Day 354: Hebrews 11-13; By Faith (Israel's Hall of Fame)

Keeping in mind that the whole of this book was written as an encouragement to those believers who were facing persecution, especially from the Jews, and to those who were believers but may have been backsliding into Judaism.  With that in mind, there isn’t much else to say that isn’t eloquently spoken about in chapters 11 and 12.  So, I encourage you to read them again and remember all that we have covered over the last year.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of GideonBarakSamsonJephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”



Day 320: Acts 7-8; Stephen, Persecution, and Scattering

Today’s post, at least as I write it, is going to be mostly not my voice.  I think that what Stephen says here is probably one of the most important speeches in the Bible with the exception of the teachings of Jesus Himself.  Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit rehashes the whole story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of the Jewish people and how He has brought them to this point.  He lays out for them all the things that have happened, the things that are recorded in the Law and the Prophets, of which these folks are supposedly experts, and how they all lead up to Jesus.  I have marked a lot of the names and parts of the grand narrative of the Bible that Stephen really covers, linking them all of what we talked about in the first month of this journey through the Bible, and also some of the narratives of Joshua, David, and Solomon.  I encourage you to re-read this speech and as you do create some space for yourself to remember these stories, remember what we talked about, and remember all that God has indeed done to bring them to this point right now.  We have the opportunity right now to take a step back and, rather than reading individual portions of Scripture, to see if from a “bird’s eye view,” or perhaps more appropriately a “God’s eye view” of all that has taken place.

Apart from this speech, and the subsequent stoning of Stephen, we read of the scattering of the believers, the movement out of Jerusalem because of the great persecution that begins and takes place.  While this may see horrible, at least on the surface, for those of us that are reading it, this scattering actually facilitated the spreading of the early Church outside the city of Jerusalem into the areas of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus says at the beginning of Acts.  Though their center still remains in Jerusalem, where the Apostles mostly stay, the outward movement that is precipitated by this persecution is really the beginning of the movement outward towards the “ends of the earth.”  Notice too that immediately we read that people are coming to faith outside of Jerusalem because of the preaching that is taking place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much at work in all that is going on here!

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’  Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.  Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.  And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.  ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.  Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.  And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers,  and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.  He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.  At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.  And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’  But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying,‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’  At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’  This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.  Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”



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 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 246: Ezekiel 24-26; Familiar Prophecies

Ezekiel is a book that is full of things that are unique to him in relation to all of the other prophets.  The visions and actions that Ezekiel sees and takes are very different from all of the other prophets and often times make him seem eccentric and perhaps even a bit weird.  Yet for all the craziness that comes with this “son of man,” the message that he brings is very familiar.  In fact, today’s reading brings with it some of the more familiar prophecies, similar to that of Isaiah and Jeremiah.  We also read again today of the siege of Jerusalem and its fall.  These are all very familiar happenings for us, so at the risk of being repetitive I am going to include links to the other places in which these are recorded and the posts concerning them.  After which we’ll take briefly about Ezekiel 24:15-27 where Ezekiel’s wife dies.

The Fall of Jerusalem

Babylon and Jerusalem Fall, God is Faithful
Jeremiah 52

Historic Interlude – The first invasion of Judah
Isaiah 36-39

Josiah Through Zedekiah and the Exile
2 Chronicles 35-36

Destruction and Exile of Judah
2 Kings 24-25

Prophecies Against the Nations

Messages Against the Nations (Part 1)
Messages Against the Nations (Part 2)
Messages Against the Nations (Part 3)
Jeremiah 46-50

Oracles Against the Nations (Part 1)
Oracles Against the Nations (Part 2)
Oracles Against the Nations (Part 3)
Isaiah 14-25

…and many more to come as well…

One thing that is rather unique to the the book of Ezekiel in today’s reading is the narrative of the death of Ezekiel’s wife.  Like many of the other actions that Ezekiel had taken in his life, like lying on his side to represent the time of punishment for Judah and Israel, this event in Ezekiel’s life as well as the actions he takes (or more appropriately stated: doesn’t take) are representative of the posture of the people of God when they hear of Jerusalem’s fall.  There are a couple of meanings that can be found in this short passage.  For one, we see clearly that it is the Lord who both knows of and is in control of the fall of Ezekiel’s wife and the fall of Jerusalem.  God is making sure that the people know that it is He who is doing this and not someone or something else that has more power than God.  Second, I think that God is showing the people of Israel what is happening to “the pride of [their] power, the delight of [their] eyes, and the yearning of [their] soul.”  The people of God had placed too much confidence in the Temple and in their city and land, boasting that as their strength instead of God only to see God Himself, who gave them these things, take it away.  It is a message to us as well  that, though we may value the blessings of our lives, we must value more and ultimately only worship God who gave us these things.



Day 239: Ezekiel 1-4; Intro to Ezekiel

Today we begin the book of Ezekiel and we are going to talk a little bit about our setting for the book before we dive directly into the Scripture.  In fact, we will talk about today’s reading tomorrow, for the most part, and just get a good introduction to the book today.  Also, as a point of personal clarification, this is the first time I have written a blog in about 3 weeks as I just got married and have been on vacation since the 9th.  All of the blogs for the past 3 weeks were pre-written.  Thank you for your reading, likes, and comments!  I’m excited to be back and writing again!

The Chebar River Photo Credit: www.bibleatlas.org

The Chebar River
Photo Credit: www.bibleatlas.org

Ezekiel’s writing begins during the same time that Jeremiah was ministering and prophesying to the people of Israel.  Jeremiah was back in Jerusalem prophesying that the city would soon fall.  Ezekiel, however, was actually in Babylon as he says at the beginning of the book, “among the exiles on the Chebar Canal.”  This is a river that is a tributary to the Euphrates River, and is located in the Babylonian Empire north of the City of Babylon.  Remember that there were two waves of exiles from Jerusalem and Judah.  The first happened during the reign of Jehoiachin when the city of Jerusalem was actually spared.  For more on this you can check out 2 Chronicles 36 & 2 Kings 24.  Ezekiel’s writing comes from the land of Babylon, which means that he was likely taken in the first wave of exiles and was working as a priest in Babylon.

Our tendency, because Ezekiel is set in Babylon is to think that his writings happen after the time that Jerusalem falls.  However, Ezekiel is prophesying concurrently with Jeremiah and the messages that he is bringing compliment Jeremiah’s as well.  In fact, seeing these two prophets side by side gives a powerful message of God’s omnipresence and ability to be with His people no matter where they are, even in exile.  In fact, the vision that we read about today, and will talk more about tomorrow, is in many ways communicates that very message.  God is with His people, even in their  exile.  We see the repeated phrase time and again “Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went.”  Like I said, we’ll talk more about this tomorrow… it is some of my favorite imagery and writing in the Bible!

The Book of Ezekiel Photo Credit: www.tigersallconsumingbooks.blogspot.com

The Book of Ezekiel
Photo Credit: www.tigersallconsumingbooks.blogspot.com

Like I said, Ezekiel’s writing falls along the same lines as that of Jeremiah.  The outline of the book of Ezekiel is much the same as Jeremiah and Isaiah as well.  The first section of Ezekiel contains a great deal of “doom and gloom” messages, prophesies of judgement against Jerusalem.  This is followed by messages of judgment against the nations of the world as well.  Finally, like Jeremiah and Isaiah, Ezekiel speaks messages of hope to the people of Israel, speaking to their future restoration.

Ezekiel contains within it some of the same themes that we have seen in the other prophetic books as well:  God’s holiness, Sin and its consequences, Restoration, the burden of leadership, and the worship of God.  We will encounter these themes time and again throughout this book.  It is indeed some of my favorite writing and reading in the Bible.  Some of the imagery is exquisite and confusing all at the same time!  I hope that you enjoy this journey through Ezekiel!

Blessed Reading!



Day 238: Lamentations 3-5; Hope for Restoration

As we come to the final writings of Jeremiah, I think it is important for us to see where Jeremiah places his hope.  As we talked about yesterday, it is important for us to place our hope in God when we are faced with times of struggle and trial, when our live seems to be left in ruins.  Whatever it is that we have endured, we must continue to bring it before the Lord and allow our grief and struggle to be laid at His feet.  Jeremiah follows this path of Lament, crying out over the devastation that he has witnessed.

However, he doesn’t just stop his prayer or questioning of God at complaining and crying our over all that has happened.  Like Job, David, and many others before him, Jeremiah continues on in his prayer to speak of the righteousness, the goodness, and the faithfulness of God.  He acknowledges that the people of God needed this and that the Lord was right and just in His actions.  It is for the people of God that these things have been done, even though they hurt now they will lead to great things.  Jeremiah points out that the people need to examine their hearts and their ways as they go through this time, to see what God is doing within them.

It doesn’t stop there either though.  Jeremiah says that the people need to lift up praise and thanksgiving to the Lord in this time.  Even in the midst of all these struggles, the Lord has been good to them and continues to be faithful to them as well.  We often have the tendency too see only the negative things in our lives, the struggles and trials that take place day in and day out.  When we do this, we fail to look at the rest of life.  If we are only focused on the 5% of things that are difficult and terrible, we are neglecting the other 95% of our lives where God continues to be faithful and bless us.

Jeremiah doesn’t stop there either though.  Again, like Job, David, and so many others, Jeremiah prays for restoration.  It isn’t bad for us to ask God to put things back together for us.  I think that this is a very important part of this prayer and a great way to end this section of the writings of Jeremiah.  Reread chapter 5 and see the words that Jeremiah uses.  He asks God to remember all these things, to see the plight that has come upon His people, and to bring about restoration to them.  I think it is interesting that Jeremiah also asks God to return the people to “the days of old.”  Something tells me God chuckled a little bit when He heard Jeremiah say that.  It wasn’t to how things used to be that God was going to bring His people to, it was to a new day, a glorious day, when all things would be made right and restored!  This is the day that God is working toward in us as well.  When we face times of testing and we wish that things were just put back to the way they were, remember that God is working in us and doing a new thing within us, shaping and sculpting us as a potter shapes a new clay pot.  It takes a lot of work, but eventually we will be made into the image of God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us each and every day.



Day 237: Lamentations 1-2; Jeremiah's Lament

The book of Lamentations is the record of Jeremiah‘s visceral and guttural reaction to the witnessing of the City of Jerusalem and the Temple of God being burned.  Written as a series of poems, each chapter chronicles Jeremiah’s grief, questions, and ultimately the request for God to bring about restoration.  In many ways, this book reminds me of a great Psalm of Lament, the cry of one who feels forsaken by God in the midst of tragedy and sorrow.  Jeremiah’s writings follow the pattern of lament, something he would have been familiar with as a part of Hebrew worship practices.

Today’s reading is very dark in nature.  Jeremiah is looking over what is likely the burning or smoldering city that he once lived in and loved and is weeping for her.  He looks and sees the Temple of God, the very center of the universe for him, lying in ruins, broken and burned beyond recognition or repair.  For Jeremiah, this is complete and utter devastation on a scale that was previously unimaginable.

We have all experienced times in our life where we feel like Jeremiah, looking over the broken pieces of what used to be our live and weeping over them.  Sometimes I think, especially for men, we don’t feel as though we can cry, weep, or mourn for a loss because it shows weakness and even a lack of faith.  Jeremiah’s reaction here would seem to communicate otherwise.  There is no lack of faith in Jeremiah’s voice, no doubt at  God’s existence or His work through all of this.  What is important here, I think, is Jeremiah’s attentiveness to God and God’s work in this crisis.

Life is rough and times can be tough.  There is no doubt that we will face time when we feel like the world that we are living in has been smashed to ruins.  As we learned from David, it is ok to be upset and even to go to God with the problems.  In fact, in times like that the most important thing for us to do is indeed go to God with our questions and our trust.  For the people of Israel, this was a time for them to be broken down and purged of their sins, punished for what they had done but also learning from it as well.  Not all disaster in our lives may take on this form, but there is no doubt at all that in any stage of life, God wants us to place our trust and our hope in Him.  Whether we are bringing our praise or our questions, or perhaps both, we need to make sure, as Jeremiah did, that our hope and trust lie solely on God.



Day 236: Jeremiah 51-52; Babylon and Jerusalem Fall, God is Faithful

Today’s reading, the last two chapters of the book of Jeremiah, lay in succession the utter contempt that God has for the nation of Babylon and her fall that will take place.  This if followed by the description of the Fall of Jerusalem, a non-prophetic narrative that describes for us again the events of God’s judgment on the city of David.  These events, particularly the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple are the setup for the book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah, which is an account of his witnessing the destruction of his city and the burning of the Temple.

What I want to focus in on today is the last part of Jeremiah 52, that talks about the release of Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon.  This is a part that is largely overlooked in the whole story because it is almost a footnote at the end in many ways.  Yet this is one of the greatest testaments of God’s faithfulness to the line of David, a promise He made to King David hundreds of years prior.  There is really no reason why Jehoiachin should have been released from prison.  We are not told that he was out on good behavior or anything of the sort.  The simple fact is that God continues to be faithful to His people and His promises even in these dark and difficult times.  No one knew what was to come next for God’s people, but it is clear in reading this that God is still at work in His own ways to fulfill His own purposes.

A story like this stands as a testament to God’s faithfulness to us as well.  We certainly haven’t done anything in our lives to warrant the unmerited grace that we receive from God each and every day, and we definitely do not deserve the blessings that He pours out into our lives every day.  Even in the darkest of times, those times when we feel lost and alone, we have the hope that God is still with us and still working in us.  It may be difficult to see; it might even be impossible for us to see, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t active in the situation walking with us, holding us up, sustaining us, and even refining us to make us more and more like the image of Christ each and every day.