But what?”  Gehazi said, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is an old man.”  “Call her in,” said Elisha. He called her and she stood at the open door.  Elisha said to her, “This time next year you’re going to be nursing an infant son.”  “O my master, O Holy Man,” she said, “don’t play games with me, teasing me with such fantasies!”  The woman conceived. A year later, just as Elisha had said, she had a son.

The child grew up. One day he went to his father, who was working with the harvest hands, complaining, “My head, my head!”  His father ordered a servant, “Carry him to his mother.”  The servant took him in his arms and carried him to his mother. He lay on her lap until noon and died.  She took him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut him in alone, and left.  She then called her husband, “Get me a servant and a donkey so I can go to the Holy Man; I’ll be back as soon as I can.”...

She came to the Holy Man at Mount Carmel.  The Holy Man, spotting her while she was still a long way off, said to his servant Gehazi, “Look out there; why, it’s the Shunammite woman! Quickly now. Ask her, ‘Is something wrong? Are you all right? Your husband? Your child?’”  She said, “Everything’s fine.”  But when she reached the Holy Man at the mountain, she threw herself at his feet and held tightly to him.  Gehazi came up to pull her away, but the Holy Man said, “Leave her alone—can’t you see that she’s in distress? But God hasn’t let me in on why; I’m completely in the dark.”  Then she spoke up: “Did I ask for a son, master? Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t tease me with false hopes’?”  He ordered Gehazi, “Don’t lose a minute—grab my staff and run as fast as you can. If you meet anyone, don’t even take time to greet him, and if anyone greets you, don’t even answer. Lay my staff across the boy’s face.”...But there was no sound—no sign of life. Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and said, “The boy hasn’t stirred.”

Elisha entered the house and found the boy stretched out on the bed dead. He went into the room and locked the door—just the two of them in the room—and prayed to God. He then got into bed with the boy and covered him with his body, mouth on mouth, eyes on eyes, hands on hands. As he was stretched out over him like that, the boy’s body became warm. Elisha got up and paced back and forth in the room. Then he went back and stretched himself upon the boy again. The boy started sneezing—seven times he sneezed!—and opened his eyes....

One day a man arrived from Baal Shalishah. He brought the man of God twenty loaves of fresh-baked bread from the early harvest, along with a few apples from the orchard.  Elisha said, “Pass it around to the people to eat.”His servant said, “For a hundred men? There’s not nearly enough!”  Elisha said, “Just go ahead and do it. God says there’s plenty.”  And sure enough, there was. He passed around what he had—they not only ate, but had leftovers.

Naaman was general of the army under the king of Aram. He was important to his master, who held him in the highest esteem because it was by him that God had given victory to Aram: a truly great man, but afflicted with a grievous skin disease. 

It so happened that Aram, on one of its raiding expeditions against Israel, captured a young girl who became a maid to Naaman’s wife. One day she said to her mistress, “Oh, if only my master could meet the prophet of Samaria, he would be healed of his skin disease.”...

So Naaman with his horses and chariots arrived in style and stopped at Elisha’s door.  Elisha sent out a servant to meet him with this message: “Go to the River Jordan and immerse yourself seven times. Your skin will be healed and you’ll be as good as new.”  Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease.... He stomped off, mad as a hornet.

But his servants caught up with him and said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?”  So he did it. He went down and immersed himself in the Jordan seven times, following the orders of the Holy Man. His skin was healed; it was like the skin of a little baby. He was as good as new.  He then went back to the Holy Man, he and his entourage, stood before him, and said, “I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no God anywhere on earth other than the God of Israel. In gratitude let me give you a gift.”  “As God lives,” Elisha replied, “the God whom I serve, I’ll take nothing from you.” Naaman tried his best to get him to take something, but he wouldn’t do it.”....

But he hadn’t gone far when Gehazi, servant to Elisha the Holy Man, said to himself, “My master has let this Aramean Naaman slip through his fingers without so much as a thank-you. By the living God, I’m going after him to get something or other from him!” And Gehazi took off after Naaman....

When they got to the fort on the hill, Gehazi took the gifts from the servants, stored them inside, then sent the servants back.  He returned and stood before his master. Elisha said, “So what have you been up to, Gehazi?”  “Nothing much,” he said.  Elisha said, “Didn’t you know I was with you in spirit when that man stepped down from his chariot to greet you? Tell me, is this a time to look after yourself, lining your pockets with gifts? Naaman’s skin disease will now infect you and your family, with no relief in sight.”  Gehazi walked away, his skin flaky and white like snow.

II Corinthians 10 -

I write in the gentle but firm spirit of Christ.  I hear that I am being painted as cringing and wishy-washy when I am with you but harsh and demanding when at a safe distance writing letters.  Please don’t force me to take a hard line when I’m present with you.  Don’t think that I’ll hesitate a single minute to stand up to those who say I’m an unprincipled opportunist.  Then they’ll have to eat their words.  

The world is unprincipled.  It’s dog-eat-dog out there!  The world doesn’t fight fair.  But we don’t live or fight our battles that way---never have and never will.  The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing and manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture....Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience in to maturity.

You stare and stare at the obvious, but you can’t see the forest for the trees...You may think I overstate the authority he gave me, but I’m not backing off.  Every bit of my commitment is for the purpose of building you up, after all, not tearing you down.  

And what’s this talk about me bullying you with my letters?  “His letters are brawny and potent, but in person he’s a weakling and mumbles when he talks.”  Such talk won’t survive scrutiny.  What we write when away, we do when present.  We are the exact same people absent or present,  in letter or in person....We were the first ones to get there with the Message of Christ, right?  So how can there be any question of overstepping our bounds by writing or visiting you?...

What we’re hoping for is that as your lives grow in faith, you’ll play a part within our expanding work.  And we’ll all still be within the limits God sets as we proclaim the Message in countries beyond Corinth.  But we have no intentions of moving in on what others have done and taking credit for it.  “If you want to claim credit, claim it for God.”  What you say about yourself means nothing in God’s work.  It’s what God says about you that makes the difference.