URC Daily Devotion  10th December 2019

Tuesday 10th December

2 Kings 6: 1-23

Now the company of prophets said to Elisha, ‘As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.’ He answered, ‘Do so.’  Then one of them said, ‘Please come with your servants.’ And he answered, ‘I will.’ So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axehead fell into the water; he cried out, ‘Alas, master! It was borrowed.’  Then the man of God said, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. He said, ‘Pick it up.’ So he reached out his hand and took it.

Once when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he took counsel with his officers. He said, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp.’ But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Take care not to pass this place, because the Arameans are going down there.’ The king of Israel sent word to the place of which the man of God spoke. More than once or twice he warned such a place so that it was on the alert.

The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this; he called his officers and said to them, ‘Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?’ Then one of his officers said, ‘No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ He said, ‘Go and find where he is; I will send and seize him.’ He was told, ‘He is in Dothan.’  So he sent horses and chariots there and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.

When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, ‘Alas, master! What shall we do?’ He replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When the Arameans came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Strike this people, please, with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked.  Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he led them to Samaria.

As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.’ The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’  He answered, ‘No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.’ So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.

Reflection

The miracle of the axe reminds us of the importance of returning anything borrowed in good order to its owner.  As with many tools, a replacement simply wouldn’t have the same ‘feel’. 

The main story in this section concerns an Aramean invasion of Israel.  Through Elisha’s advice Israel’s king evades capture several times. Aram’s king assumes he is being betrayed until he hears of Elisha’s God given insight.  A plan is prepared to seize Elisha and Aram’s forces surround the city. The natural fear of Elisha’s servant is dispelled when the prophet’s prayer is answered.  God’s power, depicted as a vast heavenly army, is on the side of Elisha.

The blindness that falls on the Arameans may be literal or metaphorical.  Either way Elisha isn’t recognised and is able to trick his would-be captors into following him into Samaria, Israel’s stronghold, where they suddenly realise that they are trapped.

Elisha doesn’t allow Israel’s king to execute the prisoners who were given into his hand; but instructs that they are fed and watered and released.  Their humiliation and capture is sufficient to convince Aram’s king that he is no match against Israel; there is temporary peace.

Attitudes towards prisoners captured during conflicts nowadays raise many political and theological questions.  It is naïve to imagine that releasing all captives would be viewed as an act of strength by the leaders of the nations to which they returned.  Where there is no shared understanding of God between the parties involved in conflict, stories such as this must be interpreted with caution.

However prisoners should be treated in humanitarian ways, given food and adequate shelter.  As Christians we should campaign for high standards and speak out against all abuses.

It is the leaders of nations, though, whom we need to dissuade from waging war, in the name of Christ.

Prayer

Holy God, your Son came amongst us as the Prince of Peace; 

Forgive our warmongering and guide us in ways of reconciliation that lead to peace.

You have taught us to have compassion on captives and revealed yourself as a God who delivers us from the forces that hold us captive into freedom;

May we learn from you and work to establish justice and freedom for all.  Amen

URC Daily Devotion  9th December 2019

Monday 9th December   

2 Kings 5:1, 8-19a, 25-27

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
___
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.’  But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!’ He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, ‘If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt-offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.’ He said to him, ‘Go in peace.’
___
But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance…He went in and stood before his master; and Elisha said to him, ‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ He answered, ‘Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.’ But he said to him, ‘Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants for ever.’ So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow.

Reflection

These verses focus on Elisha’s role in the story of Naaman, a high ranking Aramean army officer. Once again God’s healing power is demonstrated; but here it is mediated through the prophet to a foreigner, one whose nation worshipped a different god (v.18).

As the story unfolds we are reminded that the ancient world linked Yahweh explicitly to the land of Israel, hence Naaman’s request for a substantial quantity of Israelite soil to become a site in Aram where he could worship in future. We also see the reality of a polytheistic world – Naaman will need to respect Aram’s religious traditions as he serves his king, despite his own conversion.

Issues of status, expectation, reward and truth are central to this story. Naaman expects VIP treatment from Elisha and is angry that a messenger is sent to him. He expects Elisha to perform a public ritual to effect his healing – his sense of self-importance demands signs and wonders; he is affronted when told to go and wash in the Jordan. It’s too easy!

Having complied, through the good sense of his servants, Naaman returns to Elisha wanting to pay for his service, presuming that prophetic power is a commodity that can be bought. Elisha robustly rejects the offer – God’s gifts are freely offered. However, his servant, Gehazi, sees an opportunity for personal gain and deceives Naaman into believing that Elisha has changed his mind.

When confronted by Elisha, Gehazi lies; but the prophet reveals that he knows what he has done – truth will out! The harsh punishment inflicted on Gehazi makes sense in a world that understood justice in terms of ‘an eye for an eye’; and reminds us that blatant wrongdoing is not condoned by God.

Through Christ, we know more about God’s forgiveness; but this doesn’t give us licence to sin!

Prayer

Gracious God,

Sometimes I regard myself as more important than I am – forgive me.

Sometimes I foolishly imagine that you require ‘payback’ for your love – forgive me.

Sometimes I knowingly offend against your ways – bring me to repentance through the activity of
your Spirit and forgive me.

At all times help me to accept your generosity with thanksgiving and to live to your praise and glory.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 8th December 2019

1 When Zion’s fortunes God restored,
it was a dream come true.
2 Our mouths were then with laughter filled,
our tongues with songs anew.

The nations said, “The LORD has done
great things for Israel.”
3 The LORD did mighty things for us,
and joy our hearts knew well.

4 Restore our fortunes, gracious LORD,
like streams in desert soil.
5 A joyful harvest will reward
the weeping sower’s toil.

6 The man who, bearing seed to sow,
goes out with tears of grief,
Will come again with songs of joy,
bearing his harvest sheaf.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the lovely tune Brother James’ Air here or the tune Abbey here.

Reflection

I cannot read this Psalm (post-Greenbelt, challenged afresh in my desire to be a true follower of the Way of Jesus) outside the context of our current global environmental emergency.

 If we pray ‘restore our fortunes, gracious LORD, like streams in the desert soil’ it has to be for ALL our fortunes, especially the poor, vulnerable and needy (rather than ‘wanty’).  Restoration for the whole planet, as well as human community. 

How we live NOW is sowing the seeds of the future (just as we are reaping the harvest of how we and others have lived over-consuming lives up to this point).  It is not my generation that will reap the full harvest, but those born after me and those yet to be born. We have so little time to literally repent: to turn around, to radically reorientate. 

So we must sow in tears of repentance: make changes to how we eat, shop, travel, use energy and all the other materials we rely on.  We must replace ‘personal convenience’ with ‘whole planet impact’ as our method of valuing and evaluating all our choices – and accept the relative ‘pain’ this might cause us.  Above all we have to actively choose how we sow rather than passively continue with business as usual.

I am humbled by those willing to protest, to be sufficiently obstructive to risk arrest and imprisonment, or worse in other parts of the world where confronting authorities with uncomfortable truths is ‘treason’.  I weep with them, but lack the courage to do more than stand with them in prayer, and I am ashamed.

If I claim to love God and my neighbour, I owe it to the young adults, young people, children, infants, and generations yet to be born to be willing to lay down my life, or at the very least my comfort and convenience, in love for them.  After all, God so loved the world….

Prayer

Restore our fortunes, gracious LORD
Like streams in desert soil.
 
Move our hearts to grief and repentance;
Give us kingdom seed to sow.
 
May we hear the laughter, songs and joy
Of the generations after us.
 
May we bless the world you have blessed us with.  Amen

URC Daily Devotion 7th December 2019

Saturday 7th December
 

2 Kings 4:38-44

When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the company of prophets was sitting before him, he said to his servant,  ‘Put the large pot on, and make some stew for the company of prophets.’

One of them went out into the field to gather herbs; he found a wild vine and gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were.  They served some for the men to eat. But while they were eating the stew, they cried out,  ‘O man of God, there is death in the pot!’  They could not eat it. 

He said, ‘Then bring some flour.’  He threw it into the pot, and said,  ‘Serve the people and let them eat.’  And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat.’  But his servant said,  ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’  So he repeated,  ‘Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”’  He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.

Reflection

Here we have two short miracle stories. In both of them Elisha takes the initiative to provide food for  people around him. He recognises their unspoken need and responds through using whatever resources are available.

The first miracle is similar to Elisha purifying the water supply (2 Kgs.2:19-22); but this time it is a pot of stew prepared with wild vegetables that prove to be very unpalatable. The story probably doesn’t indicate that they were poisonous; and it certainly doesn’t suggest that a handful of flour is an antidote to poison mushrooms etc! In the context of a time of famine it demonstrates God providing food through the prophetic action of Elisha, whereby he and his fellow prophets are all sustained.

In the second story it appears the famine is ended and harvest-time has come. The crops brought to Elisha are a thank-offering for divine blessing; but Elisha doesn’t keep them for himself, nor set them aside for ritual use. He instructs that they be used to nourish the people and the miracle occurs through the multiplication of a small quantity of food into an abundant supply. God provides more than enough for all the people to be fed; and overcomes the doubts of the one who offered the little he had in the first place.

The story is part of a tradition that affirms God’s provision for our daily needs; and it underlies the various feeding miracles that we read Jesus performing in the Gospels.

Whenever human need is recognised and the available resources, however meagre, are offered for use in meeting it, a situation is created in which God can work a miracle. It is indeed wondrous when life is sustained against the odds, when selfless generosity is witnessed; and when blessings are shared in thanksgiving to God.

Prayer

God of love, help us to be alert to the needs that are around us every day.

Help us to be aware of the resources we have that could be used to meet such needs.

Give us generous hearts; and the faith to believe that you can transform anything we offer to achieve your loving purposes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 6th December 2019

Friday 6th December

2 Kings 4:8-37

One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband,  ‘Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.’

One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there.  He said to his servant Gehazi, ‘Call the Shunammite woman.’ When he had called her, she stood before him.  He said to him, ‘Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’  She answered, ‘I live among my own people.’ He said, ‘What then may be done for her?’ Gehazi answered, ‘Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.’ He said, ‘Call her.’ When he had called her, she stood at the door.  He said, ‘At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.’ She replied, ‘No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.’

The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her. 

When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers.  He complained to his father, ‘Oh, my head, my head!’ The father said to his servant,  ‘Carry him to his mother.’ He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died.  She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. Then she called to her husband, and said,  ‘Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.’ He said, ‘Why go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.’  She said, ‘It will be all right.’ Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, ‘Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you.’ So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. 

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant,  ‘Look, there is the Shunammite woman; run at once to meet her, and say to her, Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?’  She answered, ‘It is all right.’ When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi approached to push her away. But the man of God said,  ‘Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.’ Then she said, ‘Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?’  He said to Gehazi, ‘Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer; and lay my staff on the face of the child.’  Then the mother of the child said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you.’ So he rose up and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. He came back to meet him and told him, ‘The child has not awakened.’

When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord.  Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Elisha summoned Gehazi and said,  ‘Call the Shunammite woman.’ So he called her. When she came to him, he said, ‘Take your son.’ She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.

Reflection

This complicated story (cf. Elijah in 1Kgs.17:17-24) involves much movement and spans many years. Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, acts as an intermediary between the itinerant prophet and the Shunammite woman, to maintain propriety. She is wealthy and hospitable towards Elisha, providing meals and a place for him to stay whenever he chose. Elisha wants to show his gratitude but she declines his offer of patronage; her people are proud of their independence.

Gehazi draws attention to her childlessness; and Elisha immediately promises that in due season she and her elderly husband will have a son, a sign of divine blessing. She fears he may be prophesying the impossible but a son is born; and the story leaps forward to when the child is working in the fields. He takes ill, is carried to his mother and dies in her lap.

In distress she lays the child on Elisha’s bed and travels to him at Mount Carmel seeking help. She by-passes Gehazi and Elisha asks what the problem is. Having heard her story he sends Gehazi with instructions to lay Elisha’s staff on the child, implying that this will be sufficient to ‘wake’ the child; but the woman insists that Elisha must come himself.

As she expected Elisha’s staff cannot work the magic. Elisha’s physical presence, his touch, his prayer, his breath, his repeated ritual, carried out in private, restores the child to life; and he is returned to his grateful mother.

It is futile trying to explain what happened, how divine power is mediated through a prophet. Nor should we leap to suggest that faith always results in healing. This story reflects a different world view from ours but it reveals much about ancient Israelite society and its beliefs.

When and how God chooses to act is mystery; but God’s word is trustworthy.

Prayer

God of life, you know our deepest desires and you bless us according to your purposes. We give you thanks for all that we receive through your goodness.

Speak to us through Christ, your living word, that we might comprehend you more fully.

Help us to trust you always even if we cannot understand what is happening in our lives. Lead us in your ways and show us your love. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 5th December 2019

Thursday 5th December

2 Kings 4:1-7

Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha,  ‘Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.’  Elisha said to her,  ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’  She answered,  ‘Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.’  He said,  ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbours, empty vessels and not just a few.  Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.’  So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring.  When the vessels were full, she said to her son,  ‘Bring me another vessel.’  But he said to her,  ‘There are no more.’  Then the oil stopped flowing.  She came and told the man of God, and he said,  ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.’

Reflection

The widow in this story (which mirrors much in 1Kgs.17:7-16) belongs to a prophetic group faithful to the same God as Elisha. This time the problem is debt, not drought. If her sons are forced to work for her creditor to pay off the debts the widow becomes destitute, without anyone to support her.

This practice of time limited debt-slavery (Exod.21:2-4) was intended to ensure that creditors received what was due to them, without debtors being deprived of the land that was their inheritance. However, as with the Victorian practice of debtor prisons, the system failed the weakest in society and was frequently denounced by later prophets (e.g. Mic.2:2).

The widow turns to Elisha expecting him to provide a solution. Once more we see the prophet mediating God’s compassion on the poor in a way that sustains life and offers hope for the future.

The widow and her sons are enlisted to work together to bring about the transformation, reliant upon the cooperation of neighbours to supply empty jars. Elisha’s instructions sound ridiculous but the widow trusts that he represents God and she demonstrates her faith by contributing her last jar of oil as required. When all the available vessels have been miraculously filled Elisha reminds her to pay her debts first and then get on with life. God has used the little she had to save her and to provide sufficient for her on-going needs.

Slavery persists as a modern evil. Children are often sold by parents as a consequence of poverty; and traffickers entrap vulnerable people into forms of debt-slavery. Many caught in such life-denying cycles do not know where to turn for help. May we be willing to come alongside them in the name of Christ, to reveal new possibilities and to demonstrate God’s power to bring release.

Prayer

God of life, we rejoice in the freedoms that are ours and thank you for all that you provide to satisfy our needs. Forgive us when we take any of this for granted. Whatever our resources, may we recognise them as blessings, to be used as you command to sustain us in your service. Responding to your goodness, may we work to bring freedom and hope to all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 4th December 2019

Wednesday 4th December

2 Kings 3:11-20

But Jehoshaphat said,  ‘Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?’  Then one of the servants of the king of Israel answered,  ‘Elisha son of Shaphat, who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah, is here.’  Jehoshaphat said,  ‘The word of the Lord is with him.’  So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

Elisha said to the king of Israel,  ‘What have I to do with you? Go to your father’s prophets or to your mother’s.’  But the king of Israel said to him,  ‘No; it is the Lord who has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.’  Elisha said,  ‘As the Lord of hosts lives, whom I serve, were it not that I have regard for King Jehoshaphat of Judah, I would give you neither a look nor a glance. But get me a musician.’  And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him.  And he said,  ‘Thus says the Lord, “I will make this wadi full of pools.”  For thus says the Lord, “You shall see neither wind nor rain, but the wadi shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your cattle, and your animals.” This is only a trifle in the sight of the Lord, for he will also hand Moab over to you.  You shall conquer every fortified city and every choice city; every good tree you shall fell, all springs of water you shall stop up, and every good piece of land you shall ruin with stones.’  The next day, about the time of the morning offering, suddenly water began to flow from the direction of Edom, until the country was filled with water.

Reflection

This is an extract from a longer story about a rebellion by Moab against the combined forces of Israel, Judah and Edom. The allies are marching on Moab but they run out of water in the desert and Israel’s king interprets this as divine judgment on them. Judah’s king calls for a prophet who can consult Yahweh on their behalf and Elisha, described as a servant of Elijah, is suggested.

Initially Elisha rejects the approach by his own king, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, and only agrees to help because Judah’s king remains faithful to Yahweh. Elisha uses music to evoke a trance during which he prophesies that the wadi will miraculously fill with water, to resolve the immediate problem; but more than that, God will give them victory over Moab. Both prophecies are quickly fulfilled.

We are forced to recognise that Elisha is presented as God’s mouthpiece in Israel’s wartime success; but we no longer hold a polytheistic worldview and reject the idea that God acts solely on the side of one nation. Nor can we ignore Elisha’s instructions to the allies that they destroy Moab’s cities, cut down its trees, cut off its water supply and ruin its arable land. This implies total devastation; but there is no evidence that such policies were practised by the small states of the Ancient Near East. So perhaps we should read this as an ancient narrator’s exaggerated account of how to crush a rebellion.

However in today’s world such devastation is being inflicted. Mass destruction, genocide, ecological carnage, the redirection of water supplies, cutting down rain forests; such actions are taking place, all in the name of economic growth, national security, political goals, etc.

Woe betide anyone who takes Biblical stories like this out of context to justify human sin!

Prayer

Holy God, we proclaim you as God of all creation. We rejoice that your love extends to people of all nations and that you care for us in good times and in bad. We trust in your eternal purposes. Forgive our failure to speak out against the destructive forces that are at work on earth. Forgive the ways in which we are complicit in the devastation of your wonderful world. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion  3rd December 2019

Tuesday 3rd December

2 Kings 2:13-25

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.  He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’  When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared,  ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. They said to him, ‘See now, we have fifty strong men among your servants; please let them go and seek your master; it may be that the spirit of the Lord has caught him up and thrown him down on some mountain or into some valley.’  He responded, ‘No, do not send them.’ But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, ‘Send them.’ So they sent fifty men who searched for three days but did not find him. When they came back to him (he had remained at Jericho), he said to them, ‘‘Did I not say to you, Do not go?’

Now the people of the city said to Elisha,  ‘The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.’ He said, ‘Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.’  So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.

He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.

Reflection

Elisha takes up Elijah’s mantle, strikes the water and calls on God to confirm that Elijah’s power has been transferred to him.  The river parts and he crosses back towards Jericho. Other prophets recognise Elisha’s new status but they’re not quite ready to accept that Elijah has truly gone.  They persuade Elisha, against his better judgment, to let them make a search just in case Elijah can still be found.

Do we sometimes make it difficult for a new minister, or a new leader in any context, to exercise their role, assured of our full support, because we’re looking back to the previous incumbent and what they did?  At best this causes a delay in fruitful work being undertaken; at worst it can undermine a ministry before it really begins.

Once Elisha has been fully accepted he is called upon to use his powers to bring life to the community by purifying the water source on which they depended.  People became ill if they drank it; and it was insufficient, or harmful, for their crops. There is still a spring of abundant fresh water in Jericho named after Elisha, a reminder of this ancient tradition and the importance of water in this desert region.

Elisha’s second miracle is less wholesome as he calls for the death of some boys who were teasing him about his distinctive appearance.  Some see this incident as prefiguring the massacre of 42 princes by Jehu (2 Kgs.10:12-14), one aspect of the fulfilment of Elijah’s prophecy about the final end of Ahab’s dynasty (1 Kgs.21:29).  

In today’s passage it illustrates that Elisha, as God’s prophet, can exercise divine power over life and death; but it also challenges me to appreciate that even God given powers can be abused.  This should be a warning to us all!

Prayer

Merciful God, help me to respond graciously whenever I am ridiculed for being a Christian or for witnessing to the gospel in a public way.

If I am tempted to use the gifts bestowed on me through your Spirit in self-serving ways, remind me of your purposes and lead me in the footsteps of Christ on the path that brings life to the world.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 2nd December 2019

 2 Kings 2:1-12

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.  Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’  So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’  And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’  But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’  So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said,  ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’  Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Reflection

I wonder how Elijah, Elisha and the prophets knew that Elijah’s life was about to end?  Sometimes it is possible to discern that a time of transition is approaching if we’re truly open to the movement of God’s spirit in the world.

Elijah wants to be alone; but Elisha insists on accompanying him as he travels to Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan.  All are places of significance in Israel’s story, where God has appeared or acted in a decisive way on their behalf, so we are being prepared as readers to expect another mighty act of God in this story.

Elijah rolls up his mantle and uses it just as Moses used his staff at God’s command to part the waters of the sea (Exod.14:16, 21).  Here God parts the Jordan as Elijah strikes the water (cf Joshua 3) and the two men cross over to the east, which is where Elijah’s story began.

Elisha’s request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit as his inheritance is that due to the eldest son on a father’s death (Deut.21:17).  Elijah responds that it is not his to give; but indicates the sign by which Elisha will know if God has granted his request.

The miracle of Elijah’s ascent into heaven explains why New Testament traditions expected Elijah to return to herald God’s Messiah – he isn’t recorded as dying.  Elijah departs into the realm of God rather than descending into Sheol, the destination of everyone else; and so the hope develops that he might come again.

God’s presence and power has been revealed to Elisha.  Initially he mourns the passing of his spiritual ‘father’ – will he live up to all that has been entrusted to him?

What about me and my spiritual inheritance through Christ?  Am I living up to expectations?

Prayer

Amazing God, you have entrusted the ongoing mission of Christ to us as disciples of Jesus; and you are present with us through the Holy Spirit.

May we have the enthusiasm of Elisha as we step forward to serve you, ever mindful of what Christ has already accomplished through his life, death and resurrection. 

Lead us onwards for the sake of the world.  In the name of Christ, Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 1st December 2019

Sunday 1st December

Psalm 125

1 All those who trust the LORD


Like Zion are secure,
Which never can be moved
But always will endure.

2 Just as the mountains stand
Around Jerusalem,
The LORD surrounds his own,
For ever guarding them.

3 The wicked’s evil rule
Will not oppress for long
The righteous and their land,
Lest righteous folk do wrong.

4 On all those who are good
Bestow your goodness, LORD—
To those of upright heart
Who reverence your word.

5 But God will banish those
Who choose a crooked way;
They’ll share the sinner’s fate.
Let peace on Israel stay!

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Quam Dilecta here

Reflection

I write amongst the 22 URC pilgrims who journeyed to the Holy Land in September and am struck at the poignancy of this Psalm; a song that pilgrims sung on the way to Jerusalem.  

The text is clear, there is no distinction between “chosen” and “no good” people, but between those who trust in God and those who seek to do fellow pilgrims harm.

Passing pristine Jerusalem, we entered a checkpoint for nearby Bethlehem. We saw segregation personified.  The difference between the two cities is obvious; rubbish compacted in every corner, unfinished buildings tell the story of government restrictions and years of violence. Near accidents are the result of few street lights or signs—certainly not as many as you see in Israeli territory. In the evening the sound of the Islamic call to prayer reminds me, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” 

Palestinians speak of the difficulties visiting families, celebrating feast days, and tending to emergencies due to restrictions placed upon them. The Palestinian government cannot protect the people from being treated like second-class citizens in their own land. Yet, their own theological understanding is not that they are a “chosen” people here, but that God is the owner of the land which is to be shared with ALL people.

The parallels to race relations in South Africa and the USA, are very evident.  What is necessary is a revolution of values, as one Palestinian said to me, we need “people moved by beautiful values…for once we start speaking only politics and interests, there is no hope.”

On the Mount of Olives, a cacophony of human sounds can be heard: of Lawrence Moore teaching over the voices of pilgrims from other nations singing and speaking the Lord’s prayer, the distant the Muslim call to afternoon prayer, and birds chirping.  It is an extraordinary experience. Not even a wall can partition us from God’s presence. “As the mountains stand around Jerusalem, the Lord surrounds his own, for ever guarding them.”

Prayer

Living God, 
You dwell in the messiness of our circumstances. 
walking with us, turning us from pilgrims to children. 
Your lot is be amongst, not those who are right, but those who suffer.
May we follow you,
never forgetting the most vulnerable.
May our understanding of you never be complicit 
in the suffering of our siblings in Palestine 
nor wherever segregation and indifference reign, 
but lead us to sympathy, solidarity and action. Amen.