Romans, chapters 9-11

“Israel, although pursuing a law of righteousness, did not attain to that law. For what reason? Because they pursued it, not by faith, but as by works.”
~Romans 9:31,32

Once we have established a good spiritual routine that includes regular prayer and Bible reading, as well as participating at Christian meetings and the public ministry, we should be careful not to do things mechanically. (Ps. 1:1-3; 22:22; Ro. 10:14,15; 1 Th. 5:17)
The nation of Israel had received a rich spiritual heritage which should have led them to clearly identify God’s messiah.
But they concentrated so much on preserving traditions that they missed the point of what it meant to be dedicated to God. (Matt. 23:23,24)
When serving God is our way of life for a long period of time, we can begin to take some aspects of our worship for granted.
Perhaps we stop looking up Scriptures that we think we know by heart. Or our prayers gradually become more repetitive in choice of words. Maybe we don’t prepare for a Bible study if we already went over the material with a previous student. Or we wait till the last minute to prepare a meeting assignment we received weeks in advance.
If we don’t take the time to meditate on the unique value of our relationship with God and his people, our faith may become strained. Then we could lose our joy and start to forget why we dedicated our lives to Jehovah. (1 John 5:3)

Psalm 119

“I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Search for your servant,
For I have not forgotten your commandments.”
~Psalm 119:176

Who wrote Psalm 119?
Though the writer’s name is unknown, we can form a portrait of where he (or she) was in life by some of his expressions.
Although verse one affirms: “Happy are those who are blameless in their way […]” the psalmist is not applying these words to himself, for verses five and six explain: “If only I could remain steadfast so as to observe your regulations! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commandments.”
The psalmist is evidently undergoing some type of affliction as a consequence of past mistakes.
Even though he no longer ‘goes astray,’ he is still an object of “scorn and contempt,” targeted by insensitive, presumptuous liars (Ps. 119:22,67,69,70).
Although the psalmist does suffer sleeplessness and grief, this allows him to find comfort in his knowledge of Jehovah God (Ps. 119:28,52,55).
The psalmist goes so far as to say that his spiritual heritage is the ‘joy of his heart,’ (Ps. 119:111).
What fueled his strength?
Verses 92-95 read:

If I had not been fond of your law,
I would have perished in my affliction. […]
I belong to you; save me […]. The wicked wait to destroy me,
But I give close attention to your reminders.”

Time and again, the psalmist references his bond with God and love for God’s Word as the reasons he can bear his affliction and carry on.
Undefeated, he resolves to fulfill his vows to God and rely on His justice and loyal love (Ps. 119:106,149).

Psalms 87-91

“With his pinions he will cover you, And under his wings you will take refuge,”
~Psalm 91:4

It is normal to feel overwhelmingly tired from time to time and maybe even wonder if you can go on.
When you are on good terms with your Creator, you can count on him to fight your battles when you’ve done all you can.

“For he will rescue you from the trap of the birdcatcher,” (Ps. 91:3).

The “birdcatcher” is a metaphor for Satan, who relentlessly tries to trick people into making the wrong choices to destroy souls.
You needn’t fear making the wrong choices if you are making God your refuge.
Jehovah God is particularly fond of those who seek him by name (Ps. 91:14,15).

To know someone by name implies more than just knowing their name.
For instance, my boss is a doctor.
I am aware of my boss’s first name, but I would not call him by that name to his face or to others unless we had a much closer relationship.
In God’s case, he is inviting you to build up to that level of closeness.
Once that trust is established, you can call on him with full faith in everything his name represents, and ‘he will cause you to see his acts of salvation,’ (Ps. 91:16).

Ezra, chapters 1-5

“So they set the altar up on its former site, despite their fear of the peoples of the surrounding lands, and they began offering up burnt sacrifices to Jehovah on it […]”
~Ezra 3:3

When remnants of the tribe of Judah were sent back to their motherland to rebuild Jerusalem, it was not without opposition.
Their neighbors in Samaria, to the north, were particularly aggressive in their effort to stop the reconstruction (Ezra 4:1-6).
However, the Jews were ready to embrace their religious customs despite their fear.
We may have the legal right to practice our beliefs, but often we must do so in divided households or among neighbors who openly criticize us.
In other places, our brothers’ practices are openly being shut down by government entities.
God’s people have successfully faced religious oppression time after time, so it is possible to stand up to one’s fear of man and do what is right.

2 Kings, chapters 16-18

When he saw the altar that was in Damascus, King Ahaz sent Urijah the priest a plan of the altar, showing its pattern and how it was made. Urijah the priest built an altar according to all the directions that King Ahaz had sent […].
~2 Kings 16:10,11

Urijah knew that the original plans for the first altar had been given from Jehovah to David.
David’s son, Solomon, had carried out the blueprints precisely as indicated (2 Chron. 3:1; 4:1).
Urijah, however, allowed King Ahaz to overstep his authority and alter Jehovah’s instructions.

King Ahaz was an apostate.
“He did not do what was right in the eyes of Jehovah his God as David his forefather had done. […] He even made his own son pass through the fire,” (2 Ki. 16:2,3).

When King Ahaz returned from his trip, “he moved the copper altar that was before Jehovah from its place in front of the house, from between his own altar and the house of Jehovah, and he put it at the north side of his own altar. […] Urijah the priest did everything that King Ahaz had commanded” (2 Ki. 16:14,16).

When the congregation hands us instructions regarding our worship, do we see their divine origin, or do we consider them to be mere suggestions?
Do we alter Jehovah’s instructions because they do not appeal to us or because we think we can come up with a better form of worship?
And to what extent do we allow others to dissuade us from doing what we know Jehovah asks of us?

Urijah does not stand out in the Bible account as being a faithful priest.
He contributed to the demise of pure worship in his day.

1 Samuel, chapters 5-9

But he would return to Ramah, because his house was there, and there he also judged Israel. He built an altar there to Jehovah.
~1 Samuel 7:17

While reading the account of how Samuel went about leading the Israelites in true worship, I couldn’t help but wonder that he had built an altar at a place other than the tabernacle (De. 12:11).

Worshipping in high places was a practice God had clearly condemned until shortly before then (Jos. 22:29).
The indicated place of worship was supposed to be where God’s sacred Ark resided- the Ark symbolizing God’s divine presence.
However, with God’s sacred Ark having been robbed from the tabernacle, Jehovah allowed his worshippers to practice their faith elsewhere, so long as it remained clean of idolatry (1 Ki. 3:2-4).

God’s reasonableness is thus reflected in the flexibility he offers his servants when they are sincerely approaching him to worship.

A Samaritan woman once inquired of the Messiah about the proper place to worship (John 4:19,20).

Jesus’s reply clearly indicates that the determining factor in whether God accepts someone’s worship is the attitude with which a person approaches God, not so much the physical place the person is at.
He also mentioned that it should be spirit-based, or free of idol use (John 4:24).

An example of this can be seen today in the hundreds of conscientious objectors who are imprisoned for practicing their faith.
Although they are in most cases isolated from the worldwide brotherhood, without a doubt Jehovah hears their prayers and holds their worship in high esteem.

1 Samuel, chapters 1-4

“Then Elkanah went to his house in Ramah, but the boy became a minister of Jehovah before Eli the priest.”
~1 Samuel 2:11

A few years prior, when Elkanah’s sterile wife Hannah came before Jehovah to pray for a son, the high priest Eli had mistakenly made offensive comments to her, misjudging her for a drunkard (1 Sam. 1:10-14).

Her reply to him reflected a quiet and mild spirit (1 Sam. 1:15-18; 1 Pet. 3:4).

When Hannah’s prayer was answered and her child was ready to be weaned, neither her nor her husband held resentment against the house of Jehovah nor toward his appointed servants.

They understood that the center for pure worship was the tabernacle at Shiloh and did not restrain from taking their son to serve there (1 Sam. 1:21-25).

They had faith in Jehovah that he would look after their son and that it was the best place for him despite the imperfections of those serving there.

Likewise, we should not let the imperfections of others in the congregation deter us from offering ourselves up for greater service.

We may witness personality defects that could work as stumbling blocks, but we should continue to recognize Jehovah’s congregation for what it really is: the center for pure worship (Isa. 2:2,3).

If we do our part and leave the rest in God’s hands, we will surely be blessed, like in the case of Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam. 2:20, 21; Mal. 3:10).

 

Judges, chapters 15-18

After that the Danites set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons became priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day that the inhabitants of the land went into exile.
~Judges 18:30

Moses’s grandson, Jonathan, descended from the most famous Levite, but Jehovah had installed Aaron’s descendants as those primarily responsible for carrying out the priesthood (Nu. 3:3,6,9,10).

On top of this, Jehovah had forbidden the use of idols in connection with his worship time and again (Ex. 20:4; De. 4:16; 5:8).

It was selfish of Jonathan to allow the man from Ephraim to install him as priest, leading his family in idol worship in exchange for money (Jud. 17:10).

His selfishness is magnified by his later betrayal of that family to go serve as priest before the tribe of Dan, collaborating with the Danites in their theft of various expensive idols (Jud. 18:18-20).

What can I learn from Jonathan’s attitude?
Even if I were to come from a family with a rich spiritual heritage or certain level of prominence, I should not assume my family’s reputation automatically makes me a spiritual person.
No one is exempt from following God’s explicit laws or practicing his principles, regardless of what their last name may be.
Each person is ultimately responsible for upholding strong Biblical values wholeheartedly on an individual basis (Ez. 18:30).

Judges, chapters 11-14

“Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor should touch his head, because the child will be a Nazirite of God from birth, and he will take the lead in saving Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”
~Judges 13:5

When reading about Samson and how he scraped honey out of a lion carcass and how he killed 30 Philistines and then took their garments, I wondered if this was not in direct conflict with his being a Nazirite (Jud. 14:8,9,19; Nu. 6:1-7).

Nazirites were individuals who vowed special dedication to Jehovah during certain periods of their lives, and they had a set of restrictions governing their conduct .

One such restriction was that they were not to come in contact with a dead body (Nu. 6:6,7).

In Samson’s case, however, those restrictions did not apply.

Because he was divinely appointed a Nazirite since before his birth, his conduct was only governed by the restrictions the angelic harbinger had indicated to his parents (Jud. 13:3-5,13,14).

 

Judges, chapters 8-10

 Gideon made it into an ephod and exhibited it in his city Ophrah; and all Israel committed spiritual prostitution with it there, and it served as a snare to Gideon and to his household.
~Judges 8:27

When Gideon liberated the Israelites from the oppression of Midian, they tried to make him king (Jg. 8:22).

However, Gideon was not about to usurp on God’s sole right to rule, so he instead asked for material donations (Jg. 8:23,24).

He proceeded to use these donations to create an Ephod, which was an apron-like garment made of gold and precious stones, worn by the high priest on special occasions (Ex. 28:6-14).

Gideon, being a man of Faith, was apparently motivated by the desire to commemorate the unlikely victory Jehovah had granted Israel over its enemies (Jg. 7:20-22; Heb. 11:32,33).

How did this piece of commemorative art become a snare?

It detracted attention from the center of pure worship which was God’s tabernacle.

The Israelites commited “spiritual prostitution” in the sense that they bowed down to the ephod as if it were God, much to Gideon’s dismay.

What can we learn from this?
Good intentions do no always justify the means or the project.
We should be careful with our actions so that we never become a “stumbling block” to members of our community and our spiritual endeavors end up having an opposite effect (Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 10:23,24).