Christianity 201

June 6, 2021

Speaking Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

We were on a road trip with the kids and saw a record store and thought we’d pick up a new CD to listen to as we drove. I found an album which contained a song we’d grown to love on YouTube, but it turned out what we’d heard online was a remix, and when the track came up, it was quite different. Still, I always enjoyed the band, but then lost track of them somewhat.

Earlier this week the YouTube algorithm thought I might enjoy a song by them, and as much as I liked the music, I also appreciated that they were using their music industry platform to champion a cause that was important to them.

As I considered this earlier today, I thought of Queen Esther. At a key juncture in the history of her people, she finds herself with a unique platform, and wrestles with risking all to speak out. Mordecai tells her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

The phrase “for such a time as this” is so strongly identified with this story that I hesitated to even quote it, and almost all translators are reluctant to change it, but here’s how some other translations render Esther 4:14:

  • who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this [and for this very purpose]? (Amplified Bible)
  • Maybe it was for a moment like this (CEB)
  • Perhaps it was for a circumstance such as this (Segund 21 via Google translate)
  • Perhaps you have become queen precisely to help us in this situation! (Dios Habla Hoy via Google translate)

Esther’s unique placement in the king’s household meant that there was no plan B; no visible alternative that might effect the deliverance of her people.

The same is true of Nathan. He is another whose story is remembered for a very short phrase, “Thou art the man.” Okay, that’s a bit King Jamesey for some of you, but even with our modern translations, that’s how I remember it. The NIV has it as “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!'” 2 Samuel 12:7.

I’m sure that in this situation, Nathan was the stereotypical reluctant prophet, though presenting his challenge/accusation to David through a parable certainly softened the impact. Initially, at least. Nathan uses his platform as prophet to arrest David in his tracks. Only then does he launch into more typical prophet-language and in the five verses which follow, spells out to David his transgression with Bathsheba, and we should add, his transgression with Uriah, her husband.

Has God placed you in a unique place in someone’s story or given you a unique platform?

Earlier this week someone tweeted this:

If God calls you to be a Nathan, and you don’t respond, then you need a Nathan.

Think about it.

Clarke Dixon wrote these words here in 2018 referencing Esther:

…Mordecai and Esther are not perfect Jews. Both have names reflecting pagan deities. You have likely heard the expression “Dare to be a Daniel”. We preachers love that story as we encourage people to have the courage to stand up and stick out for their faith. Esther does not dare to be a Daniel until it is nearly too late, preferring, on the advice of Mordecai, to keep her faith a secret, even from her husband! Where Daniel kept to a kosher diet, we see no such efforts from Esther. The Book of Esther is not a story of God rewarding a good Jew for her piety. It is a story of God keeping His covenant promises despite the imperfections of His people…

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is another example of God choosing to use someone uniquely situated in location and time. While she had no platform before the conception miracle, she breaks out into a powerful prophetic voice after being told of her place in God’s larger narrative, revealing the inner-life she had with God. It is only in hindsight we see her willingness to be used by God:

Galatians 4:4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.

and also Christ’s uniquely placement in location and time:

Romans 5:6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (both NIV; italics added)

Sometimes we ourselves need to recognize or even enhance the “no plan B” circumstance. Writer Sharon Jaynes comments on the anointing of Elisha to replace Elijah:

…Elisha was just minding his own business and doing his job when Elijah walked up and threw his cloak over him. I’m sure it seemed very “out of the blue” to this young man. But I’ve learned that oftentimes what seems “out of the blue”, is right “out of God’s playbook.” God had had this in the works for quite some time.

We don’t know much about Elisha. He was just a working man. Every day, he got up out of bed, hooked up the oxen, and looked at their backsides. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary. Just a working man.

But God had a plan; God chose a man.

Now, here’s what grabbed my heart. After Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, which was a sign that he was passing his prophetic anointing to the younger man, Elisha went back to tell his family goodbye. He also had a giant barbeque celebration and sacrificed his oxen. He didn’t keep a few just in case this prophet gig didn’t work out. He even burned the plow.

He burned the symbol of his former life.

He burned the source of his former livelihood.

There was no turning back.

There was no plan B…

Who are those uniquely situated in your personal sphere of influence?


For some of you, the mention of Elisha burning the plow (or for our UK readers, plough) reminded you of the popular CCM song, Burn the Ships by King and Country. In 2018 we ran a devotional based on the original story.

 

 

December 21, 2015

Asking for a Double Portion

2 Kings 1 (NLT) When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal…

…8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Though much more meaningful than a “What do you want for Christmas?” type of question, Elisha is still given a wide open set of possibilities when Elijah asks him what he would like. It’s a question of what Elijah will “do” so some type of blessing is in view here, but Elisha’s response is unique in scripture.

Most translations refer to the request as for a “double portion” but we also have:

  • Let me have twice your spirit (CEB)
  • Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets (CEV)
  • Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit. (Holman)
  • Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you. (Peterson)
  • Leave me a double share of your spirit. (NCV, NRSV, NLT and others)

Double PortionEven with the help of various translations, I still wasn’t clear as to what was meant by the request. Did he want be Elijah-times-two? Actually, the translation by Peterson above (The Message) is closest to what I read at sermonnotebook.org : (I’ve underlined key sentences)

The Content Of His Request – Elisha asked to receive double portion of Elijah’s spirit! The request was not for twice the power that had rested on Elijah. The request was to be recognized as Elijah’s replacement. Of course, he had already been selected by God for that position – 1 Kings 19:16. It was common for firstborn children to receive a double portion of their father’s estate. This was mandated by the Law, Deut. 21:17. (Note: He called Elijah “my father” in verse 12.) Elisha was asking for the right of the firstborn! He was asking that the same Spirit that had empowered the ministry of this great man of God be given to him as well. What kind of spirit was he asking for?

1. A Spirit Of Faith – Elijah learned to trust in the presence and power of God in this world. He knew that God was in absolute control of every situation. He walked by faith!

2. A Spirit Of Obedience – Elijah instantly and without question, even when the commands of God made no sense at all!

3. A Spirit Of Courage – His faith in God and his obedience to God combined to give him the courage to stand for God, even when others ran away.

He merely wanted to take over where Elijah had left off. He wanted to be the next prophet to Israel!

But scripture, ever rich in meaning, can offer us multiple perspectives, insights and applications. At biblestudytools.com the double portion is said to be: (again, I’ve done some underlining; read slowly)

The two parts of the gifts of the spirit he had, that of prophecy, and that of doing miracles, as some think; or two parts out of three of what Elijah was possessed of; or rather double as much, and which he might desire, not from a spirit of vanity and ambition to be greater than his master, but from an eagerness to promote the glory of God, and the interest of religion, to reclaim the Israelites from their idolatry, and establish the true religion, which he might observe Elijah was not able to do with that measure of grace and gifts he had; or however this phrase denotes an abundance, a large portion or measure, as it everywhere does.

Many… have thought it refers to the double portion of the firstborn, and that Elisha does not mean a double portion with respect to Elijah, but with respect to the junior prophets, with whom he might be considered as a firstborn, and so desired a double or greater portion than they, and which may be most correct; and when he asked this, he did not suppose it was in Elijah’s power to give him it, only that he would pray to God, at parting with him, that he would bestow it on him.

So when you’re asked what you want for Christmas, you can give the person who asked you something to think about when you say, “A double portion of God’s Spirit.” Seriously, what better thing could Elisha, or any of us, ask for?


We’ve covered the meaning of “double portion” before here in May of 2012 in an excellent devotional study by K.W. Leslie.


Do you have a verse or passage you’d like to see studied here? Send us the reference using the contact/submissions page.

August 21, 2013

One Foot in Front of the Other

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Our guest today is Rick Apperson who, with his wife Sarah are missionaries in British Columbia, Canada. This appeared at his blog Just a Thought recently; to read at source click here.

ESV II King 5:13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Perseverance.

I see that word and it brings up a lot of different thoughts.

Hard work.
Two steps forward, one step back.
Falling down…a lot!
Blood, sweat and tears.
Failure…more than once.
Christianity!

The Bible talks about perseverance and endurance often but there is a story I was reading in 2 Kings 5:1-19 that really resonated with me. Maybe it was because I am in a place where the idea of perseverance has become a reality.  We live in a world filled with pain and hardship.  In this world, we get glimmers of grace and hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

perseveranceRecently I have had to persevere through some pretty significant issues.  Like the man in the picture…it feels like a slog up a long path, one foot in front of the other.

It is how I have been living lately.

I won’t lie, I wish our problems had instant solutions.  In this fast-paced, answers now society, we don’t like waiting for anything.  Waiting for answers, healing, guidance, etc does not fit that plan.  Yet that is what God calls us to do.  To wait, to persevere.

So getting back to 2 Kings.  Naaman was a mighty warrior of some renown.  He was also a leper.  Eventually he heard about a prophet who may be able to heal him.  He traveled with many gifts and finally came face to face with Elisha.  He wanted instant answers but was told that he had to dip seven times in the Jordan River.  He got angry, not liking what he heard, and left.

Cooler heads prevailed and encouraged him to listen to Elisha.  He went to the Jordan,  dipped in seven times and came out healed!

I can so relate.

When I come to God, I don’t want delayed answers.  Like Naaman, I have sometimes gotten angry with the answers I did receive. I especially don’t like it when the answer is to persevere.

Yet God’s ways are higher than ours.  He has a plan.

I can obey or kick against it.

I want to obey.

Which means I have to persevere at times.  Times like now.  I don’t know how long it will be before we see the other side of this challenging time, but it doesn’t matter.  God is in control.

In the meantime, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep my eyes on Him!

~Rick Apperson

This is the 7th time (!) we’ve used Rick’s material or provided links to his writing. For more click here. To visit Just a Thought click here.

 

May 17, 2012

Receiving a Double Portion Isn’t Twice as Much

Sometimes, churches build a ‘culture’ around an interpretation of certain words and phrases which come to mean something to them that it never meant in the original text. K.W. Leslie, whose writing has been seen on this blog a couple of times before deals with this in an article entitled Out of Context: The Double Portion. To support the writers quoted here, please click the link and read the day’s thoughts at the source blogs.

Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”

2 Kings 2.9 ESV

Years ago I listened to a youth pastor quote this verse as he spoke about how each generation of young people should ideally receive a “double portion” of their parents’ spirit. I’ve heard other pastors teach likewise. By “spirit” they don’t usually mean the Holy Spirit—though sometimes they do, and the preaching starts to turn mighty weird. Most commonly they mean a person’s enthusiasm, their devotion to God, their spiritual activity, and so forth. Ideally, parents should pass this “double portion” to their children, who would in turn pass this “double portion” to their kids, and so on till Jesus returns.

Here’s the thing. By “double portion,” the pastor meant twice as much. The kids would have twice as much spirit as their parents. Their kids would have twice as much spirit as they. Their grandkids would have twice as much spirit as their kids—and, if you do the math, that’d be 16 times as much spirit as the first generation.

In fact, let’s do even more math. Assume the very first generation of Christians, namely the 120-some people who originally received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in the year 33, were following this “double portion principle,” so to speak. Assume there’ve been 100 generations of Christians since—a really conservative estimate. After 100 generations, the “double portion” we should receive would be 2100 times the original amount of spirit. That’s more than 633 octillion (i.e. followed by 27 zeroes) times the spirit. More spirit than there are atoms in the universe.

So: Why aren’t we Christians walking around with so much spirit that, frankly, whenever we make a new convert, their chest explodes from the amount of spirit suddenly whooshing into them?

Obviously because “double portion” doesn’t mean twice as much. The New Living Translation tacks on a few words at the end of the verse to explain the historical context:

Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

2 Kings 2.9 NLT

In the ancient Middle East, when a father died, his property was divided into equal portions and given to each of his sons. (If he had no sons, the Hebrews had it given to each of his daughters, Nu 27.8.) The firstborn, or the eldest, would be given two of these portions—the double portion. It wasn’t twice as much as his father had; that’s not mathematically possible. It was simply twice as much as his brothers received—and in those days, with those big families, it wouldn’t have amounted to that much. Even in the richest of families. It definitely wasn’t the eldest-male-takes-all system we find in Western aristocracies.

The firstborn inherited the double portion largely because he had particular responsibilities as his father’s successor. He was now responsible for leading his extended family. He had to care for his father’s wives and minor children. He had to arrange husbands for his sisters. If his father was a tribal leader, that role fell to him. If there were any personal blessings or prophecies (or even curses) attached to the family, they might fall to him too.

The birthright Jacob bought off his twin brother Esau (Ge 25.29-34) didn’t threaten to leave Jacob penniless when their father died. It only meant Esau would inherit twice as much—but have ten times the responsibility. The writers of the bible didn’t rebuke Esau for not caring about the stuff; there’s nothing wrong with rejecting material possessions. It was for dodging his duties. It was for setting aside God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants.

When Elisha asked for a double portion, he wasn’t asking for twice as much Holy Spirit. He was asking to be Elijah’s successor—to be recognized as the LORD’s chief prophet in northern Israel, the recognized leader of the LORD’s other prophets, the go-to prophet for kings and priests and people. Now, he could have asked for this because he wanted the honor—although considering how pagan the kings of Israel were, the constant threat of death didn’t make the job that much of an honor. More likely Elisha asked it because he wanted to serve. He recognized the people, in Elijah’s absence, would want someone to look to, and the prophets needed leadership. He offered to do it.

This is why Elijah’s response was, “You have asked a difficult thing.” (2Ki 2.10 NLT) Elijah wasn’t warning Elisha away from his request, or rebuking him for hubris. True prophets, like both Elijah and Elisha, are humble. They know they’re working for God; that titles don’t matter. It was in humility Elisha asked to succeed Elijah. It was in humility Elijah said the decision wasn’t really up to him, but Elisha would get his request if God permitted him to watch Elijah ascend to heaven. And the other prophets confirmed it when Elisha met with them afterward. (2Ki 2.15)

Some of the reason for this twice-the-spirit teaching is partly because people aren’t aware of the historical context. Some of it is human greed—hey, check this out, we can get twice what some other person got, so let’s seek that!—and how the possibility of a really nice blessing appeals to us. And, as usual, if a person we respect teaches it, we pass along that teaching without investigating it for ourselves, assuming the respected preachers probably know what they’re talking about. And sometimes they do. Sometimes not.

Plus there’s evidence: There are more stories about Elisha’s miracles in 2 Kings than there are stories about Elijah’s. Some pastors have estimated there are precisely twice as many Elisha stories, which conclusively proves their twice-the-spirit theory. (In fact there are actually more than twice as many Elisha stories.) Some have even attempted to teach that Jesus’s disciples performed twice as many miracles as did Jesus. (Which stands to reason: Jesus ministered on earth for maybe three years or so, and his apostles ministered for decades.) Honestly, we should see later generations do more in faith because they’re preceded by so many good examples. But it’s not a matter of doubling the power, doubling the spirit, doubling anything. It’s not math.

Math is actually limiting. If you assume you should do twice as much as your predecessors, you may burn yourself out trying to be (or look) twice as busy. You may spend more time trying to perform mighty deeds, and less time getting closer to God, trying to obey him, trying to reform your character, and worshiping him as he wants. There will be this foolish drive to prove your anointing, instead of obeying the Holy Spirit and letting him prove it for you by working with and through you.

Or, on the other extreme: If the Holy Spirit wants to do ten times as much, but you have a mindset of achieving only twice as much, you’re not going reach your potential. The Spirit may be obligated to use someone else—someone with the faith for it—to achieve his big goals. You’re never gonna have the faith to achieve more than the small tasks. (Or the tasks that only appear small.) In many things, twice as much isn’t anywhere near big enough. Certainly not for an infinite God.

But if you want to follow Elisha’s actual in-context example, do this: Get involved in a ministry like Elijah’s. Doesn’t have to be a prophetic ministry; any ministry will do. Assist the leader. Be helpful. Be useful. Be humble. Be Spirit-led. Develop those gifts and abilities that help the ministry, and the Kingdom, most. When the time comes, and you see your talents can serve the ministry best in administration, then ask for that double portion. If you ask in all humility, he may say yes. Or he may not; it’s entirely up to him, and if you did ask in all humility, you’ll be okay with his answer either way. But Christianity always suffers a shortage of humble leaders, and if you want to take on that role, go for it.

~K. W. Leslie