Ezekiel, Jeremiah & Lamentations

If you’ve never read Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Lamentations before, a little historical background will help you tremendously as you read these books. Ezekiel wrote from exile in Babylon. In 606BC and 597BC, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, took the rich and powerful from Jerusalem and brought them to Babylon. This was before the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 586BC. Ezekiel was probably involved in the 597BC exile, and as he wrote from Babylon, he was trying to get the attention of his fellow exiles. False prophets were telling them that they would all get to go back to Jerusalem in a couple of years, and that God would never allow Jerusalem to be destroyed because it was where His temple was – it was where He dwelt. Ezekiel, however, was a true prophet. He knew that Jerusalem was going to fall, regardless of the temple being there. This wasn’t because God had abandoned His people or because He was a weak God, but because His people had been committing idolatry and wickedness for centuries. He is a just God, and His judgement simply couldn’t be postponed any longer.

Jeremiah prophesied over a span of several years, prior to the fall of Jerusalem and after the fall of Jerusalem. Prior to the fall, he kept warning God’s people that if they didn’t return to Him, destruction was coming. They didn’t believe him, choosing instead to believe their own false prophets. In 588BC, Nebuchadnezzar’s army came to besiege Jerusalem. Jerusalem was besieged for at least 1-1/2 years. A siege is terrible. Jerusalem’s inhabitants were basically locked in the city with no way of getting food. The famine was so severe that women were eating their own children. Disease was also running rampant. If you’ve read Deuteronomy, you’ll know that many of these terrible things were part of the “covenant curses.” God made a covenant with His people that if they kept His covenant, they would be blessed, but if they broke His covenant, they would be cursed. After centuries of God’s mercy, Jerusalem finally experienced these curses. Jeremiah also recounts life after the fall of Jerusalem. The poorest of the poor remained in the land, but they continued to reject God and worship idols, eventually fleeing to Egypt (despite God telling them – through Jeremiah – that they were to stay put) as they feared Nebuchadnezzar would come back to attack them in Judah.

Clearly, the people of God had a long history of rebellion. Ezekiel and Jeremiah had quite a task, prophesying to a people who did not want to listen, and who wanted to go about their own way of doing things – living in wickedness, and worshiping idols instead of the One True God. Unfortunately, we are not so different from these people today. Even if we know God, we sin every single day (at least I do!). Every time we sin against Him, we are rebelling against God’s purposes, just as the people of Judah had done. The difference is that today we don’t have to endure covenant curses, because we are under the new covenant. Christ has died so that God’s justice would be poured out on Him, while we experience His grace and mercy and forgiveness.

If you’re reading the Bible along with me, our next post will be on Daniel and Ezra. You should be able to read these books in about two hours.


Ezekiel

Main Idea: Ezekiel prophesies from exile about the way in which God’s people have been/are going to be judged, showing that the Lord will restore them so they (and all) will know He is the Lord.

Reason Written: Written to show how God would spare His people for the sake of His name.

Timeless Truth: God hates idolatry (Ezekiel 6-9,16,23).


Jeremiah + Lamentations

Main Idea: Jeremiah prophesies that destruction is coming to sinful Jerusalem via Nebuchadnezzar, but God will restore His people and judgement will fall on Babylon.

Reason Written: Written to show how God’s people were disobedient so that Jerusalem was destroyed and God’s people were taken into exile, and to show God’s faithfulness to establish a new covenant with His people.

Timeless Truth: God calls His people to persevere at what He has called them to (Jeremiah 20, 26, 28, 29:24-32, 32, 36, 38).

Timeless Truth for Lamentations: There is always hope in the Lord (Lamentations 3). * We had an “alternate assignment” for Lamentations, so I have no “main idea” or “reason written” for you, but the basic idea is that this book mourns the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC.

Michael’s Reflections on Zephaniah

Zephaniah is not only the most recent book I taught, but it is also the last book of the Bible I taught for the 2011/2012 SBS. This was going to be my “grand finale” of teaching here in Montana. As I studied Zephaniah, I struggled with this, as I felt that the book of Joel was a better teaching for me to wrap up with, because I felt that much of what Zephaniah had to say was repeated elsewhere in the prophets. With every teaching I have done this year, I wanted to do more than just pass on information – I wanted each teaching to carry a message from God to the students. To do that, I first had to face what God was challenging me with from each individual book. Right up to the morning of my teaching I still wasn’t sure what that was to be. The Holy Spirit was with me, however, and taught me as I taught the students.

Ultimately the book of Zephaniah focuses on one theme: “the Day of the Lord.” In that there are two parts: judgement and restoration/mercy. In the case of Zephaniah’s audience, the message was mostly a warning that a day was coming where God was going to act in judgement against them for their rebellion and idolatry. This happened for Jerusalem and Judah in 586BC when Babylon came and destroyed the city and took its people into exile. In my lecture I referred to this as the little “d” day of the Lord. In the text there are descriptions that seem to point to another day, however – a day when all of humanity will be judged for its rebellion. This I referred to as the big “D” Day of the Lord. This day is the day we read of in Revelation (and was therefore a long way off for the original readers of Zephaniah), but in the same way that judgement came on Jerusalem, so will judgement certainly come on all humanity.

My question to the class and to myself was, “When we speak of salvation to people, do we give the right amount of focus to the Day of the Lord?” When Zephaniah’s audience heard of being saved, they saw it as being saved from the judgement of God that was coming. Today, we make it about many things (which are valid in their own right) but often at the cost of talking about the fact that when we receive salvation in Christ, we are being saved from facing God’s righteous judgement on the final Day of the Lord. I think the main reason for our avoiding this is because we live in a culture (and even a church) that has a high view of humanity (particularly of ourselves) and a low view of God. When this worldview is reversed (as it should be), suddenly the mercy of God to make a way for people to be hidden from God’s righteous judgment seems so much more loving and awesome.

Ultimately, the Day of the Lord is about God’s kingdom and not us. Those who choose to humble themselves before God and receive the work of Jesus on the cross will benefit from living in God’s kingdom for eternity, but our pleasure is not God’s ultimate goal. For the kingdom to be everything God wants it to be and promises it will be, rebellion, sin and evil must be removed. So on the Day of the Lord, those who humble themselves will be hidden in Christ (Zephaniah’s name means “Yahweh has hidden”) and will be separated from those who continue to rebel against God’s love. Those who rebel, however, will be judged. If we have an adequate understanding of the terrifying nature of God’s wrath, we will do all we can to help people (every person, no matter how wicked we think they are) see their need to be saved.

If you are reading through the Bible with Helen, the next three books are Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. Reading all three will take approximately 9 hours.

Isaiah, Micah, Habakkuk, & Obadiah

I feel like God spoke a lot to me through the book of Isaiah, so I found it difficult to boil the book down to one timeless truth to write about! The overwhelming message I kept thinking about, however, is how badly each and every single person needs Jesus – we all need a Savior. I’ve been thinking about an analogy of this message: if a person is dehydrated and is moments away from death, and another person gives them a glass of water, but the dehydrated person refuses to drink it, whose fault is it that that person died? Is it the person who gave the glass of water, or is it the person who refused the glass of water? Clearly, we would blame the person who refused the glass of water – their death would be their own fault. This is a simply analogy, but if we think of it in terms of the way in which God has offered us a Savior – Jesus – it sheds some light on our desperation, and the foolishness of rejecting that which God offers us – salvation. God offers us Jesus (the glass of water), and if we reject Him, we alone are at fault for the repercussions of rejecting Him. We are all in desperate need of a Savior, and God has offered us this Savior in Jesus Christ. If we don’t accept Him, however, we will receive the punishment He bore for us – death, and eternity without God.

While it may seem preferable to present a “politically correct” message that suggests all roads lead to God and salvation, this simply isn’t the case – there is only one way to the Father, and His name is Jesus. The New Testament tells us over and over that Jesus is God, and He is the fulfillment of the Savior that the Father promised, but reading the Old Testament makes me realize how desperate each and every single person is (whether we know it or not) for Jesus. If you’ve been on this Bible-reading journey with me, you should be really familiar with the rebellious nature of Israel (God’s people) – God gave them everything – a land, a people, a relationship with Himself – and they rejected Him. Now God has given us Himself – Jesus – who died for us so the cost of that rebelliousness is paid for. Will you accept the One who poured out His life for you, the One you desperately need, the One who has given you everything, and will give you everything eternally, if you only follow Him?

Our next post will be a summary of Michael’s teaching on Zephaniah – his last teaching for the year, and his last teaching in SBS Montana, as we’ll be moving on to staff SBS at YWAM Turner Valley next year! Zephaniah takes less than fifteen minutes to read.


Isaiah

Main Idea: Israel and Judah are wicked and are to be judged for sin, but a Savior is coming who will redeem all who turn to Him.

Reason Written: Written to show the depravity of the nations and the need for a Savior.

Timeless Truth: All people are in desperate need of a Savior (Isaiah 53:3-11). Those who accept Him will be saved, and those who reject Him will be rejected (Isaiah 65:1-16).


Micah

Main Idea: Micah warns Judah that if they continue to walk in the injustice which Israel walked in, they will be exiled.

Reason Written: Written to show that God desires His people to walk in justice, kindness and humility.

Timeless Truth: God does not tolerate corruption (Micah 1:5-7; 2:1-5; 3:1-4,9-12; 6:10-16).


Habakkuk

Main Idea: Habakkuk questions why God would use the wicked Chaldeans (Babylonians) to punish Judah.

Reason Written: Written to show God’s control over the nations.

Timeless Truth: God’s people should pray for mercy, rather than judgement, to come against the wicked (Habakkuk 3:2).


Obadiah

Main Idea: Because Edom did not help Judah when they were conquered, they will be punished.

Reason Written: Written to show that God would restore His people, despite the way in which they have been treated by other nations.

Timeless Truth: None should take delight in the harm done to another (Obadiah 1:12-13).

News From Montana!

If you haven’t already received our Spring 2012 newsletter, check it out below! We have made a two-year commitment to staffing the School of Biblical Studies at YWAM Turner Valley from 2012-2014, and we’d love for you to learn more about the details of this exciting transition!

Jonah, Nahum, & Hosea

If you’re like most people (including me), a when you think of Jonah, a whale comes to mind. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh to prophesy as God tells him to, and he is swallowed be a “big fish,” where he dwells for three days. Pretty incredible story. What’s even more incredible, however, is we think that this is the main point of the story. That is not the case.

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to bring them a message of repentance. God is going to bring disaster upon the city if they do not turn to Him, but Jonah doesn’t want to go. Why? Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh because it was the capital of Assyria, the wickedest nation of Jonah’s day. The Assyrians were known as a “merciless and savage people” with a cruel army described as “ruthless and effective.” The Assyrians were known to burn cities, burn children, impale their victims on stakes, behead their victims, and chop off their hands. If a city resisted their attacks, they would cut off the heads of the city’s leaders, rip open the pregnant women and kill their babies (they believed the spirit of the god of the nation lived in the babies), and hanged military leaders alive on sharp poles. They would throw the heads of defeated armies into the walls of a city they were attacking. Those they captured were led into exile with fish-hooks through their jaw; they would be forced to walk hundreds of miles. They would also force those who they captured to become part of their armies.

This is the nation to which God sends Jonah, telling them to repent and turn to Him, because God is going to judge them if they don’t. Jonah doesn’t want to go because he doesn’t want Nineveh to repent! He doesn’t want this wicked nation to receive the forgiveness of God after all they had done! But God loves the Assyrians. Even though they were a wicked, terrible people, His heart is to see them redeemed – for them to turn to Him and recognize that they need Him. They need to ask for His forgiveness, and they need to realize how badly they need His mercy. Do we, like Jonah, think some people don’t “deserve” the mercy of God? Do we think that some people are too wicked to ever receive salvation? If this is the case, we need to check our hearts. Aren’t we wicked? Haven’t we sinned against the Lord? We are just as deserving of hell as anyone else, the only difference is that we who believe in the saving work of the cross are spared from the wrath of God by the blood of Christ.

So what happened to Nineveh? Jonah eventually got there, gave the message of repentance, and the Assyrians actually turned to God. Unfortunately, their repentance and humility before the Lord didn’t last. We see this in the book Nahum, where Nahum prophesies about the impending judgement of this nation which had taken Israel into exile. His prophecies would come true; Assyria was defeated by Babylon in 612 BC.

The next books to read will be Isaiah, Micah, Obadiah and Habakkuk. Isaiah takes approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes to read. Micah takes about twenty minutes, and Obadiah and Habakkuk will take you less than fifteen minutes to read both.


Jonah

Main Idea: Jonah attempts to flee from the Lord who has instructed him to prophecy destruction to Nineveh; when Nineveh hears the prophecy, they repent and believe God. (God’s mercy for all nations and people).

Reason Written: Shows the results of rebelling against the Lord and repenting and turning to Him.

Timeless Truth: No one is too “far gone” that God cannot draw them to Himself (Jonah 3:5-10)


Nahum

Main Idea: Nineveh would be judged because they had taken Israel into exile.

Reason Written: Written to warn the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, that judgement was coming against them.

Timeless Truth: Mercy for the wicked and unrepentant has an expiration date (Nahum 1:8; 3:1-7).


Hosea

Main Idea: God asks Hosea to marry and love an unfaithful woman as a symbol of God’s faithfulness, and Israel’s unfaithfulness.

Reason Written: Predicts the fall of Israel due to their unfaithfulness, but promises restoration.

Timeless Truth: God calls His people to 100% faithfulness (Hosea 3:3).

Michael’s Reflections on Joel

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of teaching the book of Joel to the morning session of the SBS here in Montana. When I found out that I would be teaching Joel at the end of April and then Zephaniah the second week of May, I wasn’t that concerned as both are only three chapters long. I found, however that for three chapters, Joel has a lot to wrestle with. I won’t go in to all the details, but there has been a lot of debate around both the background and the contents of this book. Thankfully, there is a wealth of quality teachers here that had taught this book previously, and were able to help me wrap my mind around what was going on.

At its simplest, the book of Joel is similar to other prophetic books in the OT. His basic message is a warning of judgment, the need for repentance, and God’s restoration that will come if they repent. The challenge was investigating the background of the book to interpret the book in the right context. Here is how I (and other people smarter than me) see the context. I believe the Joel prophesied during the time leading up to the reign of King Joash of Judah. The best place to find this story is in 2 Chronicles 23. If you want the setup to the story, you can read the previous chapter. Basically Joash’s father, Ahaziah, has been killed by his wife Athaliah, who has killed all his heirs expect Joash, who is being hidden in the temple; Athaliah is ruling as queen at this time. Her reign included all kinds of idolatry. Into this scenario comes a locust plague which Joel describes in chapter 1. Locusts were part of the curses God promised would come if Israel did not keep the covenant (Deuteronomy 28). Joel goes to the priests and the elders with his prophecy and they respond. The response is seen in Jehoiada’s actions in 2 Chronicles 23. I believe the return to the covenant is followed by physical restoration that is promised in Joel 2:19-26. As for the contents of Joel 2:1-17 I believe Joel is describing the next part of the covenant curses that will come upon the people if they continue to rebel: an army that comes like a locust plague. In 1:5 the locusts are described as a “nation;” a plague of locusts included millions of these insects, so an army is a suitable description! In chapter 2, Joel is seeing a literal nation coming against Judah like the locusts had come against the nation, only instead of devouring crops, this army will devour everything. Finally, the book contains a large section on restoration of which I see 3 parts: physical restoration (2:19-26), future promise of spiritual outpouring (2:28-32), and future promise of vindication at the Day of the Lord (3:1-21).

There were two particular themes that stood out to me from this book. The first was the importance of repentance and what that looks like. Martin Luther’s first thesis of his famous 95 theses says, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when he said repent, willed the whole life of believers should be repentance.” I believe that to be true. The most common purpose of the prophet in the OT was to call people to repent and turn back to the covenant. I believe that though we now live under a new covenant, the message of repentance is still just as important. I need to check daily that my heart and my life is in line with God. Often, the thing that causes the most damage in our lives are the small ways in which we drift from the path God has set before us. If you are not sure what repentance looks like, I would encourage you to read through Joel and highlight the different things he calls the people to do. Then ask yourself what are the timeless ideas behind what he is saying. The second thing that stood out to me was the need for Christians to understand the prophetic messages of the OT in the context in which they are spoken. Helen’s previous post did an excellent job of describing what this looks like. As I studied Joel, it saddened me to see some of the theology that has been developed from allowing people’s experiences to interpret how they understand Scripture, instead of allowing Scripture to interpret their experiences. I would encourage you to seriously consider where you fall in with what I just described, and if it is the former, I pray that you would seek God as to whether you need to adjust your view of the Bible. I am constantly amazed how God continues to reveal new things to me about who He is and who I am as I study the Bible, and I hope that you would find the same.

If you are reading through the Bible with Helen, the next three books are Jonah, Nahum, and Hosea. Reading all three will take approximately 45 minutes.

Interpreting Prophetic Literature & Amos

Prophetic literature is somewhat of a minefield for wacky interpretations. To start, let me just tell you that there are 737 prophecies in the Bible. 139 of these prophecies were about the divided kingdom – about Israel and Judah separating, which happened in approximately 931BC. This gives us some perspective to show that a lot of the prophecies found in the Bible have already been fulfilled. Only 2% of the prophecies found in the Bible are about Jesus, and less than 1% of the prophecies are about the age to come (Christ’s return). We can get very carried away thinking that every single prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, or are pictures of the “last days,” when in reality, the vast majority of Biblical prophecy has already been fulfilled. Does this take away from the prophecies about Christ’s return? Certainly not! We can look to the prophecies that have already been fulfilled, and know that because they were accurate, prophecies about Jesus coming back for His faithful people are also accurate.

God sent the prophets for a number of purposes. First of all, the fulfillment of predictions shows that God is in control. Some of the prophets prophesied about events that would take place hundreds of years later (Isaiah prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem in the 700s BC, and this didn’t happen until 586BC). The prophets give God’s perspective on the past, present and future, brought warnings of judgement that were meant to bring sinners to repentance and brought hope of restoration. We can think of the prophets as God’s “policemen.” The people of God had broken the covenant they had made with Him, and the prophets were calling them to repentance, before it was too late and they were judged. Many of the prophets prophesied about exile; Israel was exiled by Assyria in 722BC, and Judah was exiled by Babylon in 586BC.

Prophets communicated in a number of ways. There are several prophets mentioned in the Bible who do not have books in the Bible; look at Kings and Chronicles to see these “spoken prophets.” Other prophets wrote down their messages as well as speaking them; these are the prophets we see with books in the Bible. Prophets also often communicated through enacted symbols. Hosea was called to marry a harlot as a symbol of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Isaiah was called to walk around naked for three years as a sign against Egypt and Cush.

As we think about interpreting the prophets, there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. First of all, learn abut the historical situation of the prophet speaking, and the people he was speaking to. The prophets spoke into specific situations and a specific people. Joel, for example, spoke to Judah in the aftermath of a locust plague; if you learn about the dismal effects of a locust plague, you will have a much greater appreciation for the imagery used throughout the book.
  2. Be inductive in your interpretation of the prophets. Don’t just pull out one line and decide you know what it is about. Read the whole book. Get a feel for what the prophet is talking about before you make assumptions based on one verse.
  3. Keep the main idea in mind. A lot of the prophets wrote using poetry, and just as with poetry today, if we get lost in each and every single word, we lose the main message of the poetry. If you keep the big picture in mind, you’ll be less likely to get caught up in the details.
  4. The New Testament always interprets the Old Testament. For example, Amos 9:11-12 is quoted in Acts 15:16-17. Find out where the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, and realize that though the original reader would not likely have understood the fulfillment of the prophecy, the fullest interpretation is found in the New Testament. It is a minority of prophecies that are quoted in the New Testament, but when they are, take notice.
  5. If you are trying to figure out the fulfillment of a prophecy, finding the event that is closest in time frame to the prophecy is usually best. We can go all sorts of places with “exile” language, but the reality is that most prophets were speaking about actual exile, not some sort of figurative “last days” exile.

Hope these tips help as you read the prophets! Remember, these are just guidelines; prophets did not follow formulas, so we can’t always interpret their writings using a formula! Our next post will be on Joel; Michael will by writing a summary of his teaching of this very highly debated book! Joel takes about fifteen minutes to read.


Amos

Main Idea: Amos warns Israel that their social injustice and idolatry will not go unpunished.

Reason Written: Written to address the rich with regards to God’s intolerance for social injustice.

Timeless Truth: God despises empty worship which is not congruent with the way in which one lives one’s life (Amos 6:21-24).