Friday 1st July 2022

ACTS 21

The journey of Paul and his companions continued by sea until they reached the Judean coastal city of Caesarea.  After that long and difficult trip, they rested for a few days at Philip the Evangelist’s home.  Philip may have been at Caesarea for nearly 25 years by then, which gives us an idea of the timespan of Acts; the last time we encountered Philip was at the baptism of the Ethiopian traveller.  Philip had four adult, but unmarried, daughters who had a prophetic ministries.

A prophet named Agabus arrived to visit Philip and his daughters, and took the opportunity to prophesy over Paul, promising that Paul would be chained by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles.  (Agabus had been spot-on with his previous prediction of a famine in Israel 15 years earlier.)  Interestingly, it was not quite spot-on this time, given that the Jews had attempted to kill Paul – rather than handing him over to the Roman (i.e. Gentile) authorities – and it was the Romans who had rescued him from the Jews and put him in chains in for his own safety.  This is a good example of a prophecy being correct ‘in essence’, but not in every detail.  See 1 Corinthians 13:9,12.  It should encourage us all to have a go at prophesying, without the fear of being imperfect.  Like most good prophecies, it was not news to the recipient; Paul already knew what he was letting himself in for.  The church, however, tried to prevent him leaving on this ‘suicidal’ mission trip.  But Paul was resolute.

A strange event occurred when Paul met up with James (the biological brother of Jesus), who was by now the undisputed head of the Jerusalem church.  He and his fellow leaders were very excited to hear about the Gentiles getting saved and did not want to impose Jewish customs on them; however, they did seem to want Jewish Christians to keep all their Jewish customs.  Strange!  If these practices were unnecessary for Gentiles, why were they ‘helpful’ to Jews?  Was it simply to avoid persecution by Orthodox Jews?  It did not make sense – and even more strangely, Paul went along with it.  He agreed to sponsor some purification rites and to support some Jewish believers in their legalism.  Personally, I think that this was a big mistake by Paul, and it didn’t keep him out of trouble at all.

Almost inevitably it all went wrong, and Paul was accused of contaminating the very temple that he was revering.  Having been placed under a Roman guard, it was all Paul could do to make the Roman commander understand that he, Paul, was a Roman citizen who had rights under the law.  The narrative continues in tomorrow’s notes…

2 KINGS 1, 2, 3 and 4

“Off with the old and on with the new!”  This has an upbeat and positive note to it; however, the first few chapters of 2 Kings would have been heart-breaking for the key player, Elisha.  His name means “My God is Salvation” and he was the disciple and servant of the great prophet, Elijah, whose ministry, and whose life was soon to come to an end.  If you have been discipled by a prophet, then you know something about hearing from God, and Elisha would have been painfully aware that is master, his mentor, his ‘father’ in the Lord, was about to be taken away from him for the rest of his earthly life.  This impending separation was like a bereavement in advance, and Elisha was very quiet as Elijah made plans for his final journey and departure.

The companies of prophets in the various Israelite towns kept asking insensitive questions, such as: “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”.  “Yes”, answered Elisha, “…so keep quiet about it!”.  The route that the two of them took was from Gilgal to Bethel, to Jericho and then across the Jordan river; each time Elijah suggested that his ‘son’ in the Lord stayed behind to lessen the pain of separation, and each time, Elisha insisted on accompanying his master to maximise the limited time they were to share together.  Having walked across the Jordan on dry land, Elijah asked his disciple: “So what can I do for you before I go?”.  “Let me inherit a double portion of you spirit”, said Elisha.  This was not necessarily asking for a ministry twice as great (although Elisha did have nearly twice as many miracles recorded in scripture), but it might have been a reference to Jewish inheritance laws, where the firstborn son inherited a double share of the father’s legacy.  (See Deuteronomy 21:17.)  Basically, Elisha was saying: “Let me be the heir of your great ministry – let me continue your prophetic work for the Lord on earth”.

Other than Enoch (Genesis 5), Elijah is the only person mentioned in Scripture never to die physically.  In 2 Kings 2:11-12, we see that a great fiery chariot and horses swept down from heaven and lifted the master directly into heaven, leaving Elisha weeping and yet awestruck.  “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”  This represented the hosts of heaven, God’s angel armies, relentlessly pursuing good and fighting evil.  Quickly the great man had gone, and his servant remained.

So he picked up the discarded cloak and ripped up his own – an act of faith.  Possession of Elijah’s cloak symbolised succession to Elijah’s ministry.  First the Jordan river acknowledged his authority, then the companies of the prophets, and gradually the entire population, as Elisha retraced Elijah’s exact steps back from the Jordan to Jericho to Bethel, through Gilgal, to Mount Carmel.  He stopped at Jericho to purify the city’s water supply miraculously.  He stopped at  Bethel to punish – on behalf of the Lord himself – a large gang of disrespectful youths (not children) who came to jeer, mock and intimidate the Lord’s prophet.  They received what they deserved!

The new King of Israel, Joram, had bitten off more than he could chew in taking on the Moabites in battle, so he persuaded the Kings of Edom and Judah to support him.  Even then the odds looked unpromising.  Just as Jehoshaphat had suggested to Joram’s father Ahab, he advised that a prophet of the Lord be consulted for guidance on the battle’s outcome.  Elisha was the one who was called upon to prophesy; his ‘qualification’ was that he had “poured water on the hands of Elijah”.  This phrase meant that he had served the great man and had been discipled by him; this was all the recognition that Elisha required.  If you want to get real power, then learn to serve!

Elisha called for a harpist to play, and the music provided an environment for the prophetic word to come to the prophet.  “Dig trenches and I will fill this valley with pools of water”.  For both refreshment of the Lord’s armies and deception of the enemy.  Israel and Judah won a convincing victory.

Elisha not only followed in Elijah’s footsteps in a literal sense, but he also replicated very similar miracles to his master.  The olive oil that never ran out was one such example.  (2 Kings 4.)  Also, the raising of the dead son to the Shunammite woman was another.  Proof again and again that the servant had truly inherited his master’s “double measure”.  The “Feeding of the Hundred” is a preview of the New Testament feedings of the 5000 and the 4000.  We have Elijah and then Elisha, the ‘father’ and the ‘son’ in the Old Testament; then we have the Heavenly Father and his Son being revealed in the New Testament too.  Elisha is in many ways a ‘foreshadowing’ of Jesus himself.

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