Revival (long)

April 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment
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I don’t know what it is like in other areas of America (I’m originally from Ohio and don’t remember hearing a lot about this up there), but over the next five or so months, churches across the South will be holding revivals. These will be big to-dos varying in length from three or four days to an entire week. During the time leading up to these events, the church excitement grows and people look forward to this in order to be “refreshed” and get a spiritual boost so that they continue to “work for the Lord”.  They will dress in their Sunday best, notebooks in hand, to hear what the preacher/evangelist (usually a guest) has to say. Depending on the denomination and area, these meetings will range in volume and action. The expectation is that at the end of the week, they will have heard the very thing they needed to hear so that they can move to a new level with God and “do more” for Him. I remember attending a few revivals (I haven’t been to one in years) and recall them being emotionally charged appeals (in some cases) or sound, steady topical teaching (in other cases). For weeks following the revival, people would make larger efforts to have more ministries, outreaches, events, and other things geared toward the church. As I look back though, I seem to also remember that after about two months the revival wore off. People began getting caught up in the daily grind again and all of those new ministries and events just fell by the wayside. I have thought about this a lot lately. In my own life, I am striving harder to have everything I do line the Scriptures. I am not even close yet, but things are moving along. I started wondering what Scripture said about revival. What I found was interesting.
Today, when a revival takes place, it is something that is planned months in advance by the church. It is a scheduled event just like the other outreaches and it is seen as a time where the pastor can receive some teaching and Christians can invite unsaved friends and family to a less formal church setting. For some, it is a chance to instill in the revival-goers what they see as revival, using scriptures like those in Joel 2 to define what revival is. When I started looking into the scriptures, I started looking for examples of revival. I didn’t find much by searching for the word revival. It was when I started looking for things that I know happen at a revival and checking them with a topical dictionary that I began to see things that were different than what I would call a modern revival.
What is really interesting about many of the scriptural references that I studied is that they had to do with the kings of both Judah and Israel after the country divided. It is there that I found some of what revival is and it is there where I began to see a departure from what has become the norm today. The country of Israel divided after it’s third king. Saul was the first king of Israel (which was a rejection of God by the people of Israel – 1 Samuel 8:7) and he reigned for forty-two years. David was the next king and he reigned for forty years. Solomon, David’s son, was the third king of the united country and reigned forty years also. It was under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, that the country of Israel divided. Instead of ruling by the wisdom of God, Rehoboam decided that he would listen to his friends and put a larger burden on the people that ever before. Because of this, the country divided into two areas. The Northern kingdom was called Israel and was composed of ten of the tweleve tribes of Israel. The Southern kingdom was composed of the remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and was called Judah. The capital of the Northern kingdom was Samaria and the capital of the Southern kingdom was Jerusalem. In an effort to keep the people of the Northern kingdom from going to worship in Jerusalem, the kings of the North built altars at Bethel and instituted their own festivals.
Since that time, the kings of both nations were notorious for leading the people to follow after other gods. They chased after Baal, Molech, Ashteroth, and Milcom. They built altars to these gods (even in the temple of the Lord), high places where they would burn incense and sacrifice to these gods, and committed immoral acts in honor of these gods. In response to His chosen people following after idols, God used the nations around them to punish them. Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, and Moab were all used as instruments of God’s wrath on Israel. They attacked and killed thousands of Israelites and took many more captive throughout the wars that took place. But, in the midst of all of this, there were a small number of kings that did know about God and set their hearts to follow him. There were also men of God who understood revival.
One instance of this is seen in 1 Samuel 7:

And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the LORD and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD. From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the LORD alone.Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the LORD for you.” They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the sons of Israel at Mizpah. (1 Samuel 7:1-6)

The Philistines had taken the ark from Israel (Chapter 6) and been struck with tumors (and mice) for doing so. They sent it back (full of a guilt offering of golden tumors and mice) on a cart with two milch cows without a guide/driver. They decided that if the cart went toward Beth-shemesh on its own, they would know that it was God who had brought about the tumors and if it didn’t then it was just coincidence. The Levites of Beth-shemsesh found it, sacrificed the cows on the wood from the cart, and set the ark and the guilt offering on a large stone. Some of the men of Beth-shemesh looked into the ark and God stuck down 50,070 men. Out of fear, they told the men of Kiriath-jearim to come and get the ark. They got the ark and brought it to Abinadab’s house and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep it. It stayed here for 20 years. Israel lamented after the LORD during this time. The word “lamented” in verse 2 is the Hebrew word naha. This word means “to mourn, wail; to be taunted (with a mournful song); to keep close, stay loyal”. The people of Israel drew together and chose to follow God again. Samuel called on the people to return to the LORD with all their heart, remove their idols, direct their hearts to Him and serve Him alone. He told them that if they did this, God would deliver them from the Philistines. They did this and Samuel called all Israel to gather at Mizpah and he would pray for them. They gathered there, drew water, and poured it out before the LORD. They fasted on this day and admitted their sins against God. Samuel judged them there at Mizpah. Mizpah may sound familiar to some of you. It is often used for when two people are apart: “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent from each other”. It is usually used in an uplifting way, but that’s not the idea the scripture gives.

Mizpah was named by Jacob in Genesis 31. Jacob had been deceived by Laban, worked fourteen years for his two wives, worked six years for his possessions and finally decided to leave for home without telling Laban. Seven days later, Laban caught up to Jacob. They argue about what has taken place and then decide to make a covenant. They made a heap of stones as a witness and the place was called Galeed/Mizpah. God was to be a witness between the two men that neither would deceive or harm the other. It was a place made through mistrust. It is here that Samuel judges Israel for their sins. They have acted in rebellion against God and “played the harlot” with other gods. The entire nation repents of its sin and obeys Samuel, getting rid of their idols, directing their hearts toward God, and serving Him alone. This is revival. There are some things that should be noted about this. It is not something that the Israelites planned. God worked this through affliction and tribulation. It took twenty years for this revival to come about. But, when it did, there was an obvious change. How do I know? I kept reading the chapter.

Now when the Philistines heard that the sons of Israel had gathered to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the sons of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the LORD our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the LORD; and Samuel cried to the LORD for Israel and the LORD answered him. Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as fas as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. (1 Samuel 7:7-13)

Another instance of revival is a well-known story. It is often presented as a story about God’s power or the effect that one person can have on a hopeless situation. The story is of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah was a prophet during the reign of Ahab, king of Israel (the Northern Kingdom). The first that we see of Elijah is when he stands before Ahab and tells him that it will not rain again in Israel until Elijah says so. For three years, there was no rain in Israel. Brooks dried up and things were tough. God then sends Elijah to Ahab, who was living in Samaria. The famine had been severe in this area and Ahab had sent out Obadiah to find water. During his travels, Obadiah meets up with Elijah. Elijah then meets with Ahab and tells the king that he and his father’s house have troubled Israel “because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals”. He then tells Ahab to gather all of Israel at Mount Carmel along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the Asherah.

Elijah came near to the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. (1 Kings 18:21-22)

Elijah then sets up the test for the people. He says that both he and the prophets should get one ox. They will both prepare the ox and put it on the wood but with no fire under it. The prophets will call on the name of Baal and Elijah will call on the name of God. The one who answers by fire is God. The people agree to this. Elijah gives the prophets of Baal the choice of which ox they will take. They prepared the ox, laid it on the wood and called on the name of Baal and leapt around the altar from morning until noon but there was no response. At noon, Elijah mocked the false prophets:

It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened. So they cried out with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:27-29)

The prophets of Baal had spent from morning until evening trying to get their god to answer them and show himself to be god, but it was to no avail. Where they hoped for fire and power and a voice from heaven, there was silence. Elijah’s mockery was salt in the wound. Elijah knew that Baal was a false god and cut those who worshipped it no slack. And then, when all the shouting, leaping, and bloodletting had subsided and the time for the evening sacrifice came; Elijah began his effort.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying “Israel shall be your name.” So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time”, and they did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.” (1 Kings 18:30-39)

Elijah restores the altar of the LORD, prepares the sacrifice and douses it with water. This wasn’t done in arrogance, but in faith. He then prays for God to answer him so that the people may know that He is God and He has turned their heart back again. God answers with fire from heaven that not only consumes the offering, but also the wood, stones, and water in the trench. He has made it abundantly clear that He is God and there is no other.
As with Samuel, Elijah makes it clear from the outset why the nation is facing the tribulation that it is. The king of Israel has forsaken the commandments of the LORD and taught the people to do so. They are divided between God and Baal. Idolatry is now permissible. Sin runs rampant and there is only one man left to speak out against it. When God answers Elijah, the people respond. They recognize God for who He is and He turns their heart back again. Elijah then tells the people to gather up the prophets of Baal, leads them to the Kishon brook, and killed them all there. Elijah removed all of the idolatrous influence from Israel except the king and queen. While it is not the purpose of the revival, there is physical evidence that a true revival did take place. After he had slain all of the false prophets, Elijah turns to go to the top of Mount Carmel. After kneeling down and sending his servant to check for rain seven times a cloud is finally seen. Elijah tells the servant to warn Ahab about the rain so that he doesn’t get stuck in it. The sky grows black, the wind picks up, and there is a heavy shower. After three years of no rain at all, the people of Israel see a heavy shower as the result of their revival.
I know that this is already a long blog, but I wanted to talk about one more instance of revival. This instance is of a king that I’ve always found fascinating and inspiring. In 640 B.C., a new king was crowned in Judah. This king was an eight-year-old boy named Josiah. Josiah is the grandson of Manasseh, who himself had a revival. Josiah reigned in Judah for thirty-one years and there was no king like him. At the age of sixteen, he began to seek God (“the God of his father David” – 2 Chronicles 34:3). In his 20th year, he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of all the high places. He tore down the altars of Baal and the incense altars, he chopped down the Asherim poles, and he ground into dust the carved/molten images the priests had made. Not only did he destroy the altars, Asherim, and idols in Judah, but he went to much of the land of Israel and did the same thing! Cities in Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and even Naphtali (the northernmost tribe) saw their altars and idols destroyed by the young king. Josiah then began a restoration project for the temple of God. He sent them to Hilkiah the priest to have him count the money that was brought in by the doorkeepers. This money was to be given to the skilled workers who could restore the temple. While working on the restoration, the men found the book of the Law. When one of the scribes went back to report to the king about the progress they made, he told the king about their finding the book. He then read it in the presence of the king and Josiah tore his clothes (a sign of great sorrow, remorse, and shame). Josiah’s response is noteworthy:

“Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13)

Then men go to the prophetess Huldah to inquire of the LORD for Josiah and all the people. She responds with a warning and an encouragement:

“Thus says that LORD God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, thus says that LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on thsi place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched.” But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the LORD thus you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place”‘” (2 Kings 22:15-20)

Josiah started out with a heart for God. He began to seek Him at age 16 (See? Teens can truly seek the Lord!) and began to cleanse the country of all of the sin and idolatrous things. He desire for God lead him to rebuild the temple, which lead to the discovery of the book of the Law. The reading of the Law caused Josiah to understand the wrath of God that abided on him and his people. The king tore his clothes in shame and gathered all the people of Jerusalem together. It continues:

The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant. (2 Kings 23:3, 2 Chronicles 34:31-32)

Josiah continued to purge Judah. He took all of the vessels made for Baal, Asherah, and the host of heaven (they had been worshipping the stars and planets) and had them burned. He did away with the idolatrous priests who were burning incense and broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes. He defiled all of the high places and also the Topheth. The Topheth was a place where the people of Judah would offer their child to Molech (A horrible practice that is the closest thing to modern abortion). He cleansed/did away with all of the things that had been offered to other gods and broke down their altars. He even tore down the altar at Bethel which had been in place since the kingdoms were divided. He slaughtered the priests of the high places and defiled the altars. This is may sound harsh and barbaric nowadays, but it is not. Those who understand sin (which happens through the Law) know that it cannot be left to fester and grow. It must be removed completely. Any remnant of sin will come back worse than what it was before. Josiah knew this and took the steps necessary to prevent that from happening.
Then, after all of this, Josiah turns the people to God. He commands that the Passover be celebrated. According to scripture, the Passover hadn’t been celebrated since the time of the judges. When God instituted the Passover (Exodus 12), it was a memorial to remind them of their freedom from bondage. It was set up by God to be a permanent ordinance for all generations (Exodus 12:14). They had failed to observe the Passover for 395 years. But, Josiah brought that back. He put the priests in their offices and encouraged them in the service of the house of the LORD. Not only that, but Josiah himself provided all of the people with passover offerings (30,000 from the flocks plus 3,000 bulls! – 2 Chronicles 35:7). He continued to clease Judah of those things that God saw as abominations all throughout his reign as king. The scripture even says that there was no king before or after him “who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to the law of Moses”.
These are just a few of the instances of revival in the history of Israel. There are many others including Jonah (Nineveh), Hezekiah, and all of the different revivals in the book of Acts. While the desire to see revival/have revival is a good thing, there are some things that must be present in order for real revival to take place. These things are present in all instances of revival. First, for revival to happen, it has to be orchestrated by God. In all of the examples, God is the One who started the revival. It wasn’t a planned effort by the people. There may have been a desire to do godly things in some instances, but the revival itself wasn’t planned. Revival must also have the truthful preaching of the word of God. It should include the Law. I know that many people would disagree with this but, in the instances where revival happens, the Law is preached. Josiah read the book of the Law out loud to all the people! Samuel called on the people to remove their idols (the 2nd commandment) and Elijah told the king that both he and the people had forsaken the commandments. Paul says in Romans 7:7 that he would not have known sin but by the Law. It is the Law that shows the filthiness of sin and helps people understand their sin and their need for a Savior. Another thing that seems to be prevalent in revival is tribulation. In the case of Samuel, the people had been under the hand of the Philistines. For Elijah, it was the people under a ruthless, uncaring, evil king and his wife. For Josiah, it was that the people had been under his father for two years and had suffered greatly. In the book of Acts, all of the instances occur during the persecution of the church.
Maybe this is why revival has yet to really happen again in America? American Christians don’t seem to want to turn their hearts to God. They don’t want to get rid of their idols and serve God alone. They love sin and would rather sit on the fence, one leg in sin and the other out, than stand up for the truth and be called names. They don’t preach the Law because someone might get offended by it and leave their church, which would make the numbers go down, which would make the money go down. It is easier for man to plan a revival for a certain amount of time and with certain expectations than to persevere in doing what scriptures tell us to do and wait for twenty years for a revival to be caused by God. It’s too much work to consistently preach Law and grace, sin and hell, judgment and life, and hope that God will bring about change. There isn’t enough time in the day to pray for revival when you take into account all the other things that have already made it to my list (you know…like praying for Aunt Suzie’s, best-friends, uncle’s, sister’s three legged cat with an ingrown toenail). The shadow that is known as revival now looks nothing like the revivals of earlier days in America. These were times when men would preach the Bible with conviction because they actually believed it. They didn’t tickle the ears of the listener or try to make them comfortable on the way to hell.
And, just so no one gets upset, I’m not against the things that pass for revivals today. I think that meetings can be great and should be a time of fellowship and togetherness. But, I don’t think that that’s what a revival is. If all the churches advertising revivals actually had a revival, the people in the South US would all be Christians and would have to start evangelizing the nation.  I believe that America needs revival. Badly. But, I think that the Christians in America are going to have to turn their hearts back to God, remove the idols from within their midst (money, job, spouse, kids, position in the church, self), repent of their sins, and direct their hearts toward Him for that to happen. Sadly, until the Christians in this country come under persecution and tribulation I don’t think that they’ll be willing to do that….

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