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The Devil Made Me Do It!

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The wait is over. Jesus appears at the Jordan where John the Baptizer is at work. He comes, not to observe the work of His cousin, but to ask John to baptize Him. John is reluctant until the Lord says: “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). There are several explanations as to why Jesus, the sinless One, would submit to this rite. Perhaps the simplest one is that John’s ministry was of God so that what he, as God's voice, asked people to do must be obeyed. Both as fully God and fully Man, obedience to God’s command was absolutely essential for Jesus.

But after the glory of the event at the Jordan, and with the seal of God’s approval through the descent of the Spirit and the voice of God, Jesus is led by that Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan.

It seems like an inglorious way to start a ministry. The experience at the river would have made a wonderful backdrop to, say, a great gathering on the hillside with Jesus as chief preacher…

On Fire or In the Fire

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Thirty years of almost complete silence about Jesus comes to an end with the appearance of John the Baptist. Other than His brief appearance in the temple at age 12, we learn little about Jesus during His youth. But the Gospel is the story of a Saviour and that story is about is take flight.

It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Such was the situation when John made his first appearance in public. The Ceasars ruled from Rome—a reign both corrupt and malevolent. As the leader leads, so do the followers follow. Alfred Edersheim writes that this was the moment in history for either “ruin or regeneration” (Jesus the Messiah, p. 177). The rot of Rome threatened to swallow its territories, including that of Palestine. The Jews resisted, but like the Borg’s warning to the Federation in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the message from Rome was this: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

In the midst of decay and desperation, John appears with this …

Bringing Up Baby

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Once we get past the visit of the wise men to the home of the child Jesus (sometime around His second birthday) and the subsequent flight to Egypt to escape Herod, we know next to nothing about the childhood of Jesus.

Luke 2:40 says: “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” This was said of Him BEFORE the famous scene of the boy in the temple asking questions that astounded the teachers of the law.

You are only supposed to be smart about spiritual things after you go to seminary, right?

But Jesus never went to Bible College, or Seminary. In fact, He never went to Sunday School.

We’d like to assume that because Jesus was God’s Son that He had an advantage over every other kid on the block when it came to knowing “stuff.” Sources of outside the Scriptures attribute to the child Jesus extraordinary miracles, an exercise of His divinity that overshadowed His humanity.

But Hebrews 4:15 tells us: “For we do not have a high priest w…

Hopeful Anticipation

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Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple in Jerusalem to complete the requirements demanded by the law. In Mary’s arms rested her baby, Jesus, so named following the instructions of the angel (Luke 1:31).

Because he was their firstborn the parents had to be prepared to “redeem” their son for the price of five shekels (Numbers 18:16). An offering was also to be made and because Joseph was not a rich man, his offering was that in keeping with his economic status—“a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24).

But the pomp and ceremony of these presentations were not the highlights of this special day. Here, in the most sacred of all Jewish places, the parents of Jesus were to meet two extraordinary people through whom the future of their son would be further revealed.

The first was Simeon, “who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25. Alfred Edersheim comments that Simeon had three characteristics of the piety of the Old Testament saints. He was…

The Bells Still Ring

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Many of us are familiar with the Christmas carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. However, many of us are not aware that some of the verses to the poem were excised from the song that we now sing. Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day during the Civil War between the states. He had lost his wife and his son had been badly wounded in the war between brothers. The poem expresses his feelings about that time.

CHRISTMAS BELLS
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each b…

God IN the Storm

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There it was—a tiny phrase loaded with meaning.

…though your footprints were not seen” (Psalm 77:19)

Most of us are familiar with the poem Footprints where God is described first of all as walking alongside of us on our journey through life. At that point there are two sets of footprints. Then, as life grows difficult, only one set of prints is seen and the author wonders where God was when things were going so badly. The answer comes back that those footprints were His as He carried His child through the storms of life. The poem, and the truth expressed in it, has blessed millions.

Asaph didn’t see any footprints. He begins this psalm crying out for help (77:1-9). He is hurting, in distress, can’t sleep. He is troubled. He wonders if God has rejected His people, if He no longer loves them, if He is angry with them.

As he struggles, He remembers all that God had done for His people in the past (77:10-15). He remembers how:

The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed…

Praise is More than Simple Words

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When God created the earth and men to live upon it and enjoy it, He gave them two commands: They were not to eat the fruit of one single tree (Genesis 2:16) and they were to care for the environment into which they had been placed (Genesis 2:15).

Psalm 65 begins with the invitation to praise God as the psalmist writes: “Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled” (65:1).

How does praise await God?

When Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit of that single tree, they brought down on themselves, and every generation since theirs, the judgment of God. God had options at this point. The one He chose would astound the world: He sent His Son, Jesus, to pay the debt that mankind owed because of sin. Though David did not know it at the time, he spoke prophetically of the Messiah when he wrote: “O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you atoned for our transgression. Blessed is the man you choose and bring near to live in yo…

Covered

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Sometimes there remains nothing to be said. David’s words from Psalm 63 said it all this morning.

O God, you are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
    my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
    where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
    and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I stay close to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

Might In A Manger

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In their theography, Jesus, Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola make a fascinating commentary on Bethlehem, the village where Jesus was born. God chose to announce the birth of His Son to shepherds watching their sheep on the Bethlehem hillside. The shepherds were an unusual choice considering the glory of the announcement. But the sheep they watched also deserve our attention.

Bethlehem lay only a short distance from Jerusalem and the Temple where hundreds and thousands of sheep were regularly sacrificed as the Old Testament prescribed. According to Sweet and Viola the sheep on that Bethlehem hillside, along with their lambs, were no ordinary sheep. They were special animals, destined for the Temple and for the ultimate sacrifice. They were carefully tended because the sacrificial animals had to be perfect without any blemishes and without any injuries.

So careful were the shepherds of these special animals that particularly fractious lambs were often swaddled at birth and placed in feed …

The Wounds of a Friend

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There is no wound so painful as that inflicted by one who has been a friend.

David writes in Psalm 55: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (54:12-15).

Earlier in the passage, the psalmist expresses his feelings about the situation. He is troubled and distraught (vs. 2). He is in anguish. It feels like a death has occurred—and it has (vs. 4). A close relationship has been affected, perhaps destroyed forever. He is fearful and horrified (vs. 5). He wants to run away and hide (vss. 6-8).

These verses are often quoted as descriptive of what would later occur in the New Testament in the relationship between Jesus and Judas. The man who had walked with the Lord for three years, seen His miracles, heard His words, and observed His character, would sell Him to H…

When the Storm Passes

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When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand
.”

Theses words, taken from the hymn The Solid Rock  came to mind this morning as I was reading Psalm 54. The psalm was written during a period of David’s life when he was being pursued by King Saul. His life was in danger. There were people willing to betray him. It seemed that there was no safe harbour, no peace, no rest.

David begins with a plea for help: “Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might” (54:1),

Our first port of call on a recent Caribbean vacation was Grand Cayman. I confess that I was surprised and a bit disappointed at my first look at the island as we made landfall. It is basically similar to a sand spit—not a hill in sight anywhere. As we toured the island our guide mentioned that much of Cayman had been flattened during Hurrican…

Against the Wind

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I just returned from a trip to the Caribbean. One of our stops was on the island of Haiti. We took a tour by launch of some of the northern coastline. As our guide explained some of the history of the island, we could see a number of fishing vessels out on the water. Some of the boats, or lateens, were being driven by the wind. Their sails were curious combinations of bedsheets and other materials sewn together. The guide explained that these boats had no motors. If the wind was blowing in the right direction the fishermen could let the sails do all the work. Otherwise they had to row—sometimes from several miles out against the wind and the waves!

As I read Psalm 53 this morning these fishing boats came to mind. The psalm begins with this declaration: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (53:1). The psalmist then goes on to describe the difficulty of denying God and ends with a note of triumph on behalf of those who believe and will ultimately see God w…

When God Is Silent

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Someone posted on FACEBOOK this morning a thought that ended like this: “I believe even when God is silent.”

That statement echoed through Psalm 42 as I read it. Listen to the writer’s words:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go to meet with God?…These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng” (Psalm 42:1, 2, 4).

A hunger to meet with God is a good thing. But it appears that the psalmist’s hunger remains unsatisfied, even in the house of the Lord. He used to go up to the temple with anticipation, with joy, at the head of the “pack.” But not anymore.

He is “downcast” (vs. 5) or depressed. He apparently isn’t sleeping well at night (vs. 8). He is sad, feels forgotten by God and is troubled by his enemies (vs. 9). He is in physical pain (vs. 10). And thos…

Unshakables

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I chuckled this morning as I read Psalm 40. David begins by saying, “I waited patiently for the Lord…” and ends by saying, “O my God, do not delay” (40:1, 17). Doesn’t that sound familiar? Take your time, Lord, but please hurry up!

But in-between those two verses is a wealth of good stuff.

This week I started to read Jesus, A Theography  by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. In the book the authors seek to show the connection, in detail, between the Old Testament and the New Testament. “What we will demonstrate in this book is that everything in the Bible points to Jesus—either His person, His work, or His character” (page xviii). So as I read Psalm 40 this morning I looked at it with slightly different eyes, searching again for the connection. It wasn’t hard to find. I only had to look at the first three verses.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to…

The God Who Rises to Our Defense

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Many years ago a roommate came to me to talk about a conversation she had just had with her pastor about me. He told her to have as little to do with me as possible (not easy since we were sharing a very small house). This advice was based on an accusation made against me to him by a coworker of mine.

I was devastated. Firstly, because the accusation was false. Secondly. because it came from a coworker who chose not to confront me personally with it. Thirdly, because the pastor had sat at my table and eaten my food several days earlier and hadn’t spoken to me about the issue. Fourthly, because there was no thought about correction, repentance or reconciliation, (supposing that I had committed the evil I was being accused of) only judgment. Fifthly, because if the misinformation spread my reputation, and that of others, could be ruined.

So when I read Psalm 35 this morning I could empathize with the psalmist. David’s issue was similar to mine. He had been falsely accused (35:19-21). Hi…

Hope: Expression of Certainty

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An old friend went home to be with the Lord over the weekend. Bob was delivered from cancer, Parkinson’s, and all the beating and battering of life that remind us that, though this world will one day be restored to the pristine beauty and perfection of creation before the fall, it is now only our temporary home.

As I read Psalm 33 this morning the last few verses would describe Bob’s hope, and mine. He has now seen the realization of this hope as he stands in the presence of Jesus, whom he loved greatly and served faithfully. For those of us who remain the promise lacks its crowning moment, but it is nonetheless a promise that can be trusted even while we wait to see it completely fulfilled.

…the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love r…

In His Presence

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Psalm 21 starts out with a a list of things for which praise can be offered up to God. David could easily recite a litany of blessings that he had received from the Lord—and he does. But it is verse 6 of the psalm that hit me hard this morning:

Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

The presence of God.

Nothing that God could have given David compared to that.

As I sat thinking about the words of the psalm, the lyrics to a popular worship song came to mind. I have the song on a CD sung by Lynn DeShazo and produced by Integrity Music. It beautifully captures what so often eludes us—time in His presence.

IN YOUR PRESENCE O GOD.

In Your presence
That's where I am strong
In Your presence
O Lord my God
In Your presence
That's where I belong
Seeking Your face
Touching Your grace
In the cleft of the Rock
In Your presence O God

I want to go
Where the rivers
Cannot overflow me
Where my feet are
On the rock
I want to hide
Where the blazing
Fire canno…

From Heaven to Heart

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As I read through Psalm 19 this morning it struck me that there seemed to be a disconnect happening through these few verses—a drastic change in themes without any link between them.

From verses 1 to 6 we have the glorious reminder that the skies declare the wonder of God. The rising and setting of the sun proclaims Him without a sound being heard.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice in not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like  champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

There is a dramatic shift in verses 7 to 11 when the psalmist describes the value of the law …

How long?

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How long, O Lord?

Does that sound familiar? Circumstances and people immediately come to most of our minds as we wonder: How long will this … last?

For David, the question was not only how long he would have to be bothered by his enemies, but also how long before he felt again the presence of the Lord in the circumstances he was facing. So often our troubles are equated with a feeling that God has abandoned us. David faced this same gnawing doubt in Psalm 13.

How long, how long, how long…?

He was feeling pretty low. He describes himself as wrestling with his thoughts and having sorrow in his heart, and feeling like he may as well be dead (vs 2, 3). That may be startling news considering who we are talking about. But David was not ashamed to admit that he was overwhelmed. We can relate. How often have we wrestled with fear, anxiety, and doubt? How many “sad” days have become a part of our reality? How many of us have wished for death as an escape from the pain of life?

But then, through…

Safe No Matter What

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The events of this past week in Quebec and Ontario and the deaths of two Canadian soldiers, and their two disturbed assailants, highlights the anxiety that lies, often barely concealed, at the core of our society.

It seems like the world, even our fairly isolated world here in Canada, is falling apart.

As I read Psalm 11 this morning, I wanted to echo the psalmist’s confidence that everything is under control—no mean feat when danger seems to lurk in broad daylight in “safe” places like parking lots and national memorials.

David begins by saying: “In the Lord I take refuge.” That’s the best place to start. In one of my Bibles I have written in the margin: “The righteous know to go to the refuge.”

But those who were not so secure immediately questioned his resolve to find comfort in the embrace of God.

How then can you say to me,” he wrote: ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the …

Before Deliverance

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This is what you say when everything is going well:

But you are a shield around me, O Lord, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake up again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side” (Psalm 3:3-6)

However, this psalm of David was written when he was forced to flee from Jerusalem when his own son, Absalom, was determined to kill him and take over his throne.

No biggie.

Who among us would be so secure in the Lord that under such circumstances we could say the same?

David’s statement about sleeping peacefully while surrounded by his enemies reminded me of another psalm.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).

David sleeps well and eats a leisurely meal even in the worst of times. We’d be tempted to call it foolharty but such is his faith in the Lord to deliver him one way or the other, that he can make th…

Watching and Working

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to share some of the “God-things” that have happened to me in my life's journey to this point. The memories are still capable of bringing tears to my own eyes as I remember the faithfulness of God in completing the work His has started in me (Philippians 1:6) in spite of the twists and turns in life that, at the time, I was unable to understand.

So when I read Psalm 1 this morning I was especially impacted by the last verse: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:6, NIV). The Scripture refers to this “watching” or  “knowing” in many places.

Job 23:10: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (NIV)

Psalm 31:7, 8: “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place” (ESV).

Psalm 37:18, 19: “The Lord knows the days of …

God Chose a Woman

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In many ways we have too many details when it comes to the story of Esther. If there ever was a series of events that could give rise to a spirit of feminism, this is it. Women subjugated, dehumanized, and brutalized, treated as chattels to be used, abused and then discarded at the whim of the male of the species. That women accepted this role in life without question is a perfect example of the depths to which the curse, placed upon them in Genesis 3:16, had brought them.

Even Mordecai could be accused of using his own niece as a pawn to his political ambitions. Unlike Moses’ mother who hid her son in a basket to protect him from the pharaoh, Uncle Mordecai made no attempt to shield her from the slavers disguised as wife-seekers to King Xerxes.

However, even man’s abhorrent behaviour is woven into God’s divine design. In the book named after Esther we learn about a plot to kill all the Jews, perpetrated by Haman, an intimate of the king. Mordecai passes the information on to Esther. …

Courage Part Two

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Ezra, the priest, gathered up his fears and took courage “because the hand of the Lord my God was on me” (Ezra 7:28). During the same period another man felt that same power infusing him with the courage to ask huge favours of scary people.

Nehemiah was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:11). This was a dangerous job if this particular king, like those of his kind, needed someone not just to approve the bouquet of his wine, but to make sure that wine wasn’t poisoned. Nehemiah, as a Jewish captive in Susa, was expendable should someone have evil intentions.

But that wasn’t what sent chills up and down Nehemiah’s spine. He had heard about the state of Jerusalem and the news devastated him (1:4). What made him afraid was the urge he felt to approach his master and ask for permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls. Such effrontery might cost him his head. We are told in Nehemiah 1:11 that he prayed for favour before the king.

But when he appeared before Artaxerxes, the king…

Courage

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Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage…” —Ezra 7:28.

It only takes a few words to say a lot.

Ezra the priest, teacher of the Law of Moses, was one of the exiles serving out the Hebrew nation’s time in captivity. He has been sent back to Jerusalem with the task of rebuilding the temple. He has the imperial stamp of approval and support of the king of Persia whose favour was divinely inspired (Ezra 7:6).

But even with the support of the king and with the help of all those who journeyed with him, Ezra’s task is huge. The invasions of Israel’s enemies has left behind nothing but ruins and a hostile population of foreigners who have been been exiled to Israel to keep the weeds from overrunning the place.

Ezra, as a teacher and a priest, is likely given to quieter and more solitary pursuits. But here he is. And as he faces the challenge he senses again the presence of the Lord. He remembers how God has already moved to make all this possible. Who else could have caused…

Recipe for God's Blessing

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It was one of those details that I had never noticed before.

Hezekiah is king in Judah. Determined to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and to bring his people back to God, he repairs the temple, gives order for the priests and Levites to consecrate themselves and then leads them in consecrating the temple and restoring the worship of God once more (2 Chronicles 29).

Chapter 30 describes the next stage of Hezekiah’s spiritual reforms. We know that at this stage of history Israel and Judah are separate nations, often enemies. Israel, the northern kingdom, was prone to idol-worship. While Judah sometimes slipped into the same sin, her kings tended to be more given to following God and maintaining the nation’s connection with Him. Hezekiah’s actions in restoring the worship of God after one of these “slips” is interesting.

They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God if I…

What Happens After the Coach is Gone

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The trouble with Chronicles is that the book repeats much of the information that I have already read in the book of Kings. So I feel that history is repeating itself as I read—and so are the lessons that jump out from the page! That in itself tells me something. If I wondered why God would allow so much repetition, I am reminded that repetition is a good teaching tool and that some things need to be repeated occasionally so that people understand their importance.

Take the story of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26. I’ve read this before—and commented on it. Still it leaps out from the passage at me.

He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (2 Chronicles 26:4, 5).

This morning I took note of a little letter written beside the word “fear” in verse 5. Apparently many of the manuscripts containing this verse use the wor…