Monday, April 28, 2008

Introduction to Chronicles

At first, it may seem puzzling to have books like 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Bible, because they cover events already covered in other books, such as 1 & 2 Kings. However, the reason for such duplication can be summed up in one word: perspective. 1 & 2 Kings were written during the judgment of the Jewish exile, to explain why the Israelites, who had a unique covenant with the only true God, were in captivity. It was because of their longstanding sins of idolatry, oppression, greed, and the like, from which they refused to repent.
1 & 2 Chronicles (which were originally one book, broken into two when translated into Greek, which required more space and hence two scrolls instead of one) was written after the exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, when the Jews had returned to their land and faced the daunting task of rebuilding the temple, its worship, and their lives as a nation under God. Instead of reproof, they now needed encouragement. They needed to know that they had both an inspiring history of God's working in their past, and a bright future, if they would worship and serve God rightly in obedience and reverence.
For this reason Chronicles emphasizes right worship, and revivals that took place when leaders and the people returned to God in humility and repentance. God had not forgotten his people, and would show them His faithfulness again if they would align themselves with His Word.
The probable author (or compiler from various sources) is the scribe Ezra, described in the book of Ezra. From that book we know that Ezra had a passion for holiness among his people, and stirring present obedience by remembering past history was no doubt an important purpose for his producing this portion of Scripture. His purpose is well summarized in one of Chronicles' most famous verses:

If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. - 2 Chronicles 7:14-15

Have you wandered from the Lord in any way in your life? Have you tasted the bitterness of the results of that? Then know from the book of Chronicles that there is a way back: humble yourself, pray, seek His face, and turn from any sin in your life, large or small. That's your part, and when you have done it, He will do His: He will hear, forgive, and heal you.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Introduction to Second Samuel

As mentioned earlier, First and Second Samuel were originally one book. As it turns out, the way that the two books are divided provides a contrast between two kings, Saul and David. The children of Israel asked for a king, and God gave them one after their own heart. But in David, He gave them a king after HIS own heart. This was not because he was faultless, but when he did sin he returned to God in confession and brokenness (see Psalm 51).
David was an extraordinary man: a shepherd, a musician, a soldier, a true friend, an outcast, a king, a great general, a father, a poet, a sinner - but always a lover of God. He was first made king of part of the Jewish nation, the house of Judah. It would be seven and one half long years of struggle until he was made king over all of Israel at the age of 30.
David's reign has been called Israel's golden age. There was no idolatry, and Israel prospered. Militarily, his army succeeded. Tragically, at the height of his powers, David fell into adultery with the wife of one his bravest warriors, Uriah, and has Uriah killed to cover up his sin.
But no sin is hidden before God, and God exposed David's sin through the prophet Nathan. David repented and was forgiven, but the aftermath of his sin resulted in domestic tragedy, including the rebellion of his own son, Absalom, who temporarily usurped his father's throne.
David managed to leave his mark after his own death in numerous ways. He drew up plans and amassed treasure so his son Solomon could build the great Temple of Solomon. The treasure of his wisdom as a father found its way into the book of Proverbs through his son Solomon. Another treasure he left behind were his Psalms, exquisite poetry describing the landscape of a soul pursuing God through loneliness, despair, anger, and ecstasy. And finally, he established the throne of David, the royal lineage through whom one day David's greatest Son would come, the Messiah Jesus.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Introduction to the Psalms

Reading about the life of David is a good occasion to introduce the Psalms, for David is the most prolific and famous Psalmist. The Psalms are the national hymnbook for Israel, containing poetry to be sung to God in worship. We see God extolled for who he is, and we see the believer in this world expressing the vast panaorama of experiences we go through in this life: joy, sorrow, victory, failure, despair, hope, anger, peace, and every other shade of emotion. For literally thousands of years believers and unbelievers have seen their own state reflected in these ancient Hebrew poems and received comfort, strength, wisdom, and direction. They are a treasure to every believer.
The Psalms prefigure Christ in many ways: his prophetic office in Psalm 22:22; his priestly office in Psalms 40:6, 8; 22; 49; 110. His kingly office in Psalms 2; 21;45, 72. His sufferings in Psalm 22. His resurrection in Psalm 16.
More Psalms are assigned to David (73) than anyone else, but other authors are represented as well. 50 are anonymous, one is written by Moses, 2 by Solomon. Some of David's worship leaders, Ethan, Heman, and Asaph, wrote Psalms as well. Psalms continued to be written during the time of Ezra, meaning that the book of Psalms represents centuries of composition, yet a consistent picture of a God who is awesome in His holiness, power, and wisdom, yet merciful and ready to forgive those who humble themselves before Him. Discerning when possible the time and circumstances of their writing will help give greater meaning to them.
As you read the Psalms, remember that they are prayers and praises to God, and let them instruct and inspire your own response to the same Living God they addressed hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Let them lift your soul to God!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Introduction to First Samuel

First Samuel brings us out of the anarchy and moral decline of the period of the Judges and into the period of Israel's kings. The pivotal character in this transition is the prophet and judge Samuel, who anoints Israel's first two kings, Saul and David. The history of First Samuel unfolds largely through the lives of these three men: a mighty prophet, the promising but tragic life of Israels first king Saul, and his faithful successor David.

First and Samuel were originally one book, "The Book of Samuel" in the Hebrew Scriptures. This book is named after him because of his important role in its events and also because he probably wrote much of First Samuel. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek around 150 BC, the book of Samuel was combined with First and Second Kings to form a complete history of the Hebrew monarchy consisting of four sections. Kings and Samuel were later separated, but the divisions persisted, leaving us with First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings.

As First Samuel begins, the nation of Israel was at a religious low point. The priesthood was corrupt: the sons of Eli the high priest were selfishly appropriating the people's sacrifices for themselves and even committing sexual immorality in the environs of the tabernacle. The lives of these priests and their line will soon ended in death via God's judgment, but against this dark backdrop God intervenes in the life of a godly but barren woman named Hannah. She promises that if God will give her a son she will give him back to the Lord to serve the Lord all his life at the tabernacle. God grants her request and she keeps her promise. Samuel grows up to be a prophet, a man of prayer and the first of the prophets in a formal sense. The people press him to give them a king like the nations around them. Samuel hesitates, feeling that the people have rejected God's kingship in their request. God agrees, but tells him to grant their request. The result is the anointing of Saul, a tall, handsome man who seems to be a natural leader.

What follows is initial success marred by repeated fear and disobedience on Saul's part until he finally is removed in judgment and the young godly leader David is established as king. Saul failed God in several ways:

1. His presumption at God's altar (1 Samuel 13:11-13)
2. His cruelty to his son Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:44)
3. His disobedience in the matter of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:23)
4. His jealousy and hatred of David (1 Samuel 18:290
5. His sinful appeal to the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7).

Embedded in Saul's tragic story is the story of a brave young soldier in Saul's army. From humble beginnings as a shepherd, David rises to prominence as a warrior and a leader. Despite Saul's jealous attempts to kill him, David survives and thrives, and after years of testing, becomes Israel's king and establishes a new monarchy. Of the tribe of Judah, he will establish a throne upon which eventually one of his descendants, Jesus, will reign as Messiah forever. Though he had his faults, David was "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14) who sought God in prayer and wrote many Psalms we still read today. They endure as examples of a transparently God-absorbed man seeking the Lord amidst the pressures and trials of life. In them and in David's life we can see the reward of a life spent in passionate pursuit of God.

Introduction to Ruth

God wants all to believe in Him, no matter what ethnicity or nationality they belong to. He covenanted with Abraham and his descendants that "in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3) and that all peoples would be drawn to the one true living God.

The book of Ruth gives us a snapshot of God's desire to redeem all people to Himself. This book takes place during the time of the Judges, which, as we have seen, is marked by spiritual and moral decay. The book of Ruth shines as a glimmer of hope against this dark backdrop.

Ruth was a pagan, born of the Moabite people, and thus is outside of the covenant community of Israel. She marries a Jew, who goes to live in her country, and through her husband and mother-in-law Ruth learns something of the one true God. When her husband dies, she comes to a crossroads: her mother-in-law Naomi decides to return to Israel. It is expected that Ruth will stay with her own people, yet Ruth responds with the famous words, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me and more also, if anything but death parts you and me". (Ruth 1:16-17).

And so Ruth and Naomi return to Israel, an old widowed woman who has lost both her sons with her pagan daughter-in-law. Things look bleak for them with very little means of support or hope for the future. Yet God's providential hand will graciously redeem them from their plight in a remarkable way.

Through a series of circumstances Ruth meets Boaz, a close relative of the family who exercises the right of the "kinsman redeemer". This individual was a close relative who had the financial resources to rescue a poverty-stricken family member, stepping in to save that relative from slavery or from having to sell the family's ancestral land. Boaz not only redeemed the land that Naomi was about to sell, but he also took on another kinsman-redeemer's responsibilities - the obligation to to provide an heir for Ruth's deceased husband, as dying without an heir to carry on the family name was considered a great tragedy. To prevent this, the brother of the deceased was expected to marry the widow and produce a child, a process called "levirate marriage" and outlined in the books of Moses. Although he was not the nearest relative, Boaz nobly fulfilled these responsibilities by purchasing the land, marrying Ruth, and fathering a son, Obed, with her.

A lovely story, but why is it included in the Bible? There are several good reasons:

1. It shows God's willingness to adopt Gentiles (non-Jews) into his covenant family.

2. It spotlights a godly woman of character. It is one of two books of the Bible named after a woman (Esther is the other). This woman, though born a pagan, receives the high honor of being in the bloodline of King David, King Solomon, and ultimately, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ! She joins other unlikely women in Jesus' geneology: Tamar, who conceived through deceiving Judah (who was withholding the levirate duty from her) and Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho who helped the Israelite spies in the book of Joshua. In Ruth, God gives great honor to someone whose condition appeared hopeless: pagan, widowed, and childless. Our God is a redeeming God!

3. This brings up the final, broadest point: God is a redeemer. We, like Ruth, were once in desperate straits through our sin. We were far away from God, cut off from his covenant life. But God sent Jesus, our kinsman-redeemer, who joined the family of humanity that he might buy us back, take us as His bride, and adopt us into the family of God.

Praise God for Jesus, our faithful Kinsman-Redeemer!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Introduction to Judges

After the exhilarating victories conquering the Promised Land comes the record of Israel's apostasy and God's deliverance in the book of Judges. Judges has been called the "Dark Ages" of the Israelites: they forsook God (Judges 2:13) and God forsook them (Judges 2:23).

Judges covers the period beginning with the death of Israel's great leader Joshua to the ascension of it's first king, Saul. It begins around 1380 BC and covers the next 350 years. Israel had now gone from being nomads to settlers in their own land; but they often failed to conduct themselves as God had commanded them to in their special land, and so suffered judgments in the land because of their sin. But thankfully, God did not forsake them forever. He would ultimately rescue the people from the dire consequences and bondage of their rebellion through leaders called "judges". These were not the cloak-wearing, gavel-pounding courtroom decisionmakers we think of when we hear that word, but rather rulers, deliverers, and often warriors that would lead the nation out of bondage.

There were fourteen judges in all - Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson, Eli and Samuel. They were of three types:

1. The warrior-judges such as Gideon and Samson
2. Priest judges such as Eli
3. Prophet judges such as Deborah and Samuel

These judges were needed because "everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 17:6), and the people began to follow the idolatrous and adulterous ways of the nations around them. In punishment God would deliver them into the hand of their enemies; the people would cry out in their misery, and God mercifully would raise up a judge to deliver them - then the cycle would start all over again! Judges consists of "seven apostasies, seven servitudes to seven idolatrous and cruel nations, and seven deliverances".

What lessons can we as Christians learn from Judges? Many!

1. The wickedness of the human heart (Judges 2:11-13, 17, 19; 8:33-35; 10:6; 13:1). Contrary to the assumptions of evolutionary thought, things do not automatically get better with the passing of time. In fact, apart from the renewing and reviving work of God, things will get worse and worse when "everyone does as he sees fit". We see the decay in our own society when this kind of philosophy is adopted. We need revival!

2. God's delight in using the weak things (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Judges provides a gallery of unlikely heros: Edud and his home-made dagger; a woman, Deborah, in a time that women were often thought not capable of leadership; Gibeon, a timid man from an obscure family in Israel's smallest tribe; Shamgar, a rural fellow with an ox goad; and a jaw-bone wielding wildman named Samson. Do you think it unlikely that God would ever use you to do something mighty? Then you qualify!

3. The power of the Holy Spirit. Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson were all spoken of as being empowered by the Holy Spirit. When that happens, anything can happen! Miraculous deliverances against overwhelming odds can and will occur with God's Spirit upon us!

One of the prime causes of Israel's downfall in Judges was its willingness to compromise with the world - with its religions, with its morals, with its people. But compromise with the world always lead to conquest by the world. As Paul said, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump". Once you start allowing little sins in your life, it's only a matter of time before your standards erode in other areas. Don't let the camel get his nose in the tent - because soon he'll be completely in the tent and you'll be outside!

Are there areas where you are compromising with the world? Don't wait until you are groaning under your bondage - turn away from it, ask forgiveness and receive God's mercy, and, like the Israelites in Judges, you too will be delivered!

Introduction to Joshua

The time has come!

After centuries of promise, the children of Israel are about to take hold of their inheritance that God has sworn to them, the land of Israel. "Take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own. (Joshua 1:11). It is God's to give - it is ours to possess.

This is the first of the History books of the Old Testament, having now finished the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses. It was named after its main character, Joshua, whose name means "The Lord saves" - the Hebrew version of the name "Jesus". He is the primary if not the sole author of the book that bears his name. Its events take place around 1405 BC.

We see God faithfully fulfilling His promises when His people obey Him in obedience. God makes sure we are keeping our part of our covenant with Him. When we don't, embarassing defeats can happen to us, such as those that happened at Ai. On the other hand, otherwise impossible situations can be overcome, as in Jericho.

Conquering the land meant entering into God's rests, as the people did when they conquered Canaan. May God grant you His rest as, with His help and leadership, you faithfully obey Him!