One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

TOMS: Malachi

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 29, 2006

The short book of Malachi has very little prophecy as we think of it - foretelling the future - except for the last chapter. It is mostly about the sins of Israel, many of which we see in our own lives and churches today. Malachi was the last book of the Old Testament, written about 300 B.C., at least 50 years after Haggai and Zechariah. Chapter 1 deals with the bad offerings the people were offering the Lord:
"You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as an offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations." (1:13-14, ESV)

Malachi 2 speaks of how the people have profaned themselves by false teaching, by marital unfaithfulness and divorce, and by simply ignoring the Lord.

Chapter 3 is about how the people have robbed God by their lack of giving. This is a tricky subject, because Malachi mentions repeatedly their neglect of the tithe, and lots of pastors and churches use the tithing commands here in this chapter to apply to Christians. In fact I would say that if it weren't for the tithing passage, many preachers would never preach from Malachi at all.

Any reading of this passage in context and a reading of the Law will clearly show that the tithe was meant for the maintenance of the Lord's house, as a sacrifice, and as a provision for the Levites. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to tithe. Obviously we are commanded to give; that is in a whole host of places. But trying to enforce a tithe upon the New Testament church is the same as trying to enforce the Jewish dietary laws. It just doesn't apply. I don't know if preachers think they can't raise enough money if they don't teach tithing or what. Whatever their reasoning, it doesn't justify teaching false doctrine. Teach the truth, and God will move the people to give what is needed.

Chapter 4 is the prophecy of the future coming of Christ, and also has the prophecy of the coming of Elijah. Of course Jesus said that John the Baptist came preaching "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Whether John is the ultimate fulfillment or just a shadow of the appearance of a reincarnated Elijah, I leave to others.

This will conclude our study of the prophets. I'm planning on doing a chapter-by-chapter study through the New Testament starting in a couple of days.

Friday, November 28, 2014

TOMS: Zechariah 6-9

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 27, 2006

It's good to be back. I've been home with my folks for a few days, which is always good, but also means no internet, which is both good and bad. It's nice to unplug for a while, but it's also good to get plugged back in. It probably wouldn't have mattered much anyway, because I was so sick this weekend I couldn't have thought straight enough to put my thoughts together.

In Chapter 6 Zechariah has one more vision. It is of four chariots. Two of them go north, one goes south, and the last one patrols the whole earth. I don't pretend to have any idea what this means. I'm looking forward to the New Testament, where I am more comfortable. I'm sure someone does, but I have not done enough study and the meaning is not obvious to me. The rest of the chapter is about a special ceremony God told Zechariah to perform upon Joshua the high priest. This was a very important time for the Jewish nation. Everything they knew was destroyed. But God was not through with them, and they were to continue serve Him.

Chapters 7-8 is a very interesting conversation. The people who had resettled at Bethel came to Jerusalem to ask if they should continue to fast in the fifth month, as they had throughout the captivity. Zechariah's response gives us all something to think about:
"When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?" (7:6-7)

God was saying that things done to make ourselves feel good and impress others are worthless to God. They were going through rituals that made themselves feel spiritual, but the rest of their lives they forgot about God. A lot of times I wonder how much of what we do in our churches is a lot of the same. Fasting was not a bad thing, but apparently it was done for the wrong reasons, not to pray and bring honor to God. God gives them an alternative that is more pleasing to Him:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against one another in your heart." (7:9-10)

God is more concerned about our love for each other than He is about our outward show of service. God says it is better to enjoy His gifts and share them with others:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace." (8:19)

Chapter 9 is a pronouncement of judgment on Israel's enemies and a prediction of the future glory of Jerusalem and Israel. There is also a prophecy of the coming of Christ:
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (9:9 ESV)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

TOMS: Zechariah 1-5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 21, 2006

The first section of this book is a series of visions the Lord shows the prophet. There are seven visions in these first five chapters, and one or two more in the chapters that follow. In the first vision, he sees a man on a red horse and a group of men on horses behind him. The man on the horse announces that the Lord will restore Jerusalem. The men behind him are those who run and see all over the earth.
The second vision is of four horns that represent four nations that oppressed Judah. The Lord sends out craftsmen to cut down these horns and remove the threat. The third vision is of a man with a measuring line, who cannot measure Jerusalem because of its enormous size. The city is bigger than its walls, but God says He will be a wall for Jerusalem. This is most likely a vision of the future Jerusalem in the time of Christ's kingdom.
The fourth vision is of Joshua the high priest. He is standing before the Lord with dirty robes as Satan is calling on God to kill him. But God commands that new robes be put on him. Of course, Joshua is symbolic of all the people of Israel. They had been soiled by sin, but God was going to clean Israel up and make it new again, despite their former sin.

The fifth vision is of a golden lampstand and two olive trees. This vision is a word of encouragement to Zerubbabel that God is going to use him. Zerubbabel must have been terribly unsure of himself. In the previous book, Haggai encourages Zerubbabel to be strong and that God is going to use him to lead the people of Israel as they return. This vision by Zechariah is similar.

The sixth vision is of a flying scroll. This scroll is a new law, which will chase down those who steal and lie and destroy them. This could be a reference to Christ's reign, in which He will impose perfect justice all over the world, or it could be a reference to "the new heart" of conscience that Jeremiah talks about or it could be something else entirely. Somebody smarter than I probably has a definitive answer, but not me. Sorry.

The seventh vision at the end of Chapter 5 is the strangest of all. Zechariah sees a basket which the angel with him calls "iniquity." The man opens the basket, and there is a woman inside called "Wickedness." Two women with wings pick up the basket and carry it to Shinar. Shinar is usually a reference to Babylon, and that's really all I can tell you. Whether this is a reference to the Beast of the tribulation or something totally different, I have no idea.

I am sure that one day the Lord will make it obvious to us what these prophecies are about, but for now they are so shrouded in mystery that it is dangerous to be dogmatic about what they mean. It's fine to talk about them - why else would God have put them in the Bible? But people who think they have all these things figured out and who make a big deal about it, looking down on those who disagree as fools for not studying it more, do no service to the cause of Christ. Let's do our best to be charitable to everyone who actually makes an honest attempt to study these difficult passages.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

TOMS: Haggai

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 20, 2006

If there is one word that summarizes the book of Haggai, it is restoration. Up until this point, all of the prophets have either predicted the captivity of Israel or lived through the captivity. The last three prophets - Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi - came after the Jews had returned to Israel, at least in small numbers. Haggai prophesied about the same time as Ezra was priest over Israel.

Haggai begins with a very simple message: Build the temple. The people are building houses, setting up businesses and generally getting on with life, while the house of the Lord is an empty foundation. They built the foundation years ago, but had never bothered to actually construct the building. The book of Ezra gives us a clue that part of the problem was that the older people who remembered Solomon's temple were so despaired that the new temple would not be as grand as "the original" that they couldn't even bear to start building it. 

But Haggai tells them that their land has been cursed because of their neglect of the temple. This in itself is an important lesson. It reminds us of the passage that Jesus quoted to Satan: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4) Serving and worshiping God is not something nice that we can add on to our lives if we get a chance. Worshiping God is essential. I don't know how many of us actually view worship of God as important as it really is.

In the second half of the first chapter, the people respond to Haggai's message. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, they begin to work on the temple again. And so Haggai comes back to tell them that because they have honored God, God will honor them:

“Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundations of the LORD's temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” (2:18-19, ESV)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TOMS: Zephaniah

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 19, 2006

Remember that I was living in Boonville, Mo., at the time I wrote this. This must have been a bad day.

Zephaniah packs a lot into his little book. He pronounces judgment on Israel and Jerusalem in Chapter 1. He pronounces judgment on Israel's enemies in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3 he briefly summarizes what he has said in the first two chapters and then speaks of Israel's glorious future. I often wonder why the Lord put so many prophets in the Bible who were saying a lot of the same things. But then I look at myself and I realize that I too need to hear the same things over again, about the sin in my life and the simple truth of the Gospel.

One of the things Zephaniah points out that is different from the other prophets is that he points out the Jews' low view of God as part of the reason for their punishment:
“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.’" (1:12)

Too many people, including myself from time to time, get the idea that God does not care, and that whatever happens in my life is all up to me. It's easy to think that, especially when God seems so far away at times. Our responsibility is not to make things happen by ourselves, it is to allow the Lord to work His will in our lives. I'm not saying it's easy- in fact it's terribly hard, or at least it is for me. I wish I was back home in Poplar Bluff. But the Lord would not let me stay down there. I tried and tried to find a job, and nothing worked until I applied up here. I'm not even sure why I am up here, but I know that I am where the Lord wants me to be right now. Not that I hate it here, but it's not home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TOMS: Habakkuk

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 17, 2006

Habakkuk is a rich book. The topic of the book is the coming destruction of Israel by Babylon. The theme of the book is God's ultimate goodness even when He allows bad things to happen. 

God tells Habakkuk at the beginning of Chapter 1 that He is sending the Babylonians to destroy Israel. In response, Habakkuk protests,
"You who are of purer eyes than to see evil, and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?" (1:13)

Habakkuk does not understand how God could allow a more wicked nation, Babylon, to destroy a less wicked nation, Israel. God basically responds in the beginning of Chapter 2 that He is God and He can do what he wants. He does give a promise that those who obey God will be spared: "The righteous shall live by his faith." (2:4) Of course, this quote is used by Paul twice - once in Romans and once in Galatians - and by the writer of Hebrews, and those three references are some of the most important passages in the New Testament.

Most of the rest of Chapter 2 is a response by God that the Babylonians will be punished one day for their sin, including their sin of destroying Jerusalem. I don't pretend to understand God completely, but scripture is clear that God uses wicked people to do wicked things for His purpose. He does not let their wickedness go unpunished, but yet He remains sovereign through all of it.

Most of Chapter 3 is a prayer thanking God for his goodness in spite of what is going to happen. The last three verses of this book is one of my favorite passages in all the Bible:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive shall fail and fields shall yield no food, the flock shall be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread upon my high places.”(3:17-19, ESV)

It doesn't matter if nothing goes right, God is in control, and He is still good, no matter what it looks like to us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TOMS: Nahum

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 16, 2006

This is a very dark book. The entire book is a pronouncement of judgment against Nineveh. I have not looked it up, so I don't know exactly when Nahum wrote this, but it is plain he is prophesying about a time after Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. I get the feeling Jonah would have enjoyed writing this much more than Nahum did.

Chapter 1 is about the fearsome wrath of God. A lot of people like to quote 1:7, but they forget about verse 8:
“The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overwhelming flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.” (1:7-8)

God is in control of all human history, and we are foolish if we ignore Him as the Ninevites did. I am reminded of Psalm 115:3: "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases."(ESV) It is not stated by Nahum but perhaps God's judgment on Nineveh was so extreme because they had a chance to repent, but they forgot what they had promised the Lord after they heard Jonah preach.

Chapter 2 tells of the reaction of the Ninevites when the judgment of God overtakes them. Chapter 3 pictures Nineveh as a prostitute who has been stripped and beaten. It's not pretty, but neither is Nineveh's sin, and that is the point of the book. The only reason we know of Nineveh is because of references to it in the Bible and in other books and records from this period of history. There is nothing there today- it is only desert. Its very emptiness proves the utter devastation of God's wrath.

Monday, November 17, 2014

TOMS: Micah 6-7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 15, 2006

Chapter 6 covers a lot of ground. It is an indictment of Israel, a reminder of the simplicity of God's law, and a pronouncement of doom upon the coming generation. The main argument God brings against the Jews in his indictment is the fact that they forgot the great things God did for his people. Micah reminds them of all the great things God did for them in bringing them out of Egypt and leading them to victory in the land of their fathers. All through the books of Moses and Joshua God commanded his people to remember. They set up visible memorials at various places. Most of their feasts, like the Passover and the Tabernacles, were a reminder of God's power. It is certainly an overused phrase, but it is often true that the only thing we learn from history is that no one learns from history.

6:6-8 gives us a lot of insight into God and what He delights in:
"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (ESV)

God is more interested in who we are than he is about big shows of service to him. Not that God is not pleased with sacrifice: He commanded it in the Law and He commands us today to present our lives as a sacrifice. But God is not interested in being bought off so we can go do our own thing. That's the point of this passage. If someone had thousands of rams to give the Lord out of a heart of love for Him, that would be a great thing. The problem comes when man looks at our sacrifice. Much like the story of the widow with the two mites, God does not look at the numbers on the check. He looks at the heart that is pleased to give. Or, for a negative example, think of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. They gave quite a large amount of money to the Lord's work, but the Lord flat out rejected it because of the wickedness of their hearts.

Now of course, to use another overused phrase, we must remember that we can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving. Compare what Jesus said in John that the greatest show of love is to lay down your life with what Paul said that it would be possible to give your life without love and gain nothing. I don't want to go on a rant here, but God looks on the heart, and there are many things that are good and proper to do, but we can do them all without love for God or others. I think we will be surprised in heaven who will receive some of the greatest rewards.

Anyway, the rest of Chapter 6 is about the coming destruction of Israel. Chapter 7 continues the theme of destruction, but ends on a positive note about the future glory of Israel.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

TOMS: Micah 3-5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 14, 2006

In Chapter 3 Micah lists more of the sins of the Israelites. Once again, economic sins are prominently listed. We discussed that at length yesterday. Micah also speaks of the wicked spiritual leaders of Israel, who have turned the worship of God into a show and who prophesy for money. He makes an interesting assessment of their condition in verse 11-12:
“Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its prophets teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, ‘Is not God in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.’ Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.”

These wicked teachers and prophets thought that since they were the leaders of God's people, they could do no wrong. They believed in their divine right to say and do whatever they wanted. But God was not within a million miles of their sinful practices, and their sin was leading to their nation's destruction. Unfortunately this attitude is all too common in our day as well. It seems we are hardly surprised to hear a pastor or other church leader abusing their assembly in all sorts of ways, from sexual sins to theft to extreme manipulation. It's not enough to outwardly do the work of God. It's more important to do it with a heart of love for God and the church.

Chapter 4 is prophetic of the future kingdom of Israel, when "many nations shall come and say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.'" (4:2) This will be a wonderful time of peace in which men shall "beat their swords into plowshares." (4:3) This is probably a reference to the millennial kingdom.

Chapter 5 tells us who will bring in that millenial kingdom:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is of old, from ancient of days. (5:2, ESV)

This is an example of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament that span thousands of years. Chapter 4 tells us about the kingdom that Christ will create in Israel. That has not yet happened. Yet when speaking about the king who will lead that kingdom, Micah jumps back (of course it was all future for Micah) to the birth of Christ.

We have spoken of this before, but this is the primary difference between the covenant and dispensational views of eschatology. Covenant theology looks at the prophecies that have obviously not been fulfilled yet and says they have been fulfilled spiritually in the church. Dispensational theology looks at those same prophecies and says they must refer to something in the future, because these promises were made to the Jews. I happen to be a dispensationalist. I believe that it is the more consistent view.

Friday, November 14, 2014

TOMS: Micah 1-2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 13, 2006

The prophets had a startling message for the Israelites, and Micah delivered just such a message. It is interesting to note the contrast between the major and minor prophets. It is not just the fact that they are longer, because Daniel is about the same length or not significantly longer than Hosea or Zechariah. It is the scope of the teaching. Now I know the book order is not inspired, but the people who did put them in order knew what they were doing. The four major prophets, Jeremiah to a lesser degree than the other three, have a broad scope, viewing the entire course of human history, often jumping ahead or behind thousands of years in a single passage. The minor prophets focus on the near future for Israel, as a general rule.

Anyway, Micah has another message of doom for both Israel and Judah. Micah prophesied in the days of Jotham the northern king and Ahaz and Hezekiah the southern kings. This would make him a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah ends the first section of his prophecy with this solemn warning:
"Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair, for the children of your delight; make yourselves as bald as the eagle, for they shall go from you into exile." (1:16)

There is no chance for repentance, no way to prevent the inevitable from happening. Sadly, I'm not so sure that the people of Micah's generation were too upset to hear this message. When Isaiah prophesied judgment on Judah because of Hezekiah's sin (remember this would have been around the time of Micah's prophecy), Isaiah records Hezekiah's response: "' The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.' For he thought, 'There will be peace and security in my days.'" (Isaiah 39:8) Many of these people did not care about the future. They were just concerned about the here and now. That's one of the main reasons they did not repent of their sin.

In Chapter 2, Micah confronts the sin of the people. Interestingly enough, as with many of the prophets, the most egregious sins listed are economic sins:
"They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance. Therefore thus says the LORD: behold against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster." (2:2-3)

If you read the Law, God said a lot about protecting the poor. Farmers were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested to leave some for the poor and the travelers. They were not supposed to go back over their fields twice to make sure they got everything, but they were to leave what fell to the ground for the poor. By the way, Boaz was obeying this command when Ruth followed after his farmhands and picked up what they dropped or missed for her and Naomi. Boaz recognized she was special, and so he told his workers to drop some on purpose for her. Also, every 50 years, land was to be returned to the family that originally inherited it.

I am not suggesting that we should return to these arrangements, but I do believe that liberals and conservatives both exploit the poor to their own benefit politically and economically, and both are wrong. Liberals will tell poor people to have more kids they can't afford so they can justify more government spending for health care and housing for the poor. They will get them hooked on lottery tickets to subsidize their grand plans. Rich bankers - mostly conservatives, at least economically - will give poor people credit cards they can't afford and then write them a title loan or some other gimmick to "help" them pay off their debts, which actually gets them more in debt.

God says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27, ESV) In the conservative Baptist circles I run in, we do the second half of that really well, but too often we miss the first half. We tend to blame the poor. No one is denying that, especially in a free society such as ours, one's place in life is largely the result of the choices one makes, but the command is still there. There are all kinds of disclaimers I could throw out here, but the fact remains that Christianity, especially conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, has not and is not doing enough to help the needy in our own society, much less around the world. I know there are lots of reasons for that, and I agree that if we took the tax money wasted on helping the poor and gave it to organizations that really know how to use their resources for the betterment of society and the glory of God, they would accomplish a lot more. However the fact remains, and we do too little about it.

Wow that was a long rant, and I didn't even get to Chapter 3, which has some of the best stuff in it. I'll get to it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

TOMS: Jonah

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 11, 2006

In many ways this is one of the most familiar books in the Bible. Everyone knows the story of Jonah, or at least they think they do. I honestly identify a lot with Jonah. Maybe that's sad. I certainly can't understand people naming their sons Jonah, because not only is it a curse to hear endless comments and stupid jokes, but Jonah is one of the most anti-heroic characters in the Bible.

We can only assume what his motivation was. The most likely cause was racism. He did not want the people of Nineveh to receive any mercy from God. One amazing thing I had never noticed before is that Jonah told the ship people that he was running from God. 1:10 reads, "Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, 'What is this that you have done!' For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, for he had told them." What was Jonah thinking? Why would he tell the people on the ship that he was running away from God? I would have told them a lie and said I was going to pick up a shipment of gold or something.

On a completely different topic, as I was reading this I found a reason I use different translations for Bible study. I know this is a minor point, but it is a good example. Jonah 3:3b-4a reads in the English Standard Version, which is the translation I am using right now for this Bible study: "Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the the city, going a days journey." The King James Version reads: "Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a days' journey." Maybe you don't see the difference, but if you grew up in a KJV-only culture like I did, you might. I have heard preachers and teachers my whole life say that Nineveh was three days journey away, but Jonah was either providentially enabled or he was in such a hurry that he made it in one. That is not true. Look at the map in the back of your Bible. Nineveh is 350-400 miles from any point on the Mediterranean Sea, which is the body of water Jonah was in. 350 miles is an impossible distance to walk in a day, or three days for that matter. It took Jonah at least two weeks, likely a month or more, to make it to Nineveh. It is practically impossible to walk straight east to Nineveh across the desert. He probably walked north into what is now Turkey and then south along the Tigris River to get to the city. The city itself was three day's journey across. You can see that the King James says the same thing when you read it after reading the ESV. But you get a different impression otherwise. I often tell people that I understand my KJV better when I read other translations, but I usually can't think of any concrete examples. This is a good one.

Then we get to Chapter 4. Jonah was angry at God for doing good for the people of Nineveh. Now before we get too judgmental, stop and think about the times when you (and I) have gotten mad at God for doing (or allowing) good in other people's lives. Jonah was so blind that he could not see beyond his own hatred when he complained to God. Yet God is at work in our lives and in the lives of people around us, and He does things that we may not like based on our vision of things here and now. Something to think about.

Monday, November 10, 2014

TOMS: Obadiah

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 10, 2006

The little book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, and it is all about God's judgment on Edom. This is not the most interesting book in the Bible by any means. I'm not going to say that I gave it as thorough a reading as I probably should have, but here goes my take.

Edom, in case you don't know, is the family of Esau, the brother of Jacob. Esau, as the elder brother, by only a few minutes, was entitled to the spiritual blessings of his father Isaac. But Jacob bought his birthright for a bowl of soup, and then later stole Isaac's blessing from Esau. Now all of this was part of God's plan, of course. Now is not the time for the "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” thing- hopefully that will come later.

Anyway, ever since, the nation of Edom had been living in the shadow of the Jews. Even though they were hostile when they came back into the promised land from Egypt, God told them not to bother the Edomites, because they were Israel's brothers. For centuries, the Edomites lived alongside the Jews, never liking them but unwilling or unable to actually fight them.

Obadiah's basic message is that Edom rejoiced when the Jews were defeated, and for that, God is going to punish them. They never realized God's blessing and in some ways his protection. They stayed around for hundreds of years and maintained their society, primarily because they were the descendants of Isaac. But instead, they celebrated when Jerusalem was destroyed. I don't pretend to understand God's plan: why He holds people who don't know Him- at least in our minds- responsible for not obeying Him. I know that God says that man is reponsible simply because of His goodness and His creation, and that's all He has told us, so we have to leave it at that.

TOMS: Amos 6-9

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 9, 2006

Amos finishes his book with more pronouncements of God's judgment, but ends his prophecy on a high note, as he promises that one day Israel will be restored.

In Chapter 6 Amos prophesies against "those who are at ease in Zion." The Jews were content with their material possessions, and did not care that their own brothers, their fellow Jews, were starving and were oppressed by corrupt leaders.

In Chapter 7 God gives Amos visions of locusts and fire that He was planning to send upon Israel, and Amos intercedes, apparently, and stops the judgment from coming. Then a "priest of Bethel-" I don't know if this priest was a godly priest or one of the priests of the idol that Jeroboam set up in Bethel, the text doesn't say (or if it does I didn't notice it)- tells Amos to go south into Judah. The priest says the king is going to kill Amos. Amos responds, "I was no prophet, nor a prophet's son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, 'Go, prophesy against my people Israel'" (7:14-15, ESV)

I really like Amos' response to the king's threat. He admits that the calling of God was not something he planned on or even wanted, but now that he was given this responsibility, he is going to see it through to the end. Most, and possibly all, of the pastors and leaders who have made an impact on my life have a similar testimony.

Then in Chapter 8 and most of Chapter 9 Amos predicts the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. But the last five verses of the book predict a future glory for Israel, a land that is so bountiful that the sowers of fruit will have to wait to plant in the spring because the harvest from the last fall has not all been taken in yet.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

TOMS: Amos 4-5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 8, 2006

Here we have Amos listing the sins of Israel and the attempts of God to get the people's attention. Their sins include oppression of the poor, taking bribes and idolatry. God sent famine, drought, and military defeat to the Jews, and they did not turn back to Him. 

Should we infer from passages like this that natural disasters and the like in our day are the judgment of God? I don't think so. God had a special relationship with Israel, one that is not replicated with any city, state or nation in the age of the church. If we think that way, we will end up aimlessly looking for meaning in all kinds of bad circumstances. We won't see that God can use such things for His glory. Example: When Paul was sailing to Rome, a storm came up on the Mediterranean and eventually destroyed the ship. Was that God's judgment on Paul? On the Roman government? Not really. God used the storm to allow Paul to minister to the captain and crew and lead some of them to faith.

This passage also contains the famous passage that Jesus quoted:"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the pace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (5:21-24, ESV)

God commanded feasts, solemn assemblies and sacrifices. But God did not want to receive them from people whose hearts were not right with Him. He does not expect perfection - what are sacrifices if not a confession of guilt? - but He did and still does expect a heart that longs to worship Him and know Him, not ritual ceremony done merely out of duty. Even the words of praise coming from these people were just useless noise to God. Amos told the people to work out justice and righteousness in your lives and then worship God. This is similar to what James says in his epistle when he says that pure religion includes being a blessing to the orphan and the widow. We can't expect to be right with God when our hearts are hard to the needs of our fellow human beings.

I wonder how many of our church services and worship times are just empty rituals in the eyes of God. I hate to think of it. It is certainly not measured by how emotionally stirred the service is, because people get emotionally stirred in lots of situations that have nothing to do with worship. I honestly wonder if I know what worship of God really is. I think I do, but my own life is such a mess most of the time that I'm not sure I would recognize true worship if I saw it or if I would be totally freaked out if I ever saw or experienced true worship. Don't get me wrong: I know that God loves me for who I am- why else would He save me?- and I know that it is dangerous to be always looking for something "deeper" - that is really self-deception. But at the same time I can't help thinking that we are missing the point in a lot of ways.

Friday, November 7, 2014

TOMS Movies: A Hard Day's Night

I noticed going back through my blog archives that I missed a couple of movies I wrote about that I would like to revisit. So even though it is a few days off from exactly eight years ago, here is one of them:

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 2, 2006

Photo Credit
Here's another black and white movie, one that I hadn't seen before now. This movie is hilarious. If you are not aware, this movie is a "day in the life" style movie about the Beatles, one of my favorite bands. The Beatles never took themselves too seriously, especially early on. The movie is kind of a deconstruction of celebrity life, but with much snappier dialogue than a genuine documentary.

It's funny in the ironic British sort of way.There are all sorts of quips and one-liners. On the train in England there is a cranky old man who is constantly complaining about the boys' antics. "I fought in the war for the likes of you!" says the exasperated man. "I bet you're sorry you won," comes the quick reply. The press conference scene in America is nuts. "What do you call that hairstyle?" "Arthur." "How did you come to America?" "We turned left at Greenland." Also, at the end, when they are performing on an Ed Sullivan-style show with a theater full of screaming girls, they walk on stage through a big door that says "Quiet- Television Sound Stage." 

Then there is this character who is portraying Paul's grandfather. He loses tons of money gambling, gets engaged to two filthy rich widows, he gets arrested for starting a riot with fake autographed pictures of the band, and he has this weird knack for getting lost in the theater and finding himself raised onto the stage in the middle of the show. He even interrupts the Beatles' finale.

The Beatles never let themselves be boxed in, which is the reason they were successful in the long term, and why their music is still relevant today. At the time this movie came out, their biggest hit was "I Wanna Hold your Hand." This song is not performed in the movie. However, one song in the movie says, "I don't want to hold your hand," and another says "Love is more than holding hands."

I'm a bigger fan of the Beatles' later music, when they weren't as saccharine, but the music in this movie holds its own. And it's a rollicking good time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

TOMS: Amos 1-3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 6, 2006

The prophet Amos begins with a pronouncement of judgment upon the heathen nations around Israel- Damascus (Syria), Gaza (the Philistines), Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab. I'm sure this pleased the Jews to hear these judgments.Then Amos turns to Israel, using the same combination of words: "For three transgressions and for four" for both Judah and Israel. 

An interesting fact about this portion of scripture: the repeated phrase "For three transgressions and for four" was the basis for the teaching of the Pharisees in Jesus' day that they only had to forgive someone who sinned against them three or four times. Since God said He would punish Israel for three or four transgressions, then that was all they needed to forgive. Jesus blew that teaching out of the water when the disciples, feeling generous, asked if they should forgive up to seven times. Of course Jesus replied seventy times seven.

It should be noted that Amos tells us that he prophesied during the reign of Uzziah- remember that Isaiah saw his vision of Jesus Christ (see John 12 :39-41, an amazing portion of scripture and statement of Christ's deity) in the year after Uzziah died. So Amos wrote this prophecy a few years before Isaiah wrote his book.

Anyway, Amos is unflinching in his condemnation of Israel, listing lots of wicked things they had done and tolerated being done. Then Amos gives the reason for Israel's punishment:
"You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities." (3:2)

God has a higher standard for those whom He has blessed with knowledge. He expects them to live based on the instruction they have been given. "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48, ESV)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

TOMS: Joel

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Nov. 5, 2006

This is a very short book and one that has some memorable phrases, mostly from the second half of the book when Joel prophesies about the good that is coming to Israel in the future.
1:1 through 2:11 of this book is about the future judgment of Judah. God foretells of all the disaster that will come upon them including locusts and fearsome enemies who will take their land. 2:12 through 2:17 is a call for the Jews to repent, and to turn their hearts to the Lord. 2:18 through the end of the chapter is the future blessing of God specifically on Israel. God promises to "restore to you the years the swarming locust has eaten." This is partially fulfilled when Israel returned to the land after the captivity, but it also points to a more complete fulfillment later.

This section also contains the famous prophecy,"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions." (2:28)

The apostle Peter said that this scripture was partially fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the believers in Christ began to proclaim the new way and they spoke in the languages of all the people present at the feast. But it was not fulfilled completely, because Peter also goes on to quote Joel:
"And I will show wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day." (Acts 2:19-20, ESV)

Obviously the sun and moon are still with us, so that prophecy is not completely fulfilled yet, but it will be. This prophecy leads us into chapter 3, which is a prediction of judgment of the nations, presumably at the battle of Armageddon. Christ is going to rock this world that day. All of the world's might will be directed against Israel, and then with one mighty stroke the Lord will destroy all those armies and nations and set up his millennial kingdom.

Joel is another one of those prophetic books that are partially fulfilled now, but are not completely fulfilled yet. That is what gets so many people messed up, in my opinion. Both Christian and Jewish commentators look at the parts that have already been fulfilled and they say that the parts that are not fulfilled literally yet have been fulfilled spiritually. They ignore the fact that God's prophecies are always fulfilled literally, even the ones that speak of spiritual renewal. We limit God and say that He could never do something as marvelous as is predicted in the scriptures, so we just write it off as a spiritual fulfillment and ignore it.