Day 179

Power Encounters

Wisdom Psalm 78:32-39
New Testament Acts 18:9-19:13
Old Testament 1 Kings 20:1-21:29

Introduction

A few years ago, David (not his real name), a young lawyer, was in our small group on Alpha. On the first night, he told us that he was an atheist and had come with a sole purpose of disrupting the small group, which he attempted to do every time he came. Unlike many who come with this attitude, he did not change at all throughout the course.

After the talk on ‘How Can I Resist Evil?’, one young woman, Sarah (not her real name), who was not a Christian, said that she definitely did not believe in the power of evil. This was a major stumbling-block to her becoming a Christian.

But later that evening David became extremely angry for no apparent reason and, as if he were taken over by a demonic power, he physically threatened one of the helpers in our group in a terrifying way. Sarah happened to witness the incident. She saw God’s power at work in the gentle, restrained reaction of the helper. Her eyes were opened to the whole spiritual world. She put her faith in Jesus that night.

John Wimber defined ‘power encounters’ as the clashing of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.

The apostle Paul writes, ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but… against the spiritual forces of evil’ (Ephesians 6:12). God’s power in you is so much greater than the power of evil.

Wisdom

Psalm 78:32-39

32 In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
  in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.
33 So he ended their days in futility
  and their years in terror.
34 Whenever God slew them, they would seek him;
  they eagerly turned to him again.
35 They remembered that God was their Rock,
  that God Most High was their Redeemer.
36 But then they would flatter him with their mouths,
  lying to him with their tongues;
37 their hearts were not loyal to him,
  they were not faithful to his covenant.
38 Yet he was merciful;
  he forgave their iniquities
  and did not destroy them.
 Time after time he restrained his anger
  and did not stir up his full wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh,
  a passing breeze that does not return.

Commentary

Understand the nature of evil

God wants us to learn from our mistakes and not to keep on repeating the same sins over and over again. The history of the people of God is that, ‘in spite of’ all that God did for them, ‘they kept on sinning’ (v.32a).

God, in his love for us, respects our freedom. Although he has the power to overrule our freedom, he does not. He acted supernaturally on behalf of his people. Yet, ‘In spite of his wonders, they did not believe’ (v.32b).

He disciplined them and they would return to him (v.34). ‘But they didn’t mean a word of it; they lied through their teeth the whole time. They could not have cared less about him’ (vv.36–37, MSG). Yet over and over again he was full of compassion and mercy, forgave ‘their iniquities and did not destroy them’ (v.38).

Why does evil seem to prevail so often in spite of God’s power? Perhaps this passage gives us part of the answer. It is not simply an encounter between the supernatural power of God and the supernatural power of evil. Human beings and human freedom are part of the equation. As the apostle James writes, ‘Each of you is tempted when, by your own evil desire, you are dragged away and enticed’ (James 1:14).

As you read of God’s power in this psalm, remember that, through the Holy Spirit, that power now lives in you.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your mercy and forgiveness and for the power of the Holy Spirit living in me. Help me always to be loyal to you (Psalm 78:37).

New Testament

Acts 18:9-19:13

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law —settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them off. 17 Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.

Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos

18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.

23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

Paul in Ephesus

19While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.”

Commentary

Take authority over the power of evil

Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul took on the powers of evil. He faced ‘a united attack’ (18:12). ‘One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you”’ (vv.9–10). ‘That was all he needed to stick it out’ (v.11, MSG).

Presumably the Lord spoke to Paul in this way because he was tempted in the face of evil (being hauled off to court again on trumped-up charges) to be afraid, to give up speaking and to be silent. Do not give up in the face of opposition.

Paul saw power encounters between good and evil: ‘God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them’ (19:11–12).

The power of God in Paul’s ministry was so impressive that even people who were not Christians tried invoking ‘the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out”’ (v.13). Tomorrow we will see the dangers of this approach (vv.14–16). The attempt to ‘tap the power’ of the name of Jesus by these Jewish exorcists had disastrous consequences.

Paul overcame the power of evil through the power of Jesus to perform miracles. This was part of the multifaceted way in which the Holy Spirit worked in his ministry. We see here some of the different areas of ministry where we need training and that our theological colleges, training schools and discipleship of all church members need to cover:

1. Teaching

‘He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians’ (18:11, MSG).

2. Mentoring

Paul spent a great deal of time ‘strengthening all the disciples’ (v.23). Priscilla and Aquila were probably among those that he mentored. Often those who have been mentored well become the best mentors.

For example, Priscilla and Aquila then mentored Apollos. Apollos was ‘a terrific speaker, eloquent and powerful in his preaching of the Scriptures. He was well-educated in the way of the Master and fiery in his enthusiasm’ (vv.24–25, MSG).

Priscilla and Aquila took him aside. ‘They invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately’ (v.26). He then became even more effective. ‘He was a great help to those who by grace had believed’ (v.27).

3. ‘Ministry’

We see an example of ‘ministry’ in the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘Paul placed his hands on [the Ephesians], the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’ (19:6). Every Alpha Weekend, we have the immense privilege of laying hands on people and praying for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

4. Discussion

Paul ‘had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus’ (v.9). The small group discussion on Alpha is perhaps the most important part of the course. It gives people the opportunity to explore, to talk through issues and to begin to find some answers to their questions.

5. Apologetics

Part of the discussion involved ‘apologetics’. This comes from the word ‘apologia’, which Paul uses at his trial when he says, ‘I make my defence (apologia)’ (26:2). It means presenting a rational basis for the Christian faith against objections and misrepresentations.

Paul ‘reasoned’ with them (18:19). He argued ‘for three months [and] spoke boldly, persuading and arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God’ (19:8, AMP). He taught Apollos, who entered into public debate, ‘proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ’ (18:28).

Prayer

Lord, help us to minister like Paul in the power of the Spirit by proclaiming the word of God and overcoming the powers of evil through the name of Jesus.

Old Testament

1 Kings 20:1-21:29

Ben-Hadad Attacks Samaria

20Now Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his entire army. Accompanied by thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, he went up and besieged Samaria and attacked it. 2 He sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, saying, “This is what Ben-Hadad says: 3 ‘Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine.’”

4 The king of Israel answered, “Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours.”

5 The messengers came again and said, “This is what Ben-Hadad says: ‘I sent to demand your silver and gold, your wives and your children. 6 But about this time tomorrow I am going to send my officials to search your palace and the houses of your officials. They will seize everything you value and carry it away.’”

7 The king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and said to them, “See how this man is looking for trouble! When he sent for my wives and my children, my silver and my gold, I did not refuse him.”

8 The elders and the people all answered, “Don’t listen to him or agree to his demands.”

9 So he replied to Ben-Hadad’s messengers, “Tell my lord the king, ‘Your servant will do all you demanded the first time, but this demand I cannot meet.’” They left and took the answer back to Ben-Hadad.

10 Then Ben-Hadad sent another message to Ahab: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if enough dust remains in Samaria to give each of my men a handful.”

11 The king of Israel answered, “Tell him: ‘One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.’”

12 Ben-Hadad heard this message while he and the kings were drinking in their tents, and he ordered his men: “Prepare to attack.” So they prepared to attack the city.

Ahab Defeats Ben-Hadad

13 Meanwhile a prophet came to Ahab king of Israel and announced, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

14 “But who will do this?” asked Ahab.

The prophet replied, “This is what the Lord says: ‘The junior officers under the provincial commanders will do it.’”

“And who will start the battle?” he asked.

The prophet answered, “You will.”

15 So Ahab summoned the 232 junior officers under the provincial commanders. Then he assembled the rest of the Israelites, 7,000 in all. 16 They set out at noon while Ben-Hadad and the 32 kings allied with him were in their tents getting drunk. 17 The junior officers under the provincial commanders went out first.

Now Ben-Hadad had dispatched scouts, who reported, “Men are advancing from Samaria.”

18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 The junior officers under the provincial commanders marched out of the city with the army behind them 20 and each one struck down his opponent. At that, the Arameans fled, with the Israelites in pursuit. But Ben-Hadad king of Aram escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen. 21 The king of Israel advanced and overpowered the horses and chariots and inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans.

22 Afterward, the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, “Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.”

23 Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, “Their gods are gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they. 24 Do this: Remove all the kings from their commands and replace them with other officers. 25 You must also raise an army like the one you lost—horse for horse and chariot for chariot—so we can fight Israel on the plains. Then surely we will be stronger than they.” He agreed with them and acted accordingly.

26 The next spring Ben-Hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 When the Israelites were also mustered and given provisions, they marched out to meet them. The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.

28 The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’”

29 For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day. 30 The rest of them escaped to the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed on twenty-seven thousand of them. And Ben-Hadad fled to the city and hid in an inner room.

31 His officials said to him, “Look, we have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful. Let us go to the king of Israel with sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads. Perhaps he will spare your life.”

32 Wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads, they went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-Hadad says: ‘Please let me live.’”

The king answered, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.”

33 The men took this as a good sign and were quick to pick up his word. “Yes, your brother Ben-Hadad!” they said.

“Go and get him,” the king said. When Ben-Hadad came out, Ahab had him come up into his chariot.

34 “I will return the cities my father took from your father,” Ben-Hadad offered. “You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.”

Ahab said, “On the basis of a treaty I will set you free.” So he made a treaty with him, and let him go.

A Prophet Condemns Ahab

35 By the word of the Lord one of the company of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” but he refused.

36 So the prophet said, “Because you have not obeyed the Lord, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him.

37 The prophet found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” So the man struck him and wounded him. 38 Then the prophet went and stood by the road waiting for the king. He disguised himself with his headband down over his eyes. 39 As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, “Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and someone came to me with a captive and said, ‘Guard this man. If he is missing, it will be your life for his life, or you must pay a talent of silver.’ 40 While your servant was busy here and there, the man disappeared.”

“That is your sentence,” the king of Israel said. “You have pronounced it yourself.”

41 Then the prophet quickly removed the headband from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 He said to the king, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’” 43 Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria.

Naboth’s Vineyard

21Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2 Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”

3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”

4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.

5 His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”

6 He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”

7 Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. 9 In those letters she wrote:

“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 10 But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

11 So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. 12 They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 13 Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. 14 Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned to death.”

15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.

17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”

20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”

“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. 21 He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’

23 “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’

24 “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.”

25 (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)

27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.

28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

Commentary

Be prepared to confront evil

Most of us do not like confrontation. But sometimes God calls us to confront evil.

In this passage we read about Ahab who, ‘pushed by his wife Jezebel and in open defiance of God, set an all-time record in making big business of evil’ (21:25, MSG).

First, we read of an encounter between evil and evil. Ben-Hadad king of Aram attacked Ahab. Out of the mouth of an evil man come wise words: ‘One who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off’ (20:11). It is never a good idea to boast about what is going to happen. It is better to report it afterwards!

Then, we see how God’s power is greater than the power of Aram (chapter 20).

Next, we see just how evil Ahab and Jezebel are in the way they treated Naboth (chapter 21). In order to steal his land, they plotted to have him taken out and stoned to death. Then they stole his vineyard.

Elijah was a man of extraordinary courage. He was utterly fearless in the face of evil. God told him to go and ‘confront Ahab’ (v.18, MSG). Fearlessly he accused him of theft and murder and told him that he was in ‘the business of evil, defying God’ (v.20, MSG). He warned him that God’s judgment was about to fall on him.

Elijah’s words were so powerful that when Ahab heard them he repented: ‘He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted… and went around meekly’ (v.27). Remarkably, God showed him mercy (v.29). No matter what we have done, it is never too late to repent and seek God’s mercy.

Prayer

Lord, help us, like Elijah and the apostle Paul, not to be afraid to take on powers of evil. Give us courage in the face of evil. Fill us with your Holy Spirit.

Pippa adds

1 Kings 21

Choose a good spouse. Jezebel was the most evil woman we hear about in the Bible. Ahab might not have done quite so badly if he had chosen a good wife.

Verse of the Day

Acts 18:9-10

‘Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you…’.
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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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