Friday, October 4, 2019
Matthew 10 – 11
Jesus calls the 12 disciples and commissions them to be his disciples. He then sends them out to proclaim that the “kingdom of God is near” and empowers them to perform miracles which will confirm that the Kingdom of GOD is indeed near. It had to have been a glorious moment for the disciples yet I wonder.
I wonder because of the words of commissioning ringing in their ears. Words of commissioning which tell them to focus primarily on their Jewish brothers and sisters. Words of commissioning which tell them not to make advance preparation for their journey but to trust GOD. Words of commissioning which reveal that they are being sent out as sheep among the wolves. Words of commissioning which reveal that they will be treated as if they are GOD’s enemies and will be thrown in to jail, yet GOD will give them the words to speak.
Words of commissioning which reveal that the Gospel will cut and divide families as some choose to accept Jesus while others choose to reject Jesus. Words of commissioning which reveal that the disciples of Jesus must deny themselves and carry their crosses. Words of commissioning which reveal that true disciples must choose to love Jesus above all else, above everyone else, even their closest family members. Words of commissioning resonating in their hearts that as they leave the safety of Jesus’ side, they will not be alone.
John the Baptist has been arrested. Maybe, just maybe things had not turned out for John like he planned. Surely the one who would be the messenger preparing the way for the Messiah wouldn’t end up rotting in a jail cell but apparently that’s what happened to John. As he sits and rots he hears about Jesus and the disciples but doesn’t really know what to think.
John sends his disciples again to question Jesus. It seems that Jesus just didn’t seem to pass the vision test for John. He wasn’t sure about Jesus. I wonder if he thought maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all, it just didn’t look like John assumed it would look like. When questioned, Jesus responded with these words in Matthew 11:4 – l6:
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
We aren’t told how John received this message but I have a hunch he recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 which would have stirred him and enabled him to remain faithful even while rotting away in Herod’s jail cell waiting for the dancing Salome to ask for his head. Though not normally counted as one of the 12 disciples John denied himself and took up his cross for Jesus’s sake.
Thursday, October 3, 2019
Matthew 7 – 9
Today’s reading can be summarized by Matthew 9:36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Though authoritative, more authoritative than the people had ever experienced; though continuing to raise the bar on holy living by diving deep into the darkness of the human heart; the people hungered for Jesus and his message. Even as he explained to them how they could spot true prophets and disciples by their fruits of obedience Jesus won them over.
Declaring that they must build their lives on the deep foundations of His words through obedient living he amazed the crowds. The amazement simply grew from there as he began to heal all he encountered who needed his healing touch. Nothing like amazing miracles to affirm and confirm His words, Jesus poured himself out for the people by making himself accessible to them whether on the road or in Peter’s house.
I have always thought it funny that when he found Peter’s mother-in-law ill that when he healed her she immediately jumped up and began to serve Jesus. Isn’t that the most appropriate response when someone does something good for us? Isn’t that the most appropriate response when someone does something astounding for us? Peter’s mother-in-law immediately demonstrated her gratitude by serving Jesus. How will we respond to Jesus’ astounding gifts to us today?
He touches lepers, he heals the centurion’s servant from a far all while lauding this Gentile centurion for his amazing faith. He casts out demons, he forgives and heals the paralyzed man demonstrating both his power to forgive sin by linking it with his healing but also revealing his identity as GOD’s Son by having the authority to forgive sins. Uh-oh! There are some in his midst who take offense.
Even John’s disciples come to him and question him about fasting. People who apparently came to mourn laugh when he tells them the little girls only slept. After ushering the laughers out he heals her with a simple touch. A simple touch of faith from the woman trapped by years of incessant bleeding sets her free and did not go unnoticed by Jesus.
In the midst of this incredible, authoritative teaching and the astounding miracles which have all talking there are some who take offense at Jesus and accuse him of blasphemy. Either Jesus is blaspheming because he really isn’t who he says he is or he is exactly who he says he is by his authority over the scrolls and the demonic powers. What will become of this Jesus? Who will we decide he is?
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Matthew 5 – 6
The opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel quickly connect us back to the ongoing biblical narrative by continuing the story started with GOD in the Old Testament. Without giving a lot of detail Matthew tells us about the mysterious birth of Jesus. Joseph discovers that the woman he is engaged to is pregnant. Refusing to allow himself to over-react as was his right and throw the Book at her, Joseph decides to divorce her privately to save her life.
It turns out that Joseph is a dreamer. He is first told in a dream that the baby Mary carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit and he is to accept both Mary and her Son. The Magi visit from far places demonstrating that this Son is not just for the Jewish nation but for all everywhere. We are reminded by King Herod’s manipulative, power-hungry, vindictive actions that the world is a dark, evil place. But, Joseph has another dream and they escape to Egypt just in time.
In a third dream Joseph is given the “all clear” and they return to Israel settling in Nazareth according to the Old Testament scriptures. You may have noticed by now that Matthew continues to set the story of Jesus in the context of the entire, flowing Biblical narrative by demonstrating how the actions of Joseph, Mary and Jesus are fulfillment of prophecy from the Old Testament.
That just continues when John the Baptist arrives on the scene as the messenger preparing the way for the Messiah and is further confirmed once this Jesus begins his public ministry by being baptized, confronting Satan in the desert wilderness, miraculously healing the sick and preaching with an out-of-this-world authority.
In today’s section we encounter specifics of Jesus’ preaching and teaching through the Sermon on the Mount. Beginning with the “blessed ares” one immediately gets the sense of something new happening in Jesus. Jesus declares blessed the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, etc. which in reality turns on them upside down as the world would view them.
He declares himself the fulfillment of the Law and turns to Moses’ Ten Commandments in which instead of lowering the bar he in reality raises the bar when he includes thought and motive with the actual deed. He stands contemporary beliefs on their heads when he urges his listeners to forget about eye for eye and tooth for tooth and proclaims self-sacrificial giving in the face of harmful attacks. He further reverses the established course by proclaiming love for the enemy and new ways of looking at their spiritual practices.
This brief section ends though with Jesus reminding them of just how much GOD loves them using the image of “Father” to describe a loving GOD who knows all about them and cares explicitly for all of His creation. A GOD who feeds sparrows will take care of all our needs. A new day has been ushered in by this Jesus. Stay tuned to see what’s next.
Tuesday, October 01, 2019
Matthew 1 – 4
Are you thinking the same thing I am as we begin to read the New Testament today that we have left the Old Testament behind; that we have somehow escaped? I will confess to such thoughts and yet Matthew’s Gospel pretty much immerses us right back into the Old Testament with a genealogy; a genealogy unlike any other.
It is a genealogy unlike any other because it contains the names of five women which was unheard of for the time in which it was written. I hate to say it like this but for all intents and purposes women were viewed back in biblical times as property or less and were never mentioned in official genealogies. Yet, we have five women prominent in the genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba) and Mary. You remember them or at least four of them from our recent foray into the Old Testament don’t you?
Tamar tried to live her life according to the law but was rejected by her father-in-law and had to trick him into having a son with her. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho but showed grace to Joshua’s spies and rescued her family. Ruth, a hated Moabite, widowed early by the untimely death of her husband clung to her Jewish mother-in-law and just would not leave her; soon married another man from Bethlehem and became the great-grandmother of King David. Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah was raped by King David and became King Solomon’s mother. And the fifth, Mary who we will hear more about later; she had Jesus under “suspicious” circumstances.
I don’t know about you but these four Old Testament women reveal much about the state of GOD’s chosen people. These four women reveal the fallen nature of the rest of the lineage of Jesus and yet their acceptance into the lineage of the Very Son of GOD. Yes, even Jesus had sinners in his lineage. Actually, each person mentioned in his lineage was simply a normal human being which meant they had all sinned and fallen short of the glory of GOD. As I read through the rest of the lineage of Jesus I am whisked through a quick review of Jewish history like my life passing before my eyes.
We can’t escape the Old Testament because the Old Testament is part of our story; is part of who we are as human beings. This genealogy of Jesus should comfort us. We all have parts of our stories that we would prefer to hide or forget but they are part of who we are and best of all can be redeemed by the One who fully embraced his humanity (through his mother Mary) to rescue us, to buy us back from the broken sinfulness we all share.
Monday, September 30, 2019
Malachi 1 – 4
Well, here we are. Here we are at the very last book of the Old Testament. In nine months we have walked through the panoramic view of Scripture from the very beginning when GOD spoke and creation began, to the early days when Abram heard GOD’s call and trusted Him enough to leave on an uncertain journey into a future of endless hope.
As Abram became Abraham in his faith and his family learned to trust GOD as well we watched them argue among themselves struggling for supremacy within their own family, a struggle which led them to sell one of their own into slavery to a foreign land. After centuries of suffering as slaves in that foreign land they cried out to GOD and were heard. GOD sent one of their own, Moses, to lead them out of captivity.
Through travails and travel, GOD eventually brought them into the Promised Land but it seemed like almost immediately they forgot about the Promiser and went their own way plunging their nation into sin and idolatry and disobedience and forgetfulness. Prophets were sent time and time again to remind them of their GOD who loved them, who wanted the best for them but they persisted in their self-imposed amnesia.
GOD did all GOD could do to bring them back to Himself. GOD demonstrated His love and concern for them endlessly yet they just didn’t get it. Over the last couple of months we have been immersed in the promises and warnings of the prophets but GOD’s people refused to hear, wouldn’t listen and just ignored GOD’s call upon them.
Today we find ourselves at the end of the Old Testament. Malachi’s words to the people are not much different than any of the other prophetic words. GOD’s people persist in sin. Even though they act like they are GOD’s people by going through the motions their hearts just aren’t in it as their half-hearted, disinterested offerings and sacrifices reveal. They are not offering their best to the ONE who has given the best to them.
Malachi ends with a call that Elijah must come first to call the people to repentance, to bring parents back to their children and the children back to their parents. A call is sounded and we have no record of anything else being spoken for more than four hundred years. Has GOD forgotten the people who consistently forgot GOD? Time will tell but I have a hunch that the story of endless hope isn’t finished yet.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Zechariah 8 – 14
Zechariah continues to pour out his heart to his listeners to bring them back to GOD. He warns them of coming judgment and punishment. He actually gets quite graphic throughout and then we encounter these selected verses.
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, one a colt the foal of a donkey.” (9: 9)
“As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to you fortress, your prisoners of hope;
Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” (9: 11 – 12)
“I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’
So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me,
‘Throw it to the potter’ – the handsome price at which they valued me!
So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at
The house of the LORD.” (11: 12 – 13)
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…” (13: 7)
Jesus is all over the prophecies of Zechariah! The images of Zechariah written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus speak of his triumphant entry to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. We are told of the blood of the covenant which will free all us prisoners from the waterless pit.
We are called “prisoners of hope!” Isn’t that awesome? I am a prisoner of hope. Because of Jesus entering in to that city long ago, because of that one who took the bribe of thirty pieces of silver to betray that Jesus, because that shepherd was struck and the sheep scattered into the darkness of that night; we are prisoners of that hope and we have been redeemed.
And as we chew on these prophetic images that were fulfilled for us in Jesus hundreds of years later let us remember these penetrating, resonating words of Zechariah from 4: 6:
“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.”
Saturday, September 28, 2019
Zechariah 1 – 7
There is much to be considered, pondered and digested from the book of Zechariah. It is a rather lengthy book for a Minor Prophet; chock full of prophetic images which I believe resonated with his initial audience yet stretch even beyond our day in scope. There seem to be many “end-of-time” prophecies here that have not been fulfilled…yet.
Like Haggai, Zechariah lived and prophesied during the reign of King Darius and his prophecies seemed to guide his contemporaries in being re-established in their return to Judah as well as being prepared for the coming Day of the LORD.
I love this image from 2: 4 – 5: “’Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will be its glory within.’” I like to just soak in this image and imagine GOD being a wall of fire around us and the glory within us. Wait a minute; couldn’t that be descriptive of the Church today? At least it should be, shouldn’t it?
But it’s this little phrase that gnaws at me and I think it refers to when the returning exiles have years of starts and stops were finally able to complete the temple. As they consecrated the temple there were some there who remembered the temple of Solomon in all of its glory and wept at the disproportionate contrast with what their hands had made. 4:10: “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
As many wept on that day thinking that what they had accomplished was nothing, Zechariah reminds them that GOD rejoices in their labor. Not only does GOD rejoice in their labor but GOD sees the lasting value of what they have made even if they do not see the significance.
How many times have we done something only to cast it aside as being unimportant? How many times have we stopped before we even began because we wondered, “what’s the use?” How many times have we allowed our minimizing perspective stop us from doing that small task that just might rock the foundations of this world?
I have in mind Abraham offering a cup of cool water to his mysterious guests on that day long ago. I remember David picking up those five small stones as Goliath loomed. I remember Mary as she broke that jar and anointed Jesus’ feet with that precious oil. I remember Jesus being led away to Calvary, a forgetful death imminent and yet it lives on throughout eternity.
In GOD’s economy there seems like the reality is that there is no such thing as a small thing. Hmmm? Hallelujah? Hallelujah!
Friday, September 27, 2019
Zephaniah 1 – 3, Haggai 1 – 2
Zephaniah lived and prophesied during the reign of Josiah who led a remarkable revival in Judah and beyond but the damage had already been done by the likes of Manasseh which made for an extremely short-lived revival indeed. Even during the life of Josiah who fought mightily to bring his people back to GOD, the prophet still tried to get the people’s attention to turn fully back to GOD with fierce, penetrating, withering words. Neither the GOD-inspired leadership of Josiah nor the GOD-inspired prophesying of Zephaniah worked. Disaster still struck Judah with a blistering blow.
Haggai lived during the reign of King Darius which means by his lifetime the devastation of Jerusalem had already happened, the exiles had been carried away into captivity and even King Cyrus had already given the proclamation that the Jewish exiles could return to their home. Just imagine their euphoria as they returned to their homeland knowing that all would be right with the world. Probably thinking that things would go back to normal for them or that they would find things just as they left them, I wonder how disappointed they were to arrive amidst the crumbling ruins.
As they started to get back to the normalcy of their lives it seems that everything became about them. Apparently they once again thought that it was all about them. In the process of being all about them it seems that they forgot it wasn’t about them at all. It was still all about GOD! Yet, they went to work on their own needs leaving GOD behind them. Haggai is sent by GOD to reveal this to them.
Things were not flourishing for them because they had once again put themselves first and foremost above GOD. Now, it doesn’t seem like they were committing blatant adultery and blasphemy by worshiping pagan gods but it just may have been that they were worshiping themselves in caring for their own needs before taking care of GOD’s house. Once they heard Haggai and got their lives back in proper perspective by putting the things of GOD first it seems they got back on track.
It makes me wonder. What might not be going as smooth or as good as it should be in our own lives today because we have everything out of order? Could this biblical principal be at work in our own world today? Because we haven’t put GOD and the things of GOD first and foremost in our lives, the rest of our lives are suffering. Hmmm?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Thursday, September 26, 2019
Nahum 1 – 3, Habakkuk 1 – 3
Nahum offers us a direct contrast with Jonah and Nineveh. Apparently coming on the scene 100 years or so after Jonah, Nahum has harsh, brutal words of judgment and condemnation against Nineveh.
Apparently, Nahum lived in Nineveh and was preaching to his own city. He didn’t disobey GOD. He didn’t try to flee in the exact opposite direction. He didn’t become fish bait. He simply proclaimed GOD’s word of warning once again to Nineveh. And Nineveh; well this time around we are not told of any sort of repentance or change of heart in Nineveh.
Unlike the days of Jonah, Nineveh ignores the prophet Nahum and will soon pay the price. Would Judah learn the lesson of Nineveh?
Habakkuk is a book that is easily overlooked in the canon. It is brief. It is one of the Minor Prophets and located in a section of the Bible that just isn’t read that often. The book of Habakkuk contains an ongoing conversation between the prophet and GOD. Habakkuk isn’t exactly thrilled with the way GOD is doing things.
Habakkuk witnesses a world gone astray and wonders why GOD isn’t doing anything about it. He is tired of seeing violence and injustice and wrong without anything being done about it. But then GOD responds and tells Habakkuk what He is about to do. Trouble is coming to Judah in the form of the Babylonians.
Habakkuk is even less enthused as he just cannot wrap his head around the fact that GOD will use the wicked, horrid Babylonians to punish Judah and teach her a lesson. Even though it seems that Habakkuk’s patience is running thin and he just doesn’t get it he reaffirms his commitment to GOD to return to his post.
GOD responds to Habakkuk and tells him that He speaks of the end and Habakkuk needs to just wait for it because final judgment is coming. Habakkuk responds to GOD in prayer and his prayer ends with these words of committal and jubilance in 3:17 – 18:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in GOD my Savior.”
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Micah 1 – 7
As we read the prophets it is so easy to get caught up in their harsh messages of doom and gloom. As we read the prophets it is so easy to begin to look at GOD with hardened, glazed-over eyes as if GOD is intent on destruction for the sake of destruction. As we think of GOD’s messengers and by now we have encountered many of them we tend to think of them as hardened, sharpened weapons.
And yet, if we slow down a bit and take a longer look we may just find something else. In today’s reading for example, we certainly find bitter, crushing words of judgment, punishment and despair. GOD’s people just will not return to GOD, their hearts are set on lesser gods.
As I read these words I begin to feel like I need a bath and then these words pop out at me from 1:8: “Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl.” This is a man in deep anguish over his message. This is a man who is completely sold-out to GOD and speaks the message GOD gives him yet the message pains him as it pains GOD. He does not exult in the coming destruction of Samaria, he mourns; he is a man beside himself in grief representing a GOD who is deeply mourning and grieving because His people just won’t relent and repent and return.
As I continue to read harsh words of devastation and destruction, almost completely immersed in blood and gore I stumble upon these words from 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Uh, wait a minute; I am familiar with that one. We usually hear that during Advent as we approach Christmas. Could this be? In the midst of devastating decrees of judgment and punishment to a guilty people and make no mistake these are guilty people we find words of promise of coming redemption, of the coming Messiah, of GOD with us! Wow!
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Jonah 1 – 4
Do not miss the major point here that in the midst of all this prophetic hellfire and brimstone brought by the divinely-inspired prophets that in the very heart of it all is this little story of the lengths GOD goes to in order to bring a city back to GOD – a pagan city at that!
Jonah was a prophet who received a word from GOD specifically designed for the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. Jonah hated the Ninevites! He wanted nothing more than the complete and total annihilation of the despised enemies of his nation.
When told by GOD to go preach a message of judgment against Nineveh Jonah responded by going the exact other way. Jonah tried to get as far away from Nineveh as was humanly possible. Perhaps Jonah tried to get as far away from GOD as possible as well.
But there was as problem. Jonah’s GOD wasn’t one of those gods confined to a single zip code or sovereign over just the hills or one of those lowly river gods. Jonah’s GOD was the Creator of the heavens and the earth. As Jonah escaped from GOD and the command to preach, GOD and the command to preach beat him there.
Demonstrating sovereignty and power over all things GOD slows down Jonah’s escape by manipulating weather, wind and wave. Actually as much as Jonah tries to rebel GOD tries to reveal. As he sinks beneath the waves and his engulfed by a big fish, Jonah finally relents and submits himself to GOD’s will whatever GOD’s will entails (as in big fish tail).
Jonah makes the journey to Nineveh and preaches as he walks. Amazingly the people respond to this reluctant preacher by putting on sackcloth and ashes, mourning and fasting. This was an incredible response to Jonah’s preaching, a response we preachers live for.
But, alas, not Jonah; poor Jonah preferred to die than have his enemies spared. Jonah knew GOD well enough to know that GOD was compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and merciful. GOD knew the Ninevites were sincerely repenting and GOD spared them. Jonah fussed and fumed but GOD rebuked him for not caring that a city of 120,000 plus all the livestock had been spared.
So I ask us today, who are our enemies? Who are your enemies? Who are mine? How do we want GOD to treat them? Do we want their repentance and salvation? Or do we want their destruction? What we do if called by GOD to go serve our enemies?
Wait a minute; aren’t we already called to love and serve and die for our enemies?
Monday, September 23, 2019
Amos 6 – 9, Obadiah 1
Addressing nations that have grown prideful and complacent as their prosperity has increased, Amos speaks to them bluntly. Amos points out that in their wealth and prosperity they take advantage of others in oppression and injustice. He reminds them that as they revel and relax in the finest of furniture, feasting on delicacies and drinking the finest wine they should be mourning.
They should be mourning for their nation; they should be mourning for their countrymen; they should be mourning for their state of affairs with their GOD. They refuse to see themselves as they truly are. They believe themselves holy and righteous while worshiping other gods passionately. They believe themselves holy and righteous regardless of their actions.
As they enjoy the fruits of prosperity and success GOD has given them they dare to believe that they have provided it for themselves. As they experience victory in battle they dare to believe that they are the mighty warriors. Amos tells them that judgment and destruction are coming. Amos tells them that they aren’t just going to be disciplined for a few days but that their nations will be almost wiped out.
The people still will not listen. Amos sees visions. He sees coming swarms of locusts that will devastate the land and cries out to GOD for mercy; GOD relents. Amos sees a coming fire that will destroy all in its path and cries out to GOD for mercy. Finally, GOD shows Amos a plumb line which he will use to show how lacking the Israelites are in their relationship with GOD. This time, there will be no relenting only judgment and punishment.
Amos is rejected by the priest and told to return to Judah and to stop prophesying to the King and in his kingdom. Amos reminds him that he is just a lowly shepherd of sheep and a gardener of sycamore-fig trees but that GOD sent him there as a prophet to speak a word of judgment against them in an attempt to get them to return to GOD. No return – no relent…
As difficult a message as Amos brought to the Israelites and the Judeans of coming judgment and punishment which will almost wipe them out he ended with a glimmer of hope in 9:11 – 15 (selected verses): “’In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter – I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins – and rebuild it as it used to be’… ‘The days are coming when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile…
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Amos 1 – 5
We know more about the prophet Amos than we know about Joel. We are told by the text that Amos was a shepherd of Tekoa which was a small town not far from Bethlehem and Jerusalem. We are told that he lived and prophesied during the reigns of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam of Israel.
It turns out that these two kings reigned during periods of great success and their kingdoms flourished in every way; well, almost every way. These kingdoms flourished in wealth and the accumulation of wealth, regional power, expansion of their borders, etc. As is often the case I am sure these kings and their people just assumed that GOD was pleased with them because of their success but let me draw your attention to these frightening words from 5: 21 – 24:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
The truth is that though they seemed religious by their regular, dutiful, prescribed practices and though they thought themselves accepted by GOD because everything was going well for them they were sadly mistaken. They were abusing the poor. They were taking advantage of the oppressed. They were buying up property while others were starving. They were partying while others were dying. GOD was not happy.
This all makes me wonder if we are pleasing GOD by the way we worship. This makes me wonder if we just may find ourselves in the same sinking boats as the folks in Amos’ day. Rather than going through the motions and doing the right things on Sunday mornings GOD prefers we live out our faith by justice and holy living day in and day out.
It always seems to come down to the fact that why we do things is more important than what we do; and how we do things always reveals the why. What?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, September 21, 2019
Joel 1 – 3
In Hosea the leading prophetic tool was the command for Hosea to marry a promiscuous, adulterous woman and love her which Hosea obeyed and lived out. In Joel the prophetic tool is a plague of locusts which devoured Judah. We know next to nothing about Joel. He is Penuel’s son. That’s about it. We don’t know where he lived or when he lived.
We do know that as he watched a plague of locusts devastate Judah, the word of the LORD came upon him and he took the opportunity of a contemporary event which certainly captured everyone’s attention to turn their attention back where it properly belonged – to GOD.
As devastating as this locust plague was Joel assures them that it will be like nothing compared to that coming Day of the LORD and make no mistake, it is coming. What does one do in such a situation? Joel calls upon the priests and elders and all the people to gather to mourn and wail and fast and pray as the day approaches.
But even more than that Joel goes a step further. All of those practices are good and necessary but more is required in 2:12 – 14:
“’Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your GOD, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing –
grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.”
Joel reassures the people that GOD will hear them and be merciful to them. Even more, Joel reassures them in 2: 28 – 32 with this promise which was initially fulfilled, according to the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost and may it continue to be fulfilled in and through us today.
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved, for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.”
Come, Holy Spirit, come…
Friday, September 20, 2019
Hosea 7 – 14
As we continue to look at Hosea, the prophet called and commanded to marry a promiscuous, adulterous woman to demonstrate GOD’s enduring, persistent, reckless love for His people, we find ourselves wading through more harsh words of judgment trying to convince GOD’s people to return to Him. In the midst of this we find these stirring words of love and redemption.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms;
But they did not realize it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.
To them I was like one lifts a little child to the cheek,
And I bent down to feed them.
Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them
Because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets
And put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.”
Hosea 11:1 – 7
In these words I am stirred by GOD’s love for His people, for us. The reality of love, its twists and turns, its heights and depths, its victories and defeats are captured here. But most of all, the enduring, eternal nature of GOD’s perfect love for us is declared here.
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Hosea 1 – 6
We leave Daniel and his friends who faced treacherous colleagues, arrogant kings, hungry lions, blazing furnaces and bizarre visions. We now step backward chronologically into the world of Hosea who lived and prophesied to both Israel and Judah before the fall of Israel.
Though not having to face hungry lions or blazing furnaces Hosea is called to woo and marry a promiscuous woman and take her as his wife. What? Yes, you heard me right. Hosea’s burden as Israel’s prophet is to marry a promiscuous woman who soon enough becomes an adulterous wife.
Every aspect of Hosea’s married life, including the naming of his children, serves to realistically symbolize to both the Northern Kingdom of Israel (before the fall to Assyria) and Judah (before her latter fall to Babylon) how they have treated GOD throughout their existence.
Hosea and his wife Gomer demonstrate in life and living color just how much GOD loves His chosen people by wooing them and courting them and marrying them in a covenant relationship in spite of their sinfulness before Him. When Gomer leaves Hosea and sells herself as a prostitute to others, Hosea is commanded by GOD to go and buy her back.
Even though judgment has been announced against GOD’s people because of their persistent rebellion against GOD and consistent rejection of GOD, GOD demonstrates His ongoing, flourishing love for them by loving them as Hosea loves Gomer in spite of their promiscuity and their adultery with other gods.
The book of Hosea is messy. The call of Hosea to marry a woman who isn’t faithful to him in courtship and won’t be faithful to him in marriage is illogical. Reading Hosea and wondering about his obedience to such a command confuses me a bit but then inspires me. First, Hosea is so faithful to GOD that he didn’t flinch when given such a command. Hosea demonstrates faithful love and obedience in the messiness of real-world love.
In a world which is quick to judge and indict and condemn and discard I am refreshed by GOD’s persistent, consistent, unconditional, redemptive love demonstrated here through Hosea. GOD loves us. GOD has always loved us. GOD will always love us.
No matter what. Amen? Amen!
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Daniel 10 – 12
Today is catch-up today with Daniel’s prophecies. If you notice there are several different prophecies throughout the twelve chapters of Daniel yet they are all similar and related.
First we had King Nebuchadnezzar dream of a dazzling figure made of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay which will eventually be destroyed by a rock which was cut out but not by human hands. Turns out this dream was a symbolic demonstration of the present kingdom of Babylon followed by several other powerful kingdoms which will one day be toppled by GOD’s Rock.
Nebuchadnezzar then dreams in chapter four of the glorious, magnificent, towering tree which symbolizes him and the nation of Babylon. Because Nebuchadnezzar refuses to recognize and humble himself before GOD he will one day by forcibly humbled. In chapter five we have King Beshazzar’s encounter with the handwriting on the wall which spells doom for him and his nation.
In chapter 7 Daniel has visions of 4 beasts which looked like a lion with eagle’s wings, a bear with 3 ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four wings and four heads, and a terrifying and frightening beast with large, iron teeth and ten horns. He then saw the Ancient of Days take His seat on a throne of flaming fire with a river of fire flowing out of it before thousands upon thousands serving and worshiping Him.
Daniel was given the interpretation of this dream which once again is a prophecy of upcoming world powers who have been identified by scholars as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. As fierce and terrifying as any of them appear to be they will all be eventually defeated by the One and Only GOD.
In chapter 8 Daniel has a vision of a ram and a goat who rampage the countryside. Again, scholars believe this is a specific prophecy regarding Medo-Persia and Greece in the coming centuries. In chapters 9 -12 Daniel is again given more-specific details regarding the nations of the world, the re-establishment of Jerusalem and ultimately the end of time when that ROCK will be revealed!
I know these dreams and prophecies are difficult to understand and they do go into intricate detail which can be mind-numbing. The bottom line throughout the book of Daniel in each of the delightful stories told and the prophecies revealed is that even though it seems like the “world” has won and that the world will be conquered and ruled by powerful nations in succession; the time will come when the Ancient of Days (Father GOD) will bring judgment upon them all and in those last days will exert full authority over the world and the world’s powers through and by His Son. GOD has always, still is and ever will be in control.
Hallelujah? Hallelujah! Amen? Amen!
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Daniel 7 – 9
So, we are still a day behind and I just can’t skip over yesterday’s reading without mentioning it in some detail. We will try to handle the prophecy of Daniel’s latter chapters together.
So in chapter four King Nebuchadnezzar has another dream which he shares with his handlers. They cannot interpret the dream for him. Once again GOD through Daniel comes to the rescue and gives Daniel the interpretation of the dream. This time the king dreams of a massive, flourishing tree with houses and feeds all the wild animals.
Daniel tells the king that this massive tree represents him and his kingdom. That his kingdom is a glorious kingdom that GOD has established and blessed but the day will come when the king will be taken away from his kingdom for his inability to recognize GOD.
Sure enough, about a year later when the king exalts himself at his glorious works and kingship, a heavenly voice is heard and the kingdom is stripped from the king as he finds himself in a period of insanity and lives like a wild animal. After an extended period the king is able to lift up his eyes, recognize and worship the One, True GOD. His kingdom is restored to him.
In chapter five we have King Nebuchadnezzar’s son King Belshazzar living it up as king after his father’s death and drinking rebelliously from the holy cups taken from the temple in Jerusalem. In the midst of his revelry a hand appears and writes on the wall which terrifies the king. Once again only Daniel is able to interpret the writing which is a word of impending judgment against the king. That very night the Medes and Persians invade Babylon and kill Belshazzar.
In chapter six the new king Darius is duped by his handlers to proclaim a new law forbidding anyone from praying to any god except to him for thirty days. This is a desperate attempt by these handlers to get rid of Daniel because they had been unable to find anything at all wrong with Daniel; what a testimony to holiness and integrity when even your worst enemies cannot find anything in your character to indict!
Daniel is tossed into the lion’s den by the forlorn king but the lion’s lose their appetites. The next day Daniel is released without a nibble while the lions hungrily devour his accusers. Once again, GOD saves the day and uses the faithful Daniel to teach his captors.
In spite of many thinking that since the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians that GOD ceased to exist, GOD insists on showing Himself to His own people and to their pagan captors. One can see a clear progression in King Nebuchadnezzar’s life of first recognizing GOD as just Daniel’s GOD but through the fulfillment of his dreams comes to finally recognize this foreign, local deity as the GOD of the Universe!
GOD is GOD! Amen? Amen!
Monday, September 16, 2019
Daniel 4 – 6
In yesterday’s introduction to Daniel I was not able to spend adequate time in the first three chapters but I must rectify that today. Daniel, a fine, young man of royal nobility, has been carried into exile by the Babylonians. In a stroke of genius, King Nebuchadnezzar trains many of the finest exiles from all over his domain for service in his kingdom. Daniel and three of his friends are selected for the training.
Unwilling to forget their GOD or their roots, Daniel and his friends (Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego) resolve not to defile themselves with the king’s food and instead offer themselves in a ten day trial period eating just vegetables and drinking water to prove to their handler that they will appear as good or better than all the others. They win over their handler who allows them to continue with their “fast” of water and vegetables. At the end of their three year training period the four of them are selected to serve in the king’s court. GOD has them right where GOD wants them.
The king has a dream which disturbs him but he doesn’t tell anyone what the dream was to test the veracity of his own handlers. When none of them can tell him his dream he demands their execution until Daniel steps forward and asks for time. He returns to his three friends and asked them to pray for him that GOD would reveal the dream to him. During the night GOD does indeed reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s secret dream to Daniel.
Daniel is able to reveal the dream and the interpretation to the king which is a preview of coming history where Nebuchadnezzar is seen as the king of kings with other lesser kings and kingdoms to follow until GOD’s king and kingdom arrive. Daniel is richly rewarded.
It seems like the king doesn’t pay much attention to the interpretation for in the next chapter he builds a massive image of gold perhaps keeping in mind that in his dream he was symbolized by gold. Is Nebuchadnezzar really setting up an idol of himself to be worshiped? It seems that way to me – interesting isn’t it how so often we have selective hearing. Is that what he learned from the dream?
The king calls for all in his administration to come to the plain of Dura in order to fall down and worship his golden idol. All fall down and worship except for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel must have been away on business for the king…). Accused by others and brought before the king, the 3 Hebrews politely tell the king that whether or not GOD rescues them from the fiery furnace they will only worship the One and Only GOD who by the way isn’t made by human hands out of gold…
They are tossed into the furnace and don’t burn because a Fourth is in with them who looks like a “son of the gods.” Any guesses Who that might have been?
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Daniel 1 – 3
Well, if you are reading this it means we have made it through Ezekiel. I know that for me often times it felt like I was slogging through deep, sticky mud as I read Ezekiel. But I choose to remember wading through those glorious, fresh, living, healing waters Elijah described at the end.
Those waters are heading our way through the grace of GOD. Hallelujah! Actually, we may already feel the splashes and sprinkles of that glorious grace from time to time as it bubbles up within us and around us. Again, Hallelujah!
So as we begin Daniel I have to tell you this story. Some of you have already heard it. On September 11, 2001, like everyone else, I was devastated by the attacks on our nation. That summer on vacation I had read a wonderful book by Tom Clancy called “Executive Orders.” It told the fictional story of a similar attack on the United States and basically described how the U.S. recovered mainly through the heroic actions of John Patrick “Jack” Ryan and others.
As I reeled from the continuing horrors of 9/11 and beyond I reached for that book seeking some comfort and solace. None were to be found in the spine-tingling pages of Clancy’s book. It was a great book but not a divinely inspired, living book; it was just a book.
I then reached for the Bible and automatically turned to the Book of Daniel. Now I am fully aware of the “fantastic” nature of much of Daniel. I know that many biblical scholars consider it fiction or fable or less because of the amazing miracles described there but I don’t. I choose to believe.
On that day back in 2001 as I thumbed through the pages of Daniel and read again those familiar stories of miracle set in the context of disillusioning, overwhelming exile my heart began to reawaken. My soul was stirred! Peace filled me and I was reassured that GOD was with us just as GOD had been with the exiles back in the day of Daniel.
Daniel and his friends found themselves in the unhealthy confines of exile yet Daniel resolved to keep himself from being defiled. Daniel kept his faith relationship with GOD front and center through resolve, discipline, faith and brotherhood.
GOD granted him favor by revealing Himself through Daniel, his character, his actions, his friends. Often it was said of Daniel that the spirit of the gods was in him but the reality was this. It was the Spirit of the Holy GOD living in and through him to reveal GOD to a pagan, foreign land.
That same GOD is still with us today. Hallelujah? Hallelujah!
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Ezekiel 46 – 48
Have you ever noticed that sometimes there is a serious problem about returning to normal? Sometimes normal wasn’t very good to begin with. Sometimes normal isn’t enough.
In the last several chapters Ezekiel gave the exiles a delirious taste of life returning to normal back in Jerusalem. He gave them exact blueprint designs of the new and better temple. He gave them a very, realistic picture of their religious lives returning to normal with the priesthood, the altar, the sacrificial system in place.
The only problem was that normal in relationship with GOD wasn’t really good enough. As amazing as the temple had been in the days of Solomon and as thorough as the Law had been in the days of Moses and as inspiring as the leadership had been in the days of David, it had not been enough. Israel repeatedly turned away from her GOD.
No offense but I have a hunch that even though life would return to normal in Jerusalem which granted was indeed an amazing miracle but nevertheless normalcy would once again lead to rebellion and apostasy and adultery and idolatry and judgment and punishment and… That is just the nature of normal.
In this section we find the same type of back-to-normal description from Ezekiel, now including full details of each tribe’s boundaries but with a twist. Ezekiel catches this vision of back to normal with water flowing eternally out from the temple bringing fresh water and thus life to all the dead and dying areas. He lifts his eyes and sees fruit trees on the banks of this river producing fruit which bring life and health continuously.
This vision hasn’t happened yet because normal in human hands just isn’t enough but with this twist to the vision Ezekiel reveals that normal isn’t in human hands but in GOD’s and normal in GOD’s hands means GOD is enough.
I wonder, really wonder if those cleansing, flowing, glorious waters bubbling up from under the temple aren’t a foretaste of that precious blood that would one day flow from the cross. I wonder if those delightful, delicious fruit trees aren’t a foretaste of that cross made from flourishing wood that in death would bring life healthy, abundant, delightful, eternal.
I wonder and as I wonder I praise. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Friday, September 13, 2019
Ezekiel 43 – 45
Today’s reading continues with what many would perceive as boring, sleep inducing fodder but not for those still trapped in exile. Ezekiel didn’t just stop with a full, descriptive blueprint of the new temple to be constructed in Jerusalem; he went even further in his description.
What would the temple be without GOD’s glory inhabiting it? It would be just another vainly-constructed building. But, if GOD’s glorious presence descended in the temple then that meant GOD was returning to Jerusalem. Even more, that meant that GOD’s people would soon be returning there as well. Exile would soon come to its prophetically-proclaimed conclusion. GOD’s people would get to return home and their GOD would already be there waiting for them.
Ezekiel then gives more detailed, exact descriptions of the restored altar in the temple, the restored priesthood, the restored sacrificial system and the fully-restored nation of Israel getting back to the daily design of life centered on worship of the One and Only GOD!
Have you ever been homesick? It probably happened many, many years ago for you but do you remember what it was like to be homesick? I do. A cure I often tried when I found myself away from home at camp or at college or even when in Mexico was to drive through my hometown in my mind, covering all the streets, all the twists and turns, all the businesses, all the people. It soothed me.
I knew of a man who served valiantly in World War II and was taken as a prisoner of war for several years by the Nazis. This man found hope in dismal circumstances by planning brick by brick the new home he was determined to build for his new bride when he returned home. He build it in his mind by designing the blueprint to specific detail at the right scale and then seeing it built in his mind brick by brick. I remember as a child going trick or treating in that home and didn’t know how significant it was until dad told me the story. It then became for me – the house built on hope.
Specific plans are good. Specific plans remind us that GOD is still GOD and therefore GOD has specific plans for our future, for our good, for our hope. Imagine what these specific plans from Ezekiel did for those smoldering in exile.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Ezekiel 40 – 42
Well, we run into a rather sedate section of reading in Ezekiel. No psychedelia here; no zany allegories here; no lewd allegories anywhere to be found; so much so or so less so that some may even come to the conclusion that this section of reading is downright boring.
I mean it seems to me that we have somehow gone backwards into biblical history and find ourselves once again in the exhilarating days when GOD gave the design of the Tabernacle to Moses and the design of the Temple to David. I mean on a sleepless night I would certainly be tempted to reach for Ezekiel 40 – 42 and would soon find myself snoring in a couple of minutes because this just doesn’t excite me.
But, and this is a rather large but, imagine that you once had lived in Jerusalem and had seen your city, your home, your king’s palaces, your GOD’s temple all be burned and destroyed with your very eyes. Imagine that your last memories of Jerusalem were you looking back at the smoking ruins while being carried chained and naked into exile. Imagine knowing that you would never ever see your beloved hometown with all the accoutrements (home, walls, palace, temple, loved ones, etc.), pining away after them for the rest of your life.
And then oh, so colorful; oh so, off-the-wall prophet Ezekiel reveals to you GOD’s new blueprint for the re-building of the temple, better than new. You know, when the blueprints are pulled out that suddenly the dream has become closer to the reality. Once the expense has been paid to a highly-trained professional to draw up all the blueprints to exact scale with all the details in place; the idea has become more than an idea. GOD is serious.
Remember GOD, don’t you? No, GOD didn’t cease to exist when GOD’s temple did. Ezekiel had tried in several, different amazing ways to get the point across that GOD was still with them. Now, this GOD had gotten back to business and put together an amazing blueprint of what the new temple in Jerusalem would be like.
Imagine the lift to the soul when realization set in that GOD had not forgotten. GOD loved enough to warn and warn and warn and warn and then punish but GOD had not forgotten. Punishment was coming to an end and return was on the horizon – a horizon that would now include the precious hope of life returning to normal in Jerusalem built around the temple. Amen? Amen!
This section has become a spine-tingling page-turner if you ask me.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Ezekiel 37 – 39
There is light at the end of the tunnel! We will be in Matthew in 20 days!
No, that’s not really the light I was talking about. The light at the end of the tunnel comes as Ezekiel returns to form in his most psychedelic, far-out prophecy yet. He finds himself “transported” to a valley of bones. Does that bring up any “Grateful Dead” images for any of you out there?
He finds himself in a boneyard and the LORD led him through it as if he was on a tour. Not only were they bones, they were dry bones. Then the LORD asks him if he thinks those bones could live and Ezekiel confessed that only the Sovereign LORD knew. Good answer.
Then, Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy, to preach to those dry bones and guess what? He did. One thing I have to say about Ezekiel as I marvel at him is his absolute obedience to say and do whatever and whenever GOD tells him what to say and do. I mean the man was absolutely sold out to GOD!
And here we find him with the nonsensical command to preach to the dry bones. Only, with GOD it isn’t nonsensical. Knowing Ezekiel as we do at this point we know that he preached his heart out to those bones and suddenly with a rattle and a whirl all those bones had been formed into a valley full of reclining skeletons with tendons and flesh and skin. But they were still dry because there was no breath in them.
Then Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy to the breath which responded by coming from the four winds and being breathed into the dead bones which snapped to attention and life! Wow!
And then of course GOD reveals to the obedient prophet that all those dry bones represent the people of Israel who are all intents and purposes dead, dry, useless bones (destroyed, devastated, conquered, exiled people without a home, without life)but after judgment and punishment and cleansing and forgiveness will be breathed into by the Living GOD, filled with a new Spirit and experience rich, abundant life!
It is never too late in GOD’s economy!
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Ezekiel 33 – 36
Ezekiel 34 has always haunted me with the indictments handed down to the “shepherds”. Let’s play a little game called “Contrast and Compare.”
Here is the indictment against the shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34:2-6, the so called leaders of Israel: “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”
Here is the revealed heart of the Shepherd of Israel in various verses from John 10: “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away… I am he good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
LORD, send us the Good Shepherd. Wait, You already did. Thank you! Hallelujah! Amen!
Monday, September 09, 2019
Ezekiel 29 – 32
So what’s the deal with Egypt? These four chapters are spent on Ezekiel prophesying doom for Egypt. It has now been 900 years give or take a few (hundred) since Moses led the Israelites out of captivity and slavery in Egypt. Although still a powerful nation during the time of Ezekiel, Egypt’s power and glory were nothing then compared to earlier dynasties.
One would be hard-pressed indeed to compare Egypt positively to any of the world powers of that time (Assyria, Babylonia, Persia) but Egypt was still a player in world affairs all be it a rather isolated player. In the biblical record we only hear of Egypt’s emergence from her borders from time to time to get involved with the machinations of Assyria, Babylon or Judah.
Egypt just doesn’t seem to be a major threat in Ezekiel’s day yet he spent four chapters prophesying impending doom and destruction against her. Though not as graphic as his images and allegories used against Jerusalem and Judah, Ezekiel nevertheless has harsh words for the Egyptians. Why?
I think it all goes back to Joseph’s arrival in Egypt as a slave, being sold to Potiphar, ending up in prison for false accusations and by the hand of GOD becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Then as this force of one is made a mighty nation by GOD within Egypt’s borders, the Israelites eventually become slaves of the Egyptians.
Sent by GOD to lead them out of captivity as an answer to their anguished cries, Moses does indeed lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity and eventually through forty years of wandering in the wilderness to the Promised Land of Canaan. However, in some sense many of the Israelites never left Egypt. Throughout their wanderings they seemed to long for their return to Egypt, even as slaves, rather than suffer for freedom with GOD in their wanderings.
Time and time again the Israelites pine for Egypt. It seems that even 900 years later the Israelites still pined away for Egypt. Often times when trouble came upon the Israelites, rather than seek and wait for GOD they would instead return to Egypt if not physically then in their heart.
It seems like Egypt still held a favored place in their hearts when GOD should have been that favored place. It makes me wonder about my own life. Do I have a favored place in my heart for something other than GOD? When the going gets tough instead of trusting GOD do I revert back to former escape valves? I wonder if like the Israelites I continue to hedge my bets with GOD by not really going all in with Him.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Ezekiel 25 – 28
Much like Jeremiah before him, Ezekiel now turns his attention to Israel’s neighbors who have exalted over Israel’s demise, who have walked in disobedient pagan revelry as well. This reminds us that not only does GOD have high standards for Israel but for all nations because GOD has a heart for all people everywhere.
In this section GOD through Ezekiel addresses Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre and Sidon. Almost three full chapters are spent on the majestic port city/nation of Tyre. One particular section in 28:11 – 19 seem to refer to more than just a prosperous port and nation but quite possibly refers to the angel Lucifer here. It is an interesting sidebar but the emphasis and attention overall is GOD’s perspective on the nations, their pending judgment and their impending doom.
There is a phrase which Ezekiel repeats throughout this section as he addresses Israel’s neighbors in 25: 7, 11, 14, 17; 26:6; 28:23, 24, 26: “Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.” Scholars say that this phrase or something very similar to it is used approximately 50 separate times by Ezekiel alone. Most of those phrases are used directly to GOD’s own, chosen people. Not entirely but for the most part these phrases refer to the coming result of Israel’s judgment and punishment.
Isn’t it sad that GOD had to resort to such difficult measures so that GOD’s own people would know that their GOD was GOD because of the damning fulfillment of GOD’s prophecies against them because they simply refused to bend and bow and love?
If GOD had to go to those measures to get GOD’s own people to recognize and know their own GOD, is it any wonder that their neighbors wouldn’t know GOD either? It seems from the beginning that the plan was for GOD’s people to be so different in the way they lived and loved their faith that all people everywhere would know their GOD. Too bad it came down to this.
Now I ask the question. Do our neighbors know that GOD is our LORD and GOD by the way we live and love our faith before them?
Saturday, September 7, 2019
Ezekiel 22 – 24
There isn’t much psychedelia anywhere here with Ezekiel. I guess there are still allegories yet in this section the allegories are shocking, graphic, earthy, and lewd as the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and Judah are portrayed as two adulterous sisters lusting lustily after Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, anyone except for their ONE and ONLY who has loved them from their anonymous beginnings.
In chapter 22 the emphasis is on the never-ending idolatry and constant shedding of blood in Jerusalem. In chapter 23 we have our shocking allegory “exposing” the adulterous nature of Israel’s idolatry in shocking, impossible to misunderstand terminology. And then in chapter 24 Jerusalem in again compared to a cooking pot where all the disobedient, adulterous, idolatrous shedders of blood will be cooked in an attempt to cleanse them…
Ezekiel speaks allegories of lewdness to shock his listeners into realizing the depths of their depravity and sin so that they will perhaps turn back. I hate to say it but as the rhetoric is turned up to desperate levels very little turning is observed. GOD’s chosen people are in dire straits because they have deliberately and intentionally placed themselves there.
And yet, and yet in spite of the lewdness, in spite of the depravity, in spite of the idolatry, in spite of the adultery GOD has not given up on them. In the midst of the graphic depictions of the shedding of blood in chapter 22 GOD reveals in 22:30 that he had “looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
GOD looked earnestly for someone, anyone to build up the wall, stand in the gap on behalf of the land but couldn’t find anyone. Centuries later One was found to rebuild the wall and stand in the gap; One who stood in the gap by dying on the cross. And now all who follow Him are called to build those walls and stand in the gap with Him. Amen? Amen!
Friday, September 6, 2019
Ezekiel 20 – 21
“Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us,
so they would know that I the LORD made them holy.”
I am intrigued that after hearing very little about the Sabbath for several months now, maybe since we left the Pentateuch back in Deuteronomy, that in chapter 20 “Sabbath” is mentioned six separate times. I have to wonder why.
GOD through Ezekiel declares that GOD gave the Sabbaths to the Israelites as a sign between them that they would know that the LORD made them holy. What does that mean? Does that mean that the Sabbath was not to be a burden? Does that mean the Sabbath was to be a blessed sign?
If you think about it while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt they knew nothing about the Sabbath and certainly never got a day off from making bricks. While in Egypt they were exposed to any number of foreign gods from any number of foreign countries but the Egyptian pantheon of gods would have dominated with their king Pharaoh being accepted and worshiped as a god.
Pharaoh never gave them a day off. Pharaoh demanded all of their time and energy for himself, for his good. Then GOD hears the suffering cries of the Israelites and re-introduces Himself to them. As GOD provides Moses as his spokesperson to speak for GOD and to represent GOD to both the Israelites and Pharaoh they begin to learn about their GOD. They learn that as GOD rested on the seventh day after six days of creation so they would get to rest as well.
So we have the Israelites accustomed to never resting, always having to work for their assumed god Pharaoh for their minimal survival. Suddenly as they experience freedom in their relationship with the One and Only GOD they are given the Sabbath to rest and remember. In resting they were demonstrating that they were also trusting GOD to provide for them instead of them providing for GOD.
Over the years this idea of Sabbath rest would be twisted from a day of rest and trust and remembering to a day of anxious worrying whether or not one had done any work that day. Bottom line – Sabbath was a gift from GOD to GOD’s people for them to enjoy, for them to rest, for them to remember who they were and Whose they were and for them to demonstrate they trusted GOD. Sabbath was a sign of relationship between GOD and GOD’s people.
We don’t hear much about Sabbath anymore do we? If Sabbath is to be a sign of our relationship with GOD, a sign of trust, shouldn’t Sabbath be an integral part of our lives? Is it?
Thursday, September 05, 2019
Ezekiel 17 – 19
I am not sure my previous labeling of the “psychedelic prophet” continues to fit for Ezekiel as his wild, imaginative, colorful, rather freaky images have now given way to fairly conventional allegories. Maybe Ezekiel is better described as the “allegorical prophet.” In today’s reading we have Israel presented in allegorical form as a vine being planted by a majestic eagle to grow and prosper near plentiful water but then the vine rejects the former eagle for a latter eagle that comes calling.
GOD explains through Ezekiel that the former majestic eagle was Babylon. Interesting that what seemed to be the very worst of events (Jerusalem being surrounded then destroyed by Babylon’s armies before carrying off many to exile in Babylon) is in reality the will of GOD and a good thing due to Israel’s disobedient, rebellious behavior.
In the midst of being set up in exile in Babylon which was a Babylonian attempt to control and destroy Israel, those left in Jerusalem broke their covenant with Babylon and instead chose Egypt as their hero. GOD reveals that rescue by the Egyptians will be short-lived as the Egyptian armies are no match for Babylon’s. GOD reveals through Ezekiel that GOD will punish he who seeks Egypt by catching him in the Babylonian net and taking him to Babylon for punishment and death.
GOD reveals that when all these terrible things happen to Israel that Israel will then know that the LORD has spoken and the LORD has acted. Hmmm? Sometimes what we experience and perceive as the worst things possible eventually serve to prove GOD’s existence and continuing sovereignty in our lives. Therefore before taking matters into our own hands as those well-meaning people deep back in the day when escaping and seeking Egypt perhaps we should choose to rest in trust of the Almighty One.
Ezekiel gives us a third allegory in chapter 17 when he describes the Sovereign LORD taking a third shoot from the very top of a majestic cedar to a high and lofty mountain to plant it near deep and nourishing water so that it will become a flourishing cedar to house and shelter birds of all kinds. This tree symbolizes for me what GOD has done for all peoples in Christ.
In the words which end this chapter in 17:24: “I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.”
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Ezekiel 14 – 16
I am not much of a gambling man but I have heard of one hedging their bets. It seems that is what is going on in this section. Some of Israel’s leaders came piously to Ezekiel for him to seek GOD for them. They seemed sincere, they seemed all in, they seemed to seek GOD whole-heartedly yet the reality was they were in truth worshiping other gods. Had they come to the prophet simply to hedge their bets, to make sure they were covered?
But, GOD knew better because GOD knew their hearts. GOD knew the reality was that they had set up other gods in their own hearts; that they had set up stumbling blocks before their own faces and were simply going through the motions with Him.
I ask myself how we set up false gods in our own hearts. Do we intentionally choose other gods? If so, what other gods would we choose? You don’t hear much about baal or chemosh or molech these days. How does that work? Does it happen instantaneously or does it just happen over the course of time?
I suppose the setting up of false gods in our hearts could happen suddenly as in a moment but I have a hunch if it does, it has been building up for years; maybe in the decisions we make. Maybe as we choose what we read or what we watch on television or what we Google or whether or not we attend church or what we think about or what we say or what we spend our money on are all ways we begin to set up false gods in our own hearts.
In hedging their bets, in making the One and Only GOD just one of several gods they denied the One and Only GOD the rightful place in their hearts and minds. Instead of receiving a word of favor from GOD because of their seeking GOD they received a word of rebuke, a word of warning; a challenge to fully trust in the Only ONE who loves them instead of hedging their bets with worthless yet popular, futile yet celebrity-soaked, false gods.
With this hedging of the bets in mind I wonder. I wonder if the allegories which follow in chapters 15 and 16 of Israel being a useless vine and Jerusalem being a prostitute may somehow apply to me and the way I treat GOD with half a heart and less of a mind. I quake. I tremble. I repent.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Tuesday, September 3, 2019
Ezekiel 10 – 13
This amazing image of psychedelic colors and precious stones and living creatures with four faces and four wings and hands like a human and legs like a goat with burnished bronze and whirling wheels within wheels has been identified as representing the glory of GOD.
As Ezekiel watches this incredible image lifts up from the temple and moves away toward Babylon. Representing that GOD’s ever-present Presence is still with them wherever they may go, even to the farthest reaches of Babylon.
We see the Spirit of GOD lifting and carrying Ezekiel here, there and everywhere perhaps demonstrating that the ever-present Presence of GOD is indeed everywhere. The ever-present Presence of GOD does not miss a trick. There is no fooling GOD even in the secret places. Because GOD knows the hearts of men and women intimately and extravagantly GOD knows the extents humans will go to worship their own gods of their limited imaginations.
Even those who seem to be righteous leaders are revealed by the ever-present Presence of GOD to be corrupt, bankrupt leaders destined for judgment and punishment. One even drops dead before Ezekiel. In spite of such relentless wickedness GOD will not relent from loving them. Even though judgment is deserved and punishment must come, GOD has not, will not give up. Grace is on the way!
Once again Ezekiel himself is called to become a prophetic sign to Judah as he is told to pack up his things as if going to exile and then digging through the wall to escape to exile. As his neighbors watch his ridiculous exploits he prophesies that this is exactly what they will be forced to do by the Babylonians. There is no escape from the coming judgment and punishment but there is still time for them to repent and turn back to the GOD who loves them…
What will they do? What do you think? LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy! The LORD is trying to have mercy but who listened to the LORD or his prophets?
Monday, September 2, 2019
Ezekiel 5 – 9
Perhaps more than any of the other prophets, Ezekiel becomes a living object lesson of prophesy. I suppose one could ignore the words of Ezekiel but let’s be honest, it would be quite impossible to ignore his actions.
An example we gleaned from yesterday’s reading was GOD’s instructions for him to build a model of the city of Jerusalem in detail including siege ramps and then laying down on one side and then another representing taking on the sins of both Israel and Judah before the city. Ezekiel was symbolically representing the coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel ate food prepared over animal manure to represent the food the people would soon be eating.
In today’s reading Ezekiel is commanded to take a sharp sword and then shave both his head and his beard. He is then to weigh out the hair on a set of scales and divide it up. He is to take a third of the hair and burn it inside the city, then slice up a third of the hair then throw a third into the wind while guarding a bit in his belt.
This living object lesson of prophecy is then grabbed up by the hair of the head much later and taken to the temple in Jerusalem. GOD reveals to him all the varieties of idolatry happening in the temple by the leaders of Judah. GOD is appalled by their continuing insistence of betrayal which eventually drive GOD out of his own temple.
It is hard to grasp even this far in to the Old Testament why the people just continued to turn their backs against GOD while turning their hearts toward any number of despicable, damnable, worthless gods. And then I am reminded of my own hard-headed, granite-hearted tendencies.
As brutal as the coming destruction will be I am moved by GOD’s incredible patience and the lengths GOD goes through the prophets to give them one last chance over and over again to return to GOD. As I write I squirm and fidget to find myself on my knees worshiping this GOD who loves us with such reckless abandon. Hallelujah! Amen!
Sunday, September 1, 2019
Ezekiel 1 – 4
We continue to make our way through the section of the Bible known as the “Major Prophets.” We have slogged our way through Isaiah and Jeremiah sometimes gritting our teeth through painful images of pain and destruction while other times soaring on images of grace, goodness and glory.
Today we begin to encounter Ezekiel. You may want to buckle your seatbelts for Ezekiel. I sometimes think of him as the “Psychedelic Prophet.” You may get a sense of that in today’s reading; maybe not, it may just be me. There are moments of downright lofty, breath-taking images in Ezekiel. There are also images that just may snatch your breath in other ways.
I get a sense of the psychedelic in the amazing description of Ezekiel’s first vision of an electric windstorm with flashing lightning surrounded by brilliant light and glowing metal. In the midst of the neon windstorm he sees living creatures with human forms, four faces and four wings. Their feet were like calves’ feet which gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings they had human hands and their faces were the faces of a human, a lion, an ox and an eagle. By the way in this vision there was also a wheel within a wheel…
This vision was definitely not a static vision but there was lightning quick motion in the living creatures and the wheels. Turns out that this amazing image was the “appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” Wow! What a vision! In the midst of this vision Ezekiel heard a voice speaking which called him out to be a prophet. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah before him, Ezekiel was not given a vison of “sugarplums dancing in his head” but was given a reality check. He would be a prophet to a people who did not want a prophet; a people who would not listen or pay attention to him. Surprise!
In the next two chapters we see Ezekiel being called to eat the scroll, an oh so intimate picture of ingesting and digesting the word of GOD. We then see him called to make a clay model of the city of Jerusalem with siege works and all. Not only that but he is instructed to lay on his left side for 390 days around the city symbolizing bearing the sins of Israel and then flipping over on his right side for 40 days symbolizing bearing the sins of Judah all while being tied up by ropes and eating food baked over manure-powered fire.
Is it just me or has Ezekiel gone all in?
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Lamentations 3 – 5
Not only could “Lamentations” be considered an epilogue of “Jeremiah” but it is also written in such a way that it can also be considered a dirge; as in a funeral dirge. You may notice that four of the five chapters in Lamentations have 22 verses and the middle chapter has 66 verses.
Most likely this dirge was written poetically using each letter in the Hebrew alphabet as there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. I have a hunch that in chapter 3 the verses are arranged in groups of three with each section of three verses beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Whether or not it was written in the official poetic style of a dirge, whatever that may be, the theme of “Lamentations” is certainly dirge-worthy. The picture of deserved destruction dominates the domain. As Jeremiah rehashes all that has happened to his beloved nation, we also find him lamenting the destruction wrought on himself through his faithfulness to GOD.
“He has made my skin and flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead…He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and give me gall to drink. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust…” (Jeremiah 3:4-18 selected).
Perhaps Jeremiah laments in an attempt to both get a handle on it and also to purge himself but it seems he runs right into unexpected hope in 3:19-24 which resonate and reverberate powerfully in the midst of hopelessness, devastation and loss. I close with these glorious, eternal words:
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”
Can anyone give me an AMEN???
Friday, August 30, 2019
Lamentations 1 – 2
For me it seems that the book of “Lamentations” is like an epilogue for the book of “Jeremiah.” I hope you have weathered the storm of Jeremiah. I will admit that many of the prophets’ writings are difficult reads. Sometimes I catch myself flinching as I read their terrifying, brutalizing words.
Just imagine how it must have been for the prophets to speak such words. Just imagine how it must have been for these faithful, obedient ones to do and proclaim exactly what GOD called them to do and proclaim despite the personal cost to them.
Most of GOD’s prophets became living object lessons to demonstrate GOD and GOD’s words to their people. By the way, most of them became personas non grata to their own people and suffered intense persecution, rejection and humiliation at the hands of the people they loved the most.
In this “epilogue” of “Lamentations” we really catch a glimpse of the broken, grieving heart of Jeremiah. However, in chapter one, we catch a glimpse of the broken, grieving heart of Jerusalem personified. It is a sad picture of GOD’s treasured city crying relentlessly with none of her chosen lovers, (i.e. pagan gods) available or able to comfort her. They have all betrayed and abandoned her because well, they don’t exist…
In chapter two we catch more than a glimpse of the broken, grieving heart of Jeremiah – he who suffered so much to bring GOD’s word to his people before it was too late. Jeremiah is devastated as he sees the destruction of his people. He describes his “torment within as his heart being poured out on the ground…” in 2:11.
A desperate, tormented Jeremiah surveys the destruction of his city, his people, his everything confronts GOD on the treatment of his people in 2:20-22. The reality though is that Jeremiah knew full well that they deserved what they received as heart-breaking as it was.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Jeremiah 51 – 52
Earlier in our reading of “Jeremiah” you may remember that GOD spoke to the exiles already in Babylon and to those on their way there. They were told to pray for the cities in which they would be led captive, to settle down there, to be happy there, to marry and have children there, to plant and harvest there, to work for the prosperity of their cities of exile.
As GOD’s vision has settled firmly on Babylon, perhaps looking further in the future than before, GOD warns Babylon that just as all the other nations have reaped what they have sown so will Babylon. All these other regional “powers” have in one way or another rebelled against GOD. They have chosen to trust and serve lesser gods. In most cases it was Babylon herself GOD used as their instrument of judgment and punishment.
Now we see that this brutal, arrogant instrument of punishment which rose to the top ranks of the world’s powers will plummet before the judgment and punishment of GOD. Babylon who wasn’t even considered a threat in the days of Hezekiah; who sent envoys to visit Hezekiah upon his miraculous healing as if seeking to find answers themselves were instead shown all of his treasures except his one, true Treasure.
Within several decades Babylon became the bully on the block or so she thought. Babylon began to think of herself as god and that normally doesn’t bode so well once one encounters GOD. Babylon would soon discover she was just a tool in the One and Only GOD’s hands to judge and punish other nations; other nations she would have considered lesser than but soon to discover that in reality she was just as lesser than.
Jeremiah ends his book with an historical account of the final days of Judah as Babylon pounces. All is lost. Or, is it? In the final paragraph we are reminded of King Jehoiachin who had been rotting in exiled imprisonment for thirty-seven years. King Jehoiachin is released by King Awel-Marduk of Babylon and invited to sit in a seat of honor at his table on a daily basis.
Just as King Jehoiachin had not been forgotten by GOD so had the other exiles not been forgotten by GOD. At Babylon’s defeat to the Medes and Persians, a new king, Cyrus, will release the Israelite captives and send them home to Jerusalem to rebuild and replant and revive. GOD did not forget them just as GOD had promised!
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Jeremiah 49 – 50
Jeremiah continues to prophesy against the nations surrounding or in the very near vicinity of Judah. He takes aim at Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, Elam and Babylon. They are doomed for destruction just like Judah.
Even though the focus throughout the Bible and particularly in Jeremiah has been Judah, GOD continues to keep a wary eye on the nations of the world. I may be way off base here but I get the sense that Abram was not the first man GOD chose. I may we way off base here but I get the sense that the nation of Israel was not the first nation GOD chose.
I have a hunch that GOD may have chosen many before Abram, after all he did lead Abram’s father Haran toward Canaan, didn’t he? I wonder if it was only Abram who responded to GOD and chose GOD by trusting GOD in obedient faithfulness. Thus, Abram’s descendants became GOD’s chosen people.
In these chapters in Jeremiah we clearly see that GOD is interested in the affairs of all these other nations. We clearly see that GOD had expectations for all these other nations and they fell short, pitifully short of those expectations. We clearly see in these chapters that all these other nations will be held accountable for their failures, their sins, their inability to live up to GOD’s expectations.
Judgment is coming upon all. Destruction is coming upon all. And yet; and yet, I get the sense that although judgment and destruction are on the horizon GOD isn’t finished with any of them yet. GOD still has plans of hope and future for not just Judah and Israel but all the nations who will but turn to GOD and trust in GOD.
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Jeremiah 45 – 48
Jeremiah’s helper Baruch is worn out. Jeremiah and Baruch are partners in ministry. It often fell to Baruch to fulfill the job of Jeremiah due to Jeremiah’s various imprisonments. Baruch served as Jeremiah’s scribe. It seems that Baruch felt all of the stress and burden his boss felt.
This section begins with a prophetic word directly to Baruch in chapter 45. GOD tells Baruch that he was overheard complaining about being tired and injured and sorrowful, unable to sleep and rest. GOD tells Baruch that GOD will overthrow all that GOD has built and uproot all that GOD has planted throughout the earth. Then GOD asks Baruch a question: “Should you then seek great things for yourself?” GOD in turn answers the rhetorical question: “Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.”
This brief word to Baruch sets the stage for the next several chapters which contain prophetic words to the Egyptians, the Philistines and the Moabites. Judah has been GOD’s primary focus throughout this book but we see here that GOD is GOD of all nations. We see here that GOD has expectations for all nations. We understand that GOD holds all nations accountable for their actions.
GOD aims the sights on Egypt where GOD’s chosen people always seemed to turn toward when trouble was brewing. Egypt seemed to stir their hearts more than their GOD. They always seemed to be more than eager to return to Egypt and seek protection from Egypt rather than return to their GOD who loves them. Egypt will be punished for her idolatry and her disobedience.
The long-time enemy of the Israelites, the Philistines will not escape GOD’s judgment and punishment. Neither will Moab who has seemingly lived in peace and prosperity for many, many years. Those years are over. I was particularly tweaked by these words regarding Moab in Jeremiah 48:7: “Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive, and Chemosh will go in to exile, together with his priests and officials…”
Turns out that the questions seem to be the same for each and every nation, not just Judah: Who do you trust in? Do you trust in yourself? Do you trust in your accomplishments? Do you trust in your wealth? Who do you trust?
A question posed to each of us: Who Do You Trust?
Monday, August 26, 2019
Jeremiah 41 – 44
Can it get any worse? Jerusalem lies in burned ruins. The temple has been destroyed. The walls are worthless, burned bricks. The king has been captured, blinded and led away into captivity. Most of the people have been led naked away to Babylon and beyond.
The Babylonians show grace to Jeremiah by releasing him and allowing him freedom. The Babylonians show grace to the remnant left behind by leaving Gedaliah in charge. Exiles from all around Judah, hearing of the goodness of the Babylonians return to Judah and settle around Gedaliah. GOD declares that all those remaining in Judah will be blessed.
Gedaliah, many of his followers and some Babylonian soldiers are killed by Nethaniah of royal blood. Johanan and his followers attack and destroy Nethaniah and rescue those captured by him. They travel to Jeremiah and ask Jeremiah to seek GOD on their behalf. They declare to Jeremiah that they would do whatever GOD told them to do.
Jeremiah waited ten days to hear from GOD and then tells them that GOD wants them to stay in Judah. GOD promises to bless them if they stay in Judah under Babylonian rule. This is not what the people wanted to hear. They prefer Egypt to Judah. They prefer trusting in the Egyptians than trusting in GOD.
Not only do they refuse to listen and obey GOD but they promise to continue offering sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven because while they offered her sacrifices previously they were blessed. They blatantly disobey GOD. They proceed on to Egypt kidnapping Jeremiah and his helper Baruch. As they arrive in Egypt GOD tells Jeremiah to bury some stones under the pavement by the Egyptian palace and then tells them that the tents of Babylon will cover those stones as well.
There would be no escape from their sins. It didn’t matter how far they ran away. It didn’t matter how powerful Egypt was. It didn’t matter how good they hid themselves among the pagan gods of Egypt. They couldn’t run away from their sins. Their sins and the punishment for their sins would always catch up to them.
They couldn’t run away from their sinfulness but they could have run to their GOD. But they didn’t. They chose to trust in a mere king rather than trust in the GOD who created the universe. How many do the same thing today? LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Jeremiah 37 – 40
We clearly can see the price of Jeremiah’s faithful obedience to GOD. He is imprisoned by King Zedekiah who we are told pays no attention to the word of the LORD yet seeks favors from Jeremiah. When Jeremiah responds with harsh words of coming judgment which Zedekiah ignores, Zedekiah throws Jeremiah into prison.
Jeremiah is released from prison but continues to faithfully proclaim GOD’s words to the people. They are not words the people want to hear. Jeremiah tells them the same old story over and over again but they do not want to listen. Instead of repenting they seek to kill Jeremiah who is thrown down into a muddy cistern. A man from Cush comes to Jeremiah’s defense and talks the king into releasing Jeremiah from the cistern. This Cushite, Ebed-Melek, takes thirty men and rescues Jeremiah from the cistern.
King Zedekiah seeks out Jeremiah in privacy to hear from him but demonstrates once again that his fears those around him more than he honors GOD. He wants to know but not really. He wants to know but doesn’t want to go to Babylon as GOD commands. It seems that the king and many of his officials are more concerned about inner-city politics than about the massive Babylonian Army surrounding their city. It is as if they want to grab whatever crumbs of power are left rather than admit that all is lost.
The city of Jerusalem is finally taken by the Babylonians. Fire and destruction rain down upon them. The king and his family try to escape and are captured by the Babylonians. Because of his consistent disobedience Zedekiah watches as all his sons are executed by the Babylonians and then has his eyes put out sealing those last horrific images in his mind’s eye forever.
Jeremiah is freed by the Babylonians who set up Gedaliah as a temporary leader. Gedaliah is soon assassinated by others interested in stealing whatever crumbs have been left over by the Babylonians. Imagine that! They totally lost the delicious loaf of bread yet continue to fight over the stale, dirty, worthless crumbs.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, August 24, 2019
Jeremiah 34 – 36
GOD still has not given up on the chosen people, Jeremiah hasn’t either. Jeremiah continues to obey GOD whole-heartedly. GOD sends Jeremiah to speak to the hapless King Zedekiah and tells him that GOD still has a plan of hope and a future for him.
Apparently soon thereafter King Zedekiah gives a decree for all to set free their Israelite slaves. This is soon done by all probably while the Babylonian army surrounded the city. However this emancipation is short lived as they all soon change their minds and took back into slavery their freed slaves. I have a hunch this happened once the Babylonian army had left Jerusalem for a brief time to deal with other issues. God sends Jeremiah to tell those folks that GOD was now going to bring freedom on them, freedom to die at the hands of the Babylonians.
In contrast we are told of Jeremiah’s meeting with the Rekabites who offered them wine to drink. Because of a vow taken by one of their forefathers many years before to all his descendants that they should never drink wine, the Rekabites had remained faithful through several generations to the words of their forefather. The Rekabites are lifted up as a positive example of faithfulness to GOD and told that there would always be a Rekabite in right relationship with GOD regardless of what happened to their nation. GOD rewards faithful, obedient people!
Jeremiah is ordered to dictate all that GOD has prophesied to the Judeans. As Jeremiah dictates Baruch writes. Baruch is then sent to the temple to read this scroll of pending judgment and doom because of their collective sinfulness. Baruch is then ushered in to read the scroll to several leading officials who reel at the words but send Baruch and Jeremiah into hiding as they confront the king.
These brave officials take Jeremiah’s scroll to the king who has one of his men read it to him. As the man reads, the king pays no attention whatsoever to the words and cuts the scroll up piece by piece and burns it in the fire. Soon afterwards Jeremiah is commanded to write another scroll which he does as a record against the king and his people.
The Rekabites remained faithful to a vow taken by one of their forefathers for generations. GOD’s people refuse to be faithful to the ONE who created them, the ONE who loved them, the ONE who provided everything for them.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Friday, August 23, 2019
Jeremiah 32 – 33
I was so excited about yesterday’s slogan from Jeremiah 29:11, I didn’t talk about the rest of this central section of reading from Jeremiah. Embedded in GOD’s words to his wayward people in Jeremiah 29 – 31 are the words of a promised return to their promised land when exile ends, lessons have been learned and hearts have returned to their GOD.
Most importantly are words of a new covenant. GOD promises a new covenant with the people, a covenant that will be written on their hearts and minds declaring that GOD will be their GOD and they will be GOD’s people, a covenant declaring that all their sins have been forgiven and forgotten! Wow! Hallelujah!
In today’s two chapters we find Jeremiah jailed for his prophesies. In the midst of his incarceration GOD tells him that his uncle is coming to sell him property in Judah. Soon thereafter his uncle arrives and Jeremiah buys his property and has all the details of the sale taken care of formally and officially.
This is ludicrous; this is insanity. Isn’t it? I mean the Babylonians have been besieging Jerusalem for a long time. Siege ramps have been built around the city to breach the walls. Much damage has already been done to the city and psyche of Jerusalem. Because of their sinful, ludicrous behavior against GOD, the ONE who loves them, Jerusalem is but a shell of herself and will soon be a burnt to the crisp shell.
Nevertheless, to confirm GOD’s prophesy through Jeremiah that well-deserved punishment is coming soon and after that GOD will restore His people to their city and nation to live in covenantal relationship with GOD, property is bought. More than likely this property would have been considered absolutely worthless at that time but Jeremiah shows his faith and obedience to the GOD he serves by buying property that will soon be in Babylonian hands.
I am not so sure we can say Jeremiah trusts in the future but I am sure we can say that Jeremiah trusts in the GOD who holds the future. Amen? Amen!
Thursday, August 22, 2019
Jeremiah 29 – 31
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you
and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11
The above verse is one of my favorite verses. The above verse is one of the favorite verses of many of you. It is a hopeful, reassuring promise. We find it often around graduation time. I have it on the cover of a journal which was certainly intended as a graduation gift. It is a wonderful verse.
But it is much more than a slogan. If you note, its context is during the difficult days of exile; the exile which occurred before, during and after the destruction of the walls, the temple, the city of Jerusalem, the veritable dwelling place of GOD by those nasty Babylonians.
Reeling from experiencing the reality of the unthinkable, the best and the brightest of Judah find themselves hundreds of miles from home in a collection of foreign cities far from family, far from friends, far from home and far from GOD. Yet, GOD writes them a letter through the hands of Jeremiah.
In this love letter GOD reveals to them that GOD carried them away through exile. GOD commands them to start over, to live faithful lives, to produce and multiply wherever they have landed and to pray for the safety and the prosperity of the Babylonian cities they now will call home. GOD tells them that exile will not be a brief disruption to their lives but will last seventy years.
The GOD they thought had moved so far away, the GOD many wondered if even really existed anymore writes them a letter. Can you imagine what that must have been like when they received that letter to hear the glorious news that GOD was still with them and that this GOD had a hopeful, prosperous, healthy future for them?
I would like to think that this letter energized them and encouraged them enough to go all in with GOD once more, even in the barbarous land of the Babylonians. I would like to think. However we are told of one response which was to send word back to Jerusalem to have the maniac Jeremiah arrested and jailed for acting like a prophet… Will they never learn? Will we?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Jeremiah 26 – 28
The prophetic heat continues to be turned up on GOD’s people in perhaps a last ditch effort to get them to return before it is too late. At this point in Judah’s history after the death of King Josiah, Judah is basically experiencing the dregs of leadership. Josiah’s sons Jehoiakim and Zechariah are nowhere near their father in seeking after GOD’s own heart or watching out for their peoples’ hearts. Some wonder about the sanity of Zedekiah; both were abject failures as kings and leaders.
In the midst of this vacuum of leadership GOD thrust Jeremiah to speak clearly, concisely and directly to the people to give them one last chance to return to the loving embrace of their Father before it is too late. As Jeremiah boldly proclaims GOD’s message we see a transition occurring. In reality, it is too late. GOD tells the people to embrace exile; not only are they told to embrace exile but they are told to embrace – Babylon. What?
GOD tells them that King Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon is actually GOD’s chosen vessel to bring judgment and punishment upon Judah and other nations. Jeremiah lets them know that exile will not be brief but will last for seventy years. Even though Babylon had not yet carried all of the temple’s furnishings or all of the people away that was all just a matter of time. Make no mistake. THEIR TIME HAD RUN OUT.
Absolutely revealing their wayward, hardened hearts, instead of listening to Jeremiah and returning to GOD, they seek to kill Jeremiah for his harsh words of warning. They want their ears tickled rather than their hearts healed. We are told of another prophet “Uriah” who had already lost his life at the hands of King Jehoiakim who sent soldiers to Egypt to retrieve the escaping prophet. Rather than turn it was easier to kill the prophet.
A second prophet shows up on the scene, Hananiah. Hananiah says that GOD has changed his message, that all is well. He tells them that exile will soon be over. He cuts the wooden yoke off of Jeremiah’s shoulders and says that peace is coming. Jeremiah actually treats him with deference and grace until GOD speaks once more to Jeremiah and reveals to him that Hananiah is lying.
Concisely, Jeremiah confronts Hananiah and tells him that he is full of lies and by the way, he would soon die. Hananiah dies as prophesied. Judgment and punishment and destruction and exile are in their future. Time has indeed run out on these stubborn, hard-headed, hard-hearted people.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Jeremiah 23 – 25
I have to confess that this section of reading was not pleasant for me. If you noticed – GOD, using Jeremiah as his verbal weapon – has taken aim at the leaders, the prophets, the priests who have abused their authority. They have spoken as authoritative whatever they themselves have dreamed up without even consulting GOD before speaking for GOD. Oops!
Not only that but these leaders, these prophets, these priests who are seemingly trustworthy have taken advantage of the trust people placed in them to lead them astray from their GOD, their trustworthy GOD. Their people, their sheep find themselves scattered, far away from each other and much worse, farther away from their GOD, their trustworthy GOD.
As GOD takes aim at the wicked through his prophetic weapon Jeremiah, GOD does not forget about their leaders. GOD holds the leaders accountable for their sin, their rebellion, their abuse, their manipulation, their distance… Jeremiah levels his sights on Jerusalem, Judah, Babylon and many other surrounding nations without ever taking an eye off of the leaders, the prophets, the priests. Time is running out on them all.
The Most-Patient GOD has grown weary of relentless warning to an arrogant people who refuse to hear. Judgment is coming with destruction fast on her heels. Once again in spite of the harsh words GOD reminds us all that GOD still has a plan for redemption, a plan for renewal, a plan for new life in GOD’s Righteous Branch.
Will GOD’s people allow themselves the gift of such redemption, such renewal, such new life or will they continue to choose death? What will GOD’s people today choose? As for me I choose LIFE! Yet as I choose LIFE I tremble and quake with the calling on my life. What kind of leader am I? What kind of prophet am I?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, August 19, 2019
Jeremiah 19 – 22
Earlier Jeremiah was commanded to go to the potter’s house and observe him at work. He watched the potter making a pot that became marred in his hands, worthless. He continued to watch as the potter formed it into a new pot, “shaping it as seemed best to him.”
Then, of course, came the word of prophecy where GOD compares Israel with that pot and tells them if they will but return and repent they will not be destroyed but GOD will make a new nation, a faithful nation out of them. But alas, the marred pot insists on being the marred pot. Israel will not return, relent, repent or replant.
In chapter 19 Jeremiah is told to return to the potter but this time he is instructed to buy a pot and then carry the pot to a particular gate and proclaim once more GOD’s message to the people. The message doesn’t change. Jeremiah is instructed to use the pot as an object lesson. He tells the people that if they don’t repent, relent, and return to their GOD who loves them, who has done everything for them then they will be crushed just like that pot which Jeremiah shatters by throwing it to the ground.
So, I may be speaking out of turn here but I know it is tough sledding through the Old Testament. I know that for some this is your very first attempt at reading all the way through the OT. I get it. It is hard. There seems to be so much gore and bloodshed. I mean we had a bit of a break with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs but here we are neck-deep in our second major prophet whose continuous message is like a broken record: “Relent, repent and return to me or destruction is coming. Relent, repent and return to me or destruction is coming. Relent, repent and return to me or destruction is coming…”
Don’t worry about such feelings. Jeremiah’s listeners certainly felt that same way as we see them plot against him, arrest him, beat him, and put him in stocks in chapter 20. He has already suffered an assassination plot against him by his own family, his own community of priests. Trust me, it will get even worse for Jeremiah…
Don’t worry about such feelings as you read because Jeremiah himself suffered from such feelings. In chapter 20 he cries out to GOD that he has been deceived, overpowered, ridiculed, and mocked. So much so that he doesn’t even want to speak yet GOD’s word burns within him so that he just has to speak the truth to Judah.
You know what? I have a hunch that even GOD grew weary at the same message over and over and over because it meant GOD’s beloved were continuing to rebel against Him and refused to accept GOD’s love. I thank and praise GOD right now for not giving up on us human beings! Thank you, GOD! Hallelujah! Amen!
Sunday, August 18, 2019
Jeremiah 15 – 18
Less we begin to think that this young Jeremiah is supernatural we are reminded of his humanity. In the midst of GOD’s desperate diatribes to His people in continual attempts to get their attention and cause them to return to their GOD, Jeremiah’s voice is heard. It is easy to overlook Jeremiah speaking to GOD in 15:15-18:
“LORD, you understand; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors. You are long-suffering – do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake. When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.”
We see the wear and tear of obedience in the midst of disobedience on Jeremiah. He is suffering persecution. It seems he has become Public Enemy #1 for speaking GOD’s truth to his people. Jeremiah pays a steep cost for his obedience. Jeremiah has known from his childhood that he was called to serve as GOD’s prophet. He has lived his life in a different way than all others. He has lived a seemingly solitary life.
He fears his pain in unending and his wound grievous and incurable. Jeremiah, who ate GOD’s word delightfully now feels deceived; that spring of fresh water has now failed. Jeremiah is alone. Jeremiah is hurting. Jeremiah wonders if GOD has failed him.
GOD responds to Jeremiah’s complaints in 15:19 – 2: “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,’ declares the LORD.”
A couple of things here. GOD’s message to a faltering Jeremiah is quite similar to GOD’s message to the people in general, repent! It seems that due to the unrelenting disobedience of the people that Jeremiah was beginning to reconsider his call and give in. GOD reminds Jeremiah of his calling and of his promise to him way back in his call chapter, 1:17 – 19.
So, a big lesson for me is not to think of myself beyond reproach but to ever keep my humanity before me knowing that I, too, am prone to sin like Jeremiah. But, I need to remember my own calling and GOD’s faithfulness in that calling. Amen? Amen!
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Jeremiah 11 – 14
What would you do? What would I do? In this section we discover a plot against Jeremiah’s life. It won’t be the last. Because of his faithfulness to GOD, because of his obedience to GOD to speak GOD’s message to the people, Jeremiah’s life is in jeopardy.
The message is too harsh for them. They don’t want to hear it anymore. They are tired of hearing the same old message of GOD’s unrequited love for them, of their incessant disobedience to GOD, of their constant rejection of GOD. They are tired of hearing that judgment is required. They are tired of hearing that destruction lay just beyond the horizon to the north. They are tired of hearing.
In reality, they haven’t heard a thing. Otherwise, they would relent, they would return, they would repent, they would obey. But, they don’t want to hear it anymore. So, they devise a plot against Jeremiah not to just shut him up but to take him out.
We aren’t given any real details about the plot just that GOD revealed the plot to Jeremiah and he escaped their evil clutches. What would you do? What would I do? What would we do if called by GOD to speak an unpopular message yet ran in to stiff resistance to the point of death.
By the way, the people plotting Jeremiah’s demise weren’t some foreigners. The people plotting Jeremiah’s demise weren’t some strangers. The people plotting Jeremiah’s demise were not unknown to him.
The people plotting Jeremiah’s demise were his own people, his own family members from the community of Anathoth. What would you do? What would I do?
Jeremiah entrusted himself into GOD’s hands and continued to walk with GOD in trust, submission and obedience regardless of who opposed him; even his own family who sought to shut him up and take him out.
Friday, August 16, 2019
Jeremiah 7 – 10
This section begins with Jeremiah being commanded to go speak to the people at the gate of the temple so these aren’t words spoken in a backroom somewhere but out in the open for all to hear. In a nutshell this is GOD’s message to the chosen ones over and over again found here in 7:2-11:
“’Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is that the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have no known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name and say, ‘We are safe’ – safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!’ declares the LORD.”
So, Jeremiah is here speaking to people on their way in to the temple to worship GOD. All seems to be right; all seems to be in order. But all is not right; all is not in order. The people go in to worship but not with their hearts. You see they have been doing all sorts of sinful, despicable things all week yet come in to the temple to offer their gifts and to worship. GOD finds this unacceptable! GOD finds their worship unacceptable because GOD knows that their actions during the week reflect their hearts and their hearts are reflected through oppression, shedding innocent blood, stealing, murdering, committing adultery, etc.
GOD begs them to change. GOD begs them to repent. GOD begs them to return. But the people go on playing their games, thinking GOD really doesn’t see them, thinking GOD really doesn’t care even though they have made the temple a den of thieves. Those words seem to have been spoken several centuries later by Jesus in the same spot…
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Jeremiah 4 – 6
Apparently growing up in a priestly family in the priestly community of Anathoth, Jeremiah does not have any of the royal trappings or connections Isaiah seemed to possess. We soon see however that the message of Jeremiah is spot-on similar to Isaiah’s message perhaps because they were both speaking for GOD.
Maybe a greater reason for the similarity of their messages is that both were speaking to GOD’s chosen people who had demonstrated time and time and time again an inability or an abject stubborn refusal to obey GOD. From early on in Jeremiah’s life and tenure as a prophet GOD speaks through him to remind his people how GOD chose them and loved them and made them GOD’s bride yet they constantly turn away to other lovers, to pagan gods. GOD brought them into a beautiful land to live and they have littered and defiled it with their sinful behavior.
As the Babylonians draw near Jeremiah cries out to his people with these words in 4:18 – 20 revealing both the iniquity before them and the depths of Jeremiah’s emotions at speaking such words to the Judeans. “’Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!’ Oh my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry. Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins. In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment.”
We see in these verses both GOD’s anguish at Judah’s refusal to return and repent in the very first verse and then we see the depths of anguish and heartache which Jeremiah experiences in speaking GOD’s words and seeing how the people refuse to pay attention. We also see that Jeremiah himself is not immune to the disobedience of these people but their punishment impacts him as well in the last verse; his tents are also destroyed for no guilt of his own.
A damning indictment is given to Jerusalem when GOD says in 5:1: “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” All I hear are crickets chirping. All GOD seems to hear are people acting like good people but their hearts aren’t in it, their hearts refuse to love the One and Only who loves them. Amen? Amen.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Jeremiah 1 – 3
Today we begin our journey through the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is another prophet who served GOD and Judah several decades after Isaiah. Jeremiah served during the latter years of Judah. By the time Jeremiah received his call to serve as a prophet, Hezekiah had died, his son Manasseh had ruled in his place for 55 years and seemed to intentionally undo anything good his father had ever done.
By the time Jeremiah received his call, good King Josiah was on the throne and trying to lead Judah in righteousness. Calling for the temple to be cleansed, purified and re-modeled after the blasphemous abuses of Manasseh, a book of the Law was found (most likely Deuteronomy) and it is obvious that Josiah paid attention to the book and tried to do everything commanded in that book. Not only did Josiah bring a personal attempt at holiness to the throne but called his nation and beyond to turn back to GOD.
Jeremiah comes to this scene midway through Josiah’s reign and serves as GOD’s spokesman to the people until there isn’t a nation of Judah left. Imagine being given the responsibility to speak truth to the people. Imagine being given the responsibility to always represent GOD before the people. Imagine consistently discovering that the truth you were created to speak will always offend your people and always be ignored by your people. Such was the life of Jeremiah.
We are not given much information about Jeremiah other than he is the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests of Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin (1:1). This is how Jeremiah describes his call in 1:4-10:
“The word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ ‘Alas, Sovereign LORD,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD. Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’”
You may notice Jeremiah’s call is different than Isaiah’s in a number of ways. Jeremiah seems not to have had an emotional encounter with GOD. Jeremiah seems not to have had a vision. Jeremiah heard the LORD, perhaps in an inner voice telling him that from before his birth GOD knew him and had called him to be his prophet.
How did Jeremiah respond? His initial response is that he is too young to be a prophet. GOD responds by touching Jeremiah’s lips and giving him his word and sending him out with the promise that GOD will always be with him and will rescue him. Amen? Amen!
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Isaiah 64 – 66
This last section of Isaiah is much like the rest of Isaiah. In these three chapters are words of reminder, words of warning, words of impending doom and words of overwhelming grace – a new day of rescue and salvation and redemption!
God reminds the people that GOD chose them to be His own chosen people even before they were a people. GOD reminds them that they were not looking for him but GOD was looking for them. GOD reminds them of all the blessings which were poured out upon them because of GOD’s love for them yet they consistently disobeyed and chose other, lesser gods…
Therefore words of warning cry out to them that there is still time to repent, there is still time to turn, there is still time to live as they have been commanded to live, there is still time before punishment comes. There is still time but time is running out…
In this time of impending doom or even as Isaiah writes with advance knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem, he writes to people writhing in the pain and desolation of Babylonian conquest and exile. He gives them words of explanation which may help them in their time of grave need. Yes, GOD still exists. Even though it may seem like there is no GOD because of all that has happened to them, GOD is still with them.
Although not a part of GOD’s plan for them, GOD doesn’t wish destruction on anyone; they pulled it down on to themselves by their sin. That is why they now find themselves living as exiles in a foreign land but fear not, they are not forgotten, they are still loved. Their redeemer is coming!
Isaiah catches a vision that we are most familiar with from the end of Revelation, a vision of the new heaven and the new earth. Isaiah seems to almost get caught up himself and sees a new day, a coming day when all will be made new in 65:17-25: “’See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy…The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.’”
Monday, August 12, 2019
Isaiah 58 – 63
By this point you may have noticed that Isaiah doesn’t exactly flow chronologically from beginning to end in a straight line. As a prophet it seems to me that sometimes Isaiah is dealing with real-time-in-his-own-time developments as if reading the local “Jerusalem Times” for example when the Assyrians loomed on the horizon in chapters 36 – 39.
However in chapter 39 when we are told of King Hezekiah being visited by the distant, unimportant (at the time) Babylonians who are not yet a player on the world stage but still reel from Assyria’s visit and Hezekiah opens up his storehouses to them, Isaiah catches a vision of the not-so-distant future for Hezekiah and Judah.
As we may have noticed particularly in chapters 52 – 53 but interspersed throughout the book, Isaiah often times catches a glimpse of the “Suffering Servant” which seem to be direct, spot-on, unmistakable references to the Messiah Himself, JESUS! Jesus would fulfill these “messianic” prophecies within the next 600 or so years from Isaiah’s lifetime.
Finally, as we see throughout most of this section and the next, Isaiah seems to look boldly into the final future for all of us to see the end of days. It is a bit tricky to read Isaiah and keep all of this straight. Through much of today’s reading it seems that Jerusalem and the temple lie in ruins, waiting for redemption with Isaiah explaining once again why this will happen and in the prophetic eye, why it has happened. GOD’s very own people have disowned GOD time after time after time; judgment is coming, devastating punishment looms but fear not – salvation and redemption draw nigh on their heels.
In chapter 58 we have a clear explanation of GOD’s expectations for fasting but perhaps for all spiritual practices. GOD expects us to “loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, break every yoke, share our food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked, and not to turn away from our own flesh and blood” (check out all of 58 for these thoughts).
In 61:1-3 we have these glorious words: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
These are beautiful, glorious, powerful words on their own but when we realize that Jesus himself chose these passages as his mission statement while here on earth in Luke 4 and then fulfilled them by his very life, the book of Isaiah becomes much more than stale, stifling prophecy. Amen? Amen!
Sunday, August 11, 2019
Isaiah 52 – 57
The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)
See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured
Beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness –
So he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away, yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Saturday, August 10, 2019
Isaiah 47 – 51
I must confess that I am getting a bit worn down by the hell and brimstone messages of Isaiah. We must remember his context and all that was going on in his lifetime. We will be well-served to remember the invading armies in the area which could have been anyone from the Philistines to the Egyptians to the Assyrians and eventually the Babylonians which brought intense stress and pressure to all.
Some of the kings under whom Isaiah served seemed to have a genuine heart for GOD (like Hezekiah) while others absolutely refused to submit to GOD or even turn to GOD for help during domestic and national crises (Ahaz). We do know from our biblical reading so far that the Israelites, the Judeans and all peoples everywhere were prone to disobey GOD, go their own way and do their own things. The Israelites and Judeans knew better. They just refused to fully trust their GOD whole-heartedly and they would have to pay for that and pay they did.
I know that the reason for Isaiah’s tough words was solely to awaken his people, bring them back to their senses so that they would return to their GOD. Isaiah, as GOD’s spokesperson here, tried any number of ways to get through to the hard-headed, harder-hearted people with little success. But and this is a big but, GOD always had a plan of redemption regardless of the response of his people. We catch a fleeting glimpse of it here in 49: 5-7:
“And now the LORD says – he who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength – he says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. This is what the LORD says – the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel – to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’”
I thank and praise GOD for sending His Son to be a light for the Gentiles. I thank and praise GOD that salvation has reached and continues to reach to the very ends of the earth. Hallelujah! Amen!
Friday, August 9, 2019
Isaiah 43 – 46
The main issue regarding the authorship of Isaiah however seems to be that something unprecedented happens in this section which began in the last. As we read we will see that Isaiah challenges the gods to a duel with the Living GOD. This stream of thought may well begin in the “historical” chapters of thirty-six and thirty-seven when Sennacherib names off the gods of all the countries he has conquered and says that Judah’s god is no different.
Twice in chapter forty, Isaiah asks the same basic question in 40:18, 25: “With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? …’To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.” This may well be a direct response to Sennacherib’s taunts. In proclaiming the power and majesty and active presence of the Living GOD he asks for similar responses from the vain idols folks have chosen over GOD.
We have references to how idols are made in 40:18-20, 41:4-7, and 44:9-20 which is the most thorough. You may want to read them again as a reminder. If you notice Isaiah calls together all those who create and believe in idols to a duel. Throughout these last several chapters Isaiah has been focusing on the proven character of GOD, reminding the people how GOD has acted on their behalf in the past and how GOD is still with them. Isaiah is encouraging and calling his people to leave behind the idols of which the hills of Judah are littered with their shrines and return to the One and Only Living GOD!
As if his declarations are not enough, Isaiah does the unprecedented. In 41:22-23 he invites the idols to tell the future. Of course, there is no response. I mean they are not living, how can they respond? He then gives an appetizer by saying in 41:25-26: “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes – one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you.”
Then in 44:24-28 GOD speaks through Isaiah in an amazing way: “I am the LORD, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself, who foils the sings of false prophets… who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,’ who says of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.”
Did you catch that? To demonstrate the power of the One and Only, GOD gives us the name of the Persian King Cyrus who will release the Israelites from captivity and order them to return and rebuild Jerusalem. No big deal? Isaiah is speaking a couple hundred of years or so before it actually happened. See why it is important that the historical prophet wrote this and not somebody else a couple of hundred years later? GOD IS GOD! Hallelujah! Amen!
Thursday, August 8, 2019
Isaiah 38 – 42
I am not going to dwell on this too long but I will give you a head’s up on a couple of things. Many well-informed, well-educated, well-meaning scholars believe that Isaiah was not written by one person but by several. Sometimes you hear of between five and seven different authors for the book of Isaiah. Most agree that Isaiah the historical prophet actually wrote the first thirty-nine chapters but then there were several others involved with the next twenty-seven.
Most of this reasoning comes because there are differences in the way the second half of Isaiah is written; the themes are somewhat different; the vocabulary is different; the writing style(s) is different; etc. This could lead one to deduce that there were other writers who most likely came much later after the first Isaiah. Personally, I have never been able to buy this reasoning. I believe that one person, the original, historical Isaiah wrote the entire book.
I recognize that there are indeed stylistic, vocabulary and thematic differences in the way this book is written. But I also know as humans we have the capability to write in any number of styles, using different vocabularies and themes along the way. I think all of us have written notes of gratitude in one style and notes of sympathy in another and personal letters in a much different style; most likely using a different, more specific vocabulary for each.
C.S. Lewis, for example, had the ability to write powerful theology above the understanding of many adults (myself included) in a book such as “Mere Christianity,” or books written primarily for children but penetrate deeply into the hearts of adults as well like “The Chronicles of Narnia,” or science fiction books like “The Space Trilogy” or highly academic tomes on a number of subjects like “English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama.” It is possible.
As I read this time through I have noticed that the theme which seems to have begun in Isaiah’s call chapter about blind eyes, deaf ears, calloused hearts, etc. continues throughout the book. In today’s section alone we see calls to see and hear and understand throughout chapter 40 and a direct reference in 42:18-20 which seem to relate directly back to Isaiah’s call chapter in continuity.
I will end this lecture on literature for now. You may be thinking that it just doesn’t matter or it just isn’t important. We will take a look at that tomorrow in a bit more detail. Hallelujah? Hallelujah!
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Isaiah 32 – 37
This section of reading in Isaiah is potent indeed. There are fierce words of coming judgment and condemnation on Judah, Israel and the entire world. I mean there are words and images of judgment and destruction that will keep one up at night. It isn’t pretty. I quake in this chair as I write and think about it.
But there are also words of grace and redemption in this section. There are beautiful images of deserts blooming and roasting sand gushing with fresh, chilling water in response to GOD’s promised coming; to GOD’s redemptive work.
But I keep getting drawn back to the opening verses in 32:1-4:
“See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful hearts will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.”
I am not so sure that Isaiah here is prophesying about some far off time with the Messiah in charge. He may be but I don’t get that understanding from these passages. I think Isaiah is here talking about kings and rulers who are people after GOD’s own heart, who are truly seeking to live like GOD has called them to live. Did you catch that description of them? They will be like shelters from the wind, like refuges from the storm, like icy, invigorating water in dry thirsty lands, like cool shade in a hot, barren land.
Have you ever known people like that; people that you could go to during difficult, dangerous, scary times and feel safe and secure with them? Have you ever known people that when you were dry and empty and overwhelmed you could go to them for refreshment, revival and hope?
Isaiah’s vision of leadership is this vision. Leaders are to be there for us; leaders are to offer shade and fresh water, comfort and hope. Taking this a step farther, as GOD’s people we are to be there for others; to offer them shelter, refuge, reviving water and shade in the barren times. After all, we know personally the Shelter, the Refuge, the Spring of fresh water, the Shade in barren times.
Interestingly, this section of our reading ends with the seemingly historical account of King Hezekiah who seems to be just that sort of king for the people of Judah during daunting, draining, dangerous times. As the Assyrians attack and destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel they have turned their brutal attention to Judah. They approach, they threaten, they mock, they taunt and Hezekiah, Hezekiah responds by humbling himself, seeking GOD, trusting GOD and offering shade and shelter for his people.
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Isaiah 27 – 31
By all accounts Isaiah was a man of honor and distinction. It seems that Isaiah may have been of royal blood; intimately connected with the kings of Judah. I have a hunch that Isaiah knew how it felt to wear royalty in his blood and on his sleeve. I think Isaiah was a respected man in his community which makes these verses in 20:2-5 all the more astonishing demonstrating his completely sold-out obedience to GOD:
“He said to him, ‘Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.’ And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot. Then the LORD said, ‘Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared – to Egypt’s shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be dismayed and put to shame.”
You see, ever since Israel had been liberated from captivity in Egypt, they had the tendency to return to Egypt when days grew daunting and difficult. We see that as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Whenever they didn’t get what they wanted when they wanted they yearned, even lusted to return to life in Egypt, as slaves mind you. Throughout their history if not in the open, certainly in their hearts they returned to Egypt.
Isaiah apparently walked around naked for three years to get the point across to his people that Egypt was not the one they should be trusting in; only GOD. In today’s reading we find Isaiah perhaps referring to a contemporary event. It seems that as the threat of Assyrian invasion of Judah grew, probably after the Northern Kingdom of Israel had already been defeated and carried into exile by those same Assyrians that the temptation to call on Egypt for help was just too strong.
Instead of trusting GOD, they chose to trust in Egypt. It didn’t work out too well. Way back in chapter 7 when the Northern Kingdom of Israel in cahoots with the Arameans threatened invasion of Judah, Judah’s King Ahaz refused to trust GOD and rebelliously called upon the Assyrians to help which led to the destruction of his own relatives to the north.
It seems so easy to trust in anything else but GOD? As we think about ourselves today and our own lives are their places where we are trusting in others instead of trusting GOD? Are their areas of our lives where we are trusting in ourselves instead of trusting in GOD? Are there areas of our lives where we are trusting in other things instead of trusting in GOD?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, August 5, 2019
Isaiah 22 – 26
As the Spirit of GOD speaks through Isaiah revealing the imminent horrors awaiting GOD’s rebellious, hard-hearted people, Isaiah reacts with these words in 22:4: “Therefore I said, ‘Turn away from me; let me weep bitterly. Do not try to console me over the destruction of my people.” Jeremiah is often known as “the weeping prophet” but here we see Isaiah doing his fair share of weeping over his people.
Of more powerful impact on me is Isaiah’s response when confronted with the fate of boastful, prideful, powerful Babylon in 21:3-4: “At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see. My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me.”
Isaiah reflects GOD’s pain in lovingly rebuking and punishing people. GOD wants people, all people, regardless of where they live to come back to GOD’s loving embrace. We human beings seem not to learn the easy way. Our history is a story of travail upon travail brought about by our inability to simply submit and trust GOD.
Throughout this book we see references to the arrogance and pride of humanity lifted up against GOD and GOD’s call to humble and tear down all that pride. Pride is elevation of self above GOD. Pride is basically idolatry as we choose to worship ourselves instead of submitting and worshiping GOD. Isaiah indicts his own people of impudent arrogance and pride against GOD; Isaiah indicts the nations of the world of this same impudent arrogance and pride.
We are all guilty. We have all sinned: “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up and very few are left” (Isaiah 24:5-6).
I cry out to GOD for mercy: “LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!” I continue reading into chapter 25 and am reminded of the boundless riches of GOD’s love and grace in Isaiah 25:6-9 which I close with today:
“On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’”
Sunday, August 4, 2019
Isaiah 15 – 21
You may notice in today’s reading and I sure hope you are reading the daily offerings of Scripture for that is what is supernaturally inspired, not my words. Anyway, you may have noticed that the barrels of Isaiah’s prophetic vision are aimed beyond the borders of Judah and Israel.
Starting yesterday with a word about the Babylonians and the Philistines, Isaiah broadens his line of visionary fire to include Moab, Damascus in present day Syria, Cush or Ethiopia, Egypt, Assyria and Babylon (again). All of these nations are either close neighbors of Israel/Judah or nations involved over the centuries in the affairs of Israel/Judah.
As Isaiah speaking for GOD has had harsh words for Judah and Israel and will continue to have harsh words for Judah and Israel in a continual attempt to bring them back to GOD, Isaiah also has harsh words for these foreign nations. Frankly, “harsh” may not even come close to a proper description of Isaiah’s words.
Perhaps thinking they may escape GOD’s wrath because they aren’t GOD’s chosen people and don’t even worship GOD, these nations are judged, indicted and will be punished for their reckless, wicked, rebellious, idolatrous behavior as well. Hopefully they learned or will learn that GOD is their GOD sooner rather than later and submit to GOD’s grace.
Grace? You may say… I respond with a resounding YES! In these fierce, dangerous words of warning for these nations who have caused Israel/Judah such grief over the years there is GOD’s grace. GOD is concerned about them as well. GOD, regardless of how Judaism may have lived it out, is just as concerned for all of the nations as GOD is concerned for Israel/Judah.
By including these foreign nations in this visionary diatribe, Isaiah is letting them know that not only are they indicted and judged with punishment looming on the horizon but they are also important to GOD. They are parts of GOD’s divine plan for the world. Did you catch these shocking, astonishing words in Isaiah 19:18 and following?
“In that day five cities in Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD Almighty. .. In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them…”
GOD has a plan for Egypt and Assyria and Moab and Damascus and Philistia and Babylon and Cush and … GOD even has a plan for us where-ever we may live. Hallelujah? Hallelujah! Amen!
Saturday, August 3, 2019
Isaiah 10 – 14
I have a hunch that when most of us think of Isaiah we think of those glorious passages proclaiming the coming Messiah from Christmas. We had a taste of that glory in yesterday’s 9:2-7 (selected verses):
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end…”
Am I right? If we read carefully we will also discover that we will be plumbing the very depths, the very extremes of darkness. Beginning later with 9:8 and following there is a litany, if you will, of lamentable destruction. GOD is ANGRY with the chosen who have turned their backs on him, reveled in their sin, abused the poor, neglected the widow and the orphan, and snubbed their noses continuously at their GOD. 10:1-4 captures this darkness as one brief example:
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised…”
There is actually a catchy little refrain throughout chapters 9 and 10. “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised…” I don’t know about you but I tremble at these dark sections. Even though these words were written about 2700 years ago they seem too relevant to us today. Perhaps that is one of the points of this deep dark thread throughout Isaiah. We are to tremble. We are to take account of Israel’s history, of her cyclical obedience to GOD which in reality turned out not to be obedience at all and yet as GOD punishes, as GOD keeps his hand upraised, we are ushered into more gracious glimpses of the truth to come in 11:1-9 (selected verses here below):
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD… The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them…”
As we reel at the darkness may we revel in the light of GOD’s grace! Hallelujah! Amen!
Friday, August 2, 2019
Isaiah 5 – 9
Remembering the first four chapters of Isaiah we get a sense of the challenges Isaiah as GOD’s prophet faced. We don’t find Isaiah’s call until chapter six. He apparently mourned the death of King Uzziah who had been king for 52 years. I Chronicles 26 gives us much information about the dazzling achievements of King Uzziah during his reign: military victories, military inventions, expansion of territory, accumulation of wealth and power, etc.
Everything seemed to be going Uzziah’s way as his “fame spread far and wide” (2 Chronicles 26:15) but then as his fame grew and spread he became prideful which led directly to his downfall. Feeling a bit too big for his britches, as we say in West Virginia, King Uzziah became so filled with himself that he entered into the temple to burn incense which only a priest could do. As he raged in pride and anger against the priests who tried to stop him (how dare them!), leprosy broke out on his forehead and he was quickly ushered out.
It seems that up to this point many had dared to believe that this Uzziah might just have been the long- awaited Messiah. Who knows? Maybe Isaiah had begun to believe that himself; until the leprosy broke out on the king’s forehead. The legacy of leprosy ended any talk, ended any hope that King Uzziah was the Messiah. At his death, Isaiah lingered in grief and mourning. Isaiah encountered GOD in his grief. Perhaps it was a vision but the vision was enough to change Isaiah and the course of his life forever.
In GOD’s presence, Isaiah can only describe the hem of his garment. I suppose when one falls on their face before the Holy, Holy, Holy GOD that the hem is all one can see. As the seraphim worship the Holy, Holy, Holy GOD, Isaiah becomes distinctly aware of his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people. Experiencing the forgiving touch of a hot coal, Isaiah hears GOD seeking someone to go for GOD and Isaiah offers himself.
This is a powerful moment in the life of Isaiah as he experiences GOD calling him to go and serve GOD. Now I don’t know about you but if I had been Isaiah and had seen and heard all that Isaiah had seen and heard I would be so excited about the future for I had been called. Everything would be amazing, right? I mean I picture myself (to borrow the image from Clement Moore) “with sugarplums dancing in my head.” What wondrous achievements will be wrought through me? How important will I become?
And then Isaiah gets the word that he is being sent to a people who will not understand, who will not see, whose hearts are calloused, whose ears are dull, whose eyes are closed. This will not be a call of monumental success as the world and most church boards judge success. But Isaiah will remain steadfast and faithful to GOD and the call on his life until the bitter end regardless of who does or doesn’t respond. May we be so faithful… Amen? Amen!
Thursday, August 1, 2019
Isaiah 1 – 4
For the next thirteen days we will navigate through my favorite book in the Old Testament and perhaps my favorite book in all of the Bible. I love Isaiah so be forewarned if I get carried away. My favorite class in seminary back in the day was on the Book of Isaiah. The Book of Isaiah drips with passion; it is fierce; it is extraordinary in its prophetic voice; it pulls no punches and yet it is written beautifully with some of the most stirring, poetic literature in the entire Bible.
Our professor would often tell us that Isaiah has 66 chapters, one for each of the books in the Bible and frankly covers the gamut of all 66 books. The prophecies about the Messiah fulfilled in Jesus are particularly thrilling to me. The underlying theme of human pride is revealed throughout. Someone has said (and maybe it was that same professor) that if we lost all the other books in the Bible but were left with Isaiah, we would still receive the full Biblical message. Welcome to Isaiah!
In the beginning verse we are simply told that we are about to read the vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem from Isaiah the son of Amoz who served during the reigns of four different kings in Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. With that little background information Isaiah dives right in. And as we begin treading water we discover that GOD is not pleased.
GOD’s displeasure is revealed right from the top with these words in 1:2-4: “Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the LORD has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’ Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”
I would say that when a nation is compared unfavorably to an ox and a donkey that things probably aren’t going real well. When we consider that the nation in question represents a tiny portion of what at one time was the nation of Israel, GOD’s chosen people; the people of the covenants, the people of the promise, the people of GOD – it seems that GOD’s chosen people have forgotten who they are. They have deliberately turned their backs on their Creator, on their Father.
As we work our way through Isaiah we will discover the depths that GOD will go to bring this people back to Himself. At times we will soar through lofty prose of GOD’s boundless grace while at other times slog through the nasty quicksand of Israel’s rebellion, disobedience and sin. Yet we will be able to see GOD’s sovereignty, GOD’s determination and GOD’s love in bringing His people back to Himself. Welcome to Isaiah!
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Song of Songs 1 – 8
If this is your first time reading any from Song of Songs I would love to hear from you. I have a hunch that most of us don’t read Song of Songs very often if any at all. I certainly doubt if it has ever been a regular part of our Scripture reading. I know I haven’t read it very much. Although I will confess to reading it in those early days sincerely hoping that I would experience such love!
Over the millennium scholars, rabbis, pastors, etc. have tried to figure out just why Song of Songs was written and why has it been reserved for us down through the years. It is certainly beautifully written. It is written in a style that conjures thoughts of an ancient play, at least with parts broken down in to he, she and a chorus.
Song of Songs is literally drenched in romance and romantic inspiration. It certainly tells the tale of sensual, romantic love between a man and a woman. If Solomon wrote this, he may have written it in his younger years. According to all accounts Solomon had the experience to have written something like this…
As I read I like the way the two main protagonists in this work relate to each other. They certainly love each other. They are certainly physically attracted to each other. They are infatuated with each other. They are certainly caught up in the moment with each other. It reminds me of the early days of my ongoing romance with my wife when all I could think about was her – how every, single thought was dominated by her – her beauty in all its facets!
On the other side there is humor here as well. Did you catch some of the descriptive terms used? Here are some selective verses from 4:1-4: “Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats… Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn…Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, built with courses of stone…”
I have to admit that in all of the romance and sensuality of this book (and it is certainly sensuous) those descriptions don’t do much for me but as they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Although the emphasis here is on romantic, sensual love I hope we don’t miss the message of such fierce, passionate love that these two embody is metaphorical for the fierce, passionate love with which GOD loves us. Such is GOD’s heart for you and me. Amen? Amen!
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Ecclesiastes 9 – 12
The Teacher continues his journey through life to discover meaning. Quite frankly, his attempt seems to be incredibly thorough. He seems to have looked at life and not just looked at life but experienced life from every angle. From time to time in this grand experiment he returns to the idea of wisdom. In this bold experiment where he consistently proclaims loudly that “all is meaningless,” he just as consistently returns to the idea of wisdom.
The Teacher asserts throughout that in spite of not being able to clearly determine the meaning of life that he knows that wisdom is better than folly. He clearly discovers that GOD has created life and gifted us life for us to enjoy, every aspect of it. One part that resonates with me is that the Teacher says that the house of mourning is better than the house of rejoicing because at the house of mourning all are aware of their fate.
If we are indeed all aware of our fate – death – and that we never know exactly when our lives here on earth will end, that should inspire us to live our lives to the fullest while we have them. And it seems that the only true way to live our lives fully is with the recognition that our lives are veritable gifts from GOD and we are to enjoy all that they entail – pleasure, toil, mourning, everything in its proper season.
In this last section the Teacher ends by telling us to remember our Creator in the days of our youth and to remember our Creator in the days when our teeth wear out and our eyes grow dim and life isn’t so pleasurable. The Teacher seems to hold that death is the end for all, I mean I struggle to find any word about resurrection from him but then near the end in 12:7 we have this mention: “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
Ecclesiastes ends with a summarizing note from someone other than the Teacher, someone speaking for the Teacher which for me, takes a little away from it (unless it is a literary device used by the Teacher). This editor ends certainly with words of truth, words that I bank on but it would have been nice if the Teacher, the wisest king who ever lived would have clearly, directly said them first person:
“Now all has been heard: here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
For me personally I think about all the Teacher invested in his lifetime to learn the meaning of life and wonder if he wouldn’t have been better served to have just fully trusted in the One who met with him two separate times and gave him such an amazing gift for it to be apparently squandered. May GOD have mercy on us all!
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, July 29, 2019
Ecclesiastes 5 – 8
We continue with the Teacher to figure out life. The Teacher started out with the proposition that everything is meaningless and then seems to try to prove that statement.
He looks at nature, the endless cycles, the blowing of the wind, the continuous movement of water to the sea yet the sea never fills up, etc. and determines that all is meaningless.
He decides to take a look at pleasure to see if perhaps pleasure is the meaning of life. He explores laughter, he dives in to the drink, he decides to design and build great projects, he buys, he sells, he acquires objects and people, he finds no meaning in all this.
He compares the folly and the wise and determines that their fate is the same – death. He takes a look at labor and determines that labor is also meaningless because one does not get to fully enjoy the rewards of their labor. When one dies, the game is over and who knows how the one who follows will handle the rewards?
He goes so far as to say that there is very little difference between human beings and animals. The one who had been gifted by GOD with wisdom so that he could fully understand human beings and animals and their differences concludes that in reality they all die. Wow.
He looks at how some people are blessed beyond measure and yet somehow never get to the point where they enjoy the blessings. He even points out that if they can’t enjoy their prosperity or their burial that it was better to have been stillborn. I myself have learned as I age that once I planned my funeral with all of these glorious ideas only to soon realize that none of the people I want to be there will probably be alive at that point so what’s the point?
Solomon exalts wisdom and even in the midst of meaninglessness is still able to lift up and recommend that we seek wisdom for wisdom is a gift from GOD. As he looks out on the world around him he determines that a righteous person is almost impossible to find. He actually reports in 7:28 that he found one righteous man out of a thousand and not a single righteous woman anywhere! I wonder if this has anything to do with him marrying so many women and the biblical report that they led him away from GOD. I can’t buy that the wisest man in the world blames others for his demise!
This section ends with this paragraph in 8:16-17: “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth – people getting no sleep day or night – then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.” The Teacher seems to indict himself here. If no one can comprehend the meaning of life should we spend so much time trying to figure it out?
Sunday, July 28, 2019
Ecclesiastes 1 – 4
Someone has said that if King Solomon did indeed write Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs that he most likely wrote the latter as a young man, the former in his middle age and Ecclesiastes as an old man looking back on his life. If that is true and it resonates as true to me, all that we have learned previously in our reading about Solomon comes to the fore here.
The author identifies himself as “the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.” In other sections of this book he speaks of having more wisdom than any other king before him or after so there is a strong possibility that Solomon did indeed write Ecclesiastes.
It seems to be an old man looking back on his life, either trying to understand his life or seeking to explain how and why he lived his life as he did. I mean, if I look back on my life with the understanding that it was one great experiment of learning, that may be, in my own mind at least, a way to escape judgment for all I did wrong – “I was just experimenting; just trying to understand life.”
Anyway, Ecclesiastes starts out with this strong exertion from the teacher in 1:2 that sets the tone really for all that is to follow: “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” We see right from the start that the Teacher views his life and life in general as meaningless. He makes it his life’s goal to figure out the meaning of life. He digs down deep in his toolbox of wisdom and knowledge to experiment and understand the meaning of life.
In the midst of all this meaninglessness we have this amazing declaration in 3:1-8: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”
So it seems that even for the man gifted by GOD with wisdom, life is hard to understand. In the midst of declaring that everything is meaningless, the Teacher boldly asserts that there is a time for everything under heaven. Confusing? Such is life.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, July 27, 2019
Proverbs 27 – 31
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life…” (Proverbs 31:10-12)
I have used Proverbs 31:10-31 many times at funerals to honor the deceased. I remember reading this Proverb at Lorena’s grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration to honor and celebrate her. And then I used it as a responsive reading during worship on Mother’s Day.
As we worked our way through the litany, moving from task to task it became a daunting endeavor. Actually, as we responded to each other it became first funny and then downright overwhelming. I think the writer certainly had a great motive here to lift up either his wife or mother but for us that Mother’s Day it became obsessively overwhelming. We were all stunned to think of all the expectations placed on women back in the day and even now. I was embarrassed.
I think of Peter’s mother who was sick. Jesus healed her and she jumped right up to serve them. I think of Dorcas who upon her death everyone sat around and looked at all she had made with her hands and celebrated. I think of the two sisters, Mary and Martha. One scrambled around under intense stress wanting everything to be just perfect for Jesus and the disciples while the other sat at Jesus’s feet to learn and love and worship. Jesus commended her for that.
When I think of my grandmother and mother and sisters and wife, I certainly think of all the hard work that they did and do. That can never be overlooked or forgotten but what has impacted me eternally is the godly character by which they have lived. I think of their holy lives of faith, their lives surrendered to GOD, their lives spent on behalf of others. I think of the right words spoken to me in the perfect moments to remind me of Whose I am and who I am. I think of their encouragement and support of me, no matter what.
I revel today in joy, thanksgiving and love for the wonderful women GOD has placed in my life. Who sure, work hard in a variety of ways but even more, they have just been models of love and grace and forgiveness and faith for me. Every single time I think of them, I worship and praise GOD! Hallelujah? Hallelujah!
Friday, July 26, 2019
Proverbs 23 – 26
How can food be deceptive?
Does food lie?
I mean I know food doesn’t lie, it doesn’t speak;
or does it?
Is food deceptive when your aunt tells you it is steak
but it turns out to be liver?
(Actually discovered I liked liver. Who knew?)
Is food deceptive when by all appearances it looks
just like a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice
but turns out to be papaya juice?
(Still trying to get over that one!)
Is food deceptive when a beautiful cake beckons at an
Ice Cream Social only it turns out to be a Bundt cake
that hadn’t been fully baked?
(Apparently pre-heated but not baked cakes just
don’t taste as good. Lesson learned and not forgotten!)
Proverbs 23:1-3: “when you sit to dine with a ruler, note well
what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are
given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive.”
I like to eat. Whenever I am in social situations of a higher class than me,
I always fear I will eat too much which is why I sometimes eat a snack
before such a meal.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Turns out I am the deceptive one but I get what the writer is trying to say here.
Let’s not get caught up in the trappings of power and wealth and fame;
they lead us nowhere or worse, they deceive!
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Thursday, July 25, 2019
Proverbs 20 – 22
I wonder what keeps a king safe.
Does a powerful army keep a king safe?
Does an amassed arsenal of the most powerful
weapons known to humanity keep a king safe?
Does a well-trained, perfectly coordinated Secret Service
keep a king safe?
Does a highly sophisticated, well-entrenched intelligence
agency keep a king safe?
Do the best trained, exquisitely educated team of advisors
keep a king safe?
What keeps a king safe?
According to Proverbs 20:28 which could well have been written
by such a king: “Love and faithfulness keep a king safe: through
Love his throne is made secure.”
Does this refer to the king’s own love and faithfulness?
Or does this refer to the love and faithfulness of Someone Else?
And if a king is made safe by love and faithfulness I imagine that
regular folks like you and me are made safe by that same love and faithfulness.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Proverbs 16 – 19
What’s in a name? One of the most awkward moments for my life as a pastor is when I forget someone’s name or call someone by the wrong name. Have you ever been there, done that? For me, I am far too familiar with name mishaps…
I had been at my first appointment as an associate pastor at a large church a couple of weeks. As people left the church, shook my hand and gave me encouraging words, an elderly woman stopped before me and wasn’t satisfied with my normal greeting. She stopped and held up the entire recessional as she said, “You’ve been here a few weeks now, what’s my name?” I sputtered an embarrassed apology and wanted to disappear or better yet, dissolve in front of the amused onlookers.
I must say however that the worst I ever felt with someone’s name was when I actually called my fiancé by an old girlfriend’s name while introducing her. I am still amazed she married me after that; haven’t forgotten her name since then… Names are important; names are powerful! I know how good I feel when someone calls me by name; shows me I am important; reminds me who I am.
I have always wondered about Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” How can a name be a fortified tower? What if the name is El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty) or El Elyon (The Most High God) or Adonai (Lord, Master) or Yahweh (Lord, Jehovah) or Jehovah-Raah (The Lord My Shepherd) or Jehovah Rapha (The Lord That Heals) or Jehovah Shammah (The Lord Is There) or Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord Our Righteousness or Jehovah Mekoddishkim (The Lord Who Sanctifies You) or El Olam (The Everlasting God) or Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide) or Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts) or I Am Who I Am?
Or how about the GOD who is called and represented by ALL of these names? How powerful, how fortified, how amazing is that? But for me the name that is most fortified, the name that I yearn to run in to with open arms, the name that causes me to fall on my knees in humble worship, the name that calls me just to throw myself down in love and submission is Abba (Father, Daddy)!
Hallelujah! When I run to my Daddy who by the way is running toward me, I am safe, I am loved, I am accepted, I am home! Praise GOD! Amen!
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Proverbs 12 – 15
Solomon, the presumed writer of most of the Proverbs is really on a roll. As a matter of fact he is throwing so much personal holiness at us that I do not know where to begin. If one doesn’t know where to begin then one soon finds himself well behind and lost in the onslaught.
It is oh so easy to get so overwhelmed with all of the practical advice here that we soon find ourselves drowning and give up the attempt. In any sense of the word, holiness is overwhelming; no more so than when wise Solomon makes sure we discover it is unattainable…in us.
In the sense of treading the theological waters today, trying to keep my head above the rising tides, I have decided to take it one stroke at a time. I don’t know about you but as a pastor and as a normal human being I struggle mightily with my speech. One of my consistent personal prayers is for GOD to forgive me for the things I have said that I shouldn’t have said and for those things I didn’t say that I should have said. Have you ever been there?
In today’s reading there are at least twenty-eight references to the tongue and speech. Me thinks maybe Solomon in his wisdom also discovered the pitfalls of the tongue. Let’s look at some of his advice on our speech.
“The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful.
The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.”
Proverbs 12:5-6 here above show us that the words of the wicked are deceitful, cannot be trusted and lie in wait for blood while the speech of the righteous rescues them. Have you ever known someone who seemed to leave many bloody people behind their wake with their speech? Have you ever found yourself slaying someone with your words? I have. LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
“An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies. The words
of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”
Proverbs 12:17 – 19 here above reveal more to us about our tongues and the power which lies in our tongues. Our words reveal our hearts, our character and our words can either cut down those around us or bring healing. Have you ever encountered a person who you loved to be around because of their sweet, kind words? The face of my third grade Sunday school teacher just flashed into my head. She has been dead for years and oh how I miss the showers of goodness and grace she always poured out on me. May it be so with me; may it be so with all of us.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, July 22, 2019
Proverbs 8 – 11
In this section the focus is fully on wisdom. As a matter of fact we have the personification of wisdom speaking in Proverbs 8, crying out for humanity to listen to her, to embrace her, to live by her. She reveals that GOD brought her forth from the earliest of times, before creation was even born. Some have mistaken this over the years as wisdom being a goddess of some sort but as the writer, presumably Solomon thinks of wisdom he gives her voice.
She declares that she was with GOD as he created, that she rejoiced and worshiped as GOD created. Nowhere in her speech do I find her exalting herself as GOD or elevating herself as GOD; she is simply a creation of GOD. As I read these words I picture the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit involved in creation, using wisdom as a created tool; a created tool that revels in her usage.
This created tool is available for us all to become the people GOD has called and created us to be. And where do we begin to find wisdom? That’s right, as we humble ourselves before GOD in respect, in reverence, in humility, in submission. Wisdom speaking seems to be in opposition to the adulterous woman speaking in Proverbs 7 and folly speaking later in Proverbs 9.
One promises life while the others guarantee death. It is a haunting reference indeed by both the adulterous woman and folly that in Provers 7:27 we are told: “Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” and again in Proverbs 9:18: “But little do they know the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.” Frightening imagery to be sure of both adultery and folly contrasted with wisdom’s promises of life and righteousness and justice and blessing and life.
Proverbs 10 begins the onslaught of wise counsel and advice on any variety of issues. It is easy to get caught up in and get lost in these bites of wisdom which is why I find it wise to read a Proverb a day. Rather than get washed away by this flood if we try to take it in all at once, in daily doses one can actually take a bath in this wisdom. So, if you feel like you are drowning in this flashflood of good advice, slow it down a bit and drink in this wisdom swallow by swallow each day. Amen? Amen!
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Proverbs 4 – 7
Although not in this particular section I want to briefly lift up my favorite, most-beloved Proverb which may be yours as well – Proverbs 3:5-6. The version I learned many, many years ago is this: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.”
In the updated NIV I am currently using this is how it goes: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I usually default to my initial learnings but have to admit that I like this version. The usage of “acknowledge” has always seemed so wimpy, so weak to me but in this updated version we have the word “submit” which has teeth. I think this verse hearkens back to Solomon’s earlier words that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD.”
I can only add to his words that the beginning, the ending and the middle of wisdom are all wrapped up in the fear of the LORD, in the trust of the LORD, in submission to the LORD. We move into today’s section which is dominated with Solomon’s fierce admonitions to his sons regarding adultery and the adulterous woman. I have to say that as I read this section I can hardly hear anything because of these numbers reverberating in my brain drowning everything else out: 700 and 300 – 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines.
I Kings 11:1-4 tells us: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter – Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God…”
Trust me; the description gets worse, much worse, from there. I don’t really know how the marriage to so many women plus the relationships with all those concubines would be considered in terms of adultery. It sure sounds to me like one would certainly be dissipated by all those intimate relationships in more ways than one. We do know that the “wisest” man in all the earth who knew exactly what wisdom was and where it came from allowed himself to fall away from the SOURCE of all wisdom.
I wonder if Solomon is writing these Proverbs from the advantage of old age looking back on the disasters of his life trying to warn his sons. If so, shouldn’t he start by taking the blame on himself instead of the “adulterous” woman? I wonder if his sons listened. I wonder. I wonder…
Saturday, July 20, 2019
Proverbs 1 – 3
We change gears a bit today as we transition from the Psalms to the Proverbs. The writer of a good chunk of Proverbs identifies himself here as Solomon, son of David, king of Israel and the description seems to fit with what we know of Solomon and his divine gift of wisdom related to us in I Kings 3.
The purpose of Proverbs is clearly laid out for us in the first 7 verses:
Proverbs 1:1-7 (NIV)
“The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
For gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight;
For receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair;
For giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young –
Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance –
For understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
So our purpose for reading Proverbs is laid out for us by the writer no less. The purpose for reading Proverbs is to gain wisdom and instruction to have insight, to live prudently, rightly, justly and fairly. It isn’t just to be read but to be lived out.
We are going to be pretty much inundated with good advice for the next eight days or so. We may actually feel hammered along the way by all the words of wisdom and counsel and advice we will be given. There will be relationship advice, there will be warnings on how to keep pure, there will be strong admonitions on staying away from the adulteress, there will be counsel on how to keep from drunkenness. If you name it, advice from Solomon and others will most likely be found relating to that particular topic.
However and I probably shouldn’t do this but I am almost always a spoiler for these types of things; however, the we are given right up front the way to wisdom. It is found in Proverbs 1:7 and it goes like this: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…”
I know this word “fear” puts a lot of people off but we are talking about the AWESOME, OMNIPOTENT, OMNICIOUS, OMNIPRESENT GOD here so a bit of fear is necessary. But more than that, fear in this case would point us toward deep reverence, deep respect and sincere humility recognizing that GOD is GOD and we are not. The point is that the starting point for wisdom is one submitting absolutely to GOD. Do we want to be wise, we must start on our knees in submission before the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY GOD! Amen? Amen!
Friday, July 19, 2019
Psalms 144 – 150
This last section which closes the Book of Psalms is all about praising GOD. Here is my feeble attempt at praising GOD with my own Psalm. Why don’t you give it a try?
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD who spoke into being the heavens and the earth!
Praise the LORD who breathed very life into humanity!
Praise the LORD who refused to leave us to our own devices!
Praise the LORD who with interminable, indefatigable patience waits for us!
Praise the LORD who loves us in spite of ourselves!
Praise the LORD who has a unique, delightful plan for each of us!
Praise the LORD when everything goes right!
Praise the LORD when everything goes wrong!
When someone hacks your email account – Praise the LORD!
When someone posts a negative, nasty post about you – Praise the LORD!
When the bills seem to overwhelm your month’s pay – Praise the LORD!
When you just want to lash out at your enemies – Praise the LORD!
When you just have to say what you have to say – Praise the LORD!
When you have too much to eat – Praise the LORD!
When you don’t have enough to eat – Praise the LORD!
When you feel misunderstood and underappreciated – Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD with the drums and the electric guitar!
Praise the LORD with the electronic keyboard and Baby Grand Piano!
Praise the LORD with the Contemporary Praise Team!
Praise the LORD with the Chancel Choir!
Praise the LORD with Sacred Music!
Praise the LORD with rock and roll!
Praise the LORD with Country Music!
Praise the LORD with rap!
Praise the LORD in all you think, say and do!
Praise the LORD in all things and everywhere!
Praise the LORD in silence!
Praise the LORD in the depths of your heart!
Praise the LORD always!
Praise the LORD!
Thursday, July 18, 2019
Psalms 139 – 143
Have you ever felt misunderstood? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt lost? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt lonely? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt isolated? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt like your thoughts didn’t matter? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt like you could say whatever you wanted? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt like you were getting away with something? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt like you could run away from GOD? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt like you could hide from GOD? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt worthless? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt like an accident? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever felt purposeless? Read Psalm 139.
Have you ever known you were on GOD’s mind? Read Psalm 139.
Any Questions? Read Psalm 139!
Better yet, memorize Psalm 139!
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Psalms 132 – 138
Psalm 133 (NIV)
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard;
running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Have you ever had oil poured down over your head? I haven’t. I am trying to come up with something similar that has happened to me. I remember in the eighth grade when one of my classmates poured strawberry perfume down my neck and back. I don’t really remember any comforting sense of unity in that act only bewildered embarrassment. Why did she do that? Actually caused me to feel ostracized from my retreating classmates and teachers although I probably did smell better than normal… I can’t say I experienced unity that day though, quite the opposite actually.
In Psalm 133 David is recalling when Moses’s brother Aaron was being ordained and anointed as the High Priest. That anointing oil had certainly been prayed over and was representative of the Holy Spirit of GOD’s presence living with him and within him to enable him to fulfill his duties. Aaron’s main duty was to represent the people of Israel before GOD. I have a hunch that as that oil ran down his hair and beard and collar that he could feel GOD’s Spirit pouring down within him. I hope so, anyway.
That second reference to the dew many not resonate with us here in Florida but I imagine for someone living in a dry, parched land most of the time that the mere act of looking out in the distance and seeing Mount Hermon with its snow peak was quite stirring and inspiring. Knowing how the dew was falling early each morning must have been a longing, refreshing, invigorating thought.
The Psalmist is David in this case and he certainly had his moments of unity in his lifetime. I mean he did have his close relationship with Jonathan that was so short-lived but a blessing to him. He also had deep fellowship with his companions and soldiers but I have a hunch that David here was longing deeply for true unity with GOD through the Spirit as he dealt with his complicated life.
A few years ago I participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge with our church in honor of a member’s mother who was dying with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) when a bucket of ice cold water was poured over my head. Once I recovered from the icy shock penetrating from head to sole I sent a video message to his mother where we all expressed our love and support for her.
I didn’t have hair at the time or a beard (ever) but I must say I felt a deep-centered sense of unity that day with GOD, the woman up in Chicago, and our entire church. That ice water felt just like Aaron’s oil must have felt. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Psalms 120 – 131
Today’s reading contains several Psalms with many familiar refrains. I want to throw a few at you. Each of these is beautifully written and these particular Psalms in this section are called “Songs of Ascent” which meant they were used in public, worshiping processions as pilgrims approached the “ascent” up the mountain to Jerusalem.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”
“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
“If you LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I want to focus briefly on Psalm 121:1-2. I know this Psalm is a favorite for many. We often hear these words in funerals. I know being born in a state with mountains that I, of course, have the mountains within me and this Psalm is particularly meaningful to me. I mean when I think of those mountains my hometown snuggles in to I immediately think of protection and security.
But I wonder if there is more going on in this Psalm than may at first meet the eye. I wonder if when the Psalmist wrote this Psalm that he had his eye on the mountains surrounding Jerusalem that were full of shrines to pagan gods. I wonder if when he looked at those pagan shrines ringing the hillsides if he knew the futility of praying to them and instead lifted his eyes to the One and Only who fills up the universe with His presence and spoke those mountains into existence.
The GOD of the Psalmist was not some local god restricted to a certain mountain or valley or river or tree. The GOD of the Psalmist was not made out of gold or silver or bronze with eyes that couldn’t see, ears that couldn’t hear or mouths that couldn’t speak. No, the GOD of this Psalmist was the Living GOD! Hallelujah? Hallelujah!
Monday, July 15, 2019
I will give you a head’s up. Today’s Psalm is divided into 22 sections according to the Hebrew alphabet. Each section contains 8 verses which gives us a grand total of 176 verses to read today. I know that the sheer size of Psalm 119 probably makes it one of the fewest read chapters in the entire Bible.
I haven’t timed myself reading it but I have a hunch it took far less time to read yesterday’s eleven Psalms than today’s one. I can confirm that by pointing out that in yesterday’s reading we read exactly 156 verses so that is twenty less than today.
I say all of that to say this: Psalm 119 is well worth reading. I confess that I did get caught up in all of the numbers but I ended up counting 176 references in one way or another to the Old Testament Scriptures whether law or word or precepts or statutes or commands or promises or decrees were used they were all referring to Scripture! Whew!!!
This particular Psalmist has remained anonymous and we don’t really know anything about this person other than to say that this writer has GOD’s word on their mind. For this writer GOD’s word is inescapable. For this writer GOD’s word is absolutely fundamental for life. For this writer GOD’s word is absolutely fundamental and necessary for every aspect of life.
In reading Psalm 119 we will find that the Psalmist is able to handle whatever comes along whether it be a personal attack from an enemy or a sleepless night or temptation or suffering or persecution by clinging to the GOD discovered through the law, the word, the decrees, the statutes, the commands, the precepts of the LORD!
I have to say that on a purely visceral level this time around as I read Psalm 119 I was struck by the joy of the writer. Far too often we see Bibles laying around with dust on them. For those of us who are blessed to live in the United States we can usually find a dozen or so Bibles laying around our houses with dust on them. The lack of use can give us the impression that the word of God is dry, dusty, irrelevant, burdensome and unimportant but that is not the case with this Psalmist.
This Psalmist is overjoyed to consider the word of GOD and not only to consider it but to live in to it and out of it. As we find ourselves in a time when so many have turned away from GOD’s word may we be like this Psalmist and take great joy and comfort in encountering the Living GOD in the Living word! Amen? Amen!
Sunday, July 14, 2019
Psalms 108 – 118
So today we are off on a marathon dash through these eleven Psalms which contain two Psalms attributed to King David. One of those Psalms, 110, contains two verses which are used quite often in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. Those two verses are 110:1, 4: “The LORD says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’” and “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” Jesus even uses the former in responding to questioners in Matthew 22 while Hebrews 7 looks into the latter with depth.
It interests me deeply that David is serving as a prophet in this latter Psalm because in Psalm 109 which is again attributed to him, David vents against his enemies. Not only does David vent about his enemies but he just downright goes off on them and asks GOD to do all sorts of “lovely” things to them. David, as we would suspect who have learned about him over the years, pulls no punches.
Here are just a few selected examples of David’s bold declarations to GOD concerning his enemies: 109:6 – 13: “Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few… May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. …May his children be wandering beggars… May a creditor seize all he has… May no one extend kindness to him… May his descendants be cut off…”
I have to say that I have never prayed like that. I guess I have never been that angry at someone to ask GOD to curse them. Maybe I have just never had such an enemy. We do know from biblical history and let’s face it all strong leaders run in to such opposition which often times becomes a life or death matter. David spent several years on the run from his father-in-law and his army who sought to destroy him and that isn’t talking about his true enemies.
Once again, this Psalm is attributed in this way: “For the director of music: Of David. A psalm.” Which I suppose means that this Psalm was to have been used in worship. That would certainly liven up worship, wouldn’t it? Reminds me of a story I heard about a family member whose last time at church he sat on one end of the pew while right across the aisle from him sat a man he had recently fired a gun at without success. I think that was the last time either attended worship…
Anyway, I have to say that David does say in 109:4: “In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.” So I choose to believe that David has decided to respond to the betrayal and hatred of his one time friends by taking them to GOD in prayer. It could be worse. He at least felt free enough to let it all hang out with GOD. May we feel such freedom and intimacy. Amen? Amen!
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Psalms 106 – 107
In Psalm 105 the unknown Psalmist basically gives a history lesson as he calls his readers to remember the wonders GOD has done (105:5). This leads the Psalmist to offer a refresher course of all that GOD did for the nation of Israel from the very beginning when they were just a family few in number through their captivity in Egypt. Psalm 105:43-45 end with these words: “He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy; he gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for – that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Praise the LORD.”
Psalm 106 seems to pick up on that historic theme and also reminds his readers of their history with GOD but from a different perspective. The Psalmist in 106 looks at their history from the back side if you will to demonstrate that they did not keep GOD’s precepts or observe GOD’s laws. I wonder if he looks at his history from the back side because he finds himself on the back side of history. Not knowing when this Psalm was written, it seems to have been written during a time of intense difficulty, perhaps exile.
The Psalmist first calls in verse one on all to “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” and then in 4-5 he offers these words: “Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise.” The Psalmist certainly demonstrates great faith here as defined by the writer of Hebrews much later in Hebrews 11:1 (NIV): “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
In this perspective of faith the Psalmist looks back at the history of Israel to see their consistent failures of disobedience and sin against GOD. We learn that while in Egypt the Israelites forgot all about GOD. When they cried out to GOD, GOD responded and answered them but soon enough, they once again forgot about GOD. Over and over in this blistering lament the Psalmist points out how faithful GOD was only to be rejected and ignored. The Psalmist reminds how often GOD had to punish the people because of their sin against GOD and yet GOD always relented and blessed them again.
The Psalmist is able to clearly see that GOD has once again relented and even caused their captors to treat them with kindness. The Psalmist ends with this bold proclamation in spite of their current predicament in 106:48: “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, form everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the LORD.”
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Friday, July 12, 2019
Psalms 101 – 105
Today’s section is rich in poetic beauty and theological depth. I know that we are reading five Psalms today and they are quite lengthy but I encourage you to spend extra time in Psalm 103. I have included a portion of it here below.
This Psalm has particularly blessed, taught, enriched and inspired me. I often use parts of it in my personal devotional life. Before reading let us invite the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to the very depths of our souls. As the Psalmist seems to do, let us quiet ourselves and our souls before GOD and worship.
For a few minutes let us think of all the benefits we receive from GOD. The Psalmist mentions forgiveness, healing, satisfaction of desires and the renewal of youth. What other benefits could you add to the list?
As you continue through this portion of Psalm 103 what are some things you learn about GOD? What are some attributes of GOD you want to particularly praise and thank GOD for? I don’t know about you but I get so excited thinking of the heights of GOD’s love and the distance GOD provides between me and my sins! What are your reactions to this Psalm? I would love for you to share with me what you discover here. Have a great time worshiping as you read…
Psalm 103:1-14 (NIV)
“Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits –
Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
Who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
As far as east is from west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
Thursday, July 11, 2019
Psalms 92 – 100
I challenge you as I challenge myself. Pick one of these Psalms. Read it over several times. See if anything changes for you. See if anything changes in you.
As I read this series of nine Psalms I find my heart literally buzzing within me. If my heart could purr it would be purring. There is just something about praising GOD! There is just something about taking the focus off ourselves and placing it where it truly belongs – on GOD!
Do you accept my challenge? If you have come this far with me, maybe you’ll come a bit farther. Why don’t we attempt to write our own Psalm of praise to GOD. Take a few minutes to get away from everything and everyone. See if you can find a silent spot. Intentionally set your mind on the character of GOD. You can use one of these Psalms or one of the Psalms in tomorrow’s reading to help you. Narrow down a few of GOD’s attributes that really bless you. Write them down.
Next, keeping in mind GOD’s character, make a list of all the things you are thankful for. You may want to start with your family and work your way out. At the moment I write this I am having some unexpected, weird issues with my right eye but that is where I am going to start. Having unexpected, weird issues with my right eye has made me oh so much more grateful for my right eye and especially my left eye which is normally my weakest eye.
Once you have developed a healthy list, why don’t you just take that list of GOD’s characteristics and the things you are thankful for and read it back to GOD as your own Psalm of Praise. I am going to try that myself. Or…you can just pick one of these Psalms of Praise, memorize it and incorporate into your own prayer life. You cannot go wrong with using one of these classics in your intimate, devotional life with GOD! Challenge accepted? Tell me how it goes, even better, share your Psalm of Praise with me. I would love that! Hallelujah? Hallelujah!
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Psalms 88 – 91
I must say that though a bit disconcerting, Psalm 88 is also a bit comforting. The attribution tells us that this Psalm was written specifically by the Sons of Korah who were in charge of the music in the temple. So we can presume that this Psalm was written to be used in public worship, perhaps regularly, even though this Psalm is basically one long complaint against and before GOD.
This Psalmist isn’t having a bad day but a bad life. He is overwhelmed with troubles, he nears death, he is weak, he is considered dead, and he feels cut off from GOD’s care. The Psalmist says that GOD is the one responsible for this, that he is overwhelmed, swamped even with the waves of GOD’s anger. He blames GOD with taking his closest friends away from him and making him repulsive to them.
He declares that he calls out to GOD daily yet without response. He reminds GOD that the dead cannot hear him or see him or respond to him or praise him but if GOD would help him, he would respond to GOD. This person’s sufferings have consumed his life for years upon years, so much so that he feels engulfed by the waves of GOD’s anger. He claims darkness as his nearest friend.
This Psalm may make us uncomfortable. It may make us wonder if we are next. It may make us doubt GOD yet the Psalmist, in spite of all his difficulties does not seem to doubt GOD. Regardless of what the Psalmist has suffered, despite feeling cut off and abandoned he still asserts from the beginning of this tome that GOD saves.
So, once again this Psalm reminds us that we are to be real before GOD, even publicly. Often times we may get the sense that we shouldn’t say anything bad about GOD, that we shouldn’t complain about GOD, that we shouldn’t get angry about GOD but in this section we see that not only is it okay but this work was created to allow us to do that in public worship together.
In the following Psalm we have a similar song with a different tact. The Psalmist begins with strong assertions of praise and worship remembering GOD’s character and greatness. As the Psalm proceeds we discover that in spite of the high words of praise that this Psalmist has also fallen on difficult, challenging, even damning times but he continues to hold on to his integrity.
Even more than that, he holds on to GOD’s integrity and ends his words thusly in 89:52: “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.” May we be able to do likewise when we find ourselves swamped and engulfed by life. “Praise be to the LORD forever.” So be it. Amen and Amen!
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Psalms 81 – 87
Today we have a variety of Psalms to consider. We have Psalms of praise, warning, accusation, worship, and petition. Sometimes shades of these varieties can be found in one single Psalm. Often times here we see the Psalmist making downright bold accusations against GOD while making bold demands of GOD. That just always makes me uncomfortable yet I honor the authenticity of the relationships of these Psalmists to be so bold as to make such claims. May we always be so bold as to tell GOD how we feel, what we need and to ask for it boldly; that seems to be a clear model of these Psalmists.
In the midst of these seven Psalms there were a couple of phrases that captured my heart, my attention and my imagination. The first comes from Psalm 84:5-6: “Blessed are those, whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs…”
So, here we go. As we read through Psalms this time I have been struck most often by images of dryness which seem to describe the Psalmist’s deep longing and need for GOD. Here we have an image of people on pilgrimage. What little information about the Valley of Baka I found said it was the location of an ancient battle located about 5 miles south of Jerusalem so I assume (which is always dangerous!) that the Psalmist may indeed be talking about someone making an actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of the many important festivals held there annually.
These pilgrims are simply described as people whose strength is in GOD. As these people whose strength is in GOD thus their trust is in GOD walk through the valley, springs of refreshing water appear behind them. A question or two springs up from this image. Where does our strength lie? And when we walk in relationship with GOD do we leave behind springs of fresh, cleansing, bubbling, glorious water or something else like pits of acid or quick sand?
Psalm 86 is attributed to David which is a wonderful Psalm of praise and worship. In 86:16 we have this phrase which caught my attention: “Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother did.”
Did you catch that? David mentioned the faithfulness of his mother. To the best of my knowledge this is the one time he mentions her. We only ever hear about his father Jesse but apparently, Jesse had a wife, a righteous wife who set a godly witness for her son!
I have a working theory which may never be proven but I believe that Judah’s kings who turned out to be godly men after GOD’s own heart were most impacted by their godly mothers. Fits here with David; fits with me. Amen? Amen!
Monday, July 8, 2019
Psalms 78 – 80
Psalm 78 dominates this section with its length and breadth. Asaph, the Psalmist, calls upon all who hear to draw near and listen. Asaph calls on them to remember all GOD has done for them and not just to remember but to tell it and teach it to all around them, particularly the younger generations.
As I read this section it occurs to me that Asaph addresses the people during a difficult time. It may have been during a brief downturn in their nation’s history or it may have been during the Exile after Babylon destroyed the temple, Jerusalem and carried the Israelites away into exile to Babylon.
Regardless of when these words were written their purpose seemed to be to call the people to remember their GOD. He calls them to remember their GOD and all the mighty deeds of their GOD. In this case Asaph focuses on all of the mighty works GOD performed in bringing the Israelites out of slavery into Egypt and their days of wandering in the wilderness.
As Asaph reminds them of all the mighty, glorious works of GOD, he also reminds them of the failures of their ancestors. He reminds them of all the times the Israelites rejected GOD, refused to trust GOD and complained to GOD. They were thirsty and GOD brought them water out of the rock. As they drank this miraculous water they complained because GOD didn’t give them bread. As they ate the bread from heaven, the food of the angels, they complained because they had no meat.
GOD caused the wind to change directions and brought them quail, so much quail that they were literally swamped with meaty fast food and this was long before McDonald’s! As they ate the meat, as their mouths were full and overflowing with the meat, GOD brought on them curses and death for their disobedience, for their complaining, for their lack of trust.
In spite of seeing with their very own eyes and hearing with their very own ears and tasting with their very own mouths the wonders of GOD they still insisted on going their own way. As Asaph reminds them of the sins of their forefathers he also reminds them of GOD’s patience and forgiveness. Even though they sinned and even though GOD punished them, GOD also relented in his punishment and bathed them in grace and forgiveness.
The latter two Psalms in this section seem to build on the lessons of Psalm 78. Psalms 79 and 80 are best labeled prayers of desperation in a desperate time. Asaph seems to describe the looting, pillaging and destroying of the temple here as he cries out to GOD to awake, to remember them, to relent, and to restore them to their previous positions as GOD’s chosen people.
As we find ourselves in difficult days; in complicated, confusing days; in days when we seem forgotten and abandoned; may we remember our GOD, who GOD is, how GOD has acted on our behalf in the past and know GOD will act on our behalf again in the future.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
Psalms 72 – 77
What is your favorite pastime? Is it reading? Is it watching sports? Is it spending time with the grandchildren? I was warned by a seminary professor of a potential landmine for many pastors my last week in seminary. He warned us of playing the “comparison game.”
You know the comparison game right? When we compare ourselves with others. He told us of his wife being aware of all the other professors, their time on the job and whether they had tenure or not. She called foul all the time. He used the particular scripture at the end of John when Jesus tells Peter that when he is old someone will take him by the hand and lead him where he doesn’t want to go. Peter’s response is to look toward John and say: “what about him?”
The comparison game may be the favorite pastime of most humans. We catch a glimpse of that here in Psalm 73 when the Psalmist says in 73:1-3: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Many Psalms are attributed to Asaph so I think we are speaking of a fairly mature person in their faith relationship with GOD. This is someone who is surely familiar with GOD, with GOD’s character and with GOD’s covenants and yet this Psalmist was tempted to take his eyes off GOD and place them on to the wicked.
As the Psalm progresses the Psalmist speaks of the carefree lives of the wicked, they seem to be in perfect health, everything goes their way, and they make ridiculous claims as if believing that GOD doesn’t even exist.
As I read it seems that the Psalmist was close to falling into their trap. Even though he knew that GOD is faithful and good to the pure in heart he was still being enticed to join the wicked in their wickedness because by all sights they appeared to be prospering without a care in the world.
How did the Psalmist avoid their trap? The Psalmist was able to take his eyes off the wicked and their winnings by going into the sanctuary and intentionally putting his eyes (and his trust) back on GOD realizing that in the light of eternity, the trappings of the wicked just weren’t worth it; just weren’t long-term. As a matter of fact with his eyes on REALITY in the sanctuary he realizes that the wicked and their trappings are like a dream one awakes from; nothing more…
So, the next time I see someone who is prospering whether or not I think they are wicked I need to force myself to turn my eyes away from them and the inherent potential to sin against GOD by envy and rebellion. Instead, I need to focus my eyes and my heart intentionally and eternally on the One and Only. Amen? Amen!
Saturday, July 6, 2019
Psalms 67 – 71
At one time or another all of us have prayed for GOD to bless us, haven’t we? I mean when I say “God bless you” to people I meet I really mean it. I want GOD to bless them but…I also want GOD to bless me. Is that a selfish prayer when we pray for GOD’s blessings to be upon us?
In Psalm 67 the Psalmist does pray for GOD to bless him and his people. It seems to be alright because the Psalmist asks for GOD’s blessings so that the people around them will recognize GOD’s goodness upon them and seek to know GOD. The Psalmist definitely says it better than I do in 67:1-2, 6-7:
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us –
So that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations…
The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. May God bless us still;
So that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”
Whenever I read Psalm 69 I think of Jonah, that reluctant, disobedient prophet of God when sent to preach to the wicked Assyrians went the exact opposite way. Poor Jonah ended up taking a bath and being swallowed by a big fish. It seems to me that these words in Psalm 69:1-3 are similar to Jonah’s prayer and must have been on his mind as he lounged in the fish’s gullet:
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.”
I am captivated by this image of one obviously drowning and yet their throat is parched. How could that be possible? How can one be inundated with water and yet at the same time be thirsty? Could it be spiritual imagery here and the waters coming up to the neck are the affairs, the challenges, the complications, the failures of life with one crying out for GOD in the midst in deep thirst for GOD? Seems to fit for me.
By the way, in our reading of the Psalms so far have you noticed how many references there are to thirst? I remember many more references to thirst than to hunger. I have a feeling if I lived in a land of desert wilderness that thirst just may be the most powerful image for me as I seek out GOD with desperation, with hunger, with well, thirst from the very depths of my dry soul. How about you?
Friday, July 5, 2019
Psalms 60 – 66
This is an interesting section of readings. We are told in one of the headings that Psalm 60 was written for “teaching purposes.” The other Psalms range from songs of praise and worship to songs of bitter longing to songs of simple prayer. They all seem to be written to be used in public expressions of worship.
I am intrigued and blessed by the honesty in these Psalms. The Psalmists seem to have determined just to be honest as they share the reality of their lives with GOD, warts and all. No punches are pulled. Some of these punches come from the heart; the aching, broken, lonely heart searching for GOD in the midst of dry, desert times.
But interspersed in this brutal honesty of complaining before GOD are several songs of downright worship! Those honest feelings of love and gratitude and faith and trust also come from the depths of aching, broken, lonely hearts which have withered the dry wells of life and stand in the fresh water of revival on the far side.
To close I want to focus on Psalm 66 here below.
Psalm 66:8 – 16 (NIV)
Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard;
He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,
But you brought us to a place of abundance.
I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
And fulfill my vows to you – vows my lips promised
And my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
Come and hear, all you who fear God;
Let me tell you what he has done for me.
This Psalmist directly gives GOD credit for the good times and the bad times. This Psalmist has discovered the perspective of faith; that GOD is in control and even uses the difficult, disastrous times to bring His plans to fruition. The Psalmist offers a bold declaration of faith and trust in GOD and invites folks near to hear what GOD has done for him.
When was the last time we invited folks close to hear what GOD has done for us? Isn’t it time? Isn’t it always time?
July 4 Psalms 52 – 59
If we read the individual Psalms in this section and read the headings we can find ourselves on a diorama of history with David. The heading for Psalm 52 tells us of when Saul was pursuing David and Doeg the Edomite told Saul he had seen David with the Priest Ahimelek who gave David Goliath’s sword and the showbread for his hungry men.
You may remember that David didn’t give a lot of details and Ahimelek gave David the supplies assuming he was on a mission from Saul. Saul had Ahimelek and most of his family murdered for this. In response David attacks Doeg in his words to GOD, pointing out the many ways he is wicked while declaring his own trust and faith in GOD.
In Psalm 54 the heading alerts us that David wrote this Psalm in response to the Ziphites, people he had trusted with his and his men’s lives, when they betrayed him to Saul. In this intimate prayer to GOD, David cries out for GOD to save him while asking GOD to destroy his enemies. In faith, David declares that GOD has saved him apparently long before GOD’s salvation actually arrived.
In Psalm 56 the heading informs us that the Philistines had captured David in Gath and David cries out to GOD in this Psalm begging for GOD’s mercy and deliverance. It is as if while David is crying out to GOD that he remembers to Whom he is speaking and declares in 56:3-4: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise – in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
The heading for Psalm 57 observes that David wrote this particular Psalm when he had escaped from Saul by hiding in the cave. I wonder if this is that cave where a little later Saul entered to relieve himself. Wouldn’t that be interesting? What if while in hiding, hoping Saul and his army will give up and go back to Jerusalem, David is praying and writing these very words in 57:1? “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” David wasn’t hiding in a cave, he was hiding in the LORD!
What if while David continues to write that Saul enters to use the facilities, David’s men encourage him to kill Saul because GOD has given him into his hands but David refuses to hurt the LORD’s anointed? What if David slips away to cut off a bit of Saul’s exposed robe, confronts Saul of his innocence and then returns to write of how GOD has vindicated him?
What if you and I journaled like this David as we walk through the peaks and valleys of our lives? Anyone? Anyone? Me, first…
July 3 Psalms 46 – 51
Psalm 46 (assorted verses; NIV)
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.”
In the opening Psalm of this section we have these very familiar words. Actually, this Psalm greatly comforted me back in September, 2001. Remember what happened back in September, 2001? The Psalmist describe perfectly how I felt back then as we seemed to be stumbling against surging waters. And let’s face it, there were a lot of nations in uproar and kingdoms falling. Remember?
But as the Psalmist describes similar, unsettling, bewildering chaos he pictures GOD right in the middle of all that chaos. GOD lifts his voice and the earth melts. I was reminded back then and am reminded even now as we find ourselves in such a time, in such a world that GOD is GOD. GOD is the Almighty, All-powerful, All-knowing, All-everywhere GOD and if he barely lifts his voice one decibel the earth will melt. I find solace and comfort and bravery in serving such a GOD!
Psalm 51:1-3 (NIV)
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…”
Here, David finds himself in the midst of a different sort of trouble where once again it feels like the earth has given away and he finds himself being swept into the relentless flood waters. This time, the nations cannot be blamed. This time, no-one else can be blamed. David is swamped by his sins.
I wonder how often King David was told just how wonderful he was. I wonder how many times a day he was met with flattering lips. I have a hunch as hard as he tried not to listen to such garbage that it began to sink in. Sometimes it may have been hard for David to see into his own soul and see the filth there. This time it took the prophet Nathan to remind him of just what a sinner he was.
Reeling from the disastrous treatment of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite, David reeks from the sin and comes clean before GOD. He declares his sinful nature and his sinful actions. He doesn’t use his credentials in seeking GOD’s forgiveness. What does he use? He trusts in GOD’s unfailing love, in GOD’s great compassion. Amen? Amen!
July 2 Psalms 40 – 45
Psalm 42:1-5 (NIV)
“As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’
These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
How I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
Why, my soul are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”
The Psalmist is in distress. The Psalmist is parched. The Psalmist is so thirsty for GOD that his soul pants for GOD like a deer being chased by a pack of wild dogs, pants for water.
I added that wild dog part which I witnessed long ago in a state park in West Virginia. We heard wild barking for several minutes and then a beautiful deer leapt from the sylvan forest right on to the fairway and dashed across the green looking for escape, looking for rescue, looking for water as it fled from a pack of hungry, snarling dogs.
Have you ever sought GOD like that? Have you ever been that desperate to find GOD? I have a hunch that in our hearts of hearts where we don’t roam too often, there is a deep-seated, unsatiated thirst for the Living GOD. What would it mean for us if we came to worship each Sunday morning cognizant of such a thirst?
The Psalmist here is hurting. The Psalmist here is hurting so much that he converses with his soul. He asks his soul not once, but two separate times in this short Psalm why it is so downcast within him. On both occasions he tells his soul to put its hope in GOD. He tells his soul two times to put its hope in GOD because in spite of feeling like GOD is nowhere to be found the Psalmist knows he will soon praise his Savior and his GOD!
I don’t know about you but maybe it’s time I talk to my soul. Maybe that is how I will discover just how much I am thirsting for the Living GOD. It may be such a deep, unsatiated thirst that I haven’t a clue. But I do know this, I will put my hope in GOD for I will praise Him, my Savior and my GOD!!! Hallelujah? Hallelujah!
July 1 Psalms 36 – 39
Psalm 36:5-10 (NIV)
“Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
Your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
You give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Continue your love to those who know you,
Your righteousness to the upright in heart.”
For me these are some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture; nay, in all of human literature. To think that they are attributed to an uneducated shepherd boy who became king just blows my mind. But what makes my heart particularly sing to these glorious words and of course the truth they relate about Our Maker is their setting.
Did you catch that? In the first four verses of this Psalm David brings a message from GOD regarding the wicked. There is no fear or respect of GOD in their eyes. They think so highly of themselves that they aren’t even fully aware of their sinfulness against GOD. Their words and their actions are evil and they even spend their time in bed thinking of even worst things to do.
It is as if David, before getting fully caught up in his rant about the wicked, suddenly turns his attention to GOD. As he chooses to think about GOD instead of all the wickedness going on around him he is reminded of GOD’s character of love, of faithfulness, of righteousness, of justice. He is overwhelmed by GOD’s trustworthy character and waxes poetic comparing security in GOD to taking refuge in the shadow of his wings or feasting on the abundance of his house.
As we find if we read the following Psalms, particularly when David is focusing on the wicked and everything they get away with, his perspective is tempered by his relationship with GOD. David knows that even though it seems like the wicked are getting away with it that in reality, they are not. They will face the divine music soon.
And by the way, even more than that, it just may be that David reminds the wicked here of all the benefits from a relationship with GOD in order to bring them back from their wicked ways into the safe refuge of GOD. Amen? Amen!
ave you been to the church library lately?
The library is located in Room 106 of the Beacon Life Center. If you have never visited or haven’t in a while, you should definitely plan to stop by soon. There are lots of changes to make check out easy and lots of good reads! There is even a children’s section. Let us know what you think after your visit…