Saturday, April 28, 2012

Put Amos on the Prophets Shelf

BibleBookcase

Amos 7-9: A Series of Visions and Time Is Up

LINK: Amos 7-9 (read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND


The prophecies of Amos occurred from 767-755 B.C. during the reigns of Jeroboam II, King of Israel and Uzziah (Azariah), King of Judah. His prophecy was primarily to Israel, and the king of Israel and his priest, Amaziah, did not like what he had to say!


Amos, the shepherd and fruit picker, saw a series of visions of locusts (7:1-3), fire (7:4-6), wall and plumb line (7:7-9), basket of ripe fruit (8:1ff), and God standing by the altar (9:1ff).


In the first two visions, Amos's intercession causes God to relent from His punishment. Prayer is important!


In the third vision, Amos sees a wall and plumb line. A plumb line is a cord with a lead weight at the end. It is used to make sure that a wall is straight because a wall that is not straight will eventually collapse. The nation of Israel had been built "true to plumb," but it was now "out of plumb" because they were no longer in line with the plumb line of God's Law. In this situation, the nation had gone too far, and there was no hope. Amos did not intercede. He faithfully proclaimed the Word of the Lord to Amaziah, and Amaziah and Jeroboam II refused to listen. The result would be the Assyrian captivity and exile.


In the fourth vision, Amos sees a basket of ripe fruit. Israel was ripe for judgement because they had broken God's Law and did not live by His covenant. His longsuffering had run out because they did not love God, and they did not love their neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40). Four pictures (earthquake, darkness, funeral, and famine) describe the terror of this judgment. The last picture is interesting in that it would not only be a famine of literal food but also of spiritual nourishment in the deprivation of hearing the Word of the Lord to give comfort and direction in their time of crisis; only silence.


The final vision of Amos involves the Lord standing by the altar. This center of worship would be the scene of judgment for all 12 tribes. Yet, God would not "totally destroy" the house of Jacob (9:8). The nation would be purified, but God would restore "David's fallen tent" because of God's covenant with David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne (2 Samuel 7:12-16, 25-29).


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption


That promised descendant will be fulfilled by the Messiah, Jesus, who will establish His rule forever. He will rule in the Messianic kingdom and will include both Jews and Gentiles (the "remnant of Edom" in Amos 9:12). He will bring light, justice, and full knowledge of the LORD to all nations on the earth (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-13; 42:1-7; 45:22-25; 49:5-7; 55:1-5). It should be noted that at the Jerusalem Council, James cited Amos 9:11-12 as proof that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised and live as Jews in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-20). They would have full rights in God's coming kingdom!


Amos concludes his prophecy with hope. Israel would be planted, protected, and restored to their land!


REFLECTION and APPLICATION


Two things stand out to me in these chapters: the plumb line and the obedience of Amos.


Our plumb line is God's Word. How do you measure up to it? Is your wall a little crooked these days? Are you "out of plumb"? I really believe there is a "famine" with the Word of God lately, especially with younger people. I am praying that changes and one of the reasons I am so passionate about this Bible Book Club! I want people to feast on God's Word so they can have straight plumb lines!


Amos was just a shepherd and tender of sycamore trees with no special preparation, education, or pedigree. In spite of his lack of "qualifications," God had big plans for him. This ordinary man became extraordinary just because he listened and obeyed God's calling on his life. Are you obeying God's call on your life or do you think you do not have the right qualifications?


PRAYER



Lord, thank You for the plumb line of Your Word. Help us to be in "plumb" with You. Also, help us to obey Your calling on our lives no matter how disqualified we may be in the world's eyes. We ask it in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Amos 6 - Are You Living for Pleasure or Glory?

LINK: Amos 6

BACKGROUND

As promised, I wanted to touch on the "day of the LORD" mentioned in Amos 5:18, 20.

The "day of the LORD" is a common phrase used in the Old Testament. When reading the Old Testament in chronological order, it is first used in the book of Joel (2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). You will see it quite a bit as we read the prophets. You might want to underline it in your Bible.

Here is an explanation of this key phrase from the Life Application Bible:
It always refers to some extraordinary happening, whether a present event (like a locust plague), an event in the near future (like the destruction of Jerusalem or defeat of enemy nations) or the final period of history when God will defeat all forces of evil.

Even when the day of the Lord refers to a present event, it also foreshadows the final day of the Lord. This final event of history has two aspects to it: (1) the last judgment on all evil and sin and (2) the final reward for faithful believers. Righteousness and truth will prevail, but not before much suffering (Zechariah 14:1-3). If you trust the Lord, looking toward this final day should give you hope, because then all who are faithful will be united forever with God. (p. 1529)
Amos 6 begins with a "woe." When it was pronounced for the living, "woe" was a "prediction of death (cf. Amos 5:18; 6:1, Isaiah 5:8-24; 10:1-4; Micah 2:1-5 . . .) . . . or an interjection of distress in the face of present or coming calamity" (The Bible Knowledge commentary: Old Testament  (1:1441)). It was leveled against both Israel ("Samaria") and Judah ("Zion") in that they were complacent ("at ease" and "feel secure"). They were living in prosperity, peace, and had military strength. Consequently, they had become proud. They were living for pleasure rather than the glory of God.

As a result, they would face three judgments:
1) Death (9-10)
2) Destruction (11-13)
3) Disgrace and defeat (14)
Not a pretty outlook, is it?

REFLECTION

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines complacency as "a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements." In the Hebrew, it means "at ease, careless, wanton, arrogant, prideful" (Enhanced Strong's Lexicon).

It causes me to ask myself if I am putting any of my security in something other than the Lord. Is it in my bank account, 401K, nice home, or even my peaceful existence here in comfortable America? Is my security the American Dream? Am I living for my own personal pleasure rather than the glory of God?

Over the last few days, we had a couple staying with us who uprooted their family from the secure soils of America to live in Kurdistan, Iraq in order to help the people there get on their feet after the terrors of Saddam Hussein and the first Gulf War. His wife said, "It was one of the best places in the world to raise a family." They made friends and contributed greatly to the restoration of that society!

What a great example of people who gave up personal pleasure for the glory of God!

APPLICATION

Ask yourself some of the questions in the reflection above and dialogue with God about it.

PRAYER

Lord, teach us not to be smug and prideful and to live only for Your glory. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Amos 5 - Seek Good, Not Evil

LINK: Amos 5

BACKGROUND

The gist of Amos 5 is that the nation of Israel would be judged by God for its legal injustice and religious hypocrisy, but individual people could repent, seek Him, and live.

Even though Israel was at the pinnacle of prosperity under Jeroboam II, Amos speaks a sad lament/dirge (song of grief) over them.

The key verse in this chapter is found in 5:14:


“Seek good, not evil, that you may live."

Amos 5 also talks about the day of the Lord, but I will talk about that tomorrow. I do not want to take away from today's application because I think it is ultra-important to ponder!

APPLICATION

Are you seeking good?

One of the charges against Israel was that they were not helping the poor and needy (5:12). What are you doing to help those in need? Could you volunteer to work with a community group that fights poverty in your area?

Here is a super program in the Corvallis area called the Southside Youth Outreach:

http://ssyocorvallis.org/

Our family has been blessed to help out with their Tuesday Club by cooking and serving the meal for kids! It is a “blessed blast.” This is a picture of my husband and Paul, my youngest, flipping sandwiches.

There are also opportunities to help with tutoring of kids at the Southside Youth Outreach. 

Every May, there is a repacking party at Linn-Benton Food Share for the Postal Carriers Food Drive.  This is a national program, and if you are not in my area, I am sure there is a way you can help in your own area: http://www.nalc.org/commun/foodrive/. See pictures HERE.


Also, there is a monthly Open House Repack the last Thursday of every month from 6-8 pm at the Linn Benton Food Share Warehouse in Tangent. From their Facebook page:
It is amazing what a group of like minded people can accomplish in two hours. Over 2,000 pounds of bulk flour was repacked into family size portions in less than two hours. Call Susan at 541-758-2645 for more information or e-mail sjames@communityservices.us. 
If you are not in this area, why not take some time to look for something you might be able to do for those in need!

PRAYER

Lord, help us always to seek God and not evil all the days of our life. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Amos 3 & 4 - “Yet you have not returned to Me”

LINK: Amos 3 & 4

BACKGROUND

Israel’s judgment was inevitable because they had oppressed people. God had chosen (from the Hebrew word yada, literally, “to know”) them out of all the families of the earth. Since He had chosen them, revealed Himself to them, and blessed them, they should have wanted to know Him and please Him, but they did not. Through a series of seven rhetorical questions indicating that inevitably one event will follow another, Amos revealed that judgment would surely come, and there would be no turning back.

It was not as if God had not warned Israel, but they had not listened. Throughout Israel’s history, God had warned them through the prophets. If you are going through the Bible Book Club from the beginning, you have been reading 1 and 2 Kings where prophets like Ahijah, Elijah, Elisha, and anonymous prophets predicted the rise and fall of dynasties. The Lord always revealed his major plans in advance.

God had continually attempted to discipline the nation through famine, drought, mildew, locusts, plagues, military defeat, and devastation (see a similar pattern of chastening in Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28-29, and 1 Kings 8), but nothing had turned them from their course of economic exploitation (by husbands responding to their “fat cow” wives demanding more drink), religious hypocrisy, and refusal to repent. Five times God declared through Amos:


“Yet you have not returned to Me.” 
(4:6, 8-11)

Thus prompting Amos to declare the judgment of the LORD God of hosts:


"Prepare to meet your God, O Israel." 
(4:12)

REFLECTION

Yoo-hoo! Carol, it’s Me, God. Are you listening?”

Israel was NOT listening to God through the prophet Amos; a pattern we will see repeated over and over again as we study the prophets. It is easy to cast judgment upon them, but are we any different? We go along on our own way with our busy lives and give God only a small portion of it, but we do not give him ALL of it.

The Hebrew word for “return” is šûb. It is the twelfth most frequently used verb in the Old Testament and is used over 1050 times. It appears most often in the prophecies of Jeremiah (111 times). The Bible is rich with idioms for the process of repentance (see Joshua 24:23, Jeremiah 4:4,14; Hosea 10:12), but this word sums up what repentance really means: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.

I think God is constantly trying to get our attention to keep us on His path straight to His goodness, but we often just go our own way. We can make many tiny little decisions to “seek good, not evil" (Amos 5:14) every single day of our lives. These little choices create a destiny.

Are you listening when He asks you to return to Him?

APPLICATION

Set aside some time to listen to God today. Slow down and REALLY listen. Ask Him to search your heart and reveal any areas of unconfessed sin (I am posting a link to a prayer guide from a previous post in the prayer section below.). I think we may be surprised at what He brings up when we take the time to stop and really listen. 

Remember that in confession of sin you are not only turning away from evil, you are turning to the good!

After confession, keep on listening. He may have something to tell you to say or do. After you hear Him, write it down. We are so prone to forget. I have my best listening times in the shower. I used to always forget what He told me by the time I was dried off. Now, I have a tub crayon, and I write it on my shower wall. Sometimes, I get back in the shower the next day and see it written there, and I am reminded to do the last step of listening:

OBEY! 

We all need to follow through on what He tells us to do.


PRAYER

Teach us to return to You, O God! Amen

Try reading this prayer from Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Intimate Worship (pp. 4-5) out loud as a verbal affirmation:

Examination 
Holy Spirit, search my heart and reveal to me any unconfessed sin you find in me: 
Search me, O God, and know my heart; 
Test me and know my anxious thoughts. 
See if there is any offensive way in me,And lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24) 
Lord, I thank you for the forgiveness you promised when you said: 
Come now, let us reason together: 
Though your sins are like scarlet, 
They shall be as white as snow; 
Though they are red as crimson, 
They shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18) 
My Identity in Christ 
I rejoice, Lord Jesus, in the identity I have in You: 
I have been crucified with You and it is no longer I who live, but You who live in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in You, the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Yourself up for me. (Galatians 2:20) 
I have forgiveness from the penalty of sin because You died for me: 
But You, O God, demonstrate Your own love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) 
I have freedom from the power of sin because I died with You: 
In You, O Christ, I was circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by Your circumcision, having been buried with You in baptism and raised with You through faith in the working of God, who raised You from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)
I have fulfillment for this day because You live in me: 
I eagerly expect and hope that I will no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always You, Jesus Christ, will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live in You, Jesus Christ, means everything and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20-21) 
By faith, I will allow You, O Christ, to manifest Your life through me: 
Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in You and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of You. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

You can download all of the Morning Affirmations HERE.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Amos 2 - Judgement on Judah and Israel

LINK: Amos 2

BACKGROUND 

God had judged the Gentile nations, but then he turned to Judah (southern kingdom) and Israel (northern kingdom) who were both under the Mosaic Covenant and without excuse for their behavior. Their sin was greater for this reason because the Gentile nations could claim ignorance. God's people could not.  

Judah had turned to idols (2:4). The "fire" for Jerusalem in Judah would be the Babylonian Captivity, but God did not say they would be utterly destroyed like the Gentile nations. They would return in 70 years to their land to reestablish their nation and rebuild the temple. Stay tuned!

Then, God turned to Israel. They were enjoying great material blessing which in their theology meant God was blessing. He exposed their injustice (2:6-7), immorality (2:7), and idolatry (2:8). God reminded them of His faithfulness to them in the past (2:9-12), but He pronounced judgment for their future (2:13-16). This came with the invasion of Assyria in 720 B.C.  Unlike Judah, Israel would be no more. 

By the way, all of the judgments in Amos 1 and 2 say, "For three sins . . . even for four."  According to The Daily Walk: 
Add them up and you have seven -- the complete number. In this way Amos was signifying the full and complete multiplying of sin and corruption, thereby putting the nation in line for the fullness of God's wrath. 
(September 8, 2008, p. 14) 
REFLECTION/APPLICATION 
What everyday object is used in the Bible to describe the tongue, the Word of God, and angels? (Check James 3:6; Jeremiah 5:14; and Hebrews 1:7.) 
Few things in life can rival the bittersweet properties of fire. With it you can warm yourself or burn yourself; cook a dinner or incinerate it; heat a house or reduce it to embers. The outcome depends on how you handle the heat. 
Thirty-three of the 39 Old Testament books refer to fire. But none has a more "fiery" theme than Amos. The same God who gave fire to humankind as a blessing will one day use fire to purge rebellion from creation. Eight nations in Amos' day learned that God is serious when He declares, "I will send fire." 
Tonight, build a fire in your fireplace or put candles on your dinner table. As you enjoy the warmth and light, read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and consider this question: "Where is there fire in the Christian's future, and what can we do today to prepare for it?"
(The Daily Walk, September 8, 2008)
PRAYER

Prepare us for the future Lord. We are wholly Yours. Amen. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Amos 1:1 - 2:3 - Judgment on Six Nations

LINK: Amos 1:1-2:3

Please read INTRODUCTION TO THE PROPHETICAL BOOKS if you have not already done so. 

BACKGROUND 

Book of Amos

Here is where Amos fits within the historical narrative of the Bible:


2 Chr. 25-26:    796-750 (2 Kings 14-15)
                         784-772 - JONAH 1-4 (Northern)
                         760-750 - AMOS 1-9 (Northern)

Amos prophesied during the reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 B.C.) and Uzziah/Azariah of Judah (790-739 B.C.).  

Amos had to convince the prosperous and peaceful northern kingdom that their end was near. They were doing well on the outside, but inside there was idolatry, injustice, immorality, greed, and oppression of the poor. 

The message of God through Amos is loud and clear: "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" 

Amos was a shepherd and keeper of fig trees from Tekoa (Remember the woman from Tekoa in 2 Samuel 14:1-23?) which was ten miles south of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet God called him to prophesy to the northern kingdom!  Idols were worshiped at Bethel which was supposed to be the religious center of the north. 

Amos uses metaphors out of his experience as a shepherd and farmer when talking about a loaded cart (2:13), roaring lion (3:8), mutilated sheep (3:12), pampered cows (4:1), and a basket of fruit (8:1, 2). 

Amos 1

Amos aimed his prophetic guns at six neighboring nations. I am sure that Judah and Israel cheered to hear God's judgement on the surrounding nations not realizing that their turn was soon coming. 

The six nations were:

Syria - God had used Syria to punish Israel (2 Kings 10:32-33; 13:1-9), but they had gone too far. God said He would send fire several times in the first two chapters (1:4, 7, 10, 12, 14; 2:2, 5).  Fire represents the holiness and judgement of God (Deuteronomy 4:11, 24, 36; Hebrews 12:29).  God did judge Syria just as Amos prophesied. King Hazael's dynasty ended (1:4), his son, Ben-Hadad was defeated (1:4), Damascus lost its power (1:5), and the Assyrians eventually overpowered Syria and took them into captivity.

Philistia - The cities mentioned in this section are the five key Philistine cities (Joshua 13:3). Philistia raided Jewish cities, made the people slaves, and sold them to Edom, the descendants of Esau, Jacob's brother. It was terrible for a brother to enslave another brother! This prophecy was fulfilled during the days of Uzziah (2 Kings 18:7-8). The Assyrians under Sargon and Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar took the Philistines into exile and slavery. 

Phoenicia - There had been a "brotherly covenant" between Tyre in Phoenicia and Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon (1 Kings 5:1ff), but they also sold Jews into slavery. This prophecy was fulfilled when Alexander the Great wiped Tyre off the face of the earth (Ezekiel 26:5, 14) in 322 B.C. 

Edom - These are descendants of Esau, brother of Jacob (Genesis 25:19-28; 27). Like the two brothers, these nations were always fighting. Temen and Bozrah were once strong cities that no longer exist. Romans attacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and destroyed the remaining Edomite (Idumean) people. 

Ammon - These were the descendants of Lot through an incestuous relationship with his younger daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). They had always fought with Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Judges 10:6-8; 1 Samuel 11; 2 Kings 8:12; 15:16), and Amos's prophecy was fulfilled when the Assyrians invaded in 734 B.C.. 

MoabThis nation is not mentioned until the beginning of Amos 2, but it fits here better. Like the Ammonites, these were the descendants of another of Lot's incestuous relationship, only this one was with the older daughter (Genesis 19:30-38).  There had been animosity between this nation and Israel since they did not let the Jews pass through their land when returning to the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 23:3-4; Judges 11:17). Their king also hired Balaam to curse them (Numbers 22-24). They also led Israel into idolatry (Numbers 25:1-3). We do not know which king's remains were treated disrespectfully, but we do know they they were defeated by the Assyrians and the nation of Moab does not exist today. 

REFLECTION/APPLICATION 

Please pray for the people of modern day Syria today!

Here is an article to inform your prayers: http://motherjones.com/politics/2012/01/whats-happening-syria-2

2014 Update: The above article is updated up through July 2012, but it gives important background information. The situation continues to deteriorate with ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) wreaking havoc on this land. Please continue to inform your prayers and pray for this dire situation. Syria has 3,000,000 refugees in three years. Our Syrian neighbors have lost 21 members of their extended family. 

PLEASE PRAY! 

If you feel led to pray further, please download this: 

30 Day Prayer Guide for Syrian Children

PRAYER

Lord, we pray for You, Jesus, prince of prince, to bring peace to Syria today. Amen. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Put Jonah on the Prophets Shelf!

Jonah 3 & 4 - "Should I Not Be Concerned?"

LINK: Jonah 3 & 4

BACKGROUND

The fish (never says whale in the Hebrew) transported Jonah back in the right direction, and Jonah delivered a very simple message:


Yet forty days and Nineveh 
will be overthrown.
(Jonah 3:4)

Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes, but Jonah responded by pouting! God used a plant, a worm, and a scorching wind to teach Jonah about His mercy. Jonah grieved over the death of the plant in which he had no part in making grow. Jonah cared more for the vine than for the human lives in Nineveh! He cared more for his personal comfort than for the spiritual destiny of thousands of people.

Donald E. Baker paraphrases Jonah 4:11-12 beautifully:
Let’s analyze this anger of yours Jonah. . . . It represents your concern over your beloved plant – but what did it really mean to you? Your attachment to it couldn’t be very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next. Your concern was dictated by self-interest, not by genuine love. You never had a devotion of a gardener. If you feel as bad as you do, what would you expect a gardener to feel like, who tended a plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die? This is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so. All those people, all those animals—I made them; I have cherished them all these years. Nineveh has cost Me no end of effort, and it means the world to Me. Your pain is nothing compared to Mine when I contemplate their destruction. (“Jonah and the Worm,” His. October 1983, p. 12)
It is of historical note that Nineveh’s repentance was short-lived for it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 B.C. The entire Assyrian empire toppled to them in 609 B.C.

REFLECTION

The key verse in this book is found in 4:11:
“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
From the beginning of Bible Book Club, I have been “tapping my drum” and saying that, from the beginning, God’s intention has been that Israel would be a conduit of His love and mercy to all the peoples (remember Genesis 12:1-3 – they were “blessed to be a blessing”). He is a God of “all the earth,” and He will be worshipped by all peoples (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-17). 

Johannes Vekuyl says, “He is cutting a path directly through the weary and plodding activities of men in history in order to achieve his goals among the nations,” and the book of Jonah is a case in point!

Please read what Vekuyl goes on to say:
The book of Jonah is so significant for understanding the biblical basis of missions because it treats God’s mandate to his people regarding the Gentile peoples and thus serves as the preparatory step to the missionary mandate of the New Testament. But it is also important for catching a glimpse of the deep resistance this mandate encounters from the very servant Yahweh has chosen to discharge his worldwide work.

Today there is much talk and writing about “educating the congregation” and “educating personnel” for mission. Jonah is a lesson in educating a person to be a missionary: it reveals the need for a radical conversion of one’s natural tendencies and a complete restructuring of his life to make it serviceable for mission.

The title of the book is the personal name of the unwilling prophet, Jonah. . . . The author uses this personal name to portray for his readers a missionary who has no heart for the Gentiles and who, like the later Pharisees, cannot tolerate a God who shows them mercy. In the words of the Dutch author Miskotte, “the writer intends to picture a person who is the exact opposite of an apostle.” The author of Jonah warns his readers against this intolerant attitude and sets before each of them the question of whether he or she is willing to be transformed into a servant who works to accomplish the mandates of God.

As the author sees it, Israel has become so preoccupied with herself that she no longer directs her eyes toward the world of the nations, Israel, the recipient of all God’s revelation, refuses to set foot in alien territory to tell the other peoples God’s message of judgment and liberation. But the message of the book also is addressed to the New Testament congregation which tries various ways of evading her Lord’s command to speak his message to the world.

Jonah’s crafty evasion efforts represent a lazy and unfaithful Church which does not heed its Lord’s command. God has to wrestle against Israel’s narrow ethnocentrism which tries to restrict his activity to the boundaries of Israel alone and against the Church’s ecclesiocentric refusal to go out into the world to proclaim God’s message and do his work. The writer is bent on convincing his readers that the radius of God’s liberating activity is wide enough to cover both Israel and the Gentiles.

It is a miracle that Jonah, with its strong warning against ethnocentrism, ever made its ways into the canon of Scripture. It squarely sets forth man’s attempt to sabotage God’s worldwide plans so that its readers – Israel, the New Testament Church, and us – can hear what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell them through the medium of this little book. 
(Verkuyl, Johannes. "The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate." Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader 2009: 45-47)
APPLICATION

Gut check: How is your mercy meter? Are you concerned about those who do not know and have never heard about the love of God through Jesus Christ, especially people you have never met in other countries?

The message of salvation is for all people. God’s grace extends beyond the accessible places we go to on short-term trips. I am not saying that the people on those short-terms are not worthy of our compassion and love, but they are making the calls and asking you to come. I am talking about the people who don’t have your number. I am talking about the people who need people like us to move into their neighborhood and provide a tangible expression of the love of God. They might not live in the nicest places. They might have a very bad reputation in the world’s eyes because of what you have heard on the news; but they, like the people of Nineveh, are an object of God’s compassionate concern. Are they an object of yours?

If you want some ideas about how to put that budding concern in motion, contact me. This is what I am MOST passionate about!

PRAYER

Lord, give us Your heart of compassion for all the peoples of the world. Help us to be concerned. We pray this in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jonah 1 & 2 - Don’t Go West Young Man!

By NordNordWest (self-made, using  GTOPO-30 Elevation Data by USGS) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
LINK: Jonah 1 & 2

Please read INTRODUCTION TO THE PROPHETICAL BOOKS if you have not already done so. 

BACKGROUND

Here is where Jonah fits within the historical narrative of the Bible:


2 Chr. 25-26:    796-750 (Parallel in 2 Kings 14-15)
                         784-772 - JONAH 1-4 (Northern)
                         760-750 - AMOS 1-9 (Northern)

Jonah prophesied right before Amos and Hosea. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. 2 Kings 14:23-27 mentions Jonah and his ministry during the reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel (793-753 B.C.). The king of Assyria at that time was Shalmanesar IV who reigned from 783-772 B.C.

Nineveh was about 500 miles northeast of Israel. It was on the east side of the Tigris River and the distance required for the journey would have taken more than a month. (15-20 miles a day). Nineveh was in what is today Iraq opposite the modern-day town of Mosul. The name is "Ninive" on the map above. 

Instead of going east like God told him, Jonah went west away “from the presence of the Lord” toward Tarshish in Spain. Historians believe it is probably the southern city of Tartessus, which was 2,500 miles west of Joppa.

Why would Jonah want to run the opposite way? Well, for one thing, Assyrians were known for their savagery. Here is an excerpt from the journal of an Assyrian king:
Three thousand captives burned with fire . . . their corpses I formed into pillars . . . their governor I flayed; his skin I spread upon the wall of the city . . . from some I cut off their hands and their fingers and their noses . . . of many I put out their eyes . . . I formed a pillar . . . of heads against the city gate, and 700 men I impaled on stakes.
Secondly, they were steeped in idolatry with temples dedicated to the gods of Nabu, Asshur, Adad, and Ishtar (goddess of love and war).

If we put ourselves in Jonah’s shoes, we might have gone west too!

We will learn more about the wickedness of Nineveh when we read the book of Nahum later this year. Nahum prophesied from 650-620 B.C.

Can a Man be Swallowed by a Whale and Live?
A whale hunter, James Bartley, was swallowed by a whale in 1891. A day later, the whale was cut open, and James Batley was still alive, although it was a month before he was able to think clearly. 
(Vedral, Joyce; A Literary Survey of the Bible, p. 95)
REFLECTION

THE SCARLET THREAD OF REDEMPTION

Jesus mentions Jonah’s three days in the whale as a picture of his death and resurrection in Matthew 12:38-42:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 
But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here."
APPLICATION

As I update this for 2014, the area around Nineveh has a modern savagery going on in the name of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Pray that God will raise up a modern day Jonah to proclaim His message to the people there.

Also pray through this 30 Day Prayer Guide for ISIS.

PRAYER

Lord, help us to not want to flee from Your presence and go the opposite way from Your will for our lives, no matter how scary it might feel to go Your way. Thank You that You are with us always, even to the end of the age. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, April 20, 2012

2 Kings 15 & 2 Chronicles 26-27 - How Can We Finish Well?

LINK: 2 Kings 15 & 2 Chronicles 26-27
2 Kings 15:1-7 parallels 2 Chronicles 26

BACKGROUND

Uzziah/Azariah of Judah - 2 Kings 15:1-7, 2 Chronicles 26

Reigned: 790-739 B.C. for 52 years, vice-regency under father, Amaziah, for 23 years (790-767 B.C.) and co-regency with son, Jotham, for 11 years (750-739 B.C.)

Character: Good 

Overlap with Israel's King: Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.)

Manner of death: Stricken by God 

Azariah means "Jehovah has helped." When he became king, his throne name was Uzziah which means "Jehovah is strength." He reigned while his father was taken captive to Samaria for fifteen years after the war with Joash, King of Israel. This co-reign (some refer to it as a vice-regency) lasted for 23 years from age 16 to 39 years. He was taught by Zechariah. In his early reign, he "sought the LORD," and "God gave him success" (2 Kings 15:3; 2 Chronicles 26:5), but he did not remove the high places (2 Kings 15:4). The conjecture is that it was just too much of an inconvenience for them to travel to the temple to offer their gifts and sacrifices. So, they visited the local shrine. 

He was a successful warrior and city builder and was skillful in organizing and delegating. Sadly, his great power led to pride (2 Chronicles 26:16). We already know from our study of Proverbs that, "Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling" (16:18). His pride led him to perform priestly duties in disobedience to the Law which stipulated that this was only to be done by descendants of Aaron (Exodus 30:7-8). His destruction came in the form of leprosy that plagued him for the rest of his life. This led to Uzziah being quarantined and unable to reign. So his son, Jotham, was co-regent until Uzziah died. His death coincided with the beginning of the ministry of the prophet Isaiah whom we will study once we get through the life of the other kings reigning during Isaiah's time. While Uzziah started out well, he did not have lifelong obedience!

2 Kings 15:8-31 covers five kings of Israel who were all BAD! 


Zechariah of Israel - 2 Kings 14:29 - 15:12 

Reigned: 753-752 B.C. for 6 months

Overlap with Judah's king: Azariah/Uzziah (790-739 B.C.)

Manner of death: Assassinated by Shallum

He was evil through and through. God's Word stated that four generations would succeed Jehu on the throne of Israel (2 Kings 10:30). Therefore, his dynasty came to an end with Zechariah.

Shallum of Israel - 2 Kings 15:13-16

Reigned: 752 B.C. for 1 month

Overlap with Judah's King: Azariah/Uzziah (790-739 B.C.)

Manner of death: Murdered by Menahem (commander of Jeroboam II's army) 

Menahem of Israel - 2 Kings 15:6-22

Reigned: 752-742 B.C. for 10 years, overlapping reign with Pekah

Overlap with Judah's King: Azariah/Uzziah (790-739 B.C.), Jotham (750-735 B.C.)

Manner of death: Natural 

Like the kings before him, he was apostate. This is the first mention of Assyria (2 Kings 15:19). Pul was one of Assyria's strongest rulers. The invasion of Israel was in 743 B.C. and resulted in Menahem paying tribute to Pul.

Pekahiah of Israel - 2 Kings 15:23-26

Reigned - 742-740 B.C. for two years, overlapping reign with Pekah

Overlap with Judah's King: Azariah/Uzziah (790-739 B.C.), Jotham (750-735 B.C.)

Manner of death: Murdered by Pekah (one of his military officers)

He followed the "ways of Jeroboam." Pekah assassinated him in the most secure place in the palace, the citadel!

Pekah of Israel - 2 Kings 15:27-31

Reigned: 752-732 B.C.  for 20 years, overlapping reign with Menahem (752-742 B.C.) and Pekahiah (742-740 B.C.)


Overlap with Judah's King: Azariah/Uzziah (792-740), Jotham (750-732)

Manner of death: Murdered by Hoshea

Pekah had set up a rival government east of the Jordan River in Gilead when Menahem became king in 752 B.C. He did this because he disagreed with Menahem's paying of tribute to the king of Assyria. He also aligned with Rezin, the king of Damascus. This led to Assyria invading in 734-732 B.C. (Recorded in 2 Chronicles 28:5-8) and a deportation of the people there to Assyria in 733 B.C. He continued in his evil ways just like the kings before him.

Jotham of Judah - 2 Kings 15:32-38, 2 Chronicles 27. 

Reigned: 750-735 B.C. for 16 years (co-reigned with his father and his son) 

Overlap with Israel's King: Menahem (752-742 B.C.), Pekahiah (742-740 B.C.), and Pekah (752-732 B.C.

Character: Good

Manner of death: Natural

WHEW! When we go back to Judah, we have a good king.  He rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple and had many other building projects. "He walked steadfastly before the LORD his God" (2 Chronicles 27:6), but the 2 Kings account says, "the high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there" (15:35). 

REFLECTION

I must admit that when I get to this part of my Bible reading, I become very, very weary. The descent into evil of the people God chose to be His special possession is SO disheartening! They could have had it all!  But they all blew it, even Uzziah, who started well, did not finish well. The kings of Israel started and ended horribly with most being assassinated by their successor! 

I want a long term game plan for my life. I want to finish well. How about you?  

APPLICATION

Talk to God about this. How can you grow and deepen in Him?


Billy Graham wants to finish well. I just saw this new book by him in my library.  This is a key verse He shares:

But I do not account my life of any value 
nor as precious to myself,
 if only I may finish my course and the ministry 
that I received from the Lord Jesus, 
to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Acts 20:24 (ESV)


Book JacketI am already intrigued by the chapter titles:

Running toward home
Don't retire from life
The impact of hope
Consider the golden years
Fading strength but standing strong
Death's destination
Influencing the impressionable
A foundation that lasts
Roots strengthen in time
Then and now

2014 Update: I read it, and it was excellent! Let's finish well as we near home. 

PRAYER

Lord, help us to walk in all Your ways not forgetting to obey You in the smallest areas and details of our life. Remove our "high places," Lord. We ask this because the Holy Spirit empowers us to live in obedience to You. Please teach us to number our days so that we may present to you a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). Help us to finish well. We pray this in Jesus' strong and powerful name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2 Kings 14 & 2 Chronicles 25 - Wholehearted Obedience

LINK: 2 Kings 14 & 2 Chronicles 25 
(read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND

Amaziah of Judah -2 Kings 14:1-22, 2 Chronicles 25

Reigned: 796-767 B.C. for 29 years

Character: Good mostly
He did right in the sight of the LORD, yet not with a whole heart, only the high places were not taken away. (2 Chronicles 25:1; 2 Kings 14:3-4) 
Overlap with Israel's King: Jehoash/Joash (798-782 B.C.), Jeroboam (793-753 B.C.)

Manner of Death: Murdered

Amaziah was the ninth king of Judah. His first official act was to avenge his father's murder (2 Chronicles 24:25-26, 25:3; 2 Kings 14:5), but he did not kill their sons according to Deuteronomy 24:16. 

He also trusted in idolatrous mercenaries from apostate Israel. We have seen time and time again that God's people continued to make alliances with ungodly people because they did not have faith in the Lord.

Thankfully he listened to counsel from a man of God and sent the Israelites home with their pay, trusting God to make up the loss. After military victory, Amaziah sacrificed to idols, and the anger of the LORD burned against him (2 Chronicles 25:15). His pride in defeating Edom caused him to be defeated by Jehoash (Joash) of Israel and taken prisoner. His son, Azariah (Uzziah), began to reign in Judah in 790 B.C at the age of 16. When Jehoash (Joash) of Israel died in 782 B.C., Amaziah was released and co-reigned with his son until his assassination in 767 B.C. 


Israel's King Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-29)

Reigned: 793-753 B.C. for 41 year, co-regency with his father, Jehoash (Joash), 11 year (793-782 B.C.) 

Character: Bad. He did evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Kings 14:24). 

Overlap with Judah's King: Amaziah (796-767 B.C.), Azariah/Uzziah (790-739 B.C.)

Manner of Death: Natural

Politically, Jeroboam II was Israel's strongest king, extending Israel's boundaries close to what it was during Solomon's reign (excluding the land of Judah and Benjamin).

Jeroboam II's victories were primarily because the Syrians were weakened by the attacks of the Assyrians to their northeast under Adad-nirari III. Assyria was also weak at the time because of threats from the Urartu people in their north, internal problems, and weak rulers. The prophets Jonah, Amos, and Hosea ministered in Israel during Jeroboam II's reign and give additional insights into what was really happening in the life of Israel during that time (see Hosea 13:4-8 and Amos 6:11-14). We will start our reading in Jonah and Amos later this week. 

REFLECTION

The timeless principles from Many Aspire, Few Attain by Walt Henrichsen fit here!

Let's review the principles we have already covered. I have linked them if you are just joining and Bible Book Club and missed them:

1. Have a heart for God
2. Hate sin
3. Hunger for the Word
4. Trust God
5. Burn bridges and ships
6. Beware the road of no return
7. Avoid an independent spirit
9. Be faithful in the little things
10: Avoid the root of bitterness
11. Accept rebuke

Kings Amaziah's life helps illustrate Henrichsen's next point:
8. Be wholehearted

“And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a whole heart” (Chr. 25:2).

He did what was right, but one thing was lacking - his heart wasn’t right, so God couldn’t use him. Within a short time Amaziah, the man this verse refers to, was dead.

Some Christians create the impression that they are doing God and their Christian organization a favor by being around - that God Almighty is about the luckiest of the lucky to have them on His team. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Perhaps you have this attitude. God is delighted beyond words over the fact that you are His. He loves you with an everlasting love. But never deceive yourself into believing that you are doing either God or anyone else a favor by being faithful.

It is easy to be wholehearted in the things you like doing, but it’s hard to be wholehearted in the things you don’t like doing. When I moved into a Navigator home, one of my responsibilities every Saturday morning was to clean the bathroom in the master bedroom. I can remember being on my hands and knees over the toilet bowl with the cleanser and wondering to myself, “Henrichsen, what in the world are you doing here? There are millions of places you could be rather than sitting here looking inside a toilet.”

It’s hard enough to clean your own dirt, but it's even harder to clean other people’s dirt. How do you rate yourself in terms of your wholeheartedness in being a servant of God? [Note: the link at bible.org misprinted "sergeant" rather than "servant." I have the original pamphlet.] I don’t mind being a servant of Jesus Christ. In fact, I delight in it. I also don't mind you calling me a servant. You know what I do mind, though? I hate being treated like a servant.

Can you be wholehearted when people treat you like a servant of the Most High God? How about when you're treated like the servant of others? “As you do unto the least of these, you do unto me” (Matt. 25:40).

REFLECTION on Jeroboam II
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  
(Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25)
These words of Jesus are quoted in three out of four of the gospel accounts. Sounds like something we need to chew on, doesn't it?

Jeroboam II had it all going for him on the outside. He was a strong and prosperous leader, but he was bankrupt in his soul.

I read a part of the poem, "The Deserted City" by British poet Oliver Goldsmith recently:


"Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay . . ."

This sums up Israel's situation. How about yours?

APPLICATION

Talk to God about this. Are you authentic? Is what you show on the outside the same as who you are on the inside? Too many people show a slick outside when their soul has unresolved issues. Please deal with your soul and be the same on the outside that you are on the inside. It is such a BETTER way to live!


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)

PRAYER

Lord, humble us where we need to be humbled. Remove pride, idolatry, and rottenness from our lives. We want to be wholehearted followers of You. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.