Bible Through the Year: Episode 33

Week 33 Devotion

So, we are getting back to jumping around this week and that means that we have a lot to choose from in this devotion. The bulk of our reading is still coming from the prophet Jeremiah so let’s major on that but let’s also talk about the context of what is going on in Jerusalem during this time. When we first started reading the book of Kings Solomon was on the throne in Jerusalem and things were better than they had ever been.

The wars had ended and the people had peace. The economy was stronger than it had ever been and all the people were sharing in the wealth of Israel. Their king was the wisest and most respected leader in the world. And the temple that Solomon built for God was one of the great wonders of the world. The book opened on a high note.

But as we come to end of the book we can say, “My how the mighty have fallen.” The book ends with the present king of Jerusalem being taken captive to Babylon. The people have also been carried into captivity as slaves to a pagan king. Jerusalem has been destroyed, its walls torn down and its city in ruin. The temple of God has been plundered, defiled and burned to the ground.

This didn’t happen overnight. We have seen it coming for weeks. The leaders of the people did what was evil in the sight of God and the people followed their ways. Idolatry became normal in Israel. The Word of God was ignored or even lost to each generation. There were a few bright spots, leaders who sought to honor God and lead the people to do the same, but the slide into complete apostasy was steady and now it is final.

The people have turned away from God. They have broken the covenant that God made with them.

Jeremiah 11:6 And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”

This exile is the result of Israel’s sin. They have sinned against God and they are experiencing His just judgment on account of their sin. And from the looks of things there is no coming back from this…or is there?

Something to meditate on…

God is not the only One who warned the people, Jeremiah is doing that as well. Chapters 23-28 reveal to us the conflict that the prophet faced while standing up and speaking for the Lord. He confronted kings, false-prophets, and the people who were following wicked leaders down the wrong path. Jeremiah was young. He was surrounded by opposition. The people didn’t head his warnings, but he was faithful.

In our own day we see wickedness and corruption at every turn. The political leaders, religious leaders, cultural leaders and the people around us are following a wicked path. We should mourn over this but we shouldn’t be shocked by it. Much of the world has rejected God and here we stand in a similar position as Jeremiah. The odds are stacked against us but the question is, “will we be faithful?”

We need to see that in many ways we walk in Jeremiah’s shoes but we need also to remember that it is not our strength that we must rely on, but the strength that Christ supplies. When we fail or when the culture continues to march to the drum of the wicked we need to remember that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. God will accomplish His purpose, Christ will receive the reward of His suffering, our calling is not to success but to faithfulness.

Something to discuss…

Jeremiah 25 coincides with the last chapters of the book of Kings and the book of Chronicles. In Jeremiah we see God prophesy about the destruction that is coming and in Kings and Chronicles, we see that prophecy come to pass. These are hard chapters to read but in them we see something that reveals the nature of God to us…His justice.

Our God is a just God and His own righteousness is the standard of measure. When the wrath of God is poured out upon Judah it is an extension of the justice of God. He is pouring out upon the people exactly what they deserve from His perfectly righteous hand. It is not a comfort to us but it is something we need to understand about our God. He is just and He will pour out justice on the world, even upon His own people.

For those who are in Christ we also need to remember that the justice that we deserve, the punishment that our sin rightly deserves, was poured out completely upon Jesus. The cup of the Lord’s wrath which we deserved was drained to the dregs by Christ upon the cross. Every sin, every wrong, every lie, every selfish thought, every evil deed came at a cost and Jesus paid that cost. Every sin of every believer for all time was stored up and poured out upon Jesus. The wrath of God for us was exhausted upon Christ so that we would be set free.

Take some time to discuss the justice and wrath of God. Also think on and discuss the role of the cross in the execution of divine justice.

Something to pray about…

In Psalm 79 we read about the aftermath of God’s judgment upon Jerusalem. The nations have taken over, the temple has been defiled, the city lay in ruins and the people of God have been slain. The psalmist feels the grief and pain of the situation and cries out to God in verse 5, “How long, o Lord? Will you be angry forever?”

The days we live in show a world corrupted by sin and idolatry. We are surrounded on every side by the same type of wickedness that ruled Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day, but the wrath of God has not yet been unleashed. We cry out, “How long, O Lord?” but for a different reason.

We long for Christ’s return. We long for our King to be revealed and we long for this world to be set right. But having read through these images of Jerusalem in those days from long ago perhaps we should cry out in a different way. We should long for Christ’s return but we should also long to see God’s grace poured out in revival among our nation. We should long to see people saved from sin, to see people repent of their sin and turn to Christ. We should long to have a ministry of gospel success where men, women and children would come to see their need of a Savior and trust in Christ to be saved.

Let’s pray for our hearts to be shaped by both of these motivations: a longing for Christ to come and a longing for others to be saved.

 

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 32

Week 32 Devotion

This week we will focus our reading on two prophets, Zephaniah and Jeremiah, who both served as prophets leading up the downfall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the nation of Babylon. These men lived during the worst time in Israel’s history as a nation and their task was to call God’s people to repentance while warning them of the judgment that God was set to bring against them. It wasn’t a pleasant responsibility.

Let’s look at these two prophets in a little more detail starting with Zephaniah. We don’t know much about the prophet himself but the book of Zephaniah contains some of the most intense images of God’s justice in all of the prophetic literature. He prophesied during the reign of Josiah, who was instrumental in bringing reformation to the worship scene in Jerusalem. Josiah removed the idols from the temple and restored the worship of God alone. But the situation in Israel was so bad by this time that Josiah’s work was too little and too late.

The problem was that the people had become so accustomed to worshipping false gods that even though Josiah threw them out of the temple, the hearts of the people still were still fixed on their idols. Judgment was coming on the people and it started when Josiah was killed on the battle field and the nation of Babylon set its sights on Jerusalem. Zephaniah witnessed all of this and had spent his life warning the leaders and the people of Jerusalem to turn from their idolatry and sin to worship and serve Yahweh alone.

This book is filled with warnings of the judgment that is coming upon Jerusalem, warnings of the judgment that is coming upon the nations and then finally the book ends with a picture of hope for God’s people. This pattern can be seen in Jeremiah as well.

Jeremiah was an Israelite priest who served in Jerusalem during the final years of the southern kingdom of Judah. God called him to be a prophet when he was a young man and he was to warn Jerusalem of the severe consequences that would come from breaking their covenant with God. Jeremiah prophesied about the nation of Babylon coming to overthrow Jerusalem and lead the people into exile and he lived to see this prophecy become a reality.

There are three key themes found in Jeremiah: 1. God’s people have sinned grievously against the Lord, 2. The Lord will judge His people for their sin, in this case through the onslaught of the Babylonians, 3. God is both faithful and merciful and will one day bring restoration and salvation to His people.[1] These themes from a similar pattern to what we see in Zephaniah, which is the warning of judgment, the coming of judgment, and the promise of hope and restoration.

Now that we have an introduction let’s get into the books.

Something to meditate on…

One of the ideas that come to mind as we read of the wrath of God against sin is that God’s wrath is intended to bring purity to creation. In the opening paragraph of Zephaniah, God lets us know that His plan is to “utterly sweep everything away.” He is planning to bring a judgment that serves to purify the face of the earth. Now, all the images that he uses to convey the idea of God’s judgment and its purifying effect are being directed at the people of Jerusalem.

The judgment of God is going to fall on the city, her leaders, and all the people. The judgment is going to come as an invading army set on ruining and destroying all of the life within the city and when they day comes goods will be plundered, houses will be laid waste, vineyards will go unused because the great day of the Lord is near.

Zephaniah never really tells us the name of the army that is coming but we know that it is the army of Babylon. But the real interesting thing about this army remaining nameless is the fact that in Zephaniah's eyes the judgment is not simply a product of this coming nation’s strength, it is coming by the direction of God. Even as the city of Jerusalem is about to face destruction God is still in control. He hasn’t abandoned them but is actually going to do exactly what He said He would do when He made a covenant with them all the way back in the days of Moses.

God is the one bringing judgment upon His people and He is doing this for a reason. That reason is that He wants to purify His people and restore them to true joy that comes from being in relationship with Him. In chapter 3:9-20 we see this picture of the final result of God’s purifying work and in this picture, the people will be humble and just. They will sing and rejoice because God will remove their sin and He will dwell among them.

So Zephaniah wants us to see that the judgment of God is meant to purify us from sin. It is intended to cleanse away the idolatry in our hearts so that we can be restored in our relationship with God. That’s not generally how we think about God’s judgment but it should be. So take some time this week to read through this prophet and pay special attention to the language of purification that can be seen throughout the book.

Something to discuss…

As we turn our attention to the prophet Jeremiah it is important to know some of the themes that we should be looking for. For starters, this is also a book about God’s coming judgment and it is directed at the tribe of Judah. But notice how Jeremiah describes the sin that has brought about this judgment. Throughout the first 3 chapters, Jeremiah introduces the idea of seeing idolatry in the same vein as adultery. He repeatedly uses the language of prostitution and marital unfaithfulness as a metaphor for the people’s worship of false gods.

In chapter 2:13, he identifies two evils that are pervasive in Judah:

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Judah has turned away from Yahweh, their redeemer God and they have begun to worship idols that are nothing more than dead lifeless images carved in wood and stone.

In chapter 4:4 Jeremiah tells them that they have uncircumcised hearts and in 6:10 he tells them that they have uncircumcised ears. Both their reception of God’s word and their obedience to God’s word have been completely corrupted by rebellion and sin. Then in chapter 5:28-29 Jeremiah calls them out for injustice.

They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy…

And God’s response is a rhetorical question, “Shall I not punish them for these things?”

The situation in Judah had completely deteriorated. All the reforms that Josiah brought have not resulted in turning the hearts of the people back to God. Their ears are closed to God’s Word, their rebellion, idolatry, and injustice have risen to the point that God is obligated to punish them. He would be going against His very nature to not address their sin.

The reason I point these things out is to show that the judgment of God that is to come for Israel is just. God has been patient with them for generations but now the time has come for discipline, the poor need justice, the widows and orphans need justice and God deserves the glory He is due.

There are two points that I want us to discuss in this: 1. Is the role of the prophet to confront the nation. Jeremiah had the unenviable task of pointing out these sins to his fellow Jews and it wasn’t always pleasant. He is fairly animated about how much he doesn’t want to say the things God tells him to say, but in the end he delivers the message despite the difficulty of doing so. We will not all be given the same platform as this prophet, but we must all be faithful to speak the truth even when it’s difficult or when it may come with a cost.

2. Is our role in remaining faithful to God despite the moral and social decay taking place around us. I’m guessing that some of the people had simply become so desensitized to sin that they didn’t even notice it in the culture, maybe they didn’t even notice it in their own lives. Brothers and sisters, we need to repent of our own laziness when it comes to culturally accepted sin. Let’s discuss how we can be faithful to speak the truth in hard places but also how we can be sensitive to God’s Word so that we recognize the sin that is taking place around us and in our very own lives.

Something to pray about…

In Jeremiah 7, we read one of the prophet’s temple sermons where he is actually standing in the temple when he delivers this message to the priests and religious leaders of the day. In this sermon, he not only points out the sin of the people but he also lays out what it would look like for them to repent.

Jer 7:5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

God wants to see us repent so much that He is willing to give us a step by step guide on how to do so. Sometimes we think of repentance in ways that never really impact our day to day lives, but God is so generous that He spells it out for us here. Be just with one another, care for the people around you, especially the widows and orphans. Don’t worship at the altar of a false god but instead worship the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Let’s take some time this week to let our prayer be a prayer of repentance where we confess our sins to God and ask for His clear help and direction of how our lives can be restored to faithfulness. 

 

 

[1] ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, Introductory Notes on the book of Jeremiah (pg. 955)

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 31

Introduction to Week 31…

It’s complicated! This week in our reading we are going to see a complex story unfold. On one hand we will see God continue to discipline His people for their sin and idolatry, but on the other hand we will see God pour out judgment on Israel’s enemies. We will see a good king rise up to lead Judah into repentance then we will see that king die on the battlefield because he failed to listen to the warning of God. We will read in Isaiah of the glorious future hope that awaits the people of God but the book ends with a picture of hell that will echo throughout the New Testament.

Like I said, it’s complicated. But let’s work through what we are reading this week beginning with the book of Nahum.

Something to meditate on…

The prophet Nahum was given a divine proclamation about the fate of the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Nahum’s name means comfort and this prophecy would have been a comfort to the people of God because in it they learn that God is not blind to the sins of Assyria nor the injustices that they’ve carried out against God’s people. But wait a minute, is this the same Nineveh that Jonah called to repentance? Yes, it is.

Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh, which was a huge success, would have taken place more than 100 years before the prophecy of Nahum, but from the looks of things the repentance that Jonah saw in Nineveh did not last very long. In 745 BC, Tiglath-Pileser became king in Assyria and he led his nation to become the leading military power in the Near East. He did so with incredible brutality and by 722 BC he led the northern tribe of Israel into exile.

Now this is made more complicated by the fact that God used the nation of Assyria to discipline Israel for their sin and now He is going to bring judgment on Assyria for their sin. This book and the all the history that surrounds it are meant to make it clear that nobody will get away with sin. All sin will be addressed by our righteous Judge in His time and in the way that He sees fit. God will by no means clear the guilty.

But at the same time we see gospel hope in this book. “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God…who will make a complete end of the adversaries.” But in chapter 1:15 we also read, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace.” There is but one way to find refuge from the wrath of God and it is to find shelter in God himself. This book helps us to see that no sin goes unpunished but it also causes us to long for the good news to come down and tell us about how to have peace with the God.

Take some time to meditate upon the judgment of God and the salvation of God. Think about how God used the nation of Assyria to accomplish His purpose of discipline in Israel. Think also about how God used Jonah to call the Assyrians to repentance. Meditate on the unfolding plan of God to raise up nations and bring them down. But also, think on the complexity of God’s justice and His grace. With the same breath He declares the just judgment is coming and with it comes the good news of peace.

Something to discuss…

The last few chapters of Isaiah are cause for celebration because they hold out hope for the future. In these chapters God is holding out promises for the day that is to come. On that day, the creation will be renewed and salvation will be consummated. On that day, judgment and salvation will be poured out together when the Lord, “rends the heavens and comes down,” kindling the fire of judgment and then making peace inviting people to His table.

The day that is coming will be terrible for those upon whom God’s justice falls but for those who find refuge in the Suffering Servant this will be a day of celebration and final rest. As you read these chapters it almost seems that God is eager for these days to come. He is eager to display His glory to the world and He is eager to usher in the new heaven and new earth that will be His chosen dwelling place.

But what does this mean for us? What does this mean for our nation? What does this mean for the people of the world? What does this mean for the church? Where does hope lie?

The call of these chapters is for all who hear to turn from their sin and trust in God’s appointed deliverer. Hope is to be found in Jesus Christ alone. What are the implications of this for us today? Should this change the way we live? Should this change the way we interact with others? Take some time to read over these chapters and discuss how it should comfort us, warn us and motivate us to live our lives.

Something to pray about…

The last thing I want to look at this week is the story of king Josiah. Josiah was clearly one of the best of Judah’s kings. He did what was right in the eyes of God. He restored the worship of God in the temple. He destroyed all of the pagan worship sights throughout the land and he even reinstituted the celebration of Passover which had not occurred since the time of Samuel.

Josiah led the tribe of Judah in a time of incredible reformation and it all started when the priests found the book of the law. They discovered the Word of God in the temple, they gave it to the king who read it and immediately began to turn the nation away from idolatry and back to God. Don’t miss the fact that the reading of God’s Word led to this massive revival and reformation in Judah.

God still speaks through His Word and our labor to read through the Bible this year is more important than we know. Let’s pray that God would show us things in His Word that we need to see. Pray that God would reveal things that will break out hearts, comfort our souls and bring peace into our lives. Pray that God would do a work of revival and reform in us, our homes and our church as we read and follow the His Word.

 

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 30

Week 30 Devotion

This week we are going to take a break from reading in the historical books so that we can focus most of our attention on the prophecy of Isaiah which is an incredible book that drives home several critically important Biblical truths. The main truth that Isaiah aims to teach is the centrality and glory of God in the universe, among the nations with their false gods, and especially among God’s people Israel.

Isaiah gives us a picture of the real nature of man’s sin in the eyes of God and the impact that sin will have upon the nations. This book reveals us of the ongoing judgment of God toward sin and it even points us to the future judgment that will be poured out on the world. But the most hope-filled theme in the book is the picture of the Messiah that begins to unfold in chapter 42.

Isaiah contains what scholars call the “Servant Songs” which all point to the Messiah who is Jesus Christ, the one who comes to save His people and rule the world in peace and justice. We will be reading some of those Servant Songs this week and we will see why we should put our trust in God’s coming servant instead of the kings and rulers of men.

Something to meditate on…

Let’s jump right in and look at one instance where even a good king is not worthy of our ultimate trust. By most accounts, Hezekiah was a good king and this is easy to see when you stack him up against the rest of the leaders that we read about in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, he removed the high places and broke up the worship of false gods in Judah. He trusted in the Lord and the Lord was with him everywhere he went (2 Kings 18:1-8).

But when we read about Hezekiah in Isaiah 39 we see something that is a bit unsettling. He is concerned about Babylon and wants to impress a group of envoys that have come from the king of Babylon, so Hezekiah shows them his treasure house. After they leave to go back home, the prophet Isaiah comes to king Hezekiah with a word from the Lord and it isn’t good news.

Isaiah tells the king that the days are coming when all the wealth in his treasure room will be taken away to Babylon. The king’s sons will one day be taken into the palace of Babylon’s king and be forced into service as eunuchs. So, here is a good king who has just heard that his wealth will be taken away and his sons will be slaves to a foreign king. How is he going to respond?

Isaiah 39:8 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”

Basically, the king responded to this terrible news by saying, “Well, at least it won’t happen until I’m gone.” What a selfish jerk! Even as a good king this man is still concerned mainly with his own well-being. He is willing to throw away the future of his people and his sons so long as he can enjoy the rest of his life. Just below the surface of his heart, there is a deep streak of selfishness.

Brothers and sisters, we too have a sinful and selfish streak that runs deeper than we care to admit. We need help to not only admit that this is true but also we need someone to help us overcome the fact that we are all crooked deep down. Enter Jesus. Think about how Jesus is different from Hezekiah? Jesus didn’t give up future generations to their doom just so that He could be comfortable in life, He did the opposite. He endured the pain and shame of the cross in order to free future generations from the judgment they deserved.

Something to discuss…

Speaking of Jesus, let’s look at some of the servant songs of Isaiah, which point us to the better king that is to come. We have already seen that it is futile for us to put our hope and trust in the rulers of this world, but who can we put our trust in? Who should we be looking to that can care for our needs and who will not abandon us when his own comfort is on the line?

In Isaiah 42:1-9 we see the first Servant Song and it paints us a picture of a leader who will come from God to bring justice to all the nations. This servant will have the Spirit of God upon Him and he will be a humble leader who cares for the weak and bruised people of the world. He will never tire until He has established justice in the earth and the people will wait for (long for) his law to reach their shores.

God is telling us in these songs to put our trust in the One that is to come. He wants us to put our hope and trust in the Servant Whom He will send to bring peace and justice into the world. This is a song of hope and it is a song, ultimately, about Jesus.

Take some time to read over Isaiah 42:1-9 this week and discuss how God’s servant Jesus is different than the political leaders in our world today. Discuss how God’s plan for establishing peace and justice is not just for one nation but for all.

But understand that there are more servant songs than this one. The servant of the Lord first appears in Isaiah 42:1-9, but he reappears, in 49:1-13, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12. He comes as a servant sent by God to redeem God’s people from the ruin of sin. He will come to save the nations and according to Isaiah 53, He will do it by laying down his own life to make them free. Take some time to read through these Servant Songs understanding that they all point out the beauty and glory and unparalleled love of Jesus. After you’ve read them be sure to discuss them with a friend, family member or your community group.

Something to pray about…

In Psalm 53 we read the 4th Servant Song and in this song we get a play by play prediction about what Jesus will endure on the cross in the future. It is a beautiful prophecy, which came to pass more than 400 years after it was made and with stunning accuracy. From Isaiah 52:13-53:12 we see one line after another describing our Lord to us but the main theme of this entire song can be found in verse 6.

Isa 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid in him the iniquity of us all.

We have run headlong into rebellion against God. Every one of us has turned our back from God and chosen to go our own way in this world. But the suffering servant hasn’t given up on us. He bears a burden, our burden and God the Father placed it upon His shoulders.

This is the gospel, the good news of salvation telling us that our freedom from sin, death and judgment is to be found in Christ alone. He bore our sin. He bore our iniquity. He suffered in our place to bring us wayward sheep back into the fold.

Take some time to pray through this Servant Song and give thanks to God for making a way for us to be saved. Pray and give thanks to Jesus for enduring the horror of Calvary so that we could enjoy the freedom of forgiveness. Pray that we wouldn’t take the gospel for granted but that we would freely share the good news with others.

 

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 29

Week 29 Devotion

This week we will continue our reading in the historical books of Kings and Chronicles as well as the book of the prophet Isaiah. But we will also be reading the book of the prophet Hosea and so we need to do a bit of introduction for this new book. Hosea was a prophet in northern Israel and he is called to speak on God’s behalf during the reign of the wicked king Jeroboam II. The sin of Jeroboam led to God giving Israel over to the Assyrian army who came and defeated Israel carrying them into captivity (2 Kings 14-17).

Hosea lived through Israel’s downfall and this book is a collection of his prophecies that were written down over a period of 25 years. The first part of Hosea is about his marriage to a woman named Gomer and this relationship is incredibly painful to Hosea. The two get married and they have three children together but along the way Gomer proves unfaithful. She commits adultery over and over again, but God tells Hosea not to abandon his cheating wife.

Hosea is to go after her, to forgive her, to pay all of her debts and then to bring her home and love her. Now, this is a hard story to read but God makes clear that this story is a prophetic symbol of God’s own relationship with Israel. God is the faithful husband who looks on at his adulteress bride, but He doesn’t stop loving and caring for her. In fact, He still pursues her despite her sin.

But why does God do this? It’s not because Israel is worthy of His love but rather it is due to God’s abundant covenant love and compassion for His people. In the end, we learn that God’s covenant love for His people is more powerful than His people’s sin. In chapter 11, we read about the hope that exists for the future. God is a loving father with a rebellious son but the day is coming, in chapter 14, when God will heal His people of their sin and when this happens they will love them fully.

Something to meditate on…

What was so bad about the spiritual situation in Israel that God would give His people over to their enemies? The downfall of Israel as a nation is well underway in our reading this week but it didn’t happen overnight. We’ve been reading for weeks about all the wicked kings that have ruled in Israel or in Judah. Every now and then we read about a king who does what is right in the eyes of the Lord, but overwhelmingly the Kings are wicked men.

But it’s not just the kings who are turning away from God. In 2 Kings 17, we read that the people were just as guilty as their leaders.

2 Kings 17:6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.

This Assyrian Exile is due to the sins of the people. They have turned their back on the covenant they made with God and if we want to know the specifics all we need to do is to read over 2 Kings 17:23. They worshiped in the high places, they built idols of false gods, and they served those idols. They even stopped believing in the Lord (v. 14). They made golden calves and placed them in temples and began to worship them. The spiritual condition of Israel was near complete apostasy.

Now, we know that there is still a remnant of true believers in Israel and the next king is actually one of those few who do what is right in the sight of the Lord. But the thing I want us to think about is the near complete abandonment of God by the people. The Chronicler who is writing this history is seeking to inform a new generation of Israelites. This generation needs to see the failures of the past in the hopes that they will be faithful in their lifetime.

It’s a sad thing when we think back to those who have walked away from the faith and it is a fearful thing to think of what eternity will be for them. But the point of this sad history is to encourage us to remain faithful to God. He wants us to be motivated to pursue a confident relationship with God that is not based on our performance but our trust in God’s grace. He wants us to walk with and worship God alone.

Take some time to meditate on the slow drift away from God that in the end brought Israel to ruin and exile. Meditate on how they went off track (following wicked leaders, abandoning God’s Word, sin, and worldliness). What can you do to guard your heart against the same thing happening in your life?

Something to discuss…

In Hosea, God describes what His people are like and it is not flattering. Gomer is the prophet Hosea’s wife but she prefers the company of other men. She is unfaithful. She is an adulteress.

I can’t begin to imagine what this must have been like for Hosea. To know that your wife isn’t where she should be isn’t doing what she should be doing, while he is home with their two kids. I struggle to find words that would accurately communicate what that must have been like for him.

But through this pain, God wanted to show Hosea something profound about love, and God wants us to learn this lesson as well. Each time Gomer would leave and go after another lover, God sent Hosea to go out and find her. In some cases, he was even required to pay her debts. Then he would bring her home, clean her up and love her again.

Now, the whole story is sad and painful to think about but the story of Hosea and Gomer points beyond itself to the relationship between God and His people. At this point in Israel’s history, they have abandoned their Redeemer. They had stopped loving and worshipping Yahweh and had begun to love and worship the false gods of the pagan nations.

The metaphor is quite striking. Israel abandoned their lover and went in search of another lover. In response, God is going to allow judgment to fall on them in the form of discipline. Israel is going to reap what they have sown.

Hos 10:13 You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way

Yet, despite their sin and their much-deserved discipline; God still loves His people. He remembers them as a child. He remembers His love for them and there will come a day when His anger is turned from them. In that day…

Hos 14:7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

What amazing love! God remains faithful even when His people are faithless. God’s steadfast love remains even when our love is directed at another. What amazing grace! Don’t move on too quickly from this truth, that God’s love for us is far greater than our sin. Find someone to discuss this with and marvel together at the goodness of God.

Something to pray about…

At some level the downfall of Israel came about because they failed to take the warnings of God seriously. God warned His people that if they were faithful to the covenant they made with Him, then He would bless them. But if they broke the covenant He was going to discipline them and that is exactly what we have seen happen.

Israel didn’t take God’s Word seriously and I don’t mean God’s Word in a general sense; what I mean is that they acted as though the specific warnings weren’t true. They didn’t think judgment would fall on them. They didn’t think that God would actually give them over to the pagan nations. They didn’t take His Word seriously.

That same problem exists today outside the church and sadly inside the church as well. In Isaiah 13:9-11, God says, “Behold, the day of the Lord comes…” In this passage, God warns the nation of Babylon that the day of judgment will fall upon sinners and on that day no one will be able to stand against God. The wrath of God is coming and our only hope, the world’s only hope, is to humble ourselves before God, repent of our sin against God and trust in Christ to save us from the guilt of our sin.

The final day of God’s judgment is yet to come, but it will come and it is closer today than when we first believed. So let’s pray for our own hearts to remain faithful to the word of God and the truth of the gospel. Pray that we would be faithful as a church to preach the message of the gospel to all. Pray for those friends and family members in your life who don’t have a relationship with Christ.

 

 
 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 28

Week 28 Devotion

This week we will be reading quite a bit and will be jumping around between 5 different books. So this week I want to spend most of my time on this devotion introducing you to the books we will be reading and reminding you of what is going on in Israel that has led to this series of events.

When the book of Kings opened up everything seemed to be going fine. Solomon was on the throne and God had not only granted peace in Israel but had made Solomon the wisest man in the world. The Temple was constructed and all the surrounding nations were in awe of how God had blessed Israel. Then the wheels fell off.

Solomon was seduced into idolatry and when he died the peace, wisdom, and faithfulness of the people almost completely died with him. The nation split into two and one king after another ascended to leadership only to guide the people into sin and idolatry.

Then last week in 2 Kings 15:29-31 we read that the tribe of Israel was overrun and captured by the Assyrian army led by king Tiglath-pileser. God’s chosen people are now in exile in Assyria. And into this historical context, God speaks through His prophets to rebuke the people, to call them to repentance, to comfort them with a word of future peace, and to show them that God’s plan is still in place.

This is a very troubling time to be an Israelite, but as we read between the lines we see that God is up to something.

Let’s Meditate on the opening of the book of Isaiah…

Ray Ortlund introduces the book of Isaiah in this way:

The book of Isaiah answers this question: When the people of God stop living like thepeople of God and join the pagan nations in their lifestyles of sin and denying God, what happens then?Is God himself defeated in his purpose to bring his glory into this world of evil? No. God will restore his people, display his glory and win the nations through a better servant, the Messiah.And we, the people of God, enter into the gracious purpose of God through our repentance. We participate by going down low enough to be useable in the hands of the Redeemer.

This book is very relevant for our day. In our day there are many who have rejected the message of Christ and many others who have abandoned true Biblical Christianity for something that better appeals to their modern sensibilities. But through it all the Church is still present and the gospel message is moving. Churches are being planted, others are growing deeper, the message of the gospel is going out and bearing fruit. All around us we see signs of redemption and signs of coming judgment. This is only one of the reasons that the book of Isaiah is so important for us today.

Let’s Discuss the book of Amos…

 In Amos’ day, the nation of Israel had no reason to expect that God’s judgment was coming for them. Prosperity, peace, and power were notable features in the society of Israel at this time. The rich were affluent enough to own several houses apiece (3:15) each furnished with the best the world had to offer (6:4) and they did not deny themselves any luxury. Businessmen saw their profits increase, property owners were finally cashing in, political leaders were able to enjoy peace and stability that were carried over from the days of Solomon. The economy was strong, the market was booming and the people loved it.

But there is usually an ugly side to such affluence and in this case, it took on many forms.

There was an ugly side to how the rich treated the poor. The rich were getting richer but the poor were being ignored and left to be broken. The poor were being taken advantage of and were shamelessly oppressed by those with wealth and power. There was no middle class, you were either uber rich or hopelessly poor. And the poor suffered at the hands of greedy men and starved while godless women lived it up in their summer home near the lake.

There was also an ugly side to their religion. The worship of God was ongoing and the ritual law was meticulously followed but the hearts of the people were hard and wicked and had long since turned from the true nature of religion. The people had become experts at going through the motions of worship. Everything looked good on the outside but behind the scenes, they were a heartless people interested in personal profit rather than the glory and fame of God.

A third ugly aspect of their society was that Counterfeit religions had been established centuries earlier and the length of their tradition had only expanded their practice. False gods were being worshiped in temples and shrines set up by Jeroboam. The worship of God was mingled with the worship of idols. God’s people were reveling in their sin and the tide of God’s anger was about to be unleashed upon them. This is the warning Amos was sent to deliver.

Amos 1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

2 And he said: “The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.”

Let’s pray about what we read in the book of Micah…

The prophet Micah is very similar to the books of Amos and Isaiah because this book is written at the same time and is addressing the very same issues. The themes of the book are judgment and forgiveness, but the overall context seems to pull heavily in the direction of justice. One of the key phrases from the book of Micah is:

 Mic 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

And this is important for us to hear today because, in every age, God wants His people to be faithful to Him and to respond to His love by showing love to others, by pursuing justice, by practicing kindness, and by walking humbly with God. This same calling applies to us today.

So let’s read through the book of Micah and take seriously the warnings of judgment and allow them to lead us to confess our sins to God in prayer. Let’s also take seriously the promises of forgiveness and understand that ultimate forgiveness belongs to those who trust in Christ by faith. Then finally, let’s pray that we would be people who live in response to God’s love in such a way that we walk humbly with God, that we love kindness and that we do justice.

 

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 27

Week 27 Devotion

This week we will continue our reading in the books of Kings and Chronicles; but we will also stop over to read the prophet Jonah, which is one of the most interesting if not challenging of the minor prophets. Why do I say that, well let’s talk about it?

We know that it is a story about a prophet who finds it hard to obey God and so he runs away from God. In his attempt to flee he boards a ship and ends up endangering the lives of its crew. Then he gets thrown overboard where he should die at the bottom of the ocean. But God sends a great fish that swallows Jonah and then vomits him out three days later and still alive. Then God gives Jonah a second chance, and we all love that part, but in the end, we learn that Jonah’s obedience was only half-hearted.

Here is something to Meditate on…

We know the story of Jonah pretty well and we are familiar with the details but the purpose of this story goes beyond the details. This is not just a story about a great fish it’s a story about the heart of God. The main theme of the book of Jonah is that God has compassion for sinful, idolatrous people. And the main question that we should ask as we read this book is, “Do I have compassion for sinful, idolatrous people?”

This story tells us a great deal about Jonah but the main point of this book is to teach us about God and by contrast to show us how our hearts are far from God’s heart. In more ways than we can imagine we are just like Jonah. In the story we learn that Jonah doesn’t care all that much for the people in the city of Nineveh, in fact, he would prefer to watch them all receive the judgment of God for their sin. But God doesn’t feel that way about them.

Let’s be a little more specific, the Lord Jesus has a huge heart of love for us, for our city and for the world but we can hardly see beyond our own wants and desires. He doesn’t love us because we’re lovable, He loves us because He’s God and His love is unlike any other. God has a huge heart full of love for us, for our city, for our nation, and for this world. But, what we see in Jonah is a prophet whose heart is the exact opposite of the heart of God.

Now in Luke 11 and Matthew 12, we learn that Jesus and Jonah share a similar message and in part a similar ministry. Both of these men are sent by God to warn the people of judgment and to call the people to repent of their sin and be reconciled to God. The difference is that Jonah doesn’t want repentance to occur.

When Jonah looked upon the city of Nineveh he became excited about the prospect of watching God destroy them but when Jesus looked upon the city of Jerusalem he wept at the prospect of God’s judgment falling on the city. There are similarities between them but Jonah, like the rest of us, falls short of the glory of Jesus. There is another similarity, in chapter 2 we will see Jonah rise up from a near death experience but in the gospels we see Jesus rise up from a real death experience.

 So why do we need this story? Do you remember the story that the prophet Nathan told to King David about the rich jerk who took away the poor man’s most precious little lamb (2 Sam 12)? Do you remember at the end of the story when David became enraged and cried out for justice? Do you remember when Nathan looked at King David and said, “You are the man.”? The prophet used a story to show David his sin.

That’s what the story of Jonah is like for you and me. It shows us a scenario that fills us with anger and frustration about the actions and words of the prophet, but in the end, we find that the story of Jonah is a reflection of our own heart. We need this book to show us the heart of God for lost people and we need God to help us to have his heart for those same people.

Here is something to Discuss…

There are quite a few things from our reading in 2 Kings that we could discuss. Elijah being taken up in the whirlwind is a pretty amazing story. But as I read the historical books in preparation for this week’s devotion there was a little phrase that stuck out to me and I wonder if you’ve seen it too. It’s this small phrase, “Yet for the sake of David His servant.”

It jumped out to me in 2 Kings 8:19 but I know I had read it before and I was right. I looked it up and found that this phrase occurs 7 times in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. Over and over we read that the new king in Judah has done evil in the sight of the Lord but rather than bring judgment on that king and on the people, God spares them. He spares them on account of the promise that He made to David. God spares them simply because they are David’s descendants and God wants to honor the faithfulness of David.

This is a pretty amazing thing. These men deserve judgment but God does not destroy them and the reason is that one of His servants was faithful in the past. Let me state it another way, the faithfulness of 1 man resulted in blessing upon an entire tribe of people for generations to come. Does that sound familiar to you?

David’s faithfulness to God resulted in the entire nation being blessed. David’s faithfulness to God resulted in the entire tribe of Judah receiving mercy for years. And as amazing as this sounds, it is only a drop in the bucket to the blessings that we receive today based on the faithfulness of the 1 man Jesus Christ.

You see David foreshadows Jesus in this. Jesus fulfilled His purpose and as a result, we who trust in Jesus receive the blessing of God’s forgiveness forever. Take some time this week to discuss how David’s faithfulness benefitted the people and how Jesus’ faithfulness benefits us.

Here is something to pray about…

One of the purposes to the book of Jonah is that God wants to use it in our lives to help us grow to be more like Jesus. God wants us to grow in compassion toward sinful, idolatrous, lost people and to do that we need God to work in our hearts. We need God to reveal our shortcomings, we need him to show us what His love truly looks like, and we need Him to mold our hearts to be more like His; filled with compassion and love for the lost. So as we read the book of Jonah, and we learn about Nineveh and about how this book fits into the big picture of what God is doing in this world to save sinners; lets pray that God would show us his heart and help us to be more like Him.

 

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 26

Week 26 Devotion

This week marks the halfway point in the year and the halfway point in our journey of reading through the Bible in 2017. So if you have made it this far then congratulations you are halfway to your goal.

Now, this week we will continue to read about the steady downward decline of the nation of Israel and Judah. It really is depressing to read how King after king does what is evil in the sight of the Lord. The same nation that once stood before Moses and declared their allegiance to Yahweh, the same people who stood before Joshua and renewed their devotion to Yahweh, the same tribes that once rallied around David to worship the Lord are now eagerly wandering away from God to worship and serve idols in the high places. And their new Kings are leading them into this idolatry.

At this time, even the prophets suffer because of the lack of integrity and honesty in the people. It is truly a sad state of affairs to see just how quickly and how thoroughly the people abandon their God and watch their society fall into wickedness. But we do see a few high points along the way.

We meet the prophet Elijah and we get to see God flex His power a little bit in the battle between Yahweh and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. We see God’s judgment on the wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. The book ends with Jehoshaphat reigning in Judah and surprisingly he does what is right in the sight of the Lord, but the high places housing idols temples still remain and will come into play later as we read 2 Kings.

We will also be reading the book of Obadiah which is the shortest book in the Old Testament, but it is still a very important book. Through this prophet, God brings accusations against the nation of Edom and He promises to bring judgment down upon them for their sin. But this book also brings up the history of Israel so it causes us to look back in time to the early days before Israel was a nation. This book also looks forward to the time of God’s future blessing on Jerusalem and all the nations of the World.

Here is something to Meditate on…

Some battles never seem to end. The battle of the sexes that began in the Garden of Eden is still going on today. The battle between brothers that began with Esau and Jacob, well that one is what we are going to read about in 2 Chronicles 21 and in the book of Obadiah.

Way back before Israel was a nation, even before Jacob was named Israel, there was a conflict between two brothers that are still playing out in Judea. Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac and one day Esau came home from hunting in the fields and he was so hungry that he thought he might die. So he made a bargain with his brother Jacob, “my birthright for a bowl of bean soup.” I didn’t say it was a good bargain, but a deals a deal. Jacob accepted the deal, gave him a bowl of soup and that’s how the conflict began.

Some time after this, Jacob deceived their father into blessing him in Esau’s place and then Jacob ran away with his brother’s birthright and his blessing. Years later these two brothers were able to reconcile, for the most part, but their descendants never forgot what happened between them. Israel was descended from Jacob and Edom was descended from Esau and here in 2 Chronicles 21:8-10 we see that old conflict rise up again.

But there is even more to it. In the book, of Obadiah we see God pronounce judgment upon Edom for the way they treated the people of Israel. The backstory to this book is that when Babylon came and took Israel into captivity, Edom was there to take advantage of God’s people. During that time, Edom plunders their cities and abused the people excessively. So this book is about how God plans to bring judgment on Edom for their treatment of God’s people.

Now here’s the first thing we can meditate on: Israel going into captivity was God’s was of judging them for their sin but even in the midst of them getting what they deserved, God still cares about His people. He still loves them and He still vows to protect them from their enemies…amazing.

But the second thing we can meditate on about this book is that even though God plans to bring judgment on Edom and all nations, there is also a day of hope. The fire of God’s judgment will come but a Savior will also come and go up to Mt. Zion. God will deal with the evil in the world but He will also establish his Kingdom of Peace to rule over all the nations. So judgment will come but after it will come a time of peace where God’s Savior reigns and that’s not just the point of the book of Obadiah, that’s the point of the whole Bible.

Here is something to Discuss…

The battle between God and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 is one of the greatest stories in the Bible. It starts out with the reality that the people of Israel have begun to worship idols instead of Yahweh but the whole scene comes together when Elijah the prophet confronts King Ahab for leading God’s people into idolatry. Ahab calls Elijah, “the troubler of Israel” because it was Elijah who prayed for the rain to cease and ushered in 3 and half years of drought.

But Elijah responds, “I’m not the one causing trouble in Israel, you are because you have abandoned the commandments of God and have followed the Baals.” So it’s a challenge. One man serves God while the other serves Baal and the time has come to see whose is the one true God.

But try as they might the prophets of Baal can’t get their god to respond to their prayers. They set up an altar and a sacrifice but when they pray for Baal to show himself he does nothing. And Elijah takes advantage of the situation. He starts mocking not only the prophets but also their false god. He tells the prophets, “Maybe Baal is asleep and you just need to shout a little bit louder. Or maybe he is in the bathroom and you just need to wait until he is done…” it’s all rather humorous.

But when Elijah’s time comes he is all business. He rebuilds the altar, places the sacrifice upon it, has the servants douse the altar with water 3 times and then he comes near to the altar calling out for God to show Himself and let these people know that He is the only God in Israel. And that’s exactly what God does.

God consumes the sacrifice, the water, even the alter itself with fire. The prophets of Baal were revealed to be false prophets and Baal was shown to be a false god. When the people saw this they all bowed down and declared, “The Lord, He is God; The Lord, He is God.”

Here’s what I want you to discuss…God changed the hearts of His people by answering Elijah’s prayer and by demonstrating His power. God worked that day to do something that the false prophets couldn’t do and He answered His servant’s prayers and the result was that the people believed. This is a picture of what happens each time someone believes the gospel.

It is not man’s power that brings about salvation but God’s power. Salvation is a work of God accomplished by Christ on the cross. And this salvation is applied when God changes a man’s heart often in response to the prayers of those who love him. Even here in 1 Kings, we see a picture of the gospel. We see a picture of God’s coming salvation not just for Israel but for all who repent and believe in Christ.

Here is something to pray about…

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…let that sink in. Elijah was just a man, but he was a faithful man and he cried out to God and God heard his prayer and gave him what he asked for.

There are needs that each of us has in our minds right now and we need to pray that God would meet those needs. There are people in our lives that we long to see come to saving faith in Christ and we need to pray for them today. There are struggles that we face each day and we need to confess our sins to God, to one another and pray that God would hear our prayer for victory over sin.

Take some time to read over and meditate on James 5:16-18 then slow down and pray to God about the things in your life and on your heart.