Day 190

Listen to God

Wisdom Psalm 81:8-16
New Testament Acts 26:24-27:12
Old Testament 2 Kings 16:1-17:41

Introduction

In all our relationships, listening is very important. As the philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich put it, ‘The first duty of love is to listen’.

Some people are very good at listening. General George Marshall said, ‘Formula for handling people:

  • Listen to the other person’s story.
  • Listen to the other person’s full story.
  • Listen to the other person’s full story first.’

Listening to God is one of the keys to your relationship with him. ‘To listen’, means to hear attentively, ‘to pay attention to’. Prayer means giving God your full attention.

Wisdom

Psalm 81:8-16

8 Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
   if you would only listen to me, Israel!
9 You shall have no foreign god among you;
   you shall not worship any god other than me.
10 I am the Lord your God,
   who brought you up out of Egypt.
   Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.

11 “But my people would not listen to me;
   Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
   to follow their own devices.

13 “If my people would only listen to me,
   if Israel would only follow my ways,
14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies
   and turn my hand against their foes!
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
   and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
   with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Commentary

Listen to God speak to you through the Psalms

We all experience physical hunger, which can only be satisfied by food. You also have a spiritual hunger, which can only be satisfied by listening to God. God says, ‘If you would but listen to me…’ (v.8b).

The words of God satisfy your spiritual hunger. God promises, ‘Open wide your mouth and I will fill it’ (v.10). If you listen to him he says, ‘You would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you’ (v.16).

On the one hand, he says, ‘Listen, dear ones’ (v.8a, MSG). God wants the best for you, and warns of the perils of ignoring him. He continues, ‘But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices’ (vv.11–12). The result of not listening to God is that he gives us over to the consequences of our own actions (see also, Romans 1:24,26).

On the other hand, he promises that if you do listen to him he will act on your behalf: ‘If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies’ (Psalm 81:13–14a).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that each day I can listen to you and be satisfied as with ‘the finest of wheat’. Help me each day to pay attention to what you say, and then to trust you to act on my behalf.

New Testament

Acts 26:24-27:12

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Paul Sails for Rome

27 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbour in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

Commentary

Listen to God speak to you through the apostles

The apostle Paul was God’s messenger. God spoke through him. Those who were listening to Paul in this passage had the opportunity to listen to God.

When Paul was sailing to Rome, the centurion, ‘instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship’ (27:11). His failure to listen to Paul was almost disastrous.

In the first part of the passage we see Paul in chains before Festus and Agrippa. He was telling the good news about Jesus, his death and resurrection. Festus said, ‘You are out of your mind… your great learning is driving you insane’ (26:24). He says, ‘Paul, you’re crazy!’ (v.24, MSG). Some people have always thought, and still do, that Christians are just ‘a little crazy’.

Paul’s response was, ‘I am not insane… What I am saying is true and reasonable’ (v.25). He did not reply, ‘Yes, it is all a bit crazy but I believe it.’ He refused to accept the suggestion that his beliefs were irrational.

Paul argued that there is a rational basis for faith. There are good reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Our faith is ‘true and reasonable’ (v.25). We should not be afraid to present logical and reasonable arguments. We need intelligent presentations of the gospel.

However, reason alone is not enough. Before I became a Christian, I had listened to the arguments and the reasons for faith. Not all of my questions had been answered. Nevertheless, I took a step of faith based on what I had heard about Jesus. The moment I took the step of faith it was as if my eyes had been opened and I understood much of what I had not seen before.

Reason will only take us so far. However, when we are trying to persuade people, as Paul was, to follow Jesus, it is important to explain that the message about Jesus is ‘true and reasonable’.

Agrippa’s response to Paul was, ‘“Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long– I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”’ (vv.28–29).

Paul did not mind whether people became Christians through a crisis (‘short time’) or through a process (‘long time’). But he did all in his power to persuade them to become Christians, as he had. Paul was not ashamed to pray that people would become what he was (Galatians 4:12).

Paul had done nothing deserving death or imprisonment (Acts 26:31), yet the civil authorities found a rather pathetic excuse for not setting him free (v.32). This was unjust and unreasonable. It must have been deeply frustrating for Paul.

Yet here we are, 2,000 years later, listening to the words that Paul spoke on that occasion, and through them having the opportunity to listen to God.

Prayer

Lord, may we become like Paul in his faith and passion. As we tell the good news about Jesus may people have a sense that in listening to us they are listening to God.

Old Testament

2 Kings 16:1-17:41

Ahaz King of Judah

16 In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, Ahaz son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. 4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

5 Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him. 6 At that time, Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram by driving out the people of Judah. Edomites then moved into Elath and have lived there to this day.

7 Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.

10 Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction. 11 So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus and finished it before King Ahaz returned. 12 When the king came back from Damascus and saw the altar, he approached it and presented offerings on it. 13 He offered up his burnt offering and grain offering, poured out his drink offering, and splashed the blood of his fellowship offerings against the altar. 14 As for the bronze altar that stood before the Lord, he brought it from the front of the temple—from between the new altar and the temple of the Lord—and put it on the north side of the new altar.

15 King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: “On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Splash against this altar the blood of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.” 16 And Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered.

17 King Ahaz cut off the side panels and removed the basins from the movable stands. He removed the Sea from the bronze bulls that supported it and set it on a stone base. 18 He took away the Sabbath canopy that had been built at the temple and removed the royal entryway outside the temple of the Lord, in deference to the king of Assyria.

19 As for the other events of the reign of Ahaz, and what he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? 20 Ahaz rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the City of David. And Hezekiah his son succeeded him as king.

Hoshea Last King of Israel

17 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him.

3 Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. 4 But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. 5 The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.

Israel Exiled Because of Sin

7 All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods 8 and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. 9 The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. 10 They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. 11 At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. 12 They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, “You shall not do this.” 13 The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.”

14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”

16 They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.

18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.

21 When he tore Israel away from the house of David, they made Jeroboam son of Nebat their king. Jeroboam enticed Israel away from following the Lord and caused them to commit a great sin. 22 The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them 23 until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.

Samaria Resettled

24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.”

27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.” 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.

29 Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. 30 The people from Babylon made Sukkoth Benoth, those from Kuthah made Nergal, and those from Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. 33 They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.

34 To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. 37 You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. 38 Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39 Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.”

40 They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. 41 Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.

Commentary

Listen to God speak to you through the prophets

God allowed Israel to be taken captive and led away into exile because they refused to listen to him.

The history of this period in the book of 2 Kings could be summed up in the words ‘not listen’: ‘They would not listen... They would not listen’ (17:14,40). As we saw yesterday, all the problems the kings and the people of God faced were the result of not listening to God.

God spoke to his people through his servants the prophets. ‘God had taken a stand against Israel and Judah, speaking clearly through countless holy prophets and seers time and time again... But they wouldn’t listen’ (vv.13–14, MSG).

This was the reason they went into exile: ‘The exile came about because of sin: The children of Israel sinned against God... They did all kinds of things on the sly, things offensive to their God’ (vv.7–9, MSG).

‘They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”’ (v.15). The result of not listening was that the people of Israel lost the presence of God and were sent into exile in Assyria: ‘he thrust them from his presence… the Lord removed them from his presence’ (vv.20,23).

Like us, so often, they had not been ruthless enough about sin in their lives: ‘They honoured and worshiped God, but not exclusively... They don’t really worship God – they don’t take seriously what he says regarding how to behave and what to believe’ (vv.32,34 MSG). ‘They didn’t pay any attention. They kept doing what they’d always done’ (v.40, MSG).

Do you sometimes find that your heart is divided between following God and following your own desires? Guard yourself against complacency or carelessness – allowing sin to creep in. Don’t let the enemy lead you into disobeying God.

The truth is that God’s desire is always to bless us. His commands and instruction are given so that you might flourish (see Deuteronomy 6:1–3).

We see this in the fortunes of the different kings of Israel and Judah. The writer of 1 and 2 Kings gives us a thumbnail assessment of whether each king did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Every one of the kings of Israel is described as doing ‘evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (2 Kings 17:2), and it leads to the early destruction of the kingdom (v.8).

In contrast, around half of the kings of Judah are described in broadly positive terms, and around half in broadly negative terms. Under the ‘good’ kings Judah flourished, and its history is much longer and more positive than Israel’s. The reigns of the ‘good’ kings were generally longer than those of the ‘evil’ kings. The twelve evil kings reigned for a combined total of 130 years, whereas the ten good kings reigned for a total of 343 years. The ‘good’ kings still faced all kinds of difficulties and challenges, and following God is no guarantee of an easy life. Yet their example is a powerful reminder of the blessings and wisdom of listening to and following God.

Prayer

Lord, help me to listen carefully to what you say. Deliver me from secret sins. May I be quick to ask for help – that I may never allow sin to creep into my life. Help me not simply to do what the people around me do. Rather, help me to listen to your voice, follow you and enjoy your presence with me.

Pippa adds

In 2 Kings 17:41 it says:

Even while these people were worshipping the Lord, they were serving their idols.’

Sometimes when I’m in church worshipping, I start focusing on something else, like how nice someone’s shoes are, or whether I should cook fish or chicken for lunch! My heart is rather divided too.

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References

General George Marshall, quoted in Alfred Montapert, Distilled Wisdom: An Encyclopedia of Wisdom in Condensed Form, (Prentice Hall, 1964), p.241.

Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible, (Faithwords, 2018) p.593.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

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  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
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  • PIPPA ADDS

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