Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ezra 5 - Encouragement

LINK: Ezra 5

Jerusalem, 520 B.C.

Haggai was sent by God to speak to the Jews. Haggai said, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" (Haggai 1:4). The next month Haggai encouraged the Jews, "'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the Lord, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the Lord, 'and work; for I am with you,' says the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:4). You can read Haggai's complete messages here.

God also sent Zechariah to speak to the people and to say, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Return to Me,' declares the Lord of hosts, 'that I may return to you,' says the Lord of hosts. 'Do not be like your fathers . . . (who) did not listen or give heed to Me,' declares the Lord" (Zechariah 1:3-5).

So, with this encouragement, the building project began again on the temple.

Then Tattenai showed up and questioned the authorization to build. He doesn't seem to be antagonistic like Rehum and Shimshai had been (chap 4), but is likely just verifying the story he got from Zerubbabel. So Tattenai wrote a letter to Darius to confirm the autorization Zerubbabel claimed to have to build the temple. He referred to Zerubbabel by his other name, Sheshbazzar in the letter.

Father, thank you that when you call us to do your work, you also provide encouragement for us. Help us remember to rely on you, rather than ourselves, and to do the work you give us to do. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ezra 3-4 -- Opposition

LINK: Ezra 3-4

In chapter three, Zerubbabel led the people to set up the altar and begin worshiping God. They began celebrating the feasts and daily sacrifices as they were laid out in the Law. Once the sacrifices were established, they began work on the foundation of the temple. When the foundation was complete in 535 B.C., there was great rejoicing.

Chapter four makes more sense if you think of verses 6-23 as a parenthesis that explains verse five. It tells of the local resistance Zerubbabel faced. People living in the area did not want the temple to be rebuilt. They wrote to King Artaxerxes telling him that these Jews were plotting to rebel against him. Artaxerxes believed the letter and ordered a halt on the building project. The work stopped until Darius reversed the order in 520 B.C.

Twice we are told of the fear the returning exiles had of the people who lived in the land. "So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening" (3:3). "Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building (4:4).

Despite the fear they experienced, the people of Judah kept working (until they were ordered by a higher authority to stop). They did not quit out of fear. In fact, their fear spurred them on to get the altar constructed and start worshiping God as quickly as possible.


We all have fears. We tend to respond to fear by being tentative, hesitating, reconsidering, waiting, and withdrawing. Courage isn't the absence of fear; it's doing the hard thing despite the fear we feel in our hearts. It's a decision to place trust outside ourselves and move forward, even though it's a scary thing to do.

What fears are holding you back from God? Fear of failure? Fear of opposition? Fear of ridicule? Talk to God about your fears, and trust him to give you courage. Then, even though it's scary, take that step of obedience and do that hard thing.

Father, you have not given us a spirit of fear and timidity. Instead you have given us power and courage. Help us to go push past our fears into trusting and obeying you. Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ezra 1-2 -- Back to Jerusalem

LINK: Ezra 1-2

BACKGROUND for the book of EZRA

Ezra is likely the author of this book, but he probably compiled other people's writings for parts of it. He seems to have collected various documents, genealogies, and personal memoirs as sources for the parts of the book he wasn't witness to. The books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah were originally one book in Jewish scripture. In the Latin Vulgate, Ezra and Nehemiah are titled 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras.

Ezra probably completed the book between 456, when the events of 10:17-44 took place, and 444, when Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem.

God had promised to restore Israel to her land following 70 years of captivity in Babylon. "And this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years." (Jeremiah 25:11) . . . "When 70 years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place" (Jer 29:10). Ezra records the fulfillment of God's promise.

God used both godly Jewish men (Zerubbabel, Joshua, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra) and Persian kings (Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes) to accomplish His plan. Cyrus overthrew Babylon in 539. His policy was to encourage subject people to return to their homelands, so in 538 he issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

Chapters 1-6 describe the return of about 50,000 Jews under Zerubbabel's leadership (authorized by Cyrus) and their work in laying the foundation of the temple. Chapters 7-10 describe Ezra's return to Jerusalem under Artaxerxes and his leadership in spiritual revival of the people.

Persian kings and the dates they reigned through this period are as follows:
Cyrus -- 538-530 B.C.
Cambyses -- 530-522 (not mentioned in Ezra's account)
Smerdis -- 522 (also not mentioned in Ezra's account)
Darius I -- 521-486
Xerxes (Ahasuerus) -- 486-465
Artaxerxes I -- 464-423
Darius II -- 423-404

NOTE: Ezra is not written as a strict chronology of events. The author compiled various accounts without reorganizing the information included in the original documents.


Father, you truly are sovereign. You set up kings and rulers, and you depose them. You turn the hearts of rulers to go whichever way you want them to go. Keep us always mindful that you are in total control over the affairs of men. Nothing surprises you or catches you off guard. We worship and praise you for your sovereignty over all. Amen.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Psalm 65 - A Song of Praise & Thanksgiving

LINK: Psalm 65


David wrote this song. He most likely wrote it for the Feast of Tabernacles, the most joyous Jewish festival when Israel celebrated God's provision and offered Him the firstfruits of the harvest.

v 1-4 - Praise God that He forgives sin and draws us to Himself.
v 5-8 - Praise God as the great Creator of the world and the one who keeps it under His control.
v 9-13 - Praise God for all He provides for us on this earth.

"The Christian ought to be a living doxology"
~Martin Luther


On this Thanksgiving Day, offer praise to God that He has chosen you for salvation, for His mighty power over all creation, and for His provision. Try writing your own song of praise.

Pray or sing your song to the Lord!

Enjoy celebrating the goodness of the Lord this Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

2 Kings 25 - The End of Judah

LINK: 2 Kings 25
Parallel passage --
Jeremiah 40-43
2 Chronicles 36:11-21

After about nine years, Zedekiah rebelled against both King Nebuchadnezzar and the Lord God. The priests and people had also defiled the temple. God sent Jeremiah, but the people mocked him and God. So God brought Babylon one more time to invade Jerusalem. A one and a half year siege resulted in the fall of Jerusalem.

King Zedekiah was captured and made to watch the slaughter of his sons before his eyes were put out. This fulfilled prophesies of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Jeremiah had warned Zedekiah that he would see Nebuchadnezzar.

because Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying "Why do you prophesy, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, "Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will take it; and Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but he willl surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will speak with him face to face, and see him eye to eye; and he will take Zedekiah to Babylon, and he will be there until I visit him," declares the Lord. "If you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed"'?" (Jeremiah 32:3-5)

But Ezekiel had prophesied that Zedekiah would not see Babylon.

I will also spread My net over him, and he will be caught in My snare. And I shall bring him to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans; yet he will not see it, though he will die there. (Ezekiel 12:13)
One month later, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, burned the city and the temple, carried off the temple treasures that remained, and took Seraiah the high priest and others to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah where they were executed.

Gedaliah was appointed governor of the land, and Jeremiah stayed with him at Mizpah, the new capital. But when Gedaliah was murdered by Ishmael, the remnant of Jews feared retaliation from Babylon and fled to Egypt (in direct disobedience to the Lord), taking Jeremiah with them.

Fast forward 27 years . . . .

In Babylon, Jehoiachin was imprisoned for a total of 37 years. When Evil-merodach ascended to the throne in Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison and provided him with daily rations and a daily allowance. Interestingly, there are Babylonian tablets that confirm that Jehoiachin, his sons, and others received rations from Nebuchadnezzar's stores. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-merodach was apparently attempting to gain favor with the captive Jews by releasing Jehoiachin from prison and treating him well.

This book was written to the Jews exiled in Babylon. What do you think was the primary message the author was trying to communicate to his audience? If you were a Jew in Babylonian captivity at the time, what would have been the book's major lessons to you?

Father, thank you for the light of your word that guides us and leads us to you. May we follow your ways and seek to please you in all that we say and do. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2 Kings 24 - Nebuchadnezzar in Judah

LINK: 2 Kings 24
Parallel passages --
2 Chronicles 36:5-21
Daniel 1:1-2
Jeremiah 22:13-30

Chapter 24 opens in the year 605 B.C. Nabopolassar king of Babylon sent his son Nebuchadnezzar to fight the Egyptian army at Carchemish. Nebuchadnezzar completely defeated the Egyptians giving Babylon control over a large area including Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and captured King Jehoiakim. While he was there, he received word of his father's death and returned to Babylon to claim the throne. Jehoiakim was bound and carried off to Babylon, and this is also when Daniel and his friends were deported to Babylon.

Jehoiachin then reigned for three months during the year 597 B.C. During that time, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem a second time, and 10,000 people were deported. Jehoiachin was taken captive and exiled to Babylon along with all of his family members, all the leaders and officials of the land, and all the skilled workers. The prophet Ezekiel was part of this deportation, and the treasures of the temple were taken as well.

Nebuchadnezzar then placed Mattaniah (Jehoiachin's uncle) on the throne in Jerusalem and changed his name to Zedekiah. We learn more about his reign in 2 Chronicles 36. About eight years later, he rebelled against the king of Babylon (and against God).

Keep reading. We will conclude this story tomorrow.

Lord, let us not harden our hearts against you and your word. You will not be mocked and will discipline your children when they rebel against you. Teach us to be sensitive to your Holy Spirit and to be obedient to your word because we love you with all our heart, soul, and mind. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2 Kings 19 - God vs. Assyria

LINK: 2 Kings 19

Yesterday, we left Hezekiah under threat of attack by Assyria's king Sennacherib. He immediately turned to the Lord and sent word to Isaiah asking for help from the Lord. Rabshakeh, the commander of Assyria's army, had not only threatened Jerusalem but had declared that Judah's God could not rescue the people from his hand. But God showed Rabshakeh that he truly was a powerful God, not like the gods of the other nations. Even without a battle, Hezekiah defeated Sennacherib because the Lord struck the troops, killing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. So Assyria withdrew, and Sennacherib was assassinated when he was worshiping one of his false gods.

Also, many commentators believe that Psalm 76 was written by Asaph in response to this situation.


Hezekiah's prayer is a great demonstration of his faith. His request to be rescued is not only for his own benefit but also because the enemy has insulted God. He wants God's power to be demonstrated that "all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God."


Hezekiah was confident in the Lord because he knew the word of the Lord and his character. He fully trusted God to remain true to what he had revealed in his word. Although Satan will attack our faith like he did Hezekiah's, we can also have confidence in the Lord. But our confidence must be based on what God says in his word, not our own ideas of who God is. God is completely commited to his own glory and to keeping his promises. The more we understand God from our study of the Bible, the more we can pray in line with Him, and the more God will answer our prayers.

Father, when Satan tries to shake our confidence in you, help us to remember who you really are and trust in you to bring glory to your name and to be faithful in keeping your promises. Teach us to have faith like Hezekiah, who relied on you and your word. Amen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2 Kings 18 - King Hezekiah vs. Assyria

LINK: 2 Kings 18
Parallel passages on the story of Hezekiah are found in 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 36-39.

Judah finally has a good king, a really good king! Hezekiah "did right in the sight of the Lord." He took down the high places, broke the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and even broke apart the bronze serpent that Moses had made in the wilderness. Apparently, the people were worshiping the serpent. Hezekiah truly trusted the Lord, as opposed to many before him who only pretended to trust the Lord.

Assyria already took the kingdom of Israel among other countries in the area. When Sennacherib (king of Assyria) seized several fortified cities in Judah, King Hezekiah paid him tribute in an attempt to get him to withdraw. But Sennacherib did not withdraw and threatened Jerusalem with a siege. In his arrogance, the king of Assyria taunted and told the people that the God of Judah was no better than any other god. And since he had already overpowered the other gods in the area and taken their lands, Jerusalem and Judah should expect the same.

Stay tuned to see what happens in tomorrow's reading.

Let us cling to you, Lord, and never depart from following you. For you are the true God, not like any other god. Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2 Kings 11-12 - Reign of Joash (Jehoash)

LINK: 2 Kings 11-12

The story of Judah's kings left off in 2 Kings 9:27 with the death of King Ahaziah (killed by Jehu). We pick up the story again at the beginning of chapter 11. King Ahaziah's mother was Athaliah. Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. At the death of her son, she killed all of his descendants (her grandchildren) and usurped the throne. But Ahaziah's sister Jehosheba rescued one of the grandsons, Joash, who was an infant at the time. She hid him with his nurse in a bed storage room in the temple for six years.

Significantly, Joash was now the only living male descendant of David. In God's covenant with David, He had promised "a lamp for David and his descendants forever." God used Jehosheba to keep that "lamp" burning so David's line would not be wiped out.

When Joash was seven years old, Jehoiada the priest staged a coup, Athaliah was killed, and Joash took the throne. He ruled under the guidance of Jehoiada, and his first act was to tear down the temple of Baal and kill Mattan the priest of Baal.

As long as Joash (also called Jehoash) was instructed by Jehoiada the priest, he did "right in the sight of the Lord." His only fault during that time was that he did not remove the high places, so the people still used them for burning incense and making sacrifices.

The major accomplishment of Joash's reign was restructuring the temple finances and repairing the temple building itself. At this time, the temple would have been about 150 years old and in need of some repair, but the repairs weren't getting done. So, Joash set up a separate collection to be used for repairs and selected honest skilled workers to do the work.

Hazael king of Aram captured Gath, a strategic trade and military location, then set out to capture Jerusalem. Rather than fight this powerful enemy, Joash bought him off with all the treasures of the temple. Aram went away.

Joash's reign lasted forty years before he was assassinated by his own officials. There are more details in 2 Chronicles 24:17-27. Joash was leading the nation into idolatry, and Zechariah (Jehoiada's son) spoke out against him for it. Rather than listen to Zechariah, Joash murdered him. Joash's officials who were true to the Lord were the ones who then killed him. And Amaziah his son became the next king, continuing the line of David on the throne.

Joash did well in serving the Lord as long as Jehoiada was alive. But once Jehoiada was removed from the scene, he turned away from the Lord and promoted idol worship. He started off well but did not finish well. Joash himself may not have even realized it at the time, but his motivation for doing good was most likely to please Jehoida rather than to please the Lord. Once Jehoiada's influence was removed, Joash forgot the Lord.


Let's examine our motives for serving the Lord. Is our service out of whole-hearted devotion to God, or is it to impress or appease others? Are we truly serving God or serving our mentors, church leaders, Bible study teacher, etc.? And if we have leadership roles, let's make sure we point the hearts of others to God rather than to ourselves.

Let our hearts be fully yours, Lord. May all we do and say be done to your honor, not for our own honor. Teach us to obey you from the heart and to listen when you rebuke us for going astray. Thank you for being like a father who guides us and keeps us on the right path. Help us to keep our eyes on you and you alone and to serve you from pure devotion to you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2 Kings 10 - Jehu's Purge

LINK: 2 Kings 10

In this chapter Jehu continued to fulfill the prophecy against the house of Ahab. There were 70 male descendants (sons and grandsons) of Ahab, and Jehu had them all killed. Jehu went beyond killing Ahab's sons, though, and also killed all of his leaders, acquaintances, and priests.

In chapter 9, Jehu had also killed Ahaziah king of Judah. Now he encountered a group of Ahaziah's relatives who claimed to be coming to visit Ahaziah and Jezebel. Jehu was suspicious of their motives and had them all killed. Commentators give two reasons why Jehu would have been suspicious. (1) It's not likely that they wouldn't have heard of the death of Ahaziah and Jezebel by this time. (2) They were north of Samaria, which is not on the path from Jerusalem to Jezreel.

Then Jehu went on a mission to destroy Baal worship in Israel, and he took Jehonadab the son of Rechab along with him. Jehonadab was the leader of a conservative group of Israelites who strongly opposed Baalism. Jehu gathered all the priests of Baal by staging a great sacrifice for Baal. He made sure all the priests and nobody else were present, surrounded them, and killed them all. Then he demolished the Baal temple and turned it into a latrine. He destroyed Baal worship to demonstrate his great zeal for the Lord. Unfortunately, Jehu's zeal for the Lord was limited to his opposition to Baalism. He did not turn away from the sin of idolatry as far as other gods were concerned.

Because Jehu destroyed Baalism in Israel, God promised that his desendants would sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation. This would be the longest ruling dynasty in the history of Israel (841-752 B.C.).

The final verses of this chapter tell of the reduction in size of the nation of Israel. The land on the east side of the Jordan was lost. Outside of scripture this is recorded on the Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III, where it says that the "son of Omri" (believed to refer to Jehu, even though Jehu wasn't Omri's son, as identifying Jehu with Samaria/Israel) paid tribute to the Assyrians shortly after coming to the throne of Israel.

Jehu's "zeal for the Lord" led him to obedience in destroying the Baal worship in Israel. However, Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord. His obedience to the Lord was partial. What he did was great, and he was rewarded for it. But he didn't go far enough, and Israel was decreased because of it.

Zeal is no substitute for obedience. We must be obedient to the Lord, guided by His Word. In Romans 10:2, Paul praised the Jews for their zeal for God, but their zeal was not in accordance with knowledge. Zeal by itself is not enough. When Jesus cleared the temple, his disciples associated his action with the Psalm that says, "zeal for your house will consume me." Jesus was zealous, but controlled by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 12:11, Paul exhorts us to maintain our zeal as we serve the Lord. Zeal with obedience is a very powerful combination!

Lord, help us to be zealous for You, to be passionate toward you. At the same time, teach us Your ways and let our zeal and obedience work together to honor You. Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

2 Kings 4 - Elisha's Ministry of Miracles (part one)

LINK: 2 Kings 4

These next few chapters are accounts of miracles that God did through Elisha. There are four in chapter four.

God provided for a poverty-stricken widow so her sons wouldn't have to leave her to work off their father's debt as slaves to the creditor.

God gave a son to a well-to-do but childless woman, and gave him back again when the son died at a young age. (This is the second recorded resurrection in the Bible.)

When the sons of the prophets at Gilgal used toxic wild gourds in their pot of stew, God made it edible for them.

A large crowd ate a small amount of food, were satisfied and had some left over. This is very similar to Jesus feeding the 5000 with the boy's lunch of five loaves and two fish (John 6).

God is a God of compassion. He cares about His people as a whole as well as individuals. Jesus also showed compassion to the crowds as well as to individuals.


As believers, we are to be compassionate as well. "And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12).

Father, thank you for your compassion toward us, your children. Because of your great compassion, you give us our very life -- this life as well as eternal life. Teach us to be like you, showing compassion to others -- helping those in need, encouraging the downcast, coming alongside the brokenhearted, and being kind and gentle toward others. Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2 Kings 3 - Conflict with Moab

LINK: 2 Kings 3

When David was king, he conquered Moab, and the country had been paying tribute to Israel ever since. When Ahab died, Mesha king of Moab thought it was his chance to get out from under that yoke of serving Israel and refused to pay the tribute.

In order to put down the rebellion, King Jehoram gathered his army and asked the kings of Judah (Jehoshaphat) and Edom to help him. He devised a clever plan of sneaking up on Moab's least defended border, and the three armies joined forces and marched. But the journey took too long and they ran out of water.

Jehoram blamed God for the problem. Jehoshaphat called for a prophet of the Lord and found out that Elisha was nearby. Elisha was called and would have refused to help had it not been for the presence of Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah. In fact, he was so perterbed with Jehoram that he had to call for a minstrel to play for him to help calm him down before he could hear from God.

The Lord sent water for the armies then confused the Moabites so that they rushed forward. Then the Moabite men fell under the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom. As a final desperate act, Meesha king of Moab sacrificed his son, the crown prince, to the god Chemosh. Of course Chemosh did nothing since he is not a true god.

Jehoshaphat was a godly king, and because he was involved in the war effort along with the two ungodly kings, Elisha and God came to their rescue. Often when God blesses His children, the blessing overflows to those around them who would not be blessed otherwise. What a privilege we have as God's people! We can bring blessing to unbelievers by living godly lives around them. As believers, maybe we have more influence than we think!


Let's live godly lives that bring honor to the Lord and blessing to others.

Lord, let us not grow weary in doing good, but seek to serve you and obey you in all things. Let us be a blessing to those around us, both believers and unbelievers. In the name of Jesus, Amen.