- The Song of Hezekiah
Hezekiah was having a midlife crisis, in his case of a very serious nature. In Isaiah 38:1 God had spoken and told him to get his affairs in order because he was going to die. Understandably Hezekiah was devastated at this news, turned his face to the wall and prayed, and then wept bitterly. Hezekiah had been a good king to that point in his life, after the death of his father King Ahaz he had brought reforms to Israel, “He reopened the Temple and purified it; he tore down and got rid of all the idols in the land; he rededicated the temple so it would be used again as the national place of worship of the Lord; he initiated and led the nation in a celebration of the Passover after many years of neglect. During his finer moments, he “sought his God wholeheartedly.” Hezekiah led the nation in one of its greatest revivals and was a successful king in many ways” (Larson). Now in the midst of his days, at the height of his powers he was going be denied the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his success. It just wasn’t fair.
Hezekiah’s response was to pray and to appeal to God on the basis of all the good things he had done, God did give him a reprieve, not because of his work but because: “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears.” Hezekiah had 15 years added to his life. I recall that a number of years ago my sister attended a doctor after recovering from an illness only to be told to go home and get her affairs in order because she had a very short time to live. She was 39 years old, had only recently married and with her husband was facing a future filled with hope. She too prayed and no doubt shed many tears, for her though there was no extension to her life beyond 40. Was that fair? I know that as my sister had come to faith in Christ, she has gone to be with her father where there is no more sickness nor sorrow and that is a far better place, but why would she and her husband be denied the future hoped and planned for while others are granted healing in this life?
There is no simple answer to that question and Hezekiah wrestled with it through his prayer. God determines the length of our life, and he chooses to bring physical healing to some and not to others in this life. Sadly, the 15 years of Hezekiah’s life were not his best. In the midst of his psalm he said: “But what can I say? He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul.” (vs 15, NIV). Unfortunately he didn’t follow through on this commitment, he became proud, arrogant and self centred. He made mistakes, and his son, Manasseh undid all the good work he had done. The life God had given to Hezekiah was a blessing and intended to bring blessing to the nation. The years God assigns to each of us are likewise a blessing, a gift of grace. The apostle Paul understood that for him death was the best option because he would go to his Father in heaven, but it would be better for others if he were to live a little longer so that they too might receive the same grace gift.
None of us know the number of days God has written for us in this life, we do know that the first and most important thing is to make sure our name is written in his book of life. Then it is to live every day aware that each one is a gift for which we owe thanks and praise! Hezekiah’s final words were: “The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord” will you join him?
- Do you think it was fair for God to ‘cut Hezekiah’s life short’?
- Hezekiah received a gift of healing but squandered it, how do you react?
- Do you see every day given to you as a gift and an opportunity?
- The Song of Jonah
If you are familiar with the story you will know of Jonah as a disobedient prophet who had an encounter with a whale! Jonah had been told by God to go to Nineveh and tell the people that if they didn’t change their ways God would judge and destroy them. Jonah didn’t want to go, not because he was afraid but because he knew they would listen and change, and God would forgive them. Jonah didn’t want them forgiven- he wanted them destroyed, so instead of doing as God commanded, he jumped on a boat sailing in the opposite direction.
When they were out at sea, God sent a storm to get Jonah’s attention. He however remained obstinate and it was only after he admitted to the sailors that storm was due to his disobedience that they eventually tossed him into the sea. Immediately they did this the storm ceased and the sea became still, meanwhile Jonah descended into the sea until he was finally rescued by a great fish. He remained in that fish for three days and nights. The term three days and nights is unlikely to be meant literally, the pagan nations believed that the soul’s journey to the afterworld took three days and nights, and it was a common expression that was used to reflect that someone was really dead.
Jonah recounts his prayer in chapter 2 that begins not in the belly of the whale but in the depths of the sea. He compares the sea to death or sheol and he expected to die. The waters had closed over his head, which was wrapped in seaweed, sinking ever deeper he had lost hope. But for the first time he prayed. When he was in the boat he didn’t pray, the sailors did but he remained silent. He didn’t pray for the storm to stop or the safety of the sailors. Maybe he assumed God would rescue him, but now that it looked like he wouldn’t he got desperate. When finally Jonah thought all was lost, it was over, God did the miraculous, in fact the ridiculous. He sent a whale or a very big fish to rescue him and now in this place of refuge, uncertain as it was, Jonah turned to God.
It seems that he still hadn’t understood God’s grace though. God had rescued him from death, not because of any change in Jonah, but in mercy. What he didn’t want for the Ninevites he gladly accepted for himself, He found the opportunity to criticize those who served idols, which included the sailors who had nearly died because of his disobedience, while unknown to him they had turned to God after they tossed him in the sea. Now he had been rescued, though still facing an uncertain future while in the belly of a whale, he offered to fulfil his vows.
John Piper notes seven things we can learn from Jonah about how God responds to us in our times of distress: First, God answers us in spite of our guilt. Second, he answers us in spite of his judgment. Third, God answers us and delivers us from impossible circumstances. Fourth, God answers us in the nick of time. Fifth, God answers us in stages, not all of which are comfortable. Sixth, God answers us in order to win our undivided loyalty and thanks. Finally, God answers us in our guilty distress to help us become merciful like he is.
Jonah still had much to learn about God’s mercy, he happily received it while still wanting God to deal violently with those of whom he disapproved. Those lessons were given again in chapter 4, whether or not Jonah understood them is not evident. Jonah was in distress because he had run from God, he was given a second chance by miraculous intervention, not because he deserved it but because God delights in mercy. When you are in distress God is waiting to have compassion on you, which he will do when you call out to him.
- Do you feel resentful when God chooses to be merciful to evil people?
- Is it possible for you to be self righteous about the failures of others?
- Why did God use a bizarre means to rescue Jonah?
- The Song of Habakkuk
The first verse of this chapter is translated by the Amplified Bible as: “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, set to wild and enthusiastic music”, while the NASB provides a note that says it is “a highly emotional poetic form”, that may refer to “a wild passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm”. ‘Oracle’ probably doesn’t catch the full intent of the word Shigionoth!
The first two chapters of Habakkuk’s book is an interchange between him and God in which he complains about the presence of evil and God’s apparent indifference in dealing with it. He questions God and asks when he will he act. God responds that not only does he intend to judge Israel he is going to use their ungodly enemies to do it. This offended Habakkuk, probably in the same way that we would be offended if we learned that God was going bring disaster on our own country through an evil regime. The second chapter ends with Habakkuk acknowledging that God was in his Holy temple and the world should remain silent before him. He is the sovereign God, and he will fulfil his covenant by executing justice.
Chapter 3 has a completely different tone. Habakkuk no longer questions, now he prays and he asks specifically for three things. Firstly he asks for God to revive his work, then to make it known and finally to show mercy. These are things we all seek, we pray regularly for revival in our land even though we know we stand in need of judgement. Habakkuk wanted Israel to be spared judgment, but they would not be, any revival that came would be after Jerusalem was destroyed and the people taken into exile. Revival of the nation was dependent upon them repenting of their sin and turning to him in obedience and sincere worship. Those conditions have not changed and any revival in this nation or any other depends on them being fulfilled. God raises up nations to bring the change he needs, in Israel’s past he used the Babylonians, the Assyrians and others. Is it possible that if our own nations don’t turn and seek him, he will raise up another ungodly nation in judgment?
Habakkuk wanted to see evidence of God reviving his work, people needed to see it. What is the work that he wanted to see made known? Under the old covenant it was the deliverance of the nation and the restoration of worship to the temple. The tearing down of false idols and observance of the requirements of the covenant. What would be the evidence of God’s work being revived now? The Kingdom of heaven advancing against the power of darkness; the church, that is the people of God, living in victory and not defeat. Righteousness reigning in the cities and the country and his people living in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
The nation of Israel deserved the judgement it was about to receive and so Habakkuk pleaded that God would be merciful. Our nation deserves judgement, it has been blessed beyond measure and yet has turned its back on God. We have put falsehood and lies in his place and ignored his offer of grace and salvation. Our only hope is mercy and grace. As Habakkuk looked to the future and the disaster that seemed inevitable he sang that even in the worst of times, when everything around him collapsed he would still worship God. He sings: “yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God the Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Things around us may seem bleak and uncertain, but our strength is our God. He will lift us above the pain and suffering and deal with us in mercy. His grace is more than sufficient. But like Habakkuk let our prayer be for God to revive his work as we respond to him in faith and obedience.
- Is it right to complain and question God?
- What do you think is necessary for God to revive his work in your nation?
- Does the nation you live in deserve judgement?
- The Song of Daniel
When Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon captured Jerusalem he took captive a number of young men that showed promise and came from prominent families. Among them where Daniel and three friends. When they arrived in Babylon they were trained in the language and culture of the Babylonians for three years. Daniel and his friends proved to be more capable than all the others but also showed great integrity and faith by not compromising their beliefs and remaining true to their God.
The king had a dream which troubled him, even though he couldn’t remember the details. So, he called all, the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans (who were a special group who apparently could interpret dreams), including Daniel and his friends to not only explain the meaning of the dream, but tell him what the dream was. If they were unable to do that, they would all be put to death. It was too big a task for them, and the king ordered his threat to be carried out. Daniel though appealed to the king for some time and promised to tell the king what the dream was but also what it meant. He immediately went to his friends and prayed that God would make known the mystery. The dream and its interpretation is found in chapter 2 verses 31-45.
God revealed the dream and the explanation to Daniel and before he went to the king, he sang the song we find in verses 20-23. Daniel had committed himself to the impossible and trusted God to deliver him. He knew that only God could do what the king required and had faith that he would. Hs life and that of all the wise men of Babylon depended on it. As he begins the song he acknowledges this.
Daniel makes it clear that he has no doubt in God, he doesn’t fear the king because he is only there by God’s permission. This was a king that invaded his own country, murdered women and children along with the soldiers and tore down the temple. A king who in his country had absolute power and was about to demonstrate that by executing all of its leading scholars and religious leaders. If you were to think about the most feared nation leader in our world you may get close to this man, but probably not. Human rights and rules of war did not apply, he was not swayed by public opinion or the representation of other nations. Yet Daniel states it is God who raised him, and it would be God that would remove him. He determines the times and the seasons and would change them when he wanted to. A time would come when the king of Babylon would be removed but God would remain forever.
It is God who gives insight to those who are already wise, and he who will give knowledge to those who understand how to use it. Daniel needed revelation, to be able to see what was not seen and he acknowledges that is God who reveals deep and hidden things. Many people offer explanation of events, claiming to have some special capacity or understanding. It is God alone who can make visible the invisible and it will always be in accord with his revealed word, the Bible and the incarnate word which is his Son in whom the light dwells.
Once the king heard Daniel’s interpretation, he appointed him to his Royal court where he remained through Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and that of the next king as well. Daniel was taken as a captive and diligently applied himself to the role he was given while remaining strong in his faith. He was used mightily by God in the position he was given, even though it was in the service of an evil ruler. Wherever God has placed you, you can make a difference. It might be your influence in an ungodly place that makes the change that is needed. You may be the Daniel or Esther your nation, community or business or school desperately needs! Like them find godly people to protect and support you, commit entirely to the place you serve, and wait for God to open the door of opportunity.
- God said yes to an opportunity without knowing what he needed – would you?
- Daniel had a team of godly people to rely on, do you?
- How can you serve God in the place he has put you?
- The Song of the Ark
1 Chronicles 16:8-36
This psalm or song is credited to David although it is mainly a compilation of three Psalms which do not identify him as the author. These psalms are: Ps. 105:1–15; 96:1–13; and 106:1, 47–48 and they have been changed slightly to meet the purpose that David has for them. The Ark of the Covenant had just been returned to Jerusalem at David’s direction and he instructed his chief song leader, Asaph to lead the Levites in singing this newly arranged song in praise. It is a call to worship and thanksgiving.
The psalm begins with both a call to give thanks and also to call on his name. It was important for the congregation to call on God. Many church services and religious gatherings begin with a prayer of invocation. This is is a request for the spiritual presence and blessing of God, it is a serious, intentional invitation to God to make himself known in the presence of his people; to bless the service or activity, and to hear the prayers and petitions offered to Him. It is often the case that we rush into the service or event without stopping to invite God to join us, David made sure that this did not happen.
David also instructed the people to make God’s name known, not just to those gathered but to the nations around them. They were to sing praises and speak of the miracles they had witnessed and experienced. The worshipers were to seek God with their hearts and not just their minds. Many people have an intellectual understanding of who God is but have no emotional connection to him. The heart and the mind must both be engaged. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:1, 2 that it is in the renewing of our mind that is our acceptable worship, but true worship must engage the heart, the seat of our emotions as well.
The worshipers are then encouraged to remind themselves of the covenant God had made with them, of which the Ark was a very visible reminder. This covenant had existed throughout the generations from the time of Abraham and God had remained faithful to it even though the people of Israel had not. When they wandered through the wilderness seeking their own land God had preserved and protected them. He fought on their behalf and prevented other nations from doing them harm. We know that the people of Israel did engage in battles and often suffered at the hands of their enemies, but God brought them to the promised land as he promised he would.
God alone is worthy to be praised, all other gods are just worthless idols. It is God who made the heavens, and his majesty must be acknowledged and revered. Worship invites us into the presence of a sovereign God were there is strength and joy, but also a holy fear that does not take him lightly or presume upon his mercy. All the families of the people are to praise him, every clan and every tribe, they should present themselves to him, but not empty handed. They should bring a sacrifice, for the people of Israel sacrifices were required to maintain the conditions of the covenant, we are now recipients of a better covenant. Jesus Christ offered himself in our place as a sacrifice never to be repeated, but we are to continually bring a sacrifice of praise, that is the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name (Hebrews 13:15).
The song ends with a request for God to save the people from the nations so that they could continue to give thanks to God. This request is a little different from usual in that thanks is generally offered before deliverance and is often the basis for God’s action on behalf of his people. Nevertheless it is good to make our requests so that we are able to give God glory and honour rather than for some personal benefit.
- When you meet with God do you invite him to be present?
- Do you worship God with both your heart and your mind?
- Are you able to say that you continually bring a sacrifice of praise to God?
- The Song of Mary
The words of Mary recorded by Luke are often called the ‘The Magnificat’ which comes from her statement that she would magnify the Lord. Mary had been told by an angel that she was going to have a baby, not just any baby but one who would be great and called the Son of the Most High, she would call his name Jesus. Mary was skeptical, she asked the angel how that was possible because she was still a virgin. The angel replied that the Holy Spirit would produce the child within her and that nothing was impossible with God. As proof of God’s ability to do the impossible he told her that Elizabeth, her cousin who was unable to bear children was now pregnant in her old age. In what was a remarkable statement of faith and obedience Mary responded: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary decided to visit Elizabeth who was then 6 months pregnant. As soon as she met her cousin, her baby leapt in her womb in recognition of Mary and the child she would bear. Elizabeth declared: “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” She recognized Mary’s faith and that she was truly blessed by God. Mary responded with a song of praise. Much of this song is very similar to that of Hannah in 1 Samuel but also refers to many other Old Testament passages. Mary was obviously well versed in the scripture and strong in her faith.
The song begins by Mary expressing joy in her relationship with God. She was facing an uncertain future as a young unmarried woman who was pregnant and would no doubt face the challenges that would bring but her first thought was to praise God. She also acknowledged that he was her savior, and that she was in need of salvation, Mary was not sinless, nor perfect. God had seen her as someone without influence in the world, just a young girl preparing to be married probably without expectations beyond being a mother and a wife to a local tradesman, but God had changed her life. From then on every generation would call her blessed. God had done great things for her because he is mighty and he is also holy.
Mary could possibly be excused for wondering why God had chosen her, how was she going to cope with what she had to go through? When Moses was chosen, he tried to get out of it, Jonah ran in the opposite direction, Jeremiah complained he was too young but Mary not only willingly accepted God’s will for her – but saw it as a great thing, and rejoiced because of it. If God were to give you a challenge that would take you right out of your comfort zone, to step into the unknown, how would you respond?
The song now turns to the reasons why it is good to praise God. He has extended his mercy to every generation and protected them from harm. At the same time, he has shown that mercy by bringing down the arrogant and lifting up the humble. He has looked after the hungry, feeding them with good things, not just the bare essentials, but left the rich and powerful dissatisfied. No matter how much we fill our lives with, they will leave an emptiness than can only be filled with God. It is in humility that we find him, not in self confidence. God upsets the order of things, or at least as our world thinks they should be, he blesses the poor and humbles the rich while we naturally applaud the achievements of the wealthy and disparage the poor, often blaming them for their circumstances.
God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a mighty nation and even though he and his descendants turned their back on him, he extended mercy to them. He would do it again, this time by sending a son, born to a faithful young woman who willingly submitted to God’s purpose for her life – even though she had not counted the cost.
- Would you submit to God’s will as quickly as Mary did?
- Why does God so often seem to want to humble the successful and lift up the poor?
- Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and step into the unknown at God’s request?
- The Song of Zechariah
When Zechariah was told by an angel that his wife, who had been unable to have children and was now past the point when it was biologically possible, was going to have a baby, who he would call John, he needed convincing. Because he didn’t believe straight away Zechariah was struck dumb until after child’s birth. After the baby was born Elizabeth insisted his name would be John, but the gathered friends and relatives argued insisting he should be named after a relative, but Elizabeth wouldn’t agree. Zechariah was asked and when he wrote on a tablet that the baby’s name would be John his speech was restored.
Now able to speak Zechariah gave what is a song of praise, which also contains some prophetic statements. Having initially doubted the angel, Zechariah was now convinced that his son, who we know as John the Baptist would have a significant role in preparing the way for the coming Messiah. The one who was going to redeem the Jewish people, to release them from captivity and restore them as God’s chosen people. Zechariah first of all speaks about the Messiah, who was yet to be born, he was the horn of salvation. The horn was a symbol of strength and referred to Jesus the Son of the Most High God. His birth had been prophesied and it was necessary that he born in the house of David. He was going to save the people from their enemies, who at this time they understood to be the Romans who ruled over them. He would do this to fulfil the covenant God had made first with Abraham and then confirmed throughout the history of the Jewish people. Once set free they would be able to serve God without fear, to live righteous lives.
Like all good Jews Zechariah had looked forward to and prayed for the coming of this Messiah. He would come and raise up and army and drive their enemies out of the land, and once more they would worship in the temple unhindered. For hundreds of years there had been no prophets in Israel, God had been silent, now he had spoken, not to a political leader but to an elderly, childless woman and he equally elderly husband – who needed to be convinced. The Messiah was coming, not to be born in a palace to parents of royal standing, but to an unmarried woman engaged to a carpenter. Whatever Zechariah thought he kept to himself and being filled with Holy Spirit he prophesied about Jesus.
Now Zechariah turns his attention to his son John. Again, speaking prophetically, he declares that John would be called the prophet of the Most High and that he would prepare the way for the Lord. He would bring knowledge of salvation and forgiveness. John’s ministry began with calling people to repentance and baptizing them as they confessed their sin. It was during this activity that he recognized Jesus and called out ‘behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Zechariah did not know the new covenant that Jesus would bring but he knew by the revelation of the Holy Spirit this is what he came to do, and John was going to make things ready for him.
Zechariah ends his song with a reference to Isaiah 9, which we know was fulfilled at the birth of Jesus. The words of Isaiah 9:2 are: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” and later in verse 7 he says: “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Zechariah doubted, and God used him. Elizabeth was physically unable to bear children, but God did the impossible. Zechariah didn’t understand what God was going to do but he trusted. God broke into the lives of ordinary men and women to do the extraordinary and hope was fulfilled.
- When Zechariah was told the impossible was going to happen he was doubtful, was it a bit harsh that he was struck dumb?
- Zechariah thanked God for something he had not seen but could only accept by faith. Is this your experience?
- Are you ready for God to do extraordinary things through you?