Bible Through the Year: Episode 38

Week 38 Devotion

We begin our reading this week in the book of Ezra which takes about 50 years after the fall of Jerusalem. The book begins with Cyrus, the king of Persia, issuing a decree allowing the Jews to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of God. In 539 BC King Cyrus overthrew Babylon and took control of a massive empire. Then, as we will read in the book, God stirred in the heart of King Cyrus to send the first wave of Israelites back into Jerusalem and he promised to give them money to rebuild the temple and offer sacrifices to God.

We will only read the first part of this book this week but we are going to see that not everyone supported this plan. A group of people steps in to try and keep God’s people from rebuilding, but in the end, God’s plan and God’s grace is once again seen in Jerusalem.

Next, we are going to be reading the prophet Haggai and this short book is about the rebuilding of the temple of God and the promise that the glory of the Lord would return. There is one passage in particular from Haggai that I want us to look at this week and it has to do with God shaking the earth once more.

Zechariah is next and this book picks up where Ezra leaves off. The people have rebuilt the foundation of the temple of God in Jerusalem but the opposition is still strong. Zechariah addresses what was going on in the hearts of the people during this time. He had to deal with a lot of discouraged Jews who look are looking around at the nations and feeling like they don’t really matter all that much. But God wants doesn’t want them to “despise the day of small things.” The point of this book is for the people to learn faithfulness to God and trust in His promises.

Finally, we are going to be reading in the book of Esther which tells how a beautiful Jewish girl became queen of Persia and how she stood up for her people, putting her own life on the line to intercede for them. 

Something to meditate on from the book of Ezra…

The book of Ezra opens by repeating the end of 2 Chronicles and I point this out because it helps us to see that the books of the Bible are meant to read as a connected story, a flowing work of history. But what is the message in these first few chapters of the book?

This book reminds us that no matter what we are facing today, God is still moving, working, and acting in the world to accomplish His purpose for His people. The people of Judah are slaves once again but God hasn’t forgotten them. In fact, this book is evidence that God not only still cares about His people but also that He holds the hearts of kings in His hand.

God is not done. He is not giving up on His plan nor His people. He will keep moving forward even when it looks like all hope is lost.

But why did God want to bring the Jews back to Jerusalem? Why not just start over with them right there in Babylon? Going back to the Promised Land meant starting over from scratch, but that’s what they had to do because God made a promise and that promise entailed a King for Israel rising up from the land of Bethlehem. In other words, Jesus was coming.

Just when you think that God is through with Israel, His greatest promise yet is about to be fulfilled. God is willing to turn the nations upside down to accomplish His purpose of redemption and sometimes He will use one generation to build, restore, and get everything ready for what He is going to do with the generation that is to come.

Something to discuss from the book of Zechariah…

Like Ezra, Zechariah is a prophet during the post-exilic period and his task was to encourage the people not to lose heart during the time of rebuilding. If God was going to get Jerusalem ready to welcome the Coming King then someone was going to have to do the hard work of reconstruction. That’s where Zechariah comes in.

The people who returned to Jerusalem started out with a great deal of enthusiasm, but now that they are 20 years into the work, it seems more daunting than ever. Not to mention the fact that they were facing opposition that had slowed their progress to a complete halt.

Now, as you read through this book there are quite a few visions and oracles that are hard to understand and I would recommend that you consult a good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible as you move through the book. But the overall theme of this book is the need for God’s people to stand in faith and embrace the calling of their God.

Why would the people of God fear the size of a task? Why would the people of God fear opposition from the world? Why would the people of God reject the plan of God for their lives? I’ll let you answer those questions on your own, but at some level, the problem is not with God and His plan but with the people’s lack of trust and lack of faithfulness.

God hasn’t abandoned His people, but instead, He is about to give them the greatest gift and blessing that they have ever received. Their task today is to be faithful and so is ours. We live on this side of the cross, having received the blessing of salvation through Christ our Messiah. The full measure of our hope stretches into eternity and our calling is to be faithful today. Our calling is not to despise the day of small things, but to trust the Lord’s timing and purpose.

So take some time this week think about the small things that God has called us to be faithful in. Discuss with others how we can stay faithful in the day to day task of discipleship. Discuss also the blessings that are coming our way when our Messiah and King visits us again.

Something to pray about from the Book of Esther…

Finally, in the book of Esther, we see a young woman who faces great fear and uncertainty as she stands for her people. This is a wonderful book but in a way, it is an odd one. It’s not odd that the main character of the book is a woman, there are amazing women of God who stand out in Biblical history, so it’s no surprise at all that an entire book is devoted to this one. No, this book is odd because, well for starters, God is not mentioned in the entire book.

“God’s own people don’t talk about him. They talk around him. They get close. But they never actually come out and mention him. For example, in Esther 4:14 Mordecai says to Esther, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from ____________” – what should Mordecai say right then? He should say, “... relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from God,” right? But no. What he actually says is, “... relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.” God’s people aren’t thinking in the right categories! That’s surprising. But maybe not so surprising. After all, look at how we think and speak at times. Yikes! Stephen Charnock, the Puritan theologian, called this “practical atheism.”[1]

Now, we all love this story because it shows us a woman willing to face death in order to save her people and this points our attention to Jesus, the one who was not only willing to face death but who actually died to save us from our sin and God’s judgment. So let’s be sure to pray and thank God for this gospel reality in the book of Esther.

But let’s also pray that God would help us to think in the right categories. Let’s pray that we do not get to the point of talking around God but that He would keep our hearts fixed on Him no matter what is going on in our lives.

 

 


[1] Notes from Ray Ortlund’s Journey Through the Bible 2016

 
 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 37

Week 37 Devotion

One of the first things that comes to mind when we think of the OT prophets is the role that they played in announcing the judgment of God. These men were preachers and it was their responsibility to warn the people and also to call them to repent of their sin. But there is more to their ministry than the announcement of sin and judgment. In fact, this week as we finish the book of Ezekiel and read through Joel and Daniel we will see a strong note of hope round out the message of these men.

Let’s jump right in by looking at how the book of Ezekiel comes to a close.

The Book of Ezekiel…

In the 33 chapters of Ezekiel the prophet had the unenviable task of pointing out the sins of Judah that brought about the exile into Babylon. This exile would have been one of the most horrendous things to happen to God’s people since their captivity in Egypt, but in chapter 33 it gets worse. In chapter 33 the prophet meets a refugee who just arrived in the city of Babylon and he gives the prophet the bad news that the city of Jerusalem has finally been destroyed and you can imagine that this would have brought terrible grief to Ezekiel.

But in the next chapter things begin to change. In chapter 34, the book shifts from the judgment of God upon Israel and the nations, to the hope of God for Israel and the nations. In Ezekiel 34:20-24, God declares that He, Himself, is going to come and rule over the people. He is going to rescue them and He will even set up over them a king, like His servant David, to shepherd them.

But Ezekiel can’t understand how God can take a dead nation and restore them. That’s when God shows Ezekiel another vision. This time Ezekiel is standing in a valley filled with dry bones, the bones of God’s dead people, and in this vision God shows the prophet that He is going to make these bones live. The word of God is going to come and make these bones come back together, stand up and will clothe them with flesh. Then the Spirit or breath is going to come and restore life to these once dead bones.

God is going to restore His people, give them new life, raise them up and give them a new king. In chapter 36, God says, “I am going to give my people a new heart and I will put my own Spirit within them so that they can obey my word.” More than a dozen times in chapter 36 we read God saying, “I will…” do this.

God is not done with His people. He has a plan to restore them to life, to remake their hearts, to defeat their enemies and will even restore the temple. In chapters 40-48 we see this detailed description of a bigger and better temple that God has in store. It is a temple that is larger than the one Solomon built. God will once again allow His presence to rest inside this temple and from this new temple a river will flow. This river is going to heal the world and restore it back to the way it was in the Garden of Eden, before sin entered the world.

This book began on a dark note of judgment but it ends on a bright note of hope that God is going to restore humanity and creation. He is going to dwell in the midst of His people once again.

The Book of Joel…

The book of Joel is unique among the prophetic books for a couple of reasons. Firstt, we don’t know exactly when the book was written but some of the clues in the book lead us to believe that it takes place after Israel returns from exile. Secondly, throughout the book we see the prophet Joel quoting from other prophets and from other books of the Bible. Third, this book is unique in that Joel doesn’t call the people out for their sin but rather he assumes that the people already know what they’ve done wrong.

The thing that stands out the most is the plague of locusts in chapters 1 and 2, which makes us think back to the plague of locusts that God sent into Egypt back in the book of Exodus. In the past, God sent that plague as a way to confront the evil of Pharaoh and to punish the Egyptians for their treatment of God’s people. But here in Joel the locusts are coming for Jerusalem.

A plague of locusts has the devastating power to consume in a few days the amount of grain that would feed an entire city for a year. Joel wants us to see this as the hand of God but he also wants us to see beyond the bugs. This plague is a metaphor for the foreign armies that are going to swarm Jerusalem.

Joel 2:10-11

The earth quakes before them;

the heavens tremble.

The sun and the moon are darkened,

and the stars withdraw their shining.

11 The Lord utters his voice

before his army,

for his camp is exceedingly great;

he who executes his word is powerful.

For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;

who can endure it?

All of this imagery is meant to serve as motivation for the people to repent and Joel even joins in on the repentance. In the end, the Lord became jealous for His land and had pity on the people. In other words, he restored them and filled them with hope.

This little book explores some of the biggest and most important themes in all of Scripture. It points out that human sin has had a devastating effect upon humanity and upon the world. It shows us that God’s judgment has been seen in the past and it will be seen in the future. But it also reminds us that God’s mercy is greater than His wrath. God longs to restore His people and His creation and that is exactly what He plans to do.

One-day God will confront the evil of mankind and will bring it to an end. One-day God will restore creation and will make it to be like a new Garden of Eden. One-day God will dwell with His people and His Spirit will fill them all. This book that began with a message of destruction has ended with the promise of hope that God would right all the wrongs and make all things new again.

The Book of Daniel…

The book of Daniel takes us back to the first attack of Babylon on the city of Jerusalem because like Ezekiel, Daniel, was among the people taken prisoner during that first attack along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These four were taken into Babylon and were recruited to serve the king but these men refused to defile themselves. They refused to give up their Jewish identity and as a result the king praised them above other men.

The king even found that one of them was able to interpret dreams and that was important because they king had a dream that left him confused. The dream was all about this statue that was made of different materials and how that statue would be destroyed to make way for something new that God was going to set up.

Now, it’s probably important to point out that there are some pretty strong symbols and parallels that take place in this book and they center around three things: The dreams, the temptation and exaltation of God’s people, and the pride of wicked men. We have already seen in chapter 1 where the 4 Jewish men were told to sin against God but they refused and in the end the king exalts them.

Well, in chapter 3 we see this happen again when Daniel’s three companions are forced into the fiery furnace for not worshipping the image of the king. But they survive and in the end the king exalts them. Finally, in chapter 6 it’s Daniel’s turn and when he refuses to worship the king as God he is thrown into the lion’s den. But he survives because God protects him and the story ends with the king exalting Daniel. This theme is meant to encourage the people of God to stay faithful to him in the midst of persecution because in the end God will bless His people and exalt them.

Another theme is the dreams and what they mean. In chapter 2 we read the kings dream and what it means concerning God’s plan for the world. In chapter 7 we read of Daniel’s dream and what it means concerning God’s plan for the world. Even chapters 8-12 reveal visions of what God is going to do in the world to deal with evil, restore His people and dwell among them once more.

Finally, there is the theme of man’s pride and we see this lived out in chapters 4 and 5. In chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar becomes like a beast of the field all because of his pride and arrogant refusal to worship God rather than himself. Then in chapter 5 we read of Belshazzar whose pride results in his assassination.

This book is filled with patterns and promises. These patterns aren’t always easy to understand so it’s probably a good idea to read them with a good study bible close by. But the promises of God leave us with hope as the book comes to an end. Our hope in God is meant to motivate us to be faithful to Him and His word despite how the world may treat us and in the end we can trust that God has a plan to overcome the sin of the world and to restore His people and the world.

 

 
 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 36

Week 36 Devotion

As we continue reading Ezekiel, it might be important for us to remember that Ezekiel was a priest who had been living in Jerusalem during Babylon’s first attack on the city. He was one of the people carried away to Babylon during the first exile, but when he and the others were taken from Jerusalem the city was still standing.

The city of Jerusalem wasn’t destroyed until several years later, but 5 years into his time in Babylon, Ezekiel saw a vision. He saw a vision of the Royal throne chariot of God but the problem was that God’s presence was supposed to be in Jerusalem, not Babylon. What is the glory of God doing outside of the temple? Well, we learned that the situation in Jerusalem had gotten so bad (Eze 8-11) that God removed His presence from the city and gave it over to their enemies.

The city was then destroyed and Ezekiel was charged by God to explain why these things were happening. In short, it was a combination of the peoples ongoing sin, their blatant idolatry, and their rejection of the covenant that they had made with God; and Ezekiel is going to spend a large portion of his book pointing out Israel’s sins as the cause of their destruction and exile.

But along the way, God has a message for the other nations surrounding Israel and He even speaks about a New Covenant that will be fundamentally different than the one that came before. In the midst of God’s judgment, there is a strong note of hope that God’s mercy had not yet reached its end. There would come a time when God would raise up and bless His people once again by giving them a new heart and putting His Own Spirit within them.

Let’s look at chapter 23-42 a little more closely.

Something to meditate on…

Ezekiel chapter 23 may be one of the more graphic and stomach-turning depictions of Israel’s sin against God in all of Scripture. It pictures Jerusalem and Samaria as helpless little girls who had been left to die but God scooped them up, cleaned them off, raised them to be strong and beautiful women only to have them turn around and defile themselves in the worst way imaginable.

It is a horrifying image and one that haunts most fathers when you read of how a daughter can turn away from her father and treat herself so cheaply that she would give herself over to the lust of her flesh and to the wicked men of this world. But it is a picture that helps us to understand how God feels about Israel’s rebellion. For God, it is a truly heartbreaking reality and we are the ones who have broken God’s heart.

We don’t like to think of ourselves in this way, but this is what our sin and idolatry look like in the eyes of God. In our sin, we have become idolaters who commit spiritual adultery to such a degree that it looks like a form of spiritual prostitution. And when we see it from this perspective it makes sense that God would bring down judgment upon us for such sin. It makes sense that God would bring down judgment upon the world for such sin.

But that is not the end of the story.

Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

At the pinnacle of God’s timing, He sent Jesus to become like one of us in order to win us back from our sin and idolatry. He came to make us clean once and for all. He came to draw us into His family and He gave His life to make our adoption a reality. Take some time this week to meditate on the fact that we are no better than Israel but in His love Christ came for us, lived for us, bled for us, died for us, and has been raised to rule as our Brother and King forever.

Something to discuss…

In chapter 24 of Ezekiel, we read that the final siege of Jerusalem has begun just nine years after the first exiles came into Babylon. The people had 9 years to repent of their sin and seek the Lord, but they refused to do so. To make matters worse God tells Ezekiel that his wife is going to die and this is a picture of God’s own sorrow at the destruction of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel’s wife was the delight of his eyes and Jerusalem was the delight of God’s eye, but now they are both gone. This wasn’t part of the job description that Ezekiel signed up for, but he would bear this and continue to serve the Lord. All the more because the message of God needed to be delivered.

But let’s discuss the fact that they had 9 years to repent; 9 years to cleanse the idolatry from their midst and instead, they used those 9 years to go deeper into sin. And during those 9 years, God flooded the city of Jerusalem with prophets to warn the kings and people. Jeremiah was in the city and the people didn’t listen. Zephaniah was there too and they refused to heed his warning. God sent prophet after prophet to warn them but the people did not follow their word.

I point these things out so that we understand that God didn’t just spring this on the people, no He had been warning them for years. God wanted them to repent. He wanted them to turn from their sin and run back to Him. Jesus mourned in Matthew saying, “Time and time again, I wanted to gather you in like a hen gathering in her chicks, but you were not willing Matt 23:37).” God’s broken heart still reached out to the people, but they refused His love and His Word.

Let’s discuss with one another the incredible patience and mercy of God. Let’s discuss how we have seen this patience in our own lifetime. Let’s also discuss the fact that God is just to pour out His anger on man’s sin, but not forget that His patience and kindness is intended to lead us to repentance.

Something to pray about…

In Ezekiel chapter 33, God tells the prophet to say this to the house of Israel,

11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Why will you die? This is such a haunting question and it comes from God. He is asking Israel, “Why will you continue in your wickedness to the point of death when you could simply turn from your sin and live?”

This is a good question for us to ask ourselves, our friends, our family, and others. It is a question that forces us to consider the current pursuit of our lives and the consequences that will come. It is a question that places God in the center of our minds and it forces us to ask, “Am I living my life in faithful obedience to my Creator and Redeemer?”

Let’s slow down and examine our hearts and ask ourselves this question. Let’s slow down and examine our lives and ask ourselves this question and pray that God would give us a heart of repentance. Let’s pray that we would not continue in sin like Israel, but instead that we would confess our sin in prayer, turn from our sin in repentance, and live.

 

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 35

Week 35 Devotion

Ezekiel was a priest who had been living in Jerusalem during Babylon’s first attack on the city, which you can read about in 2 Kings 24:8-17. This attack resulted in king Jehoiachin and his family being hauled off to Babylon as slaves. But they weren’t the only ones forced into exile. The chief men of the city along with soldiers and craftsmen were carried away from the city and into Babylon. Ezekiel was one of those people carried off into exile.

The city of Jerusalem wasn’t fully destroyed for another 9 years, but 5 years into this first exile, Ezekiel sees a vision. He is living in the city of Babylon and one day he goes out to the river and all of a sudden he has a vision from God and this kicks off his ministry as a prophet of God. Many believe that Ezekiel had just turned 30, some even suggest that this happened on his birthday, and they say this because according to the book of Numbers chapter 4 the span of a priest’s service ran from the time he turned 30 to the time he turned 50. It just so happens that the final vision of Ezekiel takes place 25 years after the exile which means this book covers the 20-year span of his public ministry.

Anyway, Ezekiel has the difficult task of prophesying to the people of God who are in exile in Babylon and his main message is to accuse the rebellious nation of rebels who have rebelled against God.

Eze 2:3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Essentially the message of Ezekiel is going to be bringing accusations against the people of God as evidence of why they are currently in exile and as to why the rest of the city will be destroyed in the next 4 years. Oh, and by the way the people aren’t going to listen to what Ezekiel has to say. But that doesn’t seem to matter because God has something to show and tell his rebellious people.

Something to meditate on…

The first thing that Ezekiel sees as he is sitting on the bank of the Chebar canal is a storm cloud. But this is no ordinary cloud. Within the cloud, there are four living creatures who have a human appearance but they each have four faces and four wings. Beneath each of these creatures is a wheel and wherever the creatures go the wheels follow. Then Ezekiel’s gaze shifted up and he saw that the creature’s wings were outstretched and overlapping and then on top of their wings was a platform.

On top of the platform, there was a throne and the One who sat on the throne was another being that had a human-like figure, only his appearance was like fire. And Ezekiel realized that what he was seeing was the “appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” riding on his royal throne in the form of a royal chariot. And when the prophet realized this he fell on his face.

The image that Ezekiel saw reminds us of the image used to describe the glorious presence of God. This image was represented within the temple, inside the holiest place. This was a picture of the mercy seat of God that rested above the ark of the covenant where God’s presence dwelt among His people. But there is a problem. What is the presence of God’s glory doing in Babylon? Should that be back in Jerusalem?

This would have been puzzling for Ezekiel. What is the glory of God doing outside of the temple? And this is something that we might want to consider as well. Is The glory of God confined to a location? Is the presence of God sealed up in a room, even a glorious room like the holy of holies? And now that the temple is no more, where does the presence of God dwell?

Here’s a hint, it’s not the place that makes God holy but God’s presence that makes the place holy. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, preached a sermon to try and explain this in Acts 7 and the Jews stoned him for what he said. But for Ezekiel, this was a big mystery and it is one that God would make clear to him in the next series of visions.

Something to discuss…

In chapters 8-11, Ezekiel has a vision of the temple in Jerusalem but what he sees doesn’t fit. Instead of Yahweh, the people are worshipping the false gods of the Babylonians. The elders of Israel are worshipping other gods, both inside the temple and outside the temple. Even the women are worshipping foreign gods and then Ezekiel sees the royal throne chariot again, only this time he sees that it is leaving Jerusalem and traveling east toward Babylon.

So now the visions are coming together and beginning to make sense. The reason God’s glory is in Babylon is that He has left Jerusalem. He has turned away from His people who have rebelled against Him, broken the covenant and who are bowing down to false gods rather than their creator and redeemer. In a sense, the sin of Israel has driven God away and in His absence, the city is completely given over to destruction.

But even now there is hope for the people of God, the true people of God. God tells Ezekiel that even though He has scattered the people He has still provided a safe place for them. And God has a plan to gather them back in and give them a new, united heart and a new spirit. God promises to,

“Remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them and they shall be my people and I will be their God (Eze 11:19-20).”

This promise is the rumblings of a New Covenant that God will make with His people. This is something that is worth a discussion around the table or with your Community Group. God will remove His hand of protection and give an entire wicked nation over to their sins and enemies, but He will at the same time care for His people and draw them in.

This is the kind of hope that can and should sustain us in the midst of our own national strife. This should give us confidence that even as war is prolonged and new enemies are knocking on our doors we can put our full hope and trust in the Lord. This should help us to find refuge in Christ even as our nation runs headlong into rebellion and sin.

Something to pray about…

In all that we read from Ezekiel there hangs over it the disheartening truth that no one is going to listen and heed his accusations against them. He will preach God’s message but no one will repent. He will act out God’s judgment but no one will turn from their sin. He will subject himself to degrading practices to make a point about the people’s own degradation but no one is going to turn from their wickedness.

But that is not up to Ezekiel, his job is to be a watchman on the wall. He is charged by God to speak the truth, to warn the people whether they listen or not. He is called to preach God’s message no matter what.

We find ourselves in a very similar place today with the charge to preach the gospel whether it is in season or not. We are not to tickle ears but to share the message of God’s coming judgment and His provided rescue which is faith in Christ. Let’s pray that God would keep us faithful. Let’s pray that God wouldn’t let us experience the lack of response in our audience like Ezekiel experienced. Let’s pray for God to use our witness and His Word to turn back our nation from sin.

 

 
 

Bible Through the Year: Episode 34

Week 34 Devotion

This week we have two new books to read and we will finish the book of Jeremiah, but each of these books centers around the final years of Israel’s southern Kingdom of Judah. We’ve been reading over the last few weeks about the downfall of Judah as a nation and their exile in Babylon and these three books are going to help us understand what that was like for the people. These books will also help us to see how the prophets cried out to God about what was going on.

The prophet Habakkuk wrote his book before the exile took place but it is clear as you read that he saw it coming. He cries out to God and wants to know why God hasn’t intervened. He wants to know why God is allowing the wicked nation of Babylon to set their sights on Jerusalem. He wants to know why God hasn’t stepped up to stop this pagan nation from their plans to destroy and enslave God’s people. These are all good questions and God has an answer for them.

The prophet Jeremiah is the major prophet speaking on God’s behalf during this steep decline in Judah. He has called out the leaders for their sin, he has pointed out the sins of the people and as we wrap up his book this week we are going to see the destruction of Jerusalem finally come to pass. We will also see that when the judgment of God falls upon a nation even the godly get swept away.

Finally, we are going to read the book of Lamentations which is a collection of lament poetry where the author is looking back and reflecting on the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. This book was written after all the events of Jerusalem’s destruction had taken place and the people had been carried away. But it’s not all doom and gloom, there is a strong note of hope in God that flows out of the author’s understanding of Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness.

Something to meditate on…

In Habakkuk, we read that the prophet is puzzled about something. He has a question for God and the question goes something like this, “Oh God, how long will I cry out for help and you will not hear?” The prophet sees that the city of Jerusalem is filled with injustice and idolatry and he is concerned about the destruction and violence that is sure to come. So he’s crying out to God asking Him to intervene.

He doesn’t accuse God of being unjust in fact he is counting on God’s justness to motivate Him to bring change in the city and protect the people from the threat that surrounds them. But the problem is that God has a completely different plan for how to deal with the situation.

God responds to Habakkuk’s question to let him know that He is fully aware of what is going on the in the city and the fact that Babylon is on the horizon. In fact, this is all part of God’s plan to execute justice in Jerusalem. But this raises a whole different problem for Habakkuk and it’s the fact that God is going to use the wicked nation of Babylon to judge Judah.

Here is Habakkuk’s argument,

Hab 1:13   You who are of purer eyes than to see evil

and cannot look at wrong,

why do you idly look at traitors

and remain silent when the wicked swallows up

the man more righteous than he?

In other words, how is it just for God to allow the wicked nation of Babylon to swallow up and destroy the nation of Judah that is wicked in its own right, but not as wicked as Babylon. This book is about the injustice of man and the justice of God and Habakkuk is wrestling with how to understand all that is taking place and how to live in the midst of his confusion.

The Lord helps him with this in chapter 2:4 when He tells the prophet that, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” The point of this famous line that gets repeated at least 3 times in the NT is that the true people of God are not those who have all the answers to the hard questions of life in this world, but they are the ones who face the hardships of life with a foundational faith in God.

Our posture as God’s people is not to understand the wheels and cogs of God’s providence, but to trust in God and be faithful to God no matter what comes our way. This is a very timely message for us today and will be all the more important if our nation continues to spiral into moral chaos, cultural division, and corrupt leadership. We may very well live to see Habakkuk 3 become a reality in our country. If so, we need to remember Habakkuk’s closing words, “Even if the land is desolate and there is no food…yet I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Hab 3:17-19).”

Something to discuss…

As we finish reading the book of Jeremiah we are going to see the final days of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah continues to prophesy that judgment is coming but the leaders simply will not listen to what God has to say. They try to run away from the destruction by hiding in Egypt but then God says, “Oh, I have something in store for Egypt as well and when I get there I will deal with you as well.”

Then in chapters 46-51, God declares His judgment on the nations of the world. God is going to use Babylon to judge all the nations around Jerusalem and then once He is done with them His judgment will fall on Babylon as well. Like the tower of Babel in Gen 11, this wicked nation that God used as an instrument for divine justice in the world will face God’s justice for their own sin.

The book ends in chapter 52 with a description of what it was like in Jerusalem when the Babylonians came and this chapter is virtually the same as 2 Kings 25. God allowed king Nebuchadnezzar to build a siege around Jerusalem, overthrow the army of Judah and then carry the people into captivity as slaves. But that is not the end of the story.

At the end of chapter 52 there is a note of hope. Jehoiachin, the exiled king of Judah, is set free by the new king in Babylon. He is treated kindly and given a seat at the king's table. Every day this exiled king of Judah is allowed to eat at the table of the king and he was given this privilege as long as he lived.

So here’s the summary: God poured out judgment upon His people, upon the surrounding nations and will one day pour out His judgment upon the world. But for those to whom God made a covenant promise, like King David whose line continues to this day in Jesus Christ, there is the promise of hope that God will not abandon His people to their sin.

Take some time to discuss the fact that judgment will begin with the household of God. Consider what it will mean for the entire world to undergo the judgment of God and then take some time to discuss how the promise of God can give us great hope despite the end of the world.

Something to pray about…

The book of Lamentations tells us what life was like during the siege of Jerusalem and it paints a vividly painful picture of what God’s judgment was like. The city has fallen, everything is lost and the only thing the people have is lament for what has taken place.

The point or theme of this book is the people are drawing everyone’s attention to the horrific things that have taken place. They even want God to hear about it and in a way, these poems are a way to protest the what has happened. These poems also give the people an opportunity to process their emotion and the voice their confusion. They don’t understand everything that has happened but they don’t want to act like it was no big deal. They want to learn, they want to feel, they want to share and they want to know what God has to say.

In chapter 3, we read the poem of a man who has seen affliction. The man is lonely and he has suffered as a representative of the entire nation of Israel. His suffering was almost more than he could bear but when he was at his lowest point, something came into his mind and gave him hope.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

“If God is consistent enough to bring his justice on Israel’s evil, then he will also be consistent with his covenant promises and will not allow evil and sin to have the last word.”[1]

God is faithful. He is faithful to punish sin and He is faithful to love His people. This means that even God’s judgment should produce hope in those who trust in Him. Let’s make that our prayer this week that as we read about God’s justice we praise Him that He remembers mercy. Let’s also pray that this book would stir our hearts for those who are set to suffer the wrath of God because they don’t know the forgiveness that comes only through Christ.

 


[1] The Bible Project notes on the book of Lamentations. www.thebibleproject.com

 

 
 
 

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.