47. Amos

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 47.  Amos

Amos 9:11   In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places,

restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be,

If we have suggested that a highlight is a high point of faith or hope in a book, when it comes to Amos we have to wait until the last half of the last chapter of this nine-chapter torrent of negative prophetic outpourings. From the first verse we see that the main part of Amos’ ministry was probably about 760-750BC, which is not long before Samaria in the north was destroyed and the people carried away in 722.

Although the vast majority of the book is condemnatory, speaking against the sins of surrounding nations and cities – he has the Lord roaring from Jerusalem (1:2) against Damascus (1:3-5), Gaza (1:6-8), Tyre (1:9-10), Edom (1:11-12), Ammon (1:13-15), Moab (2:1-3), as well as Judah (2:4,5) and Israel (2:6 – 5:27) etc. there is within it a poetic and prophetic symmetry that is almost unique in the Bible and is fascinating to read.

For example in chapters 1 & 2, where he identifies each of this cities or states or nations, he uses this phrase “For three sins of …., even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” (v.3,6,9, etc.). I like the way the Message Version puts it: “Because of the three great sins of…  – make that four…” It’s almost like the prophet says, “For at least three sins, no there are more than that.” It is also a style that is often used in Proverbs, and it is a style that makes it easy to see the divisions and direction of the various prophecies that are coming.

In chapter 3 there is a lovely example of prophetic repetition to illustrate a point. Observe the word ‘do’ or ‘does’ here in verses 3-5:

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey?

Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing?

Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set?

Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch?

These are cause and effect things, i.e. nothing happens without a cause, and so he follows it with the outcome: “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared– who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken– who can but prophesy.” (3:7,8) i.e. prophecies don’t come unless God has spoken and when He speaks the prophet can’t help but speak and (implied) this is why I am saying all these things!

In chapter 4 there is this same sort of repetitious style as the prophet points out what the Lord has already done in His disciplinary judgment, each one starting with ‘I’: “gave you empty stomachs” (4:6), “withheld rain from you” (v.7), “struck your gardens and vineyards” (v.9), “sent plagues among you” (v.10), “killed your young men” (v.10), “overthrew some of you” (v.11). It is a call to wake up and repent. As I have studied judgments, it is clear that death is only a judgment ‘of the last resort’ and so it is clear the depth to which Israel has fallen by the extreme lengths the Lord has had to go to, to seek to get them to come to their senses and return to Him.

Another example of this sense of repetition so often found in Scripture, and especially in prophetic writings, is in chapter 6 where he speaks against the complacency found in both the northern and southern kingdoms (6:1). See the number of time ‘You’ is used. You… “put off the evil day” (v.3 in your thinking pretending it won’t happen), “lounge on your couches” (v.4a – indifferent to your plight), “dine on choice lambs” (v.4b food becomes a focus – a characteristic of life in the West for so many today), “strum on your harps” (v.5 music – ditto), “drink wine by the bowlful” (v.6a ditto), “use the finest lotions” (v.6b cosmetics – ditto), “do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (v.6c indifferent to the plight of God’s people – ditto) “will be among the first to go into exile” (v.7 but the judgment WILL come on all this – ditto)

When we come to chapters 7 & 8, we come to a number of very visual warnings: A swarm of locusts (7:1-3), a consuming fire (7:4-6), a plumb line (7:7-17), a basket of ripe fruit (ch. 8). Rather like Jeremiah, he receives opposition from the religious establishment (7:10-17)

In chapter 9 he has a vision: “I saw the Lord standing by the altar,” warning of impending judgment that is all-encompassing (v.1-10) but then remarkably, out of the blue so to speak, comes this final word of hope – to restore the Davidic reign (v.11,12), to bring great fruitfulness and abundance (v.13) and to bring back from exile and restore Israel (v.14) and utterly restore Israel in their own land (v.15). Now whether that last promise was deferred for nearly three thousand years (from then), by Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, or whether it was simply supposed to bring great reassurance in a time of tumult, is unclear. Even this book could not be written without an  element of hope for the future. The present required a strong message calling for repentance (which would be rejected in the north resulting in their destruction in 522, and by the south resulting in their destruction in 587), but in the longer-term there was the Lord’s knowledge of what would have to happen, eventually resulting in a restoration of a purged and purified people of God. It is a fascinating book!

46. Joel

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 46.  Joel

Joel 2:28,29   I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Commentators are all over the place as to dating Joel but, as I read it, my conclusion is that the date is really irrelevant because he deals with such major issues spanning history. Simply by what is said, here I believe, is a reasonable suggestion to what is in it:

Part 1: 1:1-2:11  The plight of Israel

Part 2: 2:12-18   That concludes in a call to repentance

Part 3: 2:19-27   That flows into an assurance that the Lord will hear and bless.

Part 4: 2:28-32   Now a jump to the period of salvation, the period of the Church

Part 5: 3:1-21     This flows on to the last days, of judgment on the nations.

Now before we examine the contents of each part, note in v.15 the first reference to “the day of the Lord” which we’ll examine in a moment. It is significant in the number of times it appears (5) but it is unclear initially, I would suggest, whether this refers to just one specific day of judgment at the end, or is simply a phrase used to describe the various times God comes to bring judgment. Perhaps we should look more closely:

1:15  Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.”

2:1b  “Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.”

2:11  “The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?

2:31  “the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”

3:14,15 “For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.”

The common thing about this day is that it will be terrible and will be accompanied by judgmental destruction. So now let’s note how it appears.

Part 1: The Plight of Israel: (1:1-2:11) starts with a call to recognise the plight of the land, having been ravaged by ‘locusts’– an invader from the north (v.6) who has ravished the land. It appears to conclude with the first call to repentance (v.13,14). Yet although that has already happened, there is coming a worse day (v.15), the ‘day of the Lord’. However he then appears to pick up and continue bewailing the present state of the land in the same tone as the earlier verses (v.16-20). It is almost as if the Spirit breaks in on his anguish about the present state, as if to say, yes, but there is a much worse day that will come later in history that makes this present time pall into insignificance.

Continuing the same section, bemoaning the state of the land, in Chapter 2 we find the Spirit seems to break in yet again with this reference to ‘the day of the Lord’ (2:1,2) but when he says, “It is close at hand” (v.1c) we should understand that in prophetic language, terms and experience, it so often does NOT mean ‘it’s coming shortly’ but ‘it’s high on my prophetic horizon as of major significance in the world’s history’; be aware of this day, pray, repent and adjust your lives in anticipation of it.

I say these verses in chapter 2 are all part of this first section because in v.3 Joel  keeps on referring to “them” and “they”, (count the number of times), referring to this invading army from the north (see in v.3 to 11). But then we appear to have a problem, for this description finishes in v.11 with The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” which seems to point back to what has just been written. Again, in prophetic terms, what we find is that this latter part (v.3-11) of the whole section is a description of what is happening in the IMMEDIATE FUTURE, indeed what seems to have already started according to the earlier verses, AND what we might term the END TIME FUTURE.

Part 2: The Call to Repentance: (2:12-18) In the light of this awareness of the state of the land and of the invading army, both now and in the long-term future, together with the reasons for both, the obvious call is for repentance. That is the only way to stop the present disciplinary judgment and to avoid the wrath of the end-time Day.

Part 3: The Lord’s Response – Blessing: (2:19-27) Whenever there is repentance, the Lord will always bless. The blessing spelled out is provision, (v.18,19) deliverance from the invader (v.20), abundance of harvest (v.21-24), and restoration after the work of the ‘locusts’ (v.25-27). In the light of what follows it seems this could well describe the restoration that followed the Exile.

Part 4: The Period of Salvation: (2:28-32) Although this might be seen as ongoing blessing continuing on from the period of the Lord restorative goodness above, we have separated it out (as our highlight of this book!) because of the words, “And afterward” in v.28 and the application of these verses under the anointing of the Spirit on the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost in the light of the outpouring at the beginning of Acts 2 (see Acts 2:16-21). Those verses have just been fulfilled, he says. It was the start of the period of the Church, a period during which “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Joel 2:32 & Acts 2:21) and it will end at “the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:20)

Part 5: Judgment on the nations:  (3:1-21)  The coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD,” referred to in 2:31 is clearly spelled out in chapter 3, a time of restoration of Israel (all the people of God) and judgment of the (unbelieving) peoples of the nations (v.1 & 2). And why this latter judgment? Because of the way the nations had treated the people of God (v.3-8).  OK, get ready for battle, says the Lord, you versus me (v.9-11), just as we see in Rev 19:11-21.  This will be a time of great judgment on all who oppose, reject and rebel against the Lord and against His people (v.12-21)

To summarise: the word comes to the people of God in the Promised Land (Judah is not mentioned until chapter 3) to a) take stock of their situation, ravaged by an enemy and b) repent so that God may bring blessing on them. In due time, part of that blessing will be the outpouring of His Holy Spirit, which will usher in a new era, the era of salvation for whoever believes in the Son of God and his work on the Cross. It is an era that will continue until the Lord winds up history on that fateful “Day of the Lord” when He enters into judgment with all who oppose Him, a time of accounting and final judgment. In this short three-chapter book, this amazing prophet catches the sense of the day and puts it in the perspective of the whole of history yet to come, yes a time of trouble that will give way to blessing, a time of trouble that will appear minor in comparison to the end-time judgment that he also senses. What a prophetic spectrum!

45. Hosea

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 45.  Hosea

Hos 1:2   When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.”

Hosea, the first of the minor prophets, presents us with a problem. Are there any highlight verses?  It depends what we mean by highlight. We have usually taken it to mean verses that shed light and release faith, and when you read through Hosea there is not much that fits that description. Hosea prophesied in a period somewhere either side of 700BC. Although so much of the time it appears that he is speaking against the northern kingdom, the fact that in the opening verse he is identified by four kings of the south as well as one from the north, you are left wondering if much of what he says is supposed to also be a warning to the south.  As a book it is mostly a prophetic tirade against the sins of Israel, calling for repentance.

Chapters 1 to 3 have a unique and amazing personal element to it which, possibly we may suggest, stands out as a highlight in Scripture.  The Living Bible puts verse 2 as follows: “The Lord said to Hosea, “Go and marry a girl who is a prostitute, so that some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, committing open adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” Now I am not quite sure about that paraphrase which is a commonly understood interpretation of what took place because a) the emphasis of what happened with his wife, Gomer, is on her relationships with a number of ‘lovers’ and the word prostitute only occurs in 3:3 and 9:1 as suggesting that this is almost what these relationships are tantamount to, and b) there is indication that only one of her children’s father was anyone other than Hosea, although it is of course possible, if not likely (see below).

So adultery (relationship out of wedlock involving at least one who is married) and unfaithfulness (breaking of the marriage covenant) are the charges against Israel and Hosea is told to emphasise that by taking a wife who will prove to be an adulterer. When she has children, the names Hosea is to give them speaks out the Lord’s message.

Her first son is to be called “Jezreel” (1:4) which means ‘God scatters’, an indication of what He will do with unrepentant Israel. The Lord also explains (v.4) that it is to highlight the wrong massacre that Jehu committed at Jezreel when he killed Joram. (see 2 Kings 9) and He would end that dynasty (which shortly happened).

Gomer’s next child (1:6) was a to be called “Lo-Ruhamah” which simply means ‘not loved’ for, said the Lord, “I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them.” i.e. He has given up on Israel.

She then has a second son (v.8,9) to be called “Lo-Ammi” for, said the Lord, “you are not my people, and I am not your God.” a possible indication that indeed this child was not Hosea’s.  However, after this, there is one ray of hope which perhaps ought to have been our highlight: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, `You are not my people,’ they will be called `sons of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.” (v.10,11)

Now that is amazing. Note what it says – Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore. Northerner as well as southerners? The two will be reunited? Well, in 2 Chron 30, in Hezekiah’s reign (which was shortly AFTER the fall of Samaria in 722) Hezekiah made a remarkable call to Israelite exiles to come and join their revival (v.6-9) and it is clear that they did (v.17-20). Was that the fulfillment of this remarkable promise?

Chapter 2 is a prophetic indictment of the wife – Israel – and yet as it goes on in verses 14 to 17 there are again verses of hope: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me `my husband’; you will no longer call me `my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.”

That is amazing. Achor, near Jericho, had been where Achan had been stoned for his disobedience (see Josh 7:24-26) and known as a ‘valley of trouble’ ever since. Achor, just over the border of the northern kingdom, would yet become a place of hope. Would it be in exile, that the northern kingdom carried away in 722 would, like the southern tribes, learn to worship God again, free from idols, in exile? The remaining verses of chapter 2 are verses of hope.

In the intervening period, Gomer has obviously left Hosea and is living with another, probably as a slave (for he has to pay for her) and when we come to chapter 3 we find he is instructed to go and take her back (3:1-3). Why? Of what was this to be a picture? “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.” (v.4,5)

Did this refer to the northern kingdom or the south, or both? Whichever, it is a word of hope for whoever would hear. This is not a God who is wiping them out of existence; this is the Lord who presents a picture of hope to His people, the hope of a good future with Him. It is of course conditional upon their repentance and if they won’t do it before hand, then it will be repentance that comes out of exile. Confusing times, terrible times, strong words, words of rebuke and yet also words of hope. So a difficult book, in some ways a depressing book, and yet nevertheless there ARE highlights of hope for those who would hear and respond. Tragically it would be the latter course mentioned above – repentance that comes out of exile – that would apply, but the offer was always there and even though the measures taken against both Israel and Judah were strong, the end result was a purged people who came back to the Lord free from idol worship.

44. Daniel (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 44.  Daniel (2)

Dan 1:8,9   But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,

So we come to the prophetic section of Daniel, chapters 7 to 12. If encounters with God are sometimes referred to as mountain top experiences, here we have another mountain range with a few peaks. It is a confusing area of Scripture with a variety of interpretations given by commentators, so let’s satisfy ourselves with identifying the sections and picking up some highlights within them.

Vision 1: The Four Beasts (7:1-28  Probably 553BC). Possibly the most spiritually significant one of the visions, Daniel is lying down (v.1) when he sees fours beats, representing four kingdoms (v.2-8) but immediately following he is given a picture of heaven with God ruling over all things, shades of the book of Revelation: As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” (v.9,10) Shortly after, in this vision, is one of the clearest Messianic visions in Scripture: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (7:13,14) A human figure in heaven, led before God given supreme authority over the world, an everlasting kingdom. None other than the Son of God. Wow! The four beasts represent kingdoms of men on the earth BUT “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever–yes, for ever and ever.” (7:18) Yes, kings will come and go, but the rule of the kingdom of God through His people is supreme in importance and significance in God’s eyes.

Vision 2: The Ram and Goat and horn (8:1-27  About 551BC)  A vision about ‘the time of the end’ (v.17)

Daniel’s Prayer & Answer: (9:1-27 About 539/8BC) Daniel understands Jeremiah’s seventy years (9:2) so prays and fasts for Israel and confesses the sin of his people (9:3-19). That prayer is a highlight. While praying and fasting, the angel Gabriel comes and reveals something of history’s future. Within it we may surmise the coming of Jesus (v.25), the anointed one, who will eventually be cut off (v.26) and the ruler of the land (Rome) will destroy Jerusalem and the Temple (v.26b as happened in AD70).  Wars and desolations will characterize history of this fallen world (v.26c) until a time of upheaval and change when the Lord will decree the end (v.27). If the talk of ‘sevens’ is confusing, rest in the knowledge that the Lord knows how history will pan out.

Prayer & Revelation of Spiritual Warfare: (10:1-21 Probably 539BC) Daniel prays for three weeks (v.1) until a divine figure appears (v.2-9) who reveals that from the moment Daniel started praying he had been heard (v.12), but there had been resistance from the demonic authority of Persia (v.13) until help had arrived to take over from him to release him to go to Daniel (implied in v.20). Although he says he will explain Israel’s future, he says nothing yet beyond he has to go back to continue fighting the power of Persia after which the power of Greece will come. It is an unclear passage but has insights similar to the apostle Paul’s, “rulers… authorities …. powers of this dark world and … spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) and which few but intercessors  seem to become aware of.

Vision 3: The Four Kings: (11:2 – 12:4) This is a continuation of chapter ten in as far as it is the explanation by the divine figure of what will happen. There is much detail and some commentators follow it through showing how it corresponds to all that took place in the period from here until the coming of Christ, of which the Scriptures are otherwise silent. Again the message has to be, the Lord knows! It is all according to plan! The final part of the vision – 12:1-4 – some suggest is a reference to the death and resurrection of Christ and the salvation that follows.

Vision 4: The Two Men:  (12:5-13) In this final ongoing vision Daniel sees two men who he questions about all this. He is told, “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” (v.10)  A good description of the period of the Church when many get saved and sanctified while many others continue to do evil.

As I look back over these chapters, I ask myself, where are the highlights? Well, it depends. If you want the wonder of God and of heaven, it is 7:9,10. If you want a vision of the coming Messiah, it is 7:13,14. If you want spiritual warfare it is 10:1-20, but the truth is that as you might meditate on individual verses that come alive to you, they might become your highlight verses.

Again and again throughout it all, with the talk of enigmatic ‘sevens’ there filters through this sense that a) God knows all the periods of history and b) He has a program of history. It is a combination of the working of the enemy, the working of powerful people (‘kings’) and the working of the Lord Himself. Much of the time the visions spell out orders of events, the unrolling of history, so often focused on rulers, the powerful people who so often appear to influence history, but there are ‘time’ or ‘duration’ elements in some of them but given in very enigmatic ways, e.g. “a time, times and half a time,” (7:25), “seventy ‘sevens’” (9:24), “seven `sevens,’ and sixty-two `sevens.’” (9:25), “a time, times and half a time,” (12:7). Yet, also, there is the occasional sense that everything is happening to a set timetable, for example, “the appointed time of the end,” (8:19, 11:40, 12:4,9) and “an end will still come at the appointed time.” (11:27,29,35) Confusing, yes, but even as the book of Revelation indicates, the supreme authority rests on a throne in heaven. He is the Lord of all, despite the turmoils of history. Perhaps this is THE ‘highlight’ truth that shines through in all this strange prophetic and visionary talk.

43. Daniel (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 43.  Daniel (1)

Dan 1:8,9   But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,

As we now come to Daniel, we come to the third of God’s ‘roving reporters’ of the Exile. Daniel was carried away to Babylon in the first of Nebuchadnezzar’s raids on Jerusalem but unlike Jeremiah and Ezekiel his role was not to speak God’s words to the exiles but was, instead, to speak as God’s mouthpiece to the various kings from Nebuchadnezzar on. The first six chapters of his book are historical, telling how this happened, and chapter 7 to 12 are prophecies or visions he received. Because of this we will take one historical incident for our first study in this book and then one from the prophetic section.

We have chosen verses 8 and 9 above because they are ‘turning point verses’ that impinge on all that follows. They start, as you can see, with a ‘But’ which indicates they flow on from what has gone before, so let’s pick that up first, for it is highly significant in Daniel’s story.

Nebuchadnezzar had carried off King Jehoiakim of Judah (1:1,2) together with members of the royal family and the nobility, young men who clearly had learning (1:3,4a) with the objective that these young men would be taken to Babylon and, for three years, would be taught and trained in the history and ways of Babylon so that eventually the best of them could serve Nebuchadnezzar in his court (1:4b,5). Daniel was one of these young men.

Now part of the perks, or perhaps part of the brain-washing that would transform these brightest of men into good Babylonians, was to provide them with all the rich food and drink that was available in the royal court. Part of the transformation process was to also give each of these young men a Babylonian god-linked name and so Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar which probably means, “Bel protect his life” (Daniel had meant, “God is my judge”) i.e. everything was being done to change these men from being young Israelite noblemen to good Babylonians.

So we come to the point where this rich food is being presented to Daniel and his three friends (v.5)  at which point he determines to resist this transformation process. So note the stating point of his actions: Daniel resolved.” He set him mind on resisting this. However he is basically a slave and not in a good position to say what he will or will not do, so he goes in humility and “he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” Now we come to the God part: “Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.” Somehow the Lord had spoken into the officials heart and made him feel good towards Daniel, but that isn’t enough to sway him; he would like to help Daniel (perhaps he too was an ‘import’!) but he was afraid of what the king would say if they looked worse than the others (v.10).

At this point Daniel is not put off and perseveres and gets what today we would call ‘a word of wisdom’ and simply asks the guard, who the chief official had put over them, to let them try out for ten days a menu free from rich food and wine, and then see what they are like at the end of that time. He agrees to this. (v.11-14) At the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends look better than any of the other conscripts (v.15) and so the guard allows them to carry on without the rich food and wine (v.16).

We then see the Lord’s blessing on these four young men: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” (1:17) so that “At the end of the time set by the king …. he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (1:18-20) What a testimony!

The lessons of this little incident are clear and powerful. Note first, Daniel is in an alien environment, not one of his choosing. He is powerless in the situation, except he comes from a godly background. Now this is interesting in that the words that came from Jeremiah, and later from Ezekiel, indicate that the spiritual state of Judah and the occupants of Jerusalem was very low – and yet Daniel clearly stands out as one who resolves to remain one of the people of God. So, lesson no.1 – Daniel resolves to hold on to his heritage. When you or I find ourselves in such a situation, can we too resolve NOT to go the way of the rest of the world and remain true to God (how to do that is the problem that follows and is to be addressed). We may need to persevere, but will we do it?

We then saw that the Lord was clearly with Daniel in that He made the chief official favourable towards Daniel.  Lesson no.2 – recognize that wherever you are the Lord is with you (Heb 13:5b) and He will be working for you (Rom 8:28). In what follows it is clear that Daniel has the wisdom of the Lord. Lesson no.3 – in such times always turn to the Lord and ask Him for His wisdom to know what to do (Jas 1:5) Simple isn’t it!

We will see further examples of such things in Daniel as the book unfolds. In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which he demands his astrologers and wise men to tell him about, and their failure would mean their death (2:1-13) – which includes Daniel and his friends. When Daniel is told about this, he speaks to the commander of the king’s guard who has been sent to execute them all: “Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.” (2;14) This opens up the way for him to ask the king for time (2:16) and then he gets his three friends to intercede before the Lord (2:17,18) and the Lord gives him the answer!

As a result of this Nebuchadnezzar, “placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” (2:48) Amazing! And so it carries on. If you are not familiar with Daniel, you must read how in chapter three his three friends make a further declaration of their commitment to God: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (3:17,18) and there’s more to follow. It is an amazing story, this story of this young prophet who became senior counselor to king after king. And why? What were his characteristics? His faithfulness to God, his resolve, his humility, grace, wisdom and tact and his prayer life, a true child of God whose example is to be followed. Wow! Go for it!

42. Ezekiel (3)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 42.  Ezekiel (3)

Ezek 40:3,4    I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see.”

When I started off this series it was, I have come to realise, with a sense of naivety when I thought about one or two verses per book. To create meaning we have had to do far more than that, and now, as we find ourselves still in Ezekiel, we are about to embark on the most strange highlight in these studies, that which covers Ezekiel’s temple in chapter 40 onwards. Ezekiel I have characterised, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, as a mountain of prophecy, but perhaps a mountain range might be more appropriate and when you come to the end of the range, there you have this further ‘mountain’ covered in cloud and with a massive question mark over it.

Indeed this is going to be the strangest ‘meditation’ in this series for here is the thing about this part of Ezekiel:  First it is clearly dated as having come fourteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple within (40:1), second it is a vision (40:2), third in the vision Ezekiel sees in great detail the measurements of a temple (ch. 40-42),  fourth, more than once he is told to take great note of what he sees (40:4, 43:10,11 44:5), fifth, the glory of the Lord comes to this temple (ch.43), sixth the detail includes the priesthood and working within it (43:18-44:31, 45:9-24), seventh, there are details about apportioning the Land, layout and use of it (45:1-8, 47:15-48:35) and eighth,  IT WAS NEVER BUILT and these things never followed!

So the question arises, why were these nine chapters written down and never followed? What is the point of them being here? Why bother to read them? Let’s answer those in reverse order.

Why read them? We can only make suggestions. First we read then because for one reason or another they have been included in the canon of Scripture, first by the Jews who compiled the Old Testament scriptures, and second by the early church fathers who accepted it. Second, we might also add that within these chapters there are a number of passages with more details that exhort the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day to repent from their past and live out a new future, a continuation of the earlier parts of the book, if you like. Third, there is also a sense of holiness as the glory of the Lord is seen again, now filling this visionary temple, and with a general sense of holiness which comes through in these chapters.

What is the point of them being here?  Well, we may make several suggestions. First, in the day when the exile is well and truly under way, and the exiles have lost their temple, even though Ezekiel and Jeremiah have both prophesied restoration to the Land, this long, detailed section on the temple declares loud and clear, “God has NOT finished with His temple, His intent is still that He will dwell in the midst of His people.”  Second, they continue that sense of ‘heavenly otherness’ that is common to parts of Ezekiel, a challenge almost against humanistic thinking. We are left with questions that only God will answer. Third, they open up a whole new area of hope, for the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, and the Jews of today. Why? Because the vision has not yet been fulfilled.

That leads us to think about the different ways these chapters can be seen. Commentators over the years have come up with a number of suggestions. First that this was never meant to be taken literally, that perhaps it is just meant to convey spiritual truths, or that it may even be a description of a heavenly temple. Second, that it should be taken literally which opens up the possibility that the people of Ezra’s time simply failed to build to this scale. The alternative is that it will yet be built in the future, maybe in the thousand year ‘millennium’ period of Rev 20:4 and you know the fun thing about all this – we just don’t know! What a challenge to those who feel insecure in their faith and feel they have to have everything neatly buttoned up and understood!

But let’s finish with a fairly brief reference to a beautiful few verses in chapter 47, the vision of the river flowing out of the Temple. It appears, first of all, flowing out from under the threshold of the temple (47:1). As it flowed it became a deeper and deeper river (47:3-6) and where it flowed down into the Dead Sea, it turned it into fresh water (47:8), and wherever it flows life bursts forth (47:9). On its banks fruit trees grow in abundance providing both food and healing (47:12). No interpretation is give and so we are just left to surmise for ourselves.

Whatever else it might say, it must speak of the life that flows out from the presence of the Lord, life that grows greater and greater the more it flows out, life that brings life, and life that transforms and changes that which is dead into a vibrant living environment. Two observations: first this flows from the presence of God portrayed by this temple in this vision. Second, this is the very life that flows forth from heaven through the Church today and even on a bigger scale through the kingdom of God in whatever form that is expressed – the blessing of God on earth.

And so a final question: does this mean that this long-winded picture of the temple is just God’s way of catching our attention to say, “I have a plan, a detailed plan of how I will bring my presence to the earth so that life can flow forth bringing transformation to this sin-weary world”? Does He further say, “I simply make the point that you will not fully understand it, but this plan is there and it will be fulfilled through my Son, Jesus Christ”?

Well, to get the most out of this study you are going to have to read chapters 40 to 48 so if you want to, copy, paste and print this study and keep it beside you as you read those chapters. You’ll only need half an hour and who knows what the Lord might pick out to speak to you. Be blessed.

41. Ezekiel (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 41.  Ezekiel (2)

Ezek 36:22    It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.

If we have struggled to choose a verse or verses in some of the earlier books, that difficulty is now multiplied many times over, for Ezekiel is one of the most complex and varied of the books of the Bible. In broad terms, chapters 1 to 24 speak about judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (but that comes in many varied forms, visions, acted out prophecy, words, etc.), chapters 25 to 32 are prophecies of judgment against other nations (and in this he is truly international in his vision), chapter 33 to 39 are a mix of prophecies, often consoling, and then chapter 40 to 47 are all about the importance of the temple. We’ll consider one element of that last section in the next meditation but for the moment we’ll take a word and a picture that summarises the nature of what is going on, from the penultimate section.

In chapter 36 we find this summary section, spoken by the Lord to Ezekiel. This particular part starts in verse 17: Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions.” This sums up the years of the life of Israel and Judah. The Lord had given them this Promised Land but down through the centuries, when they were supposed to be a people revealing God and the wonder of His ways to the rest of the world, instead they revealed the folly of the sin of mankind to the rest of the world. Instead of worshipping and revealing God, they defiled this holy land with idol worship.

That had a consequence: “So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.” (36:18,19) That is so simple and straightforward it needs no further comment. It is then that we come across our verses above: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name….. will show the holiness of my great name…..  name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD….. when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” (36:22,23) Nebuchadnezzar coming and destroying Jerusalem and deporting most of the people is all about this, showing the world that Israel were accountable to a holy God.

But then comes a tremendous word of hope: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (36:24-28) Wow! God will bring them back from exile with transformed hearts. They will be a transformed people. Read the verses again to take it all in. These verses run on to the end of the chapter, reinforcing the same promise of restoration. Amazing!

So much for the word; now to the prophetic vision, the vision of the valley of dry bones. Now what is strange about this is where it comes. It will ask a question of Jeremiah but, if this is in chronological order, he’s already been given the answer, so why the vision? The answer has to be either that it was given earlier than the word (and there are indicators that everything in Ezekiel is not in exact chronological order) OR (and I prefer this one) the Lord wants to test Jeremiah to see if he has taken it in and wants to involve him in it. See the vision.

The Lord shows him in a vision a valley full of dry human bones (37:1,2) and asks him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (v.3)  Well, initially, Jeremiah doesn’t know who or what these bones are and so he cautiously and wisely replies, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Smart answer! He might have surmised that in the light of all that had been happening that these bones must be Israel, but he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Prophets don’t do that, they only bring what God reveals.

But then comes a strange instruction: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, `Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” (v.4,5) He is to speak God’s intent over these bones in this vision, and when he did so (v.7) all the bones came together as skeletons and then with flesh but no breath in them (v.7,8) The process is repeated (v.9,10) and the bodies stand up with life in them. Then the Lord explains that these represent Israel who, now in captivity, have lost all hope and that he, Ezekiel, is to prophesy to them what the Lord will do, raising them up again and giving them a new spirit (v.11-14).

So what have we seen in all the verses we have highlighted? First the Lord gave an extensive word about the restoration of the people to the Land, with a new heart and a new spirit, and then He reiterated it by means of the vision of the valley of dry bones, but with a new commission for Ezekiel to tell Israel in exile that this is what is going to happen.

So what lessons come through these verses? First, and quite obviously, a reiteration that all that is happening to Judah and Jerusalem is expressly the disciplinary judgment of God, brought about to end the decades, if not centuries, of idol worship that has polluted this land, a land that was supposed to be the holy home of a holy people revealing God to the nations. Second, they again make very clear that exile is not the end game for this people; the Lord WILL bring them back to the Land as a purged people.

But then we have to look at the nature of what happened here so, third, we see the Lord speaks a dramatic word but then reinforces it by a clear and vivid vision. So often the Lord brings His word more than once, and often in different forms, because He knows we struggle to take in new things. Fourth, we see the Lord involving Ezekiel in a faith activity, speaking God’s word over Israel. Again, so often it seems, the Lord wants us to join in His activities by speaking His will out loud into the situation. Perhaps it is His way in ensuring that this word will be heard and remembered after He has performed it, so we will realise it was truly Him. When it is spoken out beforehand, there can be no mistake of understanding afterwards. It seems the Lord delights in waiting for our faith to rise, so that we become actively involved in Father’s business which He then ratifies by doing it.

This last point, I believe, is important for many churches today who are content to perform ritual or ‘services’ and utter words of belief, but who rarely step out in faith by declaring or praying for substantial changes. Here is a challenge to lifeless orthodoxy. The ‘body of Christ’, the Church, is to be alive and active and achieving the works of God as inspired and empowered by Him. That’s what all these words have been about!