It’s a rainy day, complete with thunder peels and a jagged lightning flash that sent Darlin’ runnin’ under the porch. The lights blinked off and on. The next boom rattled the windows and brought Darlin’ to the door, begging to come in.
A thunderstorm is thrilling. There’s rain, of course, and there’s noise.
But it’s the fog I like best. It’s something more than water vapor clouding the air. There’s something otherworldly about it, hovering close to the ground. It’s weighty. It has presence.
I love feeling a sense of mystery. It’s the way I feel when I see the fog. It’s the way I feel when I read today’s passages: I’m reminded of God and his glory.
1 Kings 2
At the end of his life, David advises Solomon to follow God faithfully, so that God’s promise to David will be delivered, “‘If your sons watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel,'” 1 Ki 2:4, NIV.
God’s condition sounds simple enough, “Be faithful. Do what I tell you.” But we know from history that King Sol doesn’t stay faithful. Though he begins well, eventually he worships his work, his whims, and his women, caring more to please them than he cares to please God. Solomon’s son strays even farther, 1 Ki 11:1-15:5.
When God made the promise, he knew that David’s sons wouldn’t do their part. Even David himself was hardly a model of doing what God said, though he kept coming back to God and repenting when he failed. In his old age, he was still talking to God, Ps 71.
But David’s no hero. There’s that business with Bathsheba and Uriah, not to mention his living as an outlaw, trusting the Philistines to protect him and not God, pretending to be insane, failing to discipline his sons, 1 Sa 21, 25, 27-28:2; 2 Sa 11, 13, 24; 1 Ki 1.
For all this, the Bible’s final commentary on David is that “David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life–except in the case of Uriah the Hittite,” 1 Ki 15:5, NIV.
God commands us to be perfect, yet he’s got mercy-full amnesia when it comes to remembering sin, Mt 5:48; Ps 103:12. (Does anybody else’s heart leap to read this?)
Even so, I’m always disappointed when I get to the end of a Bible story and realize, again, that the main characters are just broken men and women, not superstars of faith and obedience, not inspirations for living.
Besides David’s failures, we see Abiathar, the priest who gets away from Saul’s henchmen when they’re killing all the other priests. He joins David on the run in the wilderness. He lives through the drama when Absalom betrays his father, 1 Sa 22; 2 Sa 17:15-16.
But in today’s chapter, Abiathar betrays David and joins up with David’s son, Adonijah, who raises himself up to be king without his father’s blessing. Having begun well, Abiathar chooses badly in the end, 1 Ki 2:26-27.
Then there’s Joab, the head of David’s military. He’s been a loose canon, but he served David well for years, rebuking David for shaming his soldiers and then trying to change David’s mind about taking a census. But in today’s chapter, Joab turns against David and supports Adonijah, like Abiathar did, 2 Sa 3, 19-20, 24; 1 Ki 2:28-35.
Staying loyal, following God, doing what he says until one’s final breath is hard. These biblical characters don’t, except for David, and even David’s faith falters.
Thankfully, God’s not surprised by sin. He’s not undone by our failures to trust him. He knows what’s in men and women. He knows we’re a mixed bag of faith and falling flat, Jn 2:25.
Why does he bother with us?
God told Ezekiel generations later that one day, he’d give his people the hearts they need to trust him, ones empowered by his Spirit to stay the course, no matter what, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws,” Ez 36:26-27.
When Jesus paid for sin and sent his Spirit, breathing his power into his apostles, this prophecy was fulfilled, Ac 2:32-33.
But even these new hearts we get when we repent and believe still seem hardwired to sin. Ever tried to give up something bad? The more you try to let go, the tighter the chains, Ro 7.
We still fail. Faith quits. There are likely more failing Christians than ones who finish well. If it depends on us to be the role models who inspire unbelievers to faith, welp, we’re just not doing it much.
But thankfully, it doesn’t depend on us.
It depends on God.
It’s been God all along, who chooses and uses those who believe and those who don’t to carry out his plan to save the world, one hard heart at a time (remember Judas?). It’s because of God’s kindness that though his church plods along bumbling, it’s also glorious. It’s because of his Spirit that though believers may stumble, they’re also victorious.
God’s always been the Hero, the Savior, the Almighty who bends low to meet us and mend us right where we are, who sets us back on our feet, slaps us on our backsides, and breathes his life in us, over and over until he comes again.
The story of mankind is not the story that some of us become superstars, who “make good” for God. It’s the story of God, The Only Superstar, who condescends to make good the ragtags and riffraffs, liars and cheats, fornicators and haters with his love.
I’ll never understand why he lets us help, but I’m glassy-eyed as I type and grateful that this is the God of the Bible. This is the God I trust.
And this great story of his gets carried forward because God carries it, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, Mt 16:18.
There’s more glory next…
The Spirit unleashed at Pentecost three chapters ago continues to kick butt in Jerusalem. Ananias and Sapphira are found out and buried, while folks keep joining up with Jesus’ Spirit sweeping the city.
People are healed, simply touching Peter’s shadow. The apostles are arrested by religious leaders and released by God’s angel, who tells them, “keep on preaching!” Ac 5:1-20.
The religious elite calls the apostles back in and commands them to shut up, but Peter says they must obey God, not men. They get whipped for their insolence and rejoice to bear the wounds of Jesus–and they go right back to the Temple. It’s a wild ride, and they don’t let go for a minute, Ac 5:25-42.
Clearly something supernatural this way comes. These are just ordinary fishermen. And yet empowered by Jesus’ Spirit, they are rocking the ancient world, while the establishment scrambles to suppress it. They thought taking Jesus out would give them control, but now there are 12 more to deal with, Ac 2:5-12; 4:13-14.
They must have felt like Hercules with the hydra. Every time Hercules cut off a head, two more grew back. Or like they’re in a life-sized game of whack-a-mole. Every time one mole is knocked down, another pops up, only it’s Jesus’s Spirit who’s popping up all over the place, healing the sick and casting out demons.
And it’s not just 12 men to worry about anymore. By this chapter, at least 8,000 people have joined them. It must have felt like all heaven was breaking loose on earth, because, well, it was, Ac 2:41, 4:4.
Gamaliel, one of the pious, was right. He advised his fellow Pharisees to stop trying to control what was happening. He said that if this movement was not of God, it would die. If it was God’s, then who were they to fight him? Ac 5:33-39.
More than 2,000 years later, God’s Spirit still marches on in his people. And Jesus is still breakin’ us right outta prison.
Glory, glory be.
There’s more glory still…
This is my go-to when I need reminding God’s got me. The mountain ranges the psalmist writes about tell me that nothing gets through to me without God’s OK. The things that do are special delivery and allowed for my good, even the ones that feel bad.
Because if they’re not for my good, then this psalm is a lie and God is a jerk.
I may suffer and squirm, complain and blame him, but I still believe that everything that comes into my life is from his hand, because “God surrounds his people, both now and forevermore.” I’m his people and he’s mine, and he doesn’t surround me, and then, oops, something gets in while he’s not looking.
No, he either surrounds me to take care of me, or he doesn’t surround me at all. And he doesn’t do it one day in the future, but all day, everyday, NOW, Ps 125:2.
Thank you, Abba, for your many-layered, hard and soft protections.
Thank you, Spirit, for living with us and freeing us, again and again.
Thank you, Jesus, for being the Hero we long for, who doesn’t add up our failures but gives grace instead, so we can find you right where we really live, surrounded by your love.
Glory, glory, glory be.
1 Kings 2, Acts 5, and Psalm 125 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.