by Al Maxey
Issue #833 -- November 8, 2021
When you are down and out, something always
turns up - and it's usually the noses of your friends.
Orson Welles [1915-1985]
Moses stated a harsh reality when he declared, "The poor will never cease to be in the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11), a truth which even Jesus Himself acknowledged, "The poor you have with you always" (Matthew 26:11). One of the stark realities we humans must face in life, and which mankind has always faced throughout history, is that a great many people exist and ultimately die in a state of destitution. Although we may be able to personally bring relief to a few, we will never be able to do so for them all. For those with a heart of compassion for their fellow man, this weighs heavily upon them. We are encouraged by the example of Jesus and His apostles as they healed the sick, raised the dead, and lifted the fallen. Yet, we must face the painful reality that our Lord and the apostles walked right past countless others, leaving them in the horrid throes of their fate. As painful as it is to say, it is nevertheless true: at times, life isn't fair; sometimes life just sucks, and it's terribly heartbreaking to behold. The influential English playwright and devout Anglican moralist Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) wrote, "Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and others extremely difficult." We may genuinely want to help, our hearts going out to those who are suffering, yet realistically we are limited logistically; we simply lack the opportunities, the abilities, and the resources.
Now and again, however, the Lord places before us the ways and means to manifest our heart of compassion for those less fortunate, and these moments of mercy become beacons to others, inspiring them also to seek out opportunities to bring a ray of sunshine to those dwelling in a world of darkness ("Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds" - Hebrews 10:24). Yes, as Moses noted, those who are impoverished "will never cease to be in the land," but neither will those who seek daily for those moments of opportunity to bring some degree of relief. In the great judgment scene of Matthew 25, our Lord informs us that it is these people, the ones who actively show love, kindness, mercy, and compassion, who will hear the "Well done!," and who will be gathered into the eternal Fold of the Good Shepherd. The Jewish Talmud taught, "Let the poor be members of thy household." In other words, if God has blessed you materially, share that with others in need, just as if they were your own family. The early church disciples lived this! "And all those who believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need" (Acts 2:44-45). In some ways, then, poverty becomes a test of character, both for those experiencing it as well as those observing it. It is this last thought that leads me to 1 Kings 17 where we find this principle played out for us in the lives of a prophet of God and a nameless widow in the land of Sidon. I think you will find this story fascinating on a number of levels.
"Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word'" (1 Kings 17:1, NASB). This is the very first mention of Elijah in the Bible, and this one verse constitutes the entirety of the biographical information we have on him! Hard to believe, considering what a major character Elijah is in the whole biblical narrative (old covenant as well as new). "This prophet is introduced as abruptly as Melchizedek - his birth, parents, and call to the prophetic office being alike unrecorded" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 263]. "The abrupt way in which Elijah appears on the scene without a word of introduction or explanation is certainly remarkable. Not a word is said about his past relations with the king or the people" [Dr. James E. Smith, I & II Kings, p. 359]. "The history of this great man is introduced very abruptly; his origin is enveloped in perfect obscurity" [Dr. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 2, p. 452]. There was much speculation among the ancient apocryphal writers as to the identity of Elijah, some even believing he may have been a theophany or an angel of God. Dr. Clarke seems to lean toward the latter view, "that he was an angel of God, united for a time to a human body, in order to call men back to perfect purity, both in doctrine and manners, from which they had totally swerved. ... The conjecture that he was an angel seems countenanced by the manner of his departure from this world" [ibid]. Clarke acknowledges, however, that this view has some major difficulties, as do many of the similar speculations about Melchizedek, one of which is this statement by James, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17).
Another remarkable thing about the prophet Elijah, and Elisha as well, is that "their ministries are little more than a series of miracles. Few of their words have survived. It is for their works rather than their words that these two prophets are remembered" [Dr. James E. Smith, I & II Kings, p. 356]. The historical context for the ministry of Elijah was the evil reign of Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel. "Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years, ... and he did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him" (1 Kings 16:29-30). This wicked king also married an extremely wicked, idolatrous woman by the name of Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and she influenced him to establish idol worship in Israel, and Ahab himself "began to bow down in worship of Baal. First, Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him" (1 Kings 16:31-33). Because of these wicked rulers in Israel, Ahab being the worst, and their edicts against the one true God, the people were being led into immorality and apostasy so intense that it threatened the very survival of the nation (much like our own nation is experiencing at this present time). "If there ever was a time when God needed to intervene in a mighty way in the stream of human history, it was in the time of Ahab. In that dark hour, a determined effort was being made to stamp out the faith of Israel. The age demanded a messenger, ... and the greatest prophet is reserved for the worst age" [ibid]. That prophet was Elijah. The purpose of the author of the narrative in 1 Kings 17f "was not to relate independent anecdotes, but rather to trace the efforts of Israel's spiritual leaders to help their people emerge triumphant from a spiritual crisis precipitated by governmental policy" [ibid]. "In those dark times God raised up a light, the prophet Elijah" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 138]. Again, we can certainly relate, as history is repeating itself in our own nation! May God raise up messengers of Light for us, as well, for we too are a nation in peril, afflicted by godless leaders and their oppressive edicts, and by morally bankrupt governmental institutions!
With the above brief view of the historical context in which Elijah was sent to Ahab, we are informed of the message delivered by this messenger of the Lord: "As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives - the God I serve - there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!" (1 Kings 17:1). We know how many years that was to be from a comment made by James: "When Elijah prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield it crops" (James 5:17-18; Jesus also stated it would be three years and six months in Luke 4:25). This led to a great drought, which led to famine throughout the land, a famine that adversely affected everyone, good and bad alike. None were exempt from its effects, not even the prophet Elijah. On top of that, his life was endangered by proclaiming this judgment to Ahab, and for the next several years he would have to hide himself, for they sought to kill him. All of which, as we can well imagine, served as a challenge to Elijah's faith. Yet, God provided for Elijah during this time; not according to the hopes and wants of this man of God, but according to his basic needs. Indeed, the nature of this provision was itself quite challenging to this prophet, and a test of his trust. God sent him to an isolated area to the east of the Jordan, by the brook Cherith, and He commanded him to live there and to hide there (1 Kings 17:3, 5). Water was provided by the brook, and food was delivered to Elijah by a foul, unclean bird - "It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there" (vs. 4). So, "the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook" (vs. 6).
One can only imagine how Elijah felt about being fed by ravens, which are declared "unclean" in Deuteronomy 14:14. The term "roadkill" comes to mind. The apostle Peter, prior to being sent to the home of Cornelius, was faced with a similar challenge (Acts 10:9-16). He balked at the thought of consuming that which was unclean, yet God had a message for Peter: "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy" (vs. 15). Peter needed to understand that salvation wasn't just for Jews only; God was extending this gift of grace to all nations. Thus, Peter told this Gentile named Cornelius, "God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean" (vs. 28). Elijah was faced with much the same truth, and he would be challenged to expand the Jewish parameters of divine acceptance. "Elijah himself had much to learn, and this time of solitude would furnish needed moments of divine instruction" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 138]. Part of that instruction was in the form of accepting food from a raven, regardless of how unappetizing that may have been. "The ministry of these birds was prolonged and methodical. Under the commandment of God, they acted in an intelligent and rational way: they brought food to the prophet, and they brought it for months together with unfailing regularity" [Dr. James E. Smith, I & II Kings, p. 361]. It is interesting that we find Jesus using ravens in a context similar to that of Elijah: "Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat, ... for life is more than food. ... Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!" (Luke 12:22-24). "God gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry" (Psalm 147:9). God provides for the ravens; the ravens provided for Elijah.
I should probably point out here that a few scholars believe that it was not ravens God summoned to feed Elijah, but rather Arabs (which would certainly fit with "the inclusion of Gentiles" theory). Dr. James E. Smith writes, "The miracle of feeding by the ravens has been questioned from earliest times, as for example by Jerome. It is possible by altering the vowel points on the word 'ravens' to yield the meaning 'Arabs.' According to this view Elijah was cared for by some Bedouins who lived in the region of Cherith. The Arabs even to this day are noted for their generous hospitality and loyalty to strangers. This interpretation certainly cannot be ruled out because the Hebrew vowel points are not part of the inspired consonantal Hebrew text and were only added to the Hebrew Bible in the Middle Ages" [I & II Kings, p. 361]. The vast majority of scholars, however, believe that "ravens" is the correct translation. One biblical scholar even referred to the "Arabs" theory as "a rationalistic absurdity." I would tend to agree, although I have to admit that the feeding of Elijah by Arabs would certainly "preach" well.
Things were about to get worse for Elijah, however. "It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land" (1 Kings 17:7). What was Elijah supposed to do?! He had to have water to live. The ravens couldn't provide that necessity! How was God going to provide water? These thoughts and doubts probably entered the mind of this righteous prophet, although that part of the challenge to his faith and trust are not dealt with in the text. But, God had it covered; He had a plan. "The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 'Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.' So he arose and went to Zarephath" (1 Kings 17:8-10a). Seems like a good idea, right? Go to this city in the land of the Sidonians, and there a widow will take care of him. But, wait a minute ... Jezebel, the godless wife of Ahab, who was seeking to kill Elijah, was "the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians" (1 Kings 16:31). God was sending Elijah into the very heart of enemy territory, telling him to "stay there" (1 Kings 17:9). "This was within the dominion of Jezebel's impious father, where the famine also prevailed" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 264]. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, right?! "Do you trust Me, Elijah?", God seems to be asking! "Do you trust Me to provide for you and protect you even in the very midst of this deadly darkness?!" Elijah's answer was clearly in the affirmative; although he most likely had questions and concerns, these did not deter him: "So he arose and went" (vs. 10).
The remainder of 1 Kings 17 is devoted to the interaction of the prophet Elijah with the widow who, along with her son, was living in "Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon" (vs. 9a). He was still being sought by the king, so this would seemingly be a rather poor place to hide out, yet God had His reasons! In verses 10-16 we have the account of the meeting of the prophet and the widow (whose name is never mentioned), and the miracle God performed to provide for her, so that she could provide for Elijah. When Elijah arrives at the gate to the city, he finds this woman gathering some sticks, which she planned to use to make a cooking fire. Elijah asked her for a drink of water, and also for "a piece of bread in your hand" (vs. 10-11). I have always found that phrase "in your hand" somewhat amusing, for the daily bread Elijah had previously been receiving came from ravens. Perhaps he was relieved that his bread would now come from a hand and not a beak or claw. The widow's response to this request was gracious, but also heartbreaking. She had only a little flour and oil, only enough for her and her son to have a final meal before they died. She and her son were destitute; they were starving, as were many within the land at that time. The drought and famine were severe! Yet she was willing to share what little she had with this stranger.
Elijah said, "Fear not!" (vs. 13a). Easy for him to say, right?! Elijah then tells her of how God plans to deal graciously with her: "For thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth'" (vs. 14). That day of relief would not come for about two more years, for most scholars feel Elijah stayed with this widow "above two years" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. It was "a year at least, if not two years" [John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, e-Sword]. "It could not have been less than two whole years" [Robert Hawker, A Poor Man's Commentary, e-Sword]. "So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah" (vs.15-16). God provided for them "for many days" - that is, "a long time, even above two years before the following event about her son happened" [Joseph Benson, Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, e-Sword].
Jesus used the account of this miracle performed by God for this widow as an example of God's love for those who were not Jews, an illustration He gave in the synagogue that caused those assembled to be "filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Jesus out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went on His way" (Luke 4:28-30). Here is what Jesus said to them that day that so infuriated them, "There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow" (vs. 25-26). Sending Elijah to a woman who was not part of the people of Israel was intentional. "This episode stands impressed in the pages of history as a lasting memorial to the availability of God's full provision to all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 140]. Jesus even "began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you'" (Matthew 11:20-22). I have no doubt that the Sidonian widow was in the back of our Lord's mind as He rebuked the Jews of His day.
We don't know the extent of this widow's knowledge and understanding of God and His will for man, but there is no question she was in possession of some information and that she had a degree of faith, which God tapped into as He brought Elijah to her. He recognized in her a woman who would care for and provide protection to His prophet. He also realized that by bringing Elijah to her, she herself would be benefitted: her faith would be enriched and strengthened, making her an example and inspiration to those around her. "As Christ tells His unbelieving contemporaries to their shame (in Luke 4:25-26), Elijah was not sent to this widow in order that he might be safely hidden at her house, although this object was better attained thereby than by his remaining longer in Israel; but because of her faith, namely, to strengthen and to increase it, Elijah was sent to her, and not to one of the many widows in Israel" [Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 3, p. 238]. "The increase of this widow's faith to such a degree as to enable her thus to deny herself, and to depend upon the divine promise, was as great a miracle in the kingdom of grace, as the increase of her oil was in the kingdom of providence. Happy they that can thus, against hope, believe and obey in hope!" [Joseph Benson, Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, e-Sword]. Again, perhaps Jesus had this nameless widow in mind when He declared, "The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward" (Matthew 10:41-42, English Standard Version).
"This woman rebuked, by her pity and self-denying benevolence, the prejudices of Israel. Charity and pity have no geographical limits. Much less can the love of God and the light of His revelation be bounded by any narrower circle than the circumference of the world" [Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, e-Sword]. Which leads us to another observation about this widow: she was willing to share her blessings with others; she did not hoard them for herself alone. Though destitute, she took on Elijah as a boarder in her home; he was given an upper room in which to dwell (1 Kings 17:19-20, 23). Elijah was also fed by her from the miraculous supply of flour and oil. But, there is also some indication in the text that others benefitted at her hand as well. We are told in 1 Kings 17:15 that "she and he (Elijah) and her household ate for many days" (which most scholars believe was about two years). In verse 17 this widow is referred to as "the mistress of the house" (or "the woman who owned the house" - NIV). This suggests to some that she may have been a woman of some means prior to the death of her husband and the coming of the drought and famine, and that she had now fallen on hard times. It would be unusual to refer to her son as "her household;" such a term normally suggests other family members and even servants. When Elijah meets her, however, it appears she and her son were the only two left in the dwelling, and that they were about to partake of their last meal and die. During that two year period between meeting Elijah and the end of the drought and famine, it would seem that word of her material blessings got out and the members of her "household" returned, and she was now "the mistress of the house," as perhaps she had once been in better times. The implication is certainly strong that she was blessed by God, and she didn't hesitate to use this to bless others. "'Her house' probably means her friends or poor relatives who came to partake of her plenty" [The Pulpit Commentary, e-Sword]. "She had enough for all their own needs and something over, which she could give to poorer relations" [The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, e-Sword]. "Some of her kindred are probably here included in the term 'her household,' an expression which would hardly have been used of her one son" [Joseph Benson, Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, e-Sword].
There remained, however, yet another challenge to the faith and trust of this widow and this prophet. It was the challenge of death. There was plenty of suffering and dying going on in the land, for it was a time of great famine. Few, if any, were untouched by these dire circumstances. It may even have been the cause of the death of her husband. But how can any of that compare with the loss of one's only child?! "Now it came about after these things that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him" (1 Kings 17:17). At this point we see the deep distress of this woman, and perhaps even a hint of doubt with respect to her faith and trust in God and His prophet. She said to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!" (vs. 18, NASB). The NIV reads, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" The New Living Translation reads, "O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?" This is the language of great distress and inner pain; she is in a state of agony so intense that no filter remains for the questions, doubts, and anger she is feeling. They flow freely! It is at these moments we are all most vulnerable to the "whispers of the Accuser." Elijah too, after removing her son from her arms and taking him to the upper room where he was staying, vented before the Lord God, "Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, 'O Lord my God, why have You brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?!'" (New Living Translation).
This widow knew she had sin in her life, as we all do, and she feared that the presence of this man of God in her home might have caused this prophet's God to take more notice of her than He might otherwise have taken if His prophet was residing elsewhere. This lack of understanding of God and His ways was a source of distress for her, for she knew that she could not live up to the holiness He undoubtedly desired of His people. Thus, when He perceived her sin, He punished her by killing her son, and it was Elijah's fault for bringing this Jewish Deity to her house where He could see her more clearly. If he hadn't come here, her son would still be alive!! Of course, she forgot that if he hadn't come, she and her son would have eaten that last meal and both would now be dead. We rarely see clearly when we are hurting. God understood the frustration and hurt of both this widow and Elijah, and there is no word of rebuke for either. Elijah "stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, 'O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child's life return to him'" (vs. 21). An interesting prayer, since up to this point in the Scriptures there is no mention of anyone having been raised from the dead. Nevertheless, Elijah's faith was strong enough that he realized such power had to reside with God, if indeed it resided anywhere. Elijah possessed the faith of Abraham, who, when he was commanded to offer up Isaac, "considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead" (Hebrews 11:19).
And that is exactly what happened. "The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother" (vs. 22-23). This woman then declared to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth" (vs. 24). Thus ends the narrative of this man and woman of God, each of whom experienced challenges to their faith, with each becoming stronger in faith for the experience. "Thus, both Elijah and the widow learned to put their continued faith and trust in the Provider rather than in the provision" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 140]. The Summarized Bible, one of the apps on e-Sword, sums this event up beautifully, and I'll end this study with their summation: "God can wonderfully raise up servants and suit them to the work He designs them for. He can, if He chooses, use one man to arrest the downward movement of a nation, and with no weapon but the Word of God and prayer. ... God marvelously provides for His true servants in times of sore testing. We may be called upon at times to live from hand to mouth, but if it be from God's hand, each day's need will be supplied."
Special Request from J. David Tant:
Al, would you please make the following request of your readers: Does anyone have (or know where I could find) any recordings (video, audio tape, or other medium) of sermons presented by Yater Tant, as I would like to share them with his great-grandchildren. I have looked everywhere, but can't find any. Thanks! I can be contacted at email@example.com.
From a Reader in Missouri:
Al, I listened to your online video. You did great. It was really nice being able to see and hear you preach and teach again.
This sister, and her husband, were active members of the congregation I preached for in Santa Fe, New Mexico (from 1984 to 1992). LOVE to you both! Many of you are probably wondering, "What video on YouTube is this reader talking about?!" The video in question is the October 10, 2021 Worship Assembly in Tennessee of "Our Safe Harbor Church" where Dr. Patrick Mead serves as the senior minister. They stream their weekly Sunday assembly live, and these videos are kept on their Internet site and YouTube. Let me explain my connection to that particular assembly. Patrick asked me several weeks back if I would lead the Lord's Supper thoughts for their Sunday morning assembly, so I accepted his invitation. In my office I filmed a devotional message that I then uploaded to Patrick. He told me he would plug it into the service on October 10th. On that Sunday morning it was streamed live, and the video of that entire service (which lasted about 90 minutes) can now be found on YouTube at the above link. My part begins at the 34 minutes mark, and it lasts about 7 minutes, but I would encourage you to watch the entire assembly, from beginning to end. You will be blessed. If the link doesn't work for you, you can search YouTube for "Our Safe Harbor Church" (and also Facebook or their web site on the Internet) and just look for the video of the 10-10-2021 service. I would also like to personally thank Patrick Mead, who at the very beginning of this video (once it goes live) makes some very kind introductory remarks about me and my work (which may be found at the 15 minutes mark). Thank you, brother. I too am glad that you talked me into doing this video. I was blessed to be a small part of that assembly. I pray that all who visit the "Our Safe Harbor Church" site will be uplifted and encouraged by these wonderful brethren! Visit their site often! Support them financially if you feel led to do so. Theirs is a ministry whose time has truly come!!! May God richly bless them in their work and worship! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Al, I would like to purchase four of your audio CD studies, and I'm sending the funds to your PayPal account to cover the cost of these CDs. The studies I would like to purchase are: #1} A Reflective Study of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Jesus Christ: Our Living Source of a Better Covenant and Greater Freedom. #2} A Reflective Study of the Epistle of James: Our Practical Guideline For Daily Christian Living. #3} A Reflective Study of the Lord's Day and the Lord's Supper. #4} The Essence of Authentic Faith: 27 Practical Steps to Becoming Grace-Affirming Disciples of Jesus. Thank you, Al, for your ministry! Your studies and your many Reflections have been very edifying for me over the past seven years when I found your work on the Internet. Thank you for your effort and time.
From a Reader in England:
Dear Al Maxey, I am one of your Reflections readers here in Bristol, United Kingdom. One of my close friends, who is also a brother in the Lord, would like to be added to your email list (please note that I have included his name and email address). Thank you so much!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, your study of 1 Peter 1:17 titled "Impartially Judging Our Works: Is Eternal Salvation Tied to Our Works?" (Reflections #832) just might be your finest and most impactful article to date! If people could just let go of doing good deeds to earn points with God, then perhaps they could live in peace with anticipation, rather than fear and trepidation, of His coming! Well-done, brother!!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, I just received your latest Reflections article ("Impartially Judging Our Works"). Thank you! I was just thinking: Naaman's obedience to dip in the Jordan, and not one of the rivers of Syria, could be seen by some as being "sacramental" in some way, but was it?! Naaman needed to understand that salvation came through the Jews firstly. In fact, I think that is the main point. It was not to be interpreted as an example of a works-based salvation. It is so easy for some to see God simply as a LAW-Giver, and hence One who justifies a man only by his obedience to that Law. What do you think? Have you done an article on this? God bless you, brother, and please be praying for the church here in New Zealand.
The story of Naaman has long been a popular proof-text for those who promote a works-based and performance-based and knowledge-based salvation, and who view immersion in water to be sacramental in nature. I have made mention of this OT story a number of times over the years in my writings, classes, lectures, and sermons. However, about two-and-a-half years ago I did one of my Reflections articles on the fallacy of the above teaching. That article is titled: "The Naaman Narrative: Does this Syrian's Seven-Fold Dipping Suggest a Sacramental View of Baptism?" (Reflections #771). The biblical answer, of course, for those who are not yet too blinded by sacramentalism to perceive it, is an emphatic and resounding "NO." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Florida:
Good Afternoon, Al. From your Textual Index to your Reflections articles, it looks like you have not done a study yet specifically on 1 John 3:6, "No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him." Maybe this is because there is not too much in that short verse to speak/write on, but if you read the verse it does raise some questions. I realize that we will never be sinless in our fleshly bodies, but my current understanding is that we should be growing spiritually, and as we do so we sin less. I am personally praying for this, and am encouraged that once I set my prayers in that direction and commit this verse to memory, it has helped. I would appreciate your insights into this, or maybe you would consider it for a future Reflections article. As always, I thank you for your work, and I pray that God may continue to bless you and yours. You are such an inspiration to me and so many others! By-the-way, have you ever thought of doing a commentary on the whole Bible? It seems like you have enough information to do so. If you decide to do so, I would be your first buyer for sure!!
Yes, I have indeed thought about doing a commentary, and have done so to some extent in two decades of Reflections articles, as well as four published books. The task of putting all that information into a commentary, however, which would also involve a great deal more writing, just seems rather overwhelming to me right now with all the other things going on in my life and ministry. Who knows, though? Perhaps when I retire (I'll be 73 my next birthday), I'll have the time. As for the 1 John 3:6 passage, I have indeed mentioned it off and on in sermons, articles, classes, etc. I have yet to do an in-depth article on just this one passage alone. I'll definitely put it on my "to do" list, as there are indeed some great points being made there that deserve deeper examination and reflection. I do have a couple of articles, however, that deal in some depth with the intent of that passage, as well as associated thoughts found in other very similar passages in John's first epistle. Those two articles are: "A Sinner Who Sinneth Not: A Reflective Analysis of 1 John 5:18" (Reflections #140) and "Sin That Leads unto Death: Reflecting on John's Distinction Between Deadly and Non-Deadly Sin in 1 John 5:16-17" (Reflections #293). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Florida:
Before actually reading your latest Reflections article, I looked over some of the content and context, and immediately grace, hope, and holiness jumped out at me. It is indeed sad that divines from the Middle Ages are still instilling fear, instead of reverence, into the Children of God today. With regard to the question posed by the minister in Ukraine, the obedience to Torah was to make Israel a light to the Gentiles (see Isaiah 49:5 and Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Of course, the "servant of the Lord" in Isaiah 49 is the Christ, who alone was faithful in keeping Torah, in spite of the many attempts of the Jews to make Him out to be a sinner because He did not follow their traditions. So, it is HE, and only He, who is the light to the Gentiles, except as we reflect His glory to them (2 Corinthians 3:18).
From a Reader in Canada:
Greetings, Al. What a great article ("Impartially Judging Our Works"). I would like your permission to put it on my blog site, with your web address at the bottom (which will bring additional readers to your weekly articles). Thank you again, Al, for this great article you have written. May our God and Father Yehovah use your article to open the eyes of all those who have been misled as to the truth about what we will receive when we come before the bema (judgment seat) of the Lord Jesus. Keep those great articles coming, as God gives you the enabling power to do so. I deeply appreciate all you do in your service before our God and Father Yehovah!! Your brother in the Lord Messiah.
I gave this brother my permission to post it, and it can now be seen on his blog site (Click Here). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Dear Brother, according to the nonsense spewed forth from the pulpit where I attend, not only are we judged by our works, but if we are not working by baptizing others, then we are not even Christians! Today the preacher here gave us yet another sermon on "the evil denominations." Never mind that the "Church of Christ" church is probably split into more factions than any other group. But then, "we" stand up and boldly lie by saying, "We are NOT a denomination!" Keep up the good writings, Al. Your Reflections are truly a guiding light for so many of us!
From an Elder in Oklahoma:
Al, have you considered, or read, that the Behemoth and Leviathan may have been dinosaurs? There are some very old carvings and paintings that clearly depict dinosaurs. You can even identify which dinosaurs they are.
It is true that a few biblical scholars have suggested that these two creatures mentioned in the Old Testament writings might have been dinosaurs. I didn't really pursue that angle, as most scholars feel dinosaurs predated the time of Job, Isaiah, and the author of Psalm 104. However, I did make the following observation regarding the behemoth in my article titled "Behemoth and Leviathan: Biblical Monsters - Myth or Reality?" (Reflections #830), "Over the centuries, scholars have speculated on the identity of this 'beast,' with such possibilities as the rhinoceros, the elephant, the mammoth, the brontosaurus, and even large swine being suggested." I also certainly wouldn't discount the possibility that the biblical references might not have been referring at all to creatures then living, but rather to mythological creatures of which these ancient peoples may very well have been aware through their lore. -- Al Maxey
From an Author in Colorado:
Al, I am trying to complete my writings, correcting many mistakes, and trying to state things in a more understandable way, and I've run into a passage that I have looked at in six or eight different translations, and I have not come to a consensus within myself concerning what it is telling me. It lines up perfectly with what happened to Cornelius and his household, but it does not seem to align with what "we" (Churches of Christ) have proclaimed about baptism. Here's the passage: "In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:11-14). What this says to me is that one is sealed with the Holy Spirit when they believe, and not when they were baptized. I am thinking that Cornelius was baptized, confirming and committing to, making an oath, if you will, living committed to Christ and His Body, also imaging His death, burial, and resurrection. I have come to believe that Acts 2:38 was directed toward the Jews, who were coming from the legalistic Old Covenant, and not to the Gentiles. When we separate these two concepts of baptism, Acts 2:38 and Galatians 3:27, things "fit," but when we try to meld them together nothing seems to fit. Are these two different scenarios? Thank you in advance for your input, brother.
I have long believed that those who view baptism in water sacramentally rather than
symbolically have completely missed the point of the purpose of this act. It is reflective in nature (it shows our faith);
it is not redemptive. Ephesians 2:8-10 makes it clear that we are saved by grace through faith. Any act or deed or work on our
part cannot earn/merit that GIFT of GRACE, which is our eternal salvation. Our works and deeds, once we are IN HIM (by grace through faith),
constitute daily manifestations of our gratitude and evidences of our faith and love for Him and others. Many rush to Acts 2:38, a popular
proof-text of those who embrace baptism in water as THE precise point of salvation, but I have never heard any of them do a sermon or class
on Peter's second sermon (found in Acts 3:11f). In that sermon, we find Peter's parallel to Acts 2:38, but
he says nothing about baptism (Acts 3:19)! I would urge the reader to examine my following study of this: "Peter's Colonnade
Sermon: Reflecting on an Apostolic Revision: Pentecost Sermon 2.0 and Acts 2:38"
(Reflections #758). As one can imagine, this article "struck a nerve" with
some who read it, so I devoted the next issue to responding to some of the mail I received: "Reviewing Reader Reaction: Questions,
Comments, and Criticisms on the Previous Issue of Reflections"
The reader in Colorado expressed his view that the statement by Peter on Pentecost recorded in Act 2:38 may have been directed primarily, if
not exclusively, toward the Jews. I believe he makes a valid point, and the previous verse seems, to me, to affirm that conclusion. I sought to
point this out in my article "Questioning a Pentecost Query: Rethinking the Spiritual Significance of the Question Posed to Peter in Acts
2:37" (Reflections #763). As for Galatians 3:27, I think it is one of
several passages in which we find the term "baptism," but in which that term does NOT refer to an immersion in water. The key to this is found
in 1 Corinthians 12:13. If that is the case, and I believe it is easily shown to be so, then passages such as Galatians 3:27 take on a much different
meaning and application. I have dealt with this extensively in the following studies: "Immersed By One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians
12:13" (Reflections #353), and "Putting on Jesus Christ: An
Examination of Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27" (Reflections #362),
and "When Wrongs Make a Rite: The Elevation of a Sectarian Standard to the Status of a Salvific Sacrament"
(Reflections #815). In this last article, I have provided links to quite a bit
more of my published studies on this very same problem, which will provide even greater insight into the issue raised by the reader in Colorado.
I pray that this reader, and all who examine the evidence provided above, will find it enlightening and encouraging.
The reader in Colorado expressed his view that the statement by Peter on Pentecost recorded in Act 2:38 may have been directed primarily, if not exclusively, toward the Jews. I believe he makes a valid point, and the previous verse seems, to me, to affirm that conclusion. I sought to point this out in my article "Questioning a Pentecost Query: Rethinking the Spiritual Significance of the Question Posed to Peter in Acts 2:37" (Reflections #763). As for Galatians 3:27, I think it is one of several passages in which we find the term "baptism," but in which that term does NOT refer to an immersion in water. The key to this is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. If that is the case, and I believe it is easily shown to be so, then passages such as Galatians 3:27 take on a much different meaning and application. I have dealt with this extensively in the following studies: "Immersed By One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" (Reflections #353), and "Putting on Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27" (Reflections #362), and "When Wrongs Make a Rite: The Elevation of a Sectarian Standard to the Status of a Salvific Sacrament" (Reflections #815). In this last article, I have provided links to quite a bit more of my published studies on this very same problem, which will provide even greater insight into the issue raised by the reader in Colorado. I pray that this reader, and all who examine the evidence provided above, will find it enlightening and encouraging.-- Al Maxey
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