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?”


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.|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. & 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!

Day 264: Amos 1-3; Intro to Amos

As we move into the prophet Amos, we a meet a prophet that was sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Though Amos was “one of the shepherds of Tekoa,” a city very close to Jerusalem, the Lord sent him into Israel to deliver the message of God to them.  From a chronological standpoint, Amos became a prophet around, but a bit before the prophet Hosea, who was also called and sent to the Northern Kingdom.   Unlike many of the other prophets, there is very little comfort in Amos’ message to the people of Israel; he is pretty much all judgment all the time.  We will see a little section at the end that speaks of restoration, but mostly Amos drives home the point that Judgment is coming, it is coming for specific reasons, and it will all encompassing.

Because today’s reading has a lot to do with the announcement of the Judgment that is to come, something that we have heard many times before, I think it is important once again to talk through the mind of the prophet and look at the specific language that he, and other prophets use in their writing and speaking.  We talked about this on our last day of the book of Ezekiel, but would do well continue to remember this because it is clear that the prophets have a language and a way all their own.  Abraham J. Heschel would say that we have no language in common with the prophets and he wouldn’t be too far from the truth.  Amos, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others speak in sweeping accusations using grandiose language and vivid imagery that is often even questionable for children.  In fact, in many Bible classes for kids of all ages, the prophets tend to be a brushed over group of writings because of their R rated commentary of Israel and Judah.

There is, however, a good reason for this.  Prophets don’t simply use crazy language for attention’s sake, like a CEO in a meetings uses curse words to make a point.  The prophets are speaking from the very mouth of God.  Indeed the prophets hold a very unique office in the Hebrew culture, being those who have one foot in the throne room of God and the other foot in the throne rooms of kings and on the streets of cities.  These prophets are called by God, often times taken up in visions like Daniel and Ezekiel, seeing another side of reality, and going so far touched on the mouth and given words to say like Isaiah and Jeremiah.  They have been called to be a watchman, to bring the Word of the Lord to God’s people and the surrounding nations, but also bring laments of the people before God as well.  He hearing God’s Words, and spending time in God’s presence, they begin to see things as God sees them, with the burning and passionate love that God feels for His people.

So why all of the strong language then?  Why all the judgment?  Why did we spend yet another day reading the announcement of the coming judgments once again?  The answer is, strange as it may seem to us, God’s unrelenting love for His people and creation.  Sin, this corruption of all that God had made good, has caused creation and God’s people to fall and to continue to turn away from Him.  Yet God loves His people and is continually working towards reconciliation and redemption.  Sometimes this means punishing His people though, for the sins they have committed and for their continual denial of Him.

Amos’ words today relate to us a cycle of sinful behavior, continual actions that have cause people to reject God and follow their own will.  The judgment that is coming will break this cycle.  We too, at times, find ourselves in this cycle.  The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans about this:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

God knows that we are stuck in this cycle, unable to help ourselves out of it.  The sin must be punished and the cycle broken for us to escape from it.  For the people of the Old Testament, this was done through sacrifice.  In the death of one there would be life for the other.  For us, the ultimate expression of this is in Jesus Christ.  Paul continues in Romans 8 by saying,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

As we continue to read the prophets, keep in mind that the people whom God loves so passionately are continuing to turn away from Him.  What’s worse is that they cannot help themselves out of the pit that they have dug for themselves.  Yet God doesn’t leave them there; there is hope and though these people won’t live to see that day, it has come and the Kingdom of God is here.  God has reconciled His people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and in this time, as we wait for that to be completed, we live according to the Spirit who continues to teach and reprove us, sanctifying us each day, that we may become more and more like Jesus.

Day 263: Joel 1-3; The Prophet Joel

From a timeline perspective, the prophet Joel is likely to be one of the earliest, maybe even one of the first of the many prophets that are to come to the people of Israel and Judah.  Joel himself was a prophet to the land of Judah, though not much is really known about where and exactly when his ministry took place.  What is clear from his writing is that he is speaking to a people that are headed down a path of destruction and God is warning them to turn around quickly.  The message of Joel is quite a bit simpler in comparison to most of his prophetic cohort in the Bible.  There are very little details about the exact nature of the judgments that are to come upon Israel and Judah if they continue to sin, but contained within these three chapters is the still timeless message of God’s judgment against sin and His justice and mercy on His people as well.

Joel’s message contained in this book is really short and too the point, but the meaning and the message itself is but a prelude to the many messages that God was going to send to His people.  He begins with a a very vivid image of what the judgment of the Lord looks like.  As an army of locusts comes and devours everything in its path, so too will the judgment of the Lord will consume all sin and wickedness in its path.  Everything will be sadness and mourning on that day, when God’s righteous judgment breaks out against the wickedness of His people.  Again and again Joel uses images to describe both what the people are doing and how they will react when this time comes.

Yet it isn’t all gloom and doom.  Like all the prophets that will come after him, Joel delivers God’s warning and God’s desire for His people to turn from their sins.  He even points them to the way that they need to come to repentance.  The interesting thing about these things, putting on sackcloth and calling a fast is not that they are the right actions that the Lord will accept as appropriate for their sins, but because of the inner anguish and repentance that they show.  When people in those days put on sackcloth, it was because they were truly sad or lamenting something that was going on in their lives.  Fasting also is more about what is going on inside of a person than the physical act of not eating.  In these first messages to His people God is point out that He doesn’t want actions… He doesn’t need sacrifice… God wants a repentant heart!

This is true of us today as well.  Too often we find ourselves thinking that somehow we can earn our way into the Kingdom of God.  Perhaps if I just do these three good things they will make up for the one bad thing that I did the other day.  As we read further in Joel and hear about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the outpouring of the Spirit onto His people, we see that it is not us who impress God, but God who has mercy on us.  The Lord may judge the nations and that judgment may be swift and righteous, but is also full of mercy.  We see this in the very last lines of Joel, and the ESV kind of makes these particular lines confusing if you ask me.  God is saying here that all of His people’s enemies will be laid waist and the blood of the innocent people, those made innocent by the grace of God, will be avenged and they will once again inhabit their land and be holy once again.

Day 262: Hosea 10-14; Judgment and Love

These last few chapters of Hosea seem to go back and forth between Judgment and God’s love for His people.  First we hear about how God loves Israel and doesn’t want to give her up.  Hosea, speaking the Word of the Lord, uses imagery of a loving parent teaching His child to walk.  Yet even after the tender loving care that the Lord gives Israel they still have rejected Him and have gone off and worshiped other gods.  We see here God’s inner struggle, His heartache for His people.  “How can I give Israel up?” He cries.  “I will not let them go back to the Egyptians, to be enslaved and undone once again.”

Then, almost as if there is a sudden mood swing, the Lord indicts Israel and Judah for their wayward actions.  From its very beginning the Lord begins to lay out for them the many reasons that judgment is coming upon them.  They have claimed their riches for themselves, making money with “false balances.”  In their prosperity they have taken the glory for themselves, saying that they had gotten here under their own power.  On top of that, they have not listened to the Words of the Lord and have walked away from Him, following instead the gods of the nations around them.

Back and forth we seem to go as we read through the prophets.  In one breath we hear of judgment for the sins of God’s people and in what seems like the same breath we hear of God’s love and the hope for the future that is coming.  Why does it seem like God is being kind of bipolar here?  I think it comes from the fact that we think about these words in ways that are not very helpful to us here.  We often think of judgment as being a bad thing, punishment for things done wrong.  When I was a child I was grounded or disciplined for the things that I did wrong.  As a child, I saw this discipline as a bad thing because it took away something that I wanted.  I guess its really hard to see love in those moments.  We think of love as being this happy, running through the fields to your mate, kind of thing; Hollywood stuff and whatnot.  Love is that thing that puts butterflies in our stomachs and makes us giggle uncontrollably or something like that.  With these thoughts, Judgement and love do not seem to be compatible at all.

Yet our cultural presuppositions to these words hardly do them justice, especially when these words are reflecting exactly what God is doing.  Like a wayward child, Israel has run off, disobeyed, and done considerable harm to themselves in the process.  What they are doing is not good for them, for the people around them, or for their relationship with God.  Yet, like all parents, God continually loves His children because they are just that, His children.  The truly loving parent does not allow their children to stay muddy after playing in the mud, or even eat a meal with dirty hands, they clean them up and, over time, teach their children how to clean themselves up.  In the same way, the loving parent does not allow their child to continually do bad things, dangerous things, or anything that might harm the child.  Sometimes a simple explanation will suffice in turning the child away from an action, but there are times when a child must be punished in order to teach and protect.  This is not something that is (or should be) done in anger, but something that is done out of a deep love for the child.  Love this deep means that, even if there is a little pain for a while, in the long run they know and understand that the child will be better for it in the long run.  Neither enjoys the process in the moment, but when discipline is done in love, both will be the better and stronger for it in the long run.

Amazingly, this analogy doesn’t even go far enough to truly express the love of God in this instance, which really is directed at the people of Israel but has overtones for the entire universe.  God, in this seeming monologue towards the people of Israel comes to it, as He has done with the other prophets as well, making the point that there is no way that this people will ever be able to save themselves.  And then it comes… did you hear it?  The reference to the coming Messiah:

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
    Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
    O Sheol, where is your sting?

God knows that His people, nor any person in all of humanity will be able to truly live in the way that He would have them live.  It is simply not possible.  Sin has so completely invaded our lives and our wills that we cannot, no matter how much we learn, how much we desire, or how hard we try, live the perfect life that God calls us to live.  So what then?  God, being the faithful, loving, gracious God that He is, realizes the fullness of the covenant by fulfilling our end for us in the person of Jesus Christ.  No human could or can do what He did, living the life that we could not and dying the death that we deserved so that we can live the life that God so desires of us and receive the grace and forgiveness in its fullness.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15,

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.