John the Baptist: Preparing the way

By Narelle Atkins

John the Baptist was the last of the great prophets and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1). He was the messenger who lived in the desert and prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry.

John’s parents were Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth, a relative of the Virgin Mary. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah (see Luke 1:11-20) and foretold John’s birth and mission. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and childless and Zechariah’s initial unbelief regarding the angel’s prophesy for his future son led to Zechariah becoming mute and unable to speak until the prophesy came to fruition (Luke 1:64).

John brought a message of repentance and baptism. He called the Israelites to repent from their sins and be baptised in the Jordan River. Baptism was a sign that they had turned back to God and received God’s forgiveness of sins.

John said he was preparing the way for one greater than him, who would baptise the Jews and Gentiles with the Holy Spirit. John baptised Jesus in the Jordan River and the heavens opened, bringing the Spirit down upon Jesus. God the father spoke to Jesus from heaven, saying ‘You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:11)

Jesus’ ministry started when John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod. Herodias held a grudge against John after John had told Herod it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife. Herodias had been married to Philip, Herod’s brother, but had left Philip for Herod. Herodias and her daughter used an oath promised by Herod at a banquet to kill John. At their request, Herod ordered an executioner to behead John and present his head on a platter at the banquet (Mark 6:17-29).

Christ was not Jesus’ Last Name

by Deborah Horscroft

An old joke asked, “What do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common?” They have the same middle name. I don’t quite know what Christopher Robin meant by “Pooh”, but John was known as the one who baptised.

Jesus was known by many names: Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Son of Man, even son of Joseph and Mary. He is now most commonly known as Jesus Christ, and here the word “Christ” is Jesus’ title.

“Christ” originating from the Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew – the closest approximation in English is “The Anointed One”. People and things were ceremonially anointed with oil to signify that they had been separated for God’s purpose: that is, made “holy”. The word was also used metaphorically to mean God had shown favour or the person was chosen to fulfil God’s special purpose. For example, Cyrus the Persian was “anointed” to subdue the nations (Isaiah 45). In its article on “Messiah” The New Bible Dictionary points out that Cyrus was a kind of Messiah figure bringing the redemption of God’s people, judgement on God’s enemies and dominion over the nations. Although he did not acknowledge God, he was God’s instrument.

The Old Testament points to another Messiah who will reconcile God and his people. The prophecies say he will be a deliverer like Moses, a conqueror like David, a servant like no other, a new Israel who keeps the new covenant, a prophet, priest, king and willing sacrifice for sins.

Much of the New Testament is the story of people wrestling with what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, or Christ. Many of his day welcomed the conquering king into Jerusalem but rejected the suffering servant of God, anointed to be a holy sacrifice for sins. The Jews and Samaritans both longed for the Messiah to come, but only a few recognised Jesus the Christ.

Ahab and Jezebel

by Deborah Horscroft

In our series of studies about people of the Old Testament we have met great men and women of inspiring faith. We have also seen their human failings, and sometimes these are easier for us to relate to. Through their stories the greater story of God’s redeeming love and faithfulness has been evident.

The subject of this month’s study, however, is a couple who did not have an inspiring faith in God. In fact, despite being the rulers of Israel, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel worshipped Canaanite gods, like Baal and the goddess Asherah. They are a study in “How Not to Live”.

In 1 Kings 16:30-33 Ahab and Jezebel are introduced thus:

“Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.”

Their story reads like an ancient soap opera. It would be comic, if they had not been responsible for leading God’s people.

“So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, ‘Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?’ He answered her, ‘Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, “Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.” But he said, “I will not give you my vineyard.'” Jezebel his wife said, ‘Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.'” (1 Kings 21:4-7)

Jezebel was a thoroughly modern woman, ahead of her time. Liz Curtis Higgs sums it up well in “Bad Girls of the Bible”, calling her bold, courageous, assertive, intelligent and proud. She was a strong woman of royal descent, born to leadership. She was also a devious, murderous, idolatrous, ruthless, domineering, power-hungry megalomaniac. Jezebel had no respect for her husband, the people of Israel, their laws or their God. She was the daughter of the High Priest of Baal and indulged in witchcraft. Jezebel, queen of Israel, was the Old Testament poster child for why one should not marry outside of the faith.

1 Kings 18:4 also tells us that Jezebel was systematically killing off the Lord’s prophets in an effort to quell the voice of the Lord, which led to a somewhat awkward moment when Jehoshaphat, king of neighbouring Judah, was visiting. Rather than be happy listening to the Baal-serving yes men produced by Ahab, King Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of God concerning whether a battle should be fought.

“But Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there not a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?’ The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.’ ‘The king should not say that,’ Jehoshaphat replied.” (1 Kings 22:8)

There are so many “How Not To” lessons to learn from this couple:

  • How not to lead a people in righteousness
  • How not to choose a good wife
  • How not to treat your husband, neighbour, local minister
  • How not to be a good role model
  • How not to bring up Godly children

Ahab’s one and only redeeming quality was that when faced with God’s wrath Ahab did humble himself for a time, and God’s incredible mercy was revealed. This family also experienced God’s fearful judgement. These themes of judgement and repentance are further explored in the second of the “Messages from the Messiah” series with a three part study exploring The Message of Repentance.

Hannah, David and Bathsheba Bible Study eBook giveaway

Narelle here. Today we are giving away free eBook copies of the leaders guide for our August Featured Studies of the Month.

All you need to do is visit our Smashwords page and use the coupon code GA39M at the checkout. The coupon code is valid today. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/210081

Smashwords may ask you to sign in or set up an account to enable the eBook to be stored in your Smashwords account. You can download the eBook in multiple formats including PDF, Epub and .mobi for Kindle.

If you’re wondering how to transfer a Smashwords eBook to your Kindle, please refer to my blog post How to read eBooks from Smashwords on Kindle Enjoy!

Solomon: A wise king who broke the covenant

by Narelle Atkins

King David appointed his son, Solomon, to rule as the king of Israel after his death. God blessed Solomon and answered his request in 1 Kings 3 by giving Solomon great wisdom and a discerning heart. Solomon became famous for his wisdom and people from faraway lands travelled to see him, including the Queen of Sheba.

King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem and the royal palace. Israel prospered under his leadership. In 1 Kings 9 the Lord appeared to Solomon and reminded him of the importance of obeying the Lord and keeping the covenant. God said that if Solomon or his sons turned away from the Lord or worshiped other Gods, they would lose the covenant blessings including the land given to them by the Lord.

Solomon’s downfall was his love for foreign women. “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew older, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. ” 1 Kings 11:3-4.

Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord and his idolatrous worship angered the Lord. He built shrines for the Moab god, Chemosh, the Ammonite god, Molech, and the other gods who his wives worshiped and offered sacrifices on their altars. Although his father David was far from perfect and committed many sins, David was also repentant and didn’t worship idols.

“So the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.’” 1 Kings 11:11-13.

After Solomon’s death in 930BC, the kingdom of Israel was split into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). The Southern Kingdom kept the line of David intact and included the holy city of Jerusalem. The Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722BC. The Southern Kingdom was conquered in 586BC and the people were taken into exile by the Babylonians.

God’s Heart is Love

by Eleanor Gustafson

We talked on Monday about fearing God and that it’s not just an Old Testament thing. The New Testament gives us the classic example of Ananias and Sapphira and their little white lie. Believers were selling property and giving the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute as needed. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property but fudged on how much they had received. They wanted to look good. Had they said they were keeping part for themselves, who would have objected? Just don’t lie. Peter asked, “Did you sell you land for x number of dollars?” “Oh, yes!” Dead.

Fear indeed, but we need to see God in his full dimensions, not just the parts that make us feel good. However, the essence of God is love. The doctrine of the Trinity makes sense only in this understanding of love. One person cannot love in a vacuum; love requires at least two persons. Long before the universe and all its inhabitants existed, the triune God was giving and receiving love. God IS love, and that’s our bottom line.

But the other important God dimension is his holiness. Less comfortable but necessary for us to be able to understand who he is. A holy God cannot tolerate sin—BAM! You’re dead. A loving God provided atonement for our sin and receives us back to his loving home. Jesus—God himself—made the way. He IS the way.

Even in the context of sin, God shows his love. We see this in Psalm 51, David’s confession of his affair with Bathsheba:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love… Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight… You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it… My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Keep in mind that even though David was guilty of both of adultery and murder, God called him a man after his own heart.

As we learned from Narnia, God is not a tame lion. He’s not safe, but he’s good.

The novel I’m currently writing lines out the concept of a spiritual True North, versus Magnetic North. Without going into the science of those terms, we can say that Magnetic North can lead us astray spiritually, whereas True North keeps our heart compass tight to God, no matter the circumstances. We are a grand mix of sin and devotion, but moment by moment, we look to the love of God to pull us out of the mire and into his presence.

One of my favorite quotes is by Mike Yaconelli in The Wittenburg Door, issue #131:

I would like to suggest that the Church become a place of terror again; a place where God continually has to tell us, ‘Fear not’; a place where our relationship with God is not a simple belief or a doctrine or theology, it is God’s burning presence in our lives. I am suggesting that the tame God of relevance be replaced by the God whose very presence shatters our egos into dust, burns our sin into ashes, and strips us naked to reveal the real person within. The Church needs to become a gloriously dangerous place where nothing is safe in God’s presence except us. Nothing—including our plans, our agendas, our priorities, our politics, our money, our security, our comfort, our possessions, our needs.

Fear God, yes, but know that you are much loved by this holy God.


Eleanor K. Gustafson (aka Ellie) began thinking up stories when she was five or six years old. When she started to read, God grabbed her with—yes—a story that had an invitation at the end, and she was hooked for life. But after reading her early attempts at writing, friends and even her mother told her straight out to stick to music as a career. She pushed manfully along, however, and began publishing both fiction and nonfiction in 1978.

The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David is her fourth novel and builds off the biblical account of David, bringing the characters and dramatic elements to life and full color. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences—riding horses, gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—help bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.

Website – http://www.eleanorgustafson.com

Amazon reviews – http://www.amazon.com/The-Stones-Eleanor-Gustafson/dp/1603740791/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342304125&sr=8-1&keywords=gustafson+stones

Our Holy, Fearsome God

by Eleanor Gustafson

King David is one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible. A man of multiple personnas—shepherd, musician, warrior, lover of God, king, ladies’ man—he gallops through the entire Bible with startling relevance for us today.

David was a mighty warrior who fought only in the name of and for the honor of God. He freed the nation from its enemies, completing the task begun by Moses and Joshua, and also drew tribal factions together—an even more daunting task. In my book (The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David), I tried to portray David as the first national leader who truly understood Israel’s holy destiny. The nation of Israel, her land flowing with milk and honey, finally began to look and act like the treasured possession God had promised through Abraham and redeemed from Egypt. And, of course, David was the shepherd/king archetype of Jesus, the true Son of David.

Any discussion of the David story must include a number of sticky issues—David the sinner, David the man of blood—in some cases obeying God’s command to wipe out entire populations, including infants and livestock.

And both of those point up yet another issue—the fear of God that put David flat on his face on a number of occasions. We generally don’t like the concept of fearing God. Too Old Testament, we say, so we “translate” fear into reverence or awe, more in keeping with the New Testament’s God of love, grace and mercy. David, though, knew raw fear—when Uzzah touched the ark and was struck dead, when Nathan nailed David over his sin with Bathsheba, and when he saw the angel of death after numbering the fighting men.

Let’s look more closely at Uzzah. Years earlier, the Philistines had captured the ark but found it too hot to handle and sent it back to the Israelites. For 70 years it remained in the care of a Levite family until David decided to give it a permanent home in Jerusalem. An excerpt from my book shows the deadly implications of having that holy Presence in their midst.

…………

David circulated among the musicians, leading the singing and shouting. Then, at the height of land . . . an ox stumbled. No obstacle, no unevenness. A misstep, perhaps. The hand of God, perhaps. Whatever, the cart lurched, and without thinking, Uzzah put out his hand to steady the ark.

From all reports, he seemed to swell and then deflate as though he had popped, as though his body tried but could not contain such a strong infusion of life.

David’s face went deathly white. Then dragging a wheezing, constricted breath from deep within, he howled against this outbreak against Uzzah.

It seemed clear in retrospect what went wrong. Uzzah obviously did not think carefully about what he was doing. He had grown up around this object. When the ox stumbled, he reached out to steady it. A reflexive act. His last act.

The ark of God, the holy God; the ark called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty; the ark of the Presence that can kill… (2 Samuel 6:2, not verbatim)

…………

Striking people dead puts God in a bad light that we on this side of the cross find uncomfortable, if not dismaying. But even in the New Testament, we find a clear example of fear in the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Stay tuned for our continued discussion (on Wednesday), along with the other side of the coin.

Eleanor K. Gustafson (aka Ellie) began thinking up stories when she was five or six years old. When she started to read, God grabbed her with—yes—a story that had an invitation at the end, and she was hooked for life. But after reading her early attempts at writing, friends and even her mother told her straight out to stick to music as a career. She pushed manfully along, however, and began publishing both fiction and nonfiction in 1978.

The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David is her fourth novel and builds off the biblical account of David, bringing the characters and dramatic elements to life and full color. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences—riding horses, gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—help bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.

Website – http://www.eleanorgustafson.com

Amazon reviews – http://www.amazon.com/The-Stones-Eleanor-Gustafson/dp/1603740791/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342304125&sr=8-1&keywords=gustafson+stones