Saturday, June 23. Joel 1 – 3

Traditionally, the book of Joel has been regarded as one of the earliest of the writing prophets.  The fact is, however, there is little in this book to help us know when it was written.  A locust plague serves as the backdrop for the prophecy, along with oppression from enemies such as the Phoenicians (Tyre) and Philistines.  There are references to these things in Amos, whose book occurs about this time period.  The book is written to Judah.

The spiritual circumstances recounted in the book are those which could have been common to any period of the minor prophets (called “minor” because their books are so short).  As if foreign oppression wasn’t enough, Judah is suffering from a devastating locust plague that has brought famine on the land, but this is not a “natural disaster.”  This plague has been brought on by the Lord Himself because of Judah’s sins.

If His people will repent, God promises a level of blessing not seen at any other time in history: He will place His Spirit on His people.  The Spirit is God’s empowering presence to enable God’s people to do and be what God has decreed for them, and Joel’s promise inaugurates a new hope for His people.

But it will not happen, because God’s people, for all the reform of Joash, still have not returned to God.  The “form” of Israel’s religion may be restored, but the function of it in the heart of God’s people will not happen.

When God’s spirit does come, it is during the Feast of Weeks after the Passover of Jesus’s death and resurrection, and it christens a new age in which the people of God will be composed not just of descendants of Jacob, but of all people who “call on the name of the Lord.”

Friday, June 22. 2 Kings 10 – 12

One of the things to keep in mind is the passing of different dynasties in the stories of the kings.  A “dynasty” is a succession of rulers in the same family.

Thus far, the northern kingdom of Israel has had four different dynasties.  It has been ruled by Jeroboam and his family, Baasha and his family, Zimri (short dynasty of seven days), and Omri.  With the revolt of Jehu, we enter the fifth dynasty.  All of these previous dynasties have come to an end because the rulers have been unfaithful to God.  In each case but that of Zimri, a prophet has foretold of the end of the dynasty.

On the other hand, only one dynasty has ruled Judah: that of the house of David and in 2 Kings 11, that dynasty comes perilously close to extinction.  With the death of Ahaziah, his mother, Athaliah, sets out to destroy her entire family.

Why would she do this?

We are left to speculate.  Perhaps she intended to seize the kingdom for herself (she does, after all, rule Judah for six years).  But also remember that she is a granddaughter of Omri, the founder of the fourth dynasty of Israel.  Perhaps she was seeking to become the link that would rejoin the kingdoms again.

Whatever the reasoning, her plans were foiled.  Ahaziah’s sister, Jehosheba was married to a Levitical priest by the name of Jehoiada.  She kidnapped Ahaziah’s newborn son (Joash) and hid him in a store room in the temple of Solomon.  He was kept there secretly for seven years.
At the end of seven years, the priest Jehoiada revealed him to the royal guard.  The Carites (also known as the Kerethites) and staged a coup to declare the boy as king.  The Davidic dynasty had hung by a thread, but the Lord’s promise held sure and David’s line was preserved.  Thanks also to the priest Jehoiada, Joash was raised to be faithful to the Lord and the priest’s guidance led to a renewal of the covenant of God and a spiritual revival in Judah.

Saturday, June 16. 1 Kings 12 – 15

While Solomon was filled with the wisdom of God, he didn’t use it very well.

David succeeded in uniting all Israel under his kingship.  Early in his reign he appointed a High Priest (Abiathar) from the northern part of Israel, and a co-High Priest (Zadok) from the South.  The first readers of Samuel and Kings, familiar with the turf wars among the tribes during the days of the Judges, would recognize the wisdom of such a political move.

With Solomon, however, it all comes undone.  Solomon removes Abiathar (though not without good reason).  Then, he divides Israel into twelve districts whose taxes supply the empire with operating capital.  They are overseen by twelve district officers appointed by Solomon.  You might think the districts corresponded to the tribal boundaries, but they do not and in fact, do not include Judah (thus apparently making her tax-exempt).  Solomon fundamentally took away the ability of the northern tribes to select their own leaders and put the burden of paying for his grandiose projects squarely on the north.

The money from those taxes went primarily for building projects and fortifications in the south, leaving the north more vulnerable.  When it came time to pay Hiram, king of Tyre for all the building products he had furnished, Solomon gave him twenty towns in the north.

No wonder then when Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, became king in 1 Kings 12 and promised to continue the policies of his father, the north rebelled and seceded from the kingdom.

Two things stand out to me: First, it is possible to be blessed of God and not live up to your potential.

When Solomon undertook to bring God glory, he did it in the most human of ways, overlooking a vital interest of God: the unity of His people.  The most beautiful temple in the world would not make up for that failing which brings me to the second point: when God blesses your life, be sure when you thank God for the blessing, you do it in a way God will appreciate, not just a way you believe will bring Him honor.

Thursday, June 14. Song of Solomon 4 – 6

Reading the Song of Solomon, I often wonder precisely what the author is saying.  The young man speaks to the girl: “Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon.”  He calls her his “garden,” a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.  But later he writes “I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.”

What does he mean?

I think the best thing to do with this poem is to allow your imagination to  flow freely.  What do you think is happening?

Remember, this is an erotic poem.  Surely the man is speaking candidly of his sexual desire for his beloved.  It is a desire that is intense, but still, restrained.  At this moment anyway, her garden is locked up, her spring enclosed.  But however restrained, desire burns.

What strikes me about this poem is the imaginative and beautiful imagery used to convey eroticism.  In a world where sex language is so often synonymous with words for violence,  mistake or regret, the language here gives sex the beauty of planning, refreshment, and joy.

It is the way God intended it to be.

Wednesday, June 13. Song of Solomon 1 – 3

The Song of Solomon is so very different from other material in the Bible.  I read it and wonder what story it is telling.  I know that it involves Solomon, for the text is plain about that in chapter three, but often other things are less plain.

The poem begins with the words of a woman and it reads to me like a “Cinderella story.”
She sees herself as oppressed.  Her brothers make her do their work for them, and her own work gets neglected.  Because the work is outside, and hard, her complexion is dark and rough.  Plain – at least in her own eyes.  Yet Solomon sees her as a beautiful wild flower – a lily of the valley or a rose of Sharon.

Somehow they met, and fell in love.  But social distance makes the union impossible.  She lies on her bed at night, dreaming of her prince charming, and in chapter three, he shows up.

Or is it just a dream?

Dream or real, it is an idealized story of how we all wish romance could go for a lifetime.  Reality however requires that we  wake up and deal with work, illness, conflict, and children.  But that doesn’t mean romance has to end.  It just means we have to remember who we fell in love with in the first place, and why, keep our priorities in check, and learn to see ourselves as our spouse has always seen us, and work to live up to their vision.

Tuesday, June 12. Ecclesiastes 10 – 12

A major part of Ecclesiastes 10 has to do with rulers.

We’d like to think we are all equal before God, and surely God’s salvation is available equally to all.  But that doesn’t mean there is always a level playing field in our world – nor that God is required to make it so, nor that justice demands it.

Some people are simply not suited for positions they occupy (10:7): they are not competent to make the required decisions or, their background makes them unsuitable and so Solomon laments the fact that sometimes fools are placed in positions of responsibility while the qualified are stuck with tasks beneath their ability.  In our age of political correctness, we are a bit chagrined at this notion, but Solomon says it’s simply a part, a sad part, of life.

On the other hand, sometimes the competent occupy the right position, but behave poorly – the prince who parties early in the morning (vss. 16, 17).  There is an appropriate time for everything.  The morning is a time for work, not partying.  Those in positions of responsibility should be seen being responsible at the appropriate times.

And sometimes, rulers appoint incompetent people to responsible positions (vs. 6).  Perhaps they just made a mistake.  Or perhaps it is an effort to secure a greater legacy by selecting a less competent successor.  Whatever the reason, it is unfitting.

Everyone should behave well, but Solomon says protocols and accountability can change, depending on your station in life.

Monday, June 11. Ecclesiastes 7 – 9

From the proverbs, you might expect some repetition in wisdom books, and Ecclesiastes does not disappoint us.  There is more than a bit of repetition here.

The writer repeatedly tells us that wisdom is important, despite the fact that it is so often ignored.  You see it plainly in the little story he tells at the end of chapter eight.  A poor man saves his city through his wisdom, but because he is poor, he is not honored and it isn’t long before no one pays any attention to him at all.  This is far from what we would call “fair,” but if there’s one thing that rings true in Ecclesiastes, it is that life is far from what we would call “fair.”

Why does life have to be this way?

The wise author doesn’t say.  In fact, he says he doesn’t know: “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night— then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it” (8:16-17).

What he does know is that God understands, and His approval is most important of all.

Sunday, June 10. Ecclesiastes 3 – 6

There are at least three ways you can take the early poem of chapter three.

First, there is time for everything.

But you and I know that’s not true.  There are, however, those people who believe that it is possible to do everything and their lives are spent flitting from one project to another.  Something always suffers.  Sometimes it is the quality of their achievement – a “jack of all trades, master of none” syndrome.  Sometimes it is their family life.  Sometimes it is their health.

Second, there is “a” time for everything, and perhaps this is closer to what Solomon meant.  You can’t get it all in.  There must be compartmentalization and discipline.  But even this does not capture his real meaning.

The poem really affirms that God is in control of time, and He brings about all things in His time.  The times to be born, die, plant and reap are not determined by man, but by God.  God makes everything beautiful in His time.

And so, as we consider our own time, we should remember that it is not our own, but God’s.  We should seek to use it to please Him.

Saturday, June 9. Proverbs 30 – Ecclesiastes 2

One of my favorite passages is a prayer and found in Proverbs 30:7-9 – “Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

Do you hear the Lord’s prayer in these words?

Jesus taught we should pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  The wise man realizes that he can never accomplish righteousness on his own, and he will never be equal to making himself acceptable to God.  He must have the Lord’s help and grace and he must depend on the Lord to provide.  Because our holiness is God’s desire too, He is faithful to make it so.  Paul will say as much in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Then Jesus taught we should be careful what we pray for, asking for bread (not a banquet table), and just enough for a day.  The wise man reveals why: too little and one might dishonor God.  Too much and one might think he doesn’t need God.

Dependence and balance.  That’s the prayer of the wise man.  It should be ours too.

Thursday, June 7. Proverbs 24 – 26

When I read Proverbs 24:11-12 I am reminded of the famous statement by Martin Niemöller about the rise of Naziism:
First they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I know what Niemöller was trying to say, but his words leave me just a little cold.  They seem to make an interest in justice a matter of self preservation –  but that may be a bit harsh.
There is another quote that also comes to mind, this one attributed to Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” but this too doesn’t quite catch the flavor of Solomon’s words.
Solomon urges us to speak out in behalf of others, to come to the rescue of the needy and oppressed because it is the right thing to do, it is what God expects.  More importantly, God holds us accountable for a socially apathetic attitude, and His punishment will be severe.  While “this earth is not our home,” what happens here affects us, and how we respond may have eternal consequences.