Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
French Countryside near Bannalec

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Sep 22, Amo 1-5

Today's readings are Amo 1-5.

Historical context is important in Amos who was a shepherd/farmer during the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah (Azariah) in Judah, both of which were kings before the Assyrian invasion. As such, the events in Amos occur a bit before the events in Isaiah's opening chapters. So, Amos prophecies before the Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) Kingdoms fall, before the Assyrian invasion, before the Babylonian/Chaldean invasions and before the Persian defeat Babylon and send the Jews back to Judah.

Note; the dates of Joel are debated
Times were highly prosperous for both kingdoms. Amos is sent to Israel to warn them to stop oppressing the poor, turn away from greed and injustice and to turn away from mixing idolatry in with their worship of God. They're told to seek God only. They're warned that failure to do so will have extremely harsh consequences and end up with exile in a foreign land. Still, God promises a remnant.

Amos 1:1 sets the tone. Amos's vision comes two years before "the earthquake" (Zech 2:15, Isaiah 29:6). This may refer to a massive earthquake running along the Jordan Rift (a major fault line that runs through the Jordan Valley) that occurred around 760 BC and affected many of the major cities along that fault line. Amos 1:2 most likely refers to a drought sent by God. As the earth below them shakes and the skies above them deny rain, the Jews would take those as signs that they are on the verge of judgment.

The following verses, running through Amos 2:16, recite oracles against the nations surrounding Israel, prophesying judgment for each of them with Israel sitting right in the middle. 

The first four nations mentioned; Damascus (Syria), the Philistines, Edom and Tyre (Phoenicia) place Israel right in the crosshairs. Amon and Moab will be judged for being ungodly too.

Judah will be judged, but by a higher standard than the others, by the law of the Lord (Amos 2:4-5).  God will not ignore the sins of His people, He will call them into account. Eventually, those sins will be covered by Christ, but we should never take sin lightly. God does not. As we read in Joel, God always calls for repentance. Otherwise, as Judah and Israel will see, there are consequences.

Amos 2:6 turns its attention to Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Rather than being spared the judgment of those rival nations, Israel's will be harsher. The judgment prophecies continue through Amos 5.

Notice, though, that these prophecies come prior to the judgment. The warning is that Israel will suffer these judgments only if they remain on the path they're on. They have every opportunity to repent. Furthermore, the consequences are laid out quite clearly. God's words of judgment are an expression of His grace, warning them to turn back toward Him before the judgment falls on them.

His word serves the same function in our lives. It guides us in how we should live in a manner that honors Him. While our heavenly home is sealed and guaranteed, the evidence of that seal will be our desire to obey His word. He will exhibit grace when we stumble. But, there will be an earthly price to pay if we willfully and blatantly disobey Him. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Sep 21, Joe 1-3

Today's readings are Joe 1-3.

We know very little about the prophet Joel. There is even great debate over when the book was written with some notable scholars claiming it was authored in the fourth century BC and others, just as credible, placing it in the seventh or eighth. This difficulty in placing the date should not detract from Joel's main theme which is a call to repent. 

Joel is unique in that it calls for repentance but never specifies what Israel is to repent of. With this in mind, it should be read as a lesson on the importance of repentance among God's people. 

Joel vividly describes a series of plagues of locusts in Joe 1. They utterly devastated the land and left the temple desolate. Israel's destruction was complete. These plagues are reminders of how far Israel had fallen and are designed be a warning sign urging Israel to come together in prayer and fasting, asking for God's mercy.

Once again, we see God's people called to assess their relationship with their Father in heaven and determine whether or not He is the highest priority in their lives. Now that they have returned, it would be easy for them to forget their deliverance and fall back into the ways that got them in trouble prior to the invasion and captivity. If God is not the focus of their worship and their lives, they should repent (Joe 1:8, 11, 13, 14). 

One of the major lessons of the overall Bible narrative can be found in these constant reminders and calls to repentance. Taking God and His blessings for granted always seems to land the Hebrews in a tight spot. Contrite, heartfelt repentance always garners His renewed blessing.

Far from being historical tales of a time when God was always venting His wrath, these early lessons are intended to teach us how to relate to Christ (1 Cor 10:11). Some modern teachers tell us that God is gracious and there is no need for a born again Christian to ask forgiveness because Jesus changed everything about how we relate to the Father. Convincing ourselves to believe that something has changed about the unchanging character and nature of God now that Jesus has come denies that His arrival was part of the plan all along. There is never a time in the history of the Jews when their sin was ignored or dismissed simply because "God is gracious." God is gracious and willing to forgive, but sin must be dealt with on an ongoing basis. We see this clearly when the saved, regenerated, forgiven church with new hearts is called to repent in Rev 2:4-5, 16, 21, 22; 3:3. Lost sinners are called to repent for salvation. God calls His existing children to repent, not to save them again, but to draw them closer.

Christ's work on the cross effectively deals with our sins, but our devotion to Him and His holiness is expressed in our repentance. It is the tool God has graciously granted us (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25) that affords us the fuller blessings of Christ's sacrifice. Without sincere repentance and grieving over our sin, there are consequences. None of them are eternal, all are temporary, but they can be devastating nonetheless. We see examples of them in Joel. Repentance by His people has been a crucial element of God's plan to deliver those who are His from the beginning.

Joe 2 warns of the arrival of another enemy who will come against Jerusalem in the same manner as the locusts. That army will be destroyed by God. The land will be restored, and the people will turn back toward God (Joel 2:28-31).

We see the ultimate destruction of all those who oppose God in Joe 3. His blessing will eternally rest on those who are His.

Joel prophetically shows God supernaturally delivering His children from overwhelming opposition. It also shows God redeeming Israel. Both actions, while becoming a reality in Joel's time, are also prophetic images of God's eternal judgment of those who oppose Him and blessing on those who are His.

Amid all the prophecy and visions of destruction is a beautiful tale of how freely God's blessings flow when His people repent. They are restored, renewed and provided for in abundance. Joel is a beautiful promise of what is to come. But, it's also a beautiful promise of God's grace now when His people repent and turn their focus back on Him. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Sep 20, Hos 8-14

Today's readings are Hos 8-14.

Hos 8 starts out with a chilling proclamation. Israel is in crisis because they have disobeyed God. They've made kings and idols and have chosen not to trust in God for their protection and provision. Now, they have been taken captive and carried away.

Hos 9-10 clarifies the infractions and wickedness, even as the description of their former fruitfulness and productivity are mentioned. Not only had Israel been successful and prosperous, but they also maintained their religious practices. Their difficulty came from the selfish nature of why they did most of what they did. Their primary motivation was self-advancement. None of the things they practiced were to honor the Father. They stumbled by placing themselves above God in their priorities.

Hos 11 details God's love for Israel despite their failings. Even so, there is a price to pay for their falling away.

We see that Israel and Judah will pay for their blatant rebellion in Hos 12. Although there is a price to pay, Hos 13-14 show hope and grace. God will ultimately preserve and bless His people and bring them back to their home. 

By now, God's grace and mercy have become a familiar lesson in the Scriptures. God's people are loved but refined by Him. He will impose a consequence for their willful disobedience, but He will neither destroy them nor abandon them. Indeed, His discipline is designed to turn them back toward Him where He will shower His grace upon their repentant hearts.

Hosea shows us that sin, rebellion and idolatry earn God’s wrath. That wrath must be satisfied. God’s justice must be executed on those who violate it. God’s holiness and purity will not allow anything associated with Him to be tainted. Hosea delivers a harsh lesson in that reality.

Yet, God is gracious and loving. The final chapter of Hosea shows us His compassion and His willingness to forgive if His people repent.

How do His justice and wrath harmonize with His mercy and love? His justice must be satisfied (Heb 2:2), and His wrath must be appeased (Rom 1:18). For Israel, they paid a horrific price for their lack of faithfulness. For us as believers, Jesus paid that price. He took on God’s wrath, became the subject of His justice so that, in Him, God could exercise His mercy and love (Rom 8:32). Jesus Christ is the only way to escape the wrath of God (John 3:36).

Hosea 13:4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Sep 19, Hos 1-7

Today's readings are Hos 1-7.

Hosea has a long career as a prophet, running from early to mid-eighth century BC, when Jeroboam II was king of Israel, until early in the seventh century BC, when Hezekiah was king of Judah. His prophetic messages were delivered primarily to Israel during the thirty years leading up to the Assyrian invasion of 722 BC. He mentions Judah, but the main message is to Israel, sometimes referred to as Samaria (the capital city of Israel), at others, Ephraim. 

During Hosea's time, which spans much of the same time as Amos', Israel was first ruled over by Jeroboam II. Hosea lived in or near Samaria. Times were good, the economy was robust, the standard of living, at least for the upper class, was very high and life was good but not godly. The Syrians, always a problem, had been severely weakened by an Assyrian attack on Damascus in 805 BC. Israel’s kingdom expanded. By any worldly measure, things were great. By the beginning of Hosea's time, even the Assyrians were not much of a threat...yet. When Jeroboam II died, things slipped into near anarchy. Starting with Zechariah, there were six kings in thirty years. Four of them were assassinated very early in their reigns. 

Hosea is divided up into three main sections. Hos 1-3 demonstrates, in Hosea’s failed and restored marriage, God’s divine love and the extent of its unconditional nature. We see accusations leveled and a call to repent in Hos 4-7. In the last half of the book, we see a series of proclamations in the form of songs and poems.

In Hos 1-3, Hosea is called to marry a prostitute, something that is highly offensive and distasteful to a Jew. Hosea is likened to God, his wife to Israel, who has been unfaithful. God gives his children names that are part of the message Hosea carries. They are "Not Loved" and "Not My People." This is not an indication that God has abandoned Hosea or Israel. It is more an indication that Israel is not acting like God’s people (not my people) and is therefore cut off from His blessing (not loved). To emphasize this point, Hosea is called to be faithful to his wife even if she is not faithful to him. Hosea’s dedication to his unworthy wife is a picture of God's faithfulness and Israel’s failure to be likewise.

Through Hosea, his marriage and the names of his children, God speaks a sobering message to a comfortable, prosperous people. As Hosea walks through the streets of Samaria, as living evidence that despite all outward appearances something is dreadfully wrong in the kingdom, he becomes notorious for marrying a prostitute, even more so for the names of the children he carries.

Hosea’s calling is to speak the truth, not only in what he preaches but in some of the outrageous things he does, things which are symbolic of Israel’s fate if they don’t repent. Prophets are frequently called to live out their messages as a graphic portrayal of God's truth.

In Hos 4-7, we read all the reasons Israel is unfaithful and see how far they have fallen. It’s a tough message for people that are experiencing prosperity. There is a warning and a call to repent. God grieves over the rebellion of His children and implores them to mend their ways. If not, judgment is coming.

In short, Israel has become complacent in their faith. When they’re in trouble, they cry out to God for help. When things are going well, they put Him on the back burner. God will neither be taken for granted nor displaced in priority.  The upcoming tribulation is not designed to punish Israel but to demonstrate their need for Him. As their alliances with pagan nations fail, as they lose their prosperity, as they become captive to their own sinful desires, they will realize that God is their only hope and salvation. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Sep 18, Dan 10-12

Today's readings are Dan10-12.

In Dan 10-11 and the beginning of 12, Daniel is visited by an angel who relates future events. Many attempts to interpret these prophecies have been made, some valid, some not so much. Here are some of the mainstream ideas set forth by reputable Bible scholars.
  • Dan 10 describes Daniel's vision of an angelic being who brings a message while on his way to battle the "Prince of Persia." The text is not clear as to who this man may be or whether it is for Daniel's time or sometime in the future. What is important about this chapter though, is how it sets the stage for the prophecies that follow, all of which demonstrate the sovereign authority of God over time and nations.
  • Dan 11:2-35 seems to be prophetic for the immediate future of Israel during Daniel's time, detailing a series of kings and kingdoms leading up to the Maccabee's revolt around 170 BC.
  • Dan 11:36-45 is, most likely, a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled.
  • Dan 12:1-4 indicates a troubled time for Israel with Michael intervening on their behalf, most likely at some time in the future.

Daniel's final vision is relayed in 12:4-13. It involves a series of days that are difficult to decipher and interpret. We may not know their exact meaning presently. Yet, many will get caught up in trying to resolve the dates and the math while missing the primary lesson of Daniel. Daniel's book is a compelling testimony to the sovereignty of God over all things in creation. He sits in power and authority over all nations, all kings, all leaders and all events in history.

We can trust Daniel's writings because of the incredible accuracy of the prophecies concerning his immediate future. Looking back on history, we can see that God foretold certain events in what can only be explained as supernatural detail.

This would be the travesty of relegating all of Daniel's visions to the end-times. We would miss the credibility God establishes in Daniel. God's intention is not to fascinate us with the future and cause all manner of debate over what it holds, but to demonstrate His absolute sovereign authority over every detail of the past, present, and future.

The beauty of all this is how it directly applies to His children. God has the same power and authority over our lives - preserving us, protecting us, refining us and drawing us steadily toward Himself. If we read Daniel with this in mind, rather than creating debate and doubt over the number of weeks and days, we should feel the comfort and security of knowing God has us firmly in His grasp and has laid out an undeniable and fully-assured future for us.