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 222: Jeremiah 12-14; Destruction We Deserve?

As all of Scripture is linked together and the whole of the Bible’s message is primarily the grace of God that we find in Christ Jesus and the salvation that is offered though Him by His death on the cross, I couldn’t help but think about the ruin and disaster that is being prophesied about here.  Jeremiah’s message of what is to come for the people of God is dire, even shocking at times.  We are not talking about a petty attack from the Philistines, or even a prolonged drought and famine, we are talking about complete and utter devastation on a scale that these people would scarcely understood.  Sometimes I think that the messages of these prophets about the coming judgment were received in the same way that Noah’s warnings about the coming flood would have been.  Apart from not wanting to hear such a negative forecast of the future, I’m sure that the people just found it plain hard to believe because of the enormity of how bad it would be.  I’m sure if we were to go back to the year 2000 and tell someone about 9/11 or hurricane Sandy, they wouldn’t believe it either because of the sheer magnitude of the disaster (not saying that those were judgments, just making a comparison).

Yet as I was thinking about this, I wonder if this is not exactly that, a prophecy of exactly what we as sinful humans deserve.  As I was reading yesterday and today there were a couple times where I thought he was pointing out that we just can’t help but sin, it is our very nature.  However, this is no excuse and because of our continual sinning, we deserve this judgment too.  We deserve nothing less than total destruction; exile from the blessings of God.  Yet we know, and Paul tells us in the second chapter of Ephesians that there is another narrative that is going on here as well, the narrative of grace:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Paul’s letter, though I doubt it was meant to be this, is a counter for us to the reality of what we deserve because of our sins, that which is described in detail here.  We live in a different reality though, the reality of salvation.  We do not need to fear the wrath of God on us because we have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  Our sins our atoned for and washed away.  Thanks be to God!



Day 214: Isaiah 54-57; Third Isaiah and the Lord's Covenant

Starting at chapter 56, we enter into the third part of the book of Isaiah.  Before we move on to that though, let’s recap what we have heard and seen.  The first section of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 were largely prophetic oracles against the nations intermixed with messages of hope for all people in the coming “day of the Lord” and the Savior that God would send after these judgments happened.  The second section of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, is considered to be written much later, after these judgments have taken place and the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been taken captive.  In this section we find a considerable amount of comforting messages from God to His people regarding the situation that they are in.  These messages are also messages of hope, lessons of the past and how they got here, and prophecies of the coming Messiah, the “servant of God” who would bring with Him a reign of righteousness, justice, and peace.

As we move into the third section of Isaiah, chapters 56-66, the tone of Isaiah somewhat changes again.  It is thought that this section is actually an anthology of 12 different passages that were written at different times, for different reasons, likely by students of the prophet Isaiah a few generations removed.  These were writings to the captives as they returned from exile to Judah, specifically to Jerusalem, and found themselves in yet another foreign situation.  Likely these students couple have been priests or religious leaders that were contemporaries of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The messages of the second and third section of Isaiah flow well into each other though as the focus shifts from the covenant of God in its current context, to what He will do in sending ‘His Servant,’ who we know as Jesus, and then into the future and a look at how God will indeed complete this restoration.  Along with this we are once more given a glimpse into the worldview of the people of Israel, how they view God and how they Divine and the Terrestrial are so intimately linked together.  In some ways too, the people of Israel, specifically the Kingdom of Judah who are the only people left of the once great nation of Israel, are going through a time in which their worldview is being dramatically changed and transformed as they are discovering that the center of the universe is not actually a physical place, like the Temple or the Tabernacle, but rest in God who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

All of this, the whole message though, as we can see today, rests once again on what some would consider to be one of the central themes of the Bible: God’s covenant relationship with His people.  We have seen this covenant develop from the simplicity of God’s promise to Adam, to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  Here, now as the people of Israel are returning from their exile, the judgment that they endured, God is reiterating once again that He is their God and they are His people and, despite the all that has happened, their relationship is not changed.  Like a father who has to punish his children, even when they don’t fully understand, God’s loving words after the fact are quite clear, “I still love you more than you can possibly understand.  Our relationship has not changed.  The Covenant I made with you is everlasting, nothing you do will ever change it.”  This message is not only for the people of Israel though, but for us as well.  Acts 2 says “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  Through Jesus Christ we too are members of God’s people, heirs to this and all of God’s promises and we too find ourselves caught up in this everlasting covenant relationship with God.



Day 172: Psalms 96-102; The Lord is King

There are a lot of bad things that are going on in the world today.  We hear about something new everyday it seems.  Whether it is our government that is doing something that the people do not seem to like, or another government oppressing its people, it appears as though many of the leaders of the world seem to have fallen victim to corruption.  Then there are the wars and uprisings that are happening all over the place; religious groups killing each other in the name of God or Allah or some other deity that they worship saying that it is “part of their religion,” even though it clearly isn’t.  Add to this the seemingly endless stream of natural disasters that kill thousands  of people every year and all the talk of how we are polluting the planet and causing this that and the other thing.

Natural Disasters Photo Credit: www.harunyahya.com ***Please Note: I do not endorse this website, but simply give credit for the picture***

Natural Disasters
Photo Credit: www.harunyahya.com
***Please Note: I do not endorse this website, but simply give credit for the picture***

The news is full of horrific stories of violence and people using the bad things to push their political agendas.  Poverty, hunger, oppression, and a myriad of other things are still major social issues with people that are stuck in a system that seems to be designed to keep them stuck right where they are.  All this and more is more than enough to dishearten any of us into thinking that the whole world is ‘going to hell in a hand basket‘ and God doesn’t seem to give two hoots about it.  Yet the Psalms that we encounter today very clearly challenge that disheartened assumption:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all the earth…
The Lord reigns, let the peoples rejoice…
Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things…
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!

These are the first lines of Psalms 96-99, all psalms of the Lord’s Kingship.  These are known as the enthronement psalms and speak very clearly of God’s sovereign rule and affirms His position as a powerful Creator and sovereign Lord.  It may seem as though everything is circling the drain, but Scripture is very clear that God is in control.  Sometimes I think that this is a cop-out answer to any problem that people are facing, or rather clearly not facing in their own lives; a way of saying “I don’t have to deal with this because God will take care of it.”  While I don’t necessarily agree that hiding behind the fact that God is truly on the throne always and is truly reigning over us is an excuse for inaction, I do believe that it offers us a level of comfort in understanding that there is a higher power at work in the world, often in ways that we cannot necessarily see or understand.

God upholds the world in His hands!

God upholds the world in His hands!

We have talked about this before; it is a conversation that goes all the way back to Adam and Noah.  God created the world and He is intimately involved in all that goes on in it.  God’s covenant with Noah tells us that God is always and forever sustaining the world and upholding it and all that is in it.  We have not been left to fend for ourselves!  Indeed there is nothing that goes on in the world that doesn’t happen because God allows it to happen… even the bad stuff.  While we are certainly allowed free will to decide, and God sustains our lives even in our sinful actions, He doesn’t applaud them or their results.  However, if God didn’t sustain us we would simply cease to exist.

But we believe that God is more than just involved in sustaining the world and making sure things continue to run, we believe that God is working out His will for creation! He is working to bring it back from its fallen state, to bring it back to the perfection that it was created for.  God is working towards restoration and no evil action or natural disaster can stop this!  We may not always see it and we certainly don’t always feel it, but God is always there working His will and some day we will see the end result of God’s work: the full and complete restoration of the world!!  Amen!  Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus!

PSALM 96-99 are Enthronement Psalms that are written anonymously.  These psalms are also psalms of praise and thanksgiving that are Messianic in nature and have prophetic overtones to them as well.

PSALM 100 is a rather well know song of praise and thanksgiving that is written anonymously.  This psalm was very popular for my family around thanksgiving time.

PSALM 101 is a Royal Psalm that is written by King David that is also didactic in nature.

PSALM 102 is a penitential psalm of lament that is also written by King David.  There is a very clear thread of hope and trust that shows up in the middle of this psalm, even though it seems to end on a bit of a low note.



Day 114: 1 Chronicles 1-2; Books of the Chronicles

As I said towards the end of the writing yesterday, up until now everything has happened in a fairly chronological order.  Yesterday we came to the end of the narrative of the kings of Israel and Judah with the final exiles being carried off to Babylon.  We will pick up on that again, however, we now take a step back and look at the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles.

In the Hebrew Bible these books actually compose the last two books of Scripture, while the Christian Bible has these two books towards the end of the “historical” section of the Biblical Cannon.  Tradition has it that these books were written in the “post-exilic” time of the nation of Judah.  While the author is anonymous, both Jewish and Christian traditions hold that it was Ezra the priest that actually wrote this all down along with the book that bears his name, Ezra, and the book of Nehemiah.

Timeline of the Old Testament Patriachs Photo Credit: http://www.ltradio.org/charts/

Timeline of the Old Testament Patriachs
Photo Credit: http://www.ltradio.org/charts/

Today’s reading was, I admit, a bit arduous.  No one likes to read genealogies  especially when they don’t lead to a story.  However the way that the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles are set up, they go through the history of humanity, and then focus in specifically on Israel, David, and then the kingdom of Judah.  As this book was written post-exile, it would have been written for a group of Hebrew refugees that had just returned from exile.  They were, for all intents and purposes, in the same boat as the Israelites were when they first entered Canaan.  They had no land to call their own, no houses, no Temple, no cities or anything.  They were starting over… however this time they didn’t have a nation of a million battle ready soldiers to drive the people of the land out, they had to start over in the midst of oppression, fear of attack, and with a sort of lost identity.

Lost Identity?  Yes… I meant to say that.  See, the exile wasn’t simply about God being mean and pushing these people out of their land.  There was a lot more to it than that.  Remember a ways back, when we talked about the people of Israel living a “Theo-centric” existence?  I couldn’t find the exact date on which we talked about it, however what we see with the nation of Israel, especially when they are in the wilderness, is that they want to live as close to the center of their universe, God, as they possible could. This is seen in how they camp around the Tabernacle, the place they believe that heaven meets earth.  Later, when the Temple is built, that becomes the place of God’s dwell.  Again, this is the place at which heaven and earth meet.

This idea of Theo-centrism also applies to the land in which they live.  Canaan was given to them by God and, though they sinned all the time, their identity was wrapped up in it and, even though they forgot God, it was still a core part of their identity as Hebrews.  However, as I just said, they did sin… they sinned A LOT!  Their identity was twisted and mangled, much like it was in Egypt.  Israel had become slaves once again… slaves to sin.  Once again, they needed to be stripped of their identity and re-identified as God’s people.  In this case, it required punishment and removal of the old by God.

Exile was a very traumatic event because it stripped the people of everything that made them who they were.  You know they say that you’ll never miss something until it is gone, well… this would be very true here.  The people of God lost what they would consider to be their access to God through the Temple.  They lost their inheritance from God in the land.  They lost everything that it was that made them who they were… or so they thought.  However, the one thing they didn’t lose was God.  We’ll see this in some of the many prophets that were sent to the Jewish exiles, and how God works for them through people like Esther and Daniel.

But that, right there, the fact that they never lost God, is the whole point of the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles.  It was written to remind the people of Judah who they were and whose they were.  The covenant did not end with the Exile of God’s people.  In fact, God was still at work, upholding both ends of the covenant as He had always done before.  Though God’s people might have felt “dis-located,” God was trying to show them that they could never truly be absent from the one who is omnipresent.  And in some ways, their presence in the land of Babylon was just the beginning of God’s people fulfilling God’s promise that they would be a light and a blessing to all nations.

Wow… that’s kind of getting ahead of the story.  Today we begin Chronicles.  It takes us through the history of Humanity, of Israel, and then talks briefly about Saul.  It zeros in very specifically on David, and then Solomon, and then on to the Kingdom of Judah primarily.  Why?  Because this was written for returned exiles… and Israel never returned.  As you read, especially in the first half of 1 Chronicles, try to call to memory all that we have read and talked about in the last 4-5 months.  Take some time to look back… to see the bigger picture of God at work in the lives of these people, in the nation of Israel, and how He has been and is continually faithful all the time and everywhere.



Day 89: 2 Samuel 8-11; David's Victories and Kindness

For many people, readers, historians, and scholars, this is largely considered to be the “Golden Age” of Israel.  The Lord gave David success in everything he did.  As we have talked about so many times this really has to do with the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel.  If you remember back to the end of Leviticus, when we talked about the blessings and curses section of the Covenant, you’ll recall what God said he would do for the people of Israel if they were to follow Him.

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.  I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.  I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you.  You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”

Thus far, if you were to think back over the story of the people of Israel, we have seen ample examples of what it means when the people disobey God.  We saw it in the Judges Cycle and earlier with Joshua’s leadership in the conquest of Canaan.  In these times we have seen both the good and the bad, a lot of the bad.  But in all of this, God has been faithful to the people of Israel.

Today we are seeing the rewards.  There is no back and forth here… no cycle… David is following after God with everything he is, holding nothing back and God, true as He always is to the covenant, is blessing the socks off of them.  As I said, Israel is in their golden age.  Their boarders are expanding.  Their enemies are subdued.  Almost nothing can shake them…

Almost nothing… Like all people though, David is human, and as we read at the end of today, he is not exempt from sin… a sin which we will talk more about tomorrow.

There is one other narrative that is present in today’s reading, that of David and Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.  David promises Jonathan toward the end of Jonathan’s life that he would be kind to his offspring.  The reason that they made this pact though is because it was customary back then for a new royal house to remove the family of the old house.  This would ensure that the people would follow the new king.  This is why Mephibosheth fell at the feet of the king and offered to be his servant.  David’s reaction to Mephibosheth was completely the opposite of what would have been expected.  But David is true to his word and exalts Jonathan’s son, providing for an outcast as if he was royalty which, also is him following after and honoring the Law of God.



Day 2: Genesis 4-7; The Flood

It always makes me think when I read some of the genealogies in the Bible, especially this first one, what it would be like to live for 900 or more years.  What would you do with all of that time?  I’m trying right not to conceptualize having kids at the age of 150… or in Noah’s case, at 500 years old.  I can’t imagine my roughly 90 year old grand parents having kids at their age.  Likely it is that people back then didn’t age as we do now as is seen in God’s statement in Genesis 6:4 “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”  Some have also suggested that there most likely wasn’t a great deal of genetic abnormalities and diseases back then either.  In any case, it seems that something changed when God said what He said.

Looking a bit closer at that statement, it also seems like there is some sort of a connection between the presence of God’s Spirit in us and our ability to be alive in general.  The Hebrew word for Spirit is “ruach” (where the ‘ch’ is more of a phlegmy sound) and actually translates to meaning Spirit, Breath, and Wind.  So it would be appropriate to think about the Spirit of God dwelling in us as being related to the “breath of life” that God blows into Adam at the time of creation (Genesis 1-2).  We actually affirm this in the Nicene Creed when we say “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life…”

Taking this to its next logical step then would infer that the Spirit of God, the Breath of Life as it were, is present in all living creatures at all times.  If it wasn’t, they would not be alive.  When I think of this I am in awe of the means by which I exist.  God, through the Holy Spirit is sustaining my every breath, my every movement, me.  This, I think, sometimes creates a conundrum for us: How is it that God, who is Holy and beyond all measure of good and righteousness, can sustain us as sinful creatures?  Wouldn’t this make God at fault for the sin that happens in the world?  I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fully answer this, however we took a stab at it in one of my theology classes last semester… this is what we came up with:

God is good.  Humanity is sinful, sinning by virtue of the free will that God allowed us to have.  However, in God’s continuing act of creation, which we call providence, they way by which God provides for and governs all life, God sustains all creatures however sinful even if He does not applaud their actions or the results.  God must be sustaining us for if He didn’t we would simply cease to exist as we believe that all creation was created by the will of God.  We believe that God continues to sustain us by virtue of the fact that we continue to exist.

While this seems to circle around the subject, it does make sense… and it is a comfort to us because we know that God is continuing to work in creation.  His work toward the eventual redemption and renewal of creation at the end of time is far beyond our ability to know and understand, but we trust that God is God, His ways are higher than ours… and His ways are good.