Acts: Body language

I think Dr Luke and I would get along very well: we both share an attention to detail. (Though in my case it sometimes leads to me forgetting about the big picture.) In reading through Acts recently, I took note of brief, incidental descriptions of body language.

Intense looks

Who’s looking? At what? Reference
 Disciples The sky  Acts 1:10
 Peter The cripple at Beautiful Gate  Acts 3:4
 Sanhedrin  Stephen  Acts 6:15
 Stephen  Heaven  Acts 7:55
 Cornelius  An angel of God  Acts 10:4
 Peter  The vision of a sheet  Acts 11:6
 Paul  Elymas the sorcerer  Acts 13:9
 Paul  The cripple at Lystra  Acts 14:9
 Paul  Sanhedrin  Acts 23:1

It would seem that cripples about to be healed received their fair share of fixated gazes 🙂

Hand motions

Who’s motioning? To whom? Reference
 Peter  Those gathered at Mary’s home  Acts 12:17
 Paul  Those gathered in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch  Acts 13:16
 Alexander  Those gathered in the amphitheatre at Ephesus  Acts 19:33
 Paul  Hostile crowd in Jerusalem  Acts 21:40

Hand motions to get the attention of a crowd: completely logical.

Others

  • Governor Felix gestures for Paul to speak, likely a nod (Acts 24:10)
  • When given permission by Agrippa to speak, Paul stretches out his hand before beginning (Acts 26:1)

So what?

In an age before fiction writing as we know it today was invented, these seemingly throwaway phrases bolster the credibility of the narrative. They’re just the kind of things an eyewitness would recall!

Kindness for the wicked

If I asked you to recount some particulars about King Ahab’s life, his wife, the incident with Naboth and the showdown at Mt. Carmel would likely be mentioned. Not many of you, I’m guessing, would put forward his repentance and the divine reprieve he received. I certainly wouldn’t have. And a blog post was born: who else in the books of Kings and Chronicles was thoroughly wicked and also a recipient of Yahweh’s kindness? The list is rather long:

Who Verdict Kindness
Rehoboam king of Judah “He did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek Yahweh.” (2 Chronicles 12:14) Shishak king of Egypt was coming to attack Jerusalem. God sent the prophet Shemaiah to tell the Judahites that since they had abandoned Him, He would abandon them to Shishak. The king and nobles of Judah humbled themselves and Yahweh sent Shemaiah with a message that He would not destroy Jerusalem, though they would be subjugated by Egypt. (2 Chronicles 12:5-8)
Abijah king of Judah “He walked in all the sins of his father that he had done before him, and his heart was not fully with Yahweh his God as the heart of David his father.” (1 Kings 15:3) Jeroboam king of Israel attacked Judah. Jeroboam set up an ambush behind the Judean troops and also attacked them from the front. The men of Judah cried out to Yahweh, who defeated Jeroboam and his army and gave Abijah and Judah a great victory. (2 Chronicles 13:13-18)
Ahab king of Israel “But Ahab son of Omri did evil in the eyes of Yahweh more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) First, the Lord gave him victory over Ben-Hadad king of Aram—twice (1 Kings 20:13-30). Second, after the Naboth affair, God pronounced judgment on him through the prophet Elijah. Ahab humbled himself before Yahweh and received a postponement on the punishment (1 Kings 21:20-29).
The people in Samaria  [Said of a different generation] “…for Yahweh is not with Israel, all the Ephraimites”
(2 Chronicles 25:7)
Ben-Hadad king of Aram had laid siege to Samaria. There was famine in the city and the residents had resorted to cannibalism (2 Kings 6:26-29). God sent word through the prophet Elisha that the siege would be lifted within 24 hours (2 Kings 7:1). Yahweh caused the besieging army to flee and used four lepers to take the news to the people of Samaria (2 Kings 7:3-18)
Jehoahaz king of Israel “But he did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and he went after the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat with which he had caused Israel to sin, and he did not depart from it.” (2 Kings 13:2) Because of the sins of Jehoahaz (see to the left), Yahweh gave the kingdom of Israel into the power of the kingdom of Aram. Jehoahaz asked for Yahweh’s mercy, and Yahweh sent an unnamed deliverer. Yet the people continued in their sins. (2 Kings 13:3-6)
Jehoash king of Israel “He did evil in the eyes of Yahweh; he did not depart from all of the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat which he caused Israel to sin, but walked in it.” (2 Kings 13:11) When the prophet Elisha was on his deathbed, Jehoash went to visit him. Elisha instructed him to shoot an arrow out of a window, symbolising victory over Aram. Elisha then told him to take the arrows and strike the ground with them. Jehoash struck only thrice. Elisha was angry that he hadn’t struck more times, for each strike symbolised a victory over Aram. (2 Kings 13:14-19)
Jeroboam II king of Israel “But he did evil in the eyes of Yahweh; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat which he caused Israel to sin.” (2 Kings 14:24) Through the prophet Jonah, he receives a word about the expansion of his kingdom’s borders. Yahweh also chose to use Jeroboam as there was no helper to relieve Israel’s bitter misery. (2 Kings 14:25-27)
People of Israel after the fall of the northern kingdom   [Said of a different generation] “…for Yahweh is not with Israel, all the Ephraimites”
(2 Chronicles 25:7)
King Hezekiah of Judah invited them to the huge Passover celebration he held, but many of them weren’t ritually clean. Hezekiah prayed that Yahweh would forgive those who were determined to seek Him, even though they were ceremonially unclean. Yahweh listened to Hezekiah and forgave. (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)
Manasseh king of Judah “And he did evil in the eyes of Yahweh according to the detestable things of the nations whom Yahweh drove out before the Israelites.” (2 Chronicles 33:2, the list of what he did goes on until verse 9) Because of Manasseh’s idolatry and refusal to listen to Yahweh’s prophets, He brought against Judah the commanders of the Assyrian army. Manasseh was seized, and carried to Babylon in humiliation. In his distress, Manasseh asked Yahweh for mercy and humbled himself. God responded by letting him return to Jerusalem, and Manasseh knew that Yahweh was God. (2 Chronicles 33:12-13)
Jehoiachin king of Judah “He did evil in the eyes of Yahweh according to all that his father had done.” (2 Kings 24:9) 37 years after being carried into exile to Babylon, he was released and treated kindly (2 Kings 25:27-30; Jeremiah 52:31-34).

How it works

I don’t detect any formula in this list: there are individuals and there are groups. There are kings of Judah and kings of Israel. Sometimes God acted on His own, other times He responded to prayer. Some people prayed for themselves, others needed a mediator.
What I do find is that Yahweh seems rather quick to show mercy: at the smallest sign of contrition, He’s got a blessing ready. Blows the image of the God of the Old Testament as wrathful and bent on revenge out of the water, doesn’t it?

Why God did it

In some of the accounts we’re told that the people carried on sinning even after Yahweh’s intervention. Why did He choose to be kind to them anyway?

Tucked away after the story of Elisha’s death we read:

“But Yahweh had mercy on them and showed compassion to them and turned to them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was not willing to destroy them nor cast them from his presence up to now.”
(2 Kings 13:23)

He did it because He’s a covenant-keeping God. It has nothing to do with our piety and uprightness or lack thereof, and everything with His unchanging character. And that’s something we can hang our deepest hopes on even today!

1&2 Kings: The word of Yahweh

I’d have never thought of turning to the books of Kings for a meditation on the efficacy of the word of the Lord, but it’s all over the place. Dozens of times the author of Kings points out that something happened “according to the word of the Lord…”. Sometimes the fulfilment occurred on the same day, other times it took centuries.

Going through this theme brought to mind a couple of scripture passages: Amos 3:7 and Isaiah 41:21-23 (I trust you’re intelligent people and can decipher them for yourselves 🙂 )

The following list will likely mean nothing to you unless you’re familiar with the storyline of 1&2 Kings. I’d suggest keeping this post handy until your next immersion in Kings, and let me know if I left out anything!

(The items are arranged in order of fulfilment.)

Spokesperson Pronouncement Fulfilment
A man of God God would cut off Eli’s descendants from serving Him at the altar (1 Samuel 2:31-33) Solomon removes Abiathar, Eli’s great-great grandson, from the priesthood (1 Kings 2:27)
Moses God would give Israel rest (Deuteronomy 12:10) Solomon blesses God for having given Israel rest (1 Kings 8:56)
Ahijah the Shilonite God would tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give 10 tribes to Jeroboam son of Nebat (1 Kings 11:29-36) Rehoboam son of Solomon doesn’t listen to the people’s request and they rebel against him (1 Kings 12:15-17)
A man of God from Judah The altar at Bethel would be torn down and the ashes on it poured out (1 Kings 13:3) The altar was torn down and the ashes poured out (1 Kings 13:5)
Prophet from Bethel Because the man of God from Judah had disobeyed the word of the Lord, he would not be buried in his ancestral tomb (1 Kings 13:21-22) The man of God from Judah was killed by a lion and buried in a tomb at Bethel (1 Kings 13:24-32)
Ahijah the Shilonite King Jeroboam’s sick son would die and be mourned for (1 Kings 14:12-13) The child died, was buried and mourned for (1 Kings 14:17-18)
Ahijah the Shilonite King Jeroboam’s dynasty would be cut off (1 Kings 14:14) Baasha son of Ahijah killed all the descendants of Jeroboam (1 Kings 15:27-30)
Jehu son of Hanani King Baasha’s dynasty would suffer the same fate as Jeroboam’s (1 Kings 16:1-4) Zimri killed all the descendants of Baasha (1 Kings 16:8-13)
Joshua son of Nun Whoever rebuilt Jericho would do so at the cost of his eldest and youngest sons (Joshua 6:26) Hiel of Bethel lost his firstborn and his youngest sons (1 Kings 16:34)
Elijah the Tishbite There would be no rain in Israel for the next few years (1 Kings 17:1) Water courses dried up (1 Kings 17:7)
Elijah the Tishbite The widow’s jar of flour and jug of oil would not be exhausted (1 Kings 17:14) The jar of flour wasn’t used up and the jug of oil didn’t run dry (1 Kings 17:16)
Elijah the Tishbite Dogs would lick up King Ahab’s blood in the same place they had licked up Naboth’s blood (1 Kings 21:19) Ahab’s chariot was washed in the pool at Samaria and dogs licked up his blood there (1 Kings 22:38)
Elijah the Tishbite Ahaziah son of Ahab would not recover from a fall and would certainly die (2 Kings 1:4, 6, 16) Ahaziah died (2 Kings 1:17)
Elisha son of Shaphat Yahweh would heal the waters of Jericho that were causing death (2 Kings 2:21) The waters were purified (2 Kings 2:22)
Elisha son of Shaphat One hundred men would eat twenty loaves of barley bread and have some left over (2 Kings 4:43) They ate and had some left over (2 Kings 4:44)
Elisha son of Shaphat Naaman would be healed of his disease after washing himself seven times in the Jordan river (2 Kings 5:10) Naaman’s skin was restored to that of a young boy after he washed (2 Kings 5:14)
Elisha son of Shaphat The following day, a seah of flour would sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel (2 Kings 7:1) After the end of the siege by the Arameans, a seah of flour sold for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel (2 Kings 7:16)
Elisha son of Shaphat The royal official who doubted Elisha’s word above would see it, but not eat any of it (2 Kings 7:2) The official was trampled in the gateway as the people stampeded on the way to plunder the Aramean camp (2 Kings 7:17-20)
Elijah the Tishbite Dogs would devour Jezebel at Jezreel (1 Kings 21:23) All that remained of Jezebel were a few bones (2 Kings 9:30-37)
Elijah the Tishbite All of King Ahab’s descendants would be eaten by scavenging animals or birds (1 Kings 21:24) Jehu son of Nimshi killed all in Israel who were related to Ahab (2 Kings 10:1-11, 17)
Jonah son of Amittai Israel’s borders would be extended to the north and to the east (2 Kings 14:25) Israel’s borders were extended to Lebo Hamath and to the sea of the Arabah (2 Kings 14:25)
Unnamed Jehu’s descendants would sit on the throne of Israel up to the fourth generation (2 Kings 10:30) Zechariah, Jehu’s great-great grandson reigned only six months: he was assassinated (2 Kings 15:10-12)
Moses and other prophets The people of Israel would be driven out of the land if they persisted in sin (Leviticus 18:26-28, 20:22, 26:27-33; Deuteronomy 4:25-27, 28:64, etc.) The northern kingdom of Israel was carried into exile by Assyria (2 Kings 17:7-23)
The man of God from Judah A descendant of David named Josiah would burn human bones on the altar at Bethel (2 Kings 13:1-2) Josiah desecrated the altar at Bethel by burning bones on it (2 Kings 23:15-16)
Moses and other prophets The people of Judah would be destroyed if they persisted in sin (Leviticus 18:26-28, 20:22, 26:27-33; Deuteronomy 4:25-27, 28:64, etc.) The southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:2-3)
Isaiah son of Amoz All the palace treasures that Hezekiah king of Judah had shown to the emissaries from Babylon would one day be carried off to Babylon (2 Kings 20:16-18) The Babylonians carried off to Babylon all the temple and palace treasures (2 Kings 25:13-17)

Isaiah 40-66: The arm of the Lord

The arm of the Lord is a recurring motif throughout Scripture, where it almost always refers to the earthly manifestation of God’s power, particularly as seen in the Exodus. Isaiah takes that image and adds other attributes to it:

Isaiah_Arm of the Lord
Isaiah 40-66:The arm of the Lord (click to enlarge)

Power is still central, but it’s now linked to blessing, salvation and to a person (the Suffering Servant). Salvation is in turn linked to justice, righteousness and wrath.

Tenderness is closely related to power and blessing, but I’m not sure how to represent the overlap between those three 😉

The verses referred to are: Isaiah 40:10-11; 51:5, 9; 52:10; 53:1; 59:16; 62:8; 63:5, 12.

The eyes of the Lord are active

When I was in high school, we used to sing a song about the eyes of the Father searching the earth looking for intercessors. I was reminded of it when I read 2 Chronicles 16:9, which is part of a prophet’s words of judgement to King Asa of Judah:

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless towards him.

I always thought the words of the song were drawn from the Bible, so I embarked on a search. I came up empty—but not unrewarded, for I found a number of verses about the eyes of the Lord doing something.

(Note: the links point to the context of the verse)

For good

  • Deuteronomy 11:12 – Moses tells the Israelites that the Lord’s eyes are on the land of Canaan all year round.
  • 1 Kings 9:3, 2 Chronicles 7:15-16 – In response to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, Yahweh tells the king that His eyes and heart would  be on that house for all time.
  • 2 Chronicles 16:9 – King Asa of Judah failed to trust in the Lord who strengthens those who are fully committed to Him.
  • Psalm 33:18 – The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him that He may deliver them
  • Psalm 34:15 – The eyes and ears of the Lord are towards the righteous that He may deliver and save them.
  • Psalm 101:6 – The eyes of the Lord are on the faithful that they may dwell with Him.
  • Jeremiah 24:6 – The Lord set His eyes on the Judean exiles to bring them back to the land and to give them a heart to know Him.

For harm

  • Jeremiah 5:3 – The eyes of the Lord looked for truth, but found none. The people of God would be destroyed, but not completely.
  • Amos 9:4, 8 – The eyes of the Lord are on the sinful kingdom (i.e. Israel) for evil and not for good. It would be destroyed, but not completely.

For both good and harm

  • Psalm 11:4 – His eyes are on both the righteous and the wicked. The former will see His face and the latter will face judgement.
  • Proverbs 15:3 – “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
  • Proverbs 22:12 – “The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor.”

So what?

One common thread I see in these verses is that God’s eyes are on something or someone in order that He may do something.

1. So that God may do something: The song of my teenage years had Him searching for people who would do something, which kind of puts the spotlight on us humans. From these verses, it is clear that the God of Israel is the one doing the main action.

2. So that God may do something: He’s not just watching for the sake of it but so that He may act accordingly: either to bring judgement or to bring blessing. And in this collection of verses, there’s more about blessing than about judgement.

The Lord is watching and is actively involved in the lives of His children—for His glory and for their good!

(P.S. If you know the song and its scriptural reference, do share in the comments!)

Moses, Elijah and the mountain of God

One of the things I’m doing this year as I read through the Bible is noting down place names. It’s something that had been in the recesses of my mind for some time, but watching this lecture on the physical theology of the Bible gave me the prodding I needed to get on with it (using Microsoft OneNote). So far I’ve got about 90 place names and every so often I make a connection, which is most exciting!

That said, the scaffolding for the observations in this post came from this talk . No doubt I’m unconsciously plagiarising someone else as well 🙂

Moses, Horeb and Yahweh’s glory

Mount Horeb (or Sinai) is unquestionably a very significant location in Israel’s history. It was there God first revealed Himself to Moses in the not-burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2) .

Three months after the Israelites left the bondage of Egypt, they arrived at the same spot and there they all met with God (Exodus 19:17). God revealed Himself in fire, smoke, thunder, lightning and a quaking mountain (Exodus 19:18, 20:18).

Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18), came down (Exodus 32) and then went back up again for another forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28). This second ascent happened after the golden calf incident, and a despondent Moses asked to see Yahweh’s glory. Yahweh obliged, adding some health and safety stipulations for Moses’ benefit (Exodus 33:19-23). As He passed by, Yahweh spoke. The result of the encounter was a reassured servant.

After 11 ½ months of camping at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1, Numbers 10:10-12), the Israelites left, never to return. Except for one lone, despondent prophet centuries later.

Elijah, Horeb and Yahweh’s glory

Elijah the Tishbite had just been mightily used by God, but the mass repentance he had hoped for wasn’t happening. After receiving a death threat from the queen, he ran for his life (1 Kings 19:1-3). While he was out in the wilderness, God sent an angel to give him food for the journey ahead—a forty-day trip to Horeb.

Yahweh met him the day after he arrived. After a brief dialogue, He instructs the prophet to stand in a particular spot and “the LORD passed by” (1 Kings 19:11, ESV). There was a hurricane-force wind, an earthquake and a fire—all followed by the voice of God. Yahweh spoke, and the result was a reassured servant.

Moses and Elijah on another mountain

The ends of the lives of Moses and Elijah were atypical. Moses was buried by God Himself (Deuteronomy 34:5-6); Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Both of these men of God who had talked with God and had seen something of His glory turned up at the top of a different mountain to talk about another atypical departure from the earth (Luke 9:30-31 and parallels). Only this time their faces weren’t covered when the Son of God revealed His radiant glory.

So what?

Moses and Elijah had specific God-ordained roles in salvation history, so it would be presumptuous to desire their experiences. That’s not my point. While I think there’s much we can learn, I’ll briefly mention two things.

God’s servants

I’ve already noted that right before meeting with God, both Moses and Elijah were in a state of despair. Incidentally, the cause was identical—the people of God had abandoned the covenant. In this they point to Someone else who grieved over the people of God (Matthew 23:37-39, Luke 13:34-35). (Do you ever grieve over the condition of the church?)

The servants’ God

Another thing that struck me as I re-read both accounts was the importance attached to what God said over and above what God did. There were great displays of (super)natural phenomena, but the lasting element was what Yahweh said.

The words He proclaimed to Moses in Exodus 34 turn up in lots of places in the rest of the Old Testament, from the psalms to sulky Jonah.The instructions he gave to Elijah had an immediate effect in the following decades and an indirect one for much longer. And we would do well to heed what God said about His beloved Son on top of the third mountain.

And I think that’s where the beauty of all this lies. Even though we may never experience a jaw-dropping, mind-blowing theophany this side of eternity, we have the written records of those who did, and “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19)!