Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Habakkuk 1:1-17

Habakkuk 1:1-17

October 6, 2019

     The opening sentence identifies Habakkuk as God’s prophet (Hab 1:1). Habakkuk is troubled by the violence and injustice he sees in Judah and brings his frustrations directly to God, who is the only one who can really correct the situation. But it seems to the prophet that God is not answering his prayers; therefore, he asks, “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save” (Hab 1:2). Habakkuk knew his people were in a covenant relationship with God and wondered why God had not acted to deal with the violence within the country (Lev 26; Deu 28). He asked God, “Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises” (Hab 1:3). The wicked were disregarding God, “Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted” (Hab 1:4). The wicked are those who ignore God and His commands and live as they please. The righteous are those who understand and obey God’s laws. It seemed to Habakkuk that the wicked had imprisoned the righteous and that civil justice was being perverted. Job (Job 19:1-7), Asaph (Psa 73:1-28), and Jeremiah (Jer 20:7-12) also questioned God when faced with suffering, especially when the wicked seemed to get away with violence while the righteous agonized. God answered Habakkuk’s prayer with news he did not expect to hear and was challenged to believe (Hab 1:5). God was going to raise up the Chaldeans, a fierce and violent people, to discipline the sinning Judahites (Hab 1:6-11). This judgment was consistent with the curses set forth in the Mosaic Law (Deu 28:25, 36, 47-52). God had used the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians in 612 B.C. (Nah 3:1-4), and He would now use them to discipline Judah. Having heard God’s answer, Habakkuk replied (Hab 1:12-17). The prophet opens his prayer with the truth that his covenant-keeping God is eternal and holy; therefore, His covenant will endure, sin will be addressed, and a remnant will survive (Hab 1:12). But then he raises his concern about God’s character and actions, saying, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?” (Hab 1:13). The Babylonians, comparatively, were more violent than the Judahites, so it naturally came as a shock to Habakkuk that God would use these people to discipline Judah. How could a holy and righteous God use people more wicked than Judah to accomplish His will? The reality was that Judah was held to a higher standard than the Gentile nations, because they were in a covenant relationship with God and possessed His Word as a guide to moral righteousness. It demonstrates the principle that the one to whom much is given, much is required. Habakkuk then compared Judah to fish in the sea and the Babylonians as fishermen who catch them with their hooks and nets (Hab 1:14-15). He further comments that the Babylonians were guilty of worshipping the objects that brought them wealth (Hab 1:16), and wondered how long they’d continue (Hab 1:17). Afterward, Habakkuk stationed himself on his “guard post” in anticipation of God’s reply (Hab 2:1).

Introduction to Habakkuk

Introduction to Habakkuk

October 5, 2019

Author:

     The book was written by Habakkuk, who is called a “prophet” in the opening verse (Hab 1:1). Habakkuk chapter 3 was written as a Psalm, “For the choir director, on my stringed instruments” (Hab 3:19). This might imply the prophet belonged to the Levitical priesthood which was known for their music and worship (Ezr 3:10; Neh 12:27).

Audience:

     Habakkuk wrote to Judah about his conversation with God concerning why the Lord would use the wicked Babylonians to judge His people for their sins.

Date of Ministry:

     Habakkuk wrote circa 609-606 B.C. This would be just prior the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 605 B.C.

Historical Background:

     Judah had experienced a time of great prosperity and spiritual reform under the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). Josiah was regarded as a good king who obeyed the Lord (2 Ki 22:1-2; 23:25), and destroyed all the false idols and places of worship in Judah (2 Ki 23:1-25). However, the outward reforms did not lead to regeneration or revival among God’s people, and after Josiah was killed in battle by Pharaoh Neco (2 Ki 23:29), “the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father” (2 Ki 23:30). Jehoahaz only reigned three months (2 Ki 23:31), and during that short time “did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Ki 23:32). Afterwards, Pharaoh Neco appointed Jehoiakim as king in Judah (2 Ki 23:34-36), and he “did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Ki 23:37). Jehoiakim led the people back into evil ways and practiced violence and injustice (Jer 22:13-21). This forms the background for Habakkuk’s complaints of violence in Judah (Hab 1:2-4, 9; 2:8, 17).

     Outside the land of Judah, Assyria fell in 612 B.C. to the Babylonians and Medes under the leadership of Nabopolassar and Cyaxeres. A few years later, Egypt fell in 605 B.C. to the Babylonians under the leadership of Nabopolassar, who defeated Pharaoh Neco II at the battle of Carchemish.

Habakkuk’s Message:

     Habakkuk witnessed great violence and corruption in Judah under the leadership of Jehoiakim; and this experience moved the prophet to question where was God and what was He doing to address it (Hab 1:2-4). The question of why God permits His people to experience evil has been posed by others throughout history (i.e. Job, Asaph, Jeremiah; Job 19:1-7; Psa 73:1-28; Jer 20:7-10). God revealed to Habakkuk His plan to use the Babylonians to judge Judah for their sin (Hab 1:5-11); but this raised another question in the prophet’s mind, which is why would a holy and righteous God use the violent and sinful Babylonians to judge a people less sinful than themselves (Hab 1:12—2:1)? God explained that even though He’s going to use the Babylonians as His disciplinary agent against Judah, He will also judge the Babylonians for their sins, and will do so in His time and way (Hab 2:2-20). In the midst of this judgment, God tells His prophet to remain faithful, along with the rest of the righteous remnant in Judah, saying, “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab 2:4).[1] This is the key verse in Habakkuk. The idea is that the righteous will continue to be faithful to God and He will not kill them in the judgment, but will let them live, even though some of the righteous would go into captivity, such as Daniel and Ezekiel (who would serve as models of faith for Israelites living outside the land). Habakkuk responds in faith by offering a prayer-song of praise to God (Hab 3:1-19).

Outline:

  1. Introduction (Hab 1:1)
  2. Habakkuk presents his first complaint to God (Hab 1:2-4)
  3. God answers Habakkuk with His first solution (Hab 1:5-11)
  4. Habakkuk presents his second complaint to God (Hab 1:12—2:1)
  5. God answers Habakkuk with His second solution (Hab 2:2-20)
  6. Habakkuk responds in faith with a prayer-song (Hab 3:1-19)

 

[1] Other translations read, “the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4 NET), and “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4 NIV). New testament writers cite this verse three times, each with a different emphasis (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). Paul cites it in Romans 1:17 to emphasize the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. He cites it again in Galatians 3:11 to emphasize the life that comes from faith in God. And the writer to the Hebrews cites the verse in Hebrews 10:38 to emphasize the faithfulness of the believer that God rewards.

Nahum 3:1-19

Nahum 3:1-19

September 14, 2019

     In chapter three, Nahum addresses Nineveh as the “bloody city” that was built up through violence, lies, and whose prey never departs (Nah 3:1). However, the people who once destroyed and plundered others would now experience the same, as the prophet graphically describes the sights and sounds of the invading army of the Babylonians and Medes (Nah 3:2-3). God would bring this destruction upon the Assyrians because of their abuses of other nations. Nahum declares this was “All because of the many harlotries of the harlot, the charming one, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations by her harlotries and families by her sorceries” (Nah 3:4). Nineveh’s leaders lured other nations by offering them peaceful alliances (cf. Isa 36:16-17), only to betray them afterwards. In their efforts to subjugate others, the Assyrians also practiced sorcery to predict the future, thus seeking a political and military advantage. But God governs His universe by moral laws, and Nineveh’s violence aroused the Judge of all the earth to judge them. The Lord said of Nineveh, “Behold, I am against you” (Nah 3:5a), and then renders judgment, exposing her “disgrace” and covering her with “filth” (Nah 3:5-6). Subsequently, there would be none to grieve its destruction (Nah 3:7). Thebes, like Nineveh, was a strong city surrounded by fortifications, both natural and manmade (Nah 3:8-9); however, the Assyrians brutally attacked and destroyed the city in 663 B.C., slaughtering children in the streets and humiliating the “honorable men” who were taken away in chains (Nah 3:10). Just as Thebes was helpless to stop the Assyrian destruction, so Nineveh would be helpless to the stop the invading army sent by God (Nah 3:11); and just as ripe figs easily fall from the fig tree, so Nineveh would fall to those who desired to consume it (Nah 3:12). The people of Nineveh are described as weak, as the strong gates of the city would be burned as the invading army enters (Nah 3:13). In sarcastic language, the Ninevites are told to strengthen themselves and their fortress for the attack (Nah 3:14), but this will not help, as the city would be destroyed by fire and sword (Nah 3:15a). Though the residents of the city are multiplied like a swarm of locusts (too many to count), they will quickly flee away when the attack comes (Nah 3:15b-17). The nation’s leaders (shepherds and nobles) are described as sleeping on the job, and the king of Assyria is helpless (Nah 3:18a). His people “are scattered on the mountains and there is no one to regather them” (Nah 3:18b). The king of Assyria is made to realize the consequences of his evil leadership, with the result, “There is no relief for your breakdown, your wound is incurable” (Nah 3:19a), and all who suffered under Nineveh’s oppression will rejoice at its destruction, for the city only offered evil continually (Nah 3:19b).

  • "The reasons God brought Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire down are the same reasons He will humble any similar people. Any nation or city that lusts for conquest, practices violence and brutality to dominate others, abuses its power, oppresses the weak, worships anything but Yahweh, or seeks help from the demonic world shares Nineveh’s sins and can expect her fate." (Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Na 3:19)
Nahum 2:1-13

Nahum 2:1-13

September 14, 2019

     The Central Idea of the Text is that God brings an invading army against Nineveh to destroy it. Nahum opens his prophecy with a sarcastic call to the Ninevites to defend themselves, saying, “Man the fortress, watch the road; strengthen your back, summon all your strength” (Nah 2:1). The effort, of course, is futile, for the primary attacker is God Himself, against whom no one can stand. Part of the reason for the attack against Nineveh is God’s intention to “restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel” (Nah 2:2a). Though Judah has been devastated by the Assyrians, God would destroy them and put an end to their aggression. Nahum describes the battle, saying, “The shields of his mighty men are colored red, the warriors are dressed in scarlet, the chariots are enveloped in flashing steel when he is prepared to march, and the cypress spears are brandished” (Nah 2:3). Blood-red shields and uniforms were used by the Babylonians as a means of psychological warfare to strike fear in the enemy. Then the battle erupts, as “The chariots race madly in the streets, they rush wildly in the squares, their appearance is like torches, they dash to and fro like lightning flashes” (Nah 2:3-4). The Assyrians stumble to meet the enemy as they hurry to defend the walls of the city and set up their defenses (Nah 2:5). Nahum then declares, “The gates of the rivers are opened and the palace is dissolved” (Nah 2:6). There is historical evidence that just before Nineveh’s destruction, the city had experienced a series of rainfalls that had caused the Khoser River to swell and damage the city walls, creating an opening for the Babylonians and Medes to enter through. If correct, this would show how God used inclement weather to damage the city’s walls in preparation for the Babylonians and Medes, thus ensuring their military success. The events of Nineveh’s destruction are “fixed” according to God’s sovereign will as the city is stripped and carried away in battle and the Assyrian handmaids are left moaning the destruction (Nah 2:7). The city is likened to a pool of water that drains away and no one turns back, though the leaders shout “Stop, stop” (Nah 2:8). The attackers are called to plunder the city of its great wealth as the residents melt in fear (Nah 2:9-10). The great plunderers would be plundered. Assyria is described as a ravenous lion and Nineveh as its lair, and both the people and their city are destroyed (Nah 2:11-13). God then states unequivocally to the Assyrians, “Behold, I am against you” (Nah 2:13a). Though the Lord used the Babylonians and Medes, under the leadership of Nabopolassar and Cyaxeres, it was ultimately God who brought about their destruction, saying, “I will burn up her chariots in smoke, a sword will devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the land, and no longer will the voice of your messengers be heard” (Nah 2:13b). God is patient and had waited over 100 years for the Assyrians to repent, but they refused. As Judge, God finally rendered a decision against Nineveh and, because of their arrogance and sin, He brought about their destruction.

Nahum 1:1-15

Nahum 1:1-15

September 7, 2019

     Nahum had received a vision of God’s judgment concerning the Assyrians who had been afflicting Judah (Nah 1:1). In the vision, God is revealed as jealous, avenging, wrathful, slow to anger, and all powerful, and will not leave the guilty Assyrians unpunished for their violent behavior to His people (Nah 1:2-3a). This would have been good news to the Judahites who had suffered for many years under Assyria’s cruelty. In picturesque language, Nahum describes God’s greatness, saying, “clouds are the dust beneath His feet” (Nah 1:3b), and He causes seas and rivers to dry up and beautiful lands to wither (Nah 1:4), and mountains and hills to shake at his presence (Nah 1:5). Nahum then asks, “Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him” (Nah 1:6). The implication is that God is big enough to accomplish what He declares. In contrast to the Assyrians, whom He will destroy, Nahum reveals, “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nah 1:7). The humbled Judahites would have been encouraged by this. But, to the arrogant Assyrians, God was going to pursue and destroy them. Though human enemies usually stopped the battle at sunset because they could not see to engage the enemy, God is not hindered by such obstacles, and promises to “pursue His enemies into darkness” (Nah 1:8b). Whatever Nineveh may devise against the Lord, He will bring an end to it (Nah 1:9), and will consume them completely in destruction (Nah 1:10). Nahum seems to allude to an historical event in which Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, sent one of his wicked counselors, Rabshakeh, against Jerusalem to destroy it (Nah 1:11; cf. 2 Ki 18:13-37). However, because king Hezekiah humbled himself and sought the Lord, God rescued the city and destroyed the Assyrian army (2 Ki 19:1-37). Just as God had defeated the Assyrians once before, he would defeat them again, even though “they are at full strength” (Nah 1:12a). And, though God had afflicted Judah because of their sin, He promises, “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no longer” (Nah 1:12b). Assyrian oppression would come to an end, and God says to Judah, “I will break his yoke bar from upon you, and I will tear off your shackles” (Nah 1:13). But concerning Assyria, the Lord states, “Your name will no longer be perpetuated. I will cut off idol and image from the house of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are contemptible” (Nah 1:14). God controls and judges the Gentile nations of the world and sometimes brings about their downfall directly (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah), and other times through the agency of other nations. This would be the case with the Assyrians, as God would destroy them completely through a military alliance of the Babylonians and Medes. “So complete was its destruction that when Xenophon passed by the site about 200 years later, he thought the mounds were the ruins of some other city. And Alexander the Great, fighting in a battle nearby, did not realize that he was near the ruins of Nineveh.”[1] Assyria’s destruction would be “good news” because it meant peace for Judah, who could then celebrate their feasts without fear of attack, for their enemy had been “completely cut off” (Nah 1:15).

 

[1] Elliott E. Johnson, “Nahum,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1499.

Introduction to Nahum

Introduction to Nahum

September 7, 2019

Author:

     Nahum is the author of the book. His name (נָחוּם Nachum) means “consolation.” Jonah (Jon 3:2-4), Nahum (Nah 1:1; 2:8; 3:7, 18), and Zephaniah (Zep 2:13) all prophesied to/against Nineveh.

Audience:

     Nahum wrote to his fellow Israelites in Judah (Nah 1:15).

Date of Ministry:

     Nahum prophesied sometime between 663-620 B.C. The author mentions the fall of the Egyptian city of Thebes which occurred in 663 B.C. (Nah 3:8). He also predicts the fall of Assyria, which occurred in 612 B.C., so the book was written sometime in between.

Historical Background:

     Nahum writes about the cruelty of Nineveh and prophecies its destruction by God. Nineveh was an ancient city that was originally built by Nimrod (Gen 10:8-11). The city was located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, north of the Babylonian empire, and had existed for millennia before its fall in 612 B.C. The Ninevites were known for their great cruelty. Dr. Elliott Johnson writes:

  • Nineveh was the capital of one of the cruelest, vilest, most powerful, and most idolatrous empires in the world. For example, writing of one of his conquests, Ashurnaṣirpal II (883–859) boasted, “I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountain I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool.… The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire” (Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:148). Regarding one captured leader, he wrote, “I flayed [him], his skin I spread upon the wall of the city …” (ibid., 1:146). He also wrote of mutilating the bodies of live captives and stacking their corpses in piles. Shalmaneser II (859–824) boasted of his cruelties after one of his campaigns: “A pyramid of heads I reared in front of his city. Their youths and their maidens I burnt up in the flames” (ibid., 1:213). Sennacherib (705–681) wrote of his enemies, “I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives [as one cuts] a string. Like the many waters of a storm I made [the contents of] their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth.… Their hands I cut off” (ibid., 2:127). Ashurbanipal (669–626) described his treatment of a captured leader in these words: “I pierced his chin with my keen hand dagger. Through his jaw…I passed a rope, put a dog chain upon him and made him occupy…a kennel” (ibid., 2:319). In his campaign against Egypt, Ashurbanipal also boasted that his officials hung Egyptian corpses “on stakes [and] stripped off their skins and covered the city wall(s) with them” (ibid., 2:295). No wonder Nahum called Nineveh “the city of blood” (3:1), a city noted for its “cruelty”! (3:19).[1]

     God threatened to judge the Ninevites a century before Nahum. He did this through the preaching of Jonah (who preached circa 793-753 B.C.), who declared, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon 3:4). The Ninevites responded positively to the preaching of Jonah, as “the people of Nineveh believed in God” (Jon 3:5). And, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jon 3:10). For whatever reason, the following generations resorted back to their cruel ways and put themselves back under divine judgment. Whereas Jonah emphasized God’s grace toward Nineveh’s repentance (Jon 3:10; 4:2), Nahum emphasized God’s wrath (Nah 1:2, 6) because of their pride and wickedness (Nah 3:1-4).

     Though historically a pagan and violent people, God used the Assyrians as His tool to destroy Israel in 722 B.C. because of their rebellion against Him (read 2 Ki 17:3-23; 18:9-12). Judah also rebelled against God and practiced many of the sins committed by Israel (2 Ki 17:19). The Assyrians came against them in 701 B.C. and captured 46 cities in Judah and besieged Jerusalem (2 Ki 18:13-37). However, because the Assyrians blasphemed God (2 Ki 18:29-35), and because king Hezekiah humbled himself (2 Ki 19:1) and prayed to the Lord (2 Ki 19:15-19), God intervened and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (2 Ki 19:20-37).

     Nahum provides the divine perspective that God was the primary cause of Nineveh’s fall (Nah 1:13-14; 2:13; 3:5), and He accomplished this through the Babylonians and Medes whom He used as His disciplinary agents (Nah 3:1-4).

Nahum’s Message:

     God is going to judge and destroy Nineveh (Nah 1:15; 2:13; 3:5).

Outline:

  1. Introduction – Nah 1:1
  2. Judgment declared – Nah 1:2-15
  3. Judgment delivered – Nah 2:1—3:19

 

[1] Elliott E. Johnson, “Nahum,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1494.

Chasing After Donkeys - A Study of God’s Providence

Chasing After Donkeys - A Study of God’s Providence

September 1, 2019

Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 9:1-17

Summary of 1 Samuel 9:1-17:

     The Central Idea of the Text is that Saul went out to find his father’s donkeys, but was actually being directed by God to find a kingdom. The meeting of Saul and Samuel was divinely orchestrated, for neither of them knew each other or planned the occasion. God is here portrayed as the divine conductor orchestrating these events. What seemed like a normal, even mundane activity—searching for lost donkeys—was ultimately under God’s sovereign control, as He used this situation to guide Saul geographically to the place where he would be anointed king of Israel.

Theological Gleanings:

     The passage in 1 Samuel 9:1-17 provides an example of how God providentially controls circumstances to accomplish His will. God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His people. As Christians, we live in the flow of history, and are moved by the circumstances He controls, for the Lord “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

  • "Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Ps. 145:9 cf. Mt. 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Ps. 107; Jb. 1:12; 2:6; Gn. 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Eph. 1:9–12)." (J. I. Packer, “Providence” in New Bible Dictionary, 979)

     God’s providential control is seen throughout the Bible. For example, God used the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring him to Egypt (Gen. 37:23-28), and later used Joseph to deliver the very ones who betrayed him (Gen. 45:5-8; 47:11, 27-28; 50:20). It was God’s providence that drove Saul to chase after his father’s donkeys and be led to the prophet Samuel and anointed king of Israel (1 Sam. 9-10). It was God’s providence that directed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so the baby Jesus would be born at the appointed time and place (Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:4-6; Gal. 4:4). It was God’s providence that forced Aquila and Priscilla out of Rome by the emperor Claudius’ decree, only to meet the apostle Paul in Corinth and join him in Christian ministry (Acts 18:1-3; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19). It was God’s providence that put the Lord Jesus on the cross to be crucified by the hands of godless men, and by this act He accomplished our salvation (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

     By God’s sovereign will He controls all the events of our lives, and the things we consider mundane are used by Him to direct us to the places and people He has predetermined. In this, we know there are no accidental events in our lives, nor chance encounters with other people, for God is working “all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11; cf. Ps. 103:19; 135:6; Dan. 4:35), and causing “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

     It is to our benefit that we see ourselves within the context of God’s sovereignty and providential control, otherwise we’ll wrongly interpret the circumstances of our lives as accidental, or worse, fail to recognize the divine purpose of our lives and to develop the personal sense of destiny that is rooted in the God who created us. It is by learning God’s written revelation that we elevate our thinking above the experience of daily circumstances and see ourselves within the larger context of His greater plan. We learn from Scripture there are no accidental people, for it is by God’s sovereign will that we exist, for “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psa 100:3). To paraphrase my good friend, Francis Schaeffer, “there are no little people or little places in God’s world.” We all have value and we all have a place of purpose, because God makes it so.

     God’s sovereignty, expressed through His providential control, produces confidence in us who know He is directing all things after the counsel of His will. The growing believer knows “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Where the Bible is silent, the believer seeks to discern God’s will through His providential direction as He guides people and circumstances as He pleases. God controls all of life (Gen. 2:17; Job. 1:21; Ps. 104:29–30; Eccl. 12:7; Dan. 5:23), human birth and calling (Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15), nature (Ps. 147:8; Jonah 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex. 7–11; 12:29; Rev. 16:10-11), the roll of dice (Prov. 16:33; cf. Ps. 22:18; Matt. 27:35), health and sickness (Deut. 28:27-30; 2 Chron. 21:18; Ps. 41:3; Acts 3:16), prosperity and adversity (1 Sam. 2:7; Job 2:10; Isa. 45:5-7), suffering (Ps. 119:71; Heb. 12:5-11), and the development of Christian character (Rom. 5:2-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Jam. 1:2-4), just to name a few things. The growing believer takes great delight in knowing his good, loving and wise God is in control of His creation and is directing all things according to His providential plan.

What is the Church?

What is the Church?

August 25, 2019

     The church refers to the body of Christ which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. It is comprised of Jews and Gentiles who have believed in Jesus as Savior. The church exists universally as an organism, the global presence of Christians who form the body of Christ. The church also exists locally as an organization, a nearby assembly of believers who gather together for Bible study, worship, fellowship, and the practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Christian church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament and is separate from Israel, having a different identity and purpose.

     When a person believes in Jesus as Savior he/she is united to the body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. This is a new designation in which ethnic, social, and gender identity are all secondary to the believer’s new identity of being in Christ Jesus.

  • “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26-28)

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Micah 7:1-20

Micah 7:1-20

August 17, 2019

     Micah opens as if he were a fruit-picker looking for fresh fruit to eat that he might be nourished; but there is none to be found (Mic 7:1). The fruit he’s looking for is the fruit of righteousness, but instead he finds “the godly person has perished from the land, and there is no upright person among men” (Mic 7:2a). Instead, he finds the vast majority of Israelites “lie in wait for bloodshed; each of them hunts the other with a net” (Mic 7:2b). The rulers, judges and prominent men were experts at doing evil; for what they desired, they worked together to make happen (Mic 7:3). The best of Israel’s leaders were like thorn bushes that injure those who come in contact with them (Mic 7:4a). What the watchmen had predicted concerning Israel’s judgment was about to come true (Mic 7:4b). The nation’s corruption was so systemic that one could not even trust a friend, neighbor, or even the close members of a household (Mic 7:5-6a), for “A man’s enemies are the men of his own household” (Mic 7:6b). Though the situation was extremely bad, Micah—and the faithful remnant—had hope in God, as the prophet declares, “But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me” (Mic 7:7). Micah’s faith in God kept him from plunging into total pessimism. Next, Micah speaks as a representative of the nation of Israel, and though it falls and dwells in darkness, it will rise again, for the Lord is their light (Mic 7:8). Israel had violated God’s law, and for that, they must “bear the indignation of the Lord” (Mic 7:9a). And this will continue until the Lord pleads their case and rescues them in the future (Mic 7:9b), at which time God will bring them into the light and they will see His righteousness (Mic 7:9c). Israel’s enemy, who questioned them during the time of God’s judgment, asking, “where is the LORD your God?” will be ashamed when the nation is delivered (Mic 7:10a). Because of the enemy’s gloating and hostility toward Israel, God will judge that nation, and Israel will look on her oppressors, who “will be trampled down like mire of the streets” (Mic 7:10b). Micah then prophecies of the future millennial kingdom when Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the borders expanded (Mic 7:11). This will be a time when people will flock to the nation, from Assyria and Egypt (Israel’s enemies), as well as from around the world, “from sea to sea and mountain to mountain” (Mic 7:12); and prior to this, the nations will be judged (Mic 7:13; cf. Matt 25:32-33, 46). Micah prays God will shepherd the nation (Mic 7:14a), leading them to fertile ground, like that found in Bashan and Gilead, east of the Jordan (Mic 7:14b). He asks that God would perform miracles and rescue His people from persecution, like He did when Israel was rescued from Egypt (Mic 7:15). At that time, the nations of the world will be ashamed of their behavior (Mic 7:16), and will be humbled, like the serpent who licks the dust (Mic 7:17a), they will approach the Lord in humility, trembling before Him, “To the LORD our God they will come in dread and they will be afraid before You” (Mic 7:17b). Micah then closes with praise to God who pardons their iniquity and delights in unchanging love (Mic 7:18), who will have compassion on them and “will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:19). God’s loyal-love, merciful character, and faithfulness to His people were encouraging words to Micah, as well as to the faithful remnant who were living in a corrupt society. Micah’s hope was rooted in God’s integrity, for He made oaths to Abraham and Jacob concerning Israel’s future (Mic 7:20; cf. Gen 12:2-3; 28:13-14), and He cannot lie (Num 23:19; Heb 6:18). Jesus will bring this to pass when He ushers in the kingdom.

Micah 6:1-16

Micah 6:1-16

August 17, 2019

     Micah calls for Israel to hear the hear the word from the Lord, who calls for them to arise and bring forth witnesses to a legal hearing (Mic 6:1). Micah then calls for the residents of Israel to hear the charges God is bringing against them, “Because the LORD has a case against His people; even with Israel He will dispute” (Mic 6:2). The Lord asks what He had done to wrong them, or weary them (Mic 6:3), that they should have turned from Him. He calls to their remembrance His goodness by delivering them from slavery in Egypt, by redeeming them, and sending them Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Mic 6:4). “God’s mention of Moses would remind the people of the Law, and the name of Aaron would bring to mind the priesthood. Perhaps Miriam is mentioned because her name would bring to mind her song to the Lord (Ex. 15:21) and her role as a prophetess (Ex. 15:20).”[1] The Lord also mentioned His blessing them, in spite of the desires of Balak and Balaam (Mic 6:5a), and His bringing His people into the promised Land, as the Israelites crossed the Jordan from Shittim to Gilgal (Mic 6:5b). All this was stated so that Israel “might know the righteous acts of the LORD” (Mic 6:5c). Micah poses a series of questions about how Israel might return to God and give Him what He desires; questions related to burnt offerings and yearly calves (Mic 6:6), the sacrifice of rams and the abundance of oil (Mic 6:7a). The sacrifices were intended to be outward expressions of inward humility before the Lord; however, they’d become outward rituals without the inward reality to validate them. It is likely that many thought of the sacrifices as a way of paying God off, so that His judgment would not fall on them. But sacrifices—by themselves—could not atone for Israel’s sins, not even one as extreme as devoting one’s firstborn to the Lord (Mic 6:7b). It is not clear whether Micah was referring to the giving of the firstborn child as an act of sacrificial devotion for holy service to the Lord, or to the pagan practice of child sacrifice. Either way, these things were not what God wanted from them. God told them about the good He wanted from them: to promote justice among their fellow Israelites, to treat the poor, widows, orphans and helpless with kindness, and to walk in modest obedience with the Lord (Mic 6:8). All of this they’d failed to do, as they engaged in criminal behavior (Mic 2:1-2; 3:1-3, 10-11; 6:11), abused the poor, widows, orphans and helpless (Mic 2:8-9; 3:10-11; 6:12), and walked arrogantly (Mic 2:3). God called the cities to hear His voice (Mic 6:9), and to the wicked house that had accumulated unjust wealth by means of corrupt scales (Mic 6:10), which He would not tolerate (Mic 6:11; cf. Lev 19:35-36; Deu 25:13; Pro 11:1; 20:23). He references the rich in the city who practice violence and the residents who practice deceit (Mic 6:12), pronouncing judgment, saying, “I will make you sick, striking you down, [and] desolating you because of your sins” (Mic 6:13). God promised they would not be satisfied with their wicked wealth, and that they would go into captivity (Mic 6:14-15; cf. Lev 26:26; Deu 28:30, 33, 39-40). His judgments upon them were because of their sinful choices to walk in the ways of Omri and Ahab, two of Israel’s worst kings, who were known for advancing idolatry and persecuting the righteous (1 Ki 16:23-26; 16:29-33). In all this, God is sovereign to rule, righteous to judge, and faithful to execute His promises.

 

[1] John A. Martin, “Micah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1488.

John 13:1-17

John 13:1-17

August 11, 2019

     Prior to this object lesson in John chapter 13, Jesus faced rejection by His people, Israel, and knew He was going to face illegal trials, beatings, and the crucifixion. In fact, Jesus was about eighteen hours away from the cross and was under great pressure (Matt. 26:37-38); yet, He kept focus and demonstrated love and humility toward the disciples. The Gospel of Luke reveals the disciples had been arguing amongst themselves “as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). It was at this time that Jesus laid aside His garments and put on the garments of a slave in order to teach humility. It is important to realize that no one forced Jesus into service, but rather, He humbled Himself and became the servant of others (see Mark 10:45; Philip. 2:3-8). By washing the disciple’s feet, Jesus provided an object lesson of forgiveness and humble service to the undeserving. Once He was finished, Jesus stated to His disciples, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Here, the Lord instructed His disciples to forgive and humbly serve each other (cf. Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-13; 1 Pet. 5:5). There is a blessing to the one who knows and does this (John 13:17).

Micah 5:1-15

Micah 5:1-15

August 10, 2019

     In chapter five, Micah continues his message of near judgment and future hope; specifically, regarding the millennial kingdom. In his opening verse he describes an event that was about one hundred years into the future from his day, in which the Babylonians would lay siege against Jerusalem, and “with a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek” (Mic 5:1). This humiliation is likely a reference to king Zedekiah who was captured, and who witnessed the slaughter of his sons just before his eyes were gouged out and he was put in chains and led into captivity (2 Ki 25:1-7). In contrast to the failed leadership in Micah’s day, God promised to send a good Ruler who would be born in the village of Bethlehem (Mic 5:2). What follows in Micah 5:3-4 refers to the future rule of Messiah, who will, after the Tribulation, regather His people (Mic 5:3), and shepherd them in their own land, “and they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth” (Mic 5:4). Jesus’ universal and sovereign rule will guarantee Israel’s safety. Micah 5:2-4, like other biblical prophecies related to Jesus, combine the events of His first and second comings, such that they are seen, from the prophet’s perspective, as occurring immediately together (see Isa 9:6-7; 61:1-2; cf. Luke 4:13-21). However, looking back on the prophesies and the events described, we realize there are at least two thousand years between His first and second coming. At the time of Jesus’ second coming, at the end of the Tribulation, He will appoint rulers under Him, who will help put an end to Gentile oppression (Mic 5:5-6). During the millennial kingdom, the remnant—believing and obedient Israelites—will be among the nations of the world as a refreshing blessing to them. Micah states, “Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers on vegetation which do not wait for man or delay for the sons of men” (Mic 5:7). In addition, they will rule with supremacy and strength, like a lion in the forest or among sheep (Mic 5:8-9). In that day, Christ will destroy all human dependencies that give His people a false sense of strength and security, such as horses and chariots (military might; Mic 5:10), cities and fortifications (places of refuge; Mic 5:11), and sorceries and fortune-tellers (seeking demonic forces to control others and predict the future; Mic 5:12). And, He will destroy both the objects of false worship—carved images, sacred pillars, and Asherim—as well as their cities of worship (Mic 5:13-14). Lastly, at Jesus’ second coming, He will execute divine vengeance on those Gentile nations that have not obeyed Him, saying, “And I will execute vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations which have not obeyed” (Mic 5:15). In all these events, the sovereignty of God is at work, for He not only declares what will come to pass, but He makes it happen in His time (Psa 115:3; 135:6; Isa 14:24, 27; 46:9-11; Dan 4:35).

Micah 4:1-13

Micah 4:1-13

August 10, 2019

     Micah chapter four presents a future hope to Judah in the last days when God will bring in the millennial kingdom and blessings. At that time, God’s kingdom—pictured as a mountain—will be established in Jerusalem (Mic 4:1). The Gentile nations of the world will go there, seeking God’s wisdom, saying, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths” (Mic 4:2). This is in contrast to the Israelites in Micah’s day who did not care about God and His word. Though there was judicial corruption in Micah’s day, Messiah will, in the future, “judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations” (Mic 4:3a). There will be no war during the millennial reign of Christ, as everyone “will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war” (Mic 4:3b). This will be a time of universal peace and prosperity, in which earthly resources are used for good and not evil purposes (Mic 4:4), and Israel will walk with the Lord forever (Mic 4:5). In Micah’s day the weak and vulnerable were exploited; however, in the millennial kingdom, Messiah “will assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those [rebels] whom I have afflicted. I will make the lame a remnant and the outcasts a strong nation, and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on and forever” (Mic 4:6-7). At that time God will establish His government in Jerusalem and sovereignty will be restored in Israel, as in the former days when David and Solomon were king (Mic 4:8). But Micah then pronounces near term prophesy concerning Judah, that the nation must go into captivity in Babylon. This will be a time when the nation has no king to govern or counselor to guide, and the unstoppable pain is likened to a woman in childbirth (Mic 4:9). Upon that generation, Micah states, “Writhe and labor to give birth, daughter of Zion, like a woman in childbirth; for now you will go out of the city, dwell in the field, and go to Babylon” (Mic 4:10a). At the time Micah prophesied, Babylon was under Assyria; but the nation would eventually rise to regional dominance and would serve as God’s instrument of judgment upon His rebellious people. Micah then jumps ahead and mentions the return of his people to Jerusalem, saying, “There you will be rescued; there the LORD will redeem you from the hand of your enemies” (Mic 4:10b). We know from Jeremiah, a prophet who lived a century after Micah, that the captivity of Judah would last seventy years (Jer 25:8-12; 29:1-14). The fulfillment of this short-term prophesy would validate Micah’s long-term predictions concerning the millennial kingdom. Micah mentions there were many nations in his day that desired Judah’s destruction, “Who say, ‘Let her be polluted, and let our eyes gloat over Zion’” (Mic 4:11). But these do not know God’s thoughts or purposes for them, that He will gather them for judgment because of their hostility toward His people (Mic 4:12). In the future, God will cause His people to rise again, saying, “For your horn I will make iron and your hoofs I will make bronze, that you may pulverize many peoples, that you may devote to the LORD their unjust gain and their wealth to the Lord of all the earth” (Mic 4:13). This will happen when God restores Jerusalem to prominence during the millennial reign of Christ.

The Role of Prophets, Priests, Judges and Kings in Israel

The Role of Prophets, Priests, Judges and Kings in Israel

August 3, 2019

     After God delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, He established Israel as a theocratic nation among the Gentile nations of the world. God Himself was their Ruler, and He gave them laws and leaders to direct their moral, religious, and civil life.[1] God’s laws (תּוֹרָה torahinstruction, direction) were intended to establish standards of what is right, to promote order, to advance justice, to resolve disputes, and to protect freedom. God’s leaders were to model what was right and influence the thoughts and actions of others to live in conformity to His will. Israel’s leaders consisted primarily of prophets, priests, judges and kings, who were to know His Word, live it, and teach it to others.

The Prophets

     Early in Israel’s history, God spoke directly to His prophets who were to communicate His message to others that they might live His will. The word prophet translates the Hebrew word נָבִיא nabi, which means speaker or spokesman, and refers to one who speaks on behalf of another. God’s prophets were both forthtellers and foretellers, always communicating what He revealed. Moses was called as a prophet-leader to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage (Ex 3:1-10), to mediate a bilateral covenant (Exo 19:1-8), and to communicate and inscripturate God’s laws (Exo 34:27; Lev 26:46). As God assigned other national leaders, His prophets functioned as guides and counselors to them, always directing them to live in conformity to His law. When Israel’s leaders and people turned away from Him, the prophet would function as a prosecuting attorney, pointing out their violation of the law (Hos 4:1-2; Mic 6:1-2), and the impending consequences if they did not turn back to the Lord (i.e. repent).

The Priests

     The word priest translates the Hebrew word כֹּהֵן kohen, which refers to those who drew near to God on behalf of others, usually in sacred matters of prayer and sacrifice. God originally intended the whole nation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exo 19:6).  However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Exo 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and confined the priesthood to the descendants of Aaron, and the Levites were to be their assistants (Num 3:1-10; 18:1-7). According to God’s law, priests were to: 1) be holy in their behavior (Exo 19:6), 2) teach His law to others (Lev 10:11; Deu 33:10), 3) preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num 18:1-4), 4) perform official duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Exo 30:6-10; Lev 16), 5) inspect people and fabrics for cleanliness (Lev 13-14), 6) receive tithes (Num 18:21, 26; cf. Heb 7:5), and 7) offer sacrifices for sin (Lev chapters 4, 9, 16). Israel’s priests were to educate and lead God’s people in religious ceremonial activities (Ezra 7:10; Neh 8:1-5, 8).

The Judges

     Israel’s Judges (שָׁפַט shaphat) were to adjudicate legal matters and serve as leaders among God’s people. Moses was a judge (Exo 18:13-16), who instructed others in God’s law (Exo 18:17-26). Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, advised him to choose “men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain” (Exo 18:21a), and to appoint them “as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens” (Exo 18:21b). The word leader translates the Hebrew word שַׂר sar, which means chief, ruler, or governor. After the leadership of Moses and Joshua, there was the period of the Judges, which is generally described as a time when “there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25). During this time, God raised up Judges who served as hero-leaders who defended the nation from enemy attacks and guided them into God’s law (Judg 2:16-19). When there was no Judge to lead, the people repeatedly degenerated into idolatry and disobedience. The period of the Judges lasted for about 300 years and ended with Samuel, who regularly prayed for God’s people and instructed them to seek and serve the Lord (1 Sam 12:20-24).

The Kings

     The word king translates the Hebrew word מֶלֶךְ melek, and was used of Israel’s leaders from 1050 to 586 B.C. God had promised Abraham—the progenitor of Israel—that he would be the father of many nations, saying, “kings will come forth from you” (Gen 17:6). When God established His theocratic kingdom under Moses, He anticipated Israel would have a king who would serve as His viceregent, and he gave specific instructions concerning the selection of the king, his behavior, and education (Deu 17:14-20). According to the Mosaic law, Israel’s king was to be a fellow Israelite of God’s choosing; not self-selected (Deu 17:14-15). Furthermore, he was not to accumulate horses for his army (Deu 17:16), nor multiply wives (Deu 17:17a), nor amass great wealth (Deu 17:17b), as these would all pull him away from his devotion to the Lord. In order to stay true to God, the king was required to write out a personal copy of the law in the presence of the Levitical priests (Deu 17:18), and to carry it with him and read it all the days of his life. By doing this, the king would learn to fear God, obey His word, and not be lifted up in pride, so that he and his sons may live long and be blessed (Deu 17:19-20). The king who did this would serve as the ideal Israelite, not relying on self or resources, but wholly devoted to God and guided by sacred Scripture. David was God’s ideal king who studied Scripture, walked with God, and led others to do the same (Psa 119:1-16, 33-35), and many of Israel’s kings were compared with him (1 Ki 15:1-5; 2 Ki 16:2; 18:1-3; 22:1-2). Though Solomon knew Scripture, he broke all three commands and this led to his ruin (1 Ki 10:14-15, 23, 26-28; 11:1-8).

 

[1] The Mosaic Law refers to the 613 laws “which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev 26:46). The Mosaic Law: 1) revealed the holy character of God (Ps 19:9; Rom 7:12), 2) was given specifically to Israel circa 1445 B.C. (Lev 26:46), and, 3) existed for nearly 1500 years before being rendered inoperative (2 Cor 3:7-11; Heb 8:13).

Micah 3:1-12

Micah 3:1-12

August 3, 2019

     Micah begins with a command for the nation’s leaders to hear his message from the Lord (Mic 3:1a). He opens with a rhetorical question, saying, “Is it not for you to know justice?” (Mic 3:1b). The answer, of course, is yes. Israel’s good leaders were marked by righteousness and justice (see 1 Ki 10:9; Psa 72:1-2, 12-14; Jer 22:1-3). However, the leaders in Micah’s day were so vicious, their behavior is likened to cannibalism, whereby they consumed the lives of those they were called to protect (Mic 3:2-3). The nation’s leaders were guilty of theft (Mic 2:1-2, 8-9), gross injustice (Mic 3:9), bloodshed (Mic 3:10; 7:2), and bribery (Mic 3:11). “By contrast faithful leaders protected their charges and looked out for their welfare. David, the epitome of a good leader for God, was taken from shepherding sheep (1 Sam. 17:15) to become a shepherd of the people (2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7). The people in Micah’s day were being betrayed by their leaders, for if they really cared about the people, they would have turned them back to the Lord.”[1] God’s judgment would eventually fall upon the nation, and because they refused to listen to His warnings, He would not hear their cries (Mic 3:4). God is omniscient and hears all prayers; however, He chooses not to answer the prayers of those who disregard Him and His Word (Deu 1:43-45; Pro 21:13; 28:9; Zec 7:11-13). Micah then addresses the false prophets who were leading God’s people astray (Mic 3:5a), whose messages of peace or calamity depended on the pay of the hearer (Mic 3:5b). For these false prophets, money was their master. Micah pronounces judgment upon them, describing their doom as a time of night and darkness (Mic 3:6), in which God will make them ashamed and embarrassed (Mic 3:7a), saying, “Indeed, they will all cover their mouths because there is no answer from God” (Mic 3:7b). The silence of God means the messages of the false prophets were not from Him, but merely the product of their own imaginations (cf. Jer 23:16-22). In contrast with the false prophets, Micah declared, “I am filled with power—with the Spirit of the LORD—and with justice and courage to make known to Jacob his rebellious act, even to Israel his sin” (Mic 3:8). Walking with God gave Micah the right perspective to see what was happening in the nation, as well as the moral fortitude to address their rebellion and sin. Being filled with the Spirit, Micah addressed the corrupt leaders of the nation, “Who abhor justice and twist everything that is straight, who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with violent injustice” (Mic 3:9-10). The leaders included the magistrates, priests and prophets, who pronounce judgment for a bribe, instruct for a price, and prophecy for money (Mic 3:11a). Then they falsely claim that they trust in God, saying, “Is not the Lord in our midst?” and reject Micah’s message, saying, “Calamity will not come upon us” (Mic 3:11b). Because of the failure of the nation’s leaders, prophets and priests, Micah declares, “on account of you Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest” (Mic 3:12). This prophecy came to pass in 586 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed the city and the temple. It occurred again by the Romans in A.D. 70.

 

[1] John A. Martin, “Micah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1482.

Social Justice from a Biblical Perspective

Social Justice from a Biblical Perspective

July 27, 2019
  • "Thus has the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.'" (Zec 7:9-10)

     The phrase social justice is commonly used in America today in connection with socialism; and though the term is good, socialism is not.[1] From a biblical perspective, social justice refers to the divinely bestowed rights that God legislates concerning vulnerable persons in society; specifically, the poor, widows, orphans, and sojourners. These rights were theirs by divine law in which God commanded those blessed with resources to provide for the needs, protection, and just treatment of the vulnerable. Blessed Israelites were theologically obligated by God to help the less fortunate. In God’s theocratic kingdom, the dependent could expect the powerful and wealthy to help meet their needs and defend their rights. Solomon wrote, “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern” (Pro 29:7).[2] The “righteous” are those who have regard for God and His laws and are “concerned for rights of the poor” (cf. Isa 10:1-2). Those who disregarded God’s laws concerning the vulnerable could expect to be judged by Him, as Moses wrote, “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow” (Deu 27:19). God’s written law was the basis for “the justice due” to the vulnerable in society. According to God’s law:

  1. If a person became poor and had to sell his land, it could be purchased back by a near relative, or by himself if able. However, if there was no one to buy the land, it was automatically returned to the owner in the Year of Jubilee, which came once every fifty years (Lev 25:23-28).
  2. The poor could expect those whom God had blessed to be open-handed toward them and to give generously (Deu 15:7-11).
  3. If a poor person sold himself as a slave to a fellow Israelite, he was to be set free in the seventh year, and sent away with abundant resources. But if the slave chose, he could stay with his master forever (Deu 15:12-17; cf. Lev 25:39-42). Moreover, slaves were to be treated fairly, as God declared, “You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God” (Lev 25:43).
  4. If a poor person gave their cloak as a pledge, it was to be returned to him at sunset so that he would not get cold during the night (Deu 24:10-13).
  5. If one of God’s people hired a poor person to perform labor, he was to be paid the same day (Deu 24:14-15).[3] This is because the poor person relied on that money to eat.
  6. Sojourners, widows and orphans were free to eat the remnants of a crop after harvest (Deu 24:19-21).
  7. Levites, sojourners, widows and orphans were to enjoy the tithe of produce that came every third year (Deu 14:28-29).

     God called His people to be righteous, honest, truthful, protective and open-handed toward the less fortunate in society. Sadly, there were times when kings, princes, judges, wealthy, prophets and priests behaved wickedly and abused the poor.[4] For this reason, God raised up prophets such as Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zechariah and others who called for His people to “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow” (Isa 1:17). This call for obedience was rooted in the ethics of the Mosaic Law, which God’s people were to follow. Unfortunately, God’s prophets were ignored or mistreated and the vulnerable continued to be exploited. When God’s people would not turn back to Him, He administered retributive justice, which brought about national discipline and eventual destruction (see Ex 22:21-24; Deu 10:17-18; Jer 21:12; Mal 3:5). God used both the Assyrians and Babylonians as His disciplinary agents to dispense retributive justice in Israel.

     In the Church age, governmental leaders—both Christian and non-Christian—serve as conduits of His government and grace to help care for the needy in society. In this case, tax dollars are used for basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Scripture teaches us to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), and to regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom. 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the governmental leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom. 13:2-4; 6-7). Christian leaders who have a healthy walk with the Lord are ultimately directed by His Word. Non-Christian leaders are influenced directly by God who controls their hearts (Pro 21:1), their consciences (Rom 2:14-15), and through the influence of godly believers in their periphery (Dan 3:28-29; 6:25-27).

     As Christians, we use the phrase social justice within the context of God’s moral absolutes. We agree with the laws of man when those laws reflect God’s laws. As a result, we are to advocate for the poor, widows, orphans, and all who are vulnerable to exploitation. In many cases, we are the proponents who affect that blessing as we open our hands to the destitute. This was true of the early church, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). There is no model for socialism here, whereby the state acts as the mediator who takes from one and gives to another. Instead, these Christians willingly sold “their property and possession” to help others, and this was done freely in order to help “as anyone might have need.” James writes, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jam 1:27). Individual Christians are to be open-handed when helping the poor, widows and orphans.[5] This can be done directly, or through the agency of others, including organizations that help the needy and defend their rights. We are called to be good stewards of God’s resources, and this means compassion for others should be governed by wisdom from God’s Word.

     Simple ways to help the poor include: 1) spending personal time with them and treating them with respect, 2) sharing the gospel of Christ, 3) giving kind words and praying for them, 4) sharing Bible promises, 5) personally delivering freshly prepared meals or snacks, 6) giving clothes and blankets, 7) sharing information about local charities that might help them, 8) giving money, 9) volunteering at a homeless shelter, 10) offering gift cards that can be used at local restaurants such as McDonalds or Taco Bell, 11) giving to a local church that helps the poor, 12) or giving to a local charity such as Meals on Wheels or the Salvation Army.

     Lastly, there will be no utopian government until Jesus returns and establishes His government in the world. At that time, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7; cf. Jer 33:15). During that time “He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth” (Isa 11:4).

  • "When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge. He will show Himself to be King of kings and Lord of lords in the same arena where man’s rebellion against God took place."[6]

Summary:

     When Israel was a theocratic kingdom, God legislated certain benefits to the poor, widows, orphans and sojourners in order to meet their daily needs, and these were to be given by those whom He’d blessed with abundance. God instructed His leaders to uphold and defend the rights of the vulnerable, knowing there would be wicked persons who would seek to exploit them. Sadly, much of Israel’s history was marked by a breakdown among His people, as the leaders and wealthy in the land exploited the poor they were called to defend. Now, in the Church age, God provides care for the needy in society through human governments, as well as through individual Christians and local churches. Lastly, perfect government will come in the future when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth and provides righteous reign and care for all.

 

[1] Socialism is little more than thievery, in which governmental leaders extract wealth from one class of citizens—often the honest and hardworking—and redistributes it to others in order to create outcomes of equality. Socialism has brought nothing but social and economic ruin wherever it has been implemented.

[2] Solomon’s mother planted seeds of righteousness in the garden of her young son’s mind, hoping someday the landscape of his thinking would beautifully display the richness of God’s Word. She instructed her young son, saying “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy” (Pro 31:8-9). Oh, that mothers would instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; that children would grow up with godly values that instruct them to care for others and to help the less fortunate. That children would grow up to represent the highest and best within society and not the lowest and worst.

[3] The Bible promotes a strong and honest work ethic. In fact, God’s expectation of compensation for work performed is so strong, it even extended to animals, as Moses wrote, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deu 25:4). The animal that works has the right to benefit from its labor. In contrast, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Th 3:10).

[4] The wicked are described as those who “slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans” (Psa 94:6), who “deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans” (Isa 10:2). In addition, “They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor” (Jer 5:28).

[5] Not all widows were eligible for support from the church, but only those who met the age requirements and displayed a life of humility and service to others (1 Tim 5:9-10). And, if a widow has children, they are to care for her (1 Tim 5:4). Younger widows were to seek remarriage and a godly life (1 Tim 5:11-14). And if a young woman has a dependent widow, she must care for her and not expect the church to do it (1 Tim 5:16).

[6] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 316.

Micah 2:1-13

Micah 2:1-13

July 27, 2019

     In Micah 2:1-5 the prophet sets forth God’s divine judgment upon the nation. It was the immoral behavior of God’s people who had no excuse for their criminal conduct. It was these who had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, brought into a special relationship with Him and given the light of His revelation. Those who should have modeled the highest and best behavior were, in fact, modeling the lowest and worst. Micah pronounced woe on those who scheme iniquity on their beds at night, then carry out their plans in the morning (Mic 2:1). This is likely a reference to the wealthy in Israel, since they had the means to execute their sinful schemes. They violated the eighth and tenth commandments, which forbid coveting and stealing (Ex 20:15, 17). More so, they violated the command to love their neighbors (Lev 19:18); sadly, it was the poor and their children who were being victimized (Mic 2:2). But God is Judge of all the earth, and He pronounces judgment upon these criminals, promising to bring calamity on those who have violated His covenant commands and to turn the land over to the Assyrians (Mic 2:3-5). Here, the Israelites were reaping what they had sown; for they had stolen the land of others, and God would bring the Assyrians to steal their land from them. Micah then turns his attention to false prophets in Israel who were leading God’s people astray and robbing citizens, soldiers, widows and children (Mic 2:6-11). These false prophets were trying to silence Micah (Mic 2:6a), as they had done his contemporaries (Isa 30:10; Amo 7:10-13). The false prophets did not like Micah’s message and wanted only to hear positive things related to God’s blessings, not His judgments. They were convinced God would not bring shame on them (Mic 2:6b). Micah then quotes his detractors, who say, “Is it being said, O house of Jacob: ‘Is the Spirit of the LORD impatient? Are these His doings?’” (Mic 2:7a). But Micah replied, “Do not my words do good to the one walking uprightly?” (Mic 2:7b). It was not Micah’s prophesies that were bringing judgment, but the people’s disobedience to God’s commands. By their choice, Micah’s audience was forfeiting the blessings that could be theirs, if they would only obey. Micah then names the sins that were being committed, namely robbing unsuspecting travelers, weary soldiers, and helpless widows and their children (Mic 2:8-9). Apparently, the majority of citizens were following the corrupt values of Israel’s leaders and embracing the feel-good messages of the false prophets. As a result, they would all go into exile because of the uncleanness of their sin which would bring on “a painful destruction” (Mic 2:10). Micah tells them if a preacher came preaching only positive messages of blessing, “he would be spokesman to this people” (Mic 2:11). Though Micah pronounces judgment to those who deserve it, he also provides a promise of future hope to the obedient remnant, that God will unite His dispersed people and be their good Shepherd Who will lead them into good pastures that they might enjoy the blessings of the land (Mic 2:12). Unlike the corrupt leaders of Micah’s day, God Himself will lead His people, saying, “So their king goes on before them, and the LORD at their head” (Mic 2:13). This will occur after Christ returns at His second coming and establishes His millennial kingdom on earth.

The Battle that Rages

The Battle that Rages

July 20, 2019

     God created His universe and all creatures in it (Gen 1:1), and He made all things good (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Mankind was God’s crowning creation, made in His image (Gen 1:26-27), and assigned responsibility to rule over this world (Gen 1:26-30). In addition to mankind, God created an order of beings that are called angels, who, like people, have the capacity to think, feel and act. At some point in time—and no one knows for sure when—there was a rebellion in heaven in which a special angel named Lucifer, of the class of cherubim, who, because of pride (Eze 28:11-18), set his will against the will of God (Isa 14:12-14) and convinced many angels to follow him (Rev 12:4). “The desire of Satan was to move in and occupy the throne of God, exercise absolute independent authority over the angelic creation, bring the earth and all the universe under his authority, cover himself with the glory that belongs to God alone, and then be responsible to no one but himself.”[1] After his fall, Satan then tempted Adam and Eve to set their wills against God by eating the forbidden fruit (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7). When that happened, Adam handed his kingdom over to Satan, who has been ruling this world since then (Luke 4:5-6; Rev 11:15). Satan rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9), and has well developed strategies of warfare (Eph 6:10-12). Satan’s world-system touches all aspects of humanity, including politics, education, economics, music, art, literature, etc. It is this world-system that Christians are commanded not to love (1 Jo 2:15-16).

  • "The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos."[2]

     At the core of Satan’s world-system is a directive for mankind to function apart from God, and when obeyed, people produce all forms of evil, both moral and immoral. And, to Satan’s advantage, everyone born into this world is born in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22) and possesses a fallen nature, called “the flesh”, which is inclined to operate independently of God and His will (Rom 6:6; Col 3:9; Gal 5:17, 19).

  • "Torn inside with desires to do that which we know is evil and new desires to please God, we experience the rage of the battle.  The internal conflict manifests itself in everyday life as the believer is tempted to sin.  The source of this conflict is the old sin nature, which is the root cause of the deeds of sin.  In the conflict the believer is not passive.  He has a vital role in determining to whom he will give allegiance—the old nature or the new nature.  From the moment a sinner trusts Christ, there is a conflict in his very being between the powers of darkness and those of light.  The one who has become a member of the family of God now faces conflicts and problems that he did not have before."[3]

     At the moment of faith in Christ, the believer is transferred from Satan’s kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13). However, though saved, we still possess our sin nature, continue to reside in the devil’s world and face constant pressure from the enemy. The flesh, the world, and the devil make up the threefold enemy-front every Christian faces; a front that seeks to diminish or destroy her/his walk with God. But Christians are not defenseless. God has given us new life (John 10:28), placed His Holy Spirit within us (John 14:17; 1 Cor 6:19), and equipped us with the armor necessary to stand against our enemy and to accomplish His will (Eph 6:10-17).  Christians defy and disrupt Satan’s kingdom by submitting to God (Rom 12:1-2), learning Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), living by faith (Rom 10:17; Col 2:6-7; Heb 10:38; 11:6; 1 Pet 5:9), being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), walking by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 21), praying for others (Col 1:9; 2 Thess 1:11), and sharing the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor 15:3-4). The Christian who is advancing spiritually will influence the thoughts and lives of others through biblical discussion; and this is done in love and grace (Eph. 4:14-15; Col 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim 2:24-26). When we learn God’s Word, obey His commands, and show love to others, we are rebelling against Satan’s world-system and sowing the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in Satan’s kingdom. But Christians must always be on guard that we not fall into Satan’s snares and come to love the world (1 John 2:15; cf. Jam 4:4).

 

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Your Adversary the Devil (Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Publishing, 1969), 25-26.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, “Angelology Part 4” Bibliotheca Sacra 99 (1942): 282-283.

[3] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1995), 206.

Micah 1:1-16

Micah 1:1-16

July 13, 2019

     Micah reveals he is a prophet of God from the town of Moresheth, which was about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem and nearly 20 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea (see map). He prophesied under the reign of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, and gave prophecies both to Israel and Judah (Mic 1:1). Micah opens his message as though he were in a courtroom calling his fellow Israelites to hear the indictment that is coming against them from the Lord, saying, “Hear, O peoples, all of you; listen, O earth and all it contains, and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, the Lord from His holy temple” (Mic 1:2; cf. 6:1-2). God is pictured as coming down from His throne in heaven, and He will “tread on the high places of the earth” (Mic 1:3), and the mountains and valleys will quake and melt away at His presence (Mic 1:4). God—Who is too great to be stopped—will intervene and disrupt the activities of His people because of “the rebellion of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (Mic 1:5a), both in Samaria and Jerusalem (Mic 1:5b). The Lord specifically promises to destroy Samaria, the capital of Israel, because it had become a place of idolatry for His people (Mic 1:6-7). “The Lord’s intervention was due to the Israelites’ sins and rebellion against their sovereign lord. Samaria personified the rebellion of the Israelites, and Jerusalem had become a high place for idolatry rather than for holy worship. These capital cities had become leaders in wickedness rather than in holiness.”[1] Due to Israel’s sin, which was an embarrassment to God’s people, Micah declared, “Because of this I must lament and wail, I must go barefoot and naked” (Mic 1:8a). His contemporary, Isaiah, was called to do the same (Isa 20:1-6). Jackals and ostriches were known for their howling, which Micah replicated as an expression of his grief (Mic 1:8b). Micah is disturbed that Israel’s sin has influenced and corrupted Judah, even the city of Jerusalem, which was to be marked by holiness rather than idolatry (Mic 1:9). Israel’s “wound” lead to her total destruction in 722 B.C., and the spiritual infection brought near destruction to Jerusalem in 701 B.C., as the Assyrian army besieged the capital of Judah and destroyed 46 of its surrounding towns. In verses 10-16, Micah uses words of destruction that are similar in sound to the names of the cities in the region, cities which would be destroyed by the invading Assyrian army. Micah makes a special comment in verse 13 when referring to the town of Lachish, saying, “She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion—because in you were found the rebellious acts of Israel.” The destruction that God was bringing on Judah could be traced back to a particular place in which idolatry was introduced to God’s people. Once the Judahites turned away from God, they no longer felt compelled to worship Him or obey His Word. Without God’s moral absolutes to guide them, they felt free to live as they please, engaging in property theft (Mic 2:1-2), robbery (Mic 2:8), and stealing from widows and children (Mic 2:9). Departure from God and His Word leads to a decline in morals in which people put self-interest above God’s interests, or the interests of others.

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Mic 1:5.

Introduction to Micah

Introduction to Micah

July 13, 2019

Author:

     Micah is the author of this book. His name (Heb. מִיכָה Mikah) means “Who is like Yahweh?” His name implies the incomparability of God. Micah is referred to in the book of Jeremiah (Jer 26:18; cf. Mic 3:12).

Audience:

     Micah prophesies both to Israel and Judah (Mic 1:1, 5, 9; 5:2), but the primary audience is Israel (Mic 1:5, 13-15; 3:1, 8-9; 5:1-3; 6:2).

Date of ministry:

     Micah received His messages from the Lord during the reigns of Jotham (742-735 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-687 B.C.). This would place his ministry roughly between 740-700 B.C.

Historical Background:

     Micah was a contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah. “Like his contemporary Isaiah, Micah prophesied about the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom by the Babylonians.”[1] Micah would have witnessed the destruction of Israel by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:1-23). As well as the near destruction of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in 701 B.C. (2 Ki 18:13—19:36). Micah reveals the reasons his people were under attack was because of their sinful rebellion against God in violation of the Mosaic Covenant (Deu 28:15-68). Micah prophesied against idolatry (Mic 1:7; 5:12-14), the abuse of the helpless (Mic 2:1-2, 8-9), greed among the nation’s leaders (Mic 3:1-12; 7:3), and economic injustice and violence from the wealthy (Mic 6:11-12).

Message:

     Micah presents three messages to his fellow Israelites, and each begins with the call to “Hear” (Heb שָׁמַע shama; Mic 1:2; 3:1; 6:1). Micah sees much of the nation’s sin as originating among the nation’s leaders, namely: the princes, priests and prophets. He states, “Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, her priests instruct for a price and her prophets divine for money” (Mic 3:11).

  • "Micah identified all three major types of Judahite rulers as corrupt: civil leaders (the princes), religious leaders (the priests), and moral leaders (the prophets). The judges were judging according to who paid them best. The priests were teaching the people but only for what they could get out of it. The prophets were not really prophesying messages from the Lord but were divining; they were practicing sorcery and witchcraft for money and passing these revelations off as the word of the Lord. In every case, ministry was being conducted, but for selfish motives, for what the ministers could get out of ministering."[2]

     The Mosaic Covenant was God’s standard of judgment for Israel in Micah’s day; specifically, the blessings and cursings God promised would come, depending on their obedience (Deu 28:1-14) or disobedience (Deu 28:15-68) to His commands. Though Micah pronounces judgment against Israel, leading to their captivity (Mic 1:16), he also provides messages of hope (Mic 4:1-8; 7:11-20), as God will send forth a Ruler who will shepherd the nation, which is Lord Jesus Christ (Mic 5:2-5; cf. Mat 2:1-12; Luke 2:1-20).

  • "Though the theme of judgment is prominent in each of Micah’s three messages, the prophet also stressed restoration. Micah mentioned the “remnant” in each of his three messages (Micah 2:12; 4:7; 5:7–8; 7:18). He was confident that someday the Lord would restore the people of Israel to a place of prominence in the world under the Messiah. This emphasis would have greatly encouraged the righteous remnant in Micah’s day."[3]

     For the nation and its citizens, Micah gives them God’s expectation, which is, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).

Outline:

  1. Israel and Judah’s judgment because of their sin (1-2).
  2. God promises future blessing after judgment (3-5).
  3. Indictment of sin and promise of future blessing (6-7).

 

[1] John A. Martin, “Micah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1474–1475.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Jon 4:10.

[3] John A. Martin, “Micah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1474–1475.

Jonah 4:1-11

Jonah 4:1-11

July 6, 2019

     God’s mercy toward the Ninevites reflects His love for all people (see John 3:16-17), but Jonah became angry when God did not destroy the Ninevites (Jon 4:1). Jonah’s hatred was likely born out of a nationalistic pride that wanted to protect his fellow Israelites, since he would have known about God’s prophesies through Hosea and Amos, that the Lord was going to use the Assyrians to judge His disobedient people (Hos 9:3; 11:5; Amo 5:27). If this is his reason, then Jonah’s anger is unjustified, for it was Israel’s sin that was bringing God’s judgment, and destroying the Assyrians would not prevent it. Jonah then prays to God and reveals his original reason for fleeing to Tarshish, saying, “for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jon 4:2). Jonah knew God was this way (Exo 34:6; Psa 86:15; 103:8) and thought he could withhold God’s compassion, and bring only His judgment, by fleeing away from Nineveh. But God’s grace would not be withheld because of a disobedient prophet. When Nineveh did respond positively to the message, God extended grace and did not bring judgment. However, Jonah got angry, because in his heart he hated those to whom he preached, secretly desiring their destruction. It’s ironic that Jonah enjoyed God’s grace, even though his attitude is not in line with God’s attitude, and that he gets angry when God does not destroy his enemies, but has no problem when God does not destroy him for his sin. Jonah was so upset over the matter that he asked God to take his life (Jon 4:3), but the Lord challenges His prophet, asking, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (Jon 4:4). Jonah is not the first prophet to ask God to kill him, for both Moses and Elijah asked for the same (Num 11:14-15; 1 Ki 19:4). When God asks questions, it’s not because He’s seeking information, but to get the person to introspect, and to think about their behavior, because sin often clouds judgment. He did this with Adam and Eve (Gen 3:9, 13), Hagar (Gen 16:8), and Elijah (1 Ki 19:9, 13). Jonah then went outside the city and waited to see what would happen (Jon 4:5), which might imply that the forty days were near. God tried to teach Jonah a lesson by causing a plant—likely a castor oil plant—to grow up “to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant” (Jon 4:6). But God destroyed the plant, so that it withered and died (Jon 4:7), and in the morning, when the sun came up, “God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, ‘Death is better to me than life.’” (Jon 4:8). This is the third time Jonah asked to die (cf. Jon 1:12; 4:3). God obviously controlled the circumstances which affected Jonah’s comfort and affliction (cf. Job 2:10; Isa 45:7; Amo 3:6). Again, God challenged His prophet’s attitude about the situation, asking, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” (Jon 4:9a), and again, Jonah responded irrationally, saying, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death” (Jon 4:9b). Though Jonah says he has good reason to be angry, he provides none. God then tells Jonah, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jon 4:10-11). God uses an a fortiori argument, which argues from the lesser to the greater, to help Jonah understand his thinking is irrational when compared with God’s reasoning; for if Jonah had compassion on the plant, a lesser and temporal thing in God’s creation, it stands with greater reason that he would have compassion on the Ninevites,  which are greater, and eternal creatures. Though Jonah preached God’s message, which implied an opportunity for repentance, inwardly, he hoped the Ninevites would not respond and that God would pour down His wrath. Overall, Jonah’s attitude was antithetical to God’s compassion, which reveals God’s child can do His will outwardly while rejecting it inwardly.

Jonah 3:1-10

Jonah 3:1-10

July 6, 2019

     After Jonah’s humbling experience in the stomach of the great fish (Jon 2:1-9), and being vomited onto the onto the dry land (Jon 2:10), God recommissioned His recalcitrant prophet to deliver a message to the Ninevites (Jon 3:1), saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you” (Jon 3:2). Jonah is obedient to God, “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD” (Jon 3:3a). It is likely Jonah obeyed the Lord more from a fear of punishment than from a heart of compassion. Nineveh was located 550 miles from Samaria, the capital of Israel, and it would have taken Jonah nearly a month to get there, assuming he was dropped near there and traveled 20 miles per day. Once he arrived, it took him three days to walk through the city, delivering his message as he went. The population of Nineveh was at least 120,000 (see Jon 4:11); however, the number of residents could rise to over half a million, if the 120,000 refers only to children. Whatever the number, God cared about these people enough to send His prophet as an ambassador to warm them of His pending judgment. Jonah’s message was simple, as he cried out, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon 3:4b). The message included an element of time, people, and divine action. The time was forty days, the people were the Ninevites, and the action was divine destruction (because of their wickedness and violence). It’s possible Jonah’s punishment by God served as a sign to the Ninevites that God was to be taken seriously. Luke tells us, “Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites” (Luke 11:30). This could imply either they knew about God’s judgment against Jonah because of his disobedience, or they saw Jonah with the physical marks of his discipline. Either way, they were moved to believe his message, as the text informs us, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (Jon 3:5). Here is simple faith in action, as they believed in God. They took the message of judgment seriously, and correctly reasoned that forty days were given as a probationary period in which they could reform their behavior and perhaps avoid God’s wrath. The act of fasting and wearing sackcloth were outward signs of inward affliction that reflected a humble heart. As the residents of the city fasted, word traveled up to the king himself, who “arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, [and] covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes” (Jon 3:6). The king then formalized the fast with a decree that encompassed everyone in the kingdom and forbade eating food or drinking water (Jon 3:7). The lack of water would have limited the fast to three days. During the time of fasting, he commanded them, saying, “let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands” (Jon 3:8). The word “violence” (חָמָס chamas) refers to evil-violence committed against the innocent and undeserving. This is consistent with what we know about the Assyrians, who were known for their great cruelty to those whom they’d conquered, not showing mercy to the poor, helpless or widows. The king acknowledged their sinfulness and reasoned that since God had not brought judgment already, that there was opportunity to turn from their violent ways and avoid it, stating, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jon 3:9). And we learn that God did spare them from His judgment, for “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” (Jon 3:10). In the Bible, some of God’s pronouncements of judgment were conditional. That is, He would show mercy and spare them judgment if they changed their ways. However, there were times when God’s judgment was certain, and no amount of reform could stop it. God is slow to anger (Exo 34:6; Num 14:18; Psa 86:15; Jon 4:2), which refers to His great patience, but His patience does not go on forever, and eventually He brings judgment upon the arrogant who refuse to humble themselves. The Assyrians eventually returned to their evil practices and destroyed Israel nearly 37 years later in 722 B.C. This shows that the repentance of one generation is merely the repentance of one generation, and that believing and humble parents does not guarantee believing and humble children. Eventually, God would destroy the Assyrians in 612 B.C.

Steps to Spiritual Maturity

Steps to Spiritual Maturity

June 22, 2019

     The advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as Christians learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. But this is not an easy process, for we live in the devil’s world and are confronted with many obstacles and distractions that seek to push or pull us away from God. Though constant distractions are all around us, we are “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our minds on God and His Word (Isa 26:3; Pro 3:5-6; Col 3:1), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down and trapped with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). This requires spiritual discipline to learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis as we advance to spiritual maturity. Biblically, there are several things believers must do to reach spiritual maturity:

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Being in submission to God means we desire the Lord’s will above all else. When this happens, God’s Word opens up to us (Jo 7:17).
  2. Continually study God’s Word (Psa 1:1-2; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). As Christians, we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. Therefore, from regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to replace a lifetime of worldly viewpoint with divine viewpoint.
  3. Live by faith (Rom 10:17; Heb 10:38; 11:6). Learning God’s Word becomes effective when mixed with our faith as we apply Scripture to all aspects of our lives. Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings or circumstances. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
  4. Accept God’s trials (Deu 8:2-3, 16; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 3:17; 4:12-13). God uses trials to strengthen our faith and develop us spiritually. Often, we don’t like hardship, but we must learn to accept it as necessary. For the Lord uses it to burn away the dross of our flawed character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to advance us spiritually (Rom 5:3-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Heb 12:11; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 4:12-13).
  5. Be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Being filled with the Holy Spirit means being controlled by Him. It means we follow where He guides, and His guidance is always according to Scripture.
  6. Walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16-21). Walking in the Spirit means we depend on Him to sustain us as seek to do His will.
  7. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin (1 Jo 1:5-9). The confessed sin is directed to God, which is faithfully forgiven every time (1 Jo 1:9).
  8. Fellowship with other believers (Act 2:42; Heb 10:24). Spiritual growth does not happen in isolation, as God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others.
  9. Serve others in love (Gal 5:13). We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10).
  10. Take advantage of the time God gives (Eph 5:15-17; cf. Heb 5:12; 1 Pet 1:17; 4:1-2). The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since we have only a measure of time allotted to us by God (Psa 139:16), we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will.

     As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions in our lives which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. We have choices to make on a daily basis, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. As Christians, we experience our greatest blessings when we reach spiritual maturity and utilize the rich resources God has provided for us. However, learning takes time, as ignorance gives way to the light of God’s revelation. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

 

Jonah 2:1-10

Jonah 2:1-10

June 22, 2019

     In the previous chapter, Jonah had turned away from God’s call to preach to the Ninevites, so the Lord hurled a great storm on the sea and pressured him through the ship’s captain and sailors, who eventually threw him overboard in order to save their own lives. Jonah would have died, except God sent a great fish to swallow him and keep him alive (Jon 1:17). God used the fish, both as a form of punishment and as the means of his salvation. It’s likely Jonah did not adjust his thinking immediately to the situation, but had to work through what was happening to him. After a brief amount of time within the stomach of the fish, Jonah realized he was being kept alive supernaturally by God. This supernatural rescue prompted God’s prophet to construct a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord (Jon 2:1). What follows in Jonah 2:2-9 reveals the prophet’s mind is saturated with a knowledge of God’s Word, as Jonah borrows heavily from various passages in the Psalms (see handout). While constructing his prayer, it cannot be determined if Jonah consciously drew excerpts from the various Psalms, or if they naturally percolated up in his thinking because his mind naturally thought this way from years of reading Scripture. Either way, Jonah thought and prayed biblically and the Lord heard his cry. Jonah said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice” (Jon 2:2). Jonah recognized God’s sovereignty over what was happening to him; for though the sailors had physically tossed him into the sea (Jon 1:15), he credits God with their actions (Jon 2:3). The sailors acted out of desperation and were motivated by fear of death; however, their attitudes and actions were influenced by the circumstances God controlled, as they were driven to do His will. Jonah does not blame the sailors, but interprets their actions from the divine perspective, realizing God was the One who controlled them; therefore, he could say of the Lord, “You had cast me into the deep” (Jon 2:3a). Jonah saw the sailors’ action of tossing him overboard as God’s action of discipline. They were His agents of punishment, like the storm, waves and fish. Though Jonah realizes he’s under divine discipline (Jon 2:4a), he also knows he is being saved, and that he will see the Lord’s temple, and this encourages him (Jon 2:4b). He briefly describes his time in the ocean, before the fish swallowed him, as a time when he thought he was being laid to rest in a watery grave. He states, “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever. But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God” (Jon 2:5-6). Jonah thought he was going to die, so his mind turned to the Lord, and he said, “While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple” (Jon 2:7). Jonah prayed to the only true God for salvation, and the Lord heard him. This stands in contrast to those who turn to idols and, by their own decision, forsake the mercy that could be theirs from the Lord (Jon 2:8). Jonah then vows to offer sacrifices to God with an attitude of thanksgiving (Jon 2:9a), and concludes his prayer, saying, “Salvation is from the LORD” (Jon 2:9b). Within this context, Jonah is speaking about his physical deliverance. The time Jonah spent in the fish was precisely what was needed to help him gain his spiritual sight; and once he had it, “Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land” (Jon 2:10). In this chapter, Jonah experienced both discipline and grace from the Lord, who “is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b). The discipline came because the prophet was arrogant and disobedient to God’s call. The grace came when he humbled himself and turned back to the Lord with a willing heart. Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving reflects his humility and grateful heart for God’s deliverance, for the prophet knows the Lord is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exo 34:6).

Jonah 1:1-17

Jonah 1:1-17

June 17, 2019

     The first chapter of Jonah shows God’s prophet spiritually declining further and further away from God, as he went down to Joppa, down into the ship, down into the ocean, and down into the belly of the great fish. The chapter opens with God’s call to Jonah to go and preach in Nineveh, a great Assyrian city located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River (Jon 1:1). He was to preach against their wickedness and to warn them about God’s judgment (Jon 1:2). But Jonah ran in the opposite direction to Joppa, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea, located about 35 miles southwest of Samaria. The text informs us that Jonah was fleeing “from the presence of the Lord” (Jon 1:3), which meant he was avoiding God’s directive will to preach. The omniscient Lord knew Jonah would run away and chose him in spite of his rebellious and uncompassionate heart. Furthermore, Jonah’s rebellion did not cancel God’s call, for the sovereign Lord of the universe would have His way; rather, it introduced an element of divine discipline that could have been avoided had his prophet submitted rather than rebel. God began His discipline by sending a great storm against the ship so that it was about to be destroyed (Jon 1:4). The pagan sailors sought deliverance by praying to their gods, but Jonah did not want God to intervene, but to leave him alone; for this reason, he went down into the ship and fell asleep (Jon 1:5). The captain noticed Jonah’s strange behavior and approached him and asked him to pray, with the hope they would not perish (Jon 1:6). In the meantime, the sailors cast lots as a means of determining which of their polytheistic gods had been offended and sent the storm, and the lot fell on Jonah (Jon 1:7). In the OT God permitted the occasional use of lots among His people to determine His will. Lots were used by Aaron to determine the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:8), by Joshua to divide the land among the Israelites (Jos 18:10), and by the apostles to select Matthias as the twelfth apostle (Act 1:26). Though practiced by unbelievers (Jon 1:7; John 19:24), God sovereignly used this method with the sailors to identify Jonah as the reason for the storm (cf. Pro 16:33). Today, believers are guided by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, not the casting of lots. The sailors questioned Jonah (Jon 1:8), who told them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” (Jon 1:9). Then they became afraid, for they knew he was fleeing from God’s call, for he’d told them (Jon 1:10). The sailors asked what they should do to make the storm cease (Jon 1:11), and Jonah said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you” (Jon 1:12). The believer out of fellowship brings discipline upon himself and the lives of those around him; but the one who stays in God’s will proves to be a blessing. Jonah probably lacked the courage to jump into the sea himself, so he advised the sailors to do it; but they were repulsed at the idea of throwing him overboard and desperately tried to row to land, but could not (Jon 1:13). So, they prayed to God, recognizing His sovereignty over their situation and asked that He not hold them liable for Jonah’s death (Jon 1:14); then they threw the prophet overboard and the sea instantly became calm for them (Jon 1:15). The sailors feared the Lord and made sacrifices and vows (Jon 1:16), which could be an indication of their salvation. God then appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, which served both as a means of discipline and protection (Jon 1:17). In His infinite wisdom and sovereignty, God could have chosen a number of ways to save Jonah, but He chose the fish, intending to use it as a sign of the burial of Christ (Mat 12:39-41).

Introduction to the Book of Jonah

Introduction to the Book of Jonah

June 15, 2019

Author:

     The author of the book is Jonah. His name (יוֹנָה Yonah) means “dove.” Jesus regards Jonah, and the account of this book, as true history (Mat 12:39-41).

Audience:

     The book of Jonah was written to Israel to show that God’s grace and mercy extends to Gentiles, even those whom Israel regards as their evil enemies.

Date of ministry:

     Jonah lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.), and prophesied that some of Israel’s land would be restored (2 Ki 14:23-25).

Historical Background:

     Jeroboam II was king in Israel—the northern kingdom—and was following in the idolatrous practices of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Because of Israel’s repeated violation of the Mosaic Covenant, God decided to send His people into captivity in Assyria (Hos 9:3; 11:5; Amo 5:27). Assyria was known for its great cruelty to others. “Assurbanipal, one of its rulers, was accustomed to tear off the hands and the lips of his victims. Tiglathpileser flayed them alive and made great piles of their skulls…It was to this city whose accumulated wickedness had risen up as a vile stench in the nostrils of God, that Jonah was commanded to go. Nineveh was the enemy of Israel.”[1]

     It was to Israel’s enemy that Jonah was called to preach. “Before Jonah arrived at this seemingly impregnable fortress-city, two plagues had erupted there (in 765 and 759 b.c.) and a total eclipse of the sun occurred on June 15, 763. These were considered signs of divine anger and may help explain why the Ninevites responded so readily to Jonah’s message, around 759.”[2]

  • "Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, stood on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. It had walls 100 feet high and 50 feet thick, and the main one, punctuated by 15 gates, was over seven and one half miles long. The total population was probably about 600,000 including the people who lived in the suburbs outside the city walls (cf. 4:11). The residents were idolaters and worshipped Asur and Ishtar, the chief male and female deities, as did almost all the Assyrians."[3]

Message:

     Jonah had strong national pride and hated the Assyrians, and his attitude reflected that of Israel. Though God hated the evil of the Assyrians, He loved them and desired their salvation. For this reason, God called Jonah to preach to them (Jon 1:1-2), but His prophet declined and ran away (Jon 1:3). God began a series of judgments upon His disobedient prophet which included a storm (Jon 1:4), the pressure of Gentile sailors (Jon 1:5-16), and a great fish that swallowed him (Jon 1:17). From the belly of the great fish Jonah was humbled and cried out to the Lord, who saved him (Jon 2:1-10). The humbled prophet then obeyed the Lord and preached to the Ninevites (Jon 3:1-4), and the people of the city believed in God and the Lord changed His mind about the judgment He was going to bring on them (Jon 3:5-10). God’s mercy and grace greatly upset Jonah to the point where he wanted to die (Jon 4:1-3), but the grace God showed to Nineveh was shown to Jonah, which grace reflects the Lord’s sovereignty (Jon 4:4-11).

     The overall purpose of the book of Jonah is to reveal that God’s grace, compassion, and mercy extends to evil and hostile nations just as it does to His people.

Outline:

  1. God’s call and Jonah’s rejection (1:1-3)
  2. God’s pursuit of the fleeing prophet (1:4-17)
  3. God’s discipline and Jonah’s prayer (2:1-10)
  4. God’s recommission and Jonah’s obedience (3:1-10)
  5. God’s reply to Jonah’s anger (4:1-11)

 

[1] Gerald B. Stanton, “The prophet Jonah and His Message.” Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (April 1951) 240.

[2] John D. Hannah, “Jonah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1462.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Jonah.

Obadiah 1:1-21

Obadiah 1:1-21

June 1, 2019

     Obadiah opens with a message from God against the Edomites, Israel’s longstanding enemy since the days of Jacob and Esau. God had been patient with them for nearly 900 hundred years (1445 B.C. to 586 B.C.), but finally rendered retributive judgment upon them. The judgment upon Edom is a demonstration of God’s promise to curse those who curse Israel (Gen 12:3). The Edomites in Obadiah’s day were arrogant and thought they were untouchable, but God declares that He will bring the nation down in judgment (Oba 1:1-4). Unlike thieves and grape-gatherers who leave something behind, God will not leave any Edomites after He brings judgment (Oba 1:5-6). The Edomites enjoyed close relations with her allies, but those allies would become her enemies (Oba 1:7), and Edom could not rely on their wise men (Oba 1:8), nor their mighty soldiers to protect them from the Lord’s judgment (Oba 1:9). God gives the reason for His judgment on Edom, saying, “Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever” (Oba 1:10). Edom stood at a distance and watched the destruction of Judah, “On the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem – you too were as one of them” (Oba 1:11). Not only did Edom do nothing to help Israel, they actually rejoiced at their destruction and apparently entered the city and helped plunder their wealth (Oba 1:12-13). Furthermore, they attacked and imprisoned fleeing Israelites and turned them over to the Babylonians (Oba 1:14). Obadiah then refers to the day of the Lord, which has both a historical and eschatological meaning in which God intervenes as a Warrior who judges Israel’s enemies. In the immediate sense, the Lord will judge Edom, declaring, “As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head” (Oba 1:15). In the future sense, God will judge all the nations of the world during the Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ. Just as Edom had participated in a drunken celebration in Jerusalem, so they, and all the nations who are hostile toward Israel, will become drunk with God’s wrath and eventually be destroyed (Oba 1:16). But God promises to restore Israel and their blessings (Oba 1:17), and to destroy Edom (Oba 1:18). In the future, Israel will possess territories that had been promised to her (Oba 1:19-20), and “The deliverers will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom will be the LORD’S” (Oba 1:21). In the future, Israel will be restored to her land, her enemies judged, and the kingdom established on earth. In all this, God is faithful to His Word and to His people, to judge and bless.

Introduction to Obadiah

Introduction to Obadiah

June 1, 2019

Author:

     The author of the book is Obadiah. His name means “Servant of the Lord.” References to the southern kingdom of Judah might suggest he was from that region (Oba 1:10-12, 17, 21). There are about a dozen men named Obadiah in the OT, and we cannot dogmatically identify the author with any of them. Obadiah is the shortest book in the OT.

Audience:

     Obadiah writes to Edomites, who were the offspring of Esau, the brother of Jacob (Gen 25:30). The land of Edom was south of Judah “in the hill country of Seir” (Gen 36:8-9; cf. Deu 2:4-5). It’s the location of modern day Petra.

Date of ministry:

     There are no historical markers in the book that allow us to date it. The two most commonly accepted periods are 1) during the reign of Jehoram, who reigned from 852-841 B.C. (2 Ki 8:20-22; 2 Ch 21:8-10), or 2) during the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. (Ps 137:7-8; Lam 4:18-22; Eze 25:12-14; 35:1-15). Both times and situations describe Edom treating Judah with hostility; however, the latter date is preferred. The literary style of Obadiah 1:1-9 bears striking resemblance to Jeremiah 49:7-22, which might further argue for a date near 586 B.C.

Background:

     The message of Obadiah takes into account a long history of hostility between Edom and Israel. The struggle goes back to Esau who hated his brother, Jacob, and desired to kill him (Gen 27:41). Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, continued their hostility toward Israel from Moses down to the time of Israel’s captivity in Babylon (Num 20:14-21; Amo 1:11; Eze 25:12-14; 35:5, 11-12).

  • "Edomites were frequently at odds with Israel and her neighbors. They opposed Saul (ca. 1043–1011 BC; 1 Sam 14:47), but were later subdued under David (ca. 1011–971 BC; 2 Sam 8:13–14). They were also subjugated by Solomon (ca. 971–931 BC; 1 Kgs 11:14–25), allowing him to build a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber ‘in the land of Edom’ (1 Kgs 9:26). They fought against Jehoshaphat (ca. 873–848 BC; 1 Kgs 22:47; 2 Chron 20) and successfully rebelled against Jehoram (ca. 852–841 BC; 2 Kgs 8:20–22; 2 Chron 21:8–10). They were again conquered by Judah under Amaziah (ca. 796–767 BC; 2 Kgs 14:7), but they regained their freedom during the reign of Ahaz (ca. 735–715 BC). Edom was later controlled by Assyria and Babylon. In the fourth century BC the Edomites were forced by the Nabateans to leave their territory. They moved to the area of southern Palestine and became known as Idumeans."[1]

     At the time Obadiah wrote, the Edomites were guilty of assisting the Babylonians in their attack against Judah that led to their captivity. Herod the Great, who came to rule over Judea in 37 B.C. was an Idumean. “The Idumeans participated in the rebellion of Jerusalem against Rome and were defeated along with the Jews by Titus in AD 70. After that time they were never heard of again. As Obadiah predicted, they would be ‘cut off forever’ (v. 10), ‘and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau’ (v. 18).”[2]

Message:

     God dispensed retributive judgment upon Edom because of their arrogance and hostility toward Judah (Oba 1:9, 15, 18). The book of Obadiah is an example of God cursing those who curse Israel (Gen 12:1-3). The Lord tells Edom, “As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head” (Oba 1:15).

Outline:

  1. God will judge Edom (Oba 1:1-9)
  2. Edom’s sins (Oba 1:10-14)
  3. Emphasis on Israel’s deliverance and promise of blessing (Oba 1:15-21)

 

[1] Irvin A. Busenitz, Commentary on Joel and Obadiah, Mentor Commentaries (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2003), 237.

[2] Ibid., 238.

Satanology

Satanology

May 27, 2019

     Satan was originally created as a holy angel of the class of cherubim; however because of pride (Ezek. 28:11-18), he rebelled against God (Isa. 14:12-14), and convinced many angels to follow him (Rev. 12:4). The name Satan is derived from the Hebrew שָׂטָן Satan (Job 1:6) and the Greek Σατανᾶς Satanas (Matt. 4:10), and both words mean adversary. Other names for Satan include the shining one, or Lucifer (Isa. 14:12), the evil one (1 John 5:19), the tempter (1 Thess. 3:5), the devil (Matt. 4:1), the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), the serpent (Rev. 12:9), the great red dragon (Rev. 12:3), and the angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Further, he is a murderer and liar (John 8:44), and is compared to a lion that prowls about, looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).

     Lucifer became Satan at the time of his rebellion when he declared, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”  (Isa. 14:13-14). These five “I will” statements by Satan reveal that it was his every intent to set his will against the will of God and to make himself lord of the universe. Satan seeks to operate independently of God’s plan for him, and he leads others, both saved and unsaved, to do the same. “The desire of Satan was to move in and occupy the throne of God, exercise absolute independent authority over the angelic creation, bring the earth and all the universe under his authority, cover himself with the glory that belongs to God alone, and then be responsible to no one but himself.”[1]

     Lucifer rebelled against God, convincing a third of the angels to rebel with him (Rev. 12:4), and through temptation he brought death to the first humans when he convinced them to turn from God and follow his advice to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-7). At the time of the fall, Adam handed his kingdom over to Satan, who has been ruling this world since then (Luke 4:5-6; Rev. 11:15). Satan rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa. 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9). He personally attacked Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-7), Job (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-13), David, (2 Chr. 21:1), Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11), Judas (John 13:27), and Peter (Luke 22:31-32). He seeks to attack God’s people today (1 Pet. 5:8), practices deception (2 Cor. 11:13-15), and has well developed strategies of warfare (Eph. 6:10-12). As a creature, Satan is confined in his abilities and relies on numerous fallen angels to carry out his will. During the Tribulation, his demons will lead political and military rebellions to try to stop the second coming of Christ (Rev. 16:12-14).

     Satan was judged at the cross (John 12:31; 16:11; Col. 2:14-15), and awaits his future punishment. His judgment is very near when he is cast out of heaven to the earth during the Tribulation (Rev. 12:7-12). At this time his wrath is greatest against Israel, God’s chosen people. After the return of Christ (Rev. 19:11-16) and the establishment of His kingdom on earth (Rev. 20:1-6), Satan will be confined to the abyss for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3). After the thousand years, Satan is released for a brief time and will again deceive the nations and lead a rebellion against God (Rev. 20:7-8), but will be quickly defeated (Rev. 20:9), and cast into the Lake of Fire, where he will be, with his demons and all unbelievers forever (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10-15).

     Satan currently supervises a world-system that seeks to govern all people, both saved and lost. To his advantage, everyone born into this world (except Christ) is automatically born into the family of Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22), is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3), an enemy of God (Rom. 5:8), and powerless to save themselves apart from God’s grace (Rom. 5:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). At the moment of faith in Christ, the believer is transferred from Satan’s kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). However, though saved, we still possess a sin nature, continue to reside in the devil’s world and face constant pressure from the enemy. Satan’s world-system touches all aspects of humanity, including politics, education, economics, music, art, literature, etc. At the core of Satan’s world-system is a directive for mankind to function apart from God, and when obeyed, people produce all forms of evil, both moral and immoral. Christians defy and disrupt Satan’s kingdom by submitting to God (Rom. 12:1-2), learning Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), living by faith (Rom. 10:17; Col. 2:6-7; Heb. 10:38; 11:6; 1 Pet. 5:9), being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), walking by means of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 21), praying for others (Col. 1:9; 2 Thess. 1:11), and sharing the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The Christian who is advancing spiritually will influence the thoughts and lives of others through biblical discussion; and this is done in love and grace (Eph. 4:14-15; Col. 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim. 2:24-26). When we learn God’s Word, obey His commands, and show love to others, we are rebelling against Satan’s world-system and sowing the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in Satan’s kingdom. But Christians must always be on guard that we not fall into Satan’s snares and come to love the world (1 John 2:15; cf. Jam 4:4).

 

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Your Adversary the Devil (Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Publishing, 1969), 25-26.

Amos 9:1-15

Amos 9:1-15

May 13, 2019

     Amos chapter nine contains both cursing and blessing. Amos opens with His fifth vision from the Lord in which he saw God standing beside an altar in a temple and He commanded it be struck so that it will fall on the worshippers (Amo 1:1a). God would pursue all the guilty, and no matter where they flee, whether in grave or sky, in forest or sea, or by captivity in a foreign land, they cannot escape His presence or judgment, for He will find them and set His “eyes against them for evil and not for good” (Amo 9:2-4). It is God who controls all things, who touches the land so that it melts, or causes the Nile to rise and fall, who created the heavenly atmosphere and calls for oceanic waters to fall as rain upon the earth (Amo 9:5-6). Though Israel had a special relationship with God and enjoyed many privileges, they injured their relationship with Him by pursuing idols and acting like the pagan nations around them (cf. Amo 3:2). Because of their sinfulness, God declared, “Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” (Amo 9:7a). The Ethiopians—or Cushites—lived in a remote region, yet they were under God’s watchful eye. More so, God controls the destiny of all nations, and He does this, in part, by directing their migration from one place to another, whether it is His own people, Israel (coming out of Egypt), or that of the Philistines or Arameans (Amo 9:7b). All kingdoms are under God’s scrutiny, and “the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth” (Amo 9:8a); yet, the Lord states, “Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob” (Amo 9:8b). God had repeatedly promised to send the Israelites into captivity because of their sinful practices and violation of the Mosaic covenant (Amo 4:2-3; 5:27; 6:7; 7:11, 17); yet, He would spare those who responded to His call to righteousness (see Amo 5:4-6, 14-15, 23-24). God’s judgment would be precise and separate out the innocent from the guilty, as He will “shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground” (Amo 9:9). His judgment would screen out the righteous and punish the wicked, as He declares, “All the sinners of My people will die by the sword” (Amo 9:10a), even those who think they are innocent and will be spared, who say, “The calamity will not overtake or confront us” (Amo 9:10b). Amos’ message turns to a hopeful future in which God promises to restore His people to their land and shower them with blessing. This will happen when Jesus, the Messiah, returns to the earth and establishes His kingdom. “In that day” God will “raise up the fallen booth of David” (Amo 9:11a), which will serve as a protective canopy over His people, and even Israel’s enemies will experience millennial blessings, even “the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name” (Amo 9:12). The future blessings would be so abundant that “the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed” (Amo 9:13a), and even the uncultivated mountains will offer produce (Amo 9:13b). And God declares, “I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them” (Amo 9:14-15). Here, God’s promise would nourish the souls of the faithful remnant and sustain them during difficult times. The promise of a future hope nourishes and sustains believers today (2 Pet 3:13).

Amos 8:1-14

Amos 8:1-14

May 11, 2019

     Amos chapter eight opens with a vision from God in which He shows Amos a picture of summer fruit (Amo 8:1). Just as fruit naturally ripens over time and becomes ready for harvest and consumption, so Israel—because of sin—has become ripe for God’s judgment, and God declares, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer” (Amo 8:2). God’s judgment would turn palace songs into mourning as an enemy force would come against them (Amo 8:3a), and “Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence” (Amo 8:3b; cf. Deu 28:47-50). God then turns His attention to the corrupt merchants in Amos’ day, “who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land” (Amo 8:4). These abusers were a part of the community and even participated in the feasts and religious holidays; however, their hearts were elsewhere. God reveals their thoughts, saying, “When will the new moon be over, so that we may sell grain, and the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, to make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, and to cheat with dishonest scales, so as to buy the helpless for money and the needy for a pair of sandals, and that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?” (Amo 8:5-6). Feasts and holidays were merely interruptions to their financial activities and cruel practices. These wealthy merchants were unmoved by God’s Law, which promoted economic justice rather than abuse (Lev 19:35-36; Deu 25:13-16; Pro 11:1; 16:11). Valuing spiritual health more than material wealth would have prevented such inhumane abuses (Deu 15:7-11). In a statement of irony, God swore by the pride of Jacob, saying, “Indeed, I will never forget any of their deeds” (Amo 8:7). An oath was commonly made by something unchangeable (Heb 6:16-18), and the Lord had previously sworn by His unchanging holiness and character (Amo 4:2; 6:8), and here, ironically, swears by Israel’s unchanging pride. God’s judgment would come in the form of a military invasion that would cause the land to quake and be tossed about like the rising and falling of the Nile (Amo 8:8), and it will be a day of darkness upon the land (Amo 8:9), and festivals will cease and there will be deep mourning, like the mourning that comes when one loses an only son (Amo 8:10). In addition, God would send a famine upon the land, “Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD” (Amo 8:11). Because Israel had rejected God’s messages through His prophets (Amo 2:11-12; 7:10-13; cf. 1 Sam 3:1; 2 Ch 36:15-16; Jer 25:3-4), He now withdrew His word and left them to starve. Though people travel all across the land, they will not find His nourishing word (Amo 8:12), and the youth—noted for beauty and strength—will faint spiritually (Amo 8:13), and those who turn to their idols “will fall and not rise again” (Amo 8:14). “When the word of God is not believed, people will believe anything and the cults will grab the young, taking them by the hand in order to take them by the throat, till they fall and cannot rise again.”[1] God’s Word, daily consumed, results in spiritual health and inner strength, but the soul famished cannot weather the storms of life. God desires to give His Word to grow, guide, and strengthen us; but the word rejected becomes the word denied.

 

[1] J. A. Motyer, “Amos,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 805–806.

Amos 7:1-17

Amos 7:1-17

May 6, 2019

     Amos chapter seven contains three visions from God, as well as a dialogue between the prophet and a corrupt priest associated with the calf worship in Israel. The first vision was of a locust plague which God was intending to send upon Israel because of some unnamed sin. But Amos prayed for his people that God would not send the judgment and the Lord changed His mind (Amo 7:1-3). God revealed a second vision to Amos in which He intended to send fire upon Israel to judge them. However, the prophet prayed again, asking God to spare His people, and again, the Lord changed His mind and did not send the judgment (Amo 7:4-6). “Some things that God intends to do are not firmly determined by Him; He is open to changing His mind about these things. However, He has decreed other things and no amount of praying will change His mind about those things (cf. Acts 1:11; Rev 22:20). It is, therefore, important that we understand, from Scripture, what aspects of His will are fixed and which are negotiable.”[1] The third vision was of God standing next to a vertical wall holding a plumb line in His hand (Amo 7:7-8a). A plumb line was an external standard used to measure buildings for straightness. Here, the plumb line represents God’s righteous standards by which He would measure Israel’s conformity to His character and laws. Because Israel was so far out of line with God’s will, the Lord declared, “I will spare them no longer” (Amo 7:8b). God then specifies the judgment, saying, “The high places of Isaac will be desolated and the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste. Then I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (Amo 7:9). This occurred in 722 B.C. when God sent the Assyrians to destroy Israel and take them away into captivity. After God’s declaration against Israel, Amos was approached by Amaziah, an apostate priest at Bethel who was associated with pagan calf worship and who was directly connected with king Jeroboam II. Amaziah went to the king and told him that Amos had conspired against him (Amo 7:10), saying, “Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile” (Amo 7:11). Amaziah then turned on Amos, saying, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence” (Amo 7:12-13). Amos replies to Amaziah and corrects his misunderstanding that Amos was part of a prophetic guild and that he earned his wages through his prophetic ministry. Amos informs Amaziah that he had a true calling from the Lord to prophesy to Israel and that his personal needs were met through his business as a herdsman and farmer (Amo 7:14-15). Amos then prophesies against Amaziah—who was telling him not to prophesy against Israel—and told him, “Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line and you yourself will die upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile” (Amo 7:17). Part of the conflict between Amaziah and Amos arose from competing loyalties. Whereas Amaziah was loyal to Jeroboam II who had probably appointed him priest and paid his salary, Amos was loyal to God who had called him into ministry. In the end, Amaziah was judged for trying to stifle the word of God as it was being communicated by Amos, the Lord’s prophet.

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Am 7:3.

Amos 6:1-14

Amos 6:1-14

May 4, 2019

       Though Amos prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel, he included Jerusalem in the south, perhaps because they were guilty of the same sins as their relatives in the north. Samaria and Jerusalem were the capital cities of each nation, and were the places where the people came to their leaders for guidance and justice. Though Amos mentions Jerusalem, the focus of his message is toward Israel’s leaders, whose self-worth and self-interest led them to degrade and mistreat others. Apparently Israel’s leaders thought they were big stuff and too important to be destroyed (Amo 6:1). Arrogance blinds the mind to one’s own values, actions and vulnerability to downfall. But God directs Israel’s leaders to look at surrounding nations which once thought and lived like them and to notice that they’re now destroyed (Amo 6:2). Israel’s leaders ignored God’s warnings of judgment (Amo 6:3), by indulging in all the pleasures at their disposal. They lounged on luxurious beds and ate gourmet foods (Amo 6:4), composed songs and compared themselves with David (Amo 6:5), drank lots of wine from sacrificial bowls and covered their bodies with the finest oils (Amo 6:6a); yet they ignored the nation’s spiritual decay and “have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph” (Amo 6:6b). Just as Joseph’s older brothers were hostile toward him without compassion (cf. Gen 37:23-25; 42:21), so Israel’s leaders had not grieved over their brethren whom they’d ruined. Because Israel’s leaders were the first to sin, they would be the first to go into exile (Amo 6:7). God’s judgment upon His people was set forth as a solemn oath, in which He states, “The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself” (Amo 6:8a), declaring to His people, “I loathe the arrogance of Jacob, and detest his citadels; therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains” (Amo 6:8b). The acquisition of wealth is not wrong, as long as it is by just means. However, God’s people accumulated wealth by sinful means that abused the helpless and was hoarded for selfish purposes (cf. 1 Tim 6:9-10; Jam 5:1-6). God’s judgment would be severe and normal places of refuge, such as a home, would not protect (Amo 6:9). Should one be left hiding in the corner of a house at the time when a close relative, or undertaker, comes to take away the bodies, he will be advised, “Keep quiet. For the name of the LORD is not to be mentioned” (Amo 6:10b). This might suggest a fear of mentioning God’s name, lest He return and bring more judgment upon those who are left. God will then complete His judgment by destroying all the houses of the city, “For behold, the LORD is going to command that the great house be smashed to pieces and the small house to fragments” (Amo 6:11). Amos cites the preposterous when asking, “Do horses run on rocks? Or does one plow them with oxen?” (Amo 6:12a). Even though one would not consider doing something so unnatural, yet Israel’s leadership had “turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (Amo 6:12b). The very qualities and practices that would naturally bring health to a nation were turned into poison and made bitter to its residents. Those leaders who rejoiced in their military accomplishments, assuming it was by their own power (Amo 6:13), would face a foreign nation God would send to destroy them, which will afflict all Israel (Amo 6:14). 

Amos 5:16-27

Amos 5:16-27

April 29, 2019

     God identifies Himself as the God of hosts, which is literally, the “God of the armies” (Amo 5:16a). He is the One who stands in judgment over His people and is poised to bring destruction upon them because of their disobedience. He describes the day of judgment as a day of wailing in all the plazas, streets, and vineyards (Amo 5:16b-17a). Israel is here being judged because of their disobedience to the Mosaic Law, specifically regarding their false religious practices, their abuses of the poor and judicial corruption (see Jam 1:27). Israel, who had once been poor and helpless and suffered under the abusive hand of the Egyptians, had now become the oppressive persecutors of the poor and helpless among their own people. God, who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Pro 3:34; 1 Pet 5:5), now took up the defense of the abused. Just as God had judged the Egyptians during the time of the exodus by passing through the land, so He would judge His own people, saying, “I will pass through the midst of you” (Amo 5:17b; cf. Ex 12:12-13; 22:21-24). Amos’ teaching challenged some of the false views that were prevalent in his day; specifically, their false view of “the day of the Lord”, in which many Israelites thought they would be spared from God’s wrath, believing it would be for Gentiles only. But Amos states it will be a day of “darkness and not light” (Amo 5:18), informing his audience it would include all who deserve God’s wrath. He declared it would be a time of inescapable judgment, “as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him” (Amo 5:19). With this understanding, the Lord poses the question to His people, “Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amo 5:20). Why would God’s judgment come upon His people? Because of their false religious practices that led them into idolatry and immoral behavior. The Lord states, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies” (Amo 5:21). Religious festivals and solemn assemblies do not impress the Lord, as these were connected with the sinful practices which were instituted by Jeroboam. The Lord further states, “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings” (Amo 5:22). Sacrifices were to take place in Jerusalem, not in substituted centers of worship. Lastly, He will not accept their worship, stating, “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps” (Amo 5:23). Religious festivals, sacrifices and worship are all meaningless unless they conform to God’s expectations and reveal a compassionate moral heart for others. Instead, there were more important matters God pressed upon His people, namely, they were to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amo 5:24). This, of course, meant justice and righteousness as it related to dealing with the poor, who were being abused. There was to be morality with religious practice, not without it. Israel’s behavior did not occur in a vacuum, but was directly connected with their sinful idolatry which had infested the land. But this idolatry had a long history with Israel, as God reminds them of their time in the wilderness, in which they carried along other gods of worship (Amo 5:25), stating, “You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves” (Amo 5:26). This had been clearly spoken against by God (Deu 4:19; 17:3). Because they had thoroughly violated their covenant with the Lord, He declared, “I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus” (Amo 5:27). This occurred in 722 B.C. when God sent His people into Assyrian exile.

Amos 5:1-15

Amos 5:1-15

April 27, 2019

      Amos opens his message as a funeral dirge, a proleptic song concerning Israel’s future destruction (Amo 5:1). He describes Israel as a lonely virgin who has fallen with no one raise her up again (Amo 5:2). The prophet is speaking of Israel’s destruction, which will eventually come by the hand of the Assyrians who will defeat them militarily; and the casualty rate of their soldiers will be a devastating 90%, from which they will not be able to recover (Amo 5:3). Though Israel, as a nation, would face certain destruction, God calls individuals to turn to Him that they might live (Amo 5:4). They should not seek for God at false places of worship, such as Gilgal, Bethel, or Beersheba (Amo 5:5); rather, they were to seek the Lord directly (Amo 5:6a), or He would consume them like a fire (Amo 5:6b). Who were those who should seek the Lord? It is those who make justice bitter rather than sweet, and who cast righteousness down rather than elevate it up (Amo 5:7). God then describes Himself as the powerful Lord who created the stellar constellations, namely Pleiades and Orion, which were used to mark seasonal changes, which God controlled (Amo 5:8). This sovereign God is the One who will create disaster and bring His rebellious people in judgment, as Amos writes, “It is He who flashes forth with destruction upon the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress” (Amo 5:9). The unrighteous who abuse the poor came to despise judges who would not adjudicate in their favor, and they also hated the honest person who spoke in defense of the victim (Amo 5:10). The specific abuses included excessive rent on the poor, as well as additional payments of grain (Amo 5:11a). The idea here could be that the rich gained control of the poor person’s land—perhaps through unjust judges—and then demanded heavy rent and grain taxes from them to remain a tenant. God informs these abusers that their wealth will not bring lasting pleasure, for He will destroy their homes and vineyards (Amo 5:11b). God would frustrate those who acquire wealth through unjust means and who seek to perpetuate pleasure by abusing the helpless. Not only were their sins the abuse of the poor, but the corruption of justice in the courts by means of bribery. The Lord states, “For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate” (Amo 5:12). Because the evil is so advanced and systemic, the prudent person sees what’s happening and keeps silent (Amo 5:13). God calls individuals within the nation to “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, just as you have said!” (Amo 5:14). Hating evil and loving good means His people will “establish justice in the gate!” (Amo 5:15a). If they would do this, then “Perhaps the LORD God of hosts May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amo 5:15b). That is, He would preserve the faithful few from going to total destruction. God expects His people to operate according to the moral lines He’s set forth in His word, and the obedient-to-the-word believer will care for the poor and helpless.  

Amos 4:1-13

Amos 4:1-13

April 15, 2019

     Amos opens his message to the fat wives of wealthy Israelite men, who demand of their husbands (lit. their lords), “bring now, that we may drink” (Amo 4:1). Here is a picture of self-indulgent women demanding their husbands accommodate their luxuriant lifestyles at the expense of the poor and needy. God assured these women, who were captive to their desires, that a day would come when an enemy would lead them away into captivity with hooks, much like dead cattle and fish are carried by means of meat hooks (Amo. 4:2-3). God sarcastically called these Israelites to enter their familiar places of worship and offer their sinful sacrifices, tithes, and freewill offerings (Amo 4:4-5a); which were really given to impress others, not God (Amo 4:5b). At this time, Israel was continuing in the sins of Jeroboam and their abuses of the poor and needy were the byproduct of their departure from God and their failure to follow His instructions in the Mosaic Law. Like many other Israelites, they were worshipping a god of their own creation, which allowed them to live for themselves and abuse others. The religious offerings were sinful, in part, because what was given was the stolen fruit of the poor and needy. Their rebellious ways brought God’s warning discipline upon the nation by famine, drought, scorching winds, locusts, plagues and military defeat (Amo 4:6-10; cf. Deut. 28:15-68), yet, on five separate occasions, they did not respond properly by returning to Him (Amo 4:6, 8-11). Their sinful rebellion would bring them into great judgment; not with another drought, famine, locust invasion, or nearby enemy; but rather, face to face with God, as the Lord tells them, “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (Amo 4:12). Amos then reveals the God Who will judge them is “He who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are his thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, the LORD God of hosts is His name” (Amo 4:13). This omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God shall come as an invading army to judge His people, and there shall be no escape.

The Sins of Jeroboam

The Sins of Jeroboam

April 13, 2019

     Israel became a theocratic kingdom when God delivered them from Egypt and entered into a covenant relationship with them (Ex 19:1-8). God directed them directly, as well as through His prophets and Judges. However, after nearly four centuries, Israel asked God to give them a king, which He did (1 Sam 8:1-22). The kingdom of Israel was united under their first three kings, which were Saul, David and Solomon. Saul started his kingship well by walking with the Lord, but then turned away from God and ended poorly. David walked with God and, though he had his failings, was an ideal king. Solomon did well throughout much of his kingship; however, his final days were given over to worshipping idols (1 Ki 11:1-8). As an act of divine discipline, the Lord promised to divide the kingdom after Solomon’s death (1 Ki 11:9-13). Just prior to splitting the kingdom, the Lord spoke to Jeroboam and promised him rulership over ten tribes, even blessing his house if he would rule well and lead the people into God’s will (1 Ki 11:28-38). The kingdom was divided into two parts after the death of Solomon, with Rehoboam ruling in the south and Jeroboam ruling in the north (1 Ki 12:1-24). However, Jeroboam rejected God’s offer and turned to idolatry, leading God’s people into sin (1 Ki 12:25-33).

     Though Jeroboam had opportunity to walk with God and establish his kingdom, he rejected divine viewpoint and let fear dominate his heart. Driven by fear, and functioning from a merely humanistic viewpoint, Jeroboam sought to control those under his rule by creating a new religion (a corruption of the worship of Yahweh), which included:

  1. Generating new gods of worship (1 Ki 12:28a).
  2. Revising Israel’s history (1 Ki 12:28b).
  3. Creating new places of worship in Dan and Bethel (1 Ki 12:29-30).
  4. Instituting a new priesthood (1 Ki 12:31).
  5. Establishing a new religious holiday (1 Ki 12:32).
  6. Personally participating in the new religion (1 Ki 12:32-33).

     Israel accepted Jeroboam’s new religion, which was adopted by subsequent kings, namely Nadab (1 Ki 15:25-30), Ahab (1 Ki 16:30-31), Jehoram (2 Ki 3:1-3), Jehu (2 Ki 10:28-29), Jehoahaz (2 Ki 13:1-2), Jehoash (2 Ki 13:10-11), Jeroboam (2 Ki 14:23-24), Zechariah (2 Ki 15:8-9), Menahem (2 Ki 15:17-18), Pekahiah (2 Ki 15:23-24), and Pekah (2 Ki 15:27-28). God repeatedly called Israel back to Him many times through His prophets, but the rulers and people would not turn back to Him and perpetuated their false religion. Israel continued for two centuries, from the time the kingdom was divided (ca. 930 B.C.) until He brought about their destruction by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. A snapshot of this is recorded in Scripture as follows:

  • "When He had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Then Jeroboam drove Israel away from following the LORD and made them commit a great sin. The sons of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them until the LORD removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day." (2 Ki 17:21-23)
Amos 3:1-15

Amos 3:1-15

April 7, 2019

     Amos chapter 3 opens with the first of three oracles against the ten northern tribes of Israel (Amo 3:1a; cf. 4:1; 5:1). God identifies Himself as the One who rescued them from Egypt and entered into a special relationship with them (Amo 3:1b; cf. Ex. 19:1-8). As a result of their special relationship with the Lord, Israel was held to a higher standard of behavior than the surrounding nations, and when they failed, He would punish them more severely (Amo 3:2). God sets forth a series of questions that point to an event that naturally follows a previous action, and the events move from the harmless (two men walking together) to the destructive (calamity on a city). Amos reveals two people do not walk together unless they have an agreement (Amo 3:3), a lion does not roar unless he’s seen his prey (Amo 3:4a), a young lion does not growl except he’s captured something (Amo 3:4b), a bird is not drawn to a trap unless there’s bait in it (Amo 3:5a), a trap does not spring without something to trigger it (Amo 3:5b), the people of a city are calm unless a warning trumpet is blown (Amo 3:6a), and calamity does not fall on a city unless the Lord does it (Amo 3:6b). But calamity does not happen to God’s people, Israel, without His warning them first through His servants, the prophets (Amo 3:7; 2 Ki 17:13; Jer. 7:25; 25:4). Amos reveals that God’s judgment is coming, for “A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amo 3:8). As God’s people who possessed God’s special revelation, Israel should have walked with God and modeled excellent behavior among the Gentiles. But instead, God calls the pagan people of Ashdod and Egypt to come and look at the acts of violence and oppressive deeds going on in Israel (Amo 3:9), declaring of Israel, “they do not know how to do what is right…these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels” (Amo 3:10). God then pronounces judgment upon Israel, stating, “An enemy, even one surrounding the land, will pull down your strength from you and your citadels will be looted” (Amo 3:11). This most likely refers to the Assyrians, who would destroy the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. As an illustration of Israel’s destruction, God refers to the shepherd who retrieves limbs and pieces of a lamb that is attacked and consumed by a lion to Israel, who will “be snatched away—with the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch!” (Amo 3:12b). That is, Israel’s destruction will be so severe they will only be left with remnants of their former life of luxury. Describing their judgment in solemn language (Amo 3:13), God promises to destroy their places of pagan worship, which they regarded as places of refuge (Amo 3:14). Finally, the Lord declares, “I will also smite the winter house together with the summer house; the houses of ivory will also perish and the great houses will come to an end” (Amo 3:15). In this way, God would judge them for the wealth they’d obtained unjustly, which was used for extravagant and selfish living. Though America is not a theocratic nation, we are a country that has been blessed with God’s Word, which informs us of the nature and character of God, and the moral behavior He expects from those who know Him. Certainly, we would be remiss to ignore God’s message through Amos, that God’s people must be just, loving, gracious, and openhanded toward the poor and helpless in society.

Amos 2:4-16

Amos 2:4-16

April 6, 2019

     Unlike the six Gentile nations who were judged by the law of God in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15), the Lord judged Judah, “because they rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept His statutes” (Amo 2:4a). Having rejected God’s Word they were governed by deception, as the Lord declared, “their lies also have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked” (Amo 2:4b). Apparently, their false ways had been handed down from parent to child for several generations; and though God displayed tremendous patience over the years (Ex 34:6), there came a time when grace gave way to judgment.

     After pronouncing judgment upon Judah, Amos turned his attention to Israel—the ten northern tribes—and listed several of the sins they were guilty of and the judgment that God would send upon them because of their perpetual disobedience. The wealthy within Israel—rather than showing compassion to the poor (Deut. 15:7-11)—were treating the innocent and needy as cheap commodities to be sold for things such as sandals (Amo 2:6). In addition to trampling on the helpless and humble (Amo 2:7a), a father and son were copulating with the same girl—either a temple prostitute or a family member—and profaning God’s holy name (Amo 2:7b). It’s possible the father and son were committing sexual immorality while lying on garments they’d received as pledges from the poor, in places of worship, while drinking wine that had been obtained from illegal fines (Amo 2:8). God recalls Israel’s history and reminds them of a time when they were enslaved, poor and helpless. The Lord, who is great and powerful, did not abuse them in their helpless state, but showed great compassion and rescued them from slavery in Egypt and led them into the Promised Land, defeating the enemy that was too powerful for Israel alone to defeat (Amo 2:9-10). Once in the land, God raised up prophets to reveal His will and Nazarites to model holiness to the Lord (Amo 2:11). However, rather than appreciate the Lord for His goodness, many within the Jewish community rebelled and forced Nazarites to break their vows and silenced the voice of the prophets (Amo 2:12). Over time they forgot their history and spurned the God who rescued them and began to oppress the humble and helpless. As a result, God promised to press them down, much like “a wagon is weighted down when filled with sheaves” (Amo 2:13). Just as God destroyed the powerful and arrogant Amorites (vss. 9-10), so He would bring judgment upon arrogant Israel and the people, no matter how strong, would not be able to protect themselves from His judgment (Amo 2:14-16).

Amos 1:1–2:3

Amos 1:1–2:3

April 2, 2019

     The book of Amos opens with the information concerning the prophet himself and the place where he resides. Amos is described as a sheepherder from Tekoa, a city ten miles south of Jerusalem. Amos received visions from the Lord concerning Israel to the north. He tells us he prophesied “in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel” (Amo 1:1a). Interestingly, he mentions that he received his visions “two years before the earthquake” (Amo 1:1b). There is no historical record about this earthquake, but apparently it was well known to his audience. Amos then presents God by His covenant name, “the Lord”, and pictures Him as a roaring lion who is about to attack His prey; this is a picture of divine judgment. This judgment will affect the land itself, as “the shepherds’ pasture grounds mourn, and the summit of Carmel dries up” (Amo 1:2b). In Amos 1:3—2:3, God reveals Himself as the sovereign Lord over all people and renders judgment upon six Gentile nations for their abuses against the people of surrounding nations. “For each nation the pronouncement of doom follows the same pattern: (a) a general declaration of irrevocable judgment, (b) a naming of the specific violation which caused the judgment, and (c) a description of God’s direct and thorough punishment.”[1] God does not mention each nation’s previous sins, only the one that crossed the line of grace and brought God’s judgment. The nations and their sins include:

  1. Damascus – practiced human torture (Amo 1:3).
  2. Gaza – enslaved and sold whole communities for commercial profit (Amo 1:6).
  3. Tyre – who practiced slavery and broke a promise (Amo 1:9)
  4. Edom – who failed to show mercy in war (Amo 1:11)
  5. Ammon – who killed innocent mothers (Amo 1:13)
  6. Moab – who desecrated the dead (Amo 2:1)

     Though Gentiles did not possess God’s special revelation in written form—like Judah and Israel—God still held them accountable for their behavior based on the divinely instilled moral code which is written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15). This is still true today when God judges Gentile nations. Those nations who possess His Word are held to a higher standard than those who do not; for the principle is true, “everyone who has been given much, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

 

[1] Donald R. Sunukjian, “Amos,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1428.