Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ezekiel -- an introduction

Ezekiel begins his prophetic work during the first exile from Jerusalem (597 BC) that began when King Jehoiachin surrendered Jerusalem to the Babylonian army. The time of his first vision, given in 593 BC, to his last vision, in 571 BC, is over 20 years. Ezekiel is a younger contemporary of Jeremiah and was both a priest and a prophet. In exile at the age of 30, Ezekiel is called from his duties as a priest to the work of a prophet. Ezekiel’s ministry bridges the transformation of the religion of ancient Israel. This transformation is from a temple and sacrifice-based religion to a religion that is primarily identified with the study of the Law and based in the synagogue.
This book was primarily written by Ezekiel. His prophecies are often accompanied by dramatic actions. His prophecies are also filled with bizarre and fantastic images (wheels within wheels, beasts emerging from seas, valley of dry bones). At its core, however, it contains a message of hope for redemption and restoration and eventually, a return to the land of Judah and Jerusalem. Choice and responsibility are vital to Ezekiel’s message.

Ezekiel can be outlined as follows:

·         Ezekiel 1:1-3:21          Ezekiel empowered
·         Ezekiel 3:22-27           Ezekiel confined
·         Ezekiel 4:1-5:17          Actions symbolic of the judgment of Jerusalem
·         Ezekiel 6:1-7:27          Oracles of judgment
·         Ezekiel 8:1-11:25        God punishes Jerusalem for its abominations
·         Ezekiel 12:1-24:27      Jerusalem’s fate predicted
·         Ezekiel 25:1-32:32      Judgment passed against enemy nations
·         Ezekiel 33:1-37:28      Israel to be restored; the kingdom established
·         Ezekiel 38:1-39:29      Gog will be destroyed
·         Ezekiel 40:1-48:35      Revelation of “Utopia”

Vital Lesson: God is forming a people for himself. In the wilderness of being in exile, God does not abandon his people but forms and shapes them like a potter working at a wheel.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Jeremiah -- an Introduction

Jeremiah comes from a priestly family and was born and raised a few miles north of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was born about 640 BC and began his prophetic ministry at a young age. Jeremiah speaks God’s prophetic word in Jerusalem for forty (40) years, through the reigns of Judah’s last five (5) kings. His prophecies continue through the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 587 BC and continue shortly thereafter. The political backdrop of Jeremiah is that the Assyrian empire has fallen and the land of Judah finds itself in the crossfire between the new major power to the north, Babylon, and the traditional power to the south, Egypt. Jeremiah warns of the coming disaster and appeals in vain to the leaders and the people to repent and turn back to God. The book was primarily written by Jeremiah and his disciple/assistant Baruch.
The main theme of the book is that the impending destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple therein is part of God’s plan for Israel’s redemption. God wills this destruction as punishment for the idolatry of the people and the apostasy of the nation’s leaders. The major consequence of Jeremiah’s writing is a maturing of the people’s faith; he teaches that Judah can survive, even without the sanctuary in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah can be outlined as follows:

·         Jeremiah 1:1-3             Title page
·         Jeremiah 1:4-19           Jeremiah’s call and beginning of his career
·         Jeremiah 2:1-37           Israel’s apostasy, a fateful error
·         Jeremiah 3:1-10           A persistently unfaithful people
·         Jeremiah 3:11-4:2        Invitation to return and a promise of the Messiah
·         Jeremiah 4:3-4             Peril for stubborn disobedience
·         Jeremiah 4:5-31           More about the devastating foe from the north
·         Jeremiah 5:1-31           The calamities are deserved
·         Jeremiah 6:1-30           The calamity is near
·         Jeremiah 7:1-10:25      False religion and its punishment
·         Jeremiah 11:1-15:9      Warnings and punishments
·         Jeremiah 15:10-21       The prophet’s lament and God’s response
·         Jeremiah 16:1-9           Jeremiah the solitary prophet
·         Jeremiah 16:10-21       Mingled threat and promise
·         Jeremiah 17:1-18         Observations and prayers
·         Jeremiah 17:19-27       Importance of Sabbath rest
·         Jeremiah 18:1-17         Lesson from the potter
·         Jeremiah 18:18-23       A private prayer
·         Jeremiah 19:1-20:6      Dramatic pronouncement and consequences
·         Jeremiah 20:7-13         A personal private prayer
·         Jeremiah 20:14-18       Inner fury
·         Jeremiah 21:1-23:8      The kings are denounced
·         Jeremiah 23:9-40         Concerning prophets and prophecy
·         Jeremiah 24:1-10         Two baskets of figs
·         Jeremiah 25:1-14         Ineffective warnings
·         Jeremiah 25:15-38       Worldwide devastation
·         Jeremiah 26:1-24         Jeremiah’s arrest and release
·         Jeremiah 27:1-22         Jeremiah declares Nebuchadnezzar’s success
·         Jeremiah 28:1-17         Two types of prophets in conflict
·         Jeremiah 29:1-32         A letter to the exiles
·         Jeremiah 30:1-31:40    Hope for the restoration of Jerusalem
·         Jeremiah 32:1-44         Jeremiah’s confidence in a restored Judah
·         Jeremiah 33:1-26         More comforting thoughts
·         Jeremiah 34:1-7           Warning to Zedekiah about his captivity
·         Jeremiah 34:8-22         The evils of slavery
·         Jeremiah 35:1-19         A lesson in loyalty
·         Jeremiah 36:1-32         Jeremiah, amide difficulties, records his words
·         Jeremiah 37:1-10         Jeremiah disappoints the king
·         Jeremiah 37:11-16       Jeremiah is accused of desertion and imprisoned
·         Jeremiah 37:17-21       Jeremiah speaks bluntly
·         Jeremiah 38:1-13         Jeremiah is charged with sedition
·         Jeremiah 38:14-28        Zedekiah consults with the prophet
·         Jeremiah 39:1-14         Jeremiah is spared when Jerusalem falls
·         Jeremiah 39:15-18       Jeremiah praised Abed-melech
·         Jeremiah 40:1-6           Jeremiah after the capture of Jerusalem
·         Jeremiah 40:7-41:18    Assassination of Gedaliah
·         Jeremiah 42:1-43:7      Fugitives consult Jeremiah
·         Jeremiah 43:8-44:30     Jeremiah in Egypt
·         Jeremiah 45:1-5           The experience of Baruch
·         Jeremiah 46:1-51:64    Heathen nations will be destroyed
·         Jeremiah 52:1-34         Zedekiah’s end, Jerusalem’s fall, deportation and                                                     Jehoichin’s release

Key Lesson: The externals of religion (the Temple, sacrificial system, etc) are a means to an end. The people have turned them into ends in and of themselves. Religion and religious rituals are not what matters. What matters the most are the people’s relationship with and faithfulness to God and obedience to His commandments.

Zephaniah -- an introduction

Zephaniah lived during the reign of King Josiah (2 Kings 22:1-23:30) which places the date of this book between 640 and 609 BC. Josiah’s religious reforms follow the two previous kings, Manasseh and Amon, who had brought the religion and morality of the nation to an all-time low. Josiah restored the temple and rediscovered the law book. Zephaniah may have been of royal blood and a descendent of King Hezekiah. The nation has grown corrupt, and Zephaniah is sent to the leaders of Israel to denounce their behavior.

Zephaniah may be outlined as follows:

·         Zephaniah 1:1-6          The great doom that is to come
·         Zephaniah 1:7-18        The day of the Lord
·         Zephaniah 2:1-3:10     Oracles against nations and Jerusalem
·         Zephaniah 3:11-20      The humble shall inherit

Key learning: Sin and rebellion, once discovered, lead to repentance or continued destruction. Repentance is the beginning of the road back to life.

Habakkuk -- an introduction

Habakkuk We know nothing about the prophet Habakkuk. The book was probably written between the fall of Nineveh (612 BC) and conquering of Judah (597 BC) and eventual destruction of Jerusalem (587 BC). Judah rejoiced at the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Babylonians, only to see the Babylonians (also called the Chaldeans in the Old Testament) seek world domination. The Chaldeans destroy Nineveh in 612 BC, defeat the Egyptians in 605 BC, and the march continues all the way to Judah. Habakkuk struggles with the same question as Job: how can God’s people suffer while the wicked go free?

Habakkuk can be outlined as follows:

·         Habakkuk 1:1-4          Internal discord
·         Habakkuk 1:5-11        God’s solution
·         Habakkuk 1:12-2:1     Is God just?
·         Habakkuk 2:2-20        God answers
·         Habakkuk 3:19            Habakkuk’s prayer

Key learning: God is good even when we don’t feel it; God is just even when that justice is hard for us to endure.