September 23, 2017 Bible Study — Seek Justice and Righteousness, Not Just the Appearance of Justice and Righteousness

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Amos 1-5. Before I get started on my Bible study, I want to thank my wife for 17 wonderful years. It was 17 years ago today that my wife gave me the birthday present I could ever receive. Every year she asks me what she can get me for my birthday and I tell her that she has already given me the best possible birthday present. OK, I will stop here on that since I cannot possibly express how incredibly happy she has made me.

    The people of Israel and Judah must have been happy with the beginning of Amos’ prophecy. Amos starts by condemning their various enemies and warning them of God’s coming judgment against them. The overarching theme of the condemnation of Israel’s neighbors was their oppressive treatment of the people of Israel. There are a couple of other reasons that one or more of them are condemned for that I want to bring up. Several of them were condemned for enslaving and/or selling the people of Israel as slaves. The people of Ammon were primarily condemned for the killing of the unborn. The people of Edom were condemned for committing something approaching genocide against the people of Israel. And interestingly enough, the people of Moab were condemned for war crimes against the people of Edom. That last is noteworthy because the people of Edom were condemned by God for their actions, but Moab was still condemned for what they did against them. All of the things which Amos condemned Israel’s neighbors for are going on in the world today, and God will bring judgment against those who are following these practices.

    However, the happiness the people of Israel and Judah felt when Amos began to prophesy would not have lasted long. Once he had condemned the pagan nations around them he began to list out their sins in greater detail. At least part of the reason for the greater detail was because the people of Israel and Judah should have known better. Amos condemns them for many of the same sins for which he condemned their neighbors; in particular, selling people into slavery. The part of that which strikes close to home is “They sell…poor people for a pair of sandals.” That hits close to home because of the reports of U.S. companies buying shoes (and other items) from factories which employ slave labor. I am not going to say that those who buy those products are the subject of Amos’ condemnation, but those who knowingly profit out of such companies are. As we go further in the passage, Amos tells us more about those subject to condemnation. He mentions those who cause Nazirites (people who had dedicated themselves to God) to sin and tell prophets to be quiet. I see a comparison to what Amos is saying in those who encourage celebrities who start out with an innocent, wholesome image to become more “edgy”, or who set out to seduce (either directly or indirectly) male celebrities who attempt to avoid sexual immorality.

    Those whom Amos is condemning think they are righteous because they offer sacrifices, which they believe they are offering to God. Amos offers us guidance for knowing if we are making offerings to God, or to an impostor. Do those accepting our offerings call us out when we commit injustices? Or, do they congratulate us on our righteousness? If the place we are giving our offerings does not call us to act justly and to live righteously, we are hypocrites and God will bring judgment against us. God calls us to live righteously, not to put on the appearance of righteousness. God wants us to live righteously and to treat our fellow man justly more than He wants our material possessions.

September 22, 2017 Bible Study — Turning To God In Time Of Disaster

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Joel 1-3.

    As I read the beginning of this passage it made me think of the devastation in Puerto Rico from the two hurricanes which hit it this month. The passage describes a devastation which the people of Israel could see coming, but which they were powerless to stop or escape. As I think about the response which Joel called for from the people I want to add in the other areas devastated by hurricanes this year, the parts of south Asia devastated by flooding, and the areas of Mexico struck by earthquakes. Joel called on the people who suffered the disaster he described to turn to God and give Him their hearts. Looking at the world today, I believe that God is calling us to come together and mourn before Him. This is not just a message for those who have suffered these devastating disasters. This is for all of us. Let us tear our hearts and plead with God for forgiveness. I believe that if we humble ourselves before God, He will give us the resources to restore things better than before.

    And it is for all of us. If those of us who did not bear the brunt of these disasters do not tear our hearts in prayer and fasting before God, we will be counted among the enemy nations recorded at the end of this passage. Those who are counted among the “enemy nations” in this instance will be held accountable for the suffering which went on in many of these lands before these tragedies struck. If the people of these lands turn to God and call out to Him in repentance, He will restore them and punish those responsible for their previous suffering. We have a choice, we can take this warning and seek God, or we will be counted among the enemies of God’s people. Seeking God is not just a mental, emotional, and/or spiritual exercise. It involves our material and physical selves as well. What that involves will be different for different people. For some of us, it will involve contributing from our material resources to restore those who were in the path of these disasters. For others of us, it will involve travelling to the devastated areas and helping them rebuild. For some it will involve both. It may involve other activities as well. Each of us will have to listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling us is our part in the activities of the Body of Christ.

September 21, 2017 Bible Study — Sow the WInd, Harvest the Whirlwind

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Hosea 8-14.

    I am struggling to write this blog entry today, not because there is not a message which speaks to me in this passage, but because there are many. Hosea condemned the people of Israel for claiming to worship God and calling out to Him for rescue while worshiping an idol as God (the golden calves which Jeroboam built). They created sites for worshiping God and covering their sins, but they used them to follow practices which God had forbidden. The people loved to follow the practices which made them appear righteous, but ignored the laws which actually affected the way they lived their day to day lives. Those who speak God’s word or seek to follow His commands are called crazy or fools. Sound familiar?

    There is a line further on in the passage which has the people saying “We have no king because we did not fear the Lord. But even if we had a king, what could he do for us anyway?” When I first read that it seemed like an acknowledgement of their sin and that their problems resulted from their sin. However, as I read it again in the context it seems more of a rejection of God and goodness. In context with the rest of this passage that reads to me more as “Sure, our failure to fear God means the government is dysfunctional, but what’s in it for me if the government functions well?” God was calling the people of Israel to plow up the hard ground of their hearts and plant righteousness. He is calling on us to do the same today. But instead of doing as God asked the people of Israel cultivated wickedness, as do so many people today. If we sow the wind, we will harvest the whirlwind. When we sow wickedness we will harvest destruction.

September 20, 2017 Bible Study — Which Will We Choose? The Long Term Good Things of God? Or the Short Term Pleasures of Sin?

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Hosea 1-7.

    I always feel bad for the prophet Hosea because God had him marry a woman (Gomer) who would not be faithful to him. Of course, my next thought is that perhaps God chose Hosea as a prophet because of his poor choice in a wife. Then I feel bad for Gomer’s daughter and second son because of the names God had Hosea give them. I want to note that before the end of the first chapter, Hosea foreshadows changing their names from negative names to positive names. Gomer left Hosea to pursue sexual relations with other men, which Hosea uses as a metaphor for the people of Israel worshiping other gods. Rather than acknowledge the good things in her life that came from her husband, Gomer pursued gifts from other men. This reflects how we so often overlook the good things which God has given us and commit sin in pursuit of pleasure. When we turn from God to pursue the pleasures of sin there is a very real risk that God will stop giving us the good things which He had previously given us. If that happens God will attempt to woo us back to Him and show us how much His love can truly mean to us.

    Hosea tells us that no one should accuse others. We are all sinners. Men who visit prostitutes have no moral authority to condemn women for being prostitutes. Men who are having adulterous affair are in no position to condemn women for adultery. It goes further than that. Christians today find themselves in a society which wallows in sexual sins. Yet, that is partly a result of those very same Christians getting caught up in the desire for wealth and comfort. We failed to discipline ourselves when we found ourselves worshiping material things, so we lost our ability to provide a moral compass to the society around us.

September 19, 2017 Bible Study

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Daniel 11-12.

    The final visions in the Book of Daniel are of the end times. It is unclear to me if these are really two separate visions, or merely two parts of the same vision. In addition, I am unclear how we are intended to take these since the details match up partially with the rise of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Empires he created. I am convinced that at least part of the purpose of these visions was to show the Jewish people how God controlled history. The power and might of the various kings was insufficient for them to escape from God’s will. I am sure that to a large degree this passage refers to the ongoing battles between the Ptolemaic Empire and the Seleucid Empire followed by both being conquered by Rome. However, I also believe that the reason they are referred to as the “King of the North” and the “King of the South” is so that we view this passage as more of a description of God working in the world than specific history.

    The key take away from this passage for me is where Daniel says, “The wise will shine like the brightness of heaven, and those who lead others to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (paraphrased). Then later he says that many will be purified, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. I really believe that if we seek and accept God’s wisdom we will be purified so that we shine before others. If we allow God to work through us He will make us an example so that others will be led to righteousness. However, we need to recognize that some will refuse to leave their wickedness. We are not responsible for those who will not accept God’s word.

September 18, 2017 Bible Study — Daniel Prays For Jerusalem’s Restoration

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Daniel 9-10.

    I found it interesting to note how Daniel reacted to reading the prophecy where Jeremiah prophesied that the exile from Jerusalem would last 70 years and realizing that those 70 years were up, or almost up. He did not rejoice and celebrate the imminent restoration of Jerusalem. Instead, he began praying and fasting, dressing himself in sackcloth and ashes as one did to mourn. His prayer was an admission that his people, including himself, had sinned in such a way as to deserve the punishment which they had received. Then when he prayed for God to fulfill the promise He had made through Jeremiah he did so with humility, asking God to do so for God’s sake. He did not cray out, “God you promised us.” Instead, Daniel prayed, “We do not deserve to be restored, if you restore us it will merely be a sign of Your mercy. Restore us to bring honour to Your name.” This should be how all of our prayers for God’s intervention should be phrased. Let us acknowledge that our sins and the sins of our ancestors caused the suffering we are experiencing. Our prayer for redemption should seek it so that God can be glorified, recognizing that we do not deserve God’s mercy.

September 17, 2017 Bible Study — Daniel’s Visions of the Future

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Daniel 7-8.

    I have felt for awhile now that the Church in the U.S. does not spend enough time examining the apocalyptic writings of the Bible. When I was growing up, I remember overhearing adults regularly discussing the meanings of the various apocalyptic visions in the Bible and how world events might fit into them. I do not hear that happening much anymore and I think it should happen more than it does. Of course, I am guilty of not spending much time looking at how current events fit into these prophecies. One of the first things I have come to realize is that these prophecies are not intended to point to just one time in world history, although I do believe there is a specific time which will fulfill them completely. That is, I believe that these prophecies are written so as we can see how events at different times in history fit into them up to a point before diverging. In each of these cases we will see how these prophecies and the world events which partially correspond to them show God’s control over history.

    Looking at the vision of the four beasts and its interpretation I saw something I never really thought about before. The fourth beast rose up after the other three and dominated the earth, crushing all who challenged its authority. We are told that the four beasts represent four kingdoms. Yet, after the fourth beast is killed the other three live continue to live for some amount of time. Which means that the common approach of trying to match this vision up with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue earlier in the Book of Daniel does not work. However, comparing those two visions supports my belief that these prophecies are intended to be applied at various times in history to help us understand world events. In both visions, the material empires which come to rule the earth are destroyed and replaced by the Kingdom of God. We can see by looking at these visions, and by seeing how world events at various times in history fit into these visions, that God’s power will overwhelm every human power which arises. Time and again throughout history human powers will arise which dominate the earth. At some point, one of them will dominate all others. Then it will set itself up in a boastful manner to challenge God. At which point, God will overthrow it and completely destroy it.

September 16, 2017 Bible Study — When You See The Writing On The Wall It Is Too Late

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Daniel 5-6.

    We have two stories in today’s passage. The first one is the source for the phrase, “see the writing on the wall.” I am always amused when someone says they will take action because they can “aee the writing on the wall.” In this story, by the time the writing was on the wall, it was too late to take action. Which brings us to one of the important lessons of this story. Once it becomes obvious that our actions will lead to disaster it is too late to avoid that disaster. WE can learn a lot more from this story if we look at what was going on here. Rather than lead his government officials out to strengthen his nations defenses and prepare for the imminent attack, the king of Babylon brought them all into his palace and held a party. His idea about dealing with the rising threat of the Medes and Persians was to brag about their successful conquest of Jerusalem (and probably other nations). Rather than following the commands given by God, which might have helped them, they belittled those commands and focused on things which could do them no good.

    The second story is a favorite Bible story of many. One of those stories about facing enemies. Daniel’s faithfulness to God meant that his enemies could find nothing in what he did to use against him. As a result, they chose to make expressing his faith a crime. Notice however how they approached the issue. They neither directly outlawed Daniel’s faith practices, nor did they mandate that he follow other practices. They “merely” passed a law that for a short period of time, people had to refrain from praying to anyone, except to the current king. All Daniel had to do to avoid running afoul of this new law was refrain from praying for 30 days. Daniel refused to give in to their subtle attempt to outlaw his faith. He neither stood on the street corner decrying the law’s demand that people only pray to King Darius, nor did he make any effort to hide his expression of faith. He continued to do what he had always done, trusting in God to deal with this attack on his faith.
    The same sorts of things happen today. We do not need to challenge the attempts of the irreligious to enshrine new rights. Instead, we need to show God’s love by coming to the defense of the defenseless and warning people about the consequences of their self-destructive behavior.

September 15, 2017 Bible Study — Pride Precedes A Fall

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Daniel 3-4.

    I have always loved the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It seems like every time I read it I notice something that I never noticed before. One of the things I first noticed two or three years ago was that while the trio had faith that God could and would rescue them, they would still not have worshiped Nebuchadnezzar’s gods even if they knew He would not do so. The thing I noticed today was how quick everyone else was to go along with Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship his statue. The trio were not observed and arrested by people designated by the government to enforce the law. They were observed and reported for not taking part in the public worship by people whose jobs had nothing to do with enforcing this law. AS far as we can tell, Nebuchadnezzar never actually delegated the task of enforcing his edict to anyone. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego got into trouble because they did not go along with the crowd. They stood up for what they believed in, in the face of condemnation from everyone around them. How many of the others in the crowd were only going along because they were afraid that the crowd would turn on them if they did not?

    The part of this passage about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream brings up a problem which many successful and powerful men face. We see signs of this problem in the first part. The problem which came upon Nebuchadnezzar, which had been foretold to him in his dream, was a result of his hubris, his great pride. We see signs of that great pride in the story of the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar came to believe that there was no power higher than himself. That belief was why he put up a statue of himself and demanded that everyone bow down and worship it. And everyone went along with it, except our three Hebrew heroes. Despite being caught up short and forced to acknowledge a power greater than himself the first time he put himself in the position of God, Nebuchadnezzar soon was right back there. His hubris, his belief that there was no power greater than himself and that he was solely responsible for his great success brought Nebuchadnezzar low. It was only when he acknowledged that there was a power higher than himself that he was restored to sanity.

September 14, 2017 Bible Study — Following God’s Commands Because They Are God’s Commands

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

Today, I am reading and commenting on Daniel 1-2.

    It is interesting that of the four young men mentioned in this passage we know three of them by their Babylonian names and one of them by his Hebrew name. I don’t think this fact is of any consequence, but I find it interesting. Anyway…young men from the leading houses of Jerusalem were being trained to be functionaries in the Babylonian Empire. They were to be provided food and wine from the king of Babylon’s own kitchens, theoretically, the best quality food available in Babylon. The reason that Daniel and his friends chose to eat only vegetables and drink only water was because those were the only food and drink which they could get from the King’s kitchens which they could be sure met Jewish dietary laws. The passage does not intend to convey that Daniel and his friends were healthier than the other young men because of their diet. Rather, the lesson it intends to convey was that they were healthier and better nourished because they were faithful. I can, in retrospect, compare what we know about the diets of Babylonian nobles with the diet chosen by Daniel and his friends and see why they were healthier. However, Daniel and his friends did not choose their diet because it was healthier. They chose it because it was they understood to be God’s command. They did not know that a kosher diet was healthier, and they did not care. The fact of the matter is that if we follow God’s rules concerning sexual behavior, how we treat others, etc we will be healthier, happier, smarter, and wiser than if we do not. We do not need to understand why doing the specific things God commands will have those results. More importantly, we should not follow those rules because we want to be healthier, happier, smarter, or wiser. We should follow those rules because we love God and wish to please Him.