Christianity, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (October 20, 2019) Faith Can Heal / Humble Faith Luke 7:1-10

Faith Can Heal / Humble Faith Luke 7:1-10

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This centurion from the Roman Empire DESERVES a favor from Jesus.  He loves the Jewish people, he’s kind to them, and he even built them a synagogue.  If anyone deserves a favor from Jesus shouldn’t it be him?  Well, that’s not exactly how things work with Jesus.  As benevolent and kind and generous as this centurion may have been portrayed, Jesus is not a transactional Savior.  You can’t expect God to move on your behalf based solely on your good deeds and good works.  Kindness, humility, generosity, modesty, and meekness are all great virtues.  But those virtues don’t move God on your behalf.  If you want God to move on your behalf it will take faith.  In this case the centurion knows faith can heal and he demonstrates humble faith.  Faith was the key for this centurion and it’s the key for us today.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:  

Gentile

Slavery

Background 

The Gospel According to Luke is the third of the four Gospels.  It is also the third of the three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The synoptic Gospels tell much of the same stories, use much of the same sources and tell those stories in much the same way.  The Gospel according to John is not synoptic and tells somewhat different stories and tells them in a different way. 

 Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “the author does not identify himself by name, but he does tell us a good deal about himself.”  Most people understand Luke to be a physician and a writer with excellent command of the Greek language.  Nelson’s also notes that Luke was likely written sometime after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD.  Some scholars suggest it was written about 80 or 90 AD but neither the exact date nor the true author is known.  Luke is also known as a Gospel written for the Gentiles.  Nelson’s notes that “Luke is the most socially minded of the Gospels; in it Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the excluded (6:20-23).” 

This seventh chapter of Luke begins with the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant.  While the text calls him a servant I should note that the text is referring to the centurion’s slave.  Additionally, this is the same story in Matthew 8:5-13.  In the Matthew eight version the servant is referred to as a slave.  Townsend Commentary explains that Matthew 8:6 describes the servant as “lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress”.

While Townsend notes that “slaves in the New Testament period were not mistreated as a rule” Dr. Mitzi J. Smith explains in True to Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that “slavery under Roman Empire was no different from other slave societies in the cruel and inhumane treatment of slaves.”  She continues, “slave-owners regularly forced slaves and criminals to fight against gladiators and wild beasts in the arena and that even with legislation against cruel treatment of slaves it was the slave-owners who determined what was extreme cruelty.”  The point is we should not think of New Testament enslavement as somehow more benevolent or less cruel than American chattel enslavement. 

I should also note that this text provides an example of why translations matter.  In verse two, the King James Version interprets the centurion’s sentiment toward his slave as a servant who was dear to him.  The New Revised Standard Version interprets his sentiment toward the enslaved as someone the centurion valued highly.  I think differently about something that is dear to me than I do about something that I value highly.  Something that is dear to me is usually a person.  Something that is valued highly is usually a thing, not a person. 

In this text, the centurion is a Roman official.  The Israelites are under the rule of an oppressive Roman Empire.  Yet even in the midst of oppression this text highlights a supporter or patron among the oppressors.  Townsend Commentary notes that “people often have faith in others based on their good reputation.”  Clearly Jesus’s reputation preceded him in the case of this Roman Centurion both believing and acting on his belief in the authority of Jesus.  The centurion knows that with Jesus faith can heal.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Gentile

Slavery

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson was focused on the faithfulness of both the widow of Zarephath and Elijah the prophet.  The lesson began at 1 Kings 17:8 with an often used phrase in the Old Testament.  “The word of the LORD came to me”.  This phrase indicates the reader should pay special attention because God is about to speak.

In verse nine the LORD told Elijah to go to Zarephath which was a city near Sidon on the Phoenician coast.  The LORD told Elijah to live there because The LORD had commanded a widow who lived there to feed him.  The NISB explains that “God sent Elijah among the Phoenicians, which was the center of Baal worship, to demonstrate that even in the land of Baal, the LORD was sovereign.  In other words, God was sending Elijah away from the land of Israel into a foreign land.  And ultimately God would show that the one true and living God was God outside Israel also. 

I explained that it was important to note two things.  First, the LORD had already commanded a widow to take care of Elijah.  And secondly, the widow lived in the heart of Baal worship territory so she was likely not a worshiper of Elijah’s God.  She probably worshiped Baal.  I noted that Townsend Commentary explains that “the Old Testament portrays God as being particularly concerned for “the widow, the orphan, and the poor” – that is, the vulnerable and marginalized in society”.  In chapter seventeen we saw God using a woman who most likely didn’t even know who the one true and living God was.  But yet, God used this woman to show God’s sovereignty.  I made that point that, God can use whomever God wants to use.  God can deliver whomever God wants to deliver.  And just because they don’t do religion the way you do religion doesn’t mean God doesn’t care for them. 

In verse ten Elijah went to Zarephath.  When he arrived the gate of the city the unnamed widow was there gathering sticks.  Elijah asked her for a drink of water.

In verse eleven as she was going to get the water Elijah asked her for a morsel of bread. 

In verse twelve the unnamed widow said “as the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug”.  Elijah had traveled all that distance, only to discover that this woman God commanded to feed him only had a handful of meal.  She told Elijah that she was gathering a few sticks so she could go home, prepare her meal for herself and her son, and then eat it and die.  This unnamed widow was in a terrible situation.  She only had a handful of food left and she literally had no hope of living beyond her last meal.  She had given up hope and had no one and nowhere to turn to for help.  I noted that Townsend commentary explained that “the status of widows in ancient Israelite society was precarious.  Having no inheritance rights and often in want of life’s necessities, the widow was exposed to harsh treatment and exploitation”. 

In verse thirteen Elijah told her, don’t be afraid, go and do as you said, but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, then make something for yourself and your son.  It’s this verse that struck me as a powerful way to show Elijah’s faithfulness also.  Elijah had to know that God would provide.  What man in his right mind would dare ask a woman who is about to make her last meal for her only child to feed him first.  This took faith on Elijah’s part.  He had to know that God was going to take care of this woman and her son. 

In verses fourteen and fifteen Elijah told the widow, “The LORD, the God of Israel says the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the LORD sends rain on the earth”.  The unnamed widow did as Elijah said so that Elijah and her household ate for many days.  This woman deserved every bit of credit due her for not just listening to the man of God but truly believing that God would be her provider.  Can you imagine what your mother might have said to someone who told her to feed them first, when she knew all she had was a small handful of food?  The faith of this unnamed widow was astounding.  She really believed!  She believed the man of God and she believed that God would take care of her and her son. 

Verse sixteen closed the lesson helping us to know that God did provide.  The jar of meal was not emptied; neither did the jug of oil fail according to the word of the LORD that Elijah spoke.  The unnamed widow only had a handful of meal and a little oil.  But God made her little bit last a long time.  God multiplied her little to become much.  Beloved that’s good news for us today.  You might not have much in your own eyes, but what you do have God can use it and make it last. 

Last week, both the widow of Zarephath and Elijah’s response to God’s faithfulness was demonstrated by their trust in God’s provision.  They both had active faith and they were both blessed for faithfulness.  God took Elijah to a foreign land among foreign people who worshiped a foreign god.  But God’s sovereignty didn’t end at the borders of Israel.  Even in Phoenicia God was sovereign and showed his power through a nameless widow by saving her life and the life of her son.  This week we see a Roman Centurion who is a supporter to the Jewish people demonstrating both humility and faith.  The centurion is a man who understands the power of authority.  Despite his great authority over Roman soldiers and as a Roman official he recognizes the authority of Jesus to heal his valuable slave.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Faith Can Heal” Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Humble Faith”.  The scripture text comes from Luke 7:1-10. 

What Takes Place in This Passage

Chapter 7 begins with Jesus having finished talking about loving your enemies, not judging or condemning others, and a parable about two foundations in chapter six.  When Jesus finished these sayings he went into Capernaum.  I should note that Capernaum is his home and where he begins his earthly ministry.  Matthew fourth chapter explains that Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee.  Matthew 4:12 reads

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled”

In chapter 6 of Luke Jesus calls his twelve disciples.  He has now entered Capernaum and this will become his home. 

Verse two explains that there is a centurion’s slave whom his master valued highly that was sick and about to die.  A centurion was a Roman soldier responsible for one hundred men.  That means he would have been an official of the Roman Empire and a man with substantial authority over the Jewish people and over his own soldiers.  Dr. Mitzi J. Smith in True to Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary writes that “when the centurion describes his slave as “highly valued” (entimos), he refers to the slave’s socioeconomic value”.  I highlight this detail because I think it’s important to dispel the myth that American chattel enslavement was worse than New Testament enslavement and vise-versa. 

The Greek word used for slave (or servant in some translations) is doulos.  The correct term is slave and is defined as a person who is legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master.  Dr. Mitzi J. Smith also writes “the owner is eager for Jesus to heal his servant because of the loss of revenue resulting from the slave’s sickness and inactivity.”  I should note that Townsend Commentary explains “centurions who appear in the New Testament are generally shown to be men of positive character”.  As I noted in the Background section, an enslaved person in New Testament days would not have been treated any better than those enslaved in the American chattel system. 

In verse three the centurion hears about Jesus and sends Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal his slave.  The reputation of Jesus precedes him.  This centurion knew about Jesus before even meeting Jesus.  The centurion already knows that Jesus has the authority and is capable of healing his valuable enslaved possession.  Evidently the centurion has the clout or authority to send Jewish elders to Jesus on his behalf.  In Matthew’s recollection of this story in  Matthew the eighth chapter, the Centurion speaks directly to Jesus.  

In verse four, when the Jewish elders come to Jesus they appealed to Jesus on behalf of the centurion.  They wanted Jesus to know that the centurion was deserving of this miracle.  I should note that this takes place in the early part of Jesus’ ministry.  It was in chapter 6 that Jesus called his twelve disciples.  Yet, his fame is already spreading.  The Jews who come to Jesus evidently believe Jesus can heal the servant also. 

Verse five explains why the Jewish elders believe the centurion deserves this miracle.  They explain to Jesus “because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue”. 

In verse six Jesus goes with the Jewish elders.  When Jesus was not far from the centurion’s house the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus not to trouble himself, because he didn’t deserve to have Jesus under his roof.  This centurion’s humility cannot be diminished.  He is a man of authority.  Yet he recognizes despite his own great authority, the authority of Jesus was far superior.    

In verse seven the centurion explains that he didn’t come personally to Jesus because he didn’t see himself as worthy.  And his next statement is what really sets the centurion apart.  He says “but say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  Not only is the centurion demonstrating humility, he is also demonstrating faith.  This centurion believes in the power of Jesus.  He believes faith can heal. 

In verse eight the centurion explains the he is a man under authority with soldiers and servants that he can tell to go and come and to do and they will do what he tells them to do.  The centurion wants Jesus to know that despite his own authority, he respects the authority of Jesus.  Having faith is having confidence or trust in a person.  I often pray that I’ve placed my faith, my trust, and my confidence in Jesus and Jesus alone.  While this centurion might have been kind to the Jewish people his kindness was not what moved Jesus.  Even though he may have been generous by having their synagogue built it wasn’t his generosity that moved Jesus.  What moved Jesus was this centurion’s faith.  This wasn’t wishful thinking.  It was a deep conviction that Jesus was the man who could and would make his slave well.  The centurion had an expectation that all Jesus needed to do was say the word.    

In verse nine, after hearing this centurion’s faith, Jesus was amazed.  Townsend notes that “this is one of two places in the gospels where Jesus is said to be amazed – here in Capernaum by faith and in Nazareth by unbelief (Luke 7:9; Mark 6:6). 

Verse ten concludes the lesson helping us to know that Jesus did, in fact, heal the slave.  When the men returned to the house they found the servant well.  Jesus spoke the word and the slave was healed. 

Context

After being kind and generous to the Jewish people by building them a synagogue one might think the centurion would have thought himself worthy of a favor from Jesus.  Yet he thinks himself unworthy of Jesus to even come under his roof.  Humility, modesty, and meekness are virtues.  They are in contrast to arrogance, conceit, and pride.  The centurion demonstrated these admirable virtues in ways most people can only hope for.  After all, he was a man of substantial authority, he was known to love the Jewish people, and he had even committed valuable resources to have the synagogue built.  If anyone should deserve a favor shouldn’t it be him?  But that’s the thing about Jesus.  It’s not a transactional relationship.  Jesus doesn’t do for us because he “owes us one”.  What motivates God to move on our behalf is our faith.  Faith can heal.  This centurion had humble faith.  Let’s strive to do likewise and live a life in humble submission to God’s purpose and direction for our lives.   

Key Characters in the text

Jesus – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God.  His followers worship him and seek to obey his will.    

Centurion – The commander of a “century” – one hundred soldiers, the smallest unit of the Roman army.    

Key Words 

Gentile – A term used by Jews for one who is not Jewish by racial origin, In the Old Testament, “the nations” is used. 

Slavery – A condition of involuntary servitude.  While slavery was practiced during biblical times, the emergence of biblical principles and eventually Christian ethical views that recognized the evils of slavery as a social phenomenon have led to its condemnation in many countries.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas

1.  Virtues of an important man.    

2.  You deserve a favor.       

Questions

1.  Why does is matter that New Testament enslavement was not different than American chattel slavery?          

2.  The centurion was a Gentile.  Is that an important detail in this story?   

Concluding Thought

I saw this YouTube video of Nelson Mandela explaining the importance of humility.  As my concluding thought I’ll leave a link to that video.  It says what I wanted to say much better.  After this video finishes check the description section or the comments section for a link to it. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson

Next week’s lesson continues in the same chapter in the book of Luke.  It skips down to the thirty-seventh verse and continues through the forty-eighth.  Next week I discuss the very touching story of a woman who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears.  The lesson is titled “Faith Saves”. 

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Christianity, religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (October 13, 2019) Blessed For Faithfulness / Active Faith 1 Kings 17:8-16

Blessed For Faithfulness / Active Faith

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  What man in his right mind, asks a woman to feed him first, before she feeds her ONLY child her last meal?  If he’s in his right mind the answer is clearly a man with a LOT of faith.  This week I show how both the prophet Elijah and the unnamed widow of Zarephath are blessed for faithfulness. They have active faith in God’s provision.  Elijah travels a great distance only to learn that the woman God commanded to feed him had just a handful of food.  I believe it took a great deal of faith for Elijah to ask this nameless widow to feed him first.  I also believe it took even more faith for the nameless widow to actually follow Elijah’s instructions.  Can you imagine your mother, or can you imagine YOU feeding someone you don’t even know the last part of your meager meal?  This is real faith.  They both had to really believe that God really would provide.  This foreign woman didn’t know Elijah and she didn’t know Elijah’s God, but somehow she knew what the true and living God required of her and she did it.  Likewise, Elijah was in the heart of Baal worship territory and he knew nothing about this woman.  But both of them were faithful to what God instructed and as a result both were saved in their time of distress.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Miracle

Faithfulness

Background 

The books of 1 and 2nd Kings, like its name suggests, features the kings of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. 1 Kings begins with King David as an old man about to leave the scene.  But before David dies, of course, there is family drama surrounding who will succeed him.  In the first chapter, after some drama, Solomon ascends to the throne.  This is before David’s United Kingdom is divided into two kingdoms.  The two books of 1 Kings and 2 kings “were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible but were divided into two scrolls when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek” (New Interpreter Study Bible).  Together they cover a period of “almost 400 years from the ascension of Solomon to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE” (NISB).  The NISB also notes that

“The writers of Kings selected, combined, and arranged the written and oral traditions of Israel and Judah to express their theological understanding of their histories.  The sources they used include The Books of the Acts of Solomon (I Kings 11:41), the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (mentioned 15 times, beginning with Rehoboam in 1 Kings 14:29) and other unnamed sources including a narrative of the last days of David and several sources providing information about the prophets Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and other prophets”.

Just as the first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Books of Law, 1 and 2 Kings are two of the twelve books known as the Books of History.  Nelson’s Bible handbook notes that

“Early tradition credited the prophet Jeremiah with the writing of these two books, but most scholars today no longer hold to the Jeremiah theory.  Evidence points to an unknown prophet who worked at the same time as Jeremiah to compile this history”.    

The seventeenth chapter of 1 Kings introduces the prophet Elijah.  Nelson’s indicates that Solomon entered the scene about 971 BC, the kingdom divided about 931 BC and Elijah and Elisha would have entered the scene about 66 years later around 865 BC.  Scholars believe Elijah’s prophetic ministry lasted from 865 to 847 BC.  It’s important to note that part of what Elijah portrays is God’s power over other false gods.  Miracles happen in 1 Kings that as the NISB says “reflect prophetic opposition to the rise of the cult of Baal and Asherah in Israel as introduced by Ahab and his wife, Jezebel”.  1 Kings 16:30 tell us that Ahab did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him.  Ahab marries Jezebel who lived among the Phoenicians.  Phoenicia was in the heart of Baal worship territory (Townsend).  In this seventeenth chapter God sends Elijah into the heart of Jezebel’s home territory.  Elijah’s mission is to demonstrate God’s power over and above the power of Baal.  Townsend Commentary notes that Baal was worshiped as a fertility god and was supposed to make it rain.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Miracle

Faithfulness

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson covered Moses’ perspective after wandering in the wilderness for forty years.   The focus last week was to understand that God expected Israel’s obedience.  At this point Moses knew that he would not enter the Promised Land.  Moses knew that there would be new leadership guiding the Israelites into the Promised Land and going forward.  So at this point Moses was driving home the importance of obeying God.  The old generation had died out.  The new generation was about to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. 

In verse one, Moses opened with an admonition to heed the statutes and ordinances that he was teaching.  He told them “so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God your ancestors, is giving you”.  Moses knew and all of Israel should have known that the old generation died in the wilderness because they were not faithful and obedient to God.  Moses reminds them “so that you may live”. 

In verse two Moses warned the Israelites not to add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it.  This same idea is echoed in Revelations 22:18-19.  The NISB notes that “the comprehensive nature of God’s law did not rule out additions to its written text.  See Deuteronomy 1:5 where Moses expounded on earlier laws.  The written law could receive clarification and revision but its fundamental truth as God’s covenant law would remain unchanged”.

In verse three Moses reminded them of what God did to those who followed the Baal of Peor.  I noted how the NISB explained that Baal is another name for a god and that the Baal of Peor mentioned here “involved sexual relations with the women of Moab (numbers 25:1-5).  This worship of Baal of Peor encouraged these sexual encounters with Moabite women at the sanctuary.  Townsend Commentary noted that 24,000 Israelites died because of unfaithfulness.

In verse four Moses made the stark contrast between faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  He told the Israelites “those of you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today.  This is a reminder that unfaithfulness leads to death.  Their parents and forbears had died because of unfaithfulness. 

In verse five Moses told the Israelites he was following instruction from God.  He was teaching them to observe statutes and ordinances that they should observe in the land.  Moses knows they will face temptation to stray away from God just as their parents and forebears did in the wilderness. 

In verse six he pressed the point to follow the statutes and ordinances diligently.  Then he added that following these statutes and ordinances diligently will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples who when they hear them will say “surely this is a great nation of wise and discerning people”.  Moses expected the neighboring nations to admire the Israelites.  However the Israelites would show soon enough that Moses’ faith in the people was misplaced. 

Verses seven and eight show how much hope and trust Moses placed in the Israelites.  Moses imagines other nations saying “what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him”?  Moses knew he wouldn’t enter the Promised Land.  He knew things would soon be out of his control.  These laws, these statutes and ordinances that God had given him were his greatest possession.  These were the statutes and ordinances that he had worked on across the years.  Theses statutes and ordinances, these laws were his most valuable possession and the very best he had to offer to a people who would soon stray from the very God who Moses had so diligently served. 

In verses twelve and thirteen Moses reminded the Israelites of the power, majesty, and grandeur of the God of their covenant.  He reminded them how God spoke to them out of the fire.  And he reminded them that it wasn’t just him coming up with these laws all on his own.  These laws came from God.  They weren’t just laws to follow but more so these laws were the covenant between them and God.  In these Ten Commandments they would understand their “duties and responsibilities toward God and their fellow human beings” (NISB).  I noted that these Ten Commandments may have been written 3,400 years ago but they are still relevant today.  In these commandments and statutes we begin to understand how to relate to God and each other. 

Last week, Moses’ response to God’s faithfulness was to encourage the Israelites to remain faithful going forward.  He knew they would face temptation to worship other gods but wanted them to remain obedient in faith.  This week we see a widow who has almost nothing left and by her own words is about to eat her last meal and die.  It is her act of faith to feed the prophet of God first that saves her and her sons life.  She is blessed for her faithfulness.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Blessed for Faithfulness,” Standard Commentary titles this lesson “Active Faith”.  The scripture text comes from 1 Kings 17:8-16. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

At first glance it would seem that this week’s lesson is focused on the faithfulness of the unnamed widow of Zarephath.  Without question, she deserves that consideration but when I look a little closer I see the faithfulness of Elijah also.  At any rate, faithfulness is the topic. 

Our lesson begins at verse eight with a phrase that is often repeated in the Old Testament.  “The word of the LORD came to me”.  This phrase indicates the reader should pay special attention.  God is about to speak.

In verse nine the LORD tells Elijah to go to Zarephath which is a city near Sidon on the Phoenician coast.  The LORD tells Elijah to live there because The LORD has commanded a widow who lives there to feed him.  The NISB explains that “God sends Elijah among the Phoenicians, which is the center of Baal worship, to demonstrate that even in the land of Baal, the LORD is sovereign.  In other words, God is sending Elijah away from the land of Israel into a foreign land.  And ultimately God will show that the one true and living God is God outside Israel also. 

It’s important to note two things here.  First, the LORD has already commanded a widow to take care of Elijah.  And secondly, this widow lived in the heart of Baal worship territory so she was likely not a worshiper of Elijah’s God.  She probably worshiped Baal.  Townsend Commentary notes that “the Old Testament portrays God as being particularly concerned for “the widow, the orphan, and the poor” – that is, the vulnerable and marginalized in society”.  In this chapter we see God using a woman who most likely doesn’t even know who the one true and living God is.  But yet, God uses this woman to show God’s sovereignty.  The point is, God can use whomever God wants to use.  God can deliver whomever God wants to deliver.  Just because they don’t do religion the way you do religion doesn’t mean God doesn’t care for them. 

In verse ten Elijah goes to Zarephath.  When he arrives the gate of the city the unnamed widow was there gathering sticks.  Elijah asks her for a drink of water.

In verse eleven as she was going to get the water Elijah asks her for a morsel of bread. 

In verse twelve the unnamed widow said “as the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug”.  Elijah has traveled all this way, only to discover that this woman God commanded to feed him has but a handful of meal.  She tells Elijah that she’s gathering a few sticks so she can go home, prepare her meal for herself and her son, and then eat it and die.  This unnamed widow is in a terrible situation.  She only has a handful of food left and She literally has no hope of living beyond her last meal.  She’s given up hope and has no one and nowhere to turn to for help.  Townsend commentary notes that “the status of widows in ancient Israelite society was precarious.  Having no inheritance rights and often in want of life’s necessities, she was exposed to harsh treatment and exploitation”. 

In verse thirteen Elijah tells her, don’t be afraid, go and do as you said, but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, then make something for yourself and your son.  It’s this verse that strikes me as a powerful way to show Elijah’s faithfulness also.  Here, Elijah had to know that God would provide.  What man in his right mind would dare ask a woman who is about to make her last meal for her only child to feed him first.  This took faith on Elijah’s part.  He had to know that God was going to take care of this woman and her son. 

In verses fourteen and fifteen Elijah tells the widow, “The LORD, the God of Israel says the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the LORD sends rain on the earth”.  The unnamed widow did as Elijah said so that Elijah and her household ate for many days.  This woman deserves every bit of credit due her for not just listening to the man of God but truly believing that God would be her provider.  Can you imagine what your mother might have said to someone who told her to feed them first, when she knew all she had was a small handful of food?  Now, my mother has a reputation for feeding people.  Maybe she’s capable of it, but I just can’t imagine her feeding someone else what she believes to be her last meal before she feeds her children.  The faith of this unnamed widow is astounding.  She really believed!  She believed the man of God and she believed that God would take care of her and her son. 

Verse sixteen closes this lesson helping us to know that God did provide.  The jar of meal was not emptied; neither did the jug of oil fail according to the word of the LORD that Elijah spoke.  The unnamed widow only had a handful of meal and a little oil.  But God made her little bit last a long time.  God multiplied her little to become much.  Beloved that’s good news for us today.  You might not have much in your own eyes, but what you do have God can use it and make it last. 

Context:

Townsend Commentary notes that “during the famine, Elijah was fed by God via unclean ravens that brought him food and later by a widow who was not part of the household of faith”.  God is creator of all of this universe.  Acts 10:15 reminds us “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  You and I are created “Imago Dei” that is – in the image of God.  Just because someone doesn’t look like you, act like you, wear their clothes like you, speak like you, have the same able-ness of you or have your religious standards doesn’t mean God doesn’t care for and love them in the same way God cares for and loves you.  The unnamed widow of Zarephath didn’t know Elijah, but God saved her and her son in the process of saving Elijah.  As long as we claim to be God’s people, we ought to treat everybody right.

Key Characters in the text:

Elijah – The first great prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Elijah is known to abruptly enter the scene to confront Ahab’s worship of Baal, the Canaanite god of storm, rain, and fertility. 

Widow of Zarephath – An unnamed widow in Zarephath of Sidon, a Phoenician city.  She is known for responded in faith to Elijah’s request to feed him first from her last meal. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Miracle – An event that is considered unusual or extraordinary in that it appears to be contrary to what is currently known of nature.  Theologically, the emphasis is on what God has revealed through this event, as in the miracles of Jesus. 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas

1.  Faithfulness for the hopeless. 

2.  Faithfulness after hopelessness (Elijah after fleeing Jezebel).       

Questions

1.  If you were the widow of Zarephath would you be able to believe God and feed Elijah first?        

2.  Elijah went to the heart of Baal worship territory.  Would you be able to do the same recognizing that your life might be in danger for speaking against Baal?   

Concluding Thought

Faithfulness can be demonstrated in a number of ways.  Those include in a sexually exclusive marriage, the loyalty of friendship, unwavering commitment to a mission, or resolute and firm trust in a person, group or cause among other ways.  Faithfulness builds relationships, secures hope, and creates trust.  Our God is the ultimate demonstration of faithfulness.  Let’s strive to follow God’s example in our families, and in our communities.    

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson

Next week’s lesson moves from the Old Testament to the New Testament book of Luke.  I discuss how a centurion’s faith can heal.  A Roman centurion’s servant is sick unto death.  But his faith so astonishes Jesus that he declares he has not seen such great faith in all of Israel.  As we continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness, I show next week the importance of faith in the life of believers.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Faith Can Heal”. 

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (October 6, 2019) Obedient Faith Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13

Obedient Faith Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  I’m not coming with you, but I’ll be with you when you get there. That’s the sentiment I believe Moses feels when he tells the Israelites he won’t make it to the Promised Land.  Obedient faith is his hope for the Israelites as he reminds them of the Ten Commandments.  He reminds them of the Decalogue and the faithfulness of God.  They have wandered in the wilderness for forty years.  The old generation has died out and the new generation is poised to invade the land of Canaan.  In this text Moses writes about the same events studied last week but from a different perspective.  This text is forty years later with the Israelites poised east of the Jordan River.  Moses knows he won’t make it into the Promised Land.  Soon Moses also would be dead.  At this point in Moses’ life he shares with the Israelites his most valuable possession – he reiterates the statutes and ordinances God had given him.  Moses gives them the culmination of his life’s work, the very best he has – the word of God.  As he looks back on his life he stresses once again how important it is for the Israelites to obey the commands of God.  He reminds them of the 24,000 Israelites who died because of unfaithfulness and they know for themselves that their parents and forbears all died in the wilderness. Moses wants them to live and occupy the land.  He knows that faithfulness and obedience is the key.  As we continue in the theme of responding to God’s faithfulness, this week I focus on faithful Moses preparing the Israelites for obedient faith.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Decalogue

Covenant

Faithfulness

Background 

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Pentateuch.  Moses is credited as its author although it’s ending chapter writes about the death of Moses.  Since Moses couldn’t have written about his own death scholars believe his lieutenant, Joshua penned the final chapter.  The Israelites have wandered in the desert for forty years and they are now awaiting the invasion of the Promised Land of Canaan.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that the name Deuteronomy is the Greek translation of the Hebrew words used in Deuteronomy 17:18 for “a second law” or a “copy of the law” given to Israel at Mount Sinai, called Mount Horeb in Deuteronomy”.  So the first law to which Deuteronomy will refer is the Ten Commandments which are also known as the Decalogue. 

Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “the New Testament quotes Deuteronomy more than eighty times.  Jesus often quoted Deuteronomy and when asked to name the most important law, Jesus responded with “you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all you soul, and with all you mind”” which comes from Deuteronomy 6:5. 

The NISB notes that “the central themes of Deuteronomy focus on the nature and unique status of Israel as a nation.  One nation, living under one law, and settled on one land are its major goals.  Undergirding the one nation, one law, and one land theme is the realization that there is “only one God who has chosen Israel to be a special people” with which God makes a covenant.

Chapters one and two tell us that forty years have passed since Moses led Israel as an enslaved group of Hebrews out of Egypt and recount the story of Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land.  They recount the penalty for Israel’s rebellion, the desert years, and Moses’ view of Canaan from Mount Pisgah after God gives Moses a blistering rebuke declaring that he would never enter the Promised Land.  

Among the events Deuteronomy records is this reiteration of the account of the Israelites just before they invade The Promised Land.  Deuteronomy retells this story from a perspective that is forty years later.  They have traveled through the wilderness all this time and in our text today Moses recounts the instructions God has given them and reminds them of the importance of keeping the commandments.  They should readily understand that importance given that all of their parents and forbears died in the desert because of unfaithfulness and disobedience.  At this point, Moses reminds them again, so that as the take the land they will not become complacent and forget where the one true God has brought them from.  Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land with them.  He also knows they will face temptation from other gods once they enter the Promised Land.  So Moses warns them not to make the mistakes of the past but to go forward and be better than they have been in the past.

Some important words to consider from this text include:

Decalogue

Covenant

Faithfulness

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week  

Last week’s lesson opened at Numbers 14:10 saying; “Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites”.  I noted how the Glory of God is defined as “the divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great”.  In other words, God is manifested at the tabernacle or the tent of meeting in a way that all the Israelites recognize as God. 

In verse eleven the LORD spoke to Moses.  The LORD questioned “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them”?  God was angry with the Israelites.  They demonstrated that they despised God and refused to believe in God despite God delivering them from the Egyptians, despite God allowing them to cross the Red Sea, despite God giving them water to drink and bread and meat to eat.  Despite all of this the Israelites were faithless and God had had enough.  

Verse twelve showed just how angry God was.  God said “I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”.  I noted that to disinherit is to completely walk away from.  It brings to mind the idea that you don’t even want to see them anymore.  God was ready to disinherit the people whom he promised Abraham would become a great nation and would number as many as the sand of the sea.   I also noted that at this point you get the idea that God wants nothing more to do with this unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God was fed up with the Israelites.  In the same way God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, now God tells Moses that God will make a great nation of him. 

In verse thirteen Moses skillfully began his advocacy for the Israelites.  Moses like a skillful lawyer defending a client pleads his case with God.  He begins by telling God the Egyptians will hear of it.  God had taken great care to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the Egyptians. 

In verse fourteen Moses continued defending the Israelites telling God the Egyptians will tell the people of Canaan that their God was in the midst of them, seen face to face by them, and was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Moses was making the point to God that God has been present in their deliverance and that if they are abandoned or destroyed now it will be seen as if God could not keep them.  The point Moses was making was that these were God’s people.  If the rest of the world sees them as defeated and wiped out it would reflect on God. 

In verses fifteen and sixteen Moses pressed his point to God.  He told God “if you kill this people all at once the nations who have heard about you will say it’s because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them”.  I noted that Moses was playing hard-ball with God.  He pulled no punches.  Moses was going to defend the Israelites with everything at his disposal.  You need to get somebody like Moses on your side.  Moses went to bat for those unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people with all of their faults and all of their failures. 

In verses seventeen and eighteen Moses went as far as to remind God of what God said to him in the past.  Moses quotes back to God what God said in Exodus 34:1-9.  Moses reminded God that God should be slow to anger and abounding in love.  He reminded God that God does not clear the guilty but visits upon them the iniquity of the parents upon the children for the third and fourth generations.

In verses nineteen and twenty Moses asked God to forgive the iniquity of the Israelites because of the greatness of God’s love.  After hearing this passionate plea from Moses God relented.  God changed God’s mind and said “I do forgive, just as you have asked”.  It was the passionate plea of Moses that changed God’s mind.  Where God was ready to completely wipe out this nation, God was now ready to forgive only because Moses pleaded on their behalf.  I noted that it would be great if we all had a Moses to plead on our behalf.  Because the good news is that we do.  Jesus is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for us even now.  Standard, Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Obedient Faith.  The scripture text comes from Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13. 

What Takes Place in This Passage

This week’s lesson covers the same events of last week but from a different perspective.  It was now forty years later.  The focus is to understand that God expected Israel’s obedience.  Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land.  There will be new leadership and he is now driving home the importance of obeying God.  The old generation has died out.  The new generation is about to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. 

In verse one, Moses opens with an admonition to heed the statutes and ordinances that he was teaching.  He says “so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God your ancestors, is giving you”.  Moses knows and all of Israel should know that the old generation died in the wilderness because they were not faithful and obedient to God.  Moses reminds them “so that you may live”. 

In verse two Moses warns the Israelites not to add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it.  This same idea is echoed in Revelations 22:18-19.  The NISB notes that “the comprehensive nature of God’s law did not rule out additions to its written text.  See Deuteronomy 1:5 where Moses expounds on earlier laws.  The written law could receive clarification and revision but its fundamental truth as God’s covenant law would remain unchanged”.

In verse three Moses reminds them of what God did to those who followed the Baal of Peor.  Baal is another name for a god.  The Baal of Peor mentioned here “involved sexual relations with the women of Moab (numbers 25:1-5) that were encouraged by the worship of the god Baal at the local sanctuary.  False worship led to betrayal of family ties, and the actions are seen as bringing about the evil consequences and plague that followed” (NISB).  Townsend Commentary notes that 24,000 Israelites died because of unfaithfulness.

In verse four Moses makes the stark contrast between faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  He tells them “those of you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today.  This is a reminder that unfaithfulness leads to death.  Their parents and forbears have died because of unfaithfulness. 

In verse five Moses tells the Israelites he is following instruction from God.  He is teaching them to observe statutes and ordinances to observe in the land.  Moses knows they will face temptation to stray away from God just as their parents and forebears did in the wilderness. 

In verse six he presses the point to follow them diligently.  Then he adds that following these statutes and ordinances diligently will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples who when they hear them will say “surely this is a great nation of wise and discerning people”.  Moses expects the neighboring nations to admire the Israelites.  However the Israelites will show soon enough that Moses’ faith in the people was often misplaced. 

Verses seven and eight show how much hope and trust Moses placed in the Israelites.  Moses imagines other nations saying “what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him”?  Moses knows he won’t enter the Promised Land.  He knows things will soon be out of his control.  These laws, these statutes and ordinances that God had given him are his greatest possession.  These are the statutes and ordinances that he has worked on across the years.  Theses statutes and ordinances, these laws are his most valuable possession and the very best he has to offer to a people who will soon stray from the very God who Moses has so diligently served. 

In verses twelve and thirteen Moses reminds the Israelites of the power, majesty, and grandeur of the God of their covenant.  He reminds them how God spoke to them out of the fire.  And he reminds them that it wasn’t just him coming up with these laws all on his own.  These laws came from God.  They weren’t just laws to follow but more so they were the covenant between them and God.  In these Ten Commandments they would understand their “duties and responsibilities toward God and their fellow human beings” (NISB).  These Ten Commandments may have been written 3,400 years ago but they are still relevant today.  In them we begin to understand how to relate to God and each other. 

Context

There will be consequences and repercussions.  That’s what happened to the Israelites because of their unfaithfulness and rebellion.  Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier.  In this case what occurred earlier was the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness.  The consequence was a severe penalty.  The old generation died in the wilderness and would never see the Promised Land. 

There are consequences and repercussion in our lives as well.  You reap what you sow.  If you are sowing love, grace, and righteousness you will reap the same.  Those are the consequences and repercussion I want in my life. 

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Key Words

Decalogue – The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), which express the will and law of God and deal with relations between humans and God as well as of humans with each other. 

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establish a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations. 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Faithful until the end (Moses). 

2.  I’m not coming with you, but I’ll see you when you get there.       

Questions: 

1.  The Israelites worshiped Baal of Peor and the resulting plague killed 24,000.  Why did the Israelites so easily fall into worshiping other gods?      

2.  Are there ways in which we worship other gods today? 

Concluding Thought:

Moses is approaching the end of his life.  I suppose the equivalent of his last will and testament would be the statutes and ordinances God had given him across the years.  As he prepares the Israelites for new leadership he passes on the very best he has and I believe his most valuable possession.  Some people might argue otherwise but for many our most valuable possession is a life lived well in obedience to God. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson remains in the Old Testament moving to the book of 1 Kings.  I discuss how a widow in a terrible situation is about to prepare her last meal for her and her son, and as she said, to eat it and die.  The man of God asks her to feed him first.  She follows the instructions of Elijah and God blesses her for her faithfulness.  As we continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness I show next week how God moved in miraculous ways.   Next week’s lesson is titled “Blessed for Faithfulness”.        

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 29, 2019) Faithful in Consequences /God Forgives Numbers 14:10b-20

Faithful in Consequences / God Forgives Numbers 14:10-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  Listen, you need to get yourself a Moses on your side.  This week’s lesson is titled “Faithful In Consequences” and “God Forgives”.  I show in this week’s lesson how Moses goes to bat for these unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God is fed up and angry.  Time after time they have refused to believe God.  Even after God has taken significant measures, created ways out of no ways, and miraculously delivered, provided for, and protected these people, they still won’t believe God.  God is angry, God is fed up. And God is ready to destroy the chosen people of Israel. 

But Moses pleads the case for the Israelites.  Like a skillful lawyer, Moses recounts for God the words God told him in Exodus and reminds God of the love, mercy and grace that God is known for.  Moses reminds God that the Egyptians will say God destroyed them because God couldn’t deliver them into the land of Canaan.  God was ready to destroy the Israelites but after Moses pleads the case God changes God’s mind.  Instead of destruction God chooses forgiveness.  You need to get a Moses on your side. 

This week’s lesson picks up exactly where last week ended.  The spies have returned from their forty day reconnaissance.  They all report that the land flows with milk and honey but only Joshua and Caleb say to invade the land immediately.  The other ten spies say that yes, the land flows with milk and honey but there are giants that live in the land.  In their bad report they say that they are mere grasshoppers in the sight of these giants.  They exaggerate saying that even the land itself swallows up its inhabitants.  They could see everything God had already done for them.  They could see how bountiful the land was.  But they could not see what God could do through them.  As we continue in the theme of responding to God’s faithfulness, this week I focus on faithful Moses advocating for an unfaithful Israel.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Advocate

Fidelity

Background: 

Numbers deals with the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years.  Moses is credited as its author.  The structure of Numbers revolves around two censuses taken to number the nation in preparation for invasion of the land of Canaan.  The first census was taken in chapter one and the second in chapter 26.  The first census numbered over 600,000 men.  This did not include women and children.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains “if this is correct the Israelite population would have been more than two million people”.  Historians note that this would have been an unusually high population for a nation state.  Nelson’s also notes “one possible explanation is that the word translated thousands in English could have meant something like units, tents, or clans in the Hebrew language.  If so, a much smaller number was in mind”.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “the English title refers to the many numbers contained in the two census lists that form the central pillars of the book’s structure in chapters 1 and 26”.  So these censuses are central to the structure of the book, but the message of Numbers is the story of the old generation out of Egypt dying off as the new generation prepares to move into the Promised Land.  The NISB also explains that “the central narrative of Numbers is the spy story of chapters 13-14.  These chapters narrate the theme of judgement and death for an old generation and birth and hope of a new generation of God’s people”.  In these two chapters we learn why the old generation lost the Promised Land and the new generation would receive it.  The old generation is beginning to show a pattern.  Time after time, the generation that came out of Egypt fails to trust God.  Because they fail to trust God, God eventually gets fed up of their rebellion and faithlessness. 

In this fourteenth chapter we see the importance of an advocate.  It was Moses who spoke on behalf of the Israelites.  God was fed up with God’s own people.  But because of the advocacy of Moses, instead of destroying these rebellious Israelites God forgives them.  This chapter opens with the congregation weeping aloud and complaining against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they cry out in despair wishing that they had died back in the land of their captivity.  These are a people who still have not learned that God is their provider, that God is their deliverer, and that God is their protector.   With their faithlessness we see in this chapter how the Israelites reject God, how God decides to destroy the Israelites, how Moses changes God’s mind and how God ultimately forgives the Israelite nation.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Advocate

Fidelity

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson opened at chapter thirteen verses one and two with the LORD speaking to Moses.  I noted that the LORD instructs Moses to send men into the land of Canaan.  This is the land that God promised Abraham.  The Promised Land and the nation of Israel were hundreds of years in the making but now the descendants of Abraham were on the verge of receiving the long awaited promise. 

The text skips to verse 17a where Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land and determine its suitability for conquest.

At verse twenty-five I noted that the spies have returned from their 40 day reconnaissance and how the number forty is used quite often in the Bible.  I also noted that we should not ascribe any more meaning to numbers than necessary.  We risk playing with occult numerology when giving more meaning to numbers than needed.  Some occult practices include numerology, astrology, witchcraft, tarot cards and others.

In verse twenty-six the spies assembled at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran to report their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly. 

In verse 27 the spies revealed that the land flowed with milk and honey.  Not only did they tell of the goodness of the land but they brought back evidence of the bountiful harvests that await the other side. 

In verse 28 despite them seeing the bountiful blessing of the land; the spies report that the people were powerful and the cities were fortified and very large.  I noted that the first census reported over 600,000 men.  Historians record that this would have been an unusually large number of people because most nation states were not this large at that time.  So it seems that these spies see the blessings possible in the Promised Land, they see the powerful people, they see the large cities, but they do not see the fulfilled promise of God nor do they see themselves as powerful in God’s might. 

The text skips to chapter fourteen verses one and two where the entire congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night.  They wept because they believed the exaggerated report of the ten spies.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary explains that there are two versions of the spy’s negative report.  “In the first version the land flows with milk and honey.  In the second version verses 32-33 declare that the land itself is so bad that it eats its inhabitants”.  Additionally, “the spies warn of giant Anakites and of a mythological and semi-divine race of giants known as the Nephilim”.  The Israelites see these giants and once again fall into fear.  Instead of believing God, instead of believing they were powerful and strong and brave, instead of believing they were enough and that they had enough.  They choose instead to believe the report of these men instead of the command of God.  They are out of Egypt.  They have been delivered from enslavement by mighty works and wonders of God.  God has provided them with mana in the morning and meat in the evening.  God has turned bitter water to drinkable water.  Even with all these miraculous works they cannot see how God will give them this Promised Land.  Once again, they complain against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they wish that they had died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness.  As they wept that night, God heard their cry.  They cry out not in faith, but in unfaithfulness.  They don’t cry out in belief, but in unbelief.  Theirs is not a cry of hope, but hopelessness.  Although the old generation has seen the mighty works of God; this conquest is just a step too far for them to take. 

In verse five Moses and Aaron fell on their face before all of the assembly.  They realized what the Israelites were doing.  They realized this entire nation is choosing to reject God even after all God has done for them.

Verses six and seven show Joshua and Caleb as the faithful few who believe God can and will do what God said God would do.  They tear their clothes in frustration and declare again that the land they went through was an exceedingly good land. 

In verse eight they explain that if the LORD is pleased with them The LORD will give them this land that flows with milk and honey. 

In verses nine and ten they warn the Israelites not to rebel against the LORD and not to fear the people of the land.  Instead of heeding the warning of Joshua and Caleb, the whole congregation threatened to stone them.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful in Consequences” and “God Forgives”.  The scripture text comes from Numbers 14:10b-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

This week’s lesson opens where last week’s lesson closed.  Last week the Israelites rejected God’s plan to take the land of Canaan.  They complained against Moses and Aaron and wished to have died, back in the land of captivity.  Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and reiterated how good the land was and that God would bless them if God is please with them.  Verse 10a says “But the whole congregation threatened to stone them”. 

Our lesson picks up at verse 10b.  Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites.  The Glory of God is defined as “the divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great”.  In other words, God is manifested at the tabernacle or the tent of meeting in a way that all the Israelites recognize as God.  If all of the Israelites could see this manifestation of God, it seems to me that would be enough to repent and turn to God in faithful obedience.

In verse eleven the LORD speaks to Moses.  The LORD questions “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them”?  God is angry with these Israelites.  They have demonstrated that they despise God and refuse to believe in God despite God delivering them from the Egyptians, despite God allowing them to cross the Red Sea and drowning the Egyptian soldiers, despite God giving them water to drink and bread and meat to eat.  Despite all of this the Israelites are faithless and God has had enough. 

Verse twelve shows just how angry God was.  God says “I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”.  To disinherit is to completely walk away from.  It brings to mind the idea that you don’t even want to see them anymore.  God is ready to disinherit the people whom he promised Abraham would become a great nation and would number as many as the sand of the sea.   At this point you get the idea that God wants nothing more to do with this unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God is fed up with the Israelites.  In the same way God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, now God tells Moses that God will make a great nation of him. 

In verse thirteen Moses skillfully begins his advocacy for the Israelites.  Moses like a skillful lawyer defending a client pleads his case with God.  He begins by telling God the Egyptians will hear of it.  God had taken great care to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the Egyptians.  

In verse fourteen Moses continues defending the Israelites telling God the Egyptians will tell the people of Canaan that their God was in the midst of them, seen face to face by them, and was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Moses is making the point to God that God has been present in their deliverance and that if they are abandoned or destroyed now it will be seen as if God could not keep them.  The point Moses is making is that these are God’s people.  If the rest of the world sees them as defeated and wiped out it will reflect on God. 

In verses fifteen and sixteen Moses presses his point to God.  He tells God “if you kill this people all at once the nations who have heard about you will say it’s because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them”.  Not only that but the reason God killed them was because God could not deliver them into the land.  Moses is playing hard-ball with God.  He pulls no punches.  Moses is going to defend these Israelites with everything at his disposal.  You need to get somebody like Moses on your side.  Moses goes to bat for these unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people with all of their faults and all of their failures. 

In verses seventeen and eighteen Moses goes as far as to remind God of what God said to him in the past.  Moses quotes back to God what God said in Exodus 34:1-9.  Moses reminds God that God should be slow to anger and abounding in love.  He reminds God that God does not clear the guilty but visits upon them the iniquity of the parents upon the children for the third and fourth generations.

In verses nineteen and twenty Moses asks God to forgive the iniquity of the Israelites because of the greatness of God’s love.  After hearing this passionate plea from Moses God relents.  God changes God’s mind and said “I do forgive, just as you have asked”.  It was this passionate plea that changes God’s mind.  Where God was ready to completely wipe out this nation, God is now ready to forgive only because Moses pleaded on their behalf.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Moses to plead on our behalf?  The good news is that we do.  Jesus is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for us even now. 

Context:

Synonyms for “advocate” include terms like promoter, backer, proponent, campaigner, supporter, and defender among others.  Whatever you want to call it, we all need some of it in our lives.  We need people that see the best in us despite our current faults and failures.  We need people who will love us fiercely despite our not being very lovable at the moment.  Advocates understand that despite your current situation or circumstances there is a better way, there is a better system, there is a better you and that we are all made better when you are better.  Despite their rejection of God and despite the people complaining against Moses and Aaron, Moses chose to fight for a better Israelite nation.  We should do the same in our own families, communities, states and this nation.  Let’s be somebody’s Moses. 

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Key Words 

Advocate – one who pleads the cause of another

Fidelity – The quality or state of being faithful.  The fidelity of God is shown in God’s dependability, trustworthiness, and reliability. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  You need to get a Moses. 

2.  Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.     

Questions: 

1.  Did God really change God’s mind?  Or was God seriously going to kill the entire nation of Israel?  Discuss whether it is possible for God to change God’s mind.             

2.  Moses is a fierce advocate for the Israelites.  What people or causes should we become fierce advocates for?        

Concluding Thought:

You’ve probably heard someone say “he/she is getting on my last nerve.  That’s where the people of Israel were with God.  God had had enough of their foolishness and just wasn’t going to take it anymore.  Because Moses stepped in to remind God of God’s love and mercy God forgave the nation and relented from destroying them.  Perhaps we need to be the “Moses” in someone’s life.  Moses was a great advocate but Jesus is the ultimate advocate.      

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson remains in the Pentateuch but moves to the book of Deuteronomy.  Next week I will discuss how God provided the commandments and how God expects us to follow in obedient faith.  God expects our obedience.   We continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Obedient Faith”.        

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 22, 2019) Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a

Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry – Numbers 13

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is titled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness” and “God Hears our Cry”.  God is faithful despite the Israelite’s unfaithfulness yet again.  A pattern is beginning to form for this newly freed nation.  Once again they cry out in the wilderness wishing they had died in the land of their captivity.  Just as God heard their cry, God hears our cry.  Prayerfully, we don’t have a pattern of unfaithfulness.  This week I review the beginning portion of this Israelite journey toward the Promised Land.  The old generation from Egypt can’t be trusted.  Now it’s up to the new generation to inherit the promise. 

We began last week with the Israelites just beginning their journey into the wilderness.  This week’s lesson continues that journey as they should be poised for conquest but instead cower in fear, rebellion against God, and faithlessness.  They are at the border of Canaan and spies have gone into Canaan to determine if the land is suitable for their conquest.  Last week after God delivers them from the hand of Pharaoh with mighty works and wonders and after only 45 days into their journey they complain bitterly to Moses because of their hunger.  This week after God has continued to sustain them with bread and meat from heaven they are still faithless and in effect reject God by their disbelief.  Of the twelve spies, only Joshua and Caleb return with a good report.  The faithless nation believes the ten and in effect rejects God.  They could see everything God had already done for them but could not see what God could do through them.  As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on how God is faithful despite unfaithfulness in Israel.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Fidelity

Despair

Background: 

Numbers is the fourth book of the Old Testament.  Tradition has it that Moses is credited as its author.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “the English title refers to the many numbers contained in the two census lists that form the central pillars of the book’s structure in chapters 1 and 26”.  So these censuses are central to the structure of the book, but the message of Numbers is the story of the old generation out of Egypt dying off as the new generation prepares to move into the Promised Land.  The NISB also explains that “the central narrative of Numbers is the spy story of chapters 13-14.  Those are the two chapters we’ll cover today.  These chapters narrate the theme of judgement and death for an old generation and the birth and hope of a new generation of God’s people”.  They tell the story of why the old generation lost the Promised Land and the new generation would receive it.  That theme is a result of the old generation failing time after time after time to trust God.  Their faithless acts of disobedience and rebellion ultimately led to their demise in the wilderness while a new generation would be prepared to trust and follow God.  So Numbers talks to judgement and death of the old generation, placed against the birth and hope of the new generation. 

Numbers covers the story of the Israelites in the wilderness.  This is a span of about 40 years.  It opens with the generation that came out of Egypt and the first census of 603,550 males.  This census is in preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land.  The second census of the new generation occurs in chapter twenty-six. 

This thirteenth and fourteenth chapter deals specifically with the twelve spies, one from each tribe, going into Canaan to survey the land and determine if it is ready for their conquest.  The twelve spies return forty days later with a mixed report.  They all report that the land flows with milk and honey but only Joshua and Caleb report that they should move immediately to take the land.  After hearing the faithless and exaggerated report of the ten spies the Israelites again cry out in despair.  Once again, they wish to return to the land of enslavement back in Egypt.  Some important words to consider form this text include:

Fidelity

Despair

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson was taken from Exodus 16 and opened with the Israelites having been already delivered from enslavement in Egypt.  They are now wandering in the wilderness at a place called Sin, between Elim and Sinai.  They have been on their journey from Egypt for only about 45 days. 

In verses two and three the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron.  They protest so severely that they imagined dying back in the land of their captivity.  They complained, “if only they had died by the hand of the Lord back in Egypt”.  I noted how these are a people who have given up.  There were no Egyptians around to enslave them.  There were no slave masters around to whip them.  There were no Egyptian solders around to slay them.  Yet, they desired to go back to the land of enslavement, back to whippings and beatings, and back to soldiers who could slay them.  They had given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat.  I noted how they saw themselves in this foreign land, this wilderness, dying of hunger.  So then they blamed Moses and Aaron for their hunger.  I also quoted the “The New Interpreter’s Study Bible” explaining that “life as a slave in Egypt is better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”.  

In verse four the LORD gives Moses a plan.  The LORD tells Moses how bread will be provided and how the people are to gather the bread from heaven.  But the LORD presents this as a test for the Israelites.  God will rain bread from heaven and the Israelites are to gather only enough for their daily needs.  In this way, God will know if they will follow God’s instruction.  Just as God gave the Israelites provision day by day, it is up to us to trust God for our daily bread. 

Verse five gave them instructions on how to gather in preparation for the Sabbath.  On the sixth day they are to gather twice as much in preparation for the seventh day of rest.  

In verses six and seven Moses and Aaron explain to the Israelites the plan the LORD has set forth for their provision.  They tell the people “in the evening you will know that it was the LORD that brought you out of Egypt.  And in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD”.  Moses and Aaron want them to know that they aren’t complaining to them but to God. 

In verse eight Moses makes it plain that the people aren’t complaining against him and Aaron; they are complaining against the LORD.  This won’t be the last time the Israelites complain.  They have seen the great plagues and experienced the great deliverance of God from their Egyptian enslavers.  Yet, a mere 45 days later they are completely defeated with no enemy soldiers in sight. 

The text skips to verses thirteen through fifteen.  Here, the LORD provides quail in the evening and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  After the dew lifted there was a fine flaky substance on the ground.  They ask “what is it” and Moses explains “it is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”. 

As we continue to study God’s faithfulness and responses to God’s faithfulness, this week we see faithfulness in the minority report of Joshua and Caleb.  Joshua and Caleb are faithful.  The others are not.  Not only are they faithless but their rebellion and ultimate rejection of God is the cause of the old generation being condemned to wander 40 years in the wilderness until almost all of them die out.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness and God Hears Our Cry”.  The scripture text comes from Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at chapter thirteen verses one and two with the LORD speaking to Moses.  The LORD instructs Moses to send men into the land of Canaan.  The LORD specifies “the land which I am giving to the Israelites”.  This is the land that God promised Abraham.  The Promised Land and the nation of Israel were hundreds of years in the making but now the descendants of Abraham were on the verge of receiving the long awaited promise. 

The text skips to verse 17a where Moses sends the 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land and determine its suitability for the conquest.

At verse twenty-five the spies have returned from their 40 day reconnaissance.  The number forty is used quite often in the Bible.  We see later that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for forty years.  Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights.  It rained for forty days and forty nights in the great flood.  In Exodus 24:18 Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai and in Acts 1:3 there are forty days between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  So the number forty occurs quite often and at significant times but we should not give this number any more significance than needed.  Merriam-Webster defines numerology as “the study of the occult significance of numbers”.  While numbers often symbolize something they should not to be given divine meaning unless specifically stated to have divine meaning from God.  Occult practices include numerology, astrology, witchcraft, tarot cards and others.

In verse twenty-six the spies assemble at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran to report their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly.  The spies showed them the fruit of the land. 

In verse 27 the spies reveal that the land flows with milk and honey.  Not only do they tell of the goodness of the land but they bring back evidence of the bountiful harvests that await the other side. 

In verse 28 despite them seeing the bountiful blessing of the land; the spies report that the people are powerful and the cities are fortified and very large.  I should note that the first census reported over 600,000 men.  Historians report that this would have been an unusually large number of people because most nation states were not this large at that time.  So it seems that these spies see the blessings possible in the Promised Land, they see the powerful people, they see the large cities, but they do not see the fulfilled promise of God nor do they see themselves are powerful in God’s might. 

The text skips to chapter fourteen verses one and two where the entire congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night.  They weep because they have believed the exaggerated report of the ten spies.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary explains that there are two versions of the spy’s negative report.  “In the first version the land flows with milk and honey.  In the second version verses 32-33 declare that the land itself is so bad that it eats its inhabitants”.  Additionally, “the spies warn of giant Anakites and of a mythological and semi-divine race of giants known as the Nephilim”.  The Israelites see these giants and once again fall into fear.  Instead of believing God, instead of believing they were powerful and strong and brave, instead of believing they were enough and that they had enough.  They choose instead to believe the report of these men instead of the command of God.  They are out of Egypt.  They have been delivered from enslavement by mighty works and wonders of God.  God has provided them with mana in the morning and meat in the evening.  God has turned bitter water to drinkable water.  Even with all these miraculous works they cannot see how God will give them this Promised Land.  Once again, they complain against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they wish that they had died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness.  As they wept that night, God heard their cry.  They cry out not in faith, but in unfaithfulness.  They don’t cry out in belief, but in unbelief.  Theirs is not a cry of hope, but hopelessness.  Although the old generation has seen the mighty works of God; this conquest is just a step too far for them to take. 

In verse five Moses and Aaron fall on their face before all of the assembly.  They realize what the Israelites are doing.  They realize this entire nation is choosing to reject God even after all God has done for them.

Verses six and seven show Joshua and Caleb as the faithful few who believe God can and will do what God said God would do.  They tear their clothes in frustration and declare again that the land they went through was an exceedingly good land. 

In verse eight they explain that if the LORD is pleased with them The LORD will give them this land that flows with milk and honey. 

In verses nine and ten they warn the Israelites not to rebel against the LORD and do not fear the people of the land.  Instead of heeding the warning of Joshua and Caleb, the whole congregation threatened to stone them.

Context:

Perhaps you have heard someone say “I’ll believe it when I see it”.  Seeing and believing seem to complement each other.  Yet sometimes it can be hard to believe what you see.  These Israelites saw the mighty works of God demonstrated in miraculous ways, yet they could not believe what God told them would come next.  Not only had they seen the mighty works of God but they also saw the evidence of a land flowing with milk and honey.  Instead of believing what God would do they choose instead to believe the exaggerations and lies about mythological giants.  The people in the land were real and they were no doubt powerful.  But God is all powerful.  The question for us today is whether we believe God or whether we believe myths.

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Aaron – The brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel.  Aaron was a descendant of Levi’s and a son of Amram and Jochebed’s (Exodus 6:20).  Born eighty-three years before the Exodus, he was three years older than Moses (Exodus 7:7) but younger than their sister, Miriam (Townsend). 

Joshua – The son of Nun, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, and Moses’ lieutenant and successor.  He was originally named Hoshea. 

Caleb – The son of Jephunneh of the tribe of Judah, and one of the twelve spies whom Moses commanded to observe the land of Canaan. 

Key Words: 

Fidelity – The quality or state of being faithful.  The fidelity of God is shown in God’s dependability, trustworthiness, and reliability. 

Despair – utter loss of hope.

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  I’ll believe it when I see it.    

2.  Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.     

Questions

1.  The old generation of Israelites would not see the Promised Land.  Discuss why.             

2.  Joshua and Caleb are the minority with a good report.  Why is their report positive and the other ten spies report negative?      

Concluding Thought:

God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations.  God also promised him the land of Canaan for his descendants.  It was hundreds of years in the making but it came to pass.  God is faithful even when God’s people are not.  If God has promised you something, don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Be encouraged and keep the faith.  God is Faithful.    

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson continues in the book of Numbers.  As we continue the God is faithful theme, we see God about to meet out the harshest of punishment against the nation of Israel.  Faithful Moses steps in to plead the case for the rebellious and faithless people and God changes God’s mind.  Instead of punishment God grants forgiveness.  The lesson is entitled God Forgives.      

Christianity, Religion, Genesis, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 8, 2019) Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review how God answers prayer for Hannah.  Hannah is a childless woman in a society that values women with children and male children in particular.  Hannah is distressed, distraught, and discouraged.  She faces “baby mama drama” from her husband’s other wife and she’s had about enough of living in this pain.  In the end, Hanna’s situation works out.  God answer’s her prayer.  But for so many people, things don’t always work out the way we think they should.  Like Hannah, many people are unable to do anything about their circumstances, knowing that only God can work it out.  Like Hannah, we rejoice when things do work out.  But when life throws us twists and turns we can be confident that God loves us no less, and in fact God’s love for us is infinite.   Hannah didn’t know things were going to work out.  But after hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace; her soul was no longer troubled.  She had a calm assurance that somehow God was still on her side.    

As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on Hannah as she responds to God with calm assurance after promising to give her firstborn child back to God as a Nazarite.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Vows

Nazarite

Background

The books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel bear the name of the Priest / Judge / Prophet however, Samuel dies before 1 Samuel ends.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “these two books were originally one book and remain one book in the Jewish canon.  The division into two books probably originated in the second century BCE with the translation of the Hebrew into Greek”.  Regardless of whether Samuel is read as one or two books, its major themes remain the same and are seen through both books.  The NISB notes “there are two large and interlocking themes in 1 Samuel.  The first is public:  the importance of good government.  The second major theme which continues in 2 Samuel is personal: the complexity of relationships both between people and God and among people”.  Additionally, Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “1 Samuel records the critical transition in Israel from the rule of God through the judges to God’s rule through kings”.  It also notes that “all of 2 Samuel and a major portion of 1 Samuel deal with events that happened after Samuel’s death”.  This is likely an indication of the importance of Samuel as a major figure during a transitional time for the Israelites. 

The NISB notes as part of the second major theme in Samuel “the complexity of relationships between families.  These inter-human relationships are almost always conflicted, beginning with Hannah and Peninnah and going through Eli and his sons, Samuel and his sons, and Saul and his children.  Listen, Parent/child relationships are a constant concern in all of Samuel”. 

This first chapter of 1 Samuel opens with the story of Samuel’s mother Hannah praying to conceive a man-child.  Hannah, a barren woman has been tormented by Peninnah the other wife of Hannah’s husband Elkanah.  They have come to Shiloh to offer sacrifices unto the Lord.  The text notes that Elkanah gave portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 

The NISB explains that “there are three themes in this story: 

1) Strife within the family.

2) God acting behind the scenes in ways that are apparent only to those who look for such actions.

3) God’s penchant for unexpectedly raising up the lowly”.

The central theme of this week’s lesson continues to be God’s faithfulness – this time during grief, and that God answers prayer.  In this text we see a powerless woman beset with family conflict and we see how God moves on her behalf to answer her prayer.  Our text will reveal how Hannah prayed, how God answered, and how Hannah honored God for answering her prayer.  One note of caution… Please be considerate knowing that God has not favorably answered the prayer of every woman and every man who desires to have a child.  Many women and men struggle for years to have a child only to be disappointed.  We know that God is able and that God can change their situation.  What we don’t know is when or even if God will.  So please be considerate.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Vows

Nazarite

Review of Last Week 

Last week’s lesson was taken from Genesis nineteenth chapter.  It was titled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  Verse one began with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he got up to greet them.  The text then skipped to verses four and five and then fifteen.  I covered verses two through fourteen as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invited the two angels to spend the night at his house where he showed them great hospitality by providing shelter and making a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surrounded Lots house and demanded “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  I quoted the NISB’s explanation that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  I also quoted the NISB explaining

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

I noted that this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  I quoted the The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary noting that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

“Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him the angels strike the men outside the door with blindness. 

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  Lot lingers, the angles seize him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered. 

Verse seventeen told us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein.

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

This week’s lesson continues with the theme of God’s faithfulness.  This time God is faithful during grief; but God ultimately answers Hanna’s prayer.  In the same way Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of Lot and his family, now Hannah pleads with God to answer her prayer for a man-child.  Last week we saw how God was faithful to Abraham.  This week we see how God is faithful to Hannah and how Hannah honors God for God’s faithfulness.  The lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Grief and God Answers Prayer.  The scripture text comes from 1 Samuel 1:9-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at verse nine.  Hannah along with her husband Elkanah and Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah are gathered at the temple in Shiloh.  After eating and drinking, Hannah arose and presented herself before the Lord to pray.  Eli the priest is seated in the temple door.  The NISB notes that at this point “Shiloh is the central Israelite shrine which contains the Ark of the Covenant”. 

In verse ten Hannah is deeply distressed as she prays to the Lord weeping bitterly.  Hannah is a woman without a child in a society that values women who have sons.  She weeps bitterly because not only is she childless but Peninnah her husband’s other wife is her rival and provokes her severely to irritate her (verse 6).  Dr. Theodore W. Burgh writes in The Africana Bible that “Hannah’s antagonistic rival torments her with vicious barbs and taunts.  Hannah is caught in the midst of what could be understood in contemporary street vernacular as “baby mama drama””. 

Townsend Commentary notes that “ancient Eastern legal texts allowed an infertile wife to provide her husband her maidservant to bear children for her as his heir.  Therefore, the principal wife may possess legal rights to the children of her servants”; if you watch The Handmaid’s Tale that sounds familiar.  But this however, is not the desire of Hannah’s heart.  Hannah desires a man-child birthed from her own body.  Hannah is distressed, she is distraught, and she is ready for her circumstances in life to change.  She’s tired of being picked on and talked about.  She’s tired of being laughed at and scorned.  Even though her husband loves her, she’s tired of being treated badly about something for which she has no control.  She has no child of her own and there is nothing she can do about it.  In the Africana Bible Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains “Hannah feels the pressure of the high value her society placed on bearing a child – particularly a male – in order to confirm her womanhood, she prays diligently to her god asking to become pregnant. 

In verse eleven Hannah makes a vow.  She vows to God that if God will remember her with a man-child she’ll give him back to God as a Nazarite until the day of his death.  Elkanah loves Hanna despite the Lord having “closed her womb” (vs 5).  And now Hannah believes this is something only God can fix.  She makes a bargain with God.  If only God will bless her with a man-child, she’ll give the child back to God as a Nazarite. 

Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define “vow” as that which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  And as much as Hannah wants a child of her own she promises God she’ll return the child to God if only God remembers her with this blessing.  We can look upon Hanna’s vow with compassion and understanding as a powerless woman desperately desiring to change her circumstances.  However there are numerous other uses of vows throughout scripture that we can look at both favorably and unfavorably.  Jonah makes a vow inside the great fish (Jon. 2:9).  Jezebel vows to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2).  Jacob vows at Bethel if God will keep him, that he’ll serve God. (Gen 28:20, 21).  And in Acts 23:12 certain Jews vow to kill Paul. 

But Hannah’s vow was specific.  Hannah vowed to give God a Nazarite.    Westminster defines a Nazarite as a member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God.  Hannah’s child will be special.  Hannah’s child will serve God in a specific way.  This child will be set apart for service to God and as the rest of 1 Samuel will show how Samuel indeed becomes an iconic servant of God.  Hannah like many parents today wanted her child to make a difference in the world. 

Additionally, Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains in the Africana Bible that “a Nazarite was a male or female who dedicated himself or herself, or who was dedicated to YHWH by others, through specific vows (Num. 6:1-21, Judges 13:7). 

In verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen Hanna continues praying silently with only her lips moving.  Eli the high priest notices her and thinks she is drunk.  Eli said to her “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine”.  The NISB notes that Eli’s first speech shows his inability, unexpected in a priest, to distinguish between prayer and drunkenness.  This raises the question of how effective a leader such an out-of-touch man can be, especially one who is the priest of the nation’s most important shrine”.  Eli was indeed out of touch.  He could not distinguish between the sincere prayer of a powerless woman and the antics of someone drunk with wine.  Perhaps there are ways in our own lives we mistake someone’s sincerity for what we see as playful antics.

In verses fifteen and sixteen Hannah sets the record straight.  Hannah tells Eli she hasn’t been drinking.  She’s been pouring out her soul before the Lord.  She informs Eli that she has been “speaking out of great anxiety and vexation all this time”. 

After having set the record straight, verses seventeen and eighteen show Eli is at least an understanding priest.  Now he recognizes Hannah’s pain and distress.  Now he sees her for the woman she is and he tells her to “go in peace; the God of Israel grant you the petition you have made to God”.  So many people have been in Hanna’s situation.  Unable to do anything about their circumstances and knowing only God can work it out.  After hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace her soul is no longer troubled.  Hannah has a calm assurance that somehow God is going to work it out.  She left her place of prayer, went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and she was no longer sad. 

Verses nineteen and twenty close this lesson as Hanna and the others rise the next morning, worship God, and then travel back to their home in Ramah.  At some point Elkanah has sex with Hannah and the Lord remembered her.  Hannah conceives the son she wanted so desperately and names him Samuel.  Verse twenty says “she named him Samuel, for she said “I have asked him of the Lord””.  Hannah gets the answer to her prayers.  The birth of Samuel changes her life and her circumstances.

Context

Hannah’s prayers were answered.  She was blessed with the child she so desperately wanted.  Her circumstances changed for the better and she has a happy ending to her story.  But sometimes our stories don’t end like we thought they should.  Life takes us on twists and turns that we would not have chosen on our own.  Regardless of the bargains we make or the vows we take with God, our circumstances will be what God purposes for them to be.  Sometimes we desperately hang on to any thread of hope that God will hear our prayer and answer for us positively.  We rejoice when things work out.  But sometimes things don’t work out like we thought they should.  Beloved, even when things don’t work out like we think they should, know that God’s love for you is infinite and what we don’t understand now, we’ll understand better by and by. 

Key Characters in the text:

Hannah – She is the mother of Samuel and wife of Elkanah.  She prays fervently at the temple in Shiloh for God to relieve her bareness.   

Elkanah – He is the father of Samuel and husband of Hannah.  Despite Hannah’s barrenness he confesses and demonstrates his love for her.    

Eli – He is the high priest at the temple in Shiloh.  Also one of the last minor judges; in the latter role he is said to have served for forty years (Townsend). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Vow(s) – That which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, the entrance into the religious life is marked by vows.  Other vows may be made for undertaking specific actions. 

Nazarite – A member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God. 

Ark of the Covenant – The chest carried by the Hebrews that contained the tablets of the law.  It was lost from history after the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Let your request be made known to God (Phil 4:6). 

2.  Praying your heart’s desire.

Questions

1.  Why did Hannah want her child to become a Nazarite?         

2.  God answered Hannah’s prayer positively.  How should we respond when we see no positive results to our prayer? 

3.  Did you know women could take the Nazarite vow in the Old Testament?

Concluding Thought:

God answers prayer.  Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is not now, maybe later.  At any rate, God answers prayer.  It’s up to us to understand the answer and continue to move forward in God’s plan. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of Exodus.  We see God’s faithful provision for the Israelites in the wilderness.  Very soon after departing Egypt the Israelites face difficult times and they began to mummer against Moses and Aaron.  When they face hard times in the wilderness God demonstrates God’s faithfulness by miraculously supplying their needs.  The lesson is entitled “Bread From Heaven”.    

Christianity, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (July 7, 2019) Jesus Teaches About Fulfilling The Law / Fulfilling The Law Matthew 5:13-20

Fulfilling The Law Matthew 5:13-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at the second lesson of the Beatitudes.  In this week’s lesson Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like and the rules and regulations of his Kingdom.  Matthew gives us an honest account of the tension between what I keep calling the “old school” Jewish hierarchy and these new upstarts that are telling people about a man named Jesus who can save the world.  “Old school” Judaism and these new Jewish Christians don’t agree and they don’t get along.  Matthew is writing to these new Jewish Christians to point them in the right direction concerning this New Covenant and how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

The Law

The Prophets

Scribes and Pharisees

Background: 

The overall focus for the summer quarter is a heartfelt covenant.  Heartfelt is an adjective.  It is a describing word.  It adds context to or describes a noun which in this case is covenant.  So, we’re talking about a heartfelt covenant.  Heartfelt is defined as “a feeling or its expression that is sincere; deeply and strongly felt”.  When something is heartfelt it is genuine, it’s authentic.  In our lessons this summer we are studying different aspects of this heartfelt, this genuine, authentic, and sincere covenant established by Jesus Christ.  But what I really want to highlight is that WE are the ones who experience this covenant in a heartfelt way. 

With that in mind, I’ll provide some background on the origin of the book of Matthew, a bit of background on the people this Gospel was written to, and then I’ll narrow the focus to this week’s study which is the 5th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. 

Matthew is also known as Levi the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14).  Matthew is a tax collector when Jesus finds him sitting at a tax booth.  Jesus simply says “follow me” and Matthew got up and followed him.  As a tax collector, Matthew was likely despised by other Jews because he would have been seen as a collaborator with the Roman Empire.  Also, tax collectors were called unclean and often defrauded and cheated people by charging excessive taxes.  So Jews did not associate with tax collectors.

Additionally, keep in mind this text is likely written after 70 A.D.  The Jewish temple has been destroyed and Matthew is writing to Jewish Christians.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “although the name Matthew is linked with this Gospel about 100 years after it was written, it is not known who the real author is, when the text was originally written, or why this work is named Matthew”.  An illustrated biographical dictionary explains that “although Mark is the shortest Gospel, Matthew and Luke substantially use the same text as Mark but supplement it with additional writings”. 

The fifth chapter of Matthew begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The sermon covers chapters 5 through 7.  Chapter 5 begins with “blessings and sayings (5:3-16) the middle section of the sermon has six interpretations of scripture (5:17-48), instructions on three distinctive discipleship practices (6:1-18), and teaching on social and economic practices (6:19-7:12)” (NISB).  Over the next four weeks I will cover all of chapter five and close the last lesson with chapter 7.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

The Law

The Prophets

Scribes and Pharisees

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week was the first of five lessons from the Gospel According to Matthew.  The text was Matthew 5:1-12 which is the beginning portion of the Beatitudes.  I began with a description of verse one and two observing how Jesus took notice of the crowds, and then how he withdrew to an unnamed mountain to address his disciples.  I also noted that “So far there are only four disciples (4:18-22; 10:1-4), but they represent all disciples” (NISB).  I also noted that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness is important language for a people who are oppressed, persecuted, and subjugated by the Imperial Roman government and their fellow Jewish nationals. I provided a definition of the poor as “those who are economically or spiritually without sufficient resources and noted that God has a special concern for the poor.  Contemporary liberation theology emphasizes reading Scripture from the perspective of the poor.  I also quoted the NISB noting that “The second half of each blessing promises God’s future reversal of imperial situations” (NISB). 

I also mentioned mercy from verse seven.  Mercy is an important descriptor of God.  Our homes are better when mercy is present.  Our communities are better when mercy is present, and our governmental policies make society better when they deal with poverty as a priority. 

A Pure Heart

I also admitted my inability to explain what a pure heart is.  At least in terms of righteousness, I’m certain the only way my heart can be declared pure is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. 

I also talked about the difference between peacemakers and peacekeepers.  Peace makers do the work of justice and righteousness.  A peace keeper may or may not do this work.

Verses eleven and twelve closed the lesson proclaiming that we should rejoice and be glad because we will receive a great reward in heaven when we are persecuted falsely on the account of Jesus.  It’s important to stress that this applies to those who are falsely persecuted, not justifiably persecuted. 

Now, As we focus on the idea of a heartfelt covenant this week’s lesson deals with how Jesus fulfils the Law.   This is the second lesson from the beatitudes and the second of five from the Gospel According to Matthew.  In this second lesson we hear directly from Jesus as he outlines some of the rules of his kingdom.  The beatitudes are a guide for our everyday living that should be heartfelt by all Christians.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches About Fulfilling the Law.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Fulfilling the Law.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:13-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

In verses thirteen and fourteen Jesus describes his disciples and by extension all of us who follow him as salt and then light.  These two metaphors are descriptors that should help us understand how we should be and how we should be seen in the world.  Salt is a seasoning and a preserver.  It seasons our food and makes it taste better.  Likewise we should strive to make life “taste” better for those around us.  Instead of creating problems we can help solve problems.  Instead of simply criticizing others we can offer constructive criticism that makes others better.  Salt also preserves.  We ought to preserve the good in our lives and encourage others to do the same.  In preserving what is good we can become lights in a dark world.  When people see your good works you become a light for them to emulate, a beacon of what can and should be instead of what is.  We should not underestimate the power of a good example.  Because sometimes the only sermon someone may hear is the one they see in how you live.  Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”.  That’s a great explanation of what it means to be salt and light in this world. 

Verses 15 and 16 encourage us to put our light on a candlestick so others may see our good works.  In other words, our lights should shine bright.  Don’t dim your bright light because others are intimidated, jealous, envious, or any other reason.  Your good works, your example, your ministry, your life’s example should be to God’s glory.  And as long as you’re walking with God, let your light shine. 

Verse 17 deals with the title of this week’s lesson.  Here, Jesus tells the disciples that he has not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfil.  Jesus does not do away with the old, he makes it better.  In next week’s lesson we see some of the ways Jesus makes the Old Testament better. 

Verse 18 tells us that nothing will be taken away from the Old Testament; not one word, not one letter, not even a stroke of one letter will be taken away until all has been fulfilled.  Keep in mind that this is the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He has just called his first disciples in Galilee and they don’t yet know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.  Standard Lesson Commentary notes that “God did not give the law intending that it would last forever.  Ultimately it points to Christ, who makes perfect what the law could not perfect (Rom 3:20-31; Hebrews 7:16-19).  In other words, the Old Testament points to Jesus as its own fulfillment.

In verse 19 Jesus declares that those who break one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  It’s been said many times that no one can keep all of the commandments of the Old Testament.  Again, Jesus offers a better testament, a better covenant.  Here, in the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry neither his disciples nor the gathered crowd know how Jesus will fulfill the Old and make it better.  The writer of Matthew is recalling events that happened about 27 AD.  So when the final version of this text is complete at least forty years have passed.  The disciples may not have known at this point so early in Jesus’ ministry but eventually they would come to understand exactly who Jesus is and how he fulfills the Law and the prophets.

Verse 20 tells us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  The Gospel According to Matthew is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees.  There is tension between these Jewish Christians who are teaching a new way, a new covenant based in Jesus Christ and the “old school” Jewish hierarchy.  Matthew is writing to a community who “with much bitterness and conflict have withdrawn from the synagogue.  It assists a now separate community in defining its identity and shaping its faithful way of life within the diversity of late 1st-century Judaism” (NISB).  The point for us today is to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as our Savior.  And he is our Savior by grace. 

Context:

One of the things I love about Scripture is how is shows both the good and the not so good.  We see the faults and human frailty of the patriarchs through the Old Testament and they serve as an example of both what to do and what not to do.  It’s an honest account of the good and the not so good.  The Gospel according to Matthew is situated in that same vein.  It’s an honest account of the tension between what I keep calling the “old school” Jewish hierarchy and these new upstarts that are telling people about a man named Jesus who can save the world.  “Old school” Judaism and these new Jewish Christians don’t agree and they don’t get along.  When Matthew tells us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees it’s just one more instance of this tension laid bare for all to see.  What we should be mindful of is that Jesus didn’t do away with the old rules, he made them better.  Jesus offers a new agreement, a new covenant, a new testament that is a better covenant for everyone today. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles.  Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person.  As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government.  This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.

Pharisees – A Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the Law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev. 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32) others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Beatitudes – Teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the lives and dispositions of his followers.

Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil.  Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees.  It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ. 

Kingdom of Heaven – An equivalent term for “Kingdom of God” found in Matthew’s Gospel. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Old school versus new school.

2.  Salt is a seasoning, are you making anyone’s life “taste” better? 

Questions

1.  Matthew is writing to a people who are trying to figure out if they will be “old school” Jewish or this new style Jewish Christian, or something entirely different.  When is it best to go with the new school approach?         

2.  Is Jesus the spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament Law?         

Concluding thought:

Matthew writes to a marginalized people, a people who are oppressed by the government and even their own brothers and sisters in the faith and reassures them of God’s plan and points them toward a mission to save the world.  This fifth chapter of Matthew shows some of how that mission began.  It also points us toward a coming Savior that in this chapter begins to outline what righteousness looks like.  It’s not the righteousness of a legal system that requires the sacrifice of animals and keeping certain legal requirements.  It is a righteousness based in love and faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s our task; to love others and to love God.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Anger, adultery, and divorce are a part of next week’s lesson as I will continue where we left off this week.  Matthew 5:21-32 is the text next week and in these verses Jesus teaches us to love one another.  As we keep in mind the idea of a heartfelt covenant I will outline some of what that love looks like.