Through the Bible, May 25

Reading: Jeremiah 24-25

Summary: Jeremiah renounced the sin of Judah and Jerusalem and announced the coming judgment of God.  He specified that their captivity would last for seventy years and it was as though Judah must drink the bitter cup filled with the wine of God’s wrath.

Devotional Thought:

All God Has Ever Wanted

Two possible outcomes await God’s people; that’s how it has always been.  Jesus said there are two possible roads, one leading to life, the other to death (Matt. 7:13-14).  In the judgment, all humanity will be divided into two groups, like a shepherd separating sheep and goats (Matt. 25:32). And, to a much-lesser known degree, they will be like one of two baskets of figs; one good and edible, the other completely rotten (Jer. 24).

Though Jeremiah’s depiction is not nearly so well known as Jesus’, he does employ some language that is very well known and dear to God.  In describing the basket of good figs he says, “they shall be my people and I will be their God” (v. 7).  This literary formula has been called the “covenant code”.  In one statement it summarizes all that God has ever wanted with His creation.

It’s language employed by God when initiating the original covenant with His people at Mt. Sinai (Lev. 26:12).  It’s used frequently by the prophets—ones sometimes called God’s “covenant enforcers” (Isa. 51:16; Jer. 7:23; 30:22; 32:38; Ezek. 14:11; Hos. 2:23; Zech. 8:8; 13:9).  When a new and better covenant is foretold—that which Christ would initiate—not surprisingly, this too is one of its characteristics (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10).

Even in heaven itself, among all the descriptions of the glory and beauty and grandeur of that place, also true of it will the reality of that which God has always wanted, to be among His own, to be their God and they His people (Rev. 21:3).

Here’s a question; is what God has always wanted, what I also want?

Through the Bible, May 24

Reading: Jeremiah1:1-3:5; 5:1-17

Summary: Jeremiah’s prophetic career actually began during the reign of Josiah and continued until after Judah’s deportation to Babylon.  He, therefore, would have been a contemporary of both Habakkuk, Nahum, and Zephaniah.  The book of Jeremiah is second in length in Scripture only to Psalms.  It contains both his prophetic oracles as well as narratives of events and activities from his life.  The material, though, is not arranged chronologically, but rather topically.

Incidentally, the kings of Judah are frequently named in the book and Jeremiah refers to Jehoicachin, the son of Jehoiakim, as Coniah or Jeconiah.   Also, he calls Zedekiah, the last king, Shallum.

The first six chapters are generally regarded as from his early years during Josiah’s reign.  Today we’ll read a sampling of these prophetic words.

Devotional Thought:

God’s Desperate Search

Make no mistake about it, God is actively searching.  He’s looking for a certain person; not an individual, but a type—like Him.

God used Jeremiah in that search:  “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her” (Jer. 5:1).

And this isn’t an isolated incident.  Hanani the seer told a previous king, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chron. 16:9).   Yet another prophet emphasizing the thoroughness of God’s search said He conducts it with seven eyes (Zech. 4:10).

That for which God seeks is a consistent theme: justice and truth and righteousness.  It is what the Lord requires (Micah 6:8).  It is God’s own nature and therefore His delight (Jer. 9:24). It is the foundation of His own throne (Psa. 97:2).  It is of far greater worth to God than sacrifices and worship (Amos 5:24).  It’s the very definition of righteousness (Ezek. 18:5-9).

He wants it.  He seeks it.  He demands it.

One question: will He find it in me?

Through the Bible, May 23

Reading: 2 Kings 23:31-25:30; 2 Chronicles 36:13-21

Summary: After Josiah’s death, the people instated his son Jehoahaz on the throne.  But within three months the Egyptians arrived again, returning from the battle of Carchemish (see the reading introduction for May 20), and Neco took Jehoahaz prisoner and placed his brother, Eliakim, on the throne and changed his name to Jehoiakim.

During Jehoiakim’s reign, the Babylonians come and tribute is shifted from Egypt to Babylon.  After three years Jehoiakim rebels, Nebuchadnezzar returns and takes Jehoiakim as a prisoner to Babylon.  Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim’s son, rules in his stead.

During Jehoiachin’s reign, Babylon comes again and this time takes captives from among the nobles and princes, including the king.  This would have been the time that Daniel, Ezekiel, Mordecai and Esther were taken captive.  Jehoiachin’s uncle, Josiah’s son, Mattaniah, takes the throne and Nebuchadnezzar changes his name to Zedekiah.   When Zedekiah rebels against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar returns one last time and destroys Jerusalem and takes all Judah captive.

During this entire time, Jeremiah has been prophesying telling the people of the upcoming captivity and to prepare themselves for it.   He actually is not taken captive and remains with a small group in Jerusalem ruled by a governor, Gedaliah.

Devotional Thought:

Problems God Can’t Fix

God can do anything, right?  Wrong.  Not that He lacks in any ability or power or that any other force exists that can defeat Him.  There have been some wrongs He could not right and some problems He could not fix.

For instance, when He finally brought the Babylonians to Jerusalem to destroy the city and take His people in captivity, it was only after “they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy” (2 Chron. 36:16).

Did you catch that; “…until there was no remedy”?

A vital part of the “remedy” was the response of the people to God’s messengers and message.  They refused.  God couldn’t fix that.

Our problems, including our biggest problem, sin, is quite fixable by God.  He has made it absolutely and incomprehensibly possible.  But if we won’t respond, there is no remedy.  None.

The critical issue and the big question, after all that God has done, has everything to do with me.

Through the Bible, May 22

Reading: Zephaniah 1-3

Summary: Zephaniah’s task was not a pleasant one.  His was to announce to Judah God’s impending discipline against them.  Though he offers no hope for their being saved from this judgment, He does, like others of the prophets, speak of future glory for God’s people.

The chronological placement of Zephaniah is difficult.  Some see him addressing the very religious conditions of Judah prior to Josiah’s reforms and that perhaps the prophet influenced the actions of the young king.

Devotional Thought:

Not a Josiah? Be a Zephaniah

Josiah and Zephaniah; of the two, Josiah is the far better known.  Of the two, Josiah held the more prominent position as king.  Of the two, Josiah is heralded as the great reformer, the one who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).  Of the two, Josiah may not have been possible without Zephaniah.

Spiritually speaking things were horrible when Josiah became king at the tender age of 8.  He began seeking the Lord at 16 and at 20 began his extensive religious reforms.  The prophet Zephaniah lived “in the days of Josiah” (Zeph. 1:1) and addresses very serious religious wrongs, the kind that Josiah attempts to correct.  Zephaniah may very well have been the source of motivation for the young king to launch his ambitious efforts to bring his people back to God (perhaps as well as Jeremiah).  Zephaniah appears to be the man behind the movement.

Would Josiah—and what we know him for—be possible without Zephaniah?  I don’t know that we can know for sure.  But we do know this: our world is in desperate need of Josiah’s and Zephaniah’s.  We need people with the courage and conviction of Josiah to use whatever influence and opportunity they have to do right, combat unrighteousness, and lead people back to God.  We need people who though they may not be in positions of prominence are, with no less courage and conviction, influencing whomever they can in whatever way they can.

For every Josiah there is a Zephaniah; without the Zephaniah’s of this world there would be no Josiah’s.

Through the Bible, May Week 4 Introduction

Week 4: Judah Falls

May 22-28

      Judah’s best days were definitely behind them.  The prophet Zephaniah foretold the nation’s certain doom during the days of good king Josiah.  No hope of salvation for the nation’s repentance was offered.  Her fate was sealed.

Following Josiah’s death, they did not even always decide who served as their king.  Though the dynasty of David was preserved it was Josiah’s sons who served as three of the next four kings as Egypt then Babylon controlled who sat on the throne.  These final rulers were little more than puppet kings.

The final great prophet of Judah was Jeremiah.  His was the unenviable task of attempting to prepare the disbelieving nation for captivity to Babylon.  Jeremiah was not well received.

Babylon, under her king, Nebuchadnezzar, began a methodical dismantling of Judah finally ending in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  The long-threatened captivity finally came.

Through the Bible, May 21

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflection: Today is the scheduled catch up day for the third week of May.  No readings are assigned for today, but below are some thoughts for your consideration.

  1. Isaiah figures prominently in the presentation of Jesus as God’s Son in the New Testament. For instance, when Jesus visited His hometown synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), He appealed to Isaiah 61:1-2—a recognized text foreseeing the work of the Messiah—as that which He Himself fulfilled. And when Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian nobleman, it was from Isaiah 53 that he launched his message that culminated in the nobleman’s immersion into Christ (Acts 8).
  2. As the Israelites occupied Canaan, God drove out the nations as punishment for their great sinfulness (Deut. 9:4). Now “Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9).  How could Judah expect any less than the judgment God announced? (vv. 11-15).
  3. Josiah did right before God. It did not change the fact that God would punish Judah with Babylonian captivity.  Josiah knew that before he led in many of his reforms.  “What’s the use?” we might ask.  Doing right is reason enough on its own.  We don’t do right to gain something, we do right because it is right.

Devotional Thought:

The Bible is Puzzling and It’s Not

Sometimes the Bible is puzzling.  Like when king Josiah went out to confront Pharaoh Neco.  Remember, Neco is going to aid Assyria in its battle with Babylon at Carchemish.  This proved to be the decisive battle in Babylon’s rise to dominance in the ancient middle east. Babylon had already been identified by God as his instrument of punishment against Judah.

Yet, when Josiah met Neco, the Egyptian king said to him, “What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you” (2 Chron. 35:21).  One might think Neco was mistaken about God’s will, but the very next verse says, “He [Josiah] did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God” (v. 22).

Neco understood himself to be doing God’s will and Josiah had no business interfering.  God was at work among the heathen nations.  But we knew that, didn’t we?  He sent his prophets Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah specifically to them.  Virtually all of the prophets’ messages included warnings and judgments for these neighboring peoples.  God was not exclusively interested in “His” people and neither were they the only ones accountable to Him.

Among other things, we learn that we should not be too certain that we know all that God is up to and where and how and through whom He is working.  And neither, then, should we think that everything is up in the air with God and we’re free to devise our own means of relating to Him.  No, we still know His will as He has made it known and we are very much responsible to Him through it

That is not puzzling.

Through the Bible, May 20

Reading: 2 Kings 22:1-23:30; 2 Chronicles 35:1-17

Summary: Though Judah was in a precipitous spiritual fall and Babylon was emerging as a serious threat, one last bright spot remained for the nation’s monarchy; king Josiah.  Repairing the damage caused by both his father and grandfather would not be easy, but he set himself to the task.  Even though the restoration efforts would not avert God’s judgment against Judah, Josiah pursued this noble task.

Given the king’s good character, the circumstances of his death are perplexing.  He confronted the Egyptian army passing through Judah and was killed in the ensuing battle.  Pharaoh Neco understood his efforts to be according to God’s will and warned Josiah not to oppose him.  Josiah ignored the warning and paid with his life (see 2 Chron. 35:20-27).  Incidentally, Egypt was going to Carchemish to aid Assyria in a last stand against emerging Babylon.  Assyria’s loss there marked the end of that empire.

Devotional Thought:

Proof of Heart

Josiah was good, very good.  He was one of the rare kings favorably compared with David in that he did not deviate from David’s way (2 Kings 22:2).

Of course, David served the Lord with “integrity of heart and uprightness” (1 Kings 9:4).  The interesting thing about Josiah is that this is said of him before the book of the Law of Moses was found in the temple during repairs and restoration (1 Kings 22:8ff). Second Chronicles points out that he began seeking the Lord in the eighth year of his reign, began reforms in the twelfth year, and the lost book of the Law was not recovered until the eighteenth year (2 Chron. 34:3, 8).

The real test for Josiah came after 10 years of seeking and serving God.  That’s when he was finally exposed to God’s will as revealed in His word.   What would Josiah do?  Make further changes and adjustments to his service to God and lead the people to do the same?  Or just expect God to accept what he was already doing based on his good heart?

Obviously, he chose to initiate further reforms and changes as per the actual word of God. His was not an attitude of, “Well, what we’ve been doing is good enough.  Besides, we’ve been doing it for ten years and we’ve been sincere and earnest.”

The genuineness of the integrity of Josiah’s heart is proven by what he did after learning what God’s word said.

A sincere heart is a fine thing, but neglecting God’s expressed will and relying solely on our good heart is a fool’s venture.

Through the Bible, May 19

Reading: Habakkuk 1-3

Summary: While prophets served as God’s mouth pieces to deliver His message, Habakkuk’s approach is unique.  His message centers around two question which he poses to God and Jehovah’s response.  The first issue is Judah’s wickedness (remember the reigns of Manasseh and Amon). The second is prompted by God’s response to the first.  He will use the Chaldeans (Babylon) to punish His own people.  But how Habakkuk wondered, could God use such a wicked people to discipline his own?

Devotional Thought:

How Long?

Habakkuk wants to know what the Psalmist wants to know, what Zechariah wants to know, what Jeremiah wants to know, what martyred saints want to know, and what you and I want to know: How long, O Lord?  (Habakkuk 1:2; Psalm 13:1; Zechariah 1:12; Jeremiah 47:6; Revelation 6:10).

How long will the Lord allow His own people to go on sinning before He acts or to allow the wicked to continue to prosper or to forget me in my own afflictions and hurts.  How long before the Lord executes judgment on the wicked and blesses the righteous?

It isn’t a question of whether or not God can or will do it, but when?

Our anxiety over God’s timing is not exemplary of great faith.  God, being perfect in every way, is no less so with His timing.  The fact that He does not act when I think He should is but another reminder that His thoughts and ways are not only not my thoughts and ways, but they are infinitely higher than my own (Isa. 55:8-9).

So, Habakkuk has two reminders for us in our agitation over God’s apparent delays.  First, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4).  An alternative reading from the footnote on this text suggests “faithfulness”.  In other words, it’s not our place or responsibility to have everything figured out or to worry and fret when it appears that God has not appropriately moved in response to the circumstances of this world and my life.  My job is to be faithful.  Period.

The second reminder is that “the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20).  God is where He’s supposed to be and needs to be and I should be good with that.  Given that fact nothing is needed from me—silence.  My questions, complaints, or irritation at God’s timing are wholly inappropriate and of no help.

None of this means I won’t still wonder, how long?  It’s either that I will continue to have those questions or God will start explaining everything to me about why He does what He does.

And I’m not holding my breath.

Through the Bible, May 18

Reading: 2 Kings 21; Nahum 1-3

Summary: It very well may be said that Manasseh was to Judah, what Ahab had been to Israel. Hezekiah’s wicked son undid so much of what his good father had done.  It is during his reign that God determines that Judah, too, will be punished as had Israel.  Also, like Ahab, Manasseh does repent and by the end of his reign he “knew that the Lord was God” (2 Chron. 33:12-13).  Unfortunately, his son, Amon, broke the pattern of alternating good and wicked kings by following in the evil ways of his father.

It is interesting that three of the Old Testament (literary) prophets’ messages were directed toward a foreign power; and two of them to the same people.  The first writing prophet, Jonah, had great success—to his own consternation—in his preaching to the city of Nineveh.  Nahum addresses the same people about a century later, but without his predecessor’s results. The third prophet is Obadiah (see May 30 reading introduction).

It should be remembered that Nineveh is the capital of the Assyrian empire, which had taken the nation of Israel captive.  Now, their own demise is immanent.  Babylon would replace Assyria in world domination and would soon also play a major role in Judah’s future.

Devotional Thought:

God is Not Simple

He cannot be understood, simply.  That’s not to say God cannot be understood.  And there are critically important things about God that are simple—radically simple; like the fact that He loves us.  The simplest mind can fully grasp that powerful reality.  He also is patient and kind and good, plus a whole lot more.

The problem comes when we begin to define His love and patience and goodness in ways that are quite human, not divine.

A case in point is His description in Nahum.  “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nah. 1:7).  In the verse immediately prior to that statement, the prophet speaks of God’s indignation, anger, and wrath (v. 6).

It’s not a contradiction, though it may appear to be a great inconsistency.  But that’s just it; it only appears that way.  Our trouble is that we cannot envision ourselves as both loving and good and patient while at the same time having great indignation, anger, and wrath.

Because I can’t, does not mean God can’t.  He’s not that simple.

Through the Bible, May 17

Reading: Isaiah 7:10-19; 9:1-7; 11:1-5; 53

Summary: Likely the best-known feature of Isaiah’s message is his prophecies of the coming Messiah.  These passages, as one would expect, play a prominent role in the New Testament.  These readings are among the best known of all Messianic passages, not only in Isaiah but all of the Old Testament.

Devotional Thought:

It’s In My Hands

Isaiah chapter fifty-three, it could be argued, is the most important text about Jesus in the entire Old Testament.  It’s an incredible passage, the depth and breadth of which could not be exhausted after a lifetime of study and meditation.  One cannot say they truly know Christ without intimate acquaintance with this portion of the Holy Writ.  It can lead to true life and eternal joy as with the noble worshipper from Ethiopia who from this very Scripture heard the powerful, life changing message of Jesus (Acts 8).

Of all the incredible affirmations made of our Savior in this sublime prophecy, none is more compelling than that “the will of Lord shall prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10).  What better, more important, or complementary statement could possibly be made?  And as true with all Messianic prophecies, it found fulfillment in Jesus.

The will of the Father was more than a point of interest or a matter of some concern.  It occupied the highest priority and consumed the man of Galilee’s very purpose.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).

“I seek not my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:38).

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38).

The proof that no mere high-sounding rhetoric crossed Jesus’ lips is found when God’s will obviously countered His own desire.  Back in Isaiah 53:10, the verse begins, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief”  Still, that will prospered in His hand.  So, famously, in Gethsemane, He prayed fervently, repeatedly, and passionately that the “cup” might pass from Him, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).

So, as a professed follower of Jesus, the question for me becomes, how does God’s will fare in my hands?