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Christian Education Devotionals (103)

These devotionals were originally written by Hope PR Christian School (Walker, MI) teacher Brian D. Dykstra for his fellow teachers. They are posted here for their broader significance and for broader use by Christian parents and other Christian school teachers.

The Return of Absalom

The Return of Absalom

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

II Samuel 14

Joab wants Absalom to return to Jerusalem. Joab has his own hopes for Israel’s future. He notices that “the king’s heart was toward Absalom.” Joab developed an elaborate plan to justify David’s allowing Absalom’s return.

Joab contacts a woman from Tekoah and gives her a story to tell David. She pretends to be a widow who now depends upon her sons to provide for her. However, her sons fell into an angry dispute which resulted in one murdering the other in the heat of the moment. The family now wants to kill the surviving son for murder. This will leave her with no means of support, as well as bringing her family line to an end. This whole fabrication is to cause David to judge that the family will not kill the surviving son, though strict justice demands it.

The woman then claims that David is not consistent in his judgment. If the son in her fictitious story is not to be put to death for killing his brother, then Absalom should not be executed or banished for killing Amnon. David must overlook the differences in the two situations to reach the decision Joab wants. Absalom’s killing of Amnon was well-thought out and not done in the heat of the moment. Absalom used deceit to lure Amnon to his death. David is willing to be convinced that Absalom should come back to Jerusalem and not face the death penalty for taking the law into his own hands.

David recognizes the hand of Joab in all of this. David feels he can have Absalom return to Jerusalem and that there would be enough people in Israel who support this decision. The general population of Israel probably had differing opinions about Absalom. However, David reckoned there would be no uproar among the people if Absalom returns since he enjoys some level of support from them.

Joab goes to the city of Geshur, where Absalom had fled to his maternal grandfather’s house. David wants to show to Israel that Absalom does not have his full approval. Absalom “returned to his own house.” This does not mean Absalom returned home and could go about his life in a usual fashion. This was house arrest. Absalom was not free to move about Israel as he pleased. Also David showed his disapproval of Absalom by not allowing him to see David face-to-face. This did not sit well with Absalom. Absalom must reconcile with David for Absalom to reach his ultimate goal of becoming Israel’s next king.

Absalom has many factors working in his favour. His mother was born a princess and is wife of a king. She had been royalty all her life. Absalom feels this sets him above his half-brothers, most of whom had mothers who were not royalty. He was handsome. One could inspect him from head to toe and not come up with a suggestion on how to improve his looks. He had a healthy head of hair. Out of vain curiosity, he weighed his hair when it was cut. An estimate of the “two hundred shekels after the king’s weight” is about four pounds. He is a family man, having three sons and a beautiful daughter whom he named Tamar after his sister. (His sons must have died young for we read later in II Samuel 18:18 that Absalom erected a pillar to keep his memory alive since he had no sons.)

Absalom lived for two years in Jerusalem under the shadow of David’s disapproval. Absalom felt it was time for that to change. Since he could not go to Joab himself, being under house arrest, he sent for Joab to come to him. Joab did not come. Absalom sends another request for a meeting with Joab. Joab still does not come. Absalom now uses a more severe measure so Joab understands that Absalom will not be denied. Absalom has his servants set Joab’s barley field on fire.

That gets Joab’s attention. Joab comes quickly to Absalom’s house. He has no doubt as to who is responsible. When Joab appears, Absalom does not apologize. He isn’t afraid of Joab retaliating. Remember, this is Joab. Joab is not a man to hesitate taking action when he feels wronged or threatened. Shedding blood is not something which causes Joab to lose any sleep. How many men in Israel would dare to do such a thing to Joab? Absalom does.

Perhaps that is why Joab approves of Absalom. Joab does not like it that he has lost the work invested in his barley. He must have been upset. At the same time, he admires Absalom’s daring. Absalom is a man of action. He does not back down, even when face-to-face with a man such as Joab. Joab has to give Absalom credit for being aggressive and taking bold action. Joab admires such qualities and deems them necessary qualifications for a king.

Absalom declares that since he still may not see David and the people understand this as a sign of David’s disapproval, he would have been better off staying in Geshur. He says that if he really is worthy of death, then David should execute judgment against him. David calls for Absalom who shows obeisance by bowing with his face to the ground. David kisses his son. They have reconciled.

Does David hope that Absalom’s heart will undergo a change? Although the rearing of his children must have fallen mostly to their mothers and teachers in the palace, David must have known something of the characters of his children. Did he think that by having Absalom in Jerusalem, the place where God had placed His name, there would be an opportunity for Absalom to change spiritually? Is David hoping for Absalom to take a step toward spiritual life? David will be disappointed for Absalom is not seeking to approach God’s holy dwelling place. The next step in his rebellious plan to usurp David as king.

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God Calls David to Repentance

God Calls David to Repentance

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRC Christian School

II Samuel 12

David felt he had dealt with his sins of adultery and murder. He had covered his actions well enough that when his and Bathsheba’s baby was born, people would think the baby had come a little early. David could go about his life. However, God was displeased with him. God sent His prophet Nathan to call David to repentance.

Nathan does not directly confront David with his sin. God had given Nathan a parable to tell. Nathan tells about a rich man who had many sheep and a poor man who has but one, which was as a daughter to him. The rich man has a visitor but the rich man does not want to kill one of his own plentiful sheep to have a meal, so he kills the poor man’s only sheep and serves it for dinner.

Though living in unrepentant sin, David is still able to judge between right and wrong. “David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.” He does not yet see the parallels between himself and the guilty man in the parable. David had many wives yet, when his passion is stirred with adulterous desires, he does not go to one of his many wives but he takes the one wife of another man. If we think we can satisfy sinful desires by catering to them, we will find to our sorrow that our sinful desires cannot be satisfied. Our sinful flesh always desires more.

David pronounces a punishment against the rich man which was more than what the Old Testament law demanded. The law stated that the punishment for stealing a sheep was giving four sheep. David adds the penalty of death. How shocked David must have been to hear Nathan declare with divine revelation, “Thou art the man!” David realizes that if he pronounced the death penalty for taking a man’s sheep, the punishment for taking a man’s wife and having him killed should be worse.

David’s chastisements are severe. Since David thought the sword was a convenient way to solve problems, David would have the sword wielded against his family for the rest of his life. He had taken a man’s wife privately but his wives would be taken in a brazen fashion. David learns the child Bathsheba now bares will die since David’s actions gave the wicked a reason to blaspheme God and His people. The following scriptural narrative unfolds all of this to us.

One might question God’s justice. Why should the guilty David live and the innocent child die? The sovereign God shows His disapproval against David for his sin, and His love for him by sparing his life. Also God will provide for His church the perfect Lamb of sacrifice through Solomon, who is yet to be conceived by David and born of Bathsheba.

David fasts and prays for the child. He hopes God will yet spare him. David’s servants are shocked that, when David learns of the child’s death, he stops fasting, washes, anoints himself and goes to God’s house to worship. When David confesses, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me,” David does not mean that some day he will join his son in the grave. There is no comfort in that. David speaks of being with his son in heaven. This passage has been a comfort to many of God’s people. Covenant parents have no reason to doubt the salvation of the children whom it pleases God to take in their infancy.

David comforts Bathsheba and she bares Solomon. The name means “peaceful.” David is at peace with God, Solomon would have a peaceful reign and Solomon pictures Christ, the Prince of Peace. God sent Nathan to David and Bathsheba, for He has another name for Solomon. The name is Jedidiah, “Beloved of the Lord.” We do not read of God naming any of David’s other sons. Here we see God’s choice to succeed David on Israel’s throne.

The chapter closes with the defeat of Rabbah, the royal city of Ammon. It is likely that the events related here occurred just after the death of Uriah and before David’s confession. Joab sends for David so David can finish the work and be given honour. Some commentators cite the severe punishment of the captives as an indication of the condition of David’s heart before repentance. Others point out the cruelty of the Ammonites, so they were justly served. They point out that being made to “pass through the brick kiln” was especially appropriate since the Ammonites sacrificed their children to their idols.

We need to note something about David’s call to repentance. There is no salvation outside of repentance. We must repent. However, we must be careful not to make repentance a work of ours on which our salvation depends. Our repentance is not an exercise of our free will as a condition we fulfil which subsequently allows God to be gracious to us. We did our part and now God is free to do His. This is not at all the idea.

David is an example here. He did not repent of his sin by his own powers. He dealt with his sin by covering it with subtilty. Psalm 32, which David wrote as his confession, states, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” David suffered from a plagued conscience yet he did not, and would not, go to God to repent. God graciously sent Nathan to bring David to repentance. Nathan brought the gospel of grace to David by saying, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Nathan brought the external preaching of the Word and God worked repentance in David’s heart.

The Canons of Dordt speak of this in the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine. Repentance is part of conversion. We cannot put off the old man of sin if we do not repent of the deeds of that old man. It is for His elect that God “confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son, that they may show forth the praises of Him, who hath called them out of darkness into His marvellous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord.” It is our Father who “opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable.” Finally, “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.”

Praise God for His sovereign, unmerited grace and His unconditional gift of salvation!

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Resist the Sweet and Smooth

Resist the Sweet and Smooth

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

“For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword” (Prov. 5:3-4).

Solomon has an important lesson to teach his son, so he has made sure he has his son’s attention. Solomon desires to enlighten his son about his relationship with women. Few things are more important for his son’s happiness and spiritual well-being than having a proper relationship with a God-fearing woman. Deciding what work to do to support one’s family is also very important. However, taking the wrong job is a mistake which can be remedied. There’s a restart button for that. However, being involved with the wrong woman will have implications for life. There is no restart button for that.

Solomon begins by describing the strange woman. This woman is not strange because of her fashion choices, odd behaviour or unusual looks. She might not even be strange in the sense of coming from a Gentile nation. She is strange in the sense of being a stranger to God. She either never had a spiritual upbringing or she rejected her parents’ godly instruction. She is not interested in developing a relationship with God. She desires a life of fulfilling earthly passions.

Solomon shows his wisdom in how he describes this strange woman. Solomon does not present her to his son as being absolutely disgusting, possessing no attractive qualities whatsoever. She is not some withered hag whose appearance shows the ravages of prolonged alcohol or drug abuse. What would happen to the son once his world of experience expands and he observes worldly women and discovers that some of them are not at all as his father described? These women are attractive. It had happened before in the days before the flood: “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair.” What would he then think about the warnings his father gave him? When his observations don’t match his father’s description, would he dismiss his father’s warnings because it appears his father does not know what he is talking about?

Solomon freely admits this strange woman has her attractive qualities. From a worldly point of view, she’s alluring. There are pleasures to be had with a relationship with her. While the strange woman displays her charms, Satan whispers in the young man’s ear about how God’s law is too restrictive. Satan wants the young man to believe that God never allows anything enjoyable and he must plod through a drab life, shuffling along with a long face.

Solomon says that her lips “drop as an honeycomb.” Such lips sound enjoyable either for their taste or their flattering speech. The sweetness of her lips is not barely discernible but they drop with an abundance of sweetness. Solomon knows the great danger her sweet lips present to his young, impressionable and inexperienced son.

As if that’s not enough allurement, Solomon says, “her mouth is smoother than oil.” Among the many, essential uses of olive oil in biblical times was its use as a moisturizer to make skin smooth. Applying oil to the lips would make them smooth and shiny. Lips would glow. Solomon wonders what passions will stir in his young son’s heart upon his initial encounters with such a woman. What is a father and the young man, to do?

As there is no denying the tangible pleasures of the strange woman, Solomon instructs his son about the end result of succumbing to her sweet and smooth lips. She is not what she appears to be. An evening spent with the strange woman appears exciting. Solomon counters that by providing pointed warnings that, although the evening with her would be pleasurable, the days, and even the years, following would bring anything but happiness.

Solomon says, “But her end is bitter as wormwood.” Wormwood is an herb noted for its intense bitterness. The Greek word for it is absinthion (can you see the root of the French word absinthe?) which means “undrinkable.” One variety of wormwood is so bitter that one use for it when dried was to put it in wool clothing when being stored to keep insects from eating the wool. Even insects find wormwood bitter. The strange woman’s lips seem so sweet but they are very bitter. Her lips shine with the smoothness of fine oil, but they bring sorrow and calamity.

Despite her pleasing, harmless appearance, this woman is “sharp as a twoedged sword.” Satan presents us with a lie, and our depraved hearts and flesh like to make excuses for sin. Surely, a fleeting flame of fun and passion with her wouldn’t hurt! She is harmless! Nobody need be offended or damaged by what is done in secret. There would be no victims here.

Her lips are not sweet and smooth. Solomon compares her to one of the most feared weapons of his time: a two-edged sword, a weapon which can destroy limbs, and is sharp enough to divide joints and marrow. Satan, the deceiver, is an expert at presenting something horribly destructive as being desirable, good and harmless. As Eve could witness, the Devil’s been doing this since the dawn of creation.

Solomon knows the addictive power of sin, so he will give his son many more graphic warnings about this strange woman in the verses to come. The more the son falls for the strange woman’s temptations, the harder it will be for him to repent and return to the right way of obeying God. She is dangerous because sometimes falling into adultery even once can bring life-long chastisement from the hand of God. The example of King David comes to mind.

Let’s instruct our young people, as did Solomon, about the dangers of fornication We can use examples from the Bible, both good and bad, even when our children are young. Bend the pliant twig in the right direction before it becomes a stubborn, unbendable branch.

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Getting His Son's Attention

Getting His Son’s Attention

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

“My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding: That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge” (Prov. 5:1-2).

Solomon continues the instruction of his son. The instruction is very personal and we feel we are eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. Although we can almost imagine the father and son talking together in the privacy of their home, God, our Father, wants the instruction to be much wider. Through the inspired Word, He will address all His sons in the church.

Solomon is about to present a new topic of instruction. He is preparing to instruct his son concerning the relationship between men and women. It can be difficult for parents to discuss this topic with their children. It can be awkward. However, if Solomon thought such issues must be addressed during his day and age, proper instruction on the relationship between the sexes is even more important today. There are few places in which the foolishness of the world is more on display than the relationship between the sexes. We are now at the point where a growing number of people believe male and female are “social constructs” forced upon people. The new claim is that a free society will recognize the individual’s right to determine one’s own sexual identity. Was Satan himself surprised with how well such a ridiculous delusion has worked?

Solomon prepares to explain the dangers a young man faces if he were to give in to the lusts of the flesh. He will present the beauty of a good relationship a true man of God has with his wife in contrast to the bitter results of giving oneself over to the satisfaction of sinful desires. God created man as a sexual being. Man’s sexual nature is not a result of his fall into sin. Man’s sexual nature became depraved, and only by God’s quickening grace can a husband and wife find the blessings of an undefiled marriage bed. In His lovingkindness for us, our Father will teach us how important it is for us to govern ourselves.

Before beginning to speak on this important topic, Solomon needs to make sure he has his son’s attention. He commands his son to “attend.” The world presents us with distractions. Satan wants us to be caught up with the entertainments the world has to offer. The more attention we give to the world, the more we will think the world is a place where we may seek to amuse ourselves. We forget that the world is the setting for the great struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The more we view the world as a playground, the less we will recognize the temptations surrounding us.

Isn’t that what the world’s entertainments are? They keep us distracted so we do not think life is serious, even filled with death. When we spend too much time entertaining ourselves, we will forget to “count our days and set our hearts on wisdom’s ways.” Satan does not want us to contemplate ultimate ends. If Satan can distract us enough, we will live for the moment and give ourselves over to the lusts of the flesh.

The son must attend to the father’s wisdom. There is a type of wisdom which is a negative attribute. Such wisdom is subtlety or craftiness, a means to advance oneself in the world at the expense of others. Solomon speaks of the wisdom which aligns with the will of God. This wisdom is crucial for recognizing the world for what it is for it sees God’s law as his light in this dark world.

The son is told to “bow thine ear.” By nature we are rebellious. We don’t want others to tell us how to live or give us standards of good and evil. We will stiffen our necks in pride, and determine for ourselves what we will do and what is right. We are the captains of our souls! Bowing takes humility. The son must recognize his father’s wisdom. The father has much more experience in life. Not only has the father learned many things from his own experience, but he has also observed the lives and the consequences of the decisions made by many others. Only by the renewing of our hearts by God’s Spirit will the son “bow” his ear and attend. A humble, bowed ear is the portal through which the Spirit gently turns our hearts toward Him.

Solomon tells his son to “regard discretion.” God warns us many times through the Old Testament prophets about living in times and places where good is thought to be evil, and evil is thought to be good. The warning fits our age. We must highly esteem God’s Word and the instruction we receive from it. We don’t need to spend much time with the news and entertainment media to see the world’s mad, head-first rush to its own destruction and judgment. Even sporting events have become venues for social activism. The need for the church’s young people to be able to tell the difference between good and evil is clear. One can hardly venture into the marketplace today to make a simple purchase and observe the general population without wondering, “What is wrong with these people!” The time we have to instruct our children to regard discretion could be short. We must make good use of our time.

Solomon wants his son’s lips to keep knowledge. One might expect Solomon to go back to previous warnings given in earlier chapters about keeping knowledge in the heart or readily at hand. Why does Solomon mention lips keeping knowledge? God has given Solomon wisdom so he understands the hearts of men. Solomon is about to teach his son about the dangers of the adulterous woman. How does adultery begin? It often begins with impure speech. A young man seeking sinful adventure will test the waters with daring speech. The adulterous woman will use flattering speech. The young man can determine by the woman’s response how she feels about him and the satisfying their mutual sinful desires. Protecting the lips from foolish speech prevents the first step down the path to ruin.

With how blatant the world is in its marketing of adultery, we shouldn’t leave our daughters out of this instruction. The world seeks to entice the young women as well. Parents shouldn’t worry about giving instruction concerning relationships too early in life. The world certainly isn’t waiting for our children to reach a certain age to present their corrupt version of sexuality.

May God bless our efforts in the home, church and school to instruct our children about the dreadful dangers of adultery and the great blessings God has in store for husbands and wives who regard His enlightening Word.

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The Song of the Bow

The Song of the Bow

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

As II Samuel opens, we find Israel in distress. The Philistines have defeated Israel in Mount Gilboa, which is an indication of how far Israel had fallen. We would not expect a battle between Israel and the Philistines to occur there as Mount Gilboa, located in the inheritance of Issachar, is nearly sixty miles from the northeast boundary of Philistia. The Philistines had advanced deep inside Israel’s territory, and they had killed Saul and his sons, most notably David’s dear friend, Jonathan.

David has just returned to Ziklag, a city well to the south in Israel and about one hundred miles from Mount Gilboa. David and his men, after defeating the Amalekites, had been in Ziklag for three days when a man with “his clothes rent and earth upon his head” came to David. The man told David of Israel’s defeat, and the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

David wants to be certain about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, so he asked the young man how he knew this. The man lies. He claims to have happened upon a seriously wounded Saul who asks him to “Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me.” The man claims he was sure Saul could not survive his wounds, so he killed Saul and took Saul’s crown and bracelet. Presenting these tokens to David, he unexpectedly sees David and his men begin to mourn by rending their clothes and fasting.

The young man was a man of ambition and, perhaps, assumed the same of David. Little did he understand how David waited patiently for the Lord to clear the way to Israel’s throne for him or how David honoured the Lord’s anointed. The man had hoped to make Israel’s new king beholden to him, having killed David’s adversary. He expected honour and a reward for what he falsely claimed to have done. How surprised he must have been when David pronounced his judgment of the man’s actions and ordered his execution!

The rest of II Samuel 1 records David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. This lamentation is known as “The Song of the Bow.”

One understands that David would have good things to say about Jonathan, so we start with him. David was distressed for Jonathan, referring to him as a brother. David also speaks of the greatness of his love for Jonathan, which, unfortunately in our day and age, is used by some who prefer to twist Scripture to defend one aspect of the terrible immorality of our time.

Remember who Jonathan was. Saul planned to pass the kingdom to him when his reign finished. However, Jonathan had told David he was willing to serve him when David was king. Jonathan knew of God’s promise to David and he would have been content as David’s most trusted subject. When one considers the blood which has been shed over the years in claiming and defending thrones, Jonathan’s willingness to set aside his claim to Israel’s throne is all the more remarkable. Jonathan must have shared with David a deep love for God and His promise to David. This caused Jonathan to be willing to step aside for David, the man God chose to rule Israel. Jonathan’s death was truly lamentable.

It is harder to understand why David could have good things to say about Saul.

Saul knew God had rejected him as Israel’s king and had chosen David. Saul should have turned the kingdom over to David and pledged his loyalty. He didn’t. Though he knew the will of God, he repeatedly tried to kill David and continued to pursue him. All this despite the fact that, when David had opportunity to kill Saul and was enthusiastically encouraged to do so by his men, David would not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Despite such terrible treatment at Saul’s hand, David still lamented him.

The Old Testament contains many pictures of Christ. We recognize David as one of those pictures. In contrast to David, I have wondered if Saul pictures Satan. Saul knew David would reign yet Saul opposed him. Saul knew his cause was doomed yet he continued to fight. Since the time the crucified and risen Christ ascended to the right hand of His Father, one would think Satan would know Christ will have dominion over the new heavens and the new earth. Satan still rages against Christ. Although God has promised He will always have His people and, therefore a church, on earth to the end of time, Satan still strives against the church as though he will be able to eliminate God’s children. Saul, and Satan, never submit to the expressed will of God though both know their end.

Why, then, lament Saul? David knew what he was!

To see why David would lament Saul, let us remember Israel’s condition when Saul’s reign began. There was a time when Israel went out to battle that swords were found only with Saul and Jonathan. All the rest of Israel were armed with modified farm implements. That changed during Saul’s reign. Israel had been very poor. Israel’s neighbours allowed the Israelites to work their fields and raise their animals, but, when it was time to benefit from all their labour, the enemy would come and take what Israel had. Israel was materially better off at the end of Saul’s rule. David could lament Saul’s death. In a similar way, we pray for those over us and for the peace of the nation where we have our earthly citizenship so that life can go well for us.

We can appreciate that. As Christians, we do not often vote for our earthly rulers with whole-hearted support. However, when the policies of those in authority allow us to go about our work, and even have a level of prosperity, we thank God we can support our families and the causes of God’s kingdom. David, then, is an example of how to view those over us, even when we cannot approve of how they conduct themselves or treat us. We must honour them and realize God has set these people in authority for the good of the church.

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The Fountain of Life (2)

The Fountain of Life (2)

by Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” (Prov. 14:27).

We must not be casual in our relationship with God. We must fear God because He warned us that the way we live bears fruit. When Moses was about to die, he spoke to Israel before they entered Canaan. He instructed them that faithful obedience to God would result in one of them chasing a hundred of the enemy. Their flocks and fields would produce an abundance of food, and their wives would bear children. However, Moses also warned Israel that should they forsake God, the opposite would be true. One enemy would chase a hundred of them. Their fields and flocks would not produce much food, and their wives would not bear many children. Should they not repent, God would take the drastic step of removing them out of the pleasant promised land and sending them into captivity.

Yes, we should have a fear of the Lord based on awe for Him and a love for Him Who has done so much for us. Yet, we should not fail to have a type of fear for the Lord because He will chastise us for our sins, perhaps even severely. Because we are His precious sons and daughters, God will not allow us to live in sin.

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, a source of spiritual life. Fearing God, obeying Him and fighting against our sinful nature shows we have spiritual life. The wicked do not fear or obey God. They do not fight temptation. God put His Spirit in us to make us, who were once dead in sin, alive in Christ. When we fear God, we know Him as our friend, just as when we live in sin for a time, we know God is not pleased with us and we have a guilty conscience. When we see the fear of God in our hearts, we know God is working in our hearts by His Spirit, and we have true life.

The fear of God helps us with the snares of death. A snare is a trap. People use traps to catch animals. Usually traps are used to kill animals. Satan sets snares, traps, for us. Satan wants us, not because he loves us, but because he deeply hates God and His people. Satan wants to do as much harm to the church as he can. A Christian knows the world is spiritually dangerous. We may not live as though this world is a place of fun and games. A deadly spiritual war rages about our souls every day. These are snares of death after all, not slight discomfort or nagging illness.

That brings us to the verses about Peter when he denied Christ. Satan set snares for Peter. Peter expected Christ would become king of a glorious earthly kingdom and lead Israel back the heights of power and wealth just as the days of David and Solomon. When Christ allowed Himself to be arrested, it was clear that this was not the way to begin a great earthly kingdom. Peter, who had just boasted that he was willing to die for Christ, and backed up his talk with the action of taking up a sword even though Christ’s followers were greatly outnumbered, heard Christ tell him to put his sword away. He must have felt humiliated that Christ rebuked his willingness to fight. Peter was so humiliated by Jesus allowing Himself to be taken, that he later lied and said he did not even know Christ. Satan snared Peter who then went out and wept bitterly.

It can be hard to recognize the dangers of the snares of death. Traps are not always put out in the open. Snares may be hidden, unseen. There are times when Satan is very open and brazen in his temptations. We are faced with the opportunity to do something which is obviously sinful. Yet, because sin appeals to our flesh, even these temptations can be hard to resist.

Sometimes Satan’s snares are subtle. Snares may appear to be harmless fun. Many people appear to do things, say things and live in a way that is sinful, yet we do not see anything bad happen to them. The world seems to be having a really good time. Their consciences do not even bother them. Then we think, “Why can’t we have a little fun too?” Why must we always hear, “Thou shalt not,” and have so few things which we can do? Our lives are so limited. If we give in to these temptations and are snared by the Devil, we are on the path of sin and death.

It is striking that God tells us here that the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life which causes us to depart from the snares of death. We do not have to depart from a place unless we are already there. We were in our homes this morning, so we had to depart in order to come to school and take up our work here. We are already in a world filled with snares, temptations. As we grow spiritually and understand God’s Word better, we learn just how many temptations we face every day. These snares are not distant. They are right around us all the time.

Mom asks us to help her around the house, but we want to play. Did we obey her cheerfully, in the fear of the Lord? Were we sinfully jealous of the brothers and sisters who did not have to help, so they could play? Did dad discipline us for something sinful we had done, but at the time we felt dad was being really unfair so we did not take correction thankfully in the fear of the Lord? Did we speak an unkind or careless word to a classmate because we felt we could make others laugh? Did we fail to love the neighbour as ourselves in the fear of the Lord? These are examples of the snares of death in which we already find ourselves. We must depart from them.

To recognize these snares and depart from them requires wisdom. Wisdom allows us to see the world for what it really is according to God’s Word. The world does not love God or His Word. The wicked are not striving to walk in fellowship with Christ or obey His commandments. The world is not our friend. Wisdom shows us we need God, not the things of this world. Wisdom shows us that a Christian life, though difficult, gives the happiness of knowing God as our Saviour and friend.

God promises to give wisdom to those who seek diligently for it. We have many opportunities to learn God’s wisdom. We attend church and hear good preaching. We have catechism and Sunday school. We have our own Christian schools. God has placed you children in covenant homes where your fathers and mothers care enough about you to instruct you in the fear of the Lord which is a fountain of life so we depart from the snares of death. Make the best of the opportunities you have, and drink deeply from the fountain of life.

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The Fountain of Life (1)

The Fountain of Life (1)

by Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” (Prov. 14:27).

“And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake” (II Kings 2:19-22).

The verse in Proverbs speaks of a fountain, a good source of water. I quoted the verses from II Kings because they remind us of the importance of water to people. These men had found what would have been a pleasant place to live. Perhaps the location helped them to do their work and the fertile soil would allow them to grow some of their own food. However, they faced a big problem. No matter how many factors were favourable, they could not live there if the water was bad. The bad water made it impossible for them to grow food. The ground was barren, producing no fruit. They needed Elisha’s help. Elisha healed the waters, and the men had a fruitful place to live. People need water.

When people don’t drink enough water, they suffer dehydration. The brain will not function well, and our internal organs can not do their work to maintain health. During times of emergencies, some people have managed to live for quite a while without food as long as they had a good supply of water.

We also see the importance of a fountain of water for life when we read about communities where the water became polluted, contaminated. Contaminated water is a major problem for communities hit by hurricanes. Flood water picks up all kinds of dirty, unhealthy things and that water sneaks into the water supply. Bringing in good water is one of the first jobs to do when trying to help a hurricane-damaged community.

We have sometimes heard in the news about the effects of bad water. When lead is in the drinking water, people’s brains are damaged. Some people suffered a higher risk of cancer because a shoe making company dumped on the ground chemicals which were used to treat leather. Governments spend great amounts of money to provide clean water, and companies which pollute water are fined. Clean water is very important.

Those of you who like geography and studying maps might want to notice how many cities are found by sources of fresh water. We see that here in our own community. Grand Rapids is located on a bend in the Grand River. Muskegon, Grand Haven and Holland are all found where rivers empty into Lake Michigan. The availability of water also shaped our nation’s history. Much of our population is east of the Mississippi River where there are more rivers. The western part of the Great Plains does not have as many cities because there isn’t as much water readily available. Again, people need water.

Plants also need water in the right amount. When we have a hot summer and a few weeks of no rain, lawns are parched and brown. A brown lawn is not a big deal to us, but think of the farmer who needs a harvest so he can provide for the needs of a family. Some crops need plenty of water, and some need just a little. Farmers decide what crops to grow based upon how much rain their area usually receives.

Earthly water is so important to life, God uses it to teach us a spiritual lesson. Just as our bodies need water, our souls need spiritual water. Spiritual water is the Word of God. We must drink enough water so we don’t suffer dehydration, and we need spiritual water to avoid spiritual dehydration. How are we going to have a healthy knowledge of God, the way of salvation and the way of thankful living if we do not read the Bible or go to church? We must drink God’s Word.

The spiritual water we drink must be good, clean water. We do not drink polluted water because it does our bodies harm. When God’s word of grace is polluted with Arminianism, it does our souls harm. If we believe we must contribute some of our works, even in the smallest way, to our salvation, we steal glory from God. All the glory of salvation must go to Him. When we drink freely from a clean source of water, we enjoy a major benefit to our physical health. When we read God’s Word and hear the pure preaching of the gospel, our spiritual lives thrive and all glory is given to God.

When we read the Bible and hear good preaching, we learn that we are to fear the Lord. The fear of the Lord means we have great respect and reverent awe for God. God has been so gracious to us and given us so many blessings, we fear to offend Him. It is foolish to offend a person who has done so much for you, but it’s even worse to offend such a gracious God.

There is also a fear of the Lord which involves some fright. God is very strong. He can bring what we call evil into our lives. God is perfectly righteous. He is very angry with sin. Yes, Christ suffered the punishment for our sins and paid for all of them. However, God will make us suffer the consequences of our sins, not as a punishment or payment for our sins, but so we do not live a careless life of worldliness. God chastises us for our disobedience to bring us back to the way of His law.

We live in a very casual age. The fashion in which people dress gives evidence of this. Personal relationships and the manner we speak with friends is also very casual. This casual aspect of our society is also seen in that people do not worry about the results of their actions. Even our justice system gives sentences which are quite minimal, unless one is guilty of crimes which have attracted a great amount of public attention. Quite often, not much seems to happen to criminals. The world, then, believing that God is similar to themselves, also believes they can live in whatever way they please, and either God will not notice because He is far away, or that He will not punish them for their sins because God has changed. He is no longer the Old Testament God of vengeance. After all, He has not rained fire and brimstone on any cities for a long time. The claim today is that God is love, so now He loves everybody just the way they are. Actions are believed to have no consequences.  to be continued …

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The Power of the Tongue (2)

The Power of the Tongue (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov. 18:21).

Now we turn to two examples of the power of life being in the tongue, Joseph and Daniel.

When Joseph was young, his brothers had not been kind to him. In fact, they hated him. Jacob loved Rachel which caused Jacob to treat Joseph, Rachel’s son, as his favourite. Joseph’s brothers resented this favouritism, and Joseph’s dreams, which revealed that in the future they would bow to Joseph because he would be greater than they, made matters even worse. In their bitterness and hatred, they sold Joseph into slavery, not caring whether Joseph survived the experience or not.

When Jacob died, the brothers were afraid Joseph would finally have his revenge and make them suffer. Joseph certainly had the power to do so. How did Joseph use his tongue? He could have called for some soldiers, told them to arrest Joseph’s brothers and put them in prison. Joseph could make his brothers suffer the way they had caused him to suffer. He could even have had them executed. He could have used his tongue for death.

Joseph did not do that. He showed there was the power of life in his tongue. Joseph confessed that God used those terrible sins of his brothers to save the lives of many people. He promised to care for his brothers and their children by nourishing them. He comforted his brothers concerning their guilty consciences and spoke kindly to them.

Our last example of the power of life in the tongue is Daniel. Many young Jewish boys had been taken captive to Babylon. Daniel and his three friends were among them. The king provided these boys with the best education possible at that time. He even gave these captives excellent food. However, Daniel and his friends would break God’s law if they ate this food. It was unclean.

How did Daniel use his tongue? He did not give a list of excuses for eating the unclean food. He did not remind his friends there were no priests around who would be upset with them for eating unclean food. He did not show the power of death in his tongue by disobeying God’s law. With his tongue, Daniel made request for food which would not violate God’s law. Daniel and his friends would walk in the way of life. They even showed concern for the Babylonian man who took care of them, Melzar. Melzar was afraid he would be in trouble, if the boys he was supposed to nourish looked unhealthy. Instead of using his tongue in a strong, harsh manner, Daniel carefully proposed a ten-day trial period. There was the power of life in Daniel’s tongue.

The real power of life in the tongue is in the gospel. Think of someone who is becoming aware of the seriousness of sin. He or she feels guilty. This guilt becomes a tremendous burden which they seek to escape. What are they supposed to do? Who can help?

What happens if such a person turns to someone who does not know the truth of salvation? There are two possibilities. Today most Christians would say one has to open one’s heart to let Jesus come in. Accept Christ’s offer of salvation! Make the decision to have Jesus be your personal Lord and Saviour! The one suffering with guilt could also be told to do good works. Obey the commandments to show God you are worthy to be saved! Go out into the sinful world and win your little part of it for Christ! You could do your part to help establish the kingdom of Christ here on earth! Taking this type of advice would leave the guilty sufferer laden with a great burden. These tongues with their false gospel have the power of death.

The truth of the gospel is that by the gift of faith we are to believe in Christ. By faith, we trust God’s Word that Christ has taken all of our sins upon Himself and paid for them in His whole life of suffering, especially in what He endured on the cross. This would only leave us spiritually neutral, having no guilt. But God also takes the perfect obedience of Christ and puts that on our account. Now not only are we no longer guilty, we can appear before God as those who are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Those who believe this message are relieved of their burden and have hope for what God has in store for them. Tongues which speak the truth of the gospel have the power of life.

God tells us there are consequences for how we use the power of the tongue. We are told, “and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”

Notice, we will “eat” this fruit. We are not merely to look at this fruit, either near or distant so its effects on ourselves can be limited. No, we will “eat” it. It will be in our mouths. We will swallow it and it will become part of us. What will be in our mouths as a result of the fruit of our words? Will we eat something disgusting, which tastes awful and feels terrible in our mouths and stomachs, and make us sick, or will we taste something delicious, having a pleasing texture and give us health and strength?

Think of the fruits of the speech in the examples we examined. The fruit Jezebel tasted was not good. She still suffers and will continue to do so everlastingly. Jehoshaphat, though saved, experienced bitter fruit as well. He didn’t quite learn his lesson. He arranged a marriage between his son and a daughter of Ahab, Athaliah. This wicked woman nearly destroyed David’s line, but God graciously preserved it and kept His promise to give His people their Messiah.

We also saw examples of the fruit of life. Joseph and Daniel are still examples to us of living in the fear of God. They experienced God’s blessing, the fullness of His love and the hope of everlasting life in heaven.

May God give us His grace that we show the power of life in our tongues that we may eat the fruit of everlasting life with His church in glory.

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The Carefully Weighed Step

The Carefully Weighed Step

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

“Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil” (Prov. 4:26-27).

Because out of the heart are the issues of life, Solomon has warned his children to keep it with all diligence. To do that, he has instructed us to put away a froward mouth and keep our eyes looking right on the goal of serving God. He finishes his admonitions on how to keep the heart by telling us that we must ponder the path of our feet.

Scripture often compares our lives to walking a path. We do not walk any random path, nor is God pleased when we walk a path because we believe this way will provide us with earthly pleasures. God has clearly told us the goal of our path is to love Him and the neighbour. Our path is not easy; however, we walk this path to show our gratitude to our Saviour.

Having this goal before our eyes, we may now ponder the best path of achieving the goal. It does not do us any good to weigh which would be the best path after the journey is finished. God also warns us there are dangers to the right and left of this path; therefore, we must be vigilant.

My wife and I camped in northern Arizona recently. We had rented a Ford Expedition which a clever handyman had converted to have a bed in the back. We took public transportation from the airport to pick up the vehicle. We were conspicuous to the locals as we were the only passengers with luggage. Once a fellow passenger discovered our plans to camp at the Grand Canyon, he warned us that in the past months two tourists had fallen to their deaths from the canyon’s rim. Clearly, while hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon, we would do well to ponder the path of our feet.

During my years of summer employment, there were times I served as the road inspector when a new subdivision was built. Excavators removed trees, rocks and other obstacles. They scraped away the high places and used the removed dirt to fill in the low places. Workers compacted the subsurface. Finally, after the blacktop was laid, a steamroller smoothed and compacted the surface. Knowing something of all the planning and work which went into those newly-finished roads, I thought they were beautiful.

We have many obstacles in our spiritual path. Our pastors send us away from God’s house each Sunday with the benediction of our Lord’s peace. Are we then anxious about the cares of daily living? Do we desire the things of this earth to the extent we have our treasures here instead of in heaven? Does our faith waver? Yes, God has given us great promises and we love them, but, you know, there are all of these factors to consider which seem to make these promises impossible to fulfil! We must remove these trees of anxiousness and rocks of doubt. God’s grace rolls smooth the way of faith. The way of faith, marked out by God, is truly beautiful, and we must not forget that God blessed us with peace through Christ crucified when we left His presence in public worship.

We now come to the word, “let.” It is a command. This is not to allow something to happen, as in “Let me help you.” This “let” will cause some action, as in “Let there be light!” When we ponder our path, our ways will be established, that is, erect, upright in the eyes of God. We will have no doubt about the end of the path. We are assured that just as God’s effectual Word created light, the path we walk leads to everlasting fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ. This will be true of all our ways.

We have thought about our path and it is established. Now we must not turn from it to the right or the left. God has given His Word to us. We may not take away nor add anything to it. Which way is more dangerous? Ignoring portions of God’s Word leads us to careless, ungodly living. Adding to God’s law leads us to Pharisaism. We see the dangers of both in our first parents. We can almost see this beautiful, young couple at the dawn of life. They had one commandment, do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, they thought, just to be safe, let us make a rule for ourselves that we will not even touch the tree. Then eating it will not be a problem. However, at the instigation of Satan, Eve soon ignored the rule about touching the tree. Experiencing no punishment for breaking their rule, she soon advanced to disobeying the one prohibition God had given and the punishment was great.

Finally, we are commanded to “remove thy foot from evil.” Foot is singular. We must not take even the first step off the good path which God marks out for us. We must not ever underestimate the power of sin. How often has that first step into evil proven to be more disastrous than the last misstep which led to the plunge off the edge of the Grand Canyon? The first taste of the forbidden fruit, the first touch of the coveted Babylonian garment, the first hearing of the flattering lie from the wicked woman on her street corner, the first lustful look at Bathsheba and the first smell of the sacrifice offered to the golden calves have led to great spiritual consequences. The danger to us, and especially our young people, is constant. Satan never gives us a day off, so we must always be pondering the path of our feet.

May God be pleased to use our Christian schools to give His covenant children the wisdom they need to ponder the path of their feet and remove their foot from evil. God will establish their ways, ways which lead to everlasting fellowship with Christ in heaven, where the paths are paved with gold.

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House Curses or Blessings? (2)

House Cursings or Blessings? (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

“The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just” (Prov. 3:33).

Now let us look at some examples in Scripture. How does this apply to the people in II Kings 9:30-37 and I Kings 17.

Think of Jezebel and Elijah during the days of dreadful famine in Israel. We all know Jezebel. Jezebel does not strike us a one who would say, “The dear common people of my nation are suffering and sliding into poverty. Many of them are even having a hard time finding enough to eat. I should give up some of my luxuries to show my willingness to take up my part of this burden.” Jezebel is not that kind of person. She would maintain her wealth and luxury.

Jezebel was born a princess and is now a queen and would live her life as such. She lived in wealth and had everything she could hope to have. She was rich. She was royalty. There is no way for us to know this from the Bible’s description of her but tradition has it that she was beautiful too. She had what so many people of the world would love to have. Despite all of these earthly things, which might make many jealous of her, her household, no matter how fine or beautiful, was cursed by God through and through. As a princess and a queen she had lived in a palace all of her life, right up until she was thrown from the window. We know that at her death she went to a place which was not so nice. God’s curse is in the house of the wicked.

Now let us look at an example of the just. How was Elijah doing at this same time? For a time he lived by the brook Cherith. I don’t suppose he had what we would normally call a house. He certainly wasn’t living in luxury. Yet God blessed him for obediently doing His will and gave him his daily bread.

Then Elijah went to the widow of Zaraphath. There was no fine living here either. Widows often were not rich. When Elijah met her, she was down to her last handful of meal and a bit of oil, and had a couple of sticks to prepare her last meal. We would not volunteer to live with a widow woman who was this poor. From an earthly point of view, we would prefer to live in luxury with Jezebel.

The widow would prepare one final meal, and then she and her son would begin the slow process of starving to death. These were not bright days for her and her household. Because she was a widow, she does not have a husband who works hard every day to earn the money the family would need to buy their daily bread. She wouldn’t be able to earn much money to continue to purchase the food she needed.

Yet the widow’s household knew the blessing of God. The barrel of meal did not fail. This barrel was not always full being refilled to the brim each time the widow took out the needed meal. She emptied it only to find that, when it was time to eat again, there was just enough at the bottom of the barrel once more. The barrel was never full but every time she opened it to prepare the daily meal, God saw to it that there was just enough there for everybody in the house. The same was true for the oil.

Elijah and the widow’s house knew the blessing of God to be more than mere earthly meal and oil. Elijah did not spend his days during the famine quietly sitting under a shady tree waiting for the widow to bring his daily portion of food. He must have taught her about God and how He must be worshipped. When her son died, she asked, “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” This means she had learned about sin and how sin offends God. She learned God is just and punishes sin. However, she had learned to put aside her old ways of sin. She says her sins were called to remembrance. These were not sins in which she continued to live. She also learned that what Elijah said was true when her son was brought back to life. God is able to call for life where once there was only death. The physical return to life of her son pictures the giving of spiritual life where once there was only death. The widow would not know this if all Elijah did was sit around the house and do nothing. He instructed the widow and she believed by faith. God’s blessed the house of the just. They shared the joy of knowing that some day God would send the Messiah to save His people from their sin.

There is no middle ground. There is a curse in the house of the wicked and God blesses the dwelling of the just. God does not curse the house of the wicked some of the time and bless them at other times. God does not bless the just, but then allow His curse to come on them now and then. It is always one or the other. God does not change either. Those who are under His curse shall always be under God’s curse. Those whom God has justified will always be blessed by Him. God will be faithful to us. God is good to the just, the just who have had their sins taken away by Christ. We, in gratitude for His blessings, must now live in thankful obedience to Him.

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