Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jeremiah 2 - Condemnation of Judah

LINK: Jeremiah 2

BACKGROUND 

Right from the beginning, God gave Jeremiah a harsh message of judgment. Throughout the book, we will see him deliver messages that are "courageous, compassionate, and convicting" (Be Decisive by Warren Wiersbe, Jeremiah 2). 

God expresses truth through Jeremiah using pictorial language. There are ten pictures that expose Judah sin in this chapter:

1) Unfaithful Wife (2:1-8) - God entered into a covenant relationship with them on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-20) that he compared to marriage. In the Old Testament, Israel's idolatry is likened to adultery and prostitution (Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:6). They were devoted at first, but they lusted after other gods when they entered Canaan (Judges 1-3). 

2) Broken Cisterns (2:9-13) - Forsaking the true God for false ones is like abandoning a spring of fresh flowing water for stagnant, brackish water from a cracked cisterns which was a large pit dug into rock to gather rain water.

3) Plundered Slave (2:14-19) - The Jews were slaves in Egypt, but God delivered them from bondage, yet they had gone back into the bondage of idolatry and allied themselves with pagan countries like Egypt and Assyria. 

4) Stubborn Animal (2:20) - This unruly animal would not wear the yoke! Stubbornness is a recurring theme in Jeremiah (3:17; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12; 23;17). Stubbornness of people is often related to animals (Psalm 32:9; Prov. 7:21-23; Hosea 4:16).

5) Degenerate Vine (2:21) - Israel is referred to as a vine throughout the Old Testament (Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16; Ezekiel 17:1-10; Hosea 10:1-2). His people were to produce fruit, but it produced nothing but a wild vine that looked like the pagan nations.

6) Defiled Body (2:22) - Good works and religiosity would not wash their unclean hearts.  Jeremiah talks quite a bit about the heart, using this word over sixty times!  Judah needed to give God their whole heart.

7) Wild Animal (2:23-25) - They were like camels and donkeys who search for a mate during mating season. They went unrestrained in their lust after other gods. 

8) Disgraced Thief (2:26-28) - They had been caught red-handed in their idolatry because they turned to God when their idols did not come through to help them. 

9) Undisciplined Children (2:29-35) - God's children needed a good spanking! Instead of repenting of their sin and remembering their Father, they brought charges against Him. They did not respond to the correction of the prophets. Even though they were struck, they refused correction (5:3; 7:28; 17:23; 32:33; 35:13).

10) Lousy Foreign Policymakers (2:36-37) - They had mad alliances with pagan nations, and it would not turn out well for them because of it.

The key verse for the whole book is in Jeremiah 2:


"Your own wickedness will correct you,
And your apostasies will reprove you;
Know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter
For you to forsake the Lord your God,
And the dread of Me is not in you,” declares the Lord God of hosts.


Jeremiah 2:19

REFLECTION/APPLICATION 

The book Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back by Chuck Swindoll was so important for me while working in my first full-time job right out of college. I remember memorizing this key verse from one of the chapters during my lunch break on the University of Oregon campus in 1982: 
For My people have committed two evils:  They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

I found a short devotional that summarizes the gist of the chapter from the book on Chuck Swindoll's Insight for Living Website:

"Cheap Substitutes"

I hope you enjoy it.

I also submit this quote from C.S. Lewis:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. 
(The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis, p. 1-2)

What are the "cheap substitutes" in your life? 

Do you want . . . 

Stagnant cistern water 

or 

Free-flowing, fresh, living water from a never ending spring? 

Do you want . . . 

Mud pies in a slum 

or a

Holiday at the sea?  

PRAYER

Lord, Judah's choices sadden me, but I know that I do not always choose what is best either. Lord, help us all to choose what is best. Amen. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Jeremiah 1 - Call and Comission

LINK: Jeremiah 1


Please read the Introduction to the Prophetical Books if you have not already done so. 

BACKGROUND 

Introduction to Jeremiah

2 Chr. 34-35:  640-609  (2 Kings 21-23)

                       636-623: ZEPHANIAH 1-3
                       627-574: JEREMIAH 1-52
                       574-538: LAMENTATIONS 1-5
                       621-609: HABAKKUK 1-3


      2 Chr. 36: 609-538  (2 Kings 24-25)

Jeremiah ministry spanned from 53 years from 627-574 B.C. He was believed to have been around 20 years old when He started out. His ministry spanned from good King Josiah through the four remaining bad kings (Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah) and into and past the Babylonian Captivity. His years of prophecy cover the events in 2 Kings 22-25 and 2 Chronicles 34-36. These are all events we have already covered. Zephaniah proceeded him and Habakkuk was his contemporary. 

Judah was on the verge of being taken captive by the great Babylon, but they were living lives of affluence and self-satisfaction, oblivious to the threat. Jeremiah was called by God to wake his countrymen up from their slumber of complacency to true repentance, but the nation continued to sleep. 

Basic theme: 

Repent and turn to God, or He will punish you.

Key verse: 
"Your own wickedness will correct you,
And your apostasies will reprove you;
Know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter
For you to forsake the Lord your God,
And the dread of Me is not in you,” declares the Lord God of hosts.
Jeremiah 2:19
His prophecies are not in chronological order so HERE is a sheet that shows how Jeremiah and other prophets align with the historical events recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.

This may also be helpful:


The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1126
He was "set apart/consecrated" (1:4) to proclaim God's Word to both Judah (Jeremiah 2-45) and Gentile nations (Jeremiah 46-51). 

Throughout the book God would give pictures of who he would have to be in the midst of his ministry:
  • destroyer and builder (1:9-10)
  • pillar and wall (1:17-18)
  • watchman (6:17)
  • tester of metal (6:27-30)
  • physician (8:11, 21-22)
  • sacrificial lamb (11:19)
  • long-distance runner (12:5)
  • shepherd (13:17, 20-21; 17:16, 23)
  • troublemaker (15:10, 15-17)  
(adapted from Be Decisive by Warren Wiersbe)

Jeremiah 1

Jeremiah was a tenderhearted son of a priest of Anathoth, three miles northeast of Jerusalem in the territory of Benjamin. His father, Hilkiah, was probably not the same Hilkiah of Josiah's time (2 Kings 22:2-14). 

He was born into the priestly line, but he was called to be a prophet in the 13th year of Josiah's reign (627 B.C.). He felt he was too young to be a prophet, but God said not to argue with His calling on His life and to just do what He told him to do and He would give Jeremiah the words. 

God gave Jeremiah two visions that confirmed this calling:
  1. Almond tree branch - There is a play on words here. The almond trees bloomed as early as January and February. The Hebrew word for the tree is šāqēd which means "the waker" because it is the first indication that spring is coming.  The word for "watch" or "be awake" is šōqēd.  God will be watchful and punctual in carrying out His Word of judgment on Judah. 
  2. Boiling Pot - God was preparing Babylon to the north to carry out His scalding judgment on Judah. The people would think Jeremiah was crazy because Babylon was not yet a world power. The leaders of Babylon really will set up thrones in the gates of Jerusalem (39:1-3).
God specifically points out that Judah's judgment was due to idolatry which God had commanded against in Exodus 20:3-6.

REFLECTION

God, at a very young age, gave me a message of truth-telling to give to those who were much older than me. I argued with God, just like Jeremiah, and He pretty much gave me the same answer: youth is no excuse for disobedience.

It can be a very intimidating thing to do, but if God gives us something to say, we need to obey! Our age, feelings of inadequacy, or a positive response from the recipients should not determine whether you do it or not. We can be assured of His presence with us knowing that all we need to accomplish is what He desires; no more, no less.

Jeremiah answered the call of God and obeyed even when people ignored, rejected, and persecuted him. He was not successful by human measurements, but He faithfully followed God. 

APPLICATION

Sit quietly, offer yourself to God, and listen to what He would have you do. 

Here is a message about fulfilling your destiny that I recommended when we covered the call of Isaiah. If you have not watched this video, please do. You will not be sorry you did:

UNLEASHING YOUR IMAGINATION 
(I also have an mp3 of the message if you want to contact me through the comments section.) 

Our friend relayed the pattern for God's call on the lives of many people in Scripture: Moses, Gideon, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Michaiah. 

This pattern is:

1) Confrontation - being confronted by God, not necessarily in the negative way, but He steps in front of you with His destiny for you

2) Commission

3) Objections

4) Assurance of His presence and help

5) Sign

It is one hour long, but it is well worth the investment!  See if you can identify this pattern in the call of Jeremiah.

PRAYER

Lord, we offer ourselves up to You. Accomplish Your purposes in our lives today. Amen. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Put Habakkuk Back on the Prophets Shelf

BibleBookcase
Yahoo! You are done with another prophetic book. Only two major and three minor prophets to go! WOOHOO!

Habakkuk Conclusion - The Righteous Will Live by Faith and Rejoice

WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

I did things a bit differently for this book because I wanted you to interact with the text and do a bit of your own inductive study before my background and reflection.

What really stood out to you? How did God speak to you through the text in the way of application?

Tea42 of the first Bible Book Club suggested watching a YouTube video:


BACKGROUND

Habakkuk prophesied from 621-609 B.C. and was a contemporary of Nahum and Jeremiah. He prophesied during the reigns of Josiah (640-609 B.C.) and Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.). Despite the brief period of relief under the reforms of Josiah, Judah was about to be crushed by the rising power of Babylon (Chaldea). Shortly after Jehoiakim came to power, Habakkuk wrote his lament (dirge) over the ungodly conditions around him.

In the midst of this impending doom, Habakkuk asked difficult questions. He saw the decay around him, and his heart was broken. He asked age-old question that we have all asked: 

Why is there evil in the world? 
Why do the wicked prosper? 

He asked them boldly and confidently, and God answered.

Habakkuk 1 

This chapter is mostly about Habakkuk's honest questions: "How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not save?" (1:2) Why are you silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" (1:13)

Habakkuk 2 

This is God's answer: "I will use Babylon as my hand of judgment against Judah, but I will punish them for their sins in due time" (my paraphrase). God says that "the righteous will live by faith" (2:4, also echoed in Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:20, 3:11, 12; Hebrews 10:38). We can trust that, despite evil seeming to reign in this world, "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (2:14).

Habakkuk 3 

This is Habakkuk's response of prayer for mercy and praise to God:

LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds,
O LORD, Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy. (3:2)

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds' feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
(Habakkuk 3:17-19)
AMEN!!!!!!

REFLECTION

As I was meditating this morning, I was lifting up prayers for a friend going through a difficult time with her family, another facing bankruptcy, and others whose marriages have fallen/are falling apart. It could be overwhelming, and I could lose sight of God in the midst of all of this, but through the years, I have gone back to the words of Habakkuk 3:17-19 over and over again, and it gives me perspective and hope!

Early on in my journey of faith, I started out quoting these verses through gritted-teeth and clenched fists, wanting to believe them in spite of my circumstances. Over the years, my jaw has relaxed, and my fists have opened in praise to God. I have seen enough of the glory, majesty, and sovereignty of God so I can say them with a full-heart and testify to the truth that He, alone, is my salvation and strength. Life can still be very difficult, but He has proven over and over and over again that He is who He says He is.

It may be hard to relate to the economic conditions in this agrarian culture. In that day, figs and grapes were symbols of a prosperous and contented life. Olives were used for hairdressing, fuel, medicine, and food. Consequently, they were important for economical health and vitality. The cattle produced milk, butter, and cheese. Sheep produced wool clothing. Modern day indicators of economic vitality might be things like the stock market, unemployment rate, credit card debt, etc.

We had our own "fig, grape, and olive" crisis last year when my husband lost his job 2008 and took another one with a 40% pay cut. OUCH! In 2009, his bosses asked him to apply for a job within his existing agency that would have restored us to our previous pay scale only to be beat out because of Affirmative Action laws that discriminated against my white male husband and favored a far less qualified female candidate in order to satisfy "diversity" quotas. DOUBLE OUCH!

Sounds like a recipe for a pity party, but we took Habakkuk's perspective and continued to trust, exult, and rejoice in the Lord. Only a month after the news in 2009, I looked at George and said, "WOW, if you had gotten that job, we never would have been available to do what we are doing now!" 

God has us involved with some Kingdom work that would have been greatly hindered with George commuting three hours to and from work almost every day! God worked even through silly Affirmative Action laws! He IS truly sovereign We CAN trust in Him!


Joy comes as a byproduct 
of confidence in God,
not certainty in our circumstances.
The Daily Walk, Sept. 19, 2008

AMEN AGAIN!

APPLICATION

If everything you owned were suddenly taken away, would God be enough for you?

Rewrite Habakkuk 3:17-19 in terms of your modern day situation. Then spend some time in praise and worship of the Lord.

PRAYER

Lord, we worship You for Your sovereignty over every aspect of our present circumstances. We rejoice in them and desire for them to be Your instrument in making us more conformed to Your image. Help us not to be afraid to have an honest dialogue with You, bringing our questions to You with confidence. Draw us close to You in understanding and teach us to rejoice in every circumstance. We ask this in the name of the One who, for the joy set before Him, went to the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Amen.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Habakkuk - Tool Time Soaking

LINK: Habakkuk 1-3

It's Bible Study "TOOL TIME"!

It has been a long time since we have had one of these. 

Soak in Habakkuk in one sitting or over the next two days.

You can do a mini-Inductive study of this book.

Here are some handouts I created:



Get some colored pencils out and have fun studying it for yourself!

I will see you tomorrow!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2 Kings 24-25 & 2 Chron. 36 - Babylonian Conquest and Exile

LINK: 2 Kings 24 & 25 & 2 Chronicles 36  
(Read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND

Final Kings of Judah:

Jehoahaz - 2 Kings 23:30-34; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4

Reigned: 609 B.C. for 3 months

Character: Bad

Manner of death: Taken by Pharaoh Neco II to Egypt where he died

Jehoiakim/Jehoikim/Eliakim 2 Kings 23:34-24:6; 2 Chronicles 36:4-8; Jeremiah 36:1-32      

Reigned: 609-598 B.C. 11 years  (switching allegiance back and forth under Egypt and Babylon while they warred)

Character: Wicked

Manner of death: Killed and body was "dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:19, Jeremiah 36:30).

Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah  2 Kings 24:5-25:30; 2 Chronicles 36:8-10
         
Reigned: Dec. 9, 598-March 15/16, 597 B.C. for 3 months and 10 days 
          
Character: Bad

Manner of Death: Natural death in Babylon


Zedekiah/Mattaniah - 2 Kings 24:17-25:7; 2 Chronicles 36:10-21; Jeremiah 21, 34, 29:3; 51:59-52:11; Ezekiel 17:11-18
          
Reigned: 597-586 B.C. 11 years  (Jews still regarded Jehoiachin as ruler instead of his uncle and even Ezekiel refers to Jehoiachin as king) 
           
Character: Bad


Manner of Death: Blinded and died imprisoned in Babylon

By the way, Wikipedia has articles on all four of these kings with evidence that they really did exist.

2 Kings 24

We learned in 2 Kings 23 that Eliakim was placed on the throne by Neco. As an ancient Near East custom, Neco demonstrated his control over Judah by changing Aliakim's name to Jehoiakim.  He now submitted to Neco's authority and paid tribute through the people's taxes.

In 605 B.C., Babylon became the new world power and Nebuchadnezzar took control as its king after his father Nabopolassar died. Earlier that year, Nebuchadnezzar had defeated Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish on the Euphrates River. Babylon took control of Egypt and its vassals which included Judah. 

Later that year, Nebuchadnezzar also invaded Judah. The prophet, Daniel, and others were deported to Babylon during this first invasion. Most of the story of Daniel occurs after all the events in this post and the events of Jeremiah. 

Judah's King Jehoiakim submitted for three years but eventually revolted and appealed to Egypt for help. He was taken prisoner to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:6), but eventually made it back to Jerusalem and died there.

Nebuchadnezzar was already marching on Jerusalem when Jehoiakim died and his son, Jehoiachin, became king for three months. Jehoiachin was evil. He surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and was carried away to Babylon in the second deportation in 597 B.C. This fulfilled Jeremiah's prophecy that none of Jehoichin's sons would sit on the throne (Jeremiah 22:30). This invasion was the consequence of God's warning during Solomon's reign (1 Kings 9:6-7).

Altogether, there were 10,000 people taken captive, including the prophet Ezekiel, the post-exilic prophet. Only the poorest people were left in Judah. 

Jehoiachin's uncle, Mattaniah, was installed by Neb as king of Judah. He was the third son of Josiah to rule, being the younger brother of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. Neb changed Mattaniah's name to Zedekiah, Remember that the renaming of a person was an ancient Near East custom that demonstrated control. 

King Zedekiah was also evil. He submitted to Babylon for several years but foolishly rebelled under pressure (Jeremiah 37-38). He made an alliance with Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt (589-570 B.C.). 

2 Kings 25

In January of 588 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia began his march to besiege Jerusalem. On July 16, 586 B.C. they broke down the wall. Neb captured Zedekiah, killed his sons (cutting off all heirs to the throne), blinded Zedekiah (making further rebellion an impossibility, Ezekiel 12:3), and carried him off to Babylon (Jeremiah 32:4; 34:1-3; 39). 

On August 16, 586 B.C., they burned down every important building in Jerusalem, including the temple and royal palace which had stood for four centuries. Following this, seventy-two leaders were executed. All this made Israel an object of scorn to the surrounding nations. Gedaliah was set up as governor but was eventually murdered by Ishmael, a person of royal descent who wanted to govern Judah (Jeremiah 40:13-16; Jeremiah 41:2). In fear of reprisals from the Babylonians, the leaders of Judah fled to Egypt with Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 41:1-43:7).

Remember that Jehoiachin was taken captive to Babylon in 597 B.C. (24:15). When a new king came into power in 562 B.C., he gave Jehoiachin great privileges and treated him more as a guest than a prisoner. There are Babylonian tablets that confirm that Jehoiachin, his sons, and others received rations from Nebuchadnezzar's stores! This all led to more freedom for the Israelites in captivity. What a nice positive end to the book of 2 Kings! 

2 Chronicles 36

The account in 2 Chronicles adds some important things that are not in the 2 Kings account:

1) It summarizes God's motivation for sending the pre-exilic prophets:
The LORD, the God of their fathers sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophet, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy.  
(2 Chronicles 36:15, 16)

2) It speaks of the 70 year captivity:

2 Chronicles 36:21 is the fulfillment of what was predicted in Leviticus 26:27-45. The land would enjoy a 70 year rest because Israel and Judah had failed to keep the sabbatical years. (Every seventh year the land was supposed to lie fallow, resting from crop production. See Exodus 23:10,11; Leviticus 25:1-7.) This was also prophesied in Jeremiah 29:10. This probably refers to the 70 year period from the first deportation under Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. to the rebuilding of the temple foundation by the returning exiles in 536 B.C. (see Daniel 9:2, Ezra 1:1).

3) It closes on a note of hope:

Cyrus, king of Persia (559-530 B.C.), made a proclamation 48 years after the temple was destroyed (36:18, 19) and a year after he conquered Babylon (538 B.C.) that the people of Judah could return to their land and rebuild the temple (See Ezra 1:2-3a). This was a fulfillment of the prophetic words of Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10 and an answer to Daniel's prayer in Daniel 9:4-19. This is fitting since the account in Chronicles focuses more on the temple and temple worship than the parallel account in 1 & 2 Kings.

REFLECTION and APPLICATION

Chew on 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 for a while. Are there any areas where you are not listening to the Lord and obeying Him?

Remember that God Guides is a great book about listening and obeying.

PRAYER

Lord, help us to listen to Your Word and obey. May we do it through the power of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Put Zephaniah on the Prophets Shelf

BibleBookcase

Zephaniah 2 & 3 -The Cancer of Complacency and Day of the Lord

LINK: Zephaniah 2 & 3 

BACKGROUND

Zephaniah 2 - The Day of the Lord and the Gentiles

There was still time for Judah before the great day of the Lord. They just needed to "seek righteousness and humility" (2:3, Micah 6:8).

The surrounding Gentiles nations were doomed for destruction. They represent the four points of the compass: Assyria (north), Cush (south), Moab and Ammon (east), and Philistia (west). The great day of the Lord would bring down judgment on all of them.

Here are some background references for each of these nations:
  • Philistia (2:4-7) - Genesis 20-21, 26; Amos 1:6-8; Ezekiel 25:15-28:26
  • Moab and Ammon (2:8-11) - Genesis 19:30-38 (resulted from incest between Lot and his two daughters); Numbers 22; Judges 3, 10; 1 Samuel 11:1-5; 2 Samuel 12:26ff; Amos 1:13-2:3; Ezekiel 25:1-11
  • Cush (2:12) - Genesis 2:13; Ezekiel 30:4-6
  • Assyria (2:13-15) - Genesis 10:11-12; 2 Kings 15-19; Isaiah 37:38

Zephaniah 3 - A New Day

After dealing with the surrounding nations, Zephaniah returned to Judah's sin that was as bad as the surrounding pagan nations. They had rejected God and were complacent about their sin. They refused to accept correction because of their pride.

The future, world-wide, day of the Lord comes into focus in 3:8. All peoples will be judged (Revelation 20:12). Evildoers will be punished and the meek and humble will return to worship and trust in the Lord (3:12-13; Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away His judgments against you,
He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; (this is JESUS - the Messiah King!)
You will fear disaster no more. 

The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
(Zephaniah 3:14-15, 17)

REFLECTION
complacence; especially : self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies. 
(Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)
Judah had become so sinful; they had become complacent about it. It was no big deal, but it was a big deal to God. God does not like complacency (As He does not like lukewarmness. See Revelation 3:14-16.). Zephaniah's 53 verses were packed with a wallop to shake Judah out of their complacency before it was too late.

What can shake us out of our complacency?

Here are some things that I brainstormed about this morning. It came out as the acrostic T.A.K.E.:

1) Truth Saturation - Keep yourself soaking in the truth so you know the lie
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You. 
(Psalm 119:9, 11)

2) Accountability - It is easy to become an isolated island in your walk with God. DO NOT let this happen. Great men, like King David, have fallen when they had no accountability. Who is holding you accountable right now? If you have no one, find someone or a group of people to do so. Get out of relationships with lukewarm friends and find someone who is HOT!
Iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another.
(Proverbs 27:17)
3) Knowledge of God - Chew on this passage for a bit:
Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 
(2 Peter 1:3-4)
I have meditated long and hard on this one for about 20 years now (I remember the exact location and time when it hit me too), and this tells me that we have all we need to live godly lives via a true knowledge of Him. I love the Vine's Greek word for "true knowledge":
EPIGNŌSIS (ἐπίγνωσις , (1922)), . . . denotes exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition, . . . expressing a fuller or a full knowledge, a greater participation by the knower in the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him. 
(Vine, W., & Bruce, F. (1981; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). Vine's Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:301). Old Tappan NJ: Revell.)
Take note of the bold. It implies that as we participate in really knowing God more, we can partake of that divine nature and lead godly lives without being sucked into the world's sin as we press in to know Him more! So let us "press on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3)!

4) Eradication of distractions - We may not worship gods like Molech these days, but we have so many distractions that pull at us from all sides:
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 
(2 Corinthians 11:3)
Here is an interesting comic strip to ponder about our cultural distractions today:

Amusing Ourselves to Death

So, let's TAKE charge of the Cancer of Complacency in our lives, shall we?

APPLICATION

Evaluate where complacency rears its ugly head in your life today. Develop a plan to let God TAKE charge!

PRAYER

Wow Lord! I never dreamed that You would speak so powerfully to me this morning about complacency. I want to KNOW you more deeply. I want to saturate my mind with TRUTH so that I may know You more. Please put godly friends in my life to keep me ACCOUNTABLE and help me to know You more deeply, and help me to know what distraction I need to ELIMINATE. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zephaniah 1 - The Great Day of the Lord

LINK: Zephaniah 1


BACKGROUND

Introduction to Zephaniah

Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah. He prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC). Some commentators believe that Josiah's reforms were a result of Zephaniah's prophecy of coming judgment while others believe it occurred after Josiah's revival that began in 622 B.C. Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah.

During this time, Josiah was extending his influence as far north as Naphtali, and Judah was prospering politically. Assyria had carried off the northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C., but this great superpower was declining rapidly. Eventually, a coalition of Medes and Babylonians destroyed Nineveh (capital of Assyria) in 612 B.C.

The main message of Zephaniah is that a "day" (this word is repeated 15 times) is coming when God will judge the nations severely. Despite half-hearted attempts at renewal, Judah had no sorrow for her sins. This prophecy of fiery judgment was meant to shake Judah out of her complacency so that she might return to God.

Zephaniah 1

In this initial chapter, Zephaniah gives a very stern warning of doom that is filled with terror. He indicates that Judah's wicked will be destroyed when the Babylonians invade Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Many prophets refer to the "day of the Lord" (Isaiah 2:12; 13:6, 9; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 15; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi 4:5). This is a day of universal judgment on the whole world (Isaiah 24).

No REFLECTION and APPLICATION today. Just keep reading!

PRAYER

Lord, open our hearts to hear the message You have for us from Zephaniah. Thank You that a descendant of a king chose to become Your humble servant, carrying Your message to a sinful generation. Help us to be Your humble servants too. We ask this in the name of that humble servant. Amen.

Monday, July 23, 2012

2 Kings 23 & 2 Chronicles 35 - Giving God our ALL

LINK: 2 Kings 23 & 2 Chronicles 35

BACKGROUND


Josiah moved quickly by gathering ALL the elders, priests, prophets (probably included Jeremiah and Zephaniah), and people to read ALL the words of the Book. It may have been the whole Book of the Law which included the first five books of the Bible (also called the Pentateuch with Penta meaning "five"), or it may have just been the sections promising blessing if God's people obeyed and discipline if God's people disobeyed (Deuteronomy 27:15-28). The effect of the reading of God's Word was wonderful. Josiah pledged himself to follow the LORD faithfully with ALL of his heart and ALL of his soul. Then the people followed suit.


His pledge was not just words but was followed up by action. He removed ALL the things connected to worship of false gods that his ancestors had brought into Judah and Jerusalem. What a mess they had made, and what a tremendous amount of work to clear it all out, but Josiah followed through. In the midst of all of this he did not disturb the man of God from Judah in 1 Kings 13:2-3 who had predicted Josiah's future actions and the old prophet from Bethel who was buried next to him (1 Kings 13:31-32). The "Hill of Corruption/Destruction" mentioned in 2 Kings 23:13 is the southern hill of the famous Mount of Olives.


Josiah not only abolished idolatry but also reestablished the Passover feast commemorating God's redemption of His people from their bondage in Egypt. It is described in more detail in 2 Chronicles 35:1-19. An explanation of the Passover can also be found in our previous study of Leviticus 23 & 24 here.


This has been such a positive chapter, but it ends on a sobering note. Josiah reigned righteously for 31 years (640-609 B.C.), but he was killed by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt in the battle of Megiddo (It is explained more fully in 2 Chronicles 35:20-27).


Three out of four of Josiah's sons ruled after him. His son, Jehoahaz (Shallum) did not follow Josiah's ways but did "evil in the eyes of the LORD" and was taken prisoner to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco after only reigning for three months. Neco then placed Jehoahaz's older brother, Eliakim (changed to Jehoiakim), on the throne. Sadly, Jehoiakim also did "evil in the eyes of the LORD" and reigned as the "puppet king" of Neco from 609-598 B.C.).


Even though Josiah followed the Lord in wholehearted obedience, "the LORD did not turn away from the heat of His fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of ALL that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger" (2 Kings 23:26). 2 Kings will conclude with the fulfillment of the Lord's intention to "remove Judah" (23:27) from His presence just like he had removed Israel in 722 B.C.


2 Chronicles 35:25 says that "Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah."  This is the same Jeremiah we will read after Zephaniah. These laments are not the same thing as the book of Lamentations. We have no record of the laments of Josiah. 


Although Kings Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim are introduced at the end of 2 Kings 23, I will do a quick rundown of all the final kings of Judah in my next history post after the prophet Zephaniah. 


REFLECTION


I love reading about the life of Josiah after so many compromising kings. He heard the Word and he responded in humble obedience to it with action and not just "intellectual assent." This is true faith. He was willing to go against the culture of his day and apply the Word of God to it in spite of popular opinion. To use a word tossed around quite a bit lately, he was an ancient day maverick!



APPLICATION

What challenges me about Josiah is that he applied the Word to his life rather than just looked at it and thought it was a very "nice" book to read:

Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. (James 1:23-25 - The Message)
We can do that too. It has been a long time since I shared a Bible study tool with you, but here is something I wrote many years ago about applying the Word of God:

APPLICATION - DO IT!



You know that Nike advertisement: Just do it! Application is the whole point of Bible Study. It is putting God's Word into practice - recognizing the voice of the Lord and responding accordingly. "I considered my ways, and I turned my feet to Your testimonies. I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments" (Psalm 119:59-60).

"The benefit of Bible Study is not derived from the method, the technique, or diligent effort to decipher the text. The benefit is obeying the voice of the Lord, receiving what He says, and putting it into practice" (Search the Scriptures, The Navigators, 1974, out of print).

A good acronym for approaching application is S.P.E.C.K. 


Put on your "specks" and "see" how the Scriptures you have been studying can apply to your life!


S.P.E.C.K. stands for:


S -- Is there a SIN to avoid?

P -- Is there a PROMISE to claim?
E -- Is there an EXAMPLE to follow?
C -- Is there a COMMAND to obey?
K -- How can my heart KNOWLEDGE of God increase?

(I did not make this acronym up, but I have never been able to credit who did. I learned it from my discipler who learned it from someone else.)


Some suggestions for making applications:

  1. Pray - We need His guidance. He knows where we need to grow and will lead us.
  2. Write it out - It clarifies what you plan to do in your own mind and is a record for reference. It is also helpful to write out a prayer regarding your application. Prayer personalizes the passage.
  3. K.I.S.S. - Keep it to Simple Steps! Don't make it complicated and set yourself up for failure.
  4. Be specific - It is easy to say, "I am going to pray more." That kind of application is seldom put into practice. It is far more meaningful to write down, "I am going to spend five minutes of my lunch this week in prayer for my brother's salvation."
  5. Avoid being rigid or legalistic - Be flexible and focus on what is going on with your heart not what you are "doing." Using the example of praying for five minutes, I might be considered rigid if a coworker or child interrupted me in the middle of it, and I had only prayed for 2 minutes and 30 seconds! Let everything be led by the Holy Spirit who creates time and place. God looks at the heart.
  6. Be accountable - Applications are very effective when we share them with others. It is part of "stimulating one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24) and also develops true oneness with other believers. We need each other, and another person can often tell us if our applications are unrealistic, unprofitable, or legalistic.
  7. Memorize - It helps cement it in our heart (Psalm 119:11).
  8. Illustrate - A story, poem, or illustration can help you to retain the truth.
  9. Make a reminder - I am very forgetful. Just like the person looking in the mirror of James 1! I have reminders of past applications in full view in order to help me remember that time with God. Right now, I have a card on my window sill that says: "Presence 24/7/365" to remind me that God wants me "in His presence" all the time.
  10. Pass it on - We build up the body by passing on what we have learned. It also helps to cement the truth in our own life. this can be done with an accountability partner or someone we are discipling. Much of what discipleship is all about is just passing on what you are learning from God to a younger believer. Discipleship delights God's heart, benefits the younger believer, and YOU!
PRAYER

Lord, thank You for Josiah. He walked in ALL Your ways, and he influenced ALL the people. Help us to walk in ALL Your ways too by applying what we are learning from You and to pass that on to the people around us. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.