WEEK 87 — August 31, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 87

 

Maacah the Queen Mother

 

Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done. He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his fathers had made. He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 1 Kings 15:11-13

Queen Maacah would have fitted right in with the present era.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Queen Maacah?

The verses quoted above include most of what little the Bible tells us about Maacah the queen mother. She was the number one wife of King Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor. She outlived her husband and then her son King Abijah, Rehoboam’s successor. She also outlived the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age that she had become accustomed to.

It’s easy to remember that King Solomon built the great Temple in Jerusalem for the worship of the Lord God. Yet sometimes we forget that in his later years King Solomon’s many foreign wives “turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). For each of those foreign gods, Solomon also erected a house of worship in Jerusalem.

Thus Maacah grew up in a time of religious pluralism, an age when it was politically correct to live and let live in matters of religion . . . even when worship included sexual immorality. (Note the verses quoted above.) What a shock Queen Maacah must have had when her grandson, King Asa, came to the throne of Judah!

Viewed through the lenses of today’s conventional wisdom, Asa comes across as the bad guy in the story. He insisted that God is one, not many. He decreed that all of his people — even his grandmother Queen Maacah — should worship the one Lord God, . . . or at the very least should not be too blatantly obvious in flouting the royal decree. He burned Maacah’s Asherah pole (probably a pornographic phallic image). Yet even King Asa did not go so far as to abolish all shrines for pagan worship: “he did not remove the high places” (1 Kings 15:14).

In the Bible-based poetic meditation that follows, several expressions of today have been put into the mouth of Maacah the (former) queen mother. The words may be anachronistic, but the attitudes behind them are not.

Queen Maacah would have found herself more welcomed in contemporary settings than many Christians are, when we insist that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. With her pretentious broad-mindedness, Maacah would have felt right at home with people who are seeking “what works for me” rather than what is eternally true.

I’m not queen mother any more:
My grandson took away my throne.
I liked the way things were before:
Each one’s religion was one’s own.

My Rehoboam, when he reigned,
would let us worship as we chose.
My son Abijah never deigned
to say, “We serve these gods, not those.”

King Solomon’s extravagance
for each cult built a worship hall.
But now in youth’s intolerance
King Asa says, “One God fits all!”

I miss the perks of royalty.
My sacred pole has fueled fire.
And yet . . . my grandson set me free
to seek a way of life that’s higher.

I’d never be the one to cry
that all must sing the self-same song.
Let’s be broad-minded; who am I
to say your way to God is wrong?

O God in heaven, help me lovingly but steadfastly to follow the Christ who says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:6]. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 86 — August 24, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 86

 

Ahithophel the Elderly Gilonite

 

In those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s advice.
2 Samuel 16:23

So you’ve never heard of Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite? So you’re not even sure how to pronounce his name? Just say it like a line of rhythmic verse, and you’ll be getting it about right:

A-HITH-o-fel the EL-der-ly Gi-LO-nite.

Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite was a royal counselor. The Scripture verse quoted above tells us how highly he was regarded in the days of King David and David’s rebellious son Prince Absalom. Apparently Ahithophel divided his time between the king’s court in Jerusalem and his own ancestral village of Giloh in the hills of Judah.

How do we know he was elderly? By putting together 2 Samuel 11:3
and 2 Samuel 23:34. Ahithophel must have been old enough for his son Eliam to become one of David’s mighty warriors, and also old enough for his beautiful granddaughter Bathsheba to catch the king’s roving eye.

One of Eliam’s comrades in arms was Uriah the Hittite. Did old Ahithophel approve of the match when Eliam’s daughter (his own granddaughter) became the wife of this foreign adventurer? Perhaps more to the point: Did old Ahithophel give his approval when King David later took Bathsheba into his harem and arranged for Uriah to die in battle?

All of this is conjecture. The Bible gives us no hint as to what old Ahithophel thought about his granddaughter’s marital affairs. However in 2 Samuel 12:16-23 we read of David’s “servants” who were afraid at first to tell the king that Bathsheba’s little son (Ahithophel’s great-grandson) was dead. Then they were surprised when David abruptly ended his time of fasting and prayer. More than likely old Ahithophel was among that group of worried but loyal servants.

For whatever reason, Ahithophel later turned against his royal master. Probably most of those who joined Prince Absalom’s rebellion were younger men; yet at least one old greyhead threw in his lot with them. In a surprising show of fire and fury, old Ahithophel seemed quite ready to destroy his former master. Despite his years, he even volunteered to lead an army that would attack and kill David before the deposed king could escape by fording the Jordan River (2 Samuel 17:1-4).

King David heard that Ahithophel had defected. He knew from experience that Ahithophel’s advice was likely to be on target. Because of this he prayed, “O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness” (2 Samuel 15:31).

Instead of heeding Ahithophel, foolish Prince Absalom inquired instead of Hushai, a double agent whom David had sent back to Jerusalem. As a result, King David and his followers were able to escape — and later, they were able to crush Absalom’s conspiracy.

Apparently Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite could foresee the bitter end of all his hopes. Once his wise counsel had been rejected, he saddled his donkey, rode back home to Giloh, set his house in order, and then hanged himself (2 Samuel 17:23).

Why devote so much space to this rather obscure Old Testament character? Because Ahithophel, however wise or foolish he may have been, became the great-grandfather of Solomon the Wise. And because of this, old Ahithophel is included among the earthly ancestors of One who was greater than King Solomon (Luke 11:31).

Keep these facts in mind as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation, which has deliberately been written in a rather stately style that echoes royal chronicles of ancient times:

Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite
addressed his son Eliam on this wise:
“Your daughter’s being courted by a Hittite;
shall our Bathsheba be a pagan’s prize?”

Ahithophel was thought to be a wise man;
both king and council looked to him as guide;
and yet Ahithophel deemed it a wise plan
to let Bathsheba be Uriah’s bride.

Say, did Ahithophel give further counsel
when David took Bathsheba as his own?
Could such a sage not prophesy nor foretell
that grief and shame would tarnish Israel’s throne?

The holy record gives no hint of friction, . . .
and yet Ahithophel betrayed his lord.
To Absalom he counseled with conviction
that David must be struck down at the ford.

But other counselors had been invited.
“To strike too soon,” said they, “would not be well.
Let all our rebel forces be united!”
That spelled the end for old Ahithophel.

He rode back home, expecting quick disaster.
He set his house in order; then he died.
Soon David once again was Israel’s master;
Prince Absalom had perished in his pride.

Should old Ahithophel now be forgotten?
His great-grandson ruled Israel’s golden age.
(Another from that royal line begotten
was greater far than Solomon the Sage!)

Help me, O Lord, to be loving toward both the wise and the unwise among members of the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 85 — August 17, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 85

 

The Song of Naomi

 

After his birth the women said to Naomi: “Praise the Lord! Today he has given you a grandson to take care of you. . . . He will make you happy and take care of you in your old age, because he is the son of your daughter-in-law. And she loves you more than seven sons of your own would love you.” Naomi loved the boy and took good care of him. The neighborhood women named him Obed, but they called him “Naomi’s Boy.” Ruth 4:14a, 15-17a, CEV

Have you ever known a grandmother who wasn’t really a grandmother?

I’ve known several. One of my cousins used to call a godly woman “Grandmother” because she had become like a mother to his motherless father. One of my own grandmothers was also like a true grandmother to her many step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren. My wife has a young niece who calls her “Aunt,” yet because of their comparative ages she seems more like the girl’s grandmother.

Naomi was a surrogate grandmother. Her two sons died childless; yet she surely must have seemed like a grandmother to the little boy who was born later on to one of her widowed daughters-in-law.

In writing this series of devotional meditations, I had a hard decision to make about Naomi the surrogate grandmother: In which section should she be placed? She might just as well have fitted in the section subtitled “Enterprising Women.” Note that Naomi was:

Practical: When she decided to go back home to Bethlehem after suffering the loss of husband and sons, Naomi discouraged her two Moabite daughters-in-law from going with her. “Do I have any more sons for you to marry?” she asked pointedly. “Go on back home.” (See Ruth 1:8-13.)

Realistic: Naomi still wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses when she got back home to Bethlehem. “Naomi means ‘Pleasant,’” she moaned. “After all that’s happened to me, you ought to call me Marah, ‘Bitter,’ instead. I left here full, with a husband and two sons; I’m coming back empty.” (See Ruth 1:20-21.)

Resourceful: Naomi did not let her grief overwhelm her common sense. She knew that by ancient custom, the poor and the foreigners in the land of Israel were supposed to be allowed to follow along after harvesters, picking up what they had dropped. Ruth qualified on both counts; therefore Naomi agreed to send her daughter-in-law into the fields of ripened barley. (See Ruth 2:2-3.)

+ Clever: When Ruth attracted favorable attention from Boaz, Naomi knew how to make the most of this heaven-sent opportunity. She sent Ruth back again to the threshing-floor by night, counseling her first to bathe, perfume herself, and wear her best clothes. (See Ruth 3:1-6.)

+ Hopeful: When the startled Boaz recognized Ruth in the shadows, he sent her home with a double measure of barley and with a shining promise: As a kinsman of Ruth’s deceased husband, he would do his duty by her. When Naomi heard this, she knew that in spite of all her grief and loss she still had hope: She encouraged her widowed daughter-in-law to wait patiently for a positive outcome. (See Ruth 3:18.)

You know the rest of the story. Boaz did indeed marry Ruth. (Another devotional thought in this two-year series of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS focuses on Boaz; see week 23.) Boaz and Ruth had a little boy. That little boy no doubt called Naomi “Grandmother.” And in the long providence of God, that little boy grew up to become the grandfather of David the King. (See Ruth 4:13-17.)

The following Bible-based poetic meditation seeks to reconstruct the song that Naomi might have sung, along with possible responses from her neighbors in Bethlehem:

A grandson, a grandson!
I’ve hoped all these years for a grandson,
and now in my old age I hold one –
a grandson all my own.
A grandson all your own?

Well, no, he’s not really my grandson.
He’s Boaz’s heir, Ruth’s first-born son.
No grandson, then, is he.

No grandson, you say, to me?
When his father is kin to my own son?
His mother once wed to my own son?
He seems like a grandson to me!
A grandson, then, is he?
Half Moabite, half Israelite?
How might that seem in heaven’s sight?

My two sons long have lain in earth.
Now heaven sends this blessed birth,
this boy who turns my grief to mirth:
He’s surely a grandson to me!

Thank you, God, for grandmothers — our own, and those who become like grandmothers to us. Keep all grandparents and grandchildren in Your tender care. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 84 — August 10, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 84

 

Grandfather Jacob

 

When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased . . . . Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he.” Genesis 48:17a, 18-19

One of the trials of old age is, younger people think you don’t really know what’s going on. Jacob’s father had this bitter experience when Jacob and his mother connived to fool old blind Isaac into thinking that Jacob was actually Esau, Isaac’s favorite son.

Trickery seems to have been built in to Jacob’s very nature. He pulled all sorts of tricks on Laban, his father-in-law. When he finally became reconciled to Esau again, Jacob seemed less than straightforward in insisting that he and his estranged brother should not try to travel together.

As Jacob himself grew old, his propensity toward slyness came back to haunt him in the conduct of his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, slipped into the women’s tent and committed incest with one of his father’s concubines. When jealous older brothers sold Joseph into slavery, they convinced Jacob that his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. Is it any wonder that Grandfather Jacob found it hard to believe when his sons returned from their grain-buying expedition with strange stories out of Egypt?

First he thought they were trying to trick him into giving up Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother. Then he thought they were lying when they told him that Joseph himself was alive and well.

Genesis 46:27 includes a poignant, homely little detail: When Grandfather Jacob “saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back,” he finally believed what his sons had been trying to tell him.

After his joyful reunion with Joseph in Egypt, Grandfather Jacob was asked to give a special blessing to his two Egyptian-born grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Following ancient custom, Joseph naturally expected a larger patriarchal blessing to rest upon the head of the firstborn. But Grandfather Jacob had other ideas.

Review in your mind the long and complicated saga of Grandfather Jacob, as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

“Grandfather Jacob is easy to fool.”
(So my sons think as a general rule.)
Devious Reuben stole from me a wife.
(Thus I’m repaid for my devious life.)

“Grandfather Jacob need not know the truth.”
(Thus I’m repaid for the lies of my youth.)
Joseph’s coat came home all bloody one day.
(Are you surprised that my hair has gone grey?)

Now my sons say: “Down to Egypt we’ll ride!
There we’ll buy grain, then return to your side.”
Should I believe them? They’ve fooled me before.
Why should I trust what they say any more?

Now they say: “Simeon’s been forced to remain;
Benjamin’s going, or else there’s no grain.”
How can I trust them? Then Judah cries out:
“My life for Benjamin’s!” Still there is doubt . . . .

Now they say: “Joseph’s alive! He’s grown great!
Second to Pharaoh, he governs the state.
Grandfather Jacob, he’s asked about you.
See what he sent, so that you can come, too!”

Dare I believe them? They’ve brought Simeon back;
Benjamin, too, with his silver-stuffed pack.
Will I embrace a son lost long ago?
Seeing the wagons persuades me it’s so.

Now Joseph welcomes me: Laughter and tears!
Telling what’s happened through twenty long years!
So the days pass, . . . and my eyes have grown weak.
Now Joseph comes; he’s beginning to speak:

“Grandfather Jacob, please bless my two boys!”
Hugging them, kissing them, hearing their noise, . . .
Thus can I tell which lad stands by my side.
Crossing my hands, then, I spread my arms wide.

“Grandfather Jacob, you’ve got them reversed!”
“No, my son, I know Manasseh’s your first.
He shall be blest . . . yet I know this as well:
Ephraim’s blessing is too great to tell!”

O Father, help the old among us to trust the knowledge of the young; help the young among us to heed the wisdom of the old. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 83 — August 3, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
DAUGHTERS

 

week 83

 

Four Sisters Beside the Sea

 

We continued our voyage . . . and arrived in Caesarea. There we stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen as helpers in Jerusalem. He had four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s message.
Acts 21:7a, 8b-9, GNT

Early records of Christ’s People mention several cities that became centers of Christian activity and evangelistic outreach. The first one was Jerusalem, then Antioch in Syria, then – eventually – Rome.
Perhaps Caesarea deserves to be included in that select list of cities:

• It was to Caesarea, a great Roman seaport and provincial capital, that Simon Peter came in response to a God-ordained invitation from Cornelius.
• It was to Caesarea that Saul of Tarsus fled not long after his conversion, and from there he took ship for his native Tarsus.
• It was to Caesarea that Saul came again as Paul the Apostle, landing there on his fateful journey to Jerusalem.
• It was in Caesarea that Agabus the Prophet acted out a warning that Paul would be imprisoned if he continued on his intended way.
• It was in Caesarea that Paul was later tried before Governor Felix and King Agrippa.
• It was in Caesarea that Paul was held in prison for two long years before sailing away to appeal his case before the emperor in Rome.

Peter’s connections with Caesarea were sporadic; so were Paul’s. But Philip’s connections with Caesarea were on a long-term basis. Philip was one of the seven men appointed to help the apostles in Jerusalem; some people call this group the first deacons. Philip was the one who evangelized in Samaria, then on a desert road near Gaza where he met the queen’s treasurer from Ethiopia. After that experience, Philip worked his way up the coast of Palestine and finally settled in Caesarea.

One of the most intriguing things that the Bible tells us about Philip is stated in the verses quoted above. Nowhere else in the Scriptures are we told anything more about Philip’s “four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s message.”

Why were they unmarried? That was not in keeping with their culture. Older Bible translations state that these four single sisters “prophesied”; yet in olden times both Deborah the Prophetess and Huldah the Prophetess had husbands.

Perhaps – like many of their sisters in the family of faith through twenty centuries – these four sisters who lived beside the sea felt that God had called them to use all their energies in proclaiming his message, without the distraction of raising families.

How many single women can you name who have had a positive impact on your life as a Christian? I can name several; probably you can, too. Think about those women as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

Papa’s an evangelist;
all of us, we preach God’s Word
all along beside the sea,
seeking those who’ve never heard.

Paul was running for his life
when he first passed through our town –
fleeing from Jerusalem,
site of many a martyr’s crown.

Off to Tarsus then he sailed,
there to stay for several years –
drawing closer to our Lord
through his prayers and thoughts and tears.

We saw Peter more than Paul
in those blessed early days –
roaming up and down the coast,
fanning faith into a blaze.

Paul at last returned one day,
sailing in from foreign parts;
many a tale he told us of
Christ enthroned in human hearts.

Agabus came to our house,
warning Paul of chains ahead.
Paul refused to change his plans:
“To Jerusalem!” he said.

Sure enough, they seized him there,
beat him, tried to murder him.
Roman soldiers brought him back,
locked him in a dungeon grim.

Two years later, off he sailed,
taking his appeal to Rome.
We’ve been waiting for the news:
Will he once more grace our home?

O Father of us all, thank you for single women in the family of faith. Help us to welcome them as sisters and daughters in Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas