365 Challenge – Minor Prophets

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Dear 365 Readers,

Tomorrow (9/15) we start our reading of the “minor prophets”, those short little books at the end of Old Testament that can be hard to find and keep sorted out in your mind!  I’m going to give you a brief overview here, maybe you can print it out and keep it with you as you read:

Hosea – to the Northern Kingdom, in the days of its last evil kings.  A painful personal love story of Hosea’s marriage to a woman who acted like a prostitute.  He was good to her and she humiliated him with her unfaithful, brazen behavior.  It is both a true story, and a symbolic story of God’s love for His unfaithful people.

Joel – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, during the time of Elisha.  A plague of locusts had come to discipline the nation, Joel called people to return to God before an even greater judgement came.  The Holy Spirit is promised here as well.

Amos – to the Northern Kingdom, in the days of its last evil kings.  Amos spoke against those who exploited or ignored the needy, reminding people that God calls his people to fight against injustice.

Obadiah – to the nation of Edom, in the days of Elijah.  Obadiah spoke against the pride of Edom and its violent actions against God’s people.

Jonah – to the city of Ninevah in the nation of Assyria, prior to the fall of the Northern Kingdom and the rise of Assyrian empire.  God sent Jonah to warn Ninevah to repent or face judgement, but Jonah didn’t want to go, and there was a drama with a big fish!  When Jonah finally went, the people of Ninevah repented and God relented.

Micah – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, prior to the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  Micah predicted the fall of both kingdoms as discipline for God’s people.  Good King Hezekiah listened to Micah, and thus delayed the fall the of Southern Kingdom/Judah.

Nahum – to the nation of Assyria, after the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  Assyria oppressed the Southern Kingdom/Judah, and the people of Judah admired the wealth and power of Assyria.  Nahum warned that the mighty Assyrian empire would soon fall.  God would judge Assyria, and God rules sovereignly over all the earth.

Habbakuk – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Habakkuk asked God why He didn’t punish the wicked in the Southern Kingdom/Judah.  How could God allow such evil exist?  God promised to use the Babylonians to punish Judah, and then to punish the Babylonians as well.  Habbakuk chose to hold on to the hope that God would be faithful and strengthen him in time of disaster.

Zephaniah – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, during the time of Jeremiah.  Zephaniah warned that a day will come when God, as judge, will punish all nations.  But after judgment, He will show mercy to all who have been faithful to Him.

Haggai – after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.  Haggai warned that the temple of God was only half finished, yet the people had lost interest and instead built beautiful homes.  Haggai encouraged the people to finish the temple, and not to prioritize their jobs and possessions ahead of God.

Zechariah – after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, same time as Haggai.  Zechariah also encouraged the completion of the temple, and shared many visions of an eternal kingdom that gave people hope.

Malachi – the last prophet of the Old Testament, after the temple and walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt completely.  Malachi warned that the people’s relationship with God was broken because of sin, in particular the sins of the priests and society’s complete disregard for the sanctity of marriage.  Careless living has consequences, but those who repent will find favor with God.  The coming Messiah is promised.

And then there was silence for 400 years.

365 Challenge – Daniel

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Dear 365 Readers,

Whew!  I don’t know about you, but I felt like the trip through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel was such a depressing journey as we witnessed disobedience and destruction… though each book was punctuated by rare chapters of hope and light.

Now we start Daniel.  Daniel was a refugee, taken captive as a young man in Israel and carted off to Babylon.  Later Daniel rose to the post of prime minister in Babylon – a post he held for a very long time!  By the time he was thrown in the lion’s den he was actually an older man.  Daniel was respectful of the pagan kings he worked for, but he never compromised his faith, even under threat of death.  The Bible gives no better model of how to live with and serve those who do not share your beliefs.

The book of Daniel is divided into two strikingly different parts:  Chapters 1-6 recount the familiar stories of Daniel and his adventures in Babylon.  Chapters 7-12 are a series of visions God gave Daniel regarding the future of world history and the rise and fall of empires.  You might want a commentary to help you through the visions – but know that, in the time the visions were given, the historical empires he references would have been known to his hearers.

Just a few short prophetic books left and we’ll start the New Testament (we start Matthew on October 2)… almost there!

365 Challenge – Lamentations & Ezekiel

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Dear 365 readers – Wee start Lamentations tomorrow, and Ezekiel shortly thereafter!

Lamentations – A five stanza song of lament, a time of weeping and grief.  Beloved Jerusalem has been destroyed, its buildings burned to the ground, and its people carried off into exile in Babylon.  The author, presumably Jeremiah, seems astonished and stunned that God would allow His people to endure such suffering.  From Lamentations we learn that mourning is ok, there is a time and place for grief.  And yet, in the end the author clings to a quiet hope in the character of God, that “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23)

Ezekiel was a prophet who was in Jerusalem prior to its destruction, and then went into exile in Babylon in one of the early waves of people who were deported (along with the prophet Daniel).  Ezekiel becomes the messenger to captives in Babylon.  It’s a strange book – full of imagery and visions.  As you come to each prophecy, consider the dominant image (prostitute, grapevine, shaved head…) and consider what it represents.  Also watch for the repeated phrase, “Then they will know that I am the Lord”.  Ezekiel closes with hope, there will be a new Jerusalem one day and God will make His home there forever.

Courage friends, this is perhaps the darkest period of the history of Israel.  God’s punishment on them for their sin is heavy, and yet He has a plan to restore and renew.  May we be encouraged by His faithfulness and unfailing love!

365 Challenge – Jeremiah

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Dear 365 Readers,

I am still marveling at the content of Isaiah… chapters 40-66 might be some of my favorite in the whole Bible.  It’s incredible to think Isaiah wrote all the passages about the exile and return of Israel, the coming of Jesus Christ, and the new heaven and new earth so long before any of those things came to pass (or haven’t happened yet!).  We are also personally grateful for Isaiah 56:6-7 and 66:19-21 where Isaiah shares that the gospel will be for ALL peoples of ALL nations. So fantastic!

Jeremiah spoke (or wrote) in the time period just after Isaiah was put to death.  For more than 40 years he delivered a warning to top officials that they did not want to hear and refused to heed.  The destruction of Judah was coming, and no one wanted to listen to the truth.

For me, the interesting character is Jeremiah.  He was a reluctant prophet, insecure, unhappy, afraid of ridicule and death.  He hated standing alone against the crowd.  He was moody, and he felt unprepared and incapable of the task God called him to.  And yet Jeremiah obeyed – he is one of the best examples in the Bible of what it means to follow God in spite of everything.

You can re-read 2 Kings 23-25 to understand the period when Jeremiah was speaking.  Unfortunately his messages are not chronological, so you might need to watch for the names of kings in order to keep it all straight.  And finally, one chapter of special note – chapter 31 is God’s promise of restoration and a new covenant.

365 Challenge – Isaiah

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Dear 365 Readers,

Tomorrow (7/16) we start reading in Isaiah.  Isaiah was a prophet – a preacher, poet, and politician.  He was an advisor to the kings of Judah (the southern kingdom after the split) for some 60 years, outlasting four kings until finally wicked King Manasseh had him killed.  He is a giant of Jewish history, often called the Shakespeare of Hebrew literature.  The book of Isaiah is quoted more in the New Testament than all the other prophets combined, and no other Biblical author can match Isaiah for his rich vocabulary and imagery!

When Isaiah began speaking the nation of Judah seemed strong and wealthy, but Isaiah saw signs of danger.  People used their power to harass the poor.  Men went around drunk, and women cared more about their clothes than about their neighbor’s hunger.  People kept up the outward appearance of religion but did little more.  Outside of Judah’s borders other nations, like Egypt and Assyria and later Babylon, grew strong and dangerous.

Though he was an advisor to kings, Isaiah spoke the cold, hard truth and warned of disaster to come.  From chapter one on the question is asked, “Why do you persist in rebellion?!” (1:5)  As you read this collection of Isaiah’s sermons and warnings, watch for these things:

What are the sins the people have committed?  (watch for the “woes”)

What judgments are rendered?

What promises and future hopes are mentioned? (watch for prophecies of the savior to come)

Watch also for “the Spirit of the Lord” (at least 10x) and see what you discover!

— Mindy

365 Challenge – Ecclesiastes & SOS

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Dear 365 Readers,

We start Ecclesiastes today – it’s a bit tricky and a potentially depressing read, so let’s consider the context:

Ecclesiastes was likely written by King Solomon – the last king of united Israel and David’s son, a ruler who had tremendous wealth, power, wisdom, and everything else he ever wanted.  In this book he details his quest for meaning in life through wealth, power, pleasure, riches, labor, and more.  He discovers that the pursuit of all these things is “meaningless” and “chasing after the wind”.  You could summarize his whole life in Jesus’ one statement, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world and yet forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

The positive message, the lesson of Ecclesiastes is found at the end of the book, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl 12:13)  As you read consider how the world we live in today encourages the pursuit of so many things that have no eternal value… What did Solomon conclude?  Consider how a relationship with God changes our priorities and perspective on things the world values.

This week we’ll also read Song of Solomon, a love song that was perhaps sung at a wedding.  Many people are surprised to find an explicit love song in the Bible, but it is a celebration of pure sensuality without shame, set in the context of a happy marriage. The song is full of metaphors that sound strange to us – “Your hair is like a flock of goats” (4:1) or “Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon” (7:4) – so you  might need to read it with a commentary in hand!

Courage to you, keep reading!  — Mindy

365 Challenge – Proverbs

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Dear 365 Readers,

We started Proverbs while I was on vacation, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them!  When I think of the proverbs I think of a big noisy family sitting around the dinner table and I can almost hear grandma (or grandpa) handing out pieces of advice in the form of short little witty sayings… we’re good at snappy sayings and little word pictures here in The South, and that is exactly what the book of Proverbs is all about!  There is more humor in the book of Proverbs than anywhere else in the Bible.

You see, Proverbs simply tells how life works most of the time.  It is wisdom collected over the ages.  People often quote Proverbs as if they were the absolute promises of God or rigorous rules for living, but they are not.  For example, today we read Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  That is general wisdom, good parenting generally produces good kids.  It’s not a promise, as we all know very good parents whose children have chosen other paths.

As you read watch for general principles for wise living, and imagine your grandparents leaning back in their chairs and saying,

“Watch your words and hold your tongue,  you will save yourself a lot of grief.” Proverbs 21:23