Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Zechariah 5:1-11

Zechariah 5:1-11

February 15, 2020

     In Zechariah chapter 5, there is a vision of God’s judgment upon His people because of their sins (Zec 5:1-4), and a vision of God’s judgment upon wickedness which He intends to remove from the land (Zec 5:5-11). In vision #6, Zechariah saw a large scroll, 15 feet by 30 feet, with writing on both sides (Zec 5:1-2). The large scroll probably emphasized its large message for all to read. The writing contained the eighth and third commands of the decalogue (Zec 5:3; cf. Ex 20:7, 15), which pertained to sinning against people (stealing) and God (misusing His name). These two represented the whole of the Mosaic Law, which Israel, God’s people, were obligated to keep. These two types of sinners likely represented all who were guilty of doing evil, and God would judge them (Zec 5:4). Though God was working in His people to rebuild the temple and city (note previous visions), He was still their God, King, and Judge, and they would not be able to hide in their houses. Next, in vision #7, Zechariah was shown a vision of a woman who personified wickedness (Zec 5:5-8). The Hebrew word for wickedness is feminine (רִשְׁעָה rishah), and it’s possible this is reason it is described as a woman. In the vision wickedness is identified, restrained and transported by two supernatural agents to Babylon (Zec 5:9-11). Some regard these winged women as angels; however, Unger states, “It is perhaps simplest to construe the women as agents of evil, suggesting demonic powers.”[1] This would make sense, since storks were unclean birds (Deu 14:11, 18). Whether angels or demons, the message is that wickedness has no place among God’s people, and the Lord will remove it to a land far away; the land of Shinar, which is Babylon. In Scripture, Babylon is identified as the birthplace of organized rebellion against God, in which people used the Lord’s resources in defiance of His will. Babylon is mentioned in Scripture over three hundred times, and by the time we get to the book of Revelation, it is seen both as a city and a system that promotes religious, political, and economic agendas that are antithetical to God. In the book of Revelation, Babylon is described as a great harlot who influences all of humanity (Rev 17:1-5), is guilty of persecuting and murdering prophets and saints (Rev 17:6), is a dwelling place of demons and unclean spirits (Rev 18:2), and with whom “the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev 18:3). Eventually, Babylon is completely destroyed just prior to the Second Coming of Christ (Rev 18:2, 10, 21).

 

[1] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN. AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 1993.

Zechariah 4:1-14

Zechariah 4:1-14

February 15, 2020

     The Central Idea of the Text is God encourages Zerubbabel with the news that He will strengthen him to complete the task of rebuilding the temple. The chapter opens with Zechariah being aroused—supposedly from sleep—by the angel who was guiding him in understanding the visions (Zec 4:1). Perhaps the prophet’s soul and body were fatigued by the visions he’d been given. After the angel revived Zechariah, he showed him a fifth vision that included a golden lampstand and two olive trees that poured oil directly into it (Zec 4:2-3). This lampstand was different than the one used in the tabernacle, and later Solomon’s temple, which illumined it so the priests could perform their duties (Ex 25:31-40), and which was maintained by the high priest on a daily basis (Lev 24:3). The lampstand Zechariah saw had a bowl on top that served as an oil reservoir and it had 49 spouts on it that served as lights. This was a bright lamp! No priest was needed to provide oil to the lamp, as that was given by the two olive trees, which symbolized Zerubbabel and Joshua (see Zec 4:11-14). The meaning of the lamp is not explained; however, it could refer to Israel as a nation, which God intended to serve as a light to the world (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3). If this is correct, then the two olive trees would represent God’s leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, channels through whom He poured Himself into the lives of others so the work of the temple could be completed and made operational. The apostle John described churches as lampstands which are to serve as lights in a dark world (Rev 1:12-13, 20). The angel asked Zechariah if he knew what the candlestick symbolized (Zec 4:4), to which the prophet answered, “No, my lord” (Zec 4:5). The angel then gave an encouraging message from God, to Zerubbabel, that He would empower him to do the work, saying, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zec 4:6). Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David (1 Chr 3:17–19; Matt 1:12) as well as the governor of Judah (Hag 1:1), and God was using him to rebuild the temple (Ezra 3:2, 8; 5:2). But Zerubbabel was facing great opposition from Israel’s enemies (Ezra 4:1-5, 24), and apathy from fellow Israelites (Hag 1:2). God would take the “great mountain” of opposition that Zerubbabel was facing and would make it “a plain” (Zec 4:7a); with the result that the governor would complete the project, as he will “bring forth the top stone” of the temple, and this would all be a display of God’s “grace” (Zec 4:7b). Grace refers to God’s enabling power to help His leader do His work. Additionally, the Lord said to Zerubbabel (Zec 4:8), “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it” (Zec 4:9a). The completion of the work would validate the messenger (Zec 4:9b); presumably, the angel of the Lord (Zec 1:11-12; 2:8-9; 3:1, 5-6). The struggling remnant who had returned from captivity did not have the great resources that were at Solomon’s disposal when he built the first temple (1 Ki 5:13-18), and so they were tempted to think of it as insignificant and to despise it as a “day of small things” (Zec 4:10a). However, they were to realize that what they were doing was God’s will, and He was in it to see it through to completion. Zechariah asked the angel to help him understand the meaning of the “two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” (Zec 4:11), as well as “the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” (Zec 4:12). The angel asked Zechariah, “Do you not know what these are?” (Zec 4:13a), to which the prophet replied, “No, my lord’ (Zec 4:13b). The angel answered, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zec 4:14). Zerubbabel and Joshua are in view, as they are the Lord’s anointed to serve as governor and high priest in Judah, and it’s their relationship to the Lord, “who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth”, that qualifies them for service.

The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper

The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper

February 8, 2020
  • And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

     The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), and by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor 11:23-34). The Lord’s Supper is also called the Eucharist, from the Greek word εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo, which means to give thanks, which is what Christ did when He instituted this church ordinance (Luke 22:19). And, it is called Communion, from the Geek word κοινωνία koinonia, which means communion, fellowship, or sharing (1 Cor 10:15-17), because it took place during a community meal where believers fellowshipped with each other during a time of Bible study and prayer (see Acts 2:42).

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the night before His crucifixion. The Passover meal celebrated God’s deliverance from the final plague on Egypt as the Lord passed over the homes of those who had sacrificed an unblemished lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost and lintel (Ex 12:1-51). The flawless lamb foreshadowed the sinless humanity of Jesus who is “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet 1:19), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7), and His death paid the price for our sins (Mark 10:45; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:22).

     Jesus’ death instituted the New Covenant which was given to Israel and will find its ultimate fulfillment in the future millennial kingdom. Because Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, some of the spiritual blessings associated with it are available to Christians today; specifically, forgiveness of sins (Jer 31:34; Matt 26:28; Heb 10:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek 36:26-27; 37:14; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19).

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless person of Jesus who “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:2). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper: 1) The Roman Catholic viewTransubstantiation—teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ. 2) The Lutheran viewConsubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense. 3) The Reformed viewSpiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice. 4) The Evangelical viewSymbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ. The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His life and death. 

     When Christians partake of the unleavened bread and red juice, we are recognizing our relationship with God through the life and death of Christ. Just as we are nourished bodily by physical food, so we are nourished spiritually by the life and shed blood of Jesus who died in our place. Eating the bread and drinking the red juice is a picture of the believer receiving the benefits that have been provided by the life and death of Jesus. There is a vertical and horizontal aspect to the Lord’s Supper. The vertical aspect indicates one is in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, for the Lord’s Supper has meaning only to the one who has trusted Christ as Savior and received forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; Eph 1:7). The horizontal aspect of the Lord’s Supper indicates one is walking in love and living selflessly towards other Christians (1 Cor 10:15-17; 11:17-34), for it is a picture of the love and selflessness of Christ who gave His life for the benefit of others. It is a sin to partake of the Lord’s Supper while behaving selfishly toward other believers, and God will punish those who do so (1 Cor 11:27-30). Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth to partake of the Lord’s Supper retrospectively by looking back at the sacrificial life and death of Christ (1 Cor 11:23-25), prospectively by looking forward to Jesus’ return (1 Cor 11:26), and introspectively by examining their attitudes and actions (1 Cor 11:27-32). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper will lead to unselfish love towards others (1 Cor 11:33-34a).

Summary

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus while celebrating the Passover meal on the night before His crucifixion. The unleavened bread symbolizes the perfect humanity of Christ, and the red juice symbolizes the blood of the New Covenant that was shed on the cross. Christians who partake of the Lord’s Supper see themselves as the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Eating the bread and drinking the juice is a picture of receiving Christ and all He did for us through His life and death. The Lord’s Supper instructs us to look back to the selfless love of Christ, forward to His return, and inward to one’s values and actions.

Zechariah 3:1-10

Zechariah 3:1-10

February 2, 2020

     In the opening verse Joshua was seen standing before the Lord as high priest and Satan was standing beside him accusing him of being unqualified for service (Zec 3:1). But the Lord defended Joshua because he was His chosen servant, a symbol of the nation (Zec 3:2). Now Joshua was, in fact, filthy, as his garments were covered with excrement (Zec 3:3), but the Lord had those garments removed and new garments placed on him (Zec 3:4a), and said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes” (Zec 3:4b). Zechariah knew the high priest also wore a turban with a gold plate on the front, so he spoke up, saying, “Let them put a clean turban on his head” (Zec 3:5a). So the angels “put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by” (Zec 3:5b). Here is a picture of forgiveness and restoration to service, as the Lord had removed Joshua’s filth and clothed him in clean garments. Positional righteousness prepared him to walk in practical righteousness. It is true that God does not call the qualified, but qualifies those called for service. God informed Joshua that if he would walk in obedience to the Lord and fulfill his priestly duties, he would have charge over the temple and its courtyards, and God would grant him access to His heavenly court (Zec 3:6-7). This picture of Joshua, the high priest, being forgiven and restored to service would have encouraged the Israelites greatly, for the priesthood was not operational during the Babylonian exile, and the people could not worship as God had prescribed. This cleansing would, in turn, impact the other priests, who ministered under Joshua’s supervision and who served as a type of Messiah, the Branch, who was to come (Zec 3:8). God references “the stone” set before Joshua, which is likely the temple cornerstone. Apparently, this stone was to serve as a physical marker that represented God’s omniscience, signifying His awareness of all Israel’s sins and struggles. The Lord stated, “I will engrave an inscription on it” which said, ‘I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day” (Zec 3:9). Here is a concrete statement that promises God will remove all Israel’s sin in one day. “Some say this refers to the day of Christ’s crucifixion, but it is more likely a reference to the day of His Second Advent when at the end of the future Tribulation period the merits of His death will be applied to believing Israel (Zech. 13:1).”[1] Lastly, the Lord spoke of a future day, in which “every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree” (Zec 3:10). These promises of a restored priesthood, a rebuilt temple, and future peace, would certainly have encouraged the Israelites, who, while in Babylonian captivity, perhaps questioned whether their theological heritage would ever be restored. This message is very relevant to us because we too are God’s children and servants who serve as a kingdom of priests (Rev 1:6) and are called to live holy lives before the Lord. Scripture states, “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16). Living holy lives in conformity to God’s character and will is an ongoing choice to learn and live God’s Word in all aspects of our lives, always sowing to reap, and reaping what was sown.

 

[1] F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah,” 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), 1554–1555.

Zechariah 2:1-13

Zechariah 2:1-13

January 25, 2020

     Verses 1-5 contain the prophet’s third vision of God’s work in Jerusalem, which will culminate in blessing, protection, and future glory. Verses 6-13 are an oracle of encouragement from the Lord about the future coming of Messiah who will put down Gentile oppression and dwell among His people. The small remnant in Jerusalem at the time of Zechariah’s message were helping to restore and rebuild the temple and city, and apparently there were angels involved as well. The vision opens with the description of a man with a measuring line which signified construction efforts (Zec 2:1-2). Today we might say he had surveyor’s equipment. Then Zechariah witnessed an exchange between the angel who was guiding his understanding of the visions and another angel who was sent to inform him of God’s future plans to bless Jerusalem, to protect it supernaturally, and to be the glory in its midst (Zec 2:3-5). After the vision there was an oracle for scattered Israelites living in captivity to return to Judah (Zec 2:6-7), for Messiah would come against those nations that harmed Israel, who was regarded as “the apple of His eye” (Zec 2:8b). Some translators take the “me” of verse eight to refer to Zechariah (NASB), while others see it as a reference to Messiah (CSB). It seems Messiah is in view because of what He accomplishes. Dr. Thomas Constable states:

  • "The person whom the Lord would send as His representative (“Me”) could not be Zechariah, in view of what the following verses say He would do. He must be Messiah, the only one with sufficient power and authority to fulfill what God predicted here. He would simply wave His hand over these nations in a menacing gesture and they would become plunder for the Israelites whom they had enslaved (cf. Esth. 7:10; Isa. 11:15; 14:2; 19:16; Gal. 6:7–8). Then God’s people would know that Yahweh of armies had sent this One (cf. Isa. 61:3; John 17:4). This would be the sovereign Lord’s doing, so the Jews should rejoice, return to the land, and prepare."[1]

     Part of the reason for the Israelites to flee Babylon was that the Lord intended to destroy it, with the result “that they will be plunder for their slaves” (Zec 2:9). That is, the slaves who were abused under Babylonian tyranny would plunder the city that had plundered their lives. Those who were returning to Judah would be fleeing to a place of refuge. The revelation Zechariah then receives speaks of a future time when Israelites would “Sing for joy and be glad” (Zec 2:10a) as God declares, “behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst” (Zec 2:10b). This refers to the future time when Jesus will establish His millennial kingdom and rule on the throne of David in Jerusalem. At that time, “Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you” (Zec 2:12). The final comment is to all the world, saying, “Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for He is aroused from His holy habitation” (Zec 2:13). God’s revelation to Zechariah would have encouraged the remnant of his generation by informing them that God was involved in their activities, which activities would last well into the future, to the time when God will send Messiah to establish His kingdom on earth. Likewise, we know God is with us when we do His will and that our work touches the lives of those in the present, and will have an impact on the future, even eternity.

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Zec 2:8.

Zechariah 2 - A Study of Angels

Zechariah 2 - A Study of Angels

January 25, 2020

     The word angel translates the Hebrew word מַלְאָךְ malak and the Greek word ἄγγελος aggelos, and both words mean messenger. Angels are created beings (Col 1:16), were present at the creation of the world (Job 38:4-7), have volition (Matt 8:28-32), emotion (Mark 1:23-26), and intelligence (1 Pet 1:12). Angels are spirit beings (Heb 1:14), are distinct from humans (Mark 1:23-26), have great power (2 Pet 2:11; cf. Dan 10:1-21), are innumerable (Heb 12:22; Rev 5:11), and do not reproduce after their kind (Mark 12:25), which means there are no baby angels. As creatures, angels are not to be worshipped (Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; 22:8-9). Seraphim—angels with six wings—are devoted to the worship of God (Isa 6:1-3), and Cherubim—angels with four wings—are devoted to protecting the Lord’s holiness (Ezek 28:14).

     As spirit beings, angels function in an invisible realm, unless God chooses to reveal their activity, either by direct observation or through revelation. For example, Elisha’s servant saw the angelic chariots of fire only when God opened his eyes (2 Ki 6:15-17), and John was permitted to see myriads of angels around God’s throne (Rev 5:11). Most of us are never given this opportunity, but learn about angels through the revelation of God’s Word.

     Angels are basically classified as either unfallen or fallen. The former retain their holy state and service to God and are called elect angels (1 Tim 5:21), whereas the latter have defected from their original status and continue in constant rebellion against God, and these are commonly called demons (Matt 8:31) or evil spirits (Luke 7:21).). Satan, the chief of the fallen angels, was once a cherub designated to protect God’s holiness, but he fell because of pride (Ezek 28:12-18; Isa 14:12-14). In his fall, Satan convinced a third of the angels to fall with him (Rev 12:3-4). Throughout human history, Satan and demons attempt to frustrate the purpose of God (Matt 4:1-11; cf. Dan 10:10-14; Rev 16:13-16). Demons can possess the bodies of men (Luke 11:24-26), and sometimes cause physical disease (Matt 9:32-33). 

     All angels, whether good or bad, are organized for service and effectiveness. Michael is called an archangel (Jude 1:9), a chief prince (Dan 10:13), and is assigned the task of guarding Israel (Dan 12:1). Gabriel is a messenger angel who was sent to deliver important messages to God’s people (Dan 8:16; 9:21-22; Luke 1:19; 26-38). Both Michael and Gabriel are recorded in Scripture as battling fallen angels who appear as commanders of regions of the world (Dan 10:12-13, 21). One fallen angel is called “the prince of Persia” and the other “the prince of Greece” (Dan 10:20). These no doubt function as Satan’s emissaries to promote his purposes, and are part of a larger group that Paul called the forces of darkness (Eph 6:12).

     The book of Zechariah—which we are studying—contains 15 references to angels (Zec 1:9, 11-14, 19; 2:3; 4:1, 4-5; 5:5, 10; 6:4-5), three references to Satan (Zec 3:1-2), and six references to the angel of the Lord (Zec 1:11-12; 3:1, 5-6; 12:8), who is God the Son in preincarnate form (cf. Ex 3:2-4; Judg 2:1-4). This divine and angelic activity reveals some of what was going on in the spiritual realm behind the human history of Zechariah’s time. The Israelites knew only what their ears heard and eyes saw, and much of what was going on around them was frustrating and discouraging as they faced human opposition (Ezra 4:1-5; 24). However, through the prophet Zechariah, God revealed His activity behind the political, economic, and social activities of the day to expose angelic forces at work.

     Zechariah had a personal angel that was helping him understand the visions that were given to him by the Lord (Zec 1:7—6:8). Daniel too had an angelic interpreter (Dan 8:15-19; 10:1-12), as well as the apostle John (Rev 17:7; 22:6). The angel assigned to Zechariah spoke “gracious” and “comforting” words to him (Zec 1:13), revealing God’s compassion toward His people. He also revealed God would help the faithful remnant rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Zec 1:14, 16-17), and would punish the Gentile nations who had gone too far in their attacks against Judah (Zec 1:15, 18-21). We also learn there were other angels who spoke and moved through spirit-space—unlike material-space—while Zechariah watched and listened (Zec 2:3-4a), and who spoke God’s Word concerning future blessings for His people (Zec 2:4b-5). The angel also revealed Satan as he accused Joshua, the high priest, before the angel of the Lord. Satan went after Joshua because he was doing the Lord’s work on behalf of God’s people, and this was a threat to him and his agenda. Satan’s charge was that Joshua was unfit for service, but God purified Joshua and made him stand clean in the Lord’s presence (Zec 3:1-5). Furthermore, in two separate visions, Zechariah was shown angelic forces who do God’s will throughout the earth (Zec 1:8-11; 6:1-8). The first of these are described as three horseman “whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth” (Zec 1:10), and the second group as “the four spirits of heaven” who ride on chariots and also “patrol the earth” (Zec 6:7). In all this we learn that angels are intelligent, active, and communicate God’s will to others, both to people and other angels. We also learn there’s an angelic enemy—Satan—who stands to accuse God’s people. This revelation would have educated the people of Zechariah’s day about the spiritual forces at work—operating in the invisible realm—behind their daily experiences. Above all, they were informed about the concerns and activities of God Himself, and how He uses His angelic forces to execute His will on the earth and among His people. All this would have encouraged them to keep working and rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem.  

Zechariah 1:1-21

Zechariah 1:1-21

January 18, 2020

     In verses 1-6, God gave a message to His prophet, Zechariah, sometime in October-November, 520 B.C., which he delivered to His people, Israel. Though they had returned from Babylonian captivity back to Judah, they’d not fully returned to a righteous walk with the Lord, so the Lord challenged them, saying, “‘Return to Me,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘that I may return to you’” (Zec 1:3). This language reflects the responsibility of the Israelites to abide by the Mosaic Covenant, which was still in force, knowing their blessing or cursing was directly tied to their walk with the Lord and their obedience or disobedience to His commands (see Deut 28). They were not to be like their forefathers who disobeyed the Lord and died in captivity (Zec 1:4-6). What follows in chapter one is two of the eight visions that were given to Zechariah in one night, on February 15, 519 B.C. (Zec 1:7). Zechariah had an angel with him to help him understand the meaning of the visions (see vs. 9). The first vision pertained to an angel on a red horse—the angel of the Lord (see vs. 11)—who was riding/standing among myrtle trees with three other horsemen behind Him. The angel of the Lord is the second person of the Trinity (cf. Ex 3:2-4; Josh 5:13-15), and the three horsemen with Him were part of an angelic reconnaissance team who had been sent on a scouting mission throughout the earth and found the Gentile nations at ease after going too far in their persecution of Judah (Zec 1:8-15). Because God has great compassion on His people, He promised to restore and bless both the city and the temple (Zec 1:16-17). God’s people would have been encouraged to know the angel of the Lord was among them, and that God loved them greatly and planned to bless them. In the second vision, Zechariah saw “four horns” which represent Gentile nations (Zec 1:18-19), likely the ones that went too far in their persecution of Israel, Judah and Jerusalem. Then the Lord showed Zechariah “four craftsmen” (Zec 1:20), which symbolized other nations that God would use to discipline the “four horns” who persecuted His people. This shows that God knows who persecutes His people and that He deals out just retribution in His time and way.

Introduction to Zechariah

Introduction to Zechariah

January 18, 2020

Author:

     The author of the book is Zechariah, “Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo” (Zec 1:1). His name in Hebrew (זְכַרְיָה) means Yahweh remembers. Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and was important in encouraging the Israelites to rebuild the temple (Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14).

Audience:

     Zechariah’s audience consisted of the Jewish returnees from Babylonian exile.

Date of Ministry:

     Zechariah prophesied from 520-518 B.C. (Zec 1:1, 7; 7:1).

Historical Background:

     Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 B.C. and most of the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon. Babylon was defeated by the Persians in 539 B.C. when Cyrus came to power. Cyrus was favorable to the Israelites and promoted their return back to Judah, which included the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). Ezra chapter two records nearly 50,000 persons with positive volition who returned to Judah under the leadership of Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest (Ezra 2:2). Shortly after their return, in 536 B.C., many Israelites began reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem and were able to lay the foundation stones and build an altar for sacrifice (Ezra 3:1-13). However, the reconstruction stopped because of local persecution, which discouraged the Israelites (Ezra 4:1-5, 24). The temple remained unfinished for sixteen years, until 520 B.C., when God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the Israelites to finish the work (Hag 1:1, 14-15; Zec 1:1, 7). The ministries of Haggai and Zechariah overlapped for a short period of time and proved effective in encouraging the people to reconstruct the temple, which was completed in 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15). Note the following dates:

  • August 29, 520 B.C. – Haggai’s first message (Hag 1:1)
  • September 21, 520 B.C. – Temple reconstruction restarts (Hag 1:12-15)
  • October 17, 520 B.C. – Haggai’s second message (Hag 2:1)
  • October-November, 520 B.C. – Zechariah begins ministry (Zec 1:1)
  • December 18, 520 B.C. – Haggai’s third and fourth message (Hag 2:10, 20)
  • February 15, 519 B.C. – Zechariah receives eight visions (Zec 1:7—6:8)
  • December 7, 518 B.C. – Zechariah delivers message to Bethel (Zec 7:1)
  • March, 516 B.C. – Temple reconstruction finished (Ezra 6:14-15).

Zechariah’s Message:

     The message God gave through Zechariah to the Israelites was encouraging and challenging. God wanted the temple rebuilt, and He also wanted the hearts of His people renewed. Previously, their forefathers had acted corruptly and violated the covenant, severely mistreating widows, orphans, strangers and the poor in the land; therefore, God sent them into captivity for 70 years. But now the returnees were coming back into the land and faced the challenge of rebuilding the city and temple, but most of all, He wanted them to live righteous lives, saying, “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), and “These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate, declares the LORD” (Zec 8:16-17). Hopefully they’d learned the lesson of their forefathers and would walk humbly with God and do His will. “Zechariah’s vision of the future contained more than a rebuilt temple and a restored community. The later chapters in Zechariah look forward to the coming of a humble ruler from the house of David. The New Testament writers saw the fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus (Zech 9:9–11; Matt 21:5; John 12:15).”[1] Zechariah provides much information about the future Messiah. “He presents Messiah as a king (9:9), a stone (3:9; 10:4), a slave sold for thirty pieces of silver (11:12), the smitten shepherd (13:7), the Branch (3:8; 6:12), and the glorious Redeemer and Ruler of Israel (14:1–4, 9, 16–17).”[2]

Outline:

     The book of Zechariah is basically divided into two parts. “Chapters 1–8 contain carefully dated visions and sermons, while chapters 9–14 consist of undated poetic oracles and narrative descriptions of judgment and blessing.”[3]

  1. Introduction (Zec 1:1-6)
  2. Eight visions (Zec 1:7—6:8)
  3. Crowning of Joshua the high priest (Zec 6:9-15)
  4. Four prophetic messages (Zec 7:1-8:23)
  5. Oracles about Messiah and the future of Israel (Zec 9:1—14:21)

 

[1] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016).

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Heroic, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: ChariotVictor Pub., 1997), 83.

[3] D. Brent Sandy, “Zechariah,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1451.

Haggai 2:10-23

Haggai 2:10-23

January 11, 2020

     God spoke to Haggai and gave him two messages on the same day. The first message was to the priests, informing them that the nation’s disobedience in not building the temple was the reason God withheld His blessings, which He reinstated once they returned to Him. The Second message was to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, encouraging him that God had chosen him for a special purpose and would use him as a signet ring. In the first message, God spoke through Haggai to the priests concerning things holy (Hag 2:10-11), asking, “If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy? And the priests answered, ‘No.’” (Hag 2:12). Holy meat was set apart for sacrifice to the Lord and to be used as He instructed (Lev 3:1-17). The priests correctly understood that if something holy touched something common, the holiness was not transferable. Haggai then posed another question, asking, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, ‘It will become unclean’” (Hag 2:13). Again, the priests answered correctly, that uncleanness is transferable. A similar principle is found in everyday life, as sickness can be transferred, but not health; and bad food will ruin good food if it comes into contact; and dirty water will contaminate clean water; and bad associations will corrupt good associations; whereas the reverse of all these is not possible. Haggai then explained, “‘So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean’” (Hag 2:14). The point of Haggai’s message was that the nation had become spiritually defiled because of their disobedience to the Lord, which in turn contaminated all their work, including the sacrifices they were offering to God. Previously, for sixteen years, while the temple remained unfinished, God had smitten their crops, reducing their yield by 50 and 60 percent, in an effort to correct their behavior and draw them back to Him (Hag 2:15-17). Finally, they responded and turned their hearts back to the Lord and became obedient to His will, and three times He told them He would bless the work of their hands, “from this day onward” (Hag 2:15; 18-19). It should be noted that the season for sowing was several months out, so God’s promised blessings did not immediately appear, but took time, following the normal cycle of planting and harvesting. Their blessing would come because they applied the principle of putting God first in their lives (see Matt 6:33). Next, God gave Haggai a second message on the same day which was directed at Zerubbabel, the nation’s governor (Hag 2:20). Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin (aka Jeconiah/Coniah) and in the royal line of King David (Matt 1:12); however, rather than wearing a crown, he struggled as the governor of a nation recently returned from captivity. But God singled him out for an encouraging message about the nation’s future stability, saying, “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the sword of another” (Hag 2:21-22). This will happen at the Second Coming of Christ when He puts down the nations of the world and establishes His millennial kingdom. God also honors Zerubbabel by calling him “My servant” and declaring “I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you” (Hag 2:23). Zerubbabel would be God’s servant who carried His authority to do His will. Most Bible scholars see Zerubbabel as an archetype of Jesus who will come and reign, but it is possible this speaks of his future resurrection with a place of prominent rulership under Messiah. Either way, it is clear that God is the One who “removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and all the kingdoms of this world are under His control (Dan 2:36-45). What God has promised, He will bring to pass (Isa 46:9-11).

Haggai 2:1-9

Haggai 2:1-9

January 11, 2020

     The Central Idea of the Text is that God encourages His people to take courage and continue to work on the temple. The opening verse informs us that God had sent a second message to Haggai nearly a month after the people began working on rebuilding the second temple (Hag 2:1). The time frame would be October 17th to September 21st, 520 B.C. The message was directed to “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people” (Hag 2:2). Apparently enough of the temple’s reconstruction was finished that people could see what the final form was going to look like, and the older Israelites who had seen Solomon’s temple began to get discouraged. Haggai addressed them with three questions, saying, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?” (Hag 2:3). The new temple would be as “nothing in comparison” to the old temple, and Haggai did not try ignore the obvious. But the older group needed to get past their disappointment, which might have derailed the work of the new temple, as simple and inglorious as it was in comparison to the Solomonic temple. A functional temple was better than no temple at all, as it would allow the Israelites to resume their worship as the Mosaic Law prescribed. Three times God told the leadership and people to “take courage” and to “work”, saying, “for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:4). The mental comparison that was being made by the people nearly crippled the work that God wanted done. Rather than rebuke them, He gave them words of encouragement, saying, “As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!” (Hag 2:5). It’s possible that many Israelites had felt that God was not with them as He’d been in the days when they were first called out of Egypt and established as a nation. Just as He’d promised to be with their forefathers when they came out of Egyptian captivity, so He was now saying His “Spirit is abiding” in their midst. God’s presence and promises strengthen the soul and dispel fear. And, just as God had shaken the earth at Mount Sinai when He entered into a covenant with them (Ex 19:18), so He told this generation, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land” (Hag 2:6). This work of God would not occur in their lifetime, but in the future, when Christ returns and builds a glorious temple that will function during His millennial reign. At that time, God declares, “I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory” (Hag 2:7). That is, God will summon the Gentile nations of the world to bring their wealth to Jerusalem and it will come into the temple. God can do this because He owns everything, saying, “‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:8). So, even though the temple in Haggai’s day would be simple, the millennial temple will be more glorious than Solomon’s temple, as the Lord states,  “‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts’” (Hag 2:9). “The restored building had nothing of the splendor of Solomon’s temple, but it was still God’s house, built according to His plan and for His glory. The same ministry would be performed at its altars and the same worship presented to the Lord. Times change, but ministry goes on.”[1] The future Israelites living in the millennial kingdom will receive the wealth of the Gentile nations (Isa 60:5-7), much like their forefathers had received the wealth of Egypt when they were liberated from captivity (Ex 3:21-22; 11:2-3; 12:35-36). For the Israelites, faith in God and His promises suppressed their fears and provided the courage to stand and do His will.

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Heroic, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: ChariotVictor Pub., 1997), 72.

Haggai 1:1-15

Haggai 1:1-15

January 4, 2020

     God directed Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, to support the return of 50,000 exiled Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem, as well as the rebuilding of the temple, which began in 536 B.C. (Ezra 1:1-4; Isa 44:28). The Jews built the altar and laid the foundation (Ezra 3:1-13), but got discouraged and ceased construction after experiencing persecution from local Samaritans (Ezra 4:1-5, 24; 5:16). For the years that followed, self-interest took priority over divine-interest, as Israelites spared no expense for their own properties, while maintaining a sparing attitude toward the work of the Lord (Hag 1:3). Finally, after sixteen years, God raised up Haggai (and Zechariah) to preach and motivate the returned exiles to finish what they’d started. He told them to “consider your ways” (Hag 1:5), and pointed out the failed state of their lives (Hag 1:6). Though they worked hard, God withheld His blessing, because they were pursuing self-interest above His will and were experiencing the curse specified in the Mosaic Law (Lev 26:18-20; Deu 28:22-24; 38-39). The Lord was revealing the connection between His house and their lives, both of which were in ruin and need of repair. After telling them a second time to “consider your ways” (Hag 1:7), God gave a very specific command, saying, “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified” (Hag 1:8). Then, for a second time, God explained there was a connection between their failed agricultural efforts (Hag 1:9a) and their failure to do His will, saying it was “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house” (Hag 1:9b). The Lord told them, “Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands” (Hag 1:10-11). The Israelites responded positively to Haggai’s preaching, as Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant of the people “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the LORD” (Hag 1:12). To help encourage His people, the Lord told them, “I am with you” (Hag 1:3). There is a sense in which God is always with us and never leaves us; that is, His presence never departs. But there is another sense in which God is either with or against us, and this has to do with His blessing or discipline, which depends on our obedience or disobedience to His will. It is this latter sense that God would be with His people to help them do His will. This same encouraging language is employed throughout the Bible with Isaac (Gen 26:24), Jacob (Gen 28:15), Moses (Exo 3:12), Joshua (Deu 31:23) Gideon (Jud 6:16), Jeremiah (Jer 1:8, 19; 15:20), Israel as a nation (Isa 41:10; 43:5; Jer 30:11; 46:28), the disciples (Mat 28:20), and us as Christians (Heb 13:5). Haggai preached God’s Word, but it was the Lord who worked in the hearts of Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant of the people as “they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Hag 1:14). Haggai tells us the work started three weeks later, “on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king” (Hag 1:15). Why mention three weeks? It was harvest season and three weeks might have been required to bring in crops, or perhaps that was the time needed to organize the material for temple construction. Whatever the reason, the people responded positively to Haggai’s preaching and focused their attention on doing God’s will and rebuilding the temple.

Introduction to Haggai

Introduction to Haggai

January 4, 2020

Author:

     The author of the book is the prophet Haggai (Hag 1:1; 2:1). His name in Hebrew (חַגָּי Chaggay) means festal. Because of a comment in Haggai 2:2-3, many scholars believe Haggai was an older man, perhaps near age 70, who saw and remembered the first temple before it was destroyed in 586 B.C.

Audience:

     Haggai spoke “to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Hag 1:1), “to the remnant of the people” (Hag 2:2), to “the priests” (Hag 2:11), and finally “to Zerubbabel governor of Judah” alone (Hag 2:21).

Date of Ministry:

     Haggai was a post-exile prophet who ministered at the same time as Ezra and Zechariah (Ezra 4:5, 24; Zec 1:1). He received his divine revelation “In the second year of Darius the king” (Hag 1:1). Darius I was king of Persia, who reigned from 522-486 B.C. The book of Haggai consists of four messages that were preached over a four-month period (Hag 1:1; 2:1, 10, 20), from “the first day of the sixth month” (Hag 1:1), to “the twenty-fourth of the ninth month” (Hag 2:10). The date range was between August 29th through December 18th, 520 B.C., with two messages delivered on the same day (Hag 2:10, 20). All four of Haggai’s messages were necessary to keep the work of the temple going. 

Historical Background:

  • 605 B.C. – First Jewish deportation into Babylon (Daniel).
  • 597 B.C. – Second Jewish deportation into Babylon (Ezekiel).
  • 586 B.C. – Third Jewish deportation into Babylon (Solomon’s temple destroyed).
  • 538 B.C. – Israelites return to land under decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4).
  • 536 B.C. – Israelites start rebuilding temple (Ezra 3:8).
  • 536 B.C. – Temple reconstruction stops because of opposition (Ezra 4:1-5, 24).
  • 520 B.C. – God calls Israelites to finish rebuilding the temple (Hag 1:14-15).
  • 516 B.C. – Temple reconstruction finished (Ezra 6:15).

     Most of the Jews living in Judah went into Babylonian captivity when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C. Without a temple and altar, the Israelites could not worship God as the Mosaic Law prescribed. It was during this time of Babylonian captivity that synagogues were formed, likely to fellowship, read the Law, and pray. We know Daniel prayed facing Jerusalem (Dan 6:10). After the fall of Babylon, the Medo-Persian empire came to power, and Cyrus, King of Persia, was favorable to the Jews and permitted nearly 50,00 exiles to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. (Ezra 1:1-4; Isa 44:28). At that time, they’d begun reconstruction of the second temple by building the altar and laying the foundation [Ezra 3:1-13]; however, the reconstruction stopped because of local opposition from the Samaritans who discouraged them (Ezra 4:1-5, 24; 5:16). This pause in construction lasted 16 years, during which time, the Israelites began to build their own homes (Hag 1:2-4). Apparently, the people became apathetic concerning temple reconstruction, so the Lord raised up Haggai and Zechariah to reignite the fire of doing the Lord’s work. Their preaching proved successful.

Haggai’s Message:

     Five times Haggai called his fellow Israelites to “consider” their ways (Hag 1:5, 7; 2:15, 18). This consideration helped them look at their lives from the divine perspective and realize they were not being blessed because of their disobedience to God’s will; specifically, their neglect of rebuilding the temple (Hag 1:5-11). Their judgments were consistent with the curses of Deuteronomy 28. God revealed there was a connection between His house and their lives, both of which were in ruin and need of repair. Haggai (and Zechariah) was called by God to encourage his fellow Israelites to restart temple construction in 520 B.C., and it worked (Hag 1:13-14; 2:4; cf. Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14). The message of encouragement motivated them to overcome their fears and work on the temple, which was completed around 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15).

Outline:

  1. God rebuked and redirected Israel to finish rebuilding the temple (Hag 1:1-15).
  2. God encouraged Israel to rebuild the temple, with a promise of future glory (Hag 2:1-9).
  3. God promised blessing on Israel (Hag 2:10-19).
  4. God promised to protect and bless Zerubbabel (Hag 2:20-23).
A Lesson on Leadership from Exodus 4:18-31

A Lesson on Leadership from Exodus 4:18-31

December 24, 2019

     The Central Idea of the Exodus 4:18-31 is that Moses was obedient to the Lord to go to Egypt and proclaim the message that God would liberate His people Israel. However, as they journeyed, the Lord came near to killing Moses because he had failed to circumcise one of his sons according to the divine mandate of the Abrahamic Covenant (Ex. 4:24; cf. Gen. 17:9-14). Circumcision identified the descendants of Abraham with the covenant God gave him regarding the promises of land, seed, and blessing. Moses could not be used to lead others into the will of God while he was himself was disobedient to it. The text does not state why Moses’ son was not circumcised, and it could have been either the fault of Moses, Zipporah, or both. Either way, God held Moses responsible for the disobedience, since he was the spiritual head of the house. Normally, the father performed the circumcision, so it’s unusual that Zipporah did it; however, her obedience—though crudely acted out—saved Moses’ life (Ex. 4:24-26). Moses and Aaron met with the elders of Israel and spoke the words of the Lord and performed the signs He commanded (Ex. 4:29-30). Subsequently, “the people believed” them, and worshipped God because of His concern over their affliction (Ex. 4:31). God’s call of Moses into leadership disrupted and changed his life from that day onward. As a Servant-leader, Moses had to learn: 1) obedience to God as a divinely appointed servant, 2) to face difficult situations with faith, trusting God would support and direct him through the hardship, and 3) to think and live sacrificially for the benefit of others.

Zephaniah 3:9-20

Zephaniah 3:9-20

November 23, 2019

     In the previous section, God had pronounced judgment against His people in Judah (Zep 1:1—2:3), the surrounding Gentile nations (Zep 2:4-15), and Jerusalem (Zep 3:1-8); but now, His final message is one of hope, in which He promises future blessings upon His people as well as the world (Zep 3:9-20). God is the One who will bring all these blessings to pass, eight times declaring “I will” throughout this pericope. The prophecy opens with a promise in which God will give Gentiles purified lips—which pictures purified hearts—to come together, shoulder to shoulder, to worship the Lord (Zep 3:10). Though Israel had experienced shame because of her rebellion in Zephaniah’s day (Zep 3:11a), that negative characteristic will be removed in the millennial kingdom, for God states, “I will remove from your midst your proud, exulting ones, and you will never again be haughty on My holy mountain. But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the LORD” (Zep 3:11b-12). The millennial kingdom follows the seven-year tribulation period, in which only the faithful remnant will survive and enter into the Lord’s kingdom on earth. God speaks to that remnant, saying, “the remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths; for they will feed and lie down with no one to make them tremble” (Zep 3:13). The language here is reminiscent of Psalm 23, which pictures the Lord as their Shepherd. God calls His people to shout for joy and rejoice at that time (Zep 3:14), for “The LORD has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you will fear disaster no more” (Zep 3:15). The King of Israel is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who will rule the world from Jerusalem, and will rule in righteousness (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 34-37; Isa 9:6-7; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Luke 1:26-33). In “that day” there will be no fear or despair in Jerusalem (Zep 3:16), for “The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zep 3:17). Unlike the past and present, Israel will never be attacked by outsiders, for God will stand as a warrior to defend them, and comfort them in His love. Though God’s appointed feasts were not being celebrated in Zephaniah’s day, they would be restored in the millennial kingdom (Zep 3:18). These feasts would serve as memorials to God’s deliverance, goodness and faithfulness. At that time, God will dispense retributive justice to those who oppressed Israel (Zep 3:19a), and will rescue the afflicted, saying, “I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (Zep 3:1b9). And, we see God’s remunerative justice to Israel, as He states, “At that time I will bring you in, even at the time when I gather you together; indeed, I will give you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes” (Zep 3:20). In closing, Zephaniah ardently declares it is the “the Lord” who promises these things.

     Zephaniah opened his book with a reference to Hezekiah and Josiah, two good kings in Judah; however, these kings failed to bring about lasting reforms, and the nation slipped back into spiritual and moral decline. But the future King of Israel will not fail, as Jesus Christ will accomplish what no other could, when He brings in the millennial kingdom and establishes everlasting peace and blessing upon the world.

Zephaniah 3:1-8

Zephaniah 3:1-8

November 23, 2019

     God opens with a charge against wicked Israelites who were called “rebellious and defiled.” So corrupt and systemic was their oppressive behavior, the whole of Jerusalem became known as “the tyrannical city.” The word tyrannical translates the Hebrew יָנָה yanah, which denotes “to cheat, annoy (with words), oppress, [or] be violent.”[1] The word is used in the Mosaic Law to forbid Israelites from oppressing foreigners (Ex 22:21-24; Lev 19:33), slaves (Deu 23:15-16), or engaging in harmful economic practices (Lev 25:14-17). God spoke through Jeremiah, saying, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat [יָנָה yanah] or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer 22:3; cf. Eze 22:7, 29; 46:18). The meaning of Zephaniah 3:1 is the same. It is always possible for God’s people to behave poorly, like the world around them. Zephaniah declared their faults, saying, “She heeded no voice, she accepted no instruction. She did not trust in the LORD, she did not draw near to her God” (Zep 3:2). We should remember that Josiah, a good king, was on the throne and leading national reforms across the nation, seeking to lead God’s people back into His will (2 Ki 23:1-25); however, in spite of his efforts, the city’s leadership continued with their corrupt practices. The princes represented the aristocracy, who should have been behaving nobly and seeking God’s will, but instead, had become “roaring lions” who went about on the prowl seeking people to devour for their own personal gain (Zep 3:3a). The judges, who were civil magistrates, should have been upholding God’s Law, but instead, were like “wolves at evening” that devour their prey, from whom the citizens of the city had to protect themselves (Zep 3:3b). Furthermore, the prophets were described as “reckless, treacherous men” who falsely spoke in the name of the Lord and led others astray (Zep 3:4a). And the priests “profaned the sanctuary” by not performing their duties, and by making common that which was sacred (Zep 3:4b). In contrast with the corrupt leadership, “The LORD is righteous within her; He will do no injustice. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He does not fail” (Zep 3:5a). God is righteous, and He is just in all His ways; He reveals Himself to His people every day, and He does this without fail (cf. Deu 32:4), but they were suppressing His revelation. Though God leads His people into righteousness, “the unjust knows no shame” as they turn away from Him (Zep 3:5b). God had judged the surrounding nations as a warning to Judah, saying, “I have cut off nations; their corner towers are in ruins. I have made their streets desolate, with no one passing by; their cities are laid waste, without a man, without an inhabitant” (Zep 3:6). Though this was revealed to His people, yet, they chose their own way. God said, “Surely you will revere Me, accept instruction. So her dwelling will not be cut off according to all that I have appointed concerning her. But they were eager to corrupt all their deeds” (Zep 3:7). God then turns from talking to the rebellious Israelites in the city and addresses the faithful remnant, telling them, “Listen to Me,” as He speaks of future events. The Lord states there will come a day “when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out on them My indignation, all My burning anger; for all the earth will be devoured by the fire of My zeal” (Zep 3:8). God had already made it clear He was going to judge the Jews and Gentiles of Zephaniah’s generation, which, in many ways, had become a microcosm of all humanity, all throughout history. The Lord’s judgment would now extend to a global judgment that will come upon “all the earth.”

  • "The world is still waiting for the Lord to pour out His wrath on all nations. He has not done so yet because He is patient and is giving people time to repent (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9). Yet that day will surely come (2 Pet. 3:10). In view of its coming, Christians need to be holy in conduct and godly in character looking for and hastening that day (by our prayers and preaching, 2 Pet. 3:11). The great outpouring of divine wrath on the earth predicted here will take place during the Tribulation, before our Lord returns to set up His kingdom (cf. 2:2; Zech. 14:2; Rev. 16:14, 16)."[2]

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 416.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Zep 3:8.

Zephaniah 2:4-15

Zephaniah 2:4-15

November 17, 2019

     Having pronounced His judgment upon Judah for their sins (Zep 1:1-2:3), God now turns His focus upon the surrounding Gentiles nations ((Zep 2:4-15). He opens with a pronouncement of judgment upon four Philistine cities which lie west of Judah, saying, “Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon a desolation; Ashdod will be driven out at noon and Ekron will be uprooted” (Zep 2:4). The Philistines had a longstanding hostility toward Israel (Gen 20-21, 26), and had even taken some Judahites captive and sold them into slavery (Amo 1:6-8). To these people and cities, God declared retributive justice, saying, “The word of the LORD is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; and I will destroy you so that there will be no inhabitant” (Zep 2:5). But God pronounces remunerative justice toward Israel, saying, “So the seacoast will be pastures, with caves for shepherds and folds for flocks. And the coast will be for the remnant of the house of Judah, they will pasture on it. In the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down at evening; for the LORD their God will care for them and restore their fortune” (Zep 2:6-7). Next, God addressed the hostility and taunting of Moab and Ammon (Zep 2:8), who were the descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his two daughters (Gen 19:30-38). The Moabites and Ammonites were historically hostile to Israel (Isa 16:6; Jer 48:26, 29; Ezek 25:5-7), and now they would be judged. Because of their longstanding sins, God pronounced retributive justice, saying, “As I live, ‘declares the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,’ surely Moab will be like Sodom and the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah—a place possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a perpetual desolation’” (Zep 2:9a). Again, God would dispense remunerative justice to His people, saying, “The remnant of My people will plunder them and the remainder of My nation will inherit them” (Zep 2:9b). The Moabites and Ammonites got what they deserved, as God states, “This they will have in return for their pride, because they have taunted and become arrogant against the people of the LORD of hosts. The LORD will be terrifying to them” (Zep 2:10-11a). The Ammonites and Moabites, whose idols customarily received sacrifices, would have nothing to bring them, for the Lord “will starve all the gods of the earth; and all the coastlands of the nations will bow down to Him, everyone from his own place” (Zep 2:11b). Very briefly, God speaks to Ethiopians, saying “You also, O Ethiopians, will be slain by My sword” (Zep 2:12). No reason is given for God’s judgment, but it is likely they acted similarly to the other Gentile nations that were being judged. The final judgment came against the Assyrians in the north, in which God “will stretch out His hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and He will make Nineveh a desolation, parched like the wilderness” (Zep 2:13). Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC by an alliance between the Babylonians and Medes under the leadership of Nabopolassar and Cyaxeres. The Assyrians were removed and the land became inhabited by wild animals (Zep 2:14). The Assyrians thought they were secure in their fortified cities, and they became proud. But God would destroy them, and they would become “a resting place for beasts! Everyone who passes by her will hiss and wave his hand in contempt” (Zep 2:15).

     Though God gave His written law to Israel alone (Psa 147:19-20), His moral laws are written upon the hearts of all people (Rom 2:14-15), and He holds them accountable for their behavior. God is Judge of all people (Gen 18:25; Psa 22:28; 103:19), and He deals out retribution to those who disobey Him and attack His people (Deu 32:35; 2 Thess 1:6-8), and rewards those who are faithful (Psa 18:20; 58:11; 1 Sam. 26:23).

Theological Aspects of God’s Justice

Theological Aspects of God’s Justice

November 16, 2019

     God is the sovereign Creator of the universe, and He rules supreme over all things. Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), for “our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psa 115:3), “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He 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). God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond what His sovereign will permits (Job 1:1-21; Psa 105:12-15; 1 Ki 22:19-23; 2 Cor 12:7-10). Though God has many attributes, His sovereignty is foremost.[1]

     The Bible, which reveals God’s sovereignty, also reveals He is righteous and just. He is declared to be righteous by nature (Deu 32:4; Psa 119:137, 142; Isa 45:21; John 17:25), and just in all His ways (Psa 145:17; Rev 15:3). Divine righteousness may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as just that which conforms to His righteousness and as sinful that which deviates. One discovers throughout the Bible that righteousness and justice are related words. The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character. Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn. Theologically, the justice of God is observed in several categories as follows:

  1. Rectoral justice recognizes God as the absolute legislative moral ruler who judges all mankind for their thoughts and actions. Abraham recognized God as “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25; cf. 94:2), and David writes, “the heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge” (Psa 50:6), and “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth!” (Psa 58:11). God righteously judges those to whom He has revealed Himself and who know right and wrong, either through written revelation (Rom 2:12), or the intrinsic moral code written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15; cf. 1:18-20).
  2. Retributive justice means God will administer just punishment to the wicked for their actions. The Lord told Moses, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them” (Deu 32:35). And Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica concerning their suffering, saying, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted” (2 Thess 1:6-7a).
  3. Remunerative justice pertains to the distribution of rewards. Sometimes this is based on righteous behavior, such as when David wrote, “The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness” (1 Sam 26:23a; cf. 2 Sam 22:25); and elsewhere, “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (Psa 18:20). In addition, it can refer to the compensation paid by the Egyptians to the Israelites for their four hundred years of slavery (Ex 3:22).
  4. Redemptive justice refers to God forgiving and justifying helpless sinners because Christ has redeemed them by paying the price for their sin. The price for redemption is the blood of Christ that was shed in our stead (1 Pet 1:18-19). The believer is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom 3:24-25a). God’s redemptive justice saves us from the penalty of sin, guaranteeing “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires.
  5. Restorative justice refers to the familial forgiveness God gives to His children who humble themselves and confess their sin to Him. When we sin, we break fellowship with God, and when we confess our sin to Him, He forgives and restores us. David wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psa 32:5). In the Old Testament, forgiveness was predicated on confession of sin (Lev 5:5; 16:21; Psa 32:5; 38:18) as well as animal sacrifice (Lev 4:20; 5:6; 6:6-7). In the New Testament, God requires confession alone (1 John 1:9), which rests on the once for all atoning sacrifice of Christ at the cross (Heb 10:10-14). Concerning confession of sin, John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

     Understanding these aspects of God’s character help us know who He is and why He holds people accountable with regard to the laws He has revealed to them through general or special revelation. Furthermore, as Christians, we never retaliate against our attackers, but cast our cares upon the Lord and trust that He sees and acts righteously, in His time and way (Lev 19:18; Pro 20:22; Rom 12:14, 17-21; 1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:8-9).

 

[1] God is sovereign (1 Ch 29:11; Dan 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), all-knowing (Psa 139:1-6; Matt 6:31-33), all-present (Psa 139:7-12; Heb 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa 40:28-29), righteous (Psa 11:7; 119:137), just (Psa 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), holy (Psa 99:9), immutable (Psa 102:26, 27; Mal 3:6), truthful (2 Sam 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), loving (Jer 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithful (Deu 7:9; Lam 3:23; 1 John 1:9), merciful (Psa 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit 3:5), gracious (Psa 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet 5:10), and eternal (Deu 33:27; 1 Tim 1:17).

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper

November 16, 2019
  • "And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.'" (Luke 22:19-20)

     The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), and by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor 11:23-34). The Lord’s Supper is also called the Eucharist, from the Greek word εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo, which means to give thanks, which is what Christ did when He instituted this church ordinance (Luke 22:19). And, it is called Communion, from the Geek word κοινωνία koinonia, which means communion, fellowship, or sharing (1 Cor 10:15-17), because it took place during a community meal where believers fellowshipped with each other during a time of Bible study and prayer (see Acts 2:42).

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the night before His crucifixion. The Passover meal celebrated God’s deliverance from the final plague on Egypt as the Lord passed over the homes of those who had sacrificed an unblemished lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost and lintel (Ex 12:1-51). The flawless lamb foreshadowed the sinless humanity of Jesus who is “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet 1:19), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7), and His death paid the price for our sins (Mark 10:45; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:22).

     Jesus’ death instituted the New Covenant which was given to Israel and will find its ultimate fulfillment in the future millennial kingdom. Because Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, some of the spiritual blessings associated with it are available to Christians today; specifically, forgiveness of sins (Jer 31:34; Matt 26:28; Heb 10:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek 36:26-27; 37:14; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19).

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless person of Jesus who “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:2). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper: 1) The Roman Catholic viewTransubstantiation—teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ. 2) The Lutheran viewConsubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense. 3) The Reformed viewSpiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice. 4) The Evangelical viewSymbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ. The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His life and death. 

     When Christians partake of the unleavened bread and red juice, we are recognizing our relationship with God through the life and death of Christ. Just as we are nourished bodily by physical food, so we are nourished spiritually by the life and shed blood of Jesus who died in our place. Eating the bread and drinking the red juice is a picture of the believer receiving the benefits that have been provided by the life and death of Jesus. There is a vertical and horizontal aspect to the Lord’s Supper. The vertical aspect indicates one is in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, for the Lord’s Supper has meaning only to the one who has trusted Christ as Savior and received forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; Eph 1:7). The horizontal aspect of the Lord’s Supper indicates one is walking in love and living selflessly towards other Christians (1 Cor 10:15-17; 11:17-34), for it is a picture of the love and selflessness of Christ who gave His life for the benefit of others. It is a sin to partake of the Lord’s Supper while behaving selfishly toward other believers, and God will punish those who do so (1 Cor 11:27-30). Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth to partake of the Lord’s Supper retrospectively by looking back at the sacrificial life and death of Christ (1 Cor 11:23-25), prospectively by looking forward to Jesus’ return (1 Cor 11:26), and introspectively by examining their attitudes and actions (1 Cor 11:27-32). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper will lead to unselfish love towards others (1 Cor 11:33-34a).

Summary

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus while celebrating the Passover meal on the night before His crucifixion. The unleavened bread symbolizes the perfect humanity of Christ, and the red juice symbolizes the blood of the New Covenant that was shed on the cross. Christians who partake of the Lord’s Supper see themselves as the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Eating the bread and drinking the juice is a picture of receiving Christ and all He did for us through His life and death. The Lord’s Supper instructs us to look back to the selfless love of Christ, forward to His return, and inward to one’s values and actions.

Zephaniah 1:1-2:3

Zephaniah 1:1-2:3

November 10, 2019

     The book opens with a declaration that what follows is the “the word of the LORD” to his messenger, the prophet, Zephaniah (Zep 1:1). Immediately, there is a pronouncement of judgment that God will bring upon the world (Zep 1:2-3), specifically “against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zep 1:4a). The reason for the judgment is because His covenant-people had followed idolatrous priests and worshiped Baal (Zep 1:4b), the “host of heaven” (Zep 1:5a), and blended the worship of the LORD along with the pagan god Milcom (Zep 1:5b). God’s people had “turned back from following the LORD” and “have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him” (Zep 1:6). According to the blessing and cursing aspect of the Mosaic Law (Deu 28:1-68), God was obligated to render judgment against His people who violated the covenant. Because God is extremely patient and slow to anger (Ex 34:6-7; Num 14:18; Psa 103:8), His judgments came only after He had sent repeated warnings through His prophets over several generations (see 2 Chr 36:14-17; Jer 25:1-12; 26:1-6; 32:26-35; 35:12-15; 44:2-6). God called the nation to be “silent before the LORD” and announces they were being offered as a sacrifice to the invading nation, whom He calls “guests” (Zep 1:7). “Here the prophet announced that the Lord’s day was near; He was about to intervene in human history. The Lord had prepared a sacrifice, namely, Judah (cf. Isa. 34:6; Jer. 46:10), and He had set apart ‘guests’ to eat it, namely, the Babylonians (cf. Jer. 10:25; Hab. 1:6).”[1] The judgment started with the nation’s leadership (princes), and included the king’s sons and all who adopted pagan values (Zep 1:8). It also included those who practiced robbery and violence (Zep 1:9), businessmen who financially exploited others (Zep 1:10-11), and those who were apathetic to God, who say, “The LORD will not do good or evil!” (Zep 1:12); these would be plundered and lose their wealth, homes, and fields to the invading Babylonian army (Zep 1:13). The day of the LORD was “near” (Zep 1:14a) and would come upon the nation within two decades of Zephaniah’s message. It would be a time when “the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and the high corner towers” (Zep 1:14-16). The judgment would be so severe, “they will walk like the blind” (Zep 1:17a). God’s judgment was because “they have sinned against the LORD” (Zep 1:17b). Furthermore, there would be no escape for the nation, as Judahites would not be able to use their gold and silver to buy off their attackers (Zep 1:18). God then calls the nation to “gather,” perhaps as a last offer to repent before judgment comes (Zep 2:1-2). A final word is given to the faithful remnant within the nation, saying, “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zep 2:3).

 

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

Introduction to Zephaniah

Introduction to Zephaniah

November 9, 2019

Author:

     The author is identified as “Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah” (Zep 1:1a). It could be that Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah, who ruled from 715-687 B.C. If so, he would be a cousin to King Josiah, who was reigning during his time of prophetic ministry; and, it would connect Zephaniah with two good kings who ruled in Judah. Also, he could be the priest who was captured and killed in 586 B.C. (2 Ki 25:18-21). However, there is insufficient evidence to determine if either of these extrapolations are true.

Audience:

     Zephaniah prophesied to Judah (Zep 1:4).

Date of Ministry:

     Zephaniah’s ministry was “in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah” (Zep 1:1b). Josiah ruled in Judah from 640-609 B.C. Zephaniah’s message, which addresses some of the idolatry and corruption in Judah, was likely before Josiah began his reforms in 622 B.C., or perhaps, in the early stages. His ministry was definitely before the fall of Assyria in 612 B.C., which he prophesied (Zep 2:13).

Historical Background:

     Josiah was a good king who followed the reign of two evil kings, Manasseh and Amon. Manasseh reigned fifty-five years and was an evil king (2 Ki 21:1-18). Amon reigned two years and was an evil king (2 Ki 21:19-26). Josiah became king in 640 B.C. when he was eight years old, and he was a good king who walked in the ways of the Lord (2 Ki 22:1-2). In 622 B.C.—the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign—God’s Word was revealed to him (2 Ki 22:3-20), and he responded positively and instituted religious reforms throughout Judah and destroyed all the false idols and places of worship (2 Ki 23:1-25). These reforms continued until his death in 609 B.C. (2 Ki 23:29). Judah experienced a time of great prosperity and spiritual reform under Josiah’s reign; however, the outward reforms did not lead to regeneration or revival among God’s people, and the following kings reverted back to evil practices and Judah and Jerusalem were eventually destroyed in 586 B.C. This shows that the faith of one generation may not continue to the next.

Zephaniah’s Message:

     The theme of Zephaniah is the approaching judgment of God upon Judah for their sin. The subject of the Day of the Lord is prominent in the book.

  • "The key to the Book of Zephaniah is the phrase “the day of the Lord.” This phrase appears in most of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. As we saw in Joel, “the day of the Lord” can be a past day, a day in the relatively near future, or a day in the far distant, eschatological future. It is any day in which God is dynamically at work in human affairs. Wherever we find the phrase “the day of the Lord,” it always suggests a contrast with the day of man. The day of man is any day when man appears to be in control of human affairs. It is a day of God’s patience. The day of the Lord is any day when God is clearly in control of human affairs. It is a day of God’s judgment. The phrase “the day of the Lord” is by no means unique to Zephaniah, but it is the key to the message of this book. Zephaniah used it more frequently than any other prophet. It was his burden. And he explained the meaning of this phrase more than any other prophet."[1]

     Zephaniah’s message ends with hope, as God promises a future restoration of His people and a time of blessing (Zep 3:9-20), which is likely a reference to the millennial kingdom.

Outline:

  1. God’s judgment against Judah (Zep 1:1-2:3)
  2. God’s judgment against the nations (Zep 2:4-15)
  3. God’s judgment on Jerusalem (Zep 3:1-8)
  4. God’s future restoration of Jerusalem (Zep 3:9-20)

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Hab 3:19.

Judges 1:1-19

Judges 1:1-19

November 8, 2019

     The Central Idea of the Text is that Israel failed to follow in the pattern of faith and obedience to God. After the death of Joshua, Judah and Simeon led the first military campaign against the Canaanites. Their obedience to God resulted in the defeat of the Canaanites and the Perizzites at the city of Bezek. They captured Adoni-bezek and disabled him from being a threat. Adoni-bezek recognized his defeat and punishment as divine retribution for the evil he did to seventy other kings. He does not complain, but recognizes the justice of what happens to him because of his cruelty to others. He was transported to the city of Jerusalem and died there. 

  • "Their first victory was over the inhabitants of Bezek. After slaying ten thousand men, they cut off the thumbs and big toes of the king, as he had done to his foes. He should have been put to death, as the Lord had commanded (Deut. 7:24), but instead he was only maimed. Then he was taken to Jerusalem, where he later died. This foreshadowed Israel’s disobedience in dealing with the heathen in their land. Rather than completely crushing them, the Israelites only crippled them. Such partial obedience was disobedience and would cost the Jews dearly in the days ahead."[1]

     Caleb offered his daughter in marriage to the man who defeated Kiriath-sepher, thus demonstrating himself as faithful, obedient to God, and having courage in battle. Such a man would make a suitable husband to provide and care for Achsah. In this way, Caleb was thinking about Achsah’s future safety and provision. Othniel rose to the challenge and proved himself worthy. 

     The success of Judah and Simeon suddenly came to a stop when they came against the enemy on iron chariots. It was a lack of faith that resulted in their defeat, and God later rebuked them for failing to take the land (Judg. 2:1-3).

     Success or failure among God’s people is predicated on faithful obedience to His Word. This requires learning God’s Word before living His will. God’s people will always face enemies in the world and we must be willing to pursue His commands over our personal fears. Like the days of the judges, God is now working in His church, not through one leader, but through men and women He’s raised up for our spiritual growth. These men and women have their shortcomings, but God works through them to guide and bring spiritual victory, both personally, and in the world.

 

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 265.

Introduction to Judges

Introduction to Judges

November 6, 2019

     The judges of Israel were God’s chosen representatives to arbitrate legal matters among His people. They were also given the responsibility to administer social affairs and to lead in military campaigns against Israel’s enemies. God Himself was the supreme Judge of the judges over Israel. 

Authorship and Date

     It’s likely the book of Judges was written during the reign of Saul, Israel’s first king.  There are several references in the book of Judges which state “in those days there was no king in Israel” (Jud. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).  This seems to imply that at the time of the writing there was a king in Israel. 

     Though he is never named within the book, Samuel the prophet is regarded as the author of the book of Judges.  If Samuel is accepted as the author, this would place the writing sometime around 1040 B.C.

Chronology of Judges

     The book of Judges records the period of time between the end of the leadership of Joshua (Judg. 1:1; 2:6-9) and the appointment of Saul as Israel’s first king (ca. 1350 to 1050 B.C.).  Some judges served consecutively and others ruled concurrently. 

     The people of Israel rejected God as their king and the judges He’d appointed over them and they requested a human king (1 Sam. 8:7; 12:12).  The period of the Judges ends when Samuel anoints Saul as the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 10:1).

The Function of the Judges

     The term Judge (שָׁפַט shaphat – judge or deliverer) refers to God’s judicial and military leader who protected Israel from enemies.  “It was a general term for leadership combining the executive (including military) and judicial aspects of governing. Thus the judges of Israel were primarily military and civil leaders, with strictly judicial functions included as appropriate (cf. 4:5).”[1]  The judges themselves were sinful men, who had their own failings, yet their faith in God makes them usable to the Lord to accomplish His will. 

The Theme of Judges

     Judges demonstrates Israel’s repeated failure to follow God as king.  The nation repeatedly allowed itself to be influenced by the surrounding culture and turned away from God and worshipped idols (see pattern in Judges 2:1-23).  The pattern throughout the book is:

  1. Israel turns away from the Lord and worships idols (sin)
  2. God sends discipline that results in their slavery (slavery)
  3. Israel cries out to the Lord from their oppression (supplication)
  4. God raises up a judge to rescue them (salvation)

Cycle_of_Behavior_in_Judges.jpg

     The above pattern is repeated six times throughout the book of Judges.  Israel’s spiritual condition—either in obedience or disobedience—determined their political and physical success or failure (Deut. 28).  Not only did Israel fail to obey God and drive out the Canaanites, but they even befriended them, intermarrying, adopting their culture, and eventually worshipping their gods.  When Israel was faithful to the Lord, God strengthened them to defeat their enemies, but when Israel was disobedient, God strengthened their enemies.  The faith of one generation did not guarantee the faith of the next, so a legacy could not be guaranteed.  The period was marked by general rebellion, in which “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17:6; 21:25).  Israel’s failure to take the land of Canaan resulted in long term problems for many years.

Outline

     The events of the judges are preceded by an introductory section (1:1–3:6) which reveals Israel’s disobedience to God and subsequent military failure to take the land of Canaan.  In Judges 2:6-10 the writer briefly recounts the death of Joshua which had already been reported in the book of Joshua (Josh. 24:29-30; Judg. 1:1).  Judges 3:7-16:31 is the repeated cycle of disobedience toward God.  And Judges 17:1-21:25 reveals the continuation of Israel’s disobedience. 

  1. Israel’s disobedience subsequent to the death of Joshua (1:1-3:6)
  2. Israel’s repeated cycle of disobedience (3:7-16:31)
  3. Israel’s disobedience – religious and moral apostasy (17:1-21:25)

[1] F. Duane Lindsey, “Judges,” 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), 374.

Habakkuk 3:1-19

Habakkuk 3:1-19

November 3, 2019

     Habakkuk became fearful at the Lord’s reply to his questions (Hab 3:1-2a), knowing God was bringing judgment both upon Judah and Babylon, and this prompted him to write a prayer-song of praise to God for His past and future acts of judgment. Habakkuk petitioned the Lord: 1) to do a visible work of judgment in his day, and 2) to remember mercy in judgment (Hab 3:2b). In the remainder of the chapter, Habakkuk set forth a history lesson of God’s works when He delivered His people from the Egyptian bondage. This history lesson assured Habakkuk that God would also deliver His people from Babylonian oppression. The prophet recalls when God entered into a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, where He brought them after bringing plagues of judgment upon Egypt. God’s judgment upon Egypt when He delivered His people caused the other nations to tremble in fear (Hab 3:3-7; cf. Ex 15:14-16; Deu 2:25; Josh 2:9). During His acts of deliverance, God’s anger and wrath were said to be against the rivers and sea (Hab 3:8-9), which most likely refers to the Nile (Ex 7:20-21), Jordan (Josh 3:14-17), and Red Sea (Ex 14:15-16; 15:8). God is pictured as a Warrior whose “bow was made bare, [and] the rods [arrows] of chastisement were sworn” (Hab 3:9). At this awesome picture, “The mountains saw You and quaked; the downpour of waters swept by. The deep uttered forth its voice, it lifted high its hands” (Hab 3:10). Habakkuk’s language is comparable to Psalm 77:16-18, which poetically describes God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The prophet then describes the time when God caused the sun to stand still when Joshua was fighting to take the land (Hab 3:11; cf. Josh 10:12-13), and then as He conquered the nations as His people entered Canaan (Hab 3:12). Habakkuk then pictures God as a Warrior who delivers His people and His anointed king, perhaps from the Babylonians (Hab 3:13a). After the Lord strikes down “the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck” (Hab 3:13b), He takes his weapons from his dead body and uses them to defeat “the head of his throngs” (Hab. 3:14a). And who are the defeated ones? Likely the Babylonians who “stormed in to scatter us; their exultation was like those who devour the oppressed in secret” (Hab 3:14b). It was upon these that the Lord “trampled on the sea with Your horses, on the surge of many waters” (Hab 3:15). If this interpretation is accurate, then the statement would be proleptic, seeing the future destruction of Babylon as so certain, that the prophet speaks of it as already having come to pass. After reflecting on God’s past judgments and deliverances (Hab 3:3-15), he returns to the present situation and trembles at the prospect of the Babylonian invasion (Hab 3:16a), in which he waits “quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us” (Hab 3:16b). Though Habakkuk anticipated judgment, which included famine upon the land (Hab 3:17), yet, he declares, “I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:18). Though he cannot stop the trouble that’s coming, he fixes his hope on the Lord who is in control of these events. Here, Habakkuk is doing what pleases the Lord, as he lives by faith in God (Hab 2:4b). With his faith fixed completely on the Lord, he states, “The Lord GOD is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places” (Hab 3:19a). He concludes his prayer-song by sending it to “the choir director, [to be played] on my stringed instruments” (Hab 3:19b).

Habakkuk 2:1-20

Habakkuk 2:1-20

November 2, 2019

     The chapter opens with Habakkuk waiting on the Lord’s reply (Hab 2:1). God answers him with a command to “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run” (Hab 2:2). This could be understood to mean that the vision is sure, and the one who reads it will know to run for safety when he sees it coming to pass. Or, it could be translated, “Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it” (CSB). Both renderings are possible, though I favor the first. God assures Habakkuk that the vision will certainly come to pass at God’s appointed time and that he should wait for it (Hab 2:3). The Lord then describes the Babylonian, saying, “Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab 2:4a). Here we have a contrast of characters. The proud Babylonians did not live by faith in God, but by selfish ambition and might, and they would be judged by Him for their arrogance and abuses. In contrast, the righteous Israelites who were living in Judah would humble themselves and seek the Lord and “live by his faith” (Hab 2:4b). Other translations read, “the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4b 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. Though spiritual life is in view in the NT, it refers to physical life in the book of Habakkuk. The idea is that the righteous will continue to be faithful to God and He will not kill them in the Babylonian invasion, but will let them live. Some of the righteous who went into captivity included Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael and Ezekiel. These faithful men served as models of righteousness for Israelites living outside the land. Referring to the Babylonians, God reveals they were given over to alcohol and violence, and, like death and the grave, seemed only to consume and never be satisfied, gathering more and more people and possessions to themselves (Hab 2:5). But these defeated peoples will one day take up a taunt-song against the Babylonians (Hab 2:6b). Habakkuk 2:6-20 presents five woes against the Chaldeans. Here, God reveals to Habakkuk the reasons why He will bring judgment on the Babylonians: 1) they greedily looted nations (Hab 2:6-8), 2) sought to secure themselves with their stolen wealth (Hab 2:9-11), 3) built their city with bloodshed (Hab 2:12-14), 4) exploited others sexually and with violence (Hab 2:15-17), and, 5) worshipped idols (Hab 2:18-19; cf. Deu 32:17; 1 Cor 10:20). The first four woes describe Chaldean acts against other people, whereas the last woe is against God. Though Babylon would seem unstoppable for a time, God would bring them into judgment, for “the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him” (Hab 2:20). The Babylonians in Habakkuk’s time were behaving similarly to ancient Babylon, which emphasized self-reliance over trust in the Lord. God judged ancient Babylon by confusing their languages and scattering them over the earth (Gen 11:1-9), and He destroyed the Neo-Babylonians in 539 B.C. by means of the Medes and Persians (Dan 5:1-31). The values and practices of self-reliance and self-exaltation continue worldwide and will be centralized again in the future city of Babylon, which will be destroyed at the Second coming of Jesus.

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.