Tag Archives: Prophets

God’s People, part 107: Haggai

Read Haggai 1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans. This went on during the entire reign of King Cyrus of Persia and lasted until King Darius of Persia took the throne.” (Ezra‬ ‭4:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 107: Haggai. In order to understand Haggai’s prophecy, one really needs to understand the historical and religious contexts that it was written in. As with all of the books in the Bible, Haggai was not written in a vacuum. In fact, Zechariah lived and prophecied at the same time as Zechariah. Malachi lived and prophecied about a century later. Ezra was also a contemporary of the prophet and wrote of him and Zechariah being influential in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple following their return from exile.

Let us look at the context surrounding Haggai’s prophecy. The year was 520 BCE, sixteen years after the Jews were first allowed back frome exile to Jerusalem. If you recall, this was put forth into motion under the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who was regarded by the Jews as God’s anointed king, the messiah. You will also recall that upon sending them back to their homeland, Cyrus commissioned them to rebuild their Temple to their God as well as to rebuild Jerusalem.

Sixteen years later, the Temple still had not been built. Upon returning home, there was a dispute between the Jews who returned and “the local residents” in Jerusalem. The dispute arose over who should have a part in rebuilding the Temple and how that Temple should be built. Thus, the Temple building campaign was halted for sixteen years.

It is this that Haggai was addressing. He found it egregious that God’s Temple lay in ruin, while the people of the land regained their homes and their prosperity. God had come through for them, how could they not come through for God. The issue is less to do with a temple building itself and more to do with faithfulness to God.

Were the Jews who were liberated from Babylon/Persia going to remain loyal to God, or were they going to fall right into complacency? What’s more, Haggai was calling them out on not having the moxy to stand up to the dissenters and do what they had been commissioned by God’s anointed king, Cyrus, to do.

By the way, it is important to note that Haggai is not the only book in the Bible to record these disputes. They are recorded in Ezra and also Zechariah. In fact, in the latter book, the “local residents” or “the people of the land” were opposing the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Yeshua. The opposition against them rose up after they listened to Haggai and Zechariah and decided to move forward with the Temple building campaign. To do so, they rejected the “people of the land’s” request to build the Temple and placed the building of the Temple in the hands of the ones who had been liberated from exile.

This caused an irrevocable division between the liberated Jews and “the people of the land”. As a result, the latter group eventually split off and built their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem. These people, by many scholars, are believed to be the Samaritans and it is during that time where bitter enmity built up between the Judaeans and the Samaritans. That enmity would carry on for centuries, and would be included in some of Jesus’ own teachings (e.g. the parable of the good Samaritan). In fact, it was in the region of Mt. Gerizim that Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

Thus, we can see how this short prophetic book by Haggai had such a profound impact on shaping what would go on to be known as the Second Temple period in Jewish history. It was during this time that the One who IS GOD’s Messiah, would live, teach, die and resurrect in FULL GLORY. This only happened because the God’s people humbled themselves and listened to the warnings of God through the prophet Haggai. They were willing to meet human resistance head on in order to remain loyal to God their LORD.

We are faced with the same charge, to remain loyal when the people of the land are calling us to do things differently than God would have us do. Will we heed God’s warning and build a SANCTUARY for all people, or will we follow the divisiveness of Satan, which is calling us to do things in a way that appeases the current world order? Reflect on this honestly; choose this day, and all days, whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” Jesus of Nazareth (John‬ ‭4:21‬ ‭NLT)

PRAYER

Lord, steer me along the right path and give me the courage to remain loyal to you at all costs. Amen.

God’s People, part 97: Obadiah

Read Obadiah 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

obadiah_tissot_640x425Part 97: Obadiah. You may be scratching your head right now and thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t he already write about Obadiah?” Indeed, I have written about Obadiah; however, that Obadiah is not to be confused with this one. The first person with that name that I wrote about in part 70, if you remember, was a majordomo (aka someone who spoke on behalf of the king and was in charge of his affairs). He was, in that role, employed by the wicked King Ahab and sent by the king to speak on his behalf to the prophet Elijah; however, we also learned that this majordomo was a devout follower of the LORD and he was helping to save the prophets from being captured and executed by the king.

This Obadiah, however, was not the same person. This one was a prophet in Judah during the war with Babylon and the exile that followed it. His prophecy was written sometime after the exile and was directed not against the Kingdom of Judah; rather, it was against the Kingdom of Edom. In order to understand the reason for this prophecy, we need to understand who the Edomites were. This is where all of the lineage in the Bible becomes important to understand.

If you recall, Isaac, of whom I wrote about all the way back in part 9 of this series, had two sons: Esau and Jacob. Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright and, thus, became the heir to his father’s lineage and estate. Esau, resentful toward his brother, hunted Jacob down for years and years hoping to kill him. While the two brothers did reconcile, Jacob went on to become the successor and Esau did not. Instead, Esau went on to become the ancestor of the Edomites, a related but lesser “cousin” to the Israelites who descended from Israel (aka Jacob).

Thus, the Edom was related to Judah (named after one of the 12 sons of Jacob). Yet, when the Babylonians besieged and entered Jerusalem to conquer it, the Edomites joined forces with King Nebuchadnezzar II and helped him loot the city. They rejoiced at the destruction of Jerusalem and they helped the Babylonians intercept and kill anyone who was trying to escape. Thus, Obadiah cried out, “Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel, you will be filled with shame and destroyed forever.” (Obadiah 1:10)

This, for us, should be a reminder that our actions and attitudes do not end with us; rather, the carry on and on for generations and generations. Jacob wrongly stole the birthright from his brother Esau, who resented him for it. Regardless, the Israelites become the prominent people and the Edomites (descendants of Esau) became their subjects. During the reign of the kings of Judah, Edom was their vassal state. Thus, just as Esau became subject to his baby brother Jacob, so did the Edomites become subject to the Kingdom of Judah.

It is important for us to realize that our attitudes toward others, and the way we treat them, don’t die with us. We teach our children to think and act that way and we pass our biases and our sins right down to them. Their actions and attitudes eventually get passed to their children and so on and so forth.

What’s more, it is important for us to realize that apart from the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, there is nothing we can do to change the effects of sin on our lives and the lives of those we influence. With that said, if we just turn our hearts and our minds to Jesus, if we let Jesus take over and become Lord of our lives, then we can overcome the sin and begin to reverse the effects of it in our lives, in our children’s lives, and in the lives of people living in the world around us. In Jesus Christ, we can overturn the kingdom of sin and become ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” – Rev. John Wesley

PRAYER Lord, I forgive me of my sins and navigate me toward your righteousness. Amen.

God’s People, part 71: Elijah

Read 1 Kings 19:1-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come.” (Matthew 11:13-14 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

019-elijah-horebPart 71: Elijah. As was mentioned in the last devotion, not all of the people in Israel were disobedient to the LORD. As we know, this is true of any nation or kingdom. Just because the leaders are wicked and evil, does not mean that all of the people they rule are evil. Certainly, many followed the example of their leaders, which is always the case; however, there were some who stood up to them and held them accountable in the name of the living God.

Elijah was the greatest among the people who stood up to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. So great was he, that he became known as the prototype for the one who would pave the way for the coming of the Messiah. For Christians, of course, the precursor to the Messiah was an obscure prophet named John the Baptist. The Baptist dressed like Elijah, ate like Elijah, and lived like Elijah out in the barren wilderness. What’s more, like Elijah, he stood up to King Herod calling all of Judea, and its leaders, to repent and turn back to God.

But before we talk about John the Baptist, who will come much later in this series, we should first look at Elijah, the prophet who taught the wicked king and queen of Israel what it meant to bow in fear before the LORD God almighty. Elijah, also called Elias, means “My God is YHWH (pronounced Yahweh)”. YHWH is the name given to the Hebrew God of Israel; however, it is also a title and is often translated as LORD in English. Thus, Elijah means “My God is YHWH” or “My God is LORD”. Either way, Elijah’s name was fitting for the prophet who bore it, for he worshiped YHWH as LORD and stood against the cultic Baal religion of the northern Kingdom of Israel.

At one point, Elijah being the only remaining prophet of YHWH still alive (the others were slaughtered by Ahab and Jezebel), the great prophet stood in opposition to 450 of Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal on the top of Mt. Carmel. In what could only be described as Hollywood EPIC, Elijah taunted the prophets and dared them to call upon Baal to accept their offering and save them. When nothing happened despite their efforts, Elijah called upon the LORD, who sent fire from the heavens to consume his altar saturated with water. Nothing was left. Following that Elijah directed the crowds witnessing the event to capture and slaughter all 450 of those prophets.

Elijah was known for that epic battle, as well as for resurrecting from the dead the son of the widow from Zarephath through the power of God, and for many other miraculous deeds; however, even still, he was afraid for his own life and often found himself fleeing out into the wilderness in fear that the king and queen would have him killed. In one such scene, God asks him why he is hiding on Mount Horeb and then sends fire, and wind, and earthquakes and other things, yet Elijah could not find God in such things. Finally, Elijah discovers God in a still, quiet voice that called out to him like a gentle breeze.

Here was God’s greatest prophet to date, who had stood alone against 450 maniacal prophets of Baal, and he still didn’t know the stillness and the peace of God. He was looking for God in fire, and power, and in the forces that shake the world; however, in this moment, God was showing that God was none of those things. God was a soft, gentle, whispering breeze of a voice and God was PRESENT there with Elijah in his fear and trembling. It’s as if God was telling Elijah, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

How many of us are like this? How many of us look for God in all the wrong places and, when we don’t find God there, how many of us get caught up in fear and trembling, thinking that we are alone? Hear God’s voice calling out to you in the gentle breeze, “My child, be still and know that I am God.” Feel the spirit, the breath of God breeze by you softly, filling you with a peace that passes all understanding. Your God IS LORD and the LORD is with you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
O LORD, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that You, O LORD, are God and that You have brought them back to Yourself.” (1 Kings 18:37 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, fill my heart, my soul, and my mind with your presence so that, in you, I may hear your still, quiet voice. Amen.

The Sermon, part 4: Law or Prophets

Read Matthew 5:17-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the LORD. ‘I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.’” (Jeremiah 31:33 NLT)

p1010002_edited-1Jesus prefaces his sermon with today’s passage and, in fact, the whole of Jesus’ message regarding the Law in the Sermon on the Mount is book-ended between Matthew 5:17 and 7:12. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” This text has often been glossed over, underwritten, and overstated by various different people trying to make sense about what Jesus is actually teaching.

It is important to note that Matthew’s Jesus sets up his teachings on the law with this statement. Historically speaking, Matthew’s community was following a much adjusted version of Judaism that, to many traditional Jews, didn’t seem a whole lot like Judaism. Even within the church, there was a major disagreement on what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, who was historically a Jewish rabbi. Can anyone follow Jesus and do they have to submit to and follow the Jewish law if they truly want to be one of Jesus’ followers?

Matthew’s community had to defend itself from claims that they were abandoning the ways and laws of Judaism. What’s more, Matthew and his community were mostly Greek-speaking diaspora Jewish Christians who lived in Syria, possibly in and around Antioch. With that historical context in mind, it makes perfect sense that Matthew includes Jesus beginning his Sermon in this Way. Jesus was Jewish and Jesus did not come to abolish or ignore the Law, the Torah, of God as given to Moses.

Yet, as mentioned above, this is only a preface to Jesus’ teaching on the law. Jesus neither denies or delegitimizes the Law, nor does he affirm the status quo. Instead, as we’ll see in upcoming devotions, Jesus shows that he is the fulfillment of the Law. He is not a fullfillment in the sense that Jesus did everything required by the Law without breaking it. It is quite clear in Matthew and the other Gospels that Jesus did break the Law (at least as it was understood by religious leaders his time period).
Jesus does not fulfill the Law in the sense that he provides a new interpretation of it, nor are his teachings a mere summary of the Laws in the Torah. Before I get into how Jesus claims he is the fulfillment of the Law, it is also important to note that Jesus says he not only fulfills the Laws but the prophets. Why the prophets? Because Jesus views both the Torah and the prophets (Joshua-2 Kings and Isaiah-Malachi) as being wholly prophetic and pointing to the end-time fulfillment of God’s reigning Kingdom.

In other words, the Torah (Law) and the prophets point to the coming of the Messiah who was to usher in the Kingdom of God. Jesus, in essence, prefaces his teachings on the Law with this claim: “I have come as a fulfillment of the eschatological promise found in the Law and the Prophets.” Another way that this could be expressed is, “The Law and the Prophets point to me!” Jesus’ use of the phrase, “I have come” (vs. 17) presumes that Jesus had come from and was sent by God.

Then, Matthew’s Jesus follows this up with a word to those Greek/Gentile Christians in his community who believed the Law was irrelevant and were lending credence to the argument of the Matthean community’s opponents that Christians disregarded the Torah. Jesus makes it clear, every commandment remains important. Witht that said, Matthew does not exclude those who hold this view from the Kingdom of Heaven; rather, they are “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

While it is important to get the context behind these teachings, it is also equally important not to miss the overall point Jesus is making to all of his disciples, as well as to his opponents. God’s Law and the prophets both point to Jesus, the Christ, as. God’s eschatological (end-times) promise. Dismissing the Law, as well as upholding it as the end unto itself entirely misses the point. Both polar viewpoints are incorrect because they both completely ignore and pass by the very person the Law points to, namely Jesus Christ. To dismiss the Law as useless, is to do dismiss Jesus Christ. To render the Law to some sort of legalistic measure, is to render the fulfillment of that law as impossible. Today’s challenge is to let go of our biases and humble ourselves to place of student at the feet of the One who is God’s Law fulfilled.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is not wisdom but Authority that make a law.” – Thomas Hobbes

PRAYER
Lord, humble me that I may learn all that it is you have to teach me. Amen.