Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Zechariah -- an Introduction

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. Zechariah was a visionary whose writing was more in the apocalyptic style akin to portions of Daniel and Ezekiel. These highly vivid images portray a future and anticipate the Messiah who is yet to come. Zechariah has two clear sections. The first section is chapter 1 through 8 and is attributed to the prophet who wrote in the late 6th Century BC. Chapters 9 through 14 clearly come from a different and later hand and era.

Zechariah can be outlined as follows:

·         Zechariah 1:1-6           Zechariah’s commission
·         Zechariah 1:7-6:15      Eight visions and their interpretations
·         Zechariah 7:1-8:23      Joy and gladness in the coming age
·         Zechariah 9:1-8           The Lord’s attack upon nations
·         Zechariah 9:9-16         Judah goes to war
·         Zechariah 9:17-10:12  Restoration of Israel
·         Zechariah 11:1-3         Short poem threatening destruction
·         Zechariah 11:4-14       An allegorical narrative
·         Zechariah 12:1-14:21  Jerusalem repents and is delivered by the LORD

Key learning: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem, See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Christians believe this prophecy was fulfilled on Palm Sunday.

Haggai -- introduction

Haggai writes following the end of the Babylonian exile around 520 BC. The exiles returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel in 538 BC. The rebuilding of the temple began immediately but was halted due to opposition and other hardships facing those charged with rebuilding Jerusalem. The temple restoration work lay idle until Haggai and Zechariah began prophesying. Haggai’s first oracle was delivered in 520 BC, and the temple was completed in 516 BC. Haggai saw a correlation between prosperity and faithfulness, and saw Judah’s difficult conditions as a result of a lack of priorities and predicted favorable circumstances with the completion of the temple. Haggai is relevant to modern readers because it is not just concerned with the rebuilding of the temple but with the priorities by which we live.

Haggai can be outlined as follows:

·         Haggai 1:1-15             The first oracle
·         Haggai 2:1-9               The second oracle
·         Haggai 2:10-19           The third oracle
·         Haggai 2:20-23           The fourth oracle

Key learning: Place God first in life and life’s other priorities will become properly aligned.

Introduction -- Ezra

Here is my intro to Ezra:
Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book that told of the return of the “remnant of Israel” from exile in Babylon. Ezra’s story begins about 538 BC (roughly 50 years following the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon.) The book tells the story of rebuilding that covers the next 100 plus years. The author of Ezra is unknown, but the book relies on the personal accounts of the priest Ezra. It is possible that the same Chronicler who wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles also wrote Ezra.

The point of Ezra is to show that the returning exiles represent the remnant of Israel who must now show the fullest fidelity and conformity to the Law of Moses. In order to do this, the returned exiles must rebuild the temple and keep themselves pure from foreign influence.

Ezra can be outlined as follows:

·         Ezra 1:1-11      Return of the Exiles to Jerusalem under Sheshbazzar.
·         Ezra 2:1-70      Census of the returnees
·         Ezra 3:1-13      Worship restored and the temple rebuilt
·         Ezra 4:1-6:23  Opposition to the efforts to rebuild
·         Ezra 7:1-10:4   Ezra’s mission to Jerusalem

            The vital lesson of Ezra is that the remnant that was promised through the prophets has been realized. God promised a remnant would return, and in Ezra, that return happens.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Daniel - an introduction

Here is the Introduction I wrote for my Ugandan friends: 

Daniel is one of the more debated books of the Old Testament. Although it is properly assigned to this place among the prophets, the questions of authorship and dating are hotly debated and discussed. At the core of the scholarly disagreement is whether it is possible for a prophet or a book to predict the future. If the scholar believes that a person cannot predict the future, they generally assign a late (as late as the Maccabean period – 167 BC) date; however, if the scholar allows for the predictive element, then the book can be assigned a much earlier date (some as early as Ezekiel’s time in the 6th century BC.) The further complicating factor in author and date is the question of literary style. Those who favor the apocalyptic understanding generally date the book in the post- Alexandrian era (3rd century BC.) Those who understand Daniel to be in the older prophetic tradition generally assign a much earlier date. It is possible that the first section (chapters 1-6) was written earlier than the later section (chapters 7-12), and the two were blended together at a later date.
It is difficult to identify the author. The book tells a series of stories about Daniel and his three companions. These four men are Jews living in exile in Babylon. Their stories are the first six chapters of the book. The end of the book is a series of visions attributed to Daniel. One other curious feature of the book of Daniel is that the book was written in two languages: Hebrew, the language of the Jews, and Aramaic, the older language of Aram and the common tongue of the homeland of Abraham.

Daniel can be outlined as follows:

·         Daniel 1:1-21              Daniel as a young man at a foreign court
·         Daniel 2:1-49              Revelation of the future history of five (5) world kingdoms
·         Daniel 3:1-30              God delivers the three young men from the fiery furnace
·         Daniel 4:1-37              Nebuchadnezzar loses and regains his throne
·         Daniel 5:1-31              Corruption punished
·         Daniel 6:1-28              Daniel impresses Darius
·         Daniel 7:1-12:13         Final manifestations

Key learning: God is sovereign over all. Faithful servants and pagan kings are equally under God’s control and influence.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lamentations -- an introduction

Here is the introduction I wrote for my Ugandan friends on Lamentations.

Lamentations A lament is a song of mourning and sorrow. Lamentations is a collection of five (5) poems mourning the fall of Jerusalem. We do not know who wrote Lamentations. Tradition identifies Jeremiah as the author, but the style is significantly different from the book of Jeremiah. The images in Lamentations would strongly suggest a contemporary of Jeremiah and someone who was an eyewitness to the burning and destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Although Lamentations is a poem of deep grief and sorrow, it is also a document of extraordinary faith and hope. This document is read aloud in Jewish synagogues in mid-July every year to mark the anniversary of the destruction of the temple in 587 BC and the later destruction of King Herod’s temple in AD 70.

Lamentations can be outlined as follows:

·         Lamentations 1:1-22   Desolation of Zion (Jerusalem)
·         Lamentations 2:1-4:22 A compassionate God judges suffering Zion
·         Lamentations 5:1-18   A prayer for remembrance and restoration

Vital Lesson: Even in darkest times, God is always faithful.