Kings Like Ahab

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 20.28
28 The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’ ” 

Reflection: Kings Like Ahab
By John Tillman

Ahab is the anti-David. If David shows us “a man after God’s heart,” Ahab is the mirror image. (1 Samuel 13.14; Acts 13.22) Ahab and David become moral measuring sticks. Scripture describes bad kings as following Ahab’s ways and good kings as following David’s.

Ahab gets the most ink in Kings. He’s unquestionably wicked, yet God used and spoke to him frequently. Why?

It may shock us that God blesses Ahab with victories and with his presence and voice, spoken through many prophets. Humans aren’t perfect, yet God works through them. We know this academically, but emotionally, we feel God should find someone else when he uses the wicked. We can learn from this.

God uses wicked kings to accomplish good things. This doesn’t make them good kings. God used Ahab as a mercy to the people of Israel and for the glory of his own name, not because Ahab was good. Victories don’t grant leaders a never-expiring stamp of God’s approval or mean a leader is “God’s man or woman.” They don’t suddenly deserve praise, adoration, or unquestioning, unshakable devotion.

God pursues the wicked for salvation. God repeatedly tells Ahab, “You will know that I am the Lord.” God wanted Ahab to know him and offered himself to Ahab, who repeatedly rejected God. We typically think of God pursuing the wicked, seeking to punish or destroy them, but God also pursues the wicked to turn them to him and change their hearts.

We are among the wicked. Ahab was wicked and God used him. David was wicked and God used him. We are wicked and God will use us. Our wickedness is different by degrees when we compare them humanly, but to God wicked is wicked. Just as God pursued wicked kings for repentance, he has and will pursue us. 

Jesus is the only righteous king. God did find a better, righteous king to do the work that no imperfect king could do. Jesus is the king who accomplishes all that God wants. He is the only king to whom we can be unswervingly loyal because he is the only righteous one.

Like Ahab and all wicked kings, we are wicked ones repeatedly called to repentance. Ahab and David differ in their response to God, not in God’s offer. May we respond like David and not like Ahab.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “I tell you, if anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of human beings, the Son of man will declare himself for him in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who disowns me in the presence of human beings will be disowned in the presence of God’s angels.” — Luke 12.8-9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 20 (Listen 7:03)
Psalms 40-41 (Listen 3:57)

Read more about Ahab and David
Even Ahab, the wickedest of wicked kings, obtained a measure of mercy from God when he showed humility and grief.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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Tongues, Thumbs, and Prayers

Scripture Focus: Psalm 39.1-3
1 I said, “I will watch my ways 
and keep my tongue from sin; 
I will put a muzzle on my mouth 
while in the presence of the wicked.” 
2 So I remained utterly silent, 
not even saying anything good. 
But my anguish increased; 
3 my heart grew hot within me. 
While I meditated, the fire burned; 
then I spoke with my tongue: 

Reflection: Tongues, Thumbs, and Prayers
By John Tillman

The psalmist, presumably David, suffers in silence. He muzzles himself, not even saying good things because of the wicked. Silence increases his anguish. Inner turmoil heats up. He turns to meditation, but heat becomes a burning flame. So, he opens his mouth to speak…

If we stopped at verse three, we might assume the psalmist’s unsheathed speech became a sword, fighting for God. We might think his words laid waste to the wicked. We might imagine ourselves following the psalmist’s example by opening a social media app and delivering a diatribe of harsh truths to destroy ideological opponents. We’d be wrong.

The psalmist spoke to God, not humans. He had questions, not claims. He sought truth. He didn’t weaponize it. His faith was mixed with doubts. His courage was mixed with fears. His prayers were mixed with weeping.

Don’t forget the first verse of this psalm: “I will…keep my tongue from sin.” The Bible repeatedly warns us of sinning by speech. If James had seen us on mobile devices typing in our social media apps, he might have written “thumbs are a restless evil” instead of “tongues.” (James 3.17)

Should we—can we—use our tongues to speak or our thumbs to type without falling into sin?

Do we need better vocabulary? Surely if we eschew harsh, foul, or insulting language, our speech can’t be sinful? No.
Do we need to be less dogmatic? Surely we can avoid sin by placating both sides and avoiding hard stances? No.
Do we need greater intellect? Surely intellectualism, facts, and data can keep us from sinning by speech? No.

It is not our tongues or our thumbs that cause us to sin. It is our hearts. (Matthew 12.34; Luke 6.45) A better vocabulary won’t heal our hateful hearts. A more understanding tone won’t calm our heart’s fear of confrontation. The brightest of intellects can’t enlighten the sin-darkened pathways of our hearts. 

When avoiding sinful speech, the factor that is more important than our vocabulary, our sensitivity, or our wisdom is prayer. Our prayer life changes our hearts.

The psalmist is brutally honest with God. Are your prayers honest?
The psalmist seeks forgiveness and help. Are you confessing and requesting?

There is a time to speak up, testify to the truth, and defend what we believe. When that time comes, will our prayer life have prepared us to speak?

Divine Hours Prayer: The request for Presence
O Lord, my God, my Savior, by day and night, I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. — Psalm 88.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 19 (Listen 3:53)
Psalms 39 (Listen 1:49)

Read more about Prayer When None Are Faithful
We are dismayed, Lord…
We are sheep among wicked shepherds…
Will only braggarts lead?
Will only the boastful hold sway?

Read more about Cultivation Requires Planning
For a mustard seed faith to grow, it must be cultivated. Do you have a plan to cultivate your spiritual growth?

Wide, High, Long and Deep

Scripture Focus: Psalm 36:5-9
5 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

Reflection: Wide, Long, High and Deep
By Jon Polk

The Psalter is replete with references to the “two ways” of living, contrasting the wicked and the righteous, good versus evil. Chapter one, verse one starts it all off, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

Indeed, this theme cuts a well-worn path throughout the Psalms and finds beautiful poetic expression here in Psalm 36.

Our psalmist opens with a customary lament about the presence and arrogance of evil in our world. Blinded by their own high opinions of themselves, the wicked act foolishly, plot evil, and pursue a sinful course of wrongdoing. All without regard to the presence and authority of God in the world.

But never fear, gentle reader! The virtues of God reign supreme! God’s unfailing love is as limitless as the skies, God’s righteousness is solid like the mountains high, and God’s justice plumbs the depths of the oceans. God’s love is indeed woven into the fabric of our world, preserving all of creation.

Why is there so much papyri in these ancient Psalms dedicated to the eternal struggle between the righteous and the wicked? 

Could it be that we are constantly reminded of the present reality of evil, the influence of the Accuser, or the bold arrogance of the self-righteous? Could it be that even in Christ, we are not promised a carefree existence, safe from struggle or difficulty? Could it be that we are weary and long to feast in God’s house, drink from God’s fountain of life, and witness God’s justice roll down like a river?

Could it be also that were it not for that same love, faithfulness, and righteousness of God, we ourselves would be counted among the number of the wicked?

The psalmist paints a portrait for us of the radical, joyous, and inclusive love of God, a love that welcomes all to find refuge in God’s wings. As Paul reminds the church in Ephesus, we were all once far away from God, without hope, but through Christ we have been brought near to God. We can truly celebrate with humble thanksgiving the God who sustains us and continues to love us.

So, if your world is unstable, your prospects bleak, or if you need a little more strength to get by, take heart and be reminded today of “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18).

Music: “The Love of God” by Rich Mullins

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who trust in him! — Psalm 34.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 16 (Listen 5:31)
Psalms 36 (Listen 1:29)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 17 (Listen 3:14)Psalms 37 (Listen 4:21)
1 Kings 18 (Listen 7:08)Psalms 38 (Listen 2:14)

Read more about Make God’s Love Evident
There is great wickedness in the world. Yet, in such a world, the psalmist proclaims God’s love.

Read more about Becoming Light
We can have hope because God has love for us as his motivation. The core of who God is, is love.

Wartime Prayers

Scripture Focus: Psalm 35:5-6
5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
     with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
 6 may their path be dark and slippery,
     with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

From John: Erin and I are both ready for our daily readings, especially imprecatory psalms, to be less topical to current events. It’s distressing to write from the scriptures referencing some of the horrors we’ve recently witnessed up close and far off. But isn’t that what the scriptures are for? And what regular reading does for us? One of the best features of the way we approach devotionals at The Park Forum is that we don’t chase topics, we just walk in the scriptures. For no matter what valley we walk through, Jesus is with us in his Word, through the Spirit, and among the community of faith. Peace be with us, in us, and among us.

Reflection: Wartime Prayers
By Erin Newton

The book of Psalms reveals a wide range of emotional responses to life: praise, joy, lament, pleas for deliverance, and expressions that seek justice. Psalm 35 is one of the latter types of psalms—an imprecatory prayer.

The psalmist utilizes militant language asking for shield, armor, spear, and javelin to be set against the enemy. There is hope that the foe will be caught in a net, fall into a pit, and be disgraced and put to shame.

It is a prayer against injustice. It is a prayer for retribution.

Many of us are peace-time civilians in the West. Our conflicts are not wartime struggles but personal attacks, neighborly conflicts, and systemic injustices. But war still happens, is happening now, around the globe. The cry for justice is universal.

Federico Villanueva, a Filipino scholar, reveals the most important aspect to this type of prayer: “The difference is that this prayer is directed to God. It is not simply wishing that something bad will happen to a person; it is asking God to do this action.”

Psalm 35 is unique within the book of Psalms. Together with Psalm 34, it is the only place the angel of the Lord is mentioned. The plea is for the enemy to become worthless, useless, weak, chaff. The psalmist begs for the way of the enemy to be darkened and treacherous. The whole plot to disarm the enemy is done by the angel of the Lord.

Injustice should lead our hearts to lament and pray. Our emotions should rise with the stories of pain and suffering. These psalms give voice to the Spirit that stirs within us, “Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me!”

The desire to defend the weak is good and righteous. We are called to seek justice in every area of our lives. Let us seek God as we pray for his will to be done. When we are cornered and afraid, let us call upon God to impart perfect justice as only he can.

Federico reminds us: “Human justice is very imperfect…The imprecatory prayers become expressions of trust in God our Father who is not only powerful but is just and loving. It brings comfort to those who are weak and oppressed, who have no one else to go to but God. It also serves as a strong warning for the oppressors. There is a God who fights for the right of the weak.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. — Psalm 69.7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 15 (Listen 5:30)
Psalms 35 (Listen 3:21)

Read more about Miracles of Deliverance and Judgment
In a warzone, however, wickedness removes its disguises…The lies of wicked rulers corrupt those around them and cost lives.

Read more about An Imprecatory Psalm for Mass Shootings
The imprecatory psalms and our angry prayers in crisis are still valuable to God.

Be With Me

Scripture Focus: Psalm 34.18
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
     and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Reflection: Be With Me
By Erin Newton

In the kingdom of the heavens, no suffering is unknown;
 each tear that falls is holy, each breaking heart a throne.
 There is a song of beauty on every weeping eye —
 for there is One who loves me: His heart, it breaks with mine

These words, which bring me to tears every time, are from the song “Little Things with Great Love” by Porter’s Gate.

At the end of this summer, just a few weeks ago, my mother died. For six years, I limped along this journey of anticipated grief, knowing that her cancer was incurable. I became accustomed to sadness. It was simply a part of my life.

Many of us carry the weight of grief, pain, suffering, trauma—all sorts of sadness—with us every day. Instead of a passing feeling, it becomes a state of being. Grief is an unwelcome guest that lingers too long and too close.

Psalm 34 speaks of deliverance from fear and salvation from troubles. It was the plea of my anguished heart. I like to avoid sadness. Bottling up emotions, avoiding all sad movies, and never lingering too long on tragic events—this was my way of living.

Now I have learned that we get to grieve deeply because we have loved deeply. The weight of our sadness reflects the hope of a beautiful life that has been tragically altered.

What is never mentioned in the psalm is the absence of trouble. It is not praising God for a carefree life. As much as I want to escape heartache, suffering is part of living.

But we are not alone. God is near to the brokenhearted, the completely broken and crushed soul.

In the last days of my mom’s life, I would step out of the car and take a deep breath. I had to go in there and sit by her bed, counting breaths as they labored and slowed. I knew I had to go inside. There was no choice. “Dear Lord, can you go in there with me?” And he did.

I have known the depths of pain, but I have felt the strength of God’s presence. My mom could hear songs “like a choir” and felt an unseen hand rest upon her shoulder. God is near to us.

If there is any way I could talk to my mom now, I’d let her know I’m doing okay. Because I’ll never be alone.

Music: Little Things with Great Love,” by Porter’s Gate

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
…come to me speedily, O God. You are my helper and deliverer; O Lord, do not tarry. — Psalm 70.5-6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 14 (Listen 5:22)
Psalms 34 (Listen 2:14)

Read more about In the Face of Grief
None of Christ’s followers had to leave their sorrow behind for Jesus to come to them.

Read more about The Grace of Holding Space
What is most needed in these times is a willingness to simply “hold space” for another.