September 1, 2017 Bible Study — “Repent and Live,” Declares the Lord, “For I Take No Pleasure In the Death of Anyone.”

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ezekiel 17-19.

    Once more Ezekiel uses a metaphor to communicate his message. The message here is pretty obvious and much the same as the one which Jeremiah gave for the same situation. King Zedekiah was put on the throne of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, who demanded, and received, an oath of fealty from Zedekiah. Later, Zedekiah turned to the Pharaoh of Egypt for support in breaking that oath of fealty. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel condemned him for this and warned him that it would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem. In this passage, Ezekiel laws some of the blame for Zedekiah’s faithlessness at the feet of the people of Jerusalem. As I read the biblical record, Zedekiah was under significant political pressure to obtain independence from Babylon. Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem made the mistake of putting their faith in the Pharaoh, who was merely human, while themselves being faithless.

    Chapter 18 contains a message from God which is at the heart of understanding God’s will for us all. Ezekiel begins the chapter by challenging the belief that children are destined to suffer because of their parents’ failures and sins. We have tendency to hold people accountable for the actions of their parents and their grandparents, sometimes even of the people they live among. And there is a reason why we do this. Someone who was abused as a child is more likely to abuse their own children. Someone whose parent (father or mother) abused alcohol or drugs is more likely to do the same. The same is true of many other sins and behaviors, both good and bad. However, God declares that it does not have to be this way. We can choose to turn from the sins we learned from our parents and to live righteously. If we do, God will not punish us because our parents were sinners. God will judge each and every one of us according to our actions. The same is true of those who had good parents. If they do not follow in their parents’ footsteps of living righteously, they will suffer for their wickedness. It is God’s wish that each and every person live righteously. He takes no pleasure in the suffering we bring upon ourselves.

August 31, 2017 Bible Study — God Did Not Choose Us Because We Are Special

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ezekiel 16.

    In today’s passage Ezekiel uses a metaphor which our modern culture finds objectionable. We must not allow our distaste for the practice suggested in the metaphor to interfere with the message it contains. There are actually several pieces to that message. Ezekiel begins by addressing the belief among many of the Jews that they were better than other people. They believed that because they were God’s Chosen People they were superior to others. The same message needs to be heard by many who consider themselves Christians today. Ezekiel’s message to them (and to us) was that they were the offspring of a mixed relationship between a man and a woman of different cultures, both from cultures which were considered barbaric. The message here is that the people of Jerusalem, the Jewish people, were not special because of anything about themselves. They were special because God had chosen them. He could just as easily chosen someone else. In the same way, we who are Christians are not special because of anything we have done, or because of who are ancestors are. We owe God a gift of gratitude to God for choosing us. He could just as easily choose someone else in our place.

    The key part of the message, however, is how the people of Jerusalem used the things which God gave them because He had chosen them. Instead of using those things to honor God, they used them to make other things appear worthy of replacing God and then worshiped those things in place of God. When those idols did not satisfy, instead of turning back to God they sought out other more exotic idols. Worse than that, they sacrificed their children, the children whom God had given them, on the altars of these gods whom they had put in the place of God. Every time I read such passages, I am struck by the comparisons to our society, where we worship material things and build shrines to our possessions. Even many of those who consider themselves Christian put a higher priority on material possessions than on serving God. Further, when I read the Old Testament prophets condemning the people of Israel for sacrificing their children I cannot help but think of abortion as it is practiced in this country. We have sacrificed our children on the altar of convenience.
    I want to make an important caveat here. Those who have had an abortion, or performed an abortion, or facilitated an abortion are not worse than anyone else. We have all, each and every one of us, committed heinous sins in the eyes of God. It is only through God’s grace that we can do better going forward. No matter what the sin we have committed, God will forgive us and wipe us clean if we repent and turn to Him.

August 30, 2017 Bible Study — Let Us Repair the Breaches In the Walls

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ezekiel 13-15.

    Ezekiel prophesied against the false prophets who speak on behalf of God, but have not heard a message from God. This message is directed against those who want to tell others to do the right thing but do not listen to what God says is the right thing. Rather than repair the cracks in the wall of integrity which keeps evil out, they paper over them with platitudes. The dangerous part about reading this passage is that it is easy to point to others and say, “This applies to them. They are doing exactly what Ezekiel prophesied against.” However, we need to read this passage and examine how it may apply to ourselves. This is where reading the Bible through repeatedly has value. I know that later in this book Ezekiel calls for someone to stand in the breaches in the wall. Knowing that tells me that I need to look to see what I have done to repair the breaches in the wall of integrity. Am I repairing the cracks in my integrity, or am I papering over them? Because God is sending winds, hail, and rain. If our integrity is intact we will be able to withstand the coming storm, but, if not, the wind will blow us away, the hail will hammer us into the ground, and the rain will wash the earth clean of us. This is one of those passages which calls us to examine ourselves and put our lives in order. But it also calls on us to examine our society and call those around us to live with integrity. The storm is coming and, as we see in Texas, it is not enough to be prepared ourselves, we need to help our neighbors prepare as well.

August 29, 2017 Bible Study — It May Be Too Late To Avoid the Tragedy, But There Is Still Time To Turn To God

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ezekiel 9-12.

    Having described the idolatry which he witnessed in his vision of Jerusalem, Ezekiel now describes God’s reaction to that idolatry. In the vision Ezekiel saw six men armed with deadly weapons and a seventh man clothed in linen(which makes me curious about how the other men were dressed) who was carrying a writing kit. God instructed the man dressed in linen to go through Jerusalem and mark the forehead of everyone who was saddened by the detestable things which were being done. He sent the six armed men to kill everyone in Jerusalem not so marked. As bad as things were, and as overwhelming as the judgment which God was sending upon Jerusalem, there were some people who had been faithful and whom God was going to spare.

    At the conclusion of Ezekiel’s vision of Jerusalem he saw the glory of God depart the Temple and the city. Then at the end of today’s passage Ezekiel addressed those who claimed that because prophets had been prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem for years and it had not yet happened, those prophecies were false. Ezekiel responds to those people by saying that the destruction would be put off no longer. An element of Ezekiel’s message is that God has repeatedly sent prophets to the people of Jerusalem calling them to turn from their sins to Him. Ezekiel was telling the people that, while it was too late to avoid the destruction of Jerusalem since the glory of God had already departed, there is still time to turn to God. You may have left turning to God to too late to avoid suffering, but there is still value in serving Him.
    I really wish I could understand the symbolism of the living creatures/cherubim and the related elements of Ezekiel’s visions because the imagery is really gorgeous and clearly had great significance to Ezekiel. Unfortunately, all I see when I read those descriptions is a beautiful word picture with no meaning attached to it (OK, not completely no meaning, but very limited). I know that there is something of significance to these elements of Ezekiel’s vision, otherwise he would not spend so much time describing them in detail.

August 28, 2017 Bible Study — It Is Not Enough To Proclaim Ourselves Christian, We Must Act That Way As Well

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ezekiel 5-8.

    Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel frequently used metaphors, although Ezekiel’s are a little more performance art than Jeremiah’s. In today’s passage, Ezekiel had just spent almost a year laying on his side facing a map of Jerusalem which he had drawn. At the end of that time, he shaved his head and divided his hair into portions. One portion he burned, one portion he scattered on his map and chopped with a sword, and the final third he scattered on the wind. I can just picture him standing there chopping at the hair with a sword.

    However, it is the message about why the predicted destruction is coming to which we need to pay the closest attention. Through Ezekiel God tells the people of Jerusalem, who considered themselves to be the People of God, that they had behaved worse than their neighbors. Despite having the laws of God to give them a true standard of righteousness they had failed to live up to the standard to which the people around them held. Not only had they failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness, they had failed to live up to the standard of those who made no claim to being righteous. Actually, it was worse than that. They did not FAIL to live up to the standard of their neighbors, they intentionally violated it. Then in Ezekiel’s next vision, God calls out the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem who are secretly practicing idol worship. The passage does not spell it out, but it seems to suggest that this idol worship involved detestable practices (sex acts, mutilation of both self and sacrificial victims, sacrifice of children). The important part is that the people of Jerusalem were publicly declaring themselves to be serving God, but were privately serving other gods. The message here is similar to Paul’s message about the qualifications for leadership in the Church. Those we appoint to positions of leadership should be living a truly righteous life, not merely talking about doing so. There is a second message as well (actually, this message came first). If we consider ourselves to be the People of God we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the culture around us. We need to set an example of what it means to do as God instructs.

August 27, 2017 Bible Study — Called To Be Watchmen

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ezekiel 1-4.

    I realized that my imagination of Ezekiel’s initial vision has long been incorrect. I have always attempted to picture the four “living beings” as forming a square with one of them on each side of the square facing out and a space in the middle between them. However, today I realized that Ezekiel was most likely describing them as being in a line all facing the same direction. Another thing I realized is that if someone made a drawing or painting of one of these in a context that did not evoke something from Ezekiel we would most likely think the image was a depiction of something demonic.

    I think it is important for us to look at Ezekiel’s commissioning. Like Ezekiel, most of us are not called to be missionaries to foreign lands. There are two sides to such a calling. On the one hand, it is easier because you already speak the language of those you are called to whom God calls you to speak. On the other hand, they are unlikely to be receptive to your message. God warns us that if our mission field is among our own people and culture that our target audience will be stubborn and hard-headed, intentionally misinterpreting the words we speak. Therefore we need to be just as hard-headed and obstinate. Further, God warns us that they will attempt to intimidate and frighten us into silence, but we must continue to speak up any way. There is one final piece of advice here regarding speaking God’s word to those of our own culture, perhaps the most important instruction. Before we attempt to speak God’s words to others we must take them to heart and let them shape our behavior.

    The final point in today’s passage that I want to highlight is God’s defining of the mission to which He was calling Ezekiel. God describes the task as being a watchman. His job, and in many cases our job, is to warn people about the consequences of their sins. If we fail to warn sinners and they do not change their ways, they will die and God will hold us accountable for their death. On the other hand, if we warn them and they do not change their ways, they will still die but god will hold us innocent of their deaths. This instruction applies to both those who are living in sin and those who were living righteously and fall into sin. However, we are not called to confront each and every person who sins, only those for whom God has given us a message. This passage does not give us any guidance on how we can distinguish for whom God has given us a message. Theoretically, it should be obvious, but in practice it can be difficult to distinguish if God has given us a message or perhaps we just want to use that person to gain attention for ourselves.

August 26, 2017 Bible Study — Trusting God To Deal With Our Enemies

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Lamentations

    Chapter three appears to be written by a man who is suffering clinical depression. It is someone who was thrown into depression by genuine hardship and suffering. Despite feeling like God is not, and will not, listen to his prayers he has faith that God will answer his prayers. The writer is confident that if he confesses his sins and turns from them to God that God will indeed hear his prayers and relieve his suffering. He acknowledges that this is not a quick fix, that we must be patient, continuing to have faith that God will indeed rescue us while we faithfully wait for God to act. If we turn from our sins to God, He will punish those who unjustly plot against us. The writer felt that he was unjustly a victim of those he perceived as his enemies, but he did not strike out against them. Instead, he examined his ways and sought to do what was right, trusting that God would bring him justice against those who wronged him.

    One verse struck me in chapter four. That was verse 15

“Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.
“Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”
When they flee and wander about,
people among the nations say,
“They can stay here no longer.”

That seems to summarize the history of the Jewish people since the end of the First Century. One country after another welcomed them in only to a generation or two later violently expel them. It is striking how accurately this foreshadows the future of the Jewish people.

August 25, 2017 Bible Study — The Fall Of Jerusalem Is an Example For Others

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Lamentations1-2.

    I struggle with the meaning of Lamentations, but here is what I see today. Jerusalem was once the chosen City of God (and may be so again, but that is a discussion for another day). However, the people of Jerusalem failed to remain faithful to God. The result was that despite being God’s chosen city, Jerusalem was destroyed. The writer of these Lamentations tells us that Jerusalem stands as an example to all cities and nations of what happens to those who reject God’s laws. In addition to the example which Jerusalem provided for cities and nations the writer provides an example for us as individuals who seek to serve God. The writer did not rejoice that destruction came upon Jerusalem because they had failed to head his warnings (the tradition is that Lamentations was written by Jeremiah, but even if it was not it reads as if written by someone who had prophesied Jerusalem’s fall). Instead of rejoicing, he mourned deeply for the destruction of Jerusalem. We, too, should not rejoice when people suffer because they did not listen to God’s warnings.

August 24, 2017 Bible Study — Even The Most Powerful Are Subject To God’s Judgment

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Jeremiah 51-52.

    When Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would fall it was the most powerful nation on earth. It had not yet reached the peak of its power. Nevertheless, Jeremiah predicted that God would destroy it for the sins of its people. The important lesson here for us is that no matter how powerful, no matter how wealthy, a nation, business, or person may be they are not exempt from experiencing the consequences of their sins. God used Babylon to accomplish His purpose to punish the people of Jerusalem, but that did not protect them from the consequences of their sins. In the same way, no nation, or person, will escape God’s judgment today. We will experience the consequences of our sins.

August 23, 2017 Bible Study — God’s Message Is Directed To Those Who Might Listen

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Jeremiah 49-50.

    Throughout his life Jeremiah prophesied that God would bring judgment against the people of Judah for their sins. His focus was on them because they were God’s special people. In today’s passage we have a record of some of Jeremiah’s prophecies against the other nations of his day. Those nations were no better than Israel and Judah, so they too would suffer. Even these prophecies were directed to the people of Judah. If you look at them, unlike the prophecies which Jeremiah spoke against the people of Judah, they contain no advice on changing behavior in order to avoid the coming destruction. These prophecies remind us that those who make no attempt to do as God commands will suffer the same consequences for sin as those who give lip service to His commands. We cannot avoid the consequences of sin by dedicating ourselves to a belief system which says that they are not sin. The Book of Jeremiah is an important lesson for us today. While Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction of the idolatrous nations surrounding Judah, the bulk of his prophecies were directed at those who considered themselves the people of God. In the same way, while we are called to confront the world about its sins, the bulk of our concern about sin should be reserved for ourselves and those others who consider themselves the people of God.