WEEK 8 — February 25, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 8

 

 

Hephzibah, King Manasseh’s Mother

 

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for fifty-five years. . . . His mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
2 Kings 21:1-2a

 When I was a child, it was not uncommon for a girl, a church, or a Bible class to be named “Beulah.” In Sunday School we used to sing an old-fashioned hymn about “Dwelling in Beulah Land.” The Scriptural source for that quaintly archaic name is Isaiah 62:4, a prophetic word about the holy city of Jerusalem:

“No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.”

Footnotes at the bottom of the page in my Bible confirm that “Beulah” means “married,” while “Hephzibah” means “My delight is in her.” There used to be girls in God-fearing families named Hephzibah, too, sometimes even churches and Bible classes as well. Yet in all of the Bible there was only one person named Hephzibah. She was a queen, the wife of King Hezekiah.

Hezekiah was one of the best kings who ever reigned in Jerusalem. In fact the Bible says that “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him” (2 Kings 18:5b). Married to such a praiseworthy ruler, Queen Hephzibah must have been an admirable Bible character as well.

And yet . . . the son of Hezekiah and Hephzibah was none other than Manasseh, who turned out to be the worst king of them all.

How could such a thing come to be?

Why do bad children happen to good parents?

In our own extended family we used to puzzle over that. Cousin Baker and Cousin Mattie were two of the loveliest Christians I ever knew. Cousin Baker faithfully served as Sunday School superintendent; Cousin Mattie taught a class and played the organ.

This devoted Christian couple had two sons. Oh, they didn’t turn out as bad as King Manasseh did: As a matter of fact they weren’t bad at all, . . . just idle and careless. Each of them lived a long life, yet neither of them made much of a contribution to society in general, let alone to the cause of Christ.

Why did it happen? How did it happen?

In the case of King Hezekiah and Queen Hephzibah, the Bible gives us a couple of tantalizing clues. A comparison of dates and ages shows that Hezekiah was already 42 years old before Manasseh was born. Had he and Hephzibah been hoping and yearning many long years for a boy? When their prayers were finally answered, did they lavish too much love on their only son and heir?

To find another clue, we must turn to another source, for the book of 2 Kings doesn’t mention it at all. According to 2 Chronicles 33:10-20, King Manasseh in his later years fell on hard times. Because of this, he finally turned back to God.

Do you suppose that as long as she lived, Queen Hephzibah kept on praying for her son’s repentance and return? (I’m sure Cousin Mattie did so for her two.)

Probably you too have known some godly mother who has agonized over an ungodly son. Think about her – along with Queen Hephzibah – as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

Perhaps we should have named him something different.
A name can make a difference, so they say.
We chose a noble name, a son of Joseph’s:
We said “Manasseh!” on his naming day.

Perhaps we spoiled him; he was long awaited.
King Hezekiah thought he’d have no heir.
For seventeen long years he reigned in sadness,
his childlessness a curse he had to bear.

Perhaps we showed the boy too much attention;
we praised him overmuch, indulged each whim,
surrounded him with all that makes life easy;
we never reckoned what this did to him.

Perhaps we pushed too hard to make him pious.
King Hezekiah loved and honored God,
but young Manasseh turned away from God-talk:
He laughed and said, “Religion’s rather odd!”

Perhaps we should have foreknown what would happen,
once young Manasseh mounted to the throne:
He desecrated holy halls of worship;
he honored foreign gods above our own.

Perhaps the Lord must chasten him severely
before he’ll see the folly of his way.
Perhaps one day he’ll turn his back on evil.
I pray that I may live to see the day!

O Lord, have mercy on all the erring sons and anxious mothers in our world today! In the name of Him who was both Son of God and son of Mary. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 7 — February 18, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 7

 

The Crown Prince’s Mother :  King Jeroboam’s Wife

 

“When you set foot in your city, the boy will die. All Israel will mourn for him . . . . He is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good.”
1 Kings 14:12b-13a, 13c

The Bible mentions briefly many characters whose stories can stick in your memory, even though we’re not even told their names. One such person is the wife of King Jeroboam.

The Bible tells us that Jeroboam was a man of great ability; that’s why Solomon appointed him as head of a large labor force. But when Solomon heard about the prediction of Ahijah the Prophet that Jeroboam would also become king someday, Jeroboam had to run for his life to Egypt. Once Solomon was dead, Jeroboam returned to lead a liberation movement among the ten northern tribes.

Who was King Jeroboam’s wife? The Bible doesn’t tell us. She must not have been particularly outstanding for piety or purity, if the verse quoted above is to be believed: There was only one person in the whole house of Jeroboam “in whom the Lord . . . found anything good,” and she wasn’t the one.

Yet it’s hard to read the story related in 1 Kings chapter 14 without feeling a twinge of sympathy for King Jeroboam’s wife. She had borne Jeroboam a son, a crown prince whom they had piously named Abijah, “The Lord Is My Father.” But then young Prince Abijah had fallen ill.

More than one Scriptural account pictures King Jeroboam as a devious man. Rather than straightforwardly asking for an oracle from Ahijah the Prophet, he told his wife to go in disguise, taking with her gifts of bread, cakes, and honey. Perhaps Jeroboam suspected that the prophetic message would not be promising if Ahijah knew from whose family the inquiry had come.

But all attempts at deception and subterfuge failed. Ahijah was already old and blind; yet he knew who King Jeroboam’s wife was and why she had come.

Can you imagine a mother’s heartbreak at being told that her beloved young son will die? Some mothers meet that shattering experience in an emergency room, some in a doctor’s office. King Jeroboam’s wife experienced it at the house of Ahijah the Prophet.

Can you imagine with what dread the crown prince’s mother made her way back toward the royal palace at Tirzah? The prophet had said her son would die when she entered the city. Yet – how could she stay away, when her boy lay ill, waiting for his mother to return?

Ahijah’s dark prediction came true to the letter. Young Prince Abijah, the only godly member of his family, died before his mother could see his living face again.

Numbers 14:18 tells us that God sometimes “punishes the children for the sin of the fathers.” That was true in the days of King Jeroboam and his wife. It is still true today.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation has been worded as if being spoken by the mother of the doomed young prince. Read it in an attitude of prayer:

We named him “The Lord Is My Father,”
Abijah, our firstborn, our joy,
the crown prince, delight of our household,
a gentle and good-natured boy.

Of course I, his mother, would say that.
But others? They loved him as well.
And King Jeroboam adored him
more dearly than mere words can tell.

One day Prince Abijah felt sickish;
the next day he took to his bed;
the next, he was burning with fever
and hardly could lift up his head.

My husband said, “Find the old prophet.
Disguise yourself. Ask him to tell
what future days hold for our family,
and when our dear son will be well.”

By now the old prophet was sightless,
but yet he saw through my disguise.
“Your husband’s whole family will perish!”
he thundered. “Yes, everyone dies!”

I thought of Abijah, and trembled.
That fearsome old man shook his head:
“Your boy is the best of the family,
but what of that? Soon he’ll be dead.”

I hurried back home. It was useless:
He died as I walked in the door.
A proverb: “Long life goes with goodness.”
I don’t believe that any more.

O Heavenly Father, raise up more strong and godly parents in our present-day world! Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 6 — February 11, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 6

 

“I’ve Lost Three Sons,” Bathsheba Mourns

 

The child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David . . . became ill. . . . On the seventh day the child died. . . . Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon.
2 Samuel 12:15b, 18a, 24ab

Bathsheba is one of the most unlikely people to have ever been included in the human genealogy of Christ Jesus our Lord. Immodest, adulterous, scheming, she was hardly an admirable character. Yet God used her in his long purpose.

In preparing this series of Bible-based meditations, I wasn’t sure whether to put Bathsheba in the section subtitled “Mothers” or in the section subtitled “Enterprising Women.”

Certainly she was enterprising. There was no excuse for King David’s spying on a married woman and then taking the wife and murdering the husband. Yet the age-old narrative drops a few hints that Bathsheba may have borne some of the blame as well.

In the first place, why was she bathing at such a place and time and in such a manner that a peeping Tom could easily gloat over her beauty? Also, that part of the ancient chronicle which describes the king’s amorous ploy seems to change the subject in the middle of a sentence. Yes, David sent for Bathsheba, . . . but the record also states that Bathsheba went to David – not that she was brought to him by force.

Many years later, when David had grown weak and senile, there are strong indications that Bathsheba plotted with Nathan the Prophet to make sure her son Solomon would succeed to the throne. And after David was dead, she plotted with another royal son in hopes of helping Prince Adonijah achieve his heart’s desire.

If Bathsheba was indeed an enterprising woman, perhaps even a designing woman or a scheming woman, then she paid bitterly for her questionable deeds. Her firstborn son, conceived out of lust and adultery, died as Nathan prophesied he would.

Then she bore young Prince Solomon, and life must have seemed good again. Once the new king had been crowned, he treated his mother with great deference and honor. When she would ask to speak with him, he would have a second throne set up beside his own.

But then, . . . when Solomon in all his glory was reigning as king of Israel, to her horror Bathsheba discovered an aspect of her son’s character that must have chilled her to the bone. Prince Adonijah had asked her to do him a favor. She may have been quite innocent in passing along his petition, but she was extremely unwise in doing so. For King Solomon’s response was savage: Far from humoring his mother’s request, he condemned his own half brother to death. (Read 1 Kings 2:13-25, if you’ve forgotten the details of this rather sordid story.)

That is the context in which the following Scriptural meditation has been put into the mouth of Bathsheba. She may well have felt that it was not just one son she had lost: It was three.

How much do you suppose she blamed herself for the multiplied sorrows of her later years?

How many other mothers do you suppose there are, who have lost their sons in life as well as in death?

“I’ve lost three sons,” Bathsheba mourns.
           “One son in life, two sons in death.
            In sorrow now I draw my breath.
A bitter bloom my crown adorns.

“My first loss? O, that child of lust,
           conceived in stealth, concealed by lies.
           Ah! All too soon my baby dies,
as Nathan prophesies he must.

“My second? Not my child in truth,
           yet dear as any son to me.
          I spoke for him: The king’s decree
then struck him down in vibrant youth.

“My third – how can it be expressed?
           This tyrant king, who deals out death,
          once drew his halting infant breath
while cuddled close upon my breast!”

Spare us, dear Lord, from losing our children either in life or in death. Teach us how to show compassion for parents who suffer such bitter losses. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 5 — February 4, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 5

 

Hannah’s Hopes

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, saying, “O Lord Almighty, if you will 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.”
1 Samuel 1:10-11abcd

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the proper definition of marriage. Some people say it should be restricted to one man and one woman. Others are vociferous in demanding a wider definition.

How about one man and two women? Would that be an acceptable definition of marriage in today’s atmosphere that prides itself on tolerance and diversity?

Some people have tried to justify polygamy by the frequent mention of it in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet the Bible plainly shows again and again that polygamy breeds strife:

• Remember Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

• Remember Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.

• Remember Gideon, whose legitimate sons were slaughtered by the child of his mistress.

• Remember King David, whose jealous children by different mothers committed incestuous rape and murder.

• Remember King Solomon, whose many wives “led him astray . . . and turned his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:3b, 4b).

So it was also with Elkanah, Peninnah, and Hannah. Apparently all three of them were good people, pious people. Year after year all three of them went to observe the sacred feast at Shiloh, that ancient shrine of the Lord God of Israel. Yet those annual visits brought nothing but bitterness to Hannah. Each time Elkanah doled out more of the sacrificial meal to Peninnah than to Hannah, she was reminded that her co-wife had children while she had none.

Surely you know the story; it was one of the earliest Bible stories I ever remember being told to me by my parents. Yet not every aspect of that story is appropriate for childish ears.

After Samuel was brought to old Eli the Priest at the shrine in Shiloh, the boy’s life there might not have been all sweetness and light. The inspired account is frank in stating that Eli’s sons, who also served actively as priests, were dishonest and immoral men. Surely Hannah must have worried about their influence on her vulnerable young son. Surely she must have questioned Samuel closely when she brought him his newly-stitched robe each year.

What did Hannah hope for Samuel? Do you suppose she ever dared to hope that he would become a seer and a king-maker among the people of God?

I lived in hope for many years —
      hoped for a son so long,
my hopes were almost choked by fears:
      Was hoping somehow wrong?

In desperation then I made
      a bargain with the Lord.
“Give me a son!” I glibly prayed,
      “and I will keep my word:

“That son I’ll surely consecrate
      in service at your shrine.”
In hope I settled down to wait
      for one who would be mine.

Be mine? Ah, only for awhile,
      and then be sent away.
Through tears I tried to shape a smile
      to leave with him that day.

And now in hope I live again.
      I hope from year to year,
my son, while living with those men,
      will keep his conscience clear.

I hope the robe I’ll make for him
      will fit his growing frame.
He grows so tall, so strong and slim;
      he’s never still the same.

All mothers live in hopes, perhaps,
      of what the future brings:
The lads we dance upon our laps
      may consecrate new kings!

Bless, O Lord, all mothers and fathers who live in hopes. Bring their hopes to glad fruition in accordance with your will. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas