Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Abigail: No Victim of Circumstances

 Abigail: No Victim of Circumstances 

The ancients were amazed and mystified by the gospel, and so are people today: it says that God treats His bitterest enemies as friends. Jesus addressed Judas Iscariot as “friend” and forgave His own murderers. He actually took their guilt upon Himself, being “made … sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). The reason is something that the Bible calls “justification.” The Father treated His own Son as an enemy so He could treat us as friends. One half of the process of the atonement is God being reconciled to His enemies (us). This was accomplished by the sacrifice of His Son, so that He has “reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, … reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). The other half is our being reconciled to God, which is accomplished by our understanding and believing the gospel—the truth of His reconciliation to us by someone preaching the message, “Be ye reconciled to God.”

 There is a strange, unearthly love involved in this reconciliation-justification process—agape. It “never faileth” (1 Cor. 13:8), but neither is it naive, or foolish. It recognizes immediately that beneath the revolting exterior, the other person may have some decency or self-respect left which will respond to “grace” and “justification.”

 Can “the kings of the earth” benefit from this Bible idea? Many will say, No; national interests are too valuable and complex to be influenced by any idea associated with “grace.” But a “king-to-be” was once saved from a terrible mistake of unnecessary violence by a woman who spoke words of common sense inspired by the idea of justification by faith—the story of Abigail and David is in 1 Samuel 25:2-42.
How can one find happiness in a marriage where one feels his or her spouse is less than satisfactory, in fact, downright ornery? There is a fascinating case history of a woman trapped in a marriage probably worse than any you have ever heard about.

 Abigail was intelligent and beautiful. For some reason, she married Nabal, a cantankerous, ill-mannered boor who turned out to be extremely ornery. Many a woman would have walked out on him. Yet, she found her niche in history by holding on.

 If a prince charming had visited Abigail’s village, she doubtless would have become a princess. But none came along, and it seems that her parents encouraged her to go with Nabal. She could have consoled herself with the thought that he was steady and solid. At least he knew how to make money. Perhaps mom and dad encouraged her to believe that she could either change him or learn to love him. She shouldn’t pass him up. He was the scion of a prominent family, destined to wealth and influence. With her warm, winsome ways, Abigail would impart to his lordly ranch a touch of grace.

 Soon after the wedding, Abigail realized she was bound for life to someone who was a perfect fool when it came to human relations. Neighbors and the hired hands avoided him whenever possible. To make matters worse, he took to drinking, and Abigail learned that no problem can be so bad but what alcohol can make it worse. The hired help could leave, but Abigail felt chained in a marital dungeon “till death do us part.”

Covering for Nabal’s boorish ways developed in Abigail qualities of grace and diplomacy. She learned how to pour oil on the troubled waters her husband had roiled up. The irritating grain of sand produced in her soul the legendary pearl. She developed expertise in managing men who had trouble managing themselves. This eventually led to a new chapter in her life.

 She remained faithful to Nabal, believing that God in His own good time and way would transmute her pain into happiness. To the end of her marriage, she kept her conscience clear, holding the ranch together, winning the love of the hired help and the neighbors, and in the process carving out for herself a special niche of distinction in female history.

 Nabal’s drinking problem finally did him in, and believe it or not, when Abigail was free, a prince did show up who married her. David, Israel’s rightful heir to the throne, happened on the scene. In an unpleasant encounter, Nabal rubbed him the wrong way and David in a rare fit of anger decided to avenge the insult with violence. But for Abigail’s intervention, David’s rash act would have haunted his royal conscience for the rest of his life and could have ruined his reputation as a fair and compassionate ruler. Abigail’s well-developed skills in diplomacy and exquisitely tactful finesse saved David from himself. Her hastily composed but eloquent speech pointedly reminded him that his rashness could be the undoing of his royal honor. Never has a woman averted tragedy so skillfully.

 Unlovable as Nabal was, Abigail was protective of her unworthy husband. She assumed his guilt: “On me alone … be the blame.” “Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant” (verses 24, 28, NASB). She implied that Nabal’s faults were hers as well as his, for were not the two “one flesh”? For all time to come, Abigail demonstrated the oneness implicit in marriage!

 In due time, following Nabal’s demise, David married Abigail (see verse 42). The king-to-be not only loved her; he felt she would help him manage his own weaknesses. According to Ellen G. White, “The Spirit of the Son of God was abiding in her soul. Her speech, seasoned with grace, and full of kindness and peace, shed a heavenly influence. Better impulses came to David, and he trembled as he thought what might have been the consequences of his rash purpose” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 667).

 The story of Abigail reveals that God Himself undertakes to help the unlucky spouse who is getting the bad end of a bargain. He or she can find happiness in fidelity, through unexpected ways. God never went to sleep on Abigail, nor did He abandon her. To Him who sees when the sparrow falls, Abigail and her unhappy marriage were important. God took the trouble to delineate her story as an encouragement to millions of people since and even for eternity to come.
Excerpted from the writings of Robert J. Wieland

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Jonathan: Born for Greatness"

Sabbath School TodayWith the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Background Characters in the Old TestamentLesson 4: "Jonathan: Born for Greatness"

Recently, there was a report that hundreds of couples wanted to be married on 10-10-2010. Apparently, they thought the numeric repetition increased the chance the marriage would be a success. There are no records to check, but if there were, it would be interesting to see if the marriages that took place on 10-10-1010 were even more successful because of the better repetition. Much of the world thinks luck or chance influences success in relationships.

Most folks understand that friendships and marriages come with the good times and bad, but they also believe there is a limit to how much bad a person is required to tolerate. Today, few think friendships require us to give up our personal rights to time, happiness, wealth, and convenience. Certainly no one believes maintaining friendships should require sacrifice or suffering.

In the English language, we have a single word to describe the many facets of love. Sometimes we use the word to mean brotherly love. The Greeks used the word "phileo," which gave Philadelphia its name, the city of "brotherly love." Sometimes the word "love" means the sensual physical love which the Greeks called "eros," from which the word erotic is derived.

Jonathan and David's relationship is described in 1 Samuel 18:1: "… Jonathan had given his heart to David and had grown to love him as himself" (REB). To love someone as you love yourself cannot mean either phileo or eros. Both words carry the concept that the relationship is dependent on the kindness or attractiveness of each person. For either word, if the emotion fades, or the payback of the relationship diminishes, the friendship is ended.

The two men received and accepted a kind of love for each other that only God can give. The Greeks called this love agape. There is no expectation of reward in this kind of love. It is not dependent on the worth or attractiveness of its object. Often, as attractiveness fades, so does the love. Not so with God, who is agape. He demonstrated this love by giving His Son to die for the people who had rebelled against Him. There was no attractiveness, worth, or even reciprocal love that induced God to rescue the human race. We demonstrate a misunderstanding of God's love if we think our behavior will change God's love for us. He already loves us as much as is possible, even from before we were born.

Jonathan is a perfect example of how the Holy Spirit can change a heart to be willing to relinquish what are thought of as rights to personal happiness in a relationship. He was born heir to the throne of Israel, but he learned to respect that God still considered the nation a theocracy, and it was God who established and anointed kings. God had chosen David to succeed Jonathan's father as king. Jonathan could have chosen to disregard God's anointed and followed his father's command to find and kill David, but he accepted God's choice.

Instead, Jonathan became a protector of both his father and David. He risked the wrath of the king by trying to persuade him not to kill David. He defended his father to David, trying to convince him that his father had changed. He risked his life by making David's excuse from attending the king's banquet and warning him of Saul's murderous intentions. God moved on Jonathan's heart and was able to use him as a peacemaker between his father and the next heir to the throne chosen by God.

In the ultimate demonstration of affection, Jonathan gives us a glimpse of Christ in transferring his royal robes to David (1 Sam. 18:4). Christ loved the world enough to voluntarily divest Himself of every divine prerogative (Phil. 2:6-8) that He might not only obtain our verdict of acquittal, but that He might give the character of His righteousness to those willing to receive it.

To the world, this kind of self-sacrificing love is incomprehensible. "What's in it for me" is not a phenomenon of the most recent generation, it is endemic to all sons and daughters of Adam. To love another in the face of personal risk and suffering without hope of earthly reward is not something fallen humans can genuinely cultivate in their characters even if they might want it.

Does God merely (a) offer us His friendship, or has He (b) given it? The Bible gives the answer: (a) is what the Bible calls the "old covenant" (which Galatians 4:24 says leads to "bondage"). The new covenant (b) is the truth that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (not offered to do so), "that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish" (John 3:16). The Samaritans got the point: Jesus was not merely offering to be "the Saviour of the world;" they said He is (John 4:42). Paul got the point, for he said that "the living God ... is the Saviour of all men," not merely offering to be (1 Tim. 4:10), and Isaiah saw the reason why this is true: "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6). He has already died the second death "for every man" (Heb. 2:9). So, now it's time to humble your heart and believe, appreciate, what He has already done for you. That kind of faith will change your life! (Condensed from "Dial Daily Bread.")

Such self-sacrificing love can only be achieved by accepting it as a gift from the Lord. "In Jonathan, the son of Saul, the Lord saw a man of pure integrity,--one to whom He could draw nigh, and upon whose heart He could move" (The Youth's Instructor, Nov. 24, 1898).

--Arlene Hill
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Caleb: Living With the Wait

Lesson 2: Caleb: Living With the Wait - 10/9/2010

“Overcomer” stood on the brink of the Promised Land. Before they had reached the border they could see the smoky blue-tinted hills of the land of Canaan off in the distance. Now they were at the border and they beheld the River Jordan sparkling before their eyes and standing as the final physical barrier between them and bliss—the coveted land of “milk and honey.” Ever since God performed His miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and the utter destruction of their enemy bondage, they had been looking forward to this day. Here they are; what are they going to do?

The land was already theirs, for God had given it to them: “And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers” (Ex. 6:4). Would they believe the all-powerful word of God that has inherently within it the power to create what it says? Or would they allow the sparkling spears of the “giant” barrier before them to blind them into thinking that the Jordan crossing was impossible and destined to be fruitless?

Let them not forget their father Jacob who wrestled with God and would not let the promised blessing pass un-sustained as he submitted to divine power. To him was given the name “Israel” which means “overcomer.” This is their heritage. Now they stand at the crossroads of the entrance to the Promised Land. What will be their decision? It is time to occupy what, in title, is rightfully theirs—to take possession of the Promised Land—given to them by the almighty Ruler of the universe. It is time to believe His word. What is their answer?

Their answer is “No.” The first clue of this came when they wanted to explore the land. Why explore the land? It was already theirs. They didn’t need to check the fertility of the land, for had not God said that it was good land? (Ex. 3:8). They didn’t need to know the strength of the armies, for there was no battle to fight, at least no more so than the methods they had already employed to defeat the mightiest army in the then-known world at that time—when they stood and watched, while God parted the Red Sea and closed it up. After all, God would have used hornets, if necessary, to fight for them (Ex. 23:28). As it happened, God sent angels to knock down the walls of Jericho. Another time, they sent the choir to meet the Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20). God did not ask them to fight. They decided to do that entirely on their own.

They forgot all about the promise and power of God to accomplish for them the gift He had given them. All He wanted them to do was to walk in faith, believing His all-powerful promise. Instead, they could remember only their own faulty promise to God at Sinai (Ex. 19:8) and could see no way through. They were right on only one point. They themselves had no power whatsoever to accomplish God’s will for them, but they were blinded to the power of God. They asked that they might die in the wilderness, and surprise, God gave them what they asked for. (Be careful what you ask for—you just might get it.)

Then, they decided to enter the land, again in rebellion to God’s word that had told them they would be forty years in the wilderness (to die there at their request), thus sealing their unbelief.

Enter the subject of our lesson—Caleb tried to stem the rebellion. He and Joshua, two of the ten sent to check out the land, brought a message of hope, leaning upon the inherently all-powerful word of God. They pleaded with the people, insisting that God is capable of carrying out His promises, even in the face of what looks to us to be against all odds. What was their “reward” for this act of kindness? They were put down, criticized, and the people attempted to stone them.

Caleb’s life is an example of how to witness to a lukewarm Laodicean church during a time when the word of God is so little known and so little understood, even among God’s professed latter-day people. God had said they would be in the wilderness another 40 years. Ellen White wrote in 1901, “We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ's sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action” (Letter 184, 1901; Evangelism, p. 696). Caleb did not become discouraged in his teaching and encouraging the people, but quietly accepted his lot with God’s people. He chose to live in the faith of God’s new covenant promise to write His law in his heart and cause him to cherish His Word and do His work. Today, however, we also can hasten the Lord’s return. Let God bear His fruit in you (see Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69).

By 1888 we, too, were brought to the brink of the Promised Land. Only this time, the stakes were much higher, for this real estate is the eternal heavenly land of Canaan, the New Earth and the New Jerusalem. The story is played-out all over again. But instead of Caleb and Joshua, we have A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. They too brought a message of hope and the power of God. They too were put down and criticized. They too were treated viciously and their message rejected. Wrote Ellen White:

“You cannot tell how it pains me to see some of our brethren taking a course that I know is not pleasing to God. They are full of jealousy and evil surmising, and are ever ready to show in just what way they differ with Elder Jones or Waggoner. The same spirit that was manifested in the past manifests itself at every opportunity; but this is not from the impulse of the Spirit of God” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, pp. 82, 83).

“I have deep sorrow of heart because I have seen how readily a word or action of Elder Jones or Elder Waggoner is criticized. How readily many minds overlook all the good that has been done through them in the few years past, and see no evidence that God is working through these instrumentalities. They hunt for something to condemn, and their attitude toward these brethren who have zealously engaged in doing a good work, shows that feelings of enmity and bitterness are in the heart. …” (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 1026, 1027).

“It is not the inspiration from heaven that leads one to be suspicious, watching for a chance and greedily seizing upon it to prove that those brethren who differ from us in some interpretations of Scripture are not sound in the faith. There is danger that this course of action will produce the very result assumed; and to a great degree the guilt will rest upon those who are watching for evil. ...” (General Conference Daily Bulletin, Feb. 28, 1893, p. 419; Letter, Jan. 9, 1893).

“The opposition in our own ranks has imposed upon the Lord’s messengers [Jones and Waggoner] a laborious and soul trying task; for they have had to meet difficulties and obstacles which need not have existed. ... Love and confidence constitute a moral force that would have united our churches, and insured harmony of action; but coldness and distrust have brought disunion that has shorn us of our strength” (ibid.).

Here is a sample of their message from the pen of A. T. Jones: “The finishing of the mystery of God is the ending of the work of the gospel, first, the taking away of all sin and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness—Christ fully formed—within each believer; and secondly, the destruction of all who then shall not have received the gospel, for it is not the way of the Lord to continue men in life when the only possible use they will make of life is to heap up more misery for themselves” (Give Us This Day Our Daily Good News, vol. 1, no. 14).

This is what God is waiting for. The ending of the work of the gospel is our entrance into the heavenly Promised Land. We are standing on the brink of eternity, having waited, not 40, but 122 years since 1888. Will you believe? Overcomer, will you let God gain the victory in you? Israel finally did go in. Claim His promise now, and let Him take you in.

—Craig Barnes