We often hear the phrase, "The power of the word of God" in preaching services and evangelistic meetings. I am not sure everyone sitting in the audience really understands what these words really mean, and, whether they believe them to be true. But its truth is bared out in the context of today's scripture.
In the context of this verse in Nehemiah the Israelite people had just finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. So they set aside a special day of celebration. Most of the people present that day had returned to Jerusalem from the 70-year captivity in Babylon. Many of them were descendants of those who had been left behind to tend the crops and bring forth the earnings and taxes that were taken to the king in Babylon.
Because it was a special time of celebration Nehemiah and Ezra and others had built a platform in the street leading to the water gate. And for several days the people gathered together to listen while the priests read to them and explained the law as it had been penned by Moses. At first I thought it must have been something similar to our modern day method of working our way through the scriptures for an hour or so each Sunday morning. But when I reached chapter nine of Nehemiah, and read verse three I learned much more about the power of the word of God - - - "And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the Lord their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the Lord their God."
If you take time to read the context of our scripture reference you will find that the people who heard the word of God for the first time and realized how far their hearts were from the love of God, they began to cry and morn. They began to understand how unworthy they were of the many blessings that God had recently showered down upon them.
Building that wall was not an easy task. There were enemies surrounding them and threatening to attack during the time of reconstruction, but God had protected them. And when they heard the words of God and how they had been ignoring His goodness, their hearts were pierced and they literally began to cry. They were all crying and morning so loudly that they had to be comforted by the priests who had just done the preaching.
What an amazing power is contained within the words we find in our Bibles also. One the first verses that penetrated my being after turning my life over to the Lord was Hebrews 4:12 - "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Have you found it to be so in your life also? When I first discovered that verse I hung on every word and could truly attest to the fact that I had been affected by God's word in exactly that manner.
I often tell folks that my old Bible which was printed in China is just another book as it lays there on the table next to my chair. But, when I pick it up in the morning and begin reading, it no longer is a dead, inanimate object that has little worth. When I open it up and begin reading those words they are not words on a page any longer. They begin to penetrate and transform my thoughts and feelings. What were once just words on a page have become loving, caring messages felt in my heart as if someone were sitting there on the edge of that table, watching as I listened to what they had spoken to me.
But, I have to also confess that there are mornings when I am in a hurry or side-tracked by the issues of life and pick up that "book" to get it read in order to move on with the business of the day. And, then I realize the foolish mistake I am making . . . And stop and ask forgiveness of the one sitting there watching me. And, I think that happens way too often. And, like the people mentioned in today's scripture, tears often fill the corners of my eyes. Because there is power in those precious words. Power that encourages me to take time each day to read and to pray and to fall back in love with my Savior.
As I have asked earlier, do you ever feel that power? Unfortunately, you will never feel that power if you do not take the time to open that "book" each day and "listen" to what it has to say.
I realize that I am not normal. But like I heard a man say years ago, "Normal is just a setting on a dryer." So, whatever might be wrong with me is just the way God made me. I say that to say this: I love reading through the Old Testament as much or more than I enjoy reading from the New Testament. And one of my favorite stories appears in the history books of Samuel and Chronicles, through which I am currently reading. It is the story of a man named Obededom who shows up near the end of another interesting story. And in order to make Obededom's story relative I will start at the beginning of the story which brought him into view.
Most folks who know the Bible also recognize that the Ark of God was designed by God and given to Moses to have it build following the Israelite's departure from Egypt. It contained the tablets containing the ten commands and the rod of Aaron that had budded. I'll let you look all of that up on your own. But the Ark of God was to be taken care of by the tribe of the Levites. It remained in the Holy of Holies portion of the tabernacle, and the priests would enter into it once each year to ask forgiveness for the sins of the nation of Israel.
To keep a long story short, when Ely the priest was in charge of its care it was removed and taken into a battle with the Philistines hoping God would help the Israelites win. But, of course that was NOT how it was to be handled and they lost instead, and the Philistines took the ark home with them, thinking it would bring them "good luck." But it ended up causing more grief than blessing. It became sort of a "hot potato" as it was passed from the king of one territory to another king, etc. Finally, after the fifth king figured things out he sent The Ark of God back to the Israelites on a cart with two cows pulling it. It is an interesting story if you haven't read it because the cows pulled the cart straight to an area named Bethshemesh, which today is located a couple miles west of Jerusalem. And in 1 Samuel 5:13 we read, "And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. And it remained there for many years.
But when David became king of Israel he wanted to bring it back to Jerusalem, build a tabernacle and place it where it belonged. But David, being more of a warier than a scholar of the scriptures went to get it using a cart pulled by two oxen. (It was only supposed to be moved by the Levites with rods that were placed through four golden loops on each corner) But one of the Oxen stumbled and it looked as if the Ark of God was about to fall onto the ground, so one of the drivers named Uzzah tried to keep it from falling by holding onto it with his hand. Uzzah instantly died. So then David changed his mind, left it in the house of Obededom and went home to read his Bible (Just kidding about that last part).
Now, we finally get to the fun part of this story - the part where Obededom began to be blessed. So, one day while David was reading his Bible his servants came to him and explained how, over the past three months God had been blessing Obededom and all that he had. That's when David decided to do everything right, and brought the Ark of God to Jerusalem and placed it in the tabernacle.
Now that you have all of the details, imagine yourself being Obededom. He was not an Israelite. He was a 400-year-descendant of Jacob's brother Esau, who had settled in the area south-east of Israel, and became known as the Edomites. Apparently his family had moved to the area of Bethshemish where the Ark of God was also being kept. And maybe he was sitting at home having lunch one day when someone knocked on his door.
When he opened the door, there was King David and his men. Obededom probably knew who David was and was probably startled. Was he about to be killed like so many others who were not Jewish, but enemies of Israel? He could run or face the King - he had a choice. But that day, as he stood at the door he listened to what David had to say and invited him in. After hearing the story of the Ark and how Uzzah had just died he allowed to have the Ark of God brought into his house. If you know ALL of the details about the Ark, that is where God dwelt in those days. Without knowing anything about this "Ark" he willingly allowed it to be placed in his house. When the Ark of God came into his house - God came in with it. Now Obededom was dwelling with God Himself.
From that day forward he became a very blessed man. In fact, he became so attached to The Ark of God that the Book of Chronicles speaks of him several times as David ruled over the next few years. After David had brought to Ark of God to Jerusalem, Obededom became one of the people to whom David gave several duties involved with the worship and maintenance of the tabernacle.
So, why do I love this story so much? Because it is such a great picture of how we treat our Savior and how He blesses or curses us in return. The Ark of God is where God dwells. And just like the Philistine kings, some people think a relationship with Jesus will bring them "good luck." And while they are trying to use Jesus He is truly unable to bless them. They find no joy in their Christian lives and so often turn to the world instead.
And then, with others, when Jesus knocks on their door, they often make the wrong decision like Obededom could have. They turn and run and unknowingly leave an eternity of blessings behind. But then, there are others who, when they hear the knock and open the door, gladly invite the King into their heart. And in doing so, just like Obededom did, allow God's Holy Spirit to come dwell within their heart. And as long as they stay close to Him, God, their King begins to bless and bless and bless. And God doesn't just forget about that day we opened the door. He remembers us moment by moment and gives us the opportunity to grow even closer to Him as time goes by.
And when I look back on my life and all that God has done for me, and how He has blessed me "too" in all my ways, just like he did Obededom, all I can say is that "I think I know how Obededom felt."
Those of us who love the Lord love to hear the story told in First Kings, chapter 18. If you have heard it you may recall that Elijah had been in hiding from King Ahab and Jezebel. But he came to the king and instructed him to bring all 450 of the prophets of Baal as well as the people of Israel to Mt. Carmel, which the king did. Then in verse 27 Elijah challenged the people with that famous verse, ". . . How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word."
Then he said, "Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken."
Then the prophets of Baal "took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made." In verse 27 the Bible says that Elijah mocked them and said, "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." And the Bible says they began crying aloud and cutting themselves with knives until blood was actually gushing out, but after several hours nothing happened.
Then when evening was drawing near Elijah found twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and built an altar. Then he dug a deep trench around the altar, and put wood on the altar and cut his bullock up and put it on the wood. And, here comes the really good part: He instructed the people to pour four barrels of water onto the bullock and the wood to get it soaking wet, which they did. But then he said, "Do it again!" So they poured four more barrels of water on top of everything. But wait, there is more: Elijah said to do it a third time.
Now, the barrels we have now days hold over 50 gallons of liquid. If those were similar barrels, all together they poured over 600 gallons of water over the bullock and the wood. And the Bible says that it filled the trench. So, it didn't just run off but remained there soaking up everything. Then Elijah said in verse 37, "Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, . . ." And the Bible says fire fell from Heaven and consumed "the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God." And if you know the rest of this story Elijah, himself killed all 450 of those false prophets. I love to read that story. Not because Elijah, alone, slew the wicked prophets of baal, but because of what it can teach of us as Christians.
The first thing I can relate this passage to is how all of the things around us in this world seem to be getting more and more wicked by the day. And this only tells us that Jesus will be returning soon. But how much worse must things get before He does? As we anxiously look forward to that time, we see our brothers and sisters being slain and tortured all around us. And we, too, often find ourselves facing resistance expressing our faith outwardly. But remember; previous to this incident Elijah had been in hiding to keep King Ahab from killing him. Then, when the day this incident took place he calmly stood by watching the foolish prophets of Baal take his challenge seriously. And, half-way through the day he began to chide them verbally, which only made them look even more foolish. But finally, after being patient all throughout the day, God stepped in and through Elijah's example actually changed the hearts of the Children of Israel.
That tells me to come out of hiding and proclaim to the world around me that Jehovah God is Lord. And the longer Jesus delays His coming, the more time I have to sow seed to those whose hearts need to hear the Good News.
But there is also one more thing I can learn from from this passage: Those people who were so silent at the first - and who declared that God is the Lord in the end, were watching Elijah throughout that entire day. They observed his faith in God. They watched as he stood patiently by while the others made fools of themselves. I recognize that fire from Heaven may have had more to do with the change of heart that took place in those people that day. But the testimony Elijah exhibited, along with his willingness to call out to God should be an example to each of us as we go about our daily lives. We sometimes forget that people in our lives around us are also watching. There has never been a time like this to come out of hiding, exhibit patience in all that is going on, and be not afraid to proclaim the majesty of our loving Heavily Father.
. . . Come to think about it, God could have kill all 450 of those false prophets. But He left the job up to Elijah.
How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: . . .