Day 279: Matthew 1-4; Intro to the New Testament, The Gospels, and Matthew

The New Testament Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

The New Testament
Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

And so we come to it at last, the New Testament, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah, the fulfillment/expansion of the covenant that God made with His people.  In the New Testament, the term “God’s People” also takes on a new meaning as the promise of reconciliation and redemption extends outward from the people of Israel to encompass the whole world!  In addition to this, we see the culmination of God’s work throughout the whole of the Old Testament to bring about the coming of Jesus in the New Testament and the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and covenantal promises that had been spoken of for over 1000 years, all coming to fruition in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are the first books of the Old Testament, four books that recount the life and work of Jesus Christ from His birth all the way to His ascension.  Each book is written by a different person, two Apostles, Mark who was an associate of Paul, and Luke (also the author of Acts) who was a doctor and one of the first gentile Christians.  Each of the Gospels is written to a different audience with a different purpose.  This will become apparent as we read through each of these books, however here is some basic information about each of the four Gospels, taken from both the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishing, 1991) and Reading the New Testament Today by Robert E. VanVoorst (Wadsworth, 2005).

Wordle of the Gospels Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Wordle of the Gospels
Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Matthew: Written specifically to the Jews in an effort to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the prophets foretold and was the eternal King in the line of David.

Mark: Written to Christians in Rome to encourage the Christians who were undergoing persecutions by relating the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark is said to be the first of the Gospels written.

Luke: Written to “Theophilus” which mean one who loves God, but also to Gentiles and people everywhere in an effort to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and also to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.  Luke also makes an effort here and in Acts to challenge believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth and defense.

John: Written to Christians and searching Non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, and also to deepen faith in Jesus as Son of God and the giver of life, and to encourage readers to confess this faith  openly in the face of threats from synagogue authorities.

The Gospel of Matthew Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

The Gospel of Matthew
Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

As I said, the book of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, which is apparent right from the beginning of the book.  If you remember some of the culture we learned about the Hebrews, which are now referred to as “the Jews,” the orientation of their lives was towards God, which for them meant looking backward to creation and backing into the future.  This is a bit different than contemporary orientation of looking toward the future.  So naturally we being with a genealogy, a way of linking Jesus Christ with the ancestors of Israel, all the way back to Abraham and the original calling of the people of God by God Himself.  In effect, Matthew is proving right off the bat the Jesus is a decedent of Abraham and from the house and line of King David, two prerequisites for the coming Messiah which, as was said earlier, was one of the purposes of Matthew: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the predicted King that was to come, in the line of David, to set up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Saint Matthew Icon Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Saint Matthew Icon
Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Matthew does a great deal of linking the Old Testament Scriptures to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  There are multiple ways in which he does this.  The genealogy which we just talked about is just one way.  Matthew’s account of the angel visiting Joseph also signifies a divine happening, a message directly from God.  Matthew points to this as well, something he does throughout his book.  He writes, “All this took place to fulfill…” In this case, the happening of Mary’s conception took place to fulfill with Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 7, “The virgin will be with child…”  Interestingly enough, the course of Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew actually mirrors that of the course of Israel’s life as well going to Egypt to escape death while he was very young, a wilderness experience which lasted for 40 days (a mirror of Israel’s wilderness wanderings), and a Baptism before he began His ministry (which is reminiscent of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan before entering the promised land).  This too, we see was “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus says.

Today we also see a taste of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as well.  The very route the Jesus took, Matthew says, was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 9 about those being in darkness who have seen a great light.  From there he begins calling disciples, preaching and healing the sick.  For one reason of another, the work of Jesus as it has been preached in the Church is often boiled down to His work on the cross to die for our sins.  While this is a very major part of the work of Jesus, we also need to remember that His work was also with the sick, the poor, the homeless, and all those who were downtrodden.  As we will see in the coming chapters of books, Jesus work in the world is the very embodiment of what Israel was suppose to be, an assault on the powers of darkness in the world.   In many ways, Jesus too is an example of the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin, disease, and all forms of injustice.  He has come to bring healing, forgiveness, and restoration… the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven.



Day 278: Malachi 1-4; The Broken Covenant

Well friends, we have come to it at last.  The end of the Old Testament.  I have to say, I’m shocked that it has taken this long.  We emphasize the New Testament so much in contemporary Christianity that I guess I thought it was larger.  But in all honesty, its taken 3/4 of a year to get through the Old Testament, leaving less than 1/4 of the year to get from Matthew to Revelation.  Today though, we come to the final writing but canonically and chronologically in the Old Testament.  Malachi is the punctuation of the Old Testament, showing the people of Israel that have returned to Jerusalem and Judah that they cannot continue to break the covenant even after returning from exile.  Whether Malachi was actually one of the returned exiles or a post-exilic child is not known, but what is known is that he spoke to the people around the time that Nehemiah was dealing with the controversy of intermarriage with other nations that was going on in Judah, many years after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

If you remember back to that section of Nehemiah, when he arrived in Jerusalem from Babylon, he faced a great deal of challenges from both outside and in.  People resisted as he and the returned exiles sought to rebuild the wall.  Also, he was approached many times with issues concerning their faith and practices, which included the intermarriage of Hebrews with foreign women.  It is into this climate that Malachi speaks.  To be honest though, I think that at least 90% of what he had to say is completely applicable to us today as well.

Malachi (ortodox icon)

Malachi (ortodox icon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Malachi was facing down an already unfaithful people.  They had just endured 70 years of exile as punishment for their sins and yet upon returning to their homeland, the started right back up with their sinful actions.  The religious leaders had once again become corrupt, neglecting worship by offering sacrifices of blemished animals.  This was a direct contradiction to the Law.  The people had also become corrupt in their worship, saying they will offer their best and then bringing their worst.  Malachi points out that they brought blind and debilitated animals for sacrifice, giving to the Lord that which they didn’t want anymore.  Sound familiar?  In my dealings with Churches, I’ve found that most abide by the 80/20 rule… 80% of the giving from 20% of the people.  We don’t give out of joy or even out of gratitude, but because our pulpit has shamed us into it for another year.  This reveals not only a lack of faith and trust, but a lack of understanding the true nature of giving to which we are called.  We follow the “give when you want to, or when you can” pattern, something Jesus will address in a rather harsh manner for us in the coming days.

The message of Malachi then turns to the people.  Apart from the sacrifices that they were offering inappropriately, an act that was unfaithful to God, they were also being unfaithful to their wives.  While the intermarriage controversy was one that Nehemiah had to deal with, it seems as though the people were dealing with the problem of marriage on the whole.  Men were getting divorced whenever they wanted to, not on account of marital unfaithfulness but by reason of marital boredom.  Sound familiar?  Divorce rates both in and out of the church are hovering around 50%.  Pastors and priests are caught day after day in sexual sin and marital infidelity.  Marriage itself is a pillar of society that has fallen by the wayside.  Why?  Are people being more unfaithful?  Maybe in some cases… But for the most part people are just being more selfish.  Rather than working on a relationship, they simply throw it away and get a new one.  Much like appliances in our culture, it is just easier (and often cheaper) to get a new one rather than work to fix the old.  And what of our faith?  It seems as though, with the rise of “spirituality” and the idea that there is no absolute truth, that faith too is simply a throwaway item.  Bored with your church?  Find another one.  Bored with God?  Try Hinduism for a while.  Bored with the truth that is right for you?  Try something different on for size.  We are shaped by the things that are around us, the culture in which we live.  Rather than being strong in our faith and then addressing culture, we have settled for being strong in our culture and then addressing faith.  And then we wonder where God has gone and why He is seemingly silent in our day to day lives.

But thank goodness for the covenant.  Thank God that He does not change.  Even when we turn away and do not keep the way of the Lord He still invites us back.  “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.  Malachi speaks to this in chapter 4:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.  Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Bible Timeline Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Bible Timeline
Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

These are the last writings of the Old Testament.  From here we enter the “inter-testamental period,” a time of over 400 years when God was seemingly silent.  Much happened during this time, some of which is included in the Apocrypha, the deutero-canonical books of the Bible that the Nicene Father’s considered somewhat helpful, but not inspired in the way that the Canonical Books of the Bible are.  Some day we may work through them, but in the mean time we wait… fortunately not for 400 years but roughly 24 hours until we enter Matthew and the Word of God becomes flesh!



Day 277: Zechariah 11-14; The Lord Comes and Reigns

The final chapters of Zechariah the coming of the Messiah and the time when He will set up his reign on earth.  There are a lot of varying images that come from this reading.  Zechariah is attempting to describe something here that is completely incomprehensible by human standards.  While the first coming of Jesus did indeed usher in a new age and a new time when the relationship between God and humanity is restored, the restoration of all creation has only begun to take place.  We cannot possibly comprehend what it will be like when Christ comes again in His glory and sets up His reign here on heart, so Zechariah, seeing these images from God, puts them into words used by common people.

We have seen some of this reality described for us in Isaiah 2 and in the book of Micah as well,  a vision of what the world will be like when the final consummation happens.  God will be raised up above all other powers and gods.  He will reign on high from His city, which is referred to here at Jerusalem, and all of the nations will either come to Him or be cast out forever.  Zechariah describes it quite uniquely in chapter 14,

On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness.  It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. 
On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.

Some of this makes no sense to us.  Why does it matter where the water flows and when?  How can their be light in the evening?  The water if a vision of provision and plenty to the people of Israel.  Their planting and agriculture were dependent heavily on the rivers and the rains.  This river flows both to the East and to the West, which is seemingly impossible, and covers the whole land with the water needed for life.  The description of no need for lights and the days/nights being the same shows up in multiple places, many of which describe the presence of God and His glory being the only “light” we will need.

Finally, Zechariah talks about the words “Holy to the Lord” being inscribed on seemingly normal, everyday things.  This is actually a really cool image of what the world will be like when all things are made right.  When Christ comes again, everyday objects will become holy, an amplification of its former self.  What we are seeing here is a foreshadowing of the “already/not yet” reality in which we live.  Through Christ’s work on the cross, we find redemption and reconciliation, a foretaste of the glory that is to come.  We put on this cloak of righteousness after shedding our old self.  In the same way, all of creation will be glorified, transformed into its true self.  In eternity, all things will be holy.  As Zechariah says, “cooking posts in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the alter.  Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord.”  All things will be made right, reconciled, and transformed to the glory of of God!



Day 276: Zechariah 7-10; Who Are You Doing it For?

In chapter seven of Zechariah, God poses an rather pointed question to the people in response to their inquiry about fasting at certain times throughout the year.  When I read it, the words almost stung in my heart, their sharp truthfulness cutting to the very core of my being.  The Lord asked,

“When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?  And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?”

Ouch…

Not sure if I am having a guilty conscience issue, or if my worship leader training is just rushing back into my head, but it seriously made me stop and think about what it is that I do as a worship leader on Sunday morning… and what we do as we worship God corporately and individually.  Is it really for God that we come to worship?  Or are we more concerned with out we look to our neighbors and friends?

Is it really God we are singing to?  Or are we more concerned with the style of music?

Are we really listening for God’s voice?  Or do we get caught up looking around at other people or critiquing the sermon?

These are difficult questions for us because their penetrate deeper than the skin.  They literally get at the heart of the issue… and that is our hearts.  This is, once again, what the prophets have been saying all along.  Worship of God isn’t so much about what we do but the heart in which we do it.  Honoring God with our lives is not about what we do but the heart in which we do it.  God has no room for fake and/or false piety.

Yet even after posing these tough questions, God goes on to more prophecies about the coming glory of Jerusalem, the time when He will return to the city and dwell within it again, and the time when things will be made right and God will “care” for Judah once again.  It seems strange that these things would proceed from such difficult questions as those raised in chapter seven.  However, if we think about God and the covenantal relationship He has with His people, it makes perfect sense.  While there are still questions about faith, personal piety, and even the nature of our worship, none of these have any baring on the work that God is doing.  Sure, these are important questions to ask ourselves, and we are indeed called to live lives that are “worthy of the calling that we have received,” salvation, redemption, and God’s work towards the ultimately reconciliation are not effected by our inability to live up to God’s standards.  And really… THANK GOD for that!  We do not believe in a God that has set out a system of works righteousness in which we have to earn our way into heaven.  NO!  God has opened that door for us through the work of Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection.  God is working to bring about the reconciliation and consumation of all things regardless of our selfish natures.  This is the beauty of grace… and of the covenant.  God has formed a covenant with His people in which, no matter how many time and how badly they mess up, He is still working for them, still their God, and still the same loving and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love God that He always was.  Where we fail, God does not.  Hallelujah!



Day 275: Zechariah 1-6; Intro to Zechariah

Zechariah is the second of the three prophets that correspond with the final three books of the Old Testament Scriptures.  He, like Haggai and Malachi was one of the remnant of people that returned to Judah from the exile in Babylon during the reign of King Darius.  While Haggai’s message centered greatly on the rebuilding of the Temple and less on the glory of what was to come, Zechariah’s turns sharply from the rebuilding of the Temple to the coming of the Messiah.  In fact, apart from Isaiah, Zechariah holds the title as being the prophet that speaks most about the coming of the Messiah, speaking some 500 years before the prophecies would be fulfilled.

A great deal of Zechariah’s messages in the first eight chapters come while the Temple is being rebuilt and, while Haggai was also delivering messages to the Jewish remnant, Zechariah’s messages focused in on remaining faithful, casting out sin, and being purified while continuing their work on the Temple.  These messages were also filled with hope for the people.  If you remember back to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, everything was in ruins and there was a great deal of opposition from the locals as well.  People that lived in the land once the Hebrews were forcibly removed had absolutely no interest in the Temple or the walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt so they harassed and caused trouble for the Jews.  The message that Zechariah brought to the people gave them hope not only for completing the Temple, but for the future when their King would come and rule them again.  We also see pictures of the priesthood, which before the exile had become unbelievably corrupt, functioning in the way that it was meant to as a mediator between God and the people.  Zechariah also sets forth images of Israel as it was meant to be, with great prosperity and blessing as the people of God.

Zechariah is a very important book when it comes to understanding the coming of the Messiah.  He speaks God’s message to the people of Israel time and again about the coming of the true king that will reign over His people with justice and righteousness.  This message holds true for us as well.  While the hope that Zechariah first refers to is that of the coming of Jesus, the coming of which ushered in the Messianic age in which we can find salvation in Christ’s blood, we too look forward with anticipation to the second coming of Jesus.  When He comes again, we will see the truest and deepest fulfillment of these prophecies when all will be consumated to Him and made right for all eternity.  In our time of waiting, we too are called to cast off sin and continue to try and remain pure in all that we do, working each day in anticipation for Christ’s coming again.



Day 274: Haggai 1-2; Priorities

The prophet Haggai was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, one of the many returned exiles from Babylon under the reign of King Darius.  In fact, Haggai and his are mentioned in the book of Ezra.  Haggai returned with the first wave of exiles from Babylon.  After a few years of being in Jerusalem, the people had rebuilt their own houses and some of the city while the Temple, God’s house, stood in ruins.  Haggai’s message to the people was that they needed to get their priorities straight.  It was by the will of God that the people even returned to their homeland and to the city of God, yet right away they started in their bad habits again, thinking of themselves first.  Unlike some of the other prophets that had come before him, well accepted  by the people living in Jerusalem and they got right to work on rebuilding God’s house.

After the people had rebuilt the temple, we read in Ezra 3, that many of the old people, those who had seen the first Temple, wept at the sight of the second one because it was not as good.  These folks didn’t weep for themselves, but because they felt as though the second Temple had done an injustice to the Lord.  However, God spoke through Haggai again to remind them that it wasn’t the physical building, nor was it the things they adorned it with that made the Temple glorious, but it was the presence of God almighty there that fills the Temple with glory.  Here too we see a promise from God of a future glory, when all things will be made right again and the House of God will be in its fullest glory.

I think that one of the main themes in this story is that of priorities.  Too often we get our priorities completely mixed up, putting the things that we want over the things that God wants for us to do.  I’m sure that there wasn’t a sinister plot to not rebuild God’s house when the people returned.  They probably just got caught up in things like… surviving.  But Haggai points out that, once they had build their own houses, they needed to refocus their priorities and get to work on the things that were important.  This was one of the main reasons why they had returned to Jerusalem in the first place!  More important that the priorities here though is the reaction of the people to Haggai’s message.  They don’t hem and haw, they don’t call a consistory meeting or a town hall meeting, they don’t hire consultants to consider costs to see whether its worth it or not… THEY RESPOND and get to work!  This is what God wants from us when He speaks to us… when He shows us where we are mixed up in our priorities… He wants us to RESPOND.  I think that too often we try to think it through and see what we need to do rather than listen and do.  A great many movements from  God have been cut down in consistory meetings due to “lack of available funds.”  If God is calling us to do something, HE WILL PROVIDE all that we need to make it happen.  It may not be glorious.  It may not even be glamorous.  It might not look like the work of the Mega-Church a couple blocks away, but it will what God wants it to be: work for His Kingdom.



Day 273: Zephaniah 1-3; The Wilderness of Judgment and Exile

The prophet Zephaniah was another contemporary of Jeremiah, preaching the warning of the coming judgment and the message or the need for repentance for the people of Judah in much the same place and time that Jeremiah was.  Along with a couple of other prophets during this time, Zephaniah was part of what seemed like God’s last ditched effort to get the attention of His people before judgment was poured out on them.  While Zephaniah’s ministry actually ended well before the the people of Judah were conquered, the message that he delivered did take place starting about 15 years later.

As I was considering what to write about today, reflecting on this reading, I was wondering how to present the themes of the prophetic message in a way that would be somewhat different than before.  Being that roughly the same message is delivered time and again by the prophets, it seems that, as we near then end of our journey through the Old Testament, much of what is going to be said has been said.

Yet I was struck today by a theme that hasn’t been high on the conversational topic list in quite some time: wilderness.  Remember back with me to the stories of Abraham, JacobMoses, the Exodus, David, and then forward to the exile.  All of these narratives in Scripture depict some of the greater times of wilderness experiences in the Bible.  If you remember these discussions, the wilderness is a major theme, especially in the Old Testament (but also in the New Testament as well), which revolves around identity.  When Abraham was called by God, he was taken out of his homeland and wandered as an alien in Canaan.  In this time his identity as a person from UR of the Chaldeans, and re-identified as one called by God to be the father of God’s people.  This was done through a covenant, visions, and continuing faithfulness from God.

Jacob too has a wilderness experience where he is stripped of his identity as a cheating brother and re-identified as “Israel” in the culmination of his exile when He wrestled against God.  Moses too experienced the wilderness of life in his “exile” from Egypt.  Here he was stripped of his identity as an Egyptian Prince and re-identified as the leader of God’s people.  As a nation under that leadership, Israel is stripped of their identity as a group of Egyptian slaves and re-identified as a nation, the people of God in the wilderness of Sinai.  David too spends a great deal of time in the wilderness, on the run from Saul, and is transformed from a shepherd boy into the King of Israel.

The judgment and subsequent exile also serves this same function, a grand wilderness experience for all the nations of the world at that time.  It is clear that all of these nations have developed an identity that revolved around the idolatry that plagued Israel and those that surrounded them.  Zephaniah uses a variety of different ways to express this to the many nations upon which this judgment will fall.  Cities will be turned into pastures and lands on which animals both wild and domestic will lay.  Lands will become desolate and nations dismantled.  All that made them who they were will be stripped from them and they will be forced into the wilderness.

With all of this there is much talk about the coming day of the Lord.  In many ways, this is the ultimate goal of this wilderness experience.  Sure, the peoples would be punished, set away for their sins, but the point of judgment is not simply reproof, but correction.  God is not indiscriminately pouring our wrath without a goal,  He is showing His power and His might, alerting the nations to return back to Him.  While this will happen through judgment and exile, ultimately this will all culminate in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  This is the day of the Lord, the day when all people can truly find their identity a restored relationship with God.

At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
    before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.



Day 272: Habakkuk 1-3; Habakkuk's complaint to God

For the most part, we have seen the prophets in one primary function of the prophetic office, the function bringing the Word of God to the people.  Often times this was a message of warning or judgment, a call to repentance or a description of what was to come for God’s people.  There were, of course, also the times when the prophets would deliver messages for or against other nations as well, warning them of the coming judgment that would be upon them if they did not repent.  This is the way that I’m sure 95% of people view the prophets.  Habakkuk kind of puts a spin on that view of the Hebrew prophets giving us a glimpse of the other side of the prophet; the side in which they also go before the Lord and take with them the cries and laments of the people.

However rare this is to see in the prophetic literature, it is not actually new to us.  We see this rather often in fact in the writings of Jeremiah as he both delivers the messages of God to the people and the surrounding nations, but also laments before God the coming calamity.  Laments like this could also be seen in many of the psalms that we read a couple months ago, pleading with God to save them from the struggles that they are currently facing.  Dr. Tom Boogaart, a professor at Western Theological Seminary writes this in relationship to this dual role of the prophets,

“The prophets were travelers on the road between heaven and earth.  Like the angels, they deliberated with God and carried the words that help the world together.  First they ascended to the throne room and pleased the people’s case before God in the words of laments, many of them now collected in the Psalms.  Second, they descended and pleased God’s case before the people in the words of indictments now collected in the books of the prophets.”  -Dr. Tom Boogaart, Travelers on the Road Between Heaven and Earth.

Habakkuk brings a complaint before God that the oppression of the Assyrians is too great.  Violence and destruction are all around him and it seems as though the Lord has forgotten His people.  The answer that God gives the prophet though, it rather unexpected; God even says that it is something that would amaze the people.  God says that He will raise up the Babylonians, even though they are a wicked people, and they will execute judgment upon the Assyrians and upon the nations of the world.

Even in this though, Habakkuk protests.  How is it that the Lord can use the wicked to punish his own people?  Are they just another fish in the sea?  To this God shows him the way that He is going to work.  While He may use wicked people to work His own will, He will not reward their wickedness.  Even Babylon the great will fall before the Lord.

As I read this, two things come to mind. First, the way of the Lord is indeed mysterious.  We cannot and do not know how it is that the Lord works in the lives of His people or in the larger world either.  It seems like things continuously go south, everything just being negative and destructive.  However, in reading this, God tells Habakkuk to pay attention and see what is to come because the Lord is working in ways that will shock and amaze him.  Second, even after God gives Habakkuk a direct answer, he still protests before the Lord bringing more complaints and questions before God.  Too often I think that we are simply resound to “playing the hand we are dealt” or just “taking it like a man,” but Habakkuk shows us that it is ok to bring our complaints before God.  Like many of the Psalmists, he goes straight to the source, not accusing but asking and petitioning.  Habakkuk knows and understands his place in the presence of God, but he also knows that God is not one who is uninterested in him either and invites the questions.  We too can come before God with questions and concerns… and should do so because God wishes to hear them.  Perhaps God will indeed change His mind, perhaps He will act on our behalf.  He might say “no” or “wait,” but the fact is that when we turn toward God in a time of difficulty, we are correctly oriented to face that trial by keeping our focus on God.

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.



Day 271: Nahum 1-3; Prophecy against Nineveh

It seemingly is a contradiction when God raises up a power in the world to use as a tool of His judgment only to bring forth a prophecy like this one about their coming demise.  If this is true, the whole book and prophecy of Nahum is a contradiction in terms, seeing God raise a nation only to smash it to pieces.  This isn’t, however, the first time that we’ve heard a prophecy or a reasoning for impending doom of Nineveh or the nation of Assyria which it was the capitol of.  And God has a perfectly good reason as well, one that has been cited for His own people’s impending judgment as well.  The simple fact is that God will not stand for any nation, no matter their purpose, who takes pride in their own physical strength, does evil before the Lord, and oppresses others.

Ultimately, God is working His will in all things.  History not some string of random events but rather the continuing revelation of God as He works His will and reveals Himself to His people.  Often times His workings are mysterious to us and we don’t understand why we go through what we go through.  When we look back on this though and remember the whole narrative of all that happened with the people of Israel, we can see how God is working to judge the Hebrews, but also make it known that He is God and He is almighty and in control.  No nation rises or falls without the will of God.  No military or political power can overpower the most high.  Whether He raises up a nation to be a tool of His work or He brings them low for their disobedience, God is the one that makes it happen; the one who ordains it all.

I do wonder about our own nation sometimes when I read things like this.  I don’t believe that Nahum was secretly referring to Washington or anything like that, but I do think that the words we read here do speak to our situation as a nation.  Personally, I don’t believe that the U.S. is a “Christian nation” in the way that Iran is an “Islamic” nation.  But it is abundantly clear that we have been blessed as a nation being arguably the strongest nation in the world just about every aspect that might involve a sort of “power” or “might” category.  Yet so often we act as though this was completely the result of our own works and our own ingenuity.  There is no nation or authority under heaven that is not raised up, or lowered by God.  This means that, no matter what we have accomplished as a nation, it is God who has blessed us and raised us up.  Are we going to glorify Him for that?  Or are we going to rest on our own works and “strength?”  It seems to me, as we continue in the prophets that we could learn something from these nations… that we need to truly acknowledge the true authority in this world… and it certainly isn’t us.



Day 270: Micah 5-7; What Does the Lord Desire?

In one verse, Micah summarizes pretty much the point of the entire message of all the prophets:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

This is indeed what the Lord is calling the people back to.  Idle repentance, veiled holiness, and pretend religiosity is nothing to the Lord.  Actions without inner change are worthless.  God does not want their sacrifices or offerings, He does not desire festivals or celebrations.  God desires those who walk along the path that He has set out for them, the path of justice and mercy, in a humble and contrite manner.

What is at the core of this statement?  The fact that this is exactly what the people of Israel were not doing.  In fact, as we read in Micah and other prophets, the people of Israel were acting unjustly towards all, especially those who were poor, downtrodden, and could not defend themselves.  The original call of God to His people was both to love Him with all of their heart, soul, and mind, but also to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  This idea was in contrast to that which the world seeks, motivated by self-interest and the desire to promote the self at the expense of others, particularly the poor.  This is not how God created the world and God wanted to show the world through Israel the right way to be in relationship with others, and the mercy that He shows to all those who are downtrodden.

Going along with this was the Lord’s desire to love mercy.  For many this goes along with the idea of acting justly, but in many ways it is completely different.  From a strictly justice standpoint, debtors that are indebted to someone should have to pay them back and when the loan is called, the debt collector is justified in taking a person’s belongings to satisfy the balance of the loan.  But to do this heartlessly, without understanding is not what God has in mind either.  In fact, the Law is full of examples of when loans are to be forgiven, slaves are to be set free, and land is to be returned to its original owner, no matter what the circumstances are.  This is what true mercy is… this is the way God has called us to live… and it is in response to the way that He has shown mercy on His people as well.  Whether it is freeing them from bondage in Egypt or dying for their sins on the cross, God has shown us mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace.  There is really no two ways about it.  We are to be merciful in the same way that we have been shown mercy.

Neither of these have any traction without a true posture of humility that comes with following God and walking with Him.  The true purpose of the people of Israel was not in the actions of justice or mercy that they took, but in the posture in which they took them.  As the Psalmist writes,

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

Actions can be empty.  Anyone can fake niceness or happiness when they want to.  God desires something much deeper from His people: their heart.  Micah uses the word and in this verse as well… like the commercials about ‘and‘ and ‘or’ say, “and is better.”  All of these are what the Lord desires of us…

To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.



Day 269: Micah 1-4; Human plans and God's plans

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, call though to be a voice to the common people of Judah rather than in the courts of the king.  Yet as we listen and read carefully the text of this Prophet, we can see that there are marked similarities between the words of Micah and the words of Isaiah, ultimately culminating in the grand vision of “the Day of the Lord” that we had read in Isaiah 2 and read again here in Micah 4.  In fact, this is almost a verbatim description of the vision that Isaiah saw and recorded in Isaiah 2.  He again casts a vision of the reality that awaits us in the last days, where the “mountain of the Lord” will be established as chief of the mountains.  For the people of this time, the imagery of a mountain being established above all the other mountains would show the true superiority of God’s reign over that of other earthly kingdoms and even the gods of the world that would have been worshiped on the mountains.  The Mountain of the Lord would be the chief mountain and it would be one that people would want to go to.  Why?  Because it is from there that the Word of the Lord would go out.  This place is a place of teaching and of transformation, but also a place of justice, righteousness and peace.

I think, in the interest of current social events, the vision that we see here of the people is most interesting.  The people desire to go to the house of the Lord and one of the results is this idea that there will be no more war or struggle, neither will there be any sort of training for war.  This is a rather anti-militaristic image that we get in which all people will dwell together in unity, not simply because they are forced to, but because they want to.  Indeed it isn’t because their weapons have been taken away that they cannot do battle, but because the weapons of the world have been transformed by their wielders into objects of care and provision.  I wonder what this looks like in the light of the discussion on gun control that we are having in this country right now.  I wonder how something like this would affect the ongoing discussions about Syria, Iran, and North Korea.  Does it make sense to destroy their weapons?  Does it make sense to take them away?

So often we focus on the removal of harmful things from bad people as a way of generating peace.  If we go in and get Chemical Weapons or take away the guns of criminals it’ll bring peace to the world.  Perhaps if we make it harder to get guns then there will be less violence.  While I’m not necessarily against these things in principle, they largely ignore the image of Shalom that is set up for us in the prophets.  Indeed, I am not advocating for more or less gun laws, more or less weapons, or to let crazed dictators use weapons of mass destruction indiscriminately; but laws and military action to not get at the root of the problem that we face in this world when it comes to violence.  The problem is sin; the corruption of God’s design for creation.

Why do people engage in such hostile actions?  Why is it that some people seem to just be prone towards violence?  The easy answer, of course, is sin.  Corruption.  Evil.  We can blame any host of things from government institutions that keeps people in certain social classes to lack of decent parenting.  We can put together programs to educate and train people for skills in the labor force.  We can build cities and countries, even and entire world of people that have more than enough of everything, something we are absolutely capable of doing, but the problem will not be solved.  Sin is still present.  As Micah is getting to in his prophecy, there is simply no substitute for the righteousness that God calls us to… something we cannot obtain for ourselves no matter how hard we try.  Though Micah didn’t put a name on it, He is referencing the coming of Jesus, the forgiveness of sin in His blood, and the transformative work of the Holy Spirit which works to draw people out of a life of darkness and sin and into the light of Christ’s righteousness, justice, mercy and grace.



Day 268: Jonah 1-4; God's Grace in Action

Today’s reading is the whole book of Jonah.  This book is a rich book full of meaning and truth about the nature of God and how God acts.  Most of the blog today is actually going to be a paper that I wrote for a Hebrew class I took last year.  The whole book of Jonah is a story of God’s grace and mercy over and over to Jonah, to the city of Nineveh, and to Jonah again.  In the Jewish culture, in the midst of the celebration of the Jewish New Year which includes Rosh Hashanah, on Yom Kippur, the celebration of the Day of Atonement, Jews often read the book of Jonah as a remembrance of God’s forgiveness, grace, and love for those who repent.

Whether or not the story of Jonah actually happened is often a discussion that comes up around this book.  People can get caught up in the difference between factual events and the truth that a narrative like this communicates.  Did Jonah actually happen?  Perhaps… but does the narrative that we find in God’s word communicate a greater truth to us about the grace and mercy of God?  Most definitely.

———————————————————-

Of the vast number of narratives in Old Testament Scripture, the story of the prophet Jonah is one of the most recognizable.  Children’s Bible stories and Sunday school classes tell and retell the story of Jonah’s disobedience to God and the resulting action in which Jonah winds up in the belly of a whale.  It is only after Jonah prays and repents, the teachers say, that God commands the whale to spit Jonah up onto the beach at which time He then goes and does what God had told him to do, and the people of Nineveh repent and everyone is happy.  For all intents and purposes, that is where the story ends for most people.  Yet the continuing narrative of Jonah in the final chapter of his book show us a great deal more about Jonah, and also about God and how He is working in many ways to teach Jonah a lesson as well.  One of the major ways that this teaching happens is through the sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance of a plant in Jonah 4:6.  Jonah’s reactions to the plant, as well as the ensuing dialogue with God bring the story of Jonah to a much more full and complete, albeit abrupt ending.

To fully understand what is happening here in this last section of Jonah, it is important to understand the background, history, and context of how it would have been heard in that particular time and culture.  The word that we use to designate as being “the plant” that God caused to grow up and give Jonah shade is קִיקָי֞וֹן, or “kikiun.”  It has been translated in a number of ways from vine and bush, to a cucumber, gourd, or castor oil plant,[1] all depending on the translation of Scripture that is being used.  However, the actual work קִיקָי֞וֹן only appears in Scripture in this passage, Jonah 4:6-11,[2] and nothing is really said regarding the description of it.  While debate about secondary things can be entertaining, the lack of direct identification of the plant would signify that, even though the plant is important in the story of Jonah, the type of plant does not stand the primary point.  John Calvin, citing comments from Augustine about the writings of Jerome, points out that some plant types would indeed make more sense than others, the main thrust of the passage is the extraordinary nature of the plant rather than its genus or specification.[3]

Calvin continues in his discussion about the plant, talking about the nature of the plant’s existence in the story.  The plant is supernatural as it appears suddenly, grows faster than a normal plant, and does so for what seems like the sole purpose of giving shade to Jonah in the oppressive heat.[4]  We see too in the story that the קִיקָי֞וֹן does not grow over a course of days, weeks, or months,[5] as plants tend to do, but rather sprung up overnight, an extraordinary happening that could only be accredited to the work of God almighty.  Understanding this, it is also logical to conclude that God’s ordaining of this plant would also include a particular purpose, as God’s workings are never haphazard or random, even if they seem so to mortal eyes at the time.

God’s working through plants is also an idea that is quite familiar to the Hebrew people.[6]  Eden was indeed a garden planted by God, much as the rest of the world was seen as being created (or planted) by God.  In fact, the image of God the gardener walking through His garden, the earth, planting and uprooting nations is an image that is prevalent in the Old Testament writings, as old as the Genesis narrative itself.[7]  If indeed the word קִיקָי֞וֹן does have something to do with a vine, that image would have been familiar to the people of Israel as a symbol for God’s chosen people.  In any case, the imagery of God using a plant here for protection was not something wholly foreign to the original readers.

Even with familiar imagery though, the purpose of this plant in the story of Jonah is not necessarily revealed.  Familiar as it may be, like the narratives of God calling particular people to do certain tasks at particular times, there is also something that God is working to teach Jonah, and all those that would read this story as well.  We turn our attention now to the reactions of Jonah toward the קִיקָי֞וֹן, and then to God as He addresses Jonah’s lament.

Jonah 4:6 “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.”  After questioning God with a statement that was seemingly self-contradictory in 4:2, Jonah asks the Lord for his life to be taken.  Later, upon the raising of the plant, Johan becomes “exceedingly glad because of the plant.”[8]  Whether this is because of the additional shelter that it brought him or some other reason that is not stated here, we see Jonah’s rather dramatic reactions to things that happen to him.  The next day, when the plant has been killed by the worm, Jonah goes right back to wanting to die.  Calvin points to the swinging of his emotions as a weakness for Jonah who is “led away by his strong emotions.”[9]  For him, these were very little things that happened that caused great emotional shifts.  From this, he goes on to point out a less obvious fact that, when facing certain death like he did in the belly of the whale only two chapters earlier, now Jonah does not turn to God or lift up his heart in prayer.  Instead he simply wants to die.[10]  Matthew Henry, in his commentary on the book calls Jonah selfish for caring only for his own needs, and foolish for thinking his life is “bound up in the life of a weed.”[11]  God’s response to Jonah speaks quite clearly to these points and others as He addresses Jonah in his lament and cry for death.

In stark contrast to God’s address to Job, “gird up your loins like a man…”[12] God approaches Jonah with seemingly gentle questions about the nature and reason for Jonah’s anger.  “Do you do well to be angry?” God asks for a second time in verse nine.[13]  Jonah, it seems, cannot see past his own emotional temper tantrum, and seems to think he is justified in his desire for death.  Yet, calm is the voice of God, pointing out Jonah’s error and correcting him.  Indeed Jonah did nothing to create the plant, and neither was he responsible for its destruction.  Jonah’s concerns are only for himself and what he wanted; pure unadulterated selfishness.  God points out the truth of His providence for Jonah, and the ridiculousness of Jonah’s concern for the plant and lack of concern for the 120,000 or more Ninevites, and all of their livestock.  Calvin deems Jonah’s actions as “very inhuman.”[14]  He goes on to state the connection that God is making here, that Jonah would have willingly and wholeheartedly spared the plant its untimely demise, while he would have God not spare the now repentant people of Nineveh.[15]

I would venture to point out here that what God is advocating for through His ordaining of the plant’s life and death, and through the questioning and reproof of Jonah’s grief, is that of perspective.  Jonah has quite literally just survived a potentially life ending ordeal, facing the punishment for his disobedience.  Only when Jonah falls to his knees in repentance does God appoint the whale to spit him up onto the land.  For Jonah, it had taken something very drastic for his will to be changed.  Yet, as the Word and warning from the Lord is communicated to the people of Nineveh, they immediately repent, throwing off their sinful lifestyle in hopes that God will relent from the destruction and judgment He would bring on them.  Like the parable Jesus told of the forgiveness of debt, [16] Jonah’s debt has been forgiven and yet he is unable to understand the forgiveness of another, or in this case 120,000 others.  He is significantly more concerned with a plant that is “here today and gone tomorrow”[17] than the salvation of an entire people.  God is pointing out here that Jonah’s perspective is flawed, and his motives are, at best, suspect.

Jonah is also unwilling to see, or accept the actuality of God’s providence in these events either.  God is a God of providence, providing a way out for Jonah’s punishment and Nineveh’s impending punishment.  He also provides for Jonah in the way of the plant, which is raised up for the purpose of protecting (and teaching) Jonah.  What Jonah cannot, does not, or refuses to see in this event is that all these things revolve around God and, as God is the God of all nations, God’s mercy, compassion and providence remain steadfast and true for all people, not simply for him or just for the people of Israel either.  The contrast here is startling: the messenger of God bemoaning the forgiveness of a repentant people and the death of a God ordained plant versus an ignorant, sinful people who are quick to repent and receive forgiveness and are spared the wrath of God.  It seems to me that the ones here that listen better are not those who know God, but those who don’t.

There is much to be learned from the Narrative of Jonah, much more than was ever taught to me in Sunday school.  God is always at work in ways that we may not be able to see or understand.  Whether God’s workings are not revealed to us at the time, or we are caught up in our own lives to see what we should be seeing, God is still working towards restoration and reconciliation.  The story of the קִיקָי֞וֹן shows, in many ways, how God provides for those He has called, and also about the perspective of what is important in the grand scheme of things.  Need we be so concerned with the קִיקָי֞וֹן of our own life, something that we like and adore but is gone in a flash, or about the continuing work of God to bring about the redemption and reconciliation of people in the world who don’t know their right hand from their left?[18]  The answer to the final question asked Jonah would seem to apply here, and would seem to be self-evident.


[1] Jonah 4. “Bible Web App.” Accessed January 31, 2013. http://biblewebapp.com/study/#ref=Jonah%204:1|ver=he_wlc,en_nasb

[2] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 318.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, Vol 3, Trans. & Ed.by John Owen. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2009), 136.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 137.

[7] Genesis 2-3.  All Biblical Citations taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.

[8] Jonah 4:6.

[9] Calvin, 138.

[10] Ibid., 139.

[11] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Vol. 4 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 1023.

[12] Job 38:3, New Revised Standard Version.

[13] Jonah 4:4, 9.

[14] Calvin, 141.

[15] Ibid., 141-142.

[16] Matthew 18:21-35

[17] Matthew 6:30

[18] Jonah 4:11.



Day 267: Obadiah; Prophecy against Edom

Today and tomorrow we are going to branch off from the original reading plan that we set up at the beginning of the year.  I have decided to split up Obadiah and Jonah into two separate posts as they are two rather different books.  So today’s reading is simply the book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament.  There is not much that is known about the prophet Obadiah.  In some Christian traditions, Obadiah is the same person who shows up briefly in 1 Kings 18 as the man who is hiding the prophets of God from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  In this tradition, Obadiah is given the gift of prophecy as a sort of “reward” for being faithful to God and hiding the prophets during this time.  That would place Obadiah’s ministry somewhere in the 800’s B.C.  Others hold that Obadiah was a prophet during the fall of Israel and many of the surrounding nations (including Edom) to Assyria.  In any case, it is clear that the judgment of the Lord will also come to Edom for their antagonistic relationship with Israel.

Obadiah the prophet (Овдий in Russian), Russia...

This issue animosity between these two nations was as old as the nations themselves.  The nation of Edom is descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob who sold his birthright and basically lost everything to his conniving “little” brother.  Even though the story of Jacob’s return to his brother being full of love and happy tears, the two settle in different places and, as far as we are told, only reunite because of Isaac’s death.  Other than that, we hear very little from Esau except through the nation of Edom.  Their feud is long standing, like one of those family arguments where no one can remember what brought it about… but in this case it seems as though everyone remembers.

Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-...

Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-Obadiah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this prophecy, the main reason that judgment was coming to Israel was because of this relationship.  Edom was rejoicing over the troubles that had fallen on Israel.  In fact, there are many times when the Edomites attacked Israel, or didn’t come to their aid when they needed help.  More over, when the people of Israel and Judah were taken into exile, some sources say that the land of Edom plundered what was left of the land.  It was because of their contempt, because of their rejoicing at the difficulties of God’s people that Edom was the only nation that was not promised any mercy from God.

Like Judah, the nation of Edom actually survived the time of exile and the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and even Greece for a time.  It seemed as though the prophecy of God wasn’t going to come to pass.  However, in the mid 160’s B.C. during the Jewish revolt from the Greek Empire, Judas Maccabeaus routed the Edomites signaling the beginning of the end of their nation.  By the first century A.D. the nation of Edom no longer existed.  While it may take a while for God’s judgments to become reality in what we know as the physical world, the Word of the Lord is as sure as the breath that you took a moment ago.  When God spoke, the universe was made, when God judges it will come to pass.



Day 266: Amos 7-9; The Same or Different?

The people of Israel were called to be a nation that was set apart from the nations of the world.  God called them to “be Holy as I am Holy” and to be a light to the nations.  However, as Amos points out here towards the end of his book, Israel had become the same as the “Cushites,” which is a group of people from the Nile region, namely Egypt.  God’s people were no better than the people that enslaved them, the people that they came from, and the people that they conquered.  Because of their sins, they would face the same destruction as these nations as well.

While I don’t think that things here completely translate, today’s reading made me wonder a great deal about where we stand as the Church in today’s culture.  There is so much talk around churches about being relevant and being able to speak to today’s culture.  We do things like use technology, play rock music (some that doesn’t even Christian), and even dumb the message of the Gospel into just living and being nice to people (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism).  All this we have done in an effort to reach more people, but I wonder as I’m writing this if that is really what we have done.  I wonder if we have not made some of the same mistakes as Israel did, running off after other nations, cultures, and gods rather than seek after the God that called them out of slavery and bondage and into a new life with a new identity.

As we have talked about before, the people of Israel were convinced that it was the land that God had given them that gave them their identity as God’s people.  Because the land was a promise from God, they thought that living there was enough to make them God’s people.  However, for Israel it was actually their command to live a Holy life, to Love the Lord with all their Heart, Soul, and Mind and to Love their neighbor as they loved themselves that they derived their identity.  They were to be set apart, to honor God with their lives and to be a witness to God among the nations.

Again, I am drawn to the question of how the Church is doing in this category.  Are we God’s people set apart and living in a way that both honors God and points others to Him?  Or are too busy trying to make ourselves look like the culture around us, squabbling about musical styles, and making sure that those that come in our doors think the way we do?  Is the Church called to cower in the face of culture, to curl up and let culture wash over us?  Or are we called to stand up in the midst of a morally declining culture and be a beacon of light that points to the good news of the Gospel of Christ Jesus in whom we find our ultimate identity?  I think it is the latter.



Day 265: Amos 4-6; Complacency

So today’s reading continues along the theme of yesterday’s reading as Amos continues to talk about the judgment that is coming upon the people of Israel.  Amos really has very feel words of comfort for the Northern Kingdom, who has done evil in the eyes of the Lord since its conception.  Again, this is a nation whose kings were not judged to be good or bad, but were rated on a scale of how bad they were; some being significantly worse than others, but none reaching even a level of being neutral.

Speaking of being neutral, as we continue to read Amos we see that he takes aim on the “neutral” people of Israel today too.  When I use the term neutral, I am referencing those that are “complacent in Zion” as Amos says.  While I know that they terms ‘neutral’ and ‘complacent’ are not entirely synonymous, I think that they tend to get used in this way in our cultural context.  Many of us tend to talk through life being a neutral, one that just tries to balance out the good and the bad so that we don’t end up on one end of the spectrum or the other.  Perhaps we give an extra $10 in the offering plate for the people we cut off on the highway this week.  Maybe we say an extra prayer for the mean thought we had about our spouse early this week.  Whatever it is, what we are trying to do is remain neutral, not swaying to the left or the right.  Rather than going after the sin in our lives or even the brokenness that we see around us, we remain complacent, thinking that the world is a generally good place or is, at the very least, neutral.

This was the kind of lifestyle that Amos was leveling his attack against in chapter six of today’s reading.  In Israel and Judah there were many people that had built for themselves a good life with much wealth and comfort.  They lived as if they didn’t have a care in the world, even if there were poor people living at their gates, and they were prospering off of the backs of others.  As long as they gave their sacrifices from time to time, God will see that they were good and would continue to allow them to do.  I’m sure that every now and then they gave a little bit to the poor too, just for good measure.  Generally though, they saw things as being pretty alright around them, and turned their gaze away from the needs around them.  They were… complacent.

The prophet, however, seeing things through the eyes of God, do not a little sin here and there as being ok.  In fact, every little sin is abhorrent to God.  For the prophet, society was not “generally good” it was a disaster!  People that tried to cover their complacency with false piety were an abomination before God.  Not only did God not want their fraudulent sacrifices, He was going to remove their place of comfort.  They too would experience the true brokenness of the world.

God does not stand for sin and thus no sin is a small sin in the eyes of God.  What God says here, to those who have been blessed with material wealth, is that those who have the power to help the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the needy and don’t are just as guilty as those who are benefiting from oppressing them.  Sadly, in many cases the complacent and the oppressor are one and the same.

We too can learn from Amos’ words here.  Do we turn a blind eye to the poor?  Do we build comfortable lives for ourselves in gated communities so that we don’t have to see the need around us?  Society is spiraling into sin at an alarming rate, but as long as there is some good that is happening, we’re just generally remaining neutral right?  God says “NO!”  This is not the time for Christians to remain complacent.  The Church has been silent for far too long.  We need to stand up for those in need, lest we too be removed from our place of comfort!