PART 5 THE FACETS OF DEATH
PART 5 THE FACETS OF DEATH
WHEN WE CRY OUT TO GOD FOR DELIVERANCE FROM IMPENDING DANGER, WHAT MIGHT CAUSE HIM TO INTERVENE AND DELIVER US?
I’m sure you have heard of such a thing as a stay of execution, where someone who has been convicted of a heinous crime is about to be punished for it, and at the last minute, an appeal is made to prevent the planned judgment from taking place. Do you think there could be such a thing as a stay of death, where God intervenes and prevents it from happening? Under what circumstances might cause God to act in such a manner? Any idea? We’ll begin by taking a look at a particular King in the Old Testament. Please turn in your Bible to the book of 2 Chronicles.
Suggested Reading: 2 Chronicles 17:1-19:3
This is the story about a king named Jehoshaphat. Asa, the king of the Southern Kingdom of the two tribes of Judah, dies, and his son, Jehoshaphat, succeeded him. Apparently, at this time, there were hostilities between the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. One of the first things King Jehoshaphat did was to reinforce the fenced (fortified) cities (fortresses) along the northern front of the territory with troops in conjunction with establishing garrisons (military posts) throughout the land.
2 Chronicles 17:3-4 And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; But sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel.
As far as his walk with God was concerned, Scriptures convey to us that he followed the Lord God (Yahweh) of his father, King Asa, and not King David (the word David is not in the original Hebrew manuscripts), walking in His commandments, the divine institutions as enacted by Moses14, and not according to the doings (Baal-worship properly [so-called], but also the worship of Jahve by means of images15) of Israel (the Northern Kingdom). By the way, Baal was the Canaanite name for the Syrian god Hadad, [the] god of storms and wars.16
Anything that was associated with pagan worship, such as the high places (the places of worship) and groves (sacred trees set up near an altar), were destroyed. He revitalized the worship of Yahweh by sending princes (laymen of high position), Levites, and priests to go into all of the cities of Judah, instructing the people in the Law.
As a result, peace from their enemies ensued, who decided to bring to the king monetary currency and an abundance of livestock as presents. Blessings abounded. However, right around the corner, an important strategic decision involving a military alliance was about to be presented to Jehoshaphat. What would he do? Would he enter into it? Would he consult God concerning it beforehand?
2 Chronicles 18:1-2 Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab. And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramoth-gilead.
This military alliance involved Jehoshaphat and the king of Israel named Ahab. Before this was even brought up, an association had already taken the place of a different nature. Jehoshaphat gave affinity (gave his daughter away in marriage) to Ahab’s son, Joram. This set the stage for the next alliance.
Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to meet up with him at the Northern Kingdom’s capital city, called Samaria. When he arrived there, Ahab expressed his desire to reclaim a city called Ramoth, located in Gilead, that was once a part of his territory from the Syrians who had taken it from him at an earlier occasion. Here is the question to consider. Should Jehoshaphat say yes because of the marriage alliance, or should his response be first to consult the Lord in this matter?
2 Chronicles 18:5-6 Therefore the king of Israel gathered together of prophets four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for God will deliver it into the king's hand. But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him?
Jehoshaphat’s response was, let’s pray (inquire) of the Lord (la-Yahweh). I thought this was a tremendous answer. And what was Ahab’s reaction? He revealed to Jehoshaphat the corrupted faith of Yahweh that he had adopted. He decided to gather together four hundred prophets and asked them if Israel and Judah’s armies should go up together and recapture Ramoth, to which they all said, yes. Some commentators believe that these prophets were prophets of Yahweh in name only. They didn’t follow any of the tenets of the Mosaic Law. They worshipped the image of an ox and prophesied as trade without consulting the Lord.
Undoubtedly, their overwhelming response would convince Jehoshaphat that God was with them, right? But somehow, he recognized that these prophets did not follow his God, Yahweh. And so, he asked Ahab if there was a prophet of the Lord that he knew of. He replied that there was one named Micaiah whom he disliked because he never prophesied anything favorable when he asked him about seeking divine counsel pertaining to prior decisions.
Micaiah was reluctantly summoned by Ahab and asked if both kings should attempt to capture the city of Ramoth, to which he emphatically said no. He also mentioned that if they nonetheless decided to go forth that Ahab would be killed in battle. Instead of Ahab thanking him for the warning, he became angry as to the declared prophecy of doom and had him put in prison.
What was Jehoshaphat’s response? Shouldn’t an alarm bell have gone off when he saw that this prophet was put in prison? What would benefit a prophet of the Lord to go before both kings and lie? Jehoshaphat should have responded to this prophecy by saying to King Ahab something like; I have to think this over. I have to consult with the Lord. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he must have been convinced like Ahab that this prophecy was false. If we were involved in a challenging decision and there were 400 yeses and one no, which way would we go? So, Jehoshaphat decided to join in with Ahab on the assault of Ramoth.
2 Chronicles 18:29 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and will go to the battle; but put thou on thy robes. So the king of Israel disguised himself; and they went to the battle.
As Judah and Israel’s army were on their way to encounter the army of Syria, Ahab has a brilliant idea as to how to thwart Micaiah’s prophecy just in case if it was true. He decided to disguise himself by taking off his royal robes while Jehoshaphat was told to keep his royal garb on. Ahab probably theorized that according to prophecy, the Syrian forces would be looking to kill him. Even though Jehoshaphat was wearing royal clothing, either he would be spared because the warning said nothing about his death, or he would be the one killed, which would nullify the forecast. Either way, Ahab’s life would be spared, and his evaluation of Micaiah’s prediction would be correct.
At some point, the battle got underway. The king of Syria decided to tell those who were commanding the chariots to find the kind of Israel and kill him above all else. At some point, they saw someone with kingly robes on and assumed it was him. They proceeded to surround him and come in for the kill. And then something truly remarkable happened. Did God open the earth and swallow up their army? Did God have them somehow turn and fight each other? No.
2 Chronicles 18:31 And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, It is the king of Israel. Therefore they compassed about him to fight: but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him; and God moved them to depart from him.
Very frightenedly, Jehoshaphat, aware of his impending physical demise, cried out to the Lord, and the Lord assisted him by somehow causing the Syrian forces to recognize that he was not the king they were looking for. So, they turned away from pursuing him. Eventually, they caught up with the unrobed King Ahab, and an enemies’ arrow was shot piercing through him, and he died. The prophecy of Micaiah was right, after all. I thought there was one more thing to mention about Jehoshaphat concerning God’s intervention when he called out to Him for help.
2 Chronicles 19:2-3 And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord. Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God.
Jehoshaphat immediately returned with his army back to Jerusalem. When he arrived there, a prophet of the Lord named Jehu approached him and said that God was angry with him because he aided a fellow king who followed a false god and received council from false prophets. This tells me that King Ahab and the 400 prophets followed Yahweh in pretense. They didn’t believe in Him as the one true God.
After which, Jehu followed the pronouncement of these critical words with a favorable declaration that began with the word Nevertheless (truly). Truly, there are good things found in you, such as having taken away the groves (the sacred trees set up near a pagan altar with idol images of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fortune and happiness) and preparing your heart (your mind) to seek the Lord.
Think about what was being said. Jehoshaphat had a mental attitude of seeking God and instituting His commands. Yes, he made a bad decision in aligning himself with another king who followed false gods as some of us have aligned ourselves with false religion. However, when he realized the dire consequences of certain death imminently before him, he cried to the Lord for help. This could insinuate that he acknowledged his sin, called out to God for rescue, and God took notice by coming to his aid.
I found this interesting in that when we look back at the life of Stephen, one of the seven deacons of the Jerusalem church, who was martyred for the faith, he didn’t cry out to the Lord for deliverance. Would God the Father have responded in the same way as Yahweh responded to King Jehoshaphat when he cried out to Him? We’ll never know. But what we do know is, He might have.
I’m not inferring that if Stephen or any of us cried unto the Lord for deliverance from impending death that He would deliver us. But what I am saying is seek the Lord continually, and He will notice us in our distress. Acknowledge and confess any sin to Him, cry for deliverance when needed, and be alert to look for a response from Him in His time and His manner. If the impending consequences happen, then God has a reason for allowing them to happen.
Another thing that stood out to me in this story is the importance of the spiritual ability to be able to discern our relationship with others i.e., with those who we decide to let into our lives and those who we decide not to let in. And if we do let someone in, make sure that we operate in godly discernment, especially when they ask us to comply with them in respect to decisions of a serious nature. I would like to leave you with a story in this regard. Hopefully, as we grow in this area of what I will call spiritual perception, what kind of steps should we take that will help us find a healthy balance in relationships, whether these involve believers or unbelievers?
DOES GOD WANT YOU TO SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO ALWAYS HURT YOU?
I grew up on old movies and classic sitcoms. Summer mornings always included a dose of I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show. Now, when the need to take a lazy break pulls at me until I can’t stand up [anymore], rather [reluctantly,] I succumb to the TV thing. [I] and my tiny man-child plop down for a shared re-run of Andy Griffith.
As I started rewatching the series as an adult, I realized how much watching these TV shows seep into our worldview as kids. Andy Taylor is known for being the “sheriff without a gun” because he says most folks are good and sensible enough that if you just have a nice chat, most things can be worked out.
I love that idea. I wish the world worked that way outside the little box in my living room. I wish the powers that be could sit down to a game of Scrabble and work out the problems all over the globe. And I have wished, prayed, worked, sweated, cried, prayed more, and tried for relationships in my life to work that way too.
I want every issue to be talk-out-able. I want every relationship in my life to brim over with warm fuzzies. But in God’s gracious wisdom, He delineates (for those of us who keep trying to make the world our Mayberry) a series of cautionary red flags for our relationships so we can know who to let into that precious little main street of our heart and who doesn’t belong there. Before we dive into the Scriptures that speak to this issue of hurtful people, let me share a piece of my own wrestling with this matter.
Some years back, I kept returning to the Lord with a broken heart over a relationship that I felt was supposed to [work] but just didn’t. I prayed so much over this dearly loved person. I believed that if I gave 100 percent to the relationship, it would be 50 percent better until it grew to become a truly healthy, God-honoring relationship. I went on like this for years.
Eventually, totally worn out, I asked God why He kept allowing this relationship to hurt me so much. I felt the Holy Spirit press the same question into my heart, “Why are you allowing this relationship to hurt you so much?” Then in my devotional reading, I noticed a few Proverbs say things like “do not associate with” XYZ person. I did a quick word search through Scripture to find a number of red flags God gives His children to follow in the relationship department. I wasn’t in a covenant relationship with this person (marriage), yet I was absolutely bound to them despite the clear direction of Scripture not to align my heart with them.
As I struggled with this relationship and how to walk in God’s truth and grace in the midst of it, I confided to one of my Christian friends how discouraged I was over my inability to follow what I thought Scripture was instructing me; that I should be content with insults (2 Corinthians 12:10), and that suffering well finds favor with God (1 Peter 2:20)[; so] I felt I should be able to just live in this pain and do it well. She pointed out that when we go the extra mile for someone or suffer those insults, it’s generally for the purpose of our witness.
But this person was a professing [believer,] and my actions weren’t witnessing. Even when I spoke about the pain I [felt] and tried to confront their inappropriate behavior, I was simply told that “love covers all [sin,]” and clearly, I didn’t have enough love. [So,] I felt guilty for hurting and ashamed that I couldn’t figure out how to be healthy in this relationship.
[Eventually,] I felt the Lord impress on my heart “You are not your own, you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). You are choosing not to obey by being in this relationship. It’s not a matter of you being mean or nice. It’s a matter of you choosing to obey Me, the One who paid the price for your heart.”
I reread that list of red-flag Scriptures and prayed about how to follow through with love and grace. [So,] here’s my list of verses I use as red flag warnings to be cautious in a relationship. Everyone needs grace. Everyone makes mistakes. And love triumphs over [judgment], so be prayerful as you apply these words of wisdom:
“There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NAS)
(This passage wasn’t a “stay away from [verse,]” but we are wise to avoid close relationships with people who practice things the Lord says He hates. [So,] watch out for those traits in the people you let into your [life,] and don’t be that kind of person either!)
“Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself.” (Proverbs 22:24-25 NAS)
“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” (Proverbs 20:19 NAS)
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:10 NAS)
“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” (Titus 3:9-11 NIV)
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” (2 John 1:10-11 NAS)
The context of those last two verses has to do with people who are professing believers. The 2 John passage refers to people who distort Christ and the Gospel.
At first read, these verses feel harsh to me. I’m not great with boundaries. They feel confrontational and uncomfortable. It’s easier to think about obeying God by forgiving or exercising patience. Yet, by limiting the influence damaging people have in our lives, we will end up protecting the energy, purity of heart, and focus God wants to use in our lives to reach people for Him.
Sometimes, we allow ourselves to endure unnecessary wounding in relationships because we figure it’s our duty or because it brings us to a place of humility that honors Christ. While there are a plethora of verses that instruct us to take up our cross and follow Christ (Mark 8:34), there’s [much-needed] discernment in applying godly wisdom to our relationships as well.
In light of these verses, I’ve had to realign some relationships. People I dearly loved but had violent tempers did indeed create sticky snares in my life that God wasn’t calling me to be part of. I also learned to give less of my heart to people addicted to gossip and slander.
In each circumstance where I had to limit the influence that person had in my heart, the individual was a professing believer. They were not open to any correction and did not change that facet of life (or got worse) over the course of years. None of my realigned relationships lost my love, forgiveness, or prayers. They were simply redirected off the main street of my heart. If we truly believe that we are not our own, then regardless of how much we might love a person caught in such activities, we must realign our interaction with them because our Lord tells us to.
When we consider how we are not our own, we must also recognize that sometimes offenses will come our way, and they too have been sifted through our Father’s hand. Because we don’t own the rights to our hearts anymore, our Father instructs us to forgive. He allows us to choose whether we will cling to grudges or grace. But in the end, if we are really following Him, the choice has already been made.
It is a tricky tightrope walk that applies with balance verses like:
“But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25 NAS)
“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NAS)
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
Jesus didn’t casually give Himself to people because He knew they weren’t trustworthy, and at the same [time,] Paul knew he was called to give himself freely to the insults and persecutions of the people he was trying to reach. Those are hard to live out with balance! Both Peter and Proverbs declare guarding and loving are to be done “above all!” Personally, I can’t find that balance on my own! I need the help of the Holy Spirit.
As I have been growing in the realization that my heart isn’t cheap (regardless of how I treat it) and growing in my attempts to honor God with my relationships through obedience, I have acquired a few practical tools:
Talk to God about every relationship you invest time in. Pray before you go to visit/chat with a friend, pray during your [visit,] and pray afterward. Pray, pray, pray about your relationships!
- Check with someone you know has your best interest at heart.
When I was a [kid,] I would talk to my grandma about my friends. She would say, “Honey, those are acquaintances; friends don’t treat you like that.” I would assure her that they were indeed my friends (mostly because they were the only people who were remotely close to being friends) even if they didn’t act like it. [Now,] as an adult, it is generally my husband who reminds me to be careful with my heart. Some people are just people you know, not soul-sisters. Even if you wish they were!
- Recognize that all your friends and family members are indeed human and will let you down – you will do the same to them too.
[So,] don’t make perfection the price tag for intimacy.
- Recognize that if you feel lonely in the friendship department, it might be because God wants you to lean into Him more right now instead of being distracted with people.
Cultivate your relationship with the Lord first and foremost!
- When offenses in relationships come your way, ask the Lord how He wants you to respond.
Forgiveness is a given, but perhaps He isn’t requiring you to remain so [close,] or maybe He wants you to lovingly confront the other person. Check your motive for being close to the person. Is this a healthy, Christ-centered relationship?
- Consider how your relationships center around God.
The relationships that have Jesus as the center ([i.e.,] we talk about Scripture, pray for each other, etc.) are the ones that are most precious. [So,] apply grace liberally in those relationships.
Finding balance in relationships isn’t easy! But at the end of the day, our heart belongs to our Lord! It is of great worth to [Him] and no longer belongs to us. May we all grow in wisdom to know the true cost of our heart and guard it with honor.17
Wow, what wisdom. Thank you for those insights.
In the next chapter, we’ll take a look at a story about a believer whose life was imprisoned by the political religious system and was ready to be taken from him. However, the early church did something that caused God to come to his rescue and free him from impending death. Are you ready to find out what the church did and who it was that was freed? Hint, he is one of the 12 apostles.
14Jamieson, Faucet, and Brown Commentary Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 12 March 2018 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
15Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 15 March 2018 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
16Bible Knowledge Commentary/Old Testament.
17April Motl. “Does God Want You to Spend Time with People Who Always Hurt You?”. 2017.
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