Reading Through the Bible, Monday, September 26. Amos 2-4

    At the death of Solomon, about 931 B.C.,  his kingdom was torn in two and became known as the kingdoms of Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south).  Jereboam, a descendant of Joseph, became Israel’s first king.  Jereboam was chosen by God for this position and had God’s blessing, but Jereboam faithlessly (and stupidly) chose to rebel against God, installing worship centers at the cities of Dan and Bethel, all in an effort to solidify a monarchy already guaranteed by God. He set up golden idols at those sites and encouraged the people to worship them.  They did, and very soon afterward, God made their lives incredibly difficult by sending the Syrians and the Assyrians to oppress them.  From 805 – 735 B.C., however, there was a break in the oppression and Israel began to prosper.  Rather than turn to God in repentance however, Israel drew further away.

    It was during this time that God sent a poor man from Tekoa (12 miles south of Jerusalem) to preach to them.  His task was to get Israel to repent and warn them of the consequences of impenitence.  His name was Amos, and his message to Israel was simple and ominous: “Prepare to meet your God” (4:12).

    The book of Amos begins (chapters 1-2) somewhat deceptively in that it addresses the sins of the nations surrounding Israel.  Amos’ hearers and readers could not help but believe, to begin with, that they were God’s favored nation. 

    But beginning in chapter 3, the address changes.  No doubt Amos’ hearers had applauded everything the prophet said to this point.  After all, he was taking sides with them against their enemies!  But in chapter 3, Amos turns to Israel and says: “You’re no better, and you will not fare as well.”

    It would be a rude awakening.

    Jesus had stern language for people who condemn others for the same things they are doing themselves (Luke 13:2-4).  Paul spoke the same way to the Roman Christians (2:1-4).

    None of us is perfect, but our imperfections should not blind us to sin.  Instead, they should humble us and draw us closer to the God who can forgive and restore.

Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, September 25. Joel 1 – Amos 1

    Joel was an 8th century B.C. prophet writing during the divided kingdom period of the Old Testament.  He opens with observations about a locust plague that has destroyed his country. “Has not the food been cut off  before our very eyes–  joy and gladness  from the house of our God?  The seeds are shriveled  beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins,  the granaries have been broken down,  for the grain has dried up.  How the cattle moan!  The herds mill about  because they have no pasture;  even the flocks of sheep are suffering.”

    Joel wrote specifically for the southern kingdom of Judah, and said to them: ‘If you think this locust plague was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet” (2:2).  Because of Judah’s sinfulness, God promised to send a foreign army on his own people to subdue and punish them.  The army, and the devastation in its wake, would be worse than a plague of locusts.

    Joel does not present a catalog of Judah’s sins.  Only “drunkenness” is specifically mentioned.  But as you journey through the book, God seems upset about two things:  First, people simply do not give God much thought.  The priests perform their duties in the temple, but those are more ritual than deep heartfelt service to God in behalf of the people.  The people have gotten on with their lives with little thought about what God wants for them, and even less thought about what God wants of  them. Second, their inattention to God is evidenced by their lack of offerings to God.

    The plague has come because the people have not thought about God enough to make offerings to them.  He has responded to take away everything they have so that no offerings are possible.  When they return to Him, he will bless them once more – and He intends they then consider Him first.

    The “day of the Lord” is a signature phrase for Joel.  It is a day of judgment.  For those who have persecuted God’s people, it will be a day of desolation.  For the unfaithful of God’s people, it will be a day of devastation.  But for those who  faithful, it will be a day of shelter and blessing accompanied by the presence of God’s Spirit.  Peter refers to Joel in his Acts 2 sermon and calls Pentecost Joel’s promised glorious “day of the Lord.”   We can divide Joel as follows:

I)    The locust plague recounted. – Chapter 1

II)    Promised punishment from God and a call to repentance – Chapter 2:1-17

III)    The judgment of God – Chapters 2:18 – 3:21

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, September 24. Hosea 11-14

    As we finish Hosea today, the word “conflicted” comes to mind, and it applies, strangely enough, to God.

    God is conflicted over His people.  On the one hand, he knows what they deserve, what justice demands.  On the other, He loves them.  You see it plainly in 11:8 – “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah?  How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.”  (Admah and Zeboiim were two cities of the plain consumed in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – compare Genesis 10:19 and 19:24-29).

    Judgment doesn’t come easy for God, but it does come, just as it did for Israel (often referred to as “Ephraim” in this book).

    11:1 introduces us to a text used in Matthew 2:15 and reminds us that Bible literature sometimes has two non-related meanings.  In Hosea, the line “out of Egypt I have called my son” refers to the Exodus.  In Matthew, it refers to the sojourn of Jesus’ family in Egypt when he was a baby.  But be careful.  While Bible texts may have more than one meaning, the meanings they have must always be obvious from the text.  As Bible interpreters, we are not allowed to assign meanings to passages they never had in the Bible.

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, September 23. Hosea 8-10

    “An eagle is over the house of the Lord.”

    Sounds like a good thing.  In many of our more patriotic TV commercials, a soaring eagle is often depicted flying over the land.

    But remember: an eagle is a bird of prey.  A soaring eagle is looking for food, and when Hosea writes about this one flying over the land, God’s people are the prey.

    This begins the third of four speeches comprising Hosea 4:1 – 11:11 and this speech is two chapters long.  God’s complaint is that His people have broken his covenant and rebelled against Him.  They reply that they have not been unfaithful.  Israel’s deep religious nature is emphasized by their building of many places of worship.  And yet, they avhe forgotten taht God prescribed only one place of worship: Jerusalem.  Their attempt to be more religious has resulted simply in more sin, highlighted by their continual trust in political alliances (Assyria) when the times get tough rather than turning to God.

    Just because you are religious, does not mean you are faithful.  Faithfulness means trusting in God alone, and following His revealed will rather than what you think He might be happy with.

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, September 22. Hosea 5-7

    What if you went looking for God, but couldn’t find Him.

    Impossible, right?

    After all, Paul wrote that God had so ordered the world that everyone might “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”  So how is it possible that God cannot be “found” or “discovered?”

    Hosea says, suprisingly, for God’s people, it is.

    The problem is not an absence of religion.  Both Israel and Judah (remember, Hosea is writing during the “divided kingdom period,” are very religious.  The prophet mentions their scrupulous attention to religious festivals (new moon festivals) and the abundance of their sacrifices (they seek the Lord “with their flocks and herds”).

    The problem is a lack of heart for God.  God is not a part of their daily lives; they do not consider Him when they make their life decisions.  They are sexually immoral (give birth to illegitimate children), arrogant (will not listen to anyone but themselves), and dishonest (the movement of boundary stones is stealing property).  In times of trouble, they look to political deliverance (Assyria) rather than the Lord.

    They only think about God at His appointed time.

    And when people live like this, in times of trouble, God will not be found.

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, September 21. Hosea 1-4

    The last twelve books of the Old Testament are called simply “The Twelve” or the “Minor Prophets.”  They are “minor” not because they are unimportant, but because they are smaller than the other prophetical books.  Keep in mind as you read them that the work of the prophet was not to “foretell” the future, but to call God’s people to remember their covenant with Him, remind them of the blessings of that covenant, and  warn them of the consequences of violating it.

    The following minor prophets did their work during the Divided Kingdom Period (when there was a Northern Kingdom, Israel, and a Southern Kingdom,  Judah).  Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, and Nahum.  The period covers the years 800 – 722 B.C.

    In the case of Hosea, God allowed him to marry Gomer, a woman whose background disposed her to unfaithfulness. True to her heritage, she cheated on him at every turn, bore three children – none of whom belonged to Hosea – and finally left Hosea to indulge her passions.

    As always happens however, her lovers eventually grew tired of her and finally, with no one who really cared for her, she was sold as a slave.

    You have to wonder what Hosea’s neighbors were saying about him – what a rotten deal he had gotten, how unfair it was that he was stuck caring for the children of his wife’s adulteries.  Hosea could have said: “Good riddance,” found a wife who would love him, and gotten on with his life.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he grieved over his lost love.  Finally, he bought her out of slavery, and brought her home.

    Now imagine what the neighbors thought!  Not only was his behavior beyond the understanding, but they may have considered it a violation of God’s law (Deuteronomy 24:1ff)!

    But the story of Hosea and Gomer is the story of God and his people.  His people were unfaithful to him beyond all excuse, but God loved them still and the story of God’s enduring, persistent love, seen in the love of Hosea for Gomer, was intended to shame Israel into faithfulness.

    The book can be outlined as follows:

I)    The story of Hosea and Gomer – Chapters 1-3

II)    Israel’s unfaithfulness recounted – Chapters 4-13

III)    God’s enduring love proclaimed – Chapter 14

Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, September 20. Daniel 11 – Hosea 1

    It’s easy to get lost in Daniel 11.  The events foretold there so closely mirror actual historical events (going from the fifth century B.C. to the second century B.C.) that scholars have doubted Daniel actually wrote it.  There’s no way, they believe, Daniel could see that far into the future.

    But this isn’t Daniel’s book.  It’s the Lord’s book.  Daniel is but the means God is using of communicating the message.

    So what’s the message?

    Daniel is, by this time, writing after the first return of God’s people from Babylon to Jerusalem.  Daniel chose to stay in Babylon.  So did a lot of other Jewish people.

    Why did they stay?  Perhaps Daniel himself was too old to make the journey by this time.  Others, having made their homes (and perhaps grown up) in Babylon, chose the pagan environment over the city of God.  God’s people are a divided lot.  What does the future hold?

    Alexander the Great (no doubt the mighty king of 11:3) will overcome the Persians, but at his death, his kingdom will be divided into four parts.  Daniel 11 concerns itself only with two of them: The kings of the north (Syria) and the kings of the south(Egypt).  Between them there will be conflict (11:5) alliances (vss.  6 & 17) and more conflict (vss.  7-13) and the balance of power will seesaw.  God’s people will be caught in the middle, but the more violent prone among them will rebel – and fail.  A king of the North will attempt to enlarge his boarders into Europe  (coastlands – vs.  18) but will fail.

    As time goes on, the northern kingdom will dominate for a while, and things will go badly for God’s people (vss.  20-28, 31-35).  The king of the north will exalt himself as supreme – and it will look for all the world like he is, but soon, he, like all those before him, will perish (vss.  36-45).

    Those who would like to see suggested identification of these kings involved might consult the NIV Application commentary on Daniel (pages 271-283), but remember: if Daniel wrote this book, NO ONE would know who those kings were.  What did God intend for his people to get from this presentation if they couldn’t identify the kings?

    Simply this, in the words of an old hymn: “The kingdoms of earth pass away one by one, but the kingdom of heaven remains.”  As they always had (and as we persist in doing), God’s people pinned their hopes on earthly political movements and empires.  But all those are destined to fail.  The important thing is to have your name written in God’s book as one who leads others in righteousness (12:3).

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, September 19. Daniel 8-10

    There are three important visions in Daniel you should not miss.

    The first is in chapter 2 where Daniel interprets the king of Babylon’s dream.  Three kingdoms are to follow that of the Babylonians, but those kingdoms are not named.

    The second is in chapter 7 where Daniel has a dream of four beasts, each representing a future kingdom.  But again, the kingdoms are not named.

    In chapter 8, Daniel has a dream of two animals, a ram and a goat.  Here, we are told they represent two kingdoms, that of Persia (which was to follow that of Babylon) and that of Greece.

    In biblical interpretation, one should seek the meaning that would have been understood by the book’s first readers.  But in this case, other than what is plainly written (the mention of Persia and Greece), it would be difficult for the first readers to know much else.  Their descendants would come to understand it through the events of history but for the first readers, the meaning is unattainable.  I believe that is what is meant by the sealing of the vision.

    What’s going on?

    The kingdom of Greece, at Alexander the Great’s death, was divided into four parts (8:22), each ruled by one of Alexander’s generals.  Chapter 8 assures the readers that though one of these divisions will become stronger than the rest, and take a position against God (the Prince of Princes) and His people, he will be destroyed by the Lord.

    As we move into this section of Daniel, it will be tempting to see historical figures in the presentation, but the first readers would not know them.  How would they read it? 

    As a light into the future. 

    Though they might return to their homeland from Babylon, their trust must always be in the Lord.  Governments will come and go, and oppression will be ever-present, but those who hold to God’s hand will always be secure.

    We need to remember that.

Reading Through the Bible. Saturday, September 17. Ezekiel 48 – Daniel 3

    Before Ezekiel and his countrymen were carried into captivity, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sent an army to Jerusalem, took their most sacred national treasures, and carried the king and the best and brightest of the Jewish empire as hostages to Babylon.

    The captives had to wonder: “Where is God?  Has the God of Israel met His match in the Babylonian empire?

    Among those captives were princes named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  Their story – and especially that of Daniel, is recounted in the book, Daniel.

    The historical section of Daniel covers the period from 605 B.C. to 536 B.C. and appeared as a literary document after Judah’s captivity, during the days when God’s people were beginning to return to Jerusalem.  The book has but one point: Despite Israel’s national shame and weakness, God, their God, was still God.  No matter how it seemed at times, He still ruled over the kingdoms of men and “gives them to anyone He wishes” (4:17).

    Proof of God’s sovereignty is offered in the first chapter of the book as the author sets the stage for the main characters and places the reader in their world.  These characters, though enslaved in a foreign country, rise inexplicably to positions of power – solely because God wills it (Daniel 1).  In the second section, even the Kings of Babylon and Persia come to understand that Israel’s God is sovereign even over them (chapters 2 – 7).  In the final section of the book (chapters 8-12), Daniel receives visions for the future that illustrate the same thing.  Years after Daniel’s death and the circulation of this book, God’s people, in reading Daniel, would take comfort in knowing that no matter how difficult the road, God was still taking care of them and would deliver them.  Their assurance of the future rested on the demonstrations of God in their past.

    Daniel remains important.  Even though God’s people are no longer defined at all by nationality or ethnicity, our God still rules over the nations and gives them to whomever He wishes, even the lowliest of men.  Even though the nations of the world, as nations of the world, have neither promise nor hope from God, they ignore Him and His will at their own peril.

    We, however, regardless of nationality, as followers of Jesus, are the People of God. No matter who holds public office, God sits on the throne.  Our allegiance is solely to Him, and our hope rests in Him exclusively who rules sovereign over the kingdoms of men.

 

Reading Through the Bible, September 16. Ezekiel 45-47

    Take a look at the provided graphic (from John B.  Taylor, Ezekiel (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1969).

    When Israel returned to the Promised Land from Egypt, over a thousand years before, there was a somewhat different allotment of land.  In the first place, there was no allotment for the King (Prince in this text).  A special section of land seven miles (25,000 cubits) square surrounds the temple.  This square is divided into three parts.  The top part is 10,000 cubits (3 miles) wide and is for the Levites.  The next 3 mile wide section is for the priests.  The bottom is a mile wide and is for the city and the people of the city.

    The prince (or King) has the territory to the east and west of the sacred city.  His land boundary is fixed.  It belongs to His house forever and he cannot dispose of it permanently.  It is all the property he gets.  Furthermore, at the sacred festivals, the prince must supply the sacrifices for the people.

    So what’s the point, since obviously none of this ever occurred?

    God occupies a most holy and central position in all of Israel.  The king is to lead in allegiance to God and service to Him.  The Priests receive no portion in the land, and the king’s portion is limited.  Materialism and all the sins connected with it cannot be a part of the lives of these leaders.  There would be no point since they are not allowed to accumulate anything of lasting value (the land).

    Rather than look for some specific fulfillment of this in terms of land and building, we should think of it as what God wants of His people.  He wants to be the focus of their lives, and that focus is to be maintained by their leaders.  This lesson is applicable in every age.  When Israel returned to the promised land, she needed to carry this lesson with her.