The story doesn’t always turn out how we expect, especially when God is involved. The Old Testament is filled with stories that end with, “Well, I didn’t see that one coming.” I’m on a quest to find these stories. Honestly, the plot twist is utterly ridiculous. Stories aren’t supposed to end like that, especially in the violent world of the Old Testament! But God’s mercy shows up. Here are a couple of them that have stood out to me recently.
My pastor used this story in the sermon yesterday. In 2 Kings 6, God reveals to Elisha that the king of Israel should avoid a trap, and it enrages the king of Aram. While Elisha is in a city called Dothan, the Arameans surround the city. Elisha’s servant is afraid & asks Elisha what to do. “‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.‘ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-18).
The unseen protection sent from God.
Then Elisha does a crazy thing: he prays for the army’s eyes to be blinded. Then he goes further: he goes out to them and leads them out to Samaria, the capital city. All the way right up to the king of Israel.
The king of Israel is ready to smite his enemies, because that’s what you did. And the story should end there: the Aramean army is destroyed, and Israel occupied their land. The end.
But Elisha declares that they ought to be treated to a feast.
Once the army’s eyes are open, they are blown away. They walked right into a trap, but they are shown unimaginable mercy.
I think a lot of people believe that approaching God is like the blind armies being led to their demise. We blindly grope about for someone to lead us, and if there is such a leader found, we sure hope they’re taking us the right way! And then there’s the matter of actually stumbling upon God. Isn’t He like the most potent, all-knowing judge? This just spells our doom.
There’s another Old Testament story that has a beautiful ending to it found in 2 Samuel 9. David was anointed as king, but he didn’t assume his throne for years and years. No, instead he lived as a hunted man, camping on the outskirts of Israel, running from the current king, King Saul. God did not allow this to go on forever, so once Saul finally died and David came to power, it would make sense for David to ensure that Saul’s lineage was completely wiped out. Some of Saul’s sons died in battle with him that day. The other family members dreaded what was coming, knowing full-well that David could justify killing them. Saul’s family tree seems to have been doomed to be chopped down by God anyway.
However, David did investigate, just in case there was anyone left. And there was: a grandson named Mephibosheth. This poor lad was lame in both feet. He lived in fear every day of the new king of Israel coming for him.
One day it happened. Mephibosheth couldn’t hide anymore. He couldn’t run; after all, he was lame in both feet. He’d been caught. I can just see him hanging his head, utterly defeated as he’s about to be carted off to the palace. Strong arms lift him up and plop him in the chariot. Someone tells him he’s headed for the palace. This is it then. If only they’d spare him the humiliation of all of Israel seeing him. They swing open the gates and parade him down the central path – right up through the front doors. A lame man carried in this way? What a disgrace to the name of the king!
But then a strange thing happens: instead of being hustled to the dungeons, he’s given a new robe – nicer than anything he’s ever had before. Attendants clean him up. I imagine if he’s been hiding from the king, he hasn’t seen the light of day in awhile, and whatever cave he’s been hiding in left him caked in mud and filth. Then he finds himself before the king – King David himself! The king is asking him if he would like something to eat. A last meal perhaps?
King David does not taunt him with a stale piece of bread; he offers him a heaping plateful straight off of his own table! His eyes are kind and inviting. He smiles and remarks how much he looks like his dear friend Jonathan. The very best friend he had in the world. The one he covenanted to do anything for, and now King David was extending that covenant promise down to Mephibosheth.
“‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’ Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?'” (2 Samuel 9:7).
Instead of hiding, he’s invited to the king’s own table daily. Instead of a pauper with no income, he’s restored all of the land that belonged to his grandfather Saul and has someone to work the land for him. Instead of execution, he’s given sonship.
Mephibosheth was at the most helpless point in his life, but his eyes were opened to mercy.
Elisha’s servant was at a point of utter defeat when Elisha prayed that his eyes would be opened to see the great hosts protecting them.
Those who are bold enough approach the throne of God risk everything. But I think that’s what God requires. He so desperately wants us to come to Him, but we have this issue: we’re sinners. We are not pure and holy as He is holy. If we approach God this way, we’re doomed to die.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
Romans 5 is one of the most powerful portions of Scripture. Can you feel the dynamite in the above verses?
“When we were still powerless.” “While we were still sinners.” We couldn’t do anything. Completely helpless. At the end.
“Very rarely will anyone die for [another person].” Meh, maybe a good and righteous person. Someone who’s got it all together and does good things in the world.
“But God…” You sit up & take notice of those “But God” phrases (go catch up and read this blog post). Everything changes when “But God” is spoken.
“But God demonstrates His own love for us.” God is the One to whom everyone will have to give an account. He stands ready to judge the living and the dead, according to 1 Peter 4:5. But God has love for us. That’s just crazy talk. What is He doing???
“Christ died for us.” Jesus took the punishment that should’ve been ours. He took all of our sins upon Himself and bore our punishment. Died in our place. Even before we tried to clean ourselves up. Even before we knew we were messed up. Even before we had any idea we needed Him.
The New Covenant is all about Jesus trading places with us. He gave up His rights and glory in heaven to become human, suffer, and die in our place for the sins we committed. Now because of Jesus, our sins are paid for. Where we once stood condemned, dirty, and shamed, we now are made an heir. Let’s not forget that Jesus is not dead; He conquered the power of sin and death and rose from the grave, forever defeating sin and death’s power over us.
We don’t have to fear when we come to God. Did you notice how in both stories the command was given, “Do not fear?” Don’t be afraid when all you see is the army surrounding you. Don’t be afraid when you’re placed before royalty who holds your life in his hands. Jesus paid the price. You have been brought from certain death to eternal life.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-24).
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3: 19-23).
If our hearts do not condemn us, we may approach the throne of grace WITH CONFIDENCE. When our hearts are pure before the Lord, we can go to Him. We can see Him.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.