As mentioned at the start of these posts on the work of the Holy Spirit, the term ‘spirit’ is interchangeable in that it can mean one of many things in the Old Testament. So far we have encountered it as relating to human disposition – that is,
- the psyche by which a person’s sense of wellbeing is described by him or her as being happy, morose, jubilant etc.
- the spirit is referred to in a communal way in which one person’s affinity with another makes them kindred just as with Jonathan was one in spirit with David. (That said, CS Lewis would probably more accurately define this as Philia – love of friends as in detailed in his book The Four Loves).
- and lastly, the move of the Spirit that enables a person to do God’s work. As when the Holy Spirit falls upon a person and they prophesise or are renewed with super human strength or knowledge or wisdom. Though the point to note here is that in the Old Testament this is always a temporary infilling as the Spirit rests upon the person for the duration of time needed to bring about the outcome. (Though this changes after Jesus’ death and resurrection once the Counsellor is sent and the Holy Spirit finds a permanent recepticle in everyone who believes in Christ – the measure and capacity of this being determined by the person’s willingness to be obedient to God).
So- with these three definitions explained, a task for you. Which one of the three definitions best describes the opening verses in which ‘King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine?’
‘You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.’ (Nehemiah 9v20)
In chapter 9
, Nehemiah makes the case that God’s grace is abundant. Although in the past, the people had abandoned God – resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and them being taken into captivity – God is forgiving and will restore. Hence, Nehemiah’s attempts to organise the remanant of the people and rebuild the defences around Jerusalem.
In this section of Nehemiah’s much large speech, he reminds the people of God’s providence and care for them throughout history and exhorts them to remember that the good Spirit who has instructed them in the past and (by inference) will do so again. All that the people need to is trust God to do what He has promised.
As it is, the people, after a lot of grumbling, do take God at his word and begin to move on from despairing about the situation to being more focused and proactive in bringing about a solution. In this instance, the physical act of repairing the walls, hanging the doors and defending the breaches in the wall area until (at last) everything was restored and they could all return to their families.
Given that the Holy Spirit instructed people then and that God does not change with the passing of time, why not pray that God will speak clearly to you this day and instruct you as to what happens next, where you go and what you will repair and restore for God.
Does Zechariah speak this message without grace because he knows the heart of the person being spoken to and how their hearts are hardened so that they will not respond to God? All we can say is that Zechariah’s approach results in what he probably thought would happen: namely, them plotting against him and soon after that, stoning him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. (v21-22) Dying, Zechariah utters to Joash the words:
‘May the Lord see this and call you to account’ (v22)
and by the turn of the year, the army of Aram marches in against Joash; invading Judah and Jerusalem, killing all the leaders of the people who Zechariah had prophesised about. (v23-4). Joash later dies at the hands of his own advisors.
Moral of the story – the importance of obedience and truth telling. Moreover, a readiness to keep in step with the Holy Spirit at cost to ourselves as we secure God’s intended outcomes. For Zechariah, truth telling meant speaking the words that would bring his own death sentence about. For Azariah, telling the truth was a chance to correct a leader who had gone astray from God but was capable of acknowledging his mistake, changing his ways and doing God’s will.
‘Then the Spirit came on Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: “We are yours, David! We are with you, son of Jesse! Success, success to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.” So David received them and made them leaders of his raiding bands.’ (1Chronicles 12v18)
It is helpful to view this verse in context. The group led by Amasai seek out David and his men who are living in the wilderness where they operate like a hit and run raiding party. David’s question to Amasai about whether he and his men have come in peace or to betray him to his enemies gives us an idea of the times and the fluidity of loyalty and agenda.
From scripture, Amasai’s response – swearing allegiance to David and his cause – is seen as a Spirit led decision. The fact that it is inspired in the moment by the spirit that rests ‘on’ him suggests it is a momentary revelation. Whatever way we understand this, what is clear is that Amasai considers David a man worthy of following because God’s favour and providence rests on him
The people of the half-tribe of Manasseh were numerous; they settled in the land from Bashan to Baal Hermon…(and)… were brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families. But they were unfaithful to the God of their ancestors and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day. (1 Chronicles 5v23-26)
So, to summarise….
- we learn that the half-tribe of Manasseh who although proven warriors for God in the past now worship the gods of the fertility cults that are around them.
- next, we have the interesting take on events in which God is credited as prompting the Assyrian king to overrun the half-tribe of Manasseh so they are forced into exile.
- then, lastly, the conclusion that what the half-tribe of Manasseh has done is so dispicable that these people will never return from exile as a result.
Okay, firstly, the fact that the half-tribe of Manasseh has fallen away from God is not news. Syncretism – the amalgamation of different religions and cultures – was commonplace and a problem for all of the tribes of Israel who often hedged their bets by worshipping many dieties. Not that this was right but being chaste to the one God was a steep curve for many of them and is for us today who also struggle with the love of self and possessions.
Next , the narrator credits God as orchestrating the exile of the half-tribe of Manasseh when other explanations keep God both good and consistent in His Love of Creation. While it’s an easy assumption to presume that God made the people pay the price because of their idolatry – this sort of thinking renders God less than loving as it suggests the Divine is prepared to set aside human freewill to effect a punishment. It also neglects the more obvious explanation that in worshipping other gods, the half-tribe of Manasseh moved away from God and isolated themselves to the point where they were overrun by others.
And lastly, the inference that the half-tribe of Manasseh committed an unforgiveable sin. Or put another way, that because the strayed from God, their punishment was final and total. Surely, if this was the case then what is the point of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Or is it that everything points to the cross of Christ – to the God of forgiveness – to the dead who will rise to life eternal and know the true God where bodies, minds and hearts are reborn imperishable and will never stray again. This is the God of love and of such things is His Provision.