Hosea and His Children (Hosea 1:4-9)

Today on Grace Still Amazes we’re going to look at Hosea’s three children, mentioned in Hosea 1:4-9.  Just like I wouldn’t want to be married to a woman named Gomer, I wouldn’t want to have to name my children the names Hosea gave them.  But he gave them to them for a reason.

Listen to Hosea 1:4-9.  I’m going to actually start in verse 3.

3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” 6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” 8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

The events described in this section of Hosea reflect, in a broader sense, the tragic conditions existing in Israel (and Judah to some extent) at the time of Hosea’s ministry.  That is, the domestic tragedy in Hosea’s home was a microcosm of a far greater tragedy in the nation.  That tragedy was turning their backs on Yahweh to embrace other gods.  Such turning could only result in ultimate judgment from God.

So three children were born—Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, which were translated here in the ESV, “No Mercy” and “Not my People.”  These three names represent God’s judgment against faithless Israel.

By the way, Hosea was not the only prophet to use the names of his children to communicate judgment to God’s people.  Isaiah, writing to Judah, gave his children names relating to Judah’s future judgment (Isaiah 8:3-4) and future redemption (Isaiah 7:3).

One might notice that of Jezreel it is said in verse 3 that “she conceived and bore him (that is Hosea) a son” whereas with both Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi it is simply said “she conceived and bore a daughter or son.”  Some believe that this means that only Jezreel was Hosea’s son and that Gomer was already committing adultery and those trysts made her pregnant with the last two children.

Each section on Hosea’s children (vv. 3-5, 6-7, 8-9) contains a birth notice, a word of instruction from the Lord about the child’s name, and an explanation of the meaning of the name.  The names of Hosea’s children all reminded everyone who heard them of the broken relationship that existed between Yahweh and Israel, and each one anticipated judgment.

So Derek Kidner says…

The three persons are a crescendo—first of judgment, but in the end a crescendo of grace to round off each of the first two chapters.  Grace has a way of interrupting oracles of doom…but for the moment there is no break in the clouds, and the darkness will get deeper with each successive birth. (The Message of Hosea, p. 20)

The first child born, to both Hosea and Gomer, was Jezreel.  This name has a double meaning that is illustrated in both the judgment phase and the deliverance phase.  Jezreel means “God scatters” (a picture of judgment upon the land and people of Israel, played out through the Assyrian policy of scattering and intermarrying conquered countries).  Jezreel can also mean “God sows,” which illustrates the restoration of the people of Israel to their homeland.

Jezreel was most likely born during the final years of Jeroboam II’s reign.

But it is not just the meaning of the name which is significant.  There was a town in Israel by the name of Jezreel.  It was located at the east end of the Jezreel Valley, called the “breadbasket of Israel” because it is the largest plain in Israel.  At the midpoint is Megiddo.  This great plain in Israel was one of the few places where chariots, cavalry and large armies could maneuver.  It was a key place were the bow and arrow were prime instruments of warfare.

jezreel valley and lower galilee map

This map is from the Satellite Bible Atlas.

jezreel valley from mount carmel, with hill of morech, beth shan and mount gilboa labelledjezreel and surrounding region, bible atlas

This map shows the city of Jezreel, Bible Atlas online


jezreel--where jezebel was thrown down, biblical archaeology society

Jezreel had become the Israelite winter capital by the time of Ahab (9th century BC), who built a palace there; the Bible also mentions a wall and defensive tower.  In 1 Kings 21, when Naboth the Jezreelite refuses to sell his vineyard to Ahab, Ahab’s wife Jezebel has him stoned to death.  This is followed by a visit from none other than the prophet Elijah and the subsequent gruesome death of Jezebel.

The reason Hosea and Gomer’s son is named Jezreel is because, verse 4, “I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel…”

The “house of Jehu” was the ruling dynasty of the northern kingdom at that time.  Jeroboam II, the greatest of king of the northern kingdom, was the grandson of Jehu.

If you remember the story of Jehu (2 Kings 9-10), he was told by God to take over the northern kingdom, but he went too far in shedding blood.  This bloodbath started in the city of Jezreel, located at the edge of the large, fertile valley of Jezreel in the north of Israel.  Its most famous victim, Jezebel the queen mother, was thrown down from an upper window.

Jehu had received his commission from Elisha.  In 2 Kings 9:6-10 we read…

6 So he [Elisha] arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the LORD, over Israel. 7 And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD. 8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel.9 And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. 10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.”  Then he opened the door and fled.

It was at Jezreel that King Jehu of Israel (841-814 B.C.) massacred many enemies of Israel, including King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, King Jehoram of Israel, and many prophets of Baal, which was good (cf. 2 Kings 9:6-10, 24; 10:18-28, 30).

But he also killed King Ahaziah of Judah and 42 of his relatives, which was bad (2 Kings 9:27-28; 10:12-14).  Ahaziah and his relatives did not die in Jezreel, but their deaths were part of Jehu’s wholesale slaughter at Jezreel.  Jehu went too far and thereby demonstrated disrespect for the Lord’s commands (cf. 2 Kings 10:29-31).

Because of Jehu’s atrocities that overstepped his authority to judge Israel’s enemies, God promised to punish his house (dynasty).  The fulfillment came when Shallum assassinated King Zechariah, Jeroboam II’s son and the fourth king of Jehu’s dynasty, in 753-752 B.C.  This death ended Jehu’s kingdom (dynasty) forever (2 Kings 15:10).  It happened at the town of Ibleam (2 Kings 15:10), located in a southern part of the Jezreel valley.  The captivity that followed gave Jezreel a very bitter meaning for Israel, namely, the scatting throughout the world (2 Kings 17:18).

The dynasty ended as it had begun, with the assassination of the ruling house of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.

There is a slight paradox here, for in carrying out God’s judgment against the house of Ahab, God said…

30 And the LORD said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.”

So why was Jehu being judged for the “blood of Jezreel”?  Apparently, just like God would use Sennacherib, the Assyrian conqueror, and Nebuchadnezzar, who sacked Jerusalem, yet later judged them for how they went about it and their pride, so Jehu is being judged here for both going too far and showing a proud heart.

Thus, the final word on Jehu, from 2 Kings 10: 29, 31

29 But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin–that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.  31 But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.

So Kidner states

Self-interest and bloodlust were his dominant springs of conduct, and it was this that made “the blood of Jezreel” an accusing stain.

And the reason that Israel was now about to experience a similar judgment, some hundred years later, is because they never repudiated this attitude of violence.

Duane Garrett has a simpler explanation, and that is that the Hebrew word here translated “punish” can, and should here, mean “visit.”  So it should be translated, “And I will bring (visit) the bloodshed of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu.”

He says,

This is not punishment for Jehu’s zeal in the slaughter at Jezreel; rather it is punishment for not learning the lesson of Jezreel.  Jehu himself had been the agent of God’s fury and personally had seen how terribly it fell upon an apostate dynasty.  But he and his household went on to repeat the apostasy of the Omrides and their predecessors (2 Kings 10:31; 13:1).  God visited the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu because, in the final analysis, his dynasty’s rule was little better than that of Jeroboam I or Ahab and Jezebel.  Jehu’s actions at Jezreel were, if anything, the main reason God did not eliminated his dynasty sooner (2 Kings 10:30). (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Amos, p. 57)

Verse 5 indicates that the name of Hosea’s first son would also point to a future judgment that would also take place in the valley near Jezreel.  It would happen on “that day,” namely, a future unspecified day.  Yahweh promised to break Israel’s military strength, symbolized by an archer’s “bow,” there and then.

jezreel valley__israel's breadbasket

Usually, when God promises to “break the bow” of some fighting force, it means that God is coming to Israel’s rescue.  It is the enemy’s fighting force that would be broken.  There is a notable example in 2:18b where at the time of God’s future deliverance…

Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.

Also Psalm 46:9

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

But here, it is the bow of Israel that God will break, indicating that Israel would no longer be a force for God.  The “house of Jehu” (government) and the “bow” (military might) will fall as one.

Also, the further sting of this final sentence of judgment under the name Jezreel is the great reversal that it implies by the scene of defeat.  Jezreel was the valley of Gideon’s great victory over the Midianites (Judges 6-7), as well as Deborah before him (Judges 4-5).  Thus, Jezreel had once been a name of Israel’s glory.  But since Jehu’s massacres, it could only stand for savagery. (Kidner, 21)

This valley, because it was so strategic to trade routes, had seen many battles.  Gideon had defeated the Midianites in this valley (Judg. 6:33; 7), the Philistines had defeated the Israelites under Saul’s leadership there (1 Sam. 29:1, 11; 31), and Pharaoh Neco II defeated Josiah there after the Assyrians attacked (2 Kings 23:29-30).

But now the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pilesar III would fulfill this prophecy when he invaded and defeated Israel there in the valley of Jezreel 733 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29; cf. 2 Kings 17:3-5).  So though forty years apart, the end of Jehu’s dynasty and the end of the northern kingdom would take place in the area of Jezreel.

This valley will also be the place where the great end times battle, the battle of Armageddon, or Har-Meggido, will be fought.  There, the armies of the vicious and violent Antichrist will amass his armies against Jerusalem and Jesus will break the bow of Antichrist with the word of His mouth.

In verse 6-7 we then read about the second child.  If Jezreel’s name signified defeat, this daughter’s name represents deportation.

6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

The name “No Mercy” is in Hebrew Lo-Ruhamah.  We could also translate it “Not Loved.”  What a terrible name to give to a little girl!  It communicates complete alienation and rejection by her father and says that she has been abandoned to face the difficulties of life alone.

For a culture as child-centered as Israel was, it is difficult to imagine a name more scandalous and offensive.  At the mention of her name, people would naturally query, “Why would anyone name his daughter that?”

I don’t imagine that it represented Hosea’s true feelings towards her.  Nor does it demand that we take her as the offspring of Gomer with another man.  Although verse 6 does not say, “bore him a daughter” like verse 3 says of Jezreel, it could simply be a shortening of the birth statement.

What it does signify is that Yahweh had been very compassionate, very loving, towards Israel in her past, but that her persistent unfaithfulness to Him and His covenant with her made continuing love impossible.  Just as Gomer showed no love for Hosea had vanished, so the Lord’s compassion towards His people had been stretched to the breaking point.

God was withdrawing his mercy from the house of Israel because He had been betrayed by the repeated adulteries (that is, idolatry) of the nation of Israel.  You can read it throughout 1 and 2 Kings.  They could no longer expect grace from God.  He had given it time and time again before, but now his patience has run out.

This is the same type of sentiment which causes Jesus to cry out (Matthew 23:37b):

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

Garrett says

The people heard that terrible name and no doubt whispered to one another, “Hosea’s wife is unfaithful; he must doubt that this child is his.  He has rejected the poor thing!” and Hosea could respond something like: “Do you trouble yourself over Lo-Ruhamah?  I tell you, you are Lo-Ruhamah!  Yahweh has turned his back on you!”

In contrast, it says in verse 7 that the Lord would have compassion on the Southern Kingdom of Judah and deliver her from such a fate.  Was this to provoke Israel to jealousy?

He said deliverance would come by “Yahweh their God”, perhaps using His own name in this way to impress on the Israelites who their true God was.

He said He would not do this in battle, however.  The Israelites relied on human arms and alliances, but the Judahites trusted in the Lord, generally speaking, so He delivered the Judahites supernaturally.

The Lord delivered them in 701 B.C., by killing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night while they slept encamped around Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:32-36; Isa. 37).  Jerusalem was the only great city that did not fall to the Assyrians during this invasion of Syria-Palestine.  There would be no such reprieve for an impenitent Samaria.

And this would not be the only time when Judah would experience a supernatural deliverance, for this verse likewise points forward to the ultimate “in the last day” when God will fight for His people.

2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle [the battle of Armageddon], and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped.  Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. (Zechariah 14)

From this prediction by Hosea Israel should have realized that God will have compassion on those who trust in Him and do not seek security through their own devices (weapons, alliances).

Are the words of Hosea 14 speaking of present Israel, or future Israel?  If present Israel, then some people “got it” and turned back to God.

1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. 2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.  In you the orphan finds mercy.”

Judah’s sins were not as great as Israel’s at this time.  Judah enjoyed a succession of four “good” kings (Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham), and Hosea may have received this prophecy when Uzziah or Jotham was reigning.

Now, Duane Garret argues that the end of verse 7 best reads from the Hebrew, “I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, I shall completely forgive them.”  That is a jolting statement, similar to what we see in the oracle of Lo-Ammi in verses 8-10.  It is also similar to the pathos of Hosea 11:8

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

So Garrett says, “This inconsistency (first saying one thing, then the opposite) is the language of the vexation of a broken heart—and it also reflects the mystery of a God whose ways are above our ways.

The effect of this, of course, should have led Israel to repentance, just like Jonah’s oracles of Nineveh’s doom did.

The name of the third child signals the final stage of judgment against Israel.  Lo-Ammi, “not my people,” “not mine” signified Yahweh’s divorce from Israel.  From defeat, to deportation, to divorce.  They are totally disowned.

Again, this could possibly indicate that this third child, and possibly the second, were not Hosea’s.  That is debatable, but there is no doubt that the use of this name is the prophet’s means of saying that Israel has broken the covenant relationship and therefore God severs them from the covenant relationship.

The mention of weaning in verse 8 grounds this text in real history and since a child was weaned after two to three years, it may signify that Israel was being given a little more time to comprehend these prophecies and repent.

“Not my people,” however, signals a total change in their status.  Now, they are no longer God’s favored nation, but “just like everyone else,” alienated from God and His covenant promises.  The relationship and covenant between God and Israel is now null and void.

H. Ronald Vandermey notes:

God’s time clock for judgment had but one final alarm: Lo-AmmiJezreel had promised a scattering of the people; Lo-ruhamah, the withdrawal of God’s covenant mercy; and Lo-ammi, the severing of Israel’s peculiar position as God’s covenant nation. (Hosea, Moody Bible Institute, p. 23)

The phrase “you are not my people, and I am not your God” is a reversal of God’s pledge to Israel in Exodus 6:7

7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

This name strikes at the very heart of the covenant that God had made with Israel at Sinai.

Because of his special relationship with them, he would deliver them; now that that relationship is over, judgment will come.

The reality is, that Israel had been acting like it had no relation with God for a long time.  They were not acting as children should, imitating their God, nor were they treating God as their God, instead going after Baals.

All the things that Israel treasured most–their homeland, the mercies of God, a special status with the one true God, were all about to be taken away.

You can listen to Grace Still Amazes on KENA at 7:45 a.m. on Sundays and Saturday at 7 a.m., Sunday at 8 a.m., and starting Sunday January 6, 2018 will also air at 11:45 a.m. on Sundays on KAWX.  Often this posting will be longer and include more material than the radio broadcast, which is 15 minutes.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 11

Today’s Bible readings are Genesis 12, Matthew 11, Nehemiah 1 and Acts 11.

Genesis 12 is the Abrahamic covenant, the foundational covenant of the Old Testament, the basic promise to the Jews.

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

There are seven elements in this promise—seven—suggesting fullness and completeness (cf. 2:2-3): (1) God promised to create “a great nation” through Abram. (2) God promised to “bless” Abram. (3) Abram’s “name” would live on after his lifetime (“I will make your name great”). (4) Abram was (commanded) to “be a blessing” to others. (5) God would “bless those who bless[ed]” Abram. (6) And God would “curse those who curs[ed]” Abram. (7) “All the families of the earth [would] be blessed” through Abram and his descendants. (Thomas Constable)

The promises in Genesis 12:1-3 and 7 are the fountainhead from which the rest of the Pentateuch flows.  One way to categorize them is “posterity (descendants), blessing, and land.”

God progressively revealed more information about each of these promises. He gave more information about the land promise in 13:15, 17; 15:7-8, 18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3-4 (plural “lands”); 28:4, 13; 35:12; 48:4; and 50:24. Repetition of the seed promise occurs in 13:15-16; 15:5; 17:2, 5-10, 13, 16, 19-20; 18:18; 21:12; 22:17-18; 26:3-4, 24; 28:13-14; 32:12; 35:11-12; 46:3; and 48:4 and 16.

Also, the “posterity” promise will be expanded in 2 Samuel 7, through the Davidic covenant.  The “land” promise will be expanded in Deuteronomy 28-30, in what is often called the Palestinian covenant.  The “blessing” aspect is expanded in the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.god's covenants with isreal, adapted from paul benward, understanding end times prophecy

The Abrahamic covenant is unconditional (notice all the “I wills”).  The land covenant and Davidic covenant are somewhat conditional, while the New covenant is unconditional.  Notice that the Mosaic law works alongside these covenants, informing Israel how they can have a relationship with God and enjoy the blessings of these covenants.  It is entirely conditional.

Abraham obeys God, believing His promises.  He left Haran for the land of Canaan.  (The only problem is that he didn’t leave his whole family behind.  He took his nephew lot.)  They came to Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.

wadi farah from the northwest (the way abraham would have come into the land towards shechem)

Wadi Farah, likely Abram’s entrance path into the promised land.

abraham' s entrance into canaan, the history of israel

shechem, bibleatlas

from Bible Atlas online

Shechum is between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, where Joshua will later read the law (Joshua 9).

shechum pano with labels, sourceflix

Possibly the oak of Moreh?

elon moreh (possibly the oak where abram built his altar_), biblewalks

Here Abram worshipped:

7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”  So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

There is a good view of the land from here.

Abram then over to Bethel, between Bethel and Ai.

abraham between bethel and ai

Here again…

And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. (v. 8)

From there, Abram went to the Negeb/Negev, which is down south and is basically desert.  Beautiful, but desert.

Negev Desert

Then there was a famine in the land, and Abram went to Egypt.  There he lied about Sarah (self-preservation).  God still, graciously, blessed Abram–protecting Sarah and making him wealthy.

Matthew 11 is the beginning of the turning point in the Gospel of Matthew.  Each gospel has a turning point where Jesus is rejected by the religious leaders and turns His face towards Jerusalem and spends more time with His smaller group of disciples.   Chapters 11-13 record Israel’s rejection of her Messiah and its consequences.

Matthew 11 begins with the doubts of John the Baptist (11:1-6).  Even deeply devoted followers of Jesus have times of doubt.  But Jesus assured him that the miraculous works proved who He was.  Jesus affirmed John’s greatness (11:7-11), but indicated that even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.

What is meant by verse 12?

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

It is most likely that the verb biazetai is in the passive tense.  Probably Jesus meant that the religious leaders of His day were trying to bring in the kingdom in their own, carnal way, while refusing to accept God’s way that John and Jesus announced.

So Thomas Constable writes…

This view explains satisfactorily Jesus’ reference to the period from the beginning of John’s ministry to when He spoke.  Ever since John began his ministry of announcing Messiah, the Jewish religious leaders had opposed him.  Moreover, in 23:13, Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of trying to seize the reins of kingdom power from Messiah, to lead the kingdom as they wanted it to go.  They also snatched (took “by force”) the kingdom from the people by rejecting, and eventually crucifying, the Messiah.  The imprisonment of John was another evidence of violent antagonism against the kingdom, but that opposition came from Herod Antipas.  John and Jesus both eventually died at the hands of these violent men.

Verses 16-19 is like Jesus is saying, “You can’t win for losing.”  They didn’t like John’s more austere ways, nor Jesus’ more convivial ways.

So Jesus begins to pronounce judgment upon the nation, saying that what they had seen and heard meant greater judgment for them.  Greater light means more severe judgment for rejecting it!

Jesus gives a wonderful invitation at the end of Matthew 11, but prefaces it by saying that only those whom the Father chose would hear it and respond.  Notice that it in verse 26 it says that it is God’s “gracious will” that reveals the truth to some and conceals it from others.  While verses 25-27 express the priority of God’s choice, verses 28-30 are an appeal to our own volition.  Will you come and find rest?

Nehemiah is a book about rebuilding the walls.  The temple had been built under Zerubabbel and Shealtiel, under the encouraging of Haggai and Zechariah.  Now it was time to rebuild the walls.  Nehemiah is also a great book about leadership.

CHRONOLOGY OF THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH

445 Nehemiah learned of conditions in Jerusalem and requested a leave of absence from Artaxerxes.
444 He led the Jews to Jerusalem. Repairs on the wall of Jerusalem began. The Jews completed rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah promoted spiritual renewal among the returnees.
443  
442  
441  
440  
439  
438  
437  
436  
435  
434  
433  
432 Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes, ending his 12 years as governor of Judah. Malachi may have prophesied in Jerusalem.
431 Nehemiah may have returned to Jerusalem and begun his second term as governor. More religious reforms apparently began.
430  
429  
428  
427  
426  
425  
424  
423 Darius II began to reign.

 

Return First Second Third
Reference Ezra 1-6 Ezra 7-10 Nehemiah 1-13
Date 538 B.C. 458 B.C. 444 B.C.
Leaders Sheshbazzar

Zerubbabel

Ezra Nehemiah
Persian King Cyrus Artaxerxes Langimanus
Elements of the decree As many as wished could return and rebuild the temple. As many as wished could return and complete the temple.  Allowed to have civil magistrates Allowed to rebuild the walls around the city.
Related events Work begun but then halted until 516 B.C. Problems with intermarriage Wall rebuilt in 52 days
Prophets Zechariah

Haggai

Malachi

The years of history the book covers are 445–431 B.C., or perhaps a few years after that.

The walls of the city had lain in ruins since 586 B.C.  At that time Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, breached them, entered Jerusalem, burned the temple, carried most of the remaining Jews off to Babylon, and knocked the walls down.  Consequently the few Jews who remained could not defend themselves (2 Kings 25:1-11).  The returned exiles had attempted to rebuild the walls in or shortly after 458 B.C., but that project failed because of local opposition (Ezra 4:12, 23).

Nehemiah received a report from Hanani about the condition of the walls in Jerusalem.

The lack of city walls left Jerusalem vulnerable to attack at any moment.  Also, it communicated that there was nothing important about Jerusalem.  It would not only produce constant distress, but disgrace as well.

So what did Nehemiah do?  Well, nothing right?  After all, he lived many, many miles away.  There was nothing he could do about the news reports on TV.

Nehemiah had the heart of Psalm 137:5-6If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.

No, Nehemiah wept and mourned and fasted and prayed (Nehemiah 1:4).  He poured out his heart to God in prayer (vv. 5-11).  Leaders listen to reports, even bad news, without shooting the messenger.  Leaders know that their first job is to define reality (Max Depree).  Then, he gets involved.  He gets involved emotionally and mentally.  He prays to God, exalting God (v. 5), confessing sins (vv. 6-7), reminding God of His promises (vv. 8-10) and asking God for help (v. 11).

Notice that Nehemiah had come to realize that he had to be a part of the answer to his prayers.  He couldn’t stand back and hope someone else would do it.

Nehemiah did this–weeping and praying and fasting (maybe not all the time) for four months!

Charles Fensham reminds us…

“With the expression this man at the end of the prayer Nehemiah shows the big difference between his reverence for his God and his conception of his master, the Persian king. In the eyes of the world Artaxerxes was an important person, a man with influence, who could decide on life or death.  In the eyes of Nehemiah, with his religious approach, Artaxerxes was just a man like any other man.  The Lord of history makes the decisions, not Artaxerxes [cf. Proverbs 21:1).”

Charles Swindoll noted four qualities that Nehemiah demonstrated in this chapter that are typical of effective Christian leaders:

  1. He had a clear recognition of the need.
  2. He was personally concerned with the need.
  3. He went to God first with the need.
  4. He was available to meet the need.

In Acts 11 Peter has to explain why he went to the home of a Gentile and how it could be possible that Gentiles should now be included in the body of Christ.  He recounts exactly what happened, step by step, then says…

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Peter acknowledged that the Gentiles had received the “same gift” of the Holy Spirit as when they believed.  Thus, this was God’s plan and work.  And aren’t we glad?!?

18 When they heard these things they fell silent.  And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

I don’t know if they cringed as they reluctantly confessed this new reality, or if they were exultant, but it makes me want to jump for joy!

Verses 19-30 record the establishment of a church in Antioch, which would become (Acts 13) a missionary sending church.  Here is where Barnabas and Saul teamed up for the first time.

I love verse 23…

23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,

That, in a nutshell, is discipleship–rejoicing in what God’s grace has done, and exhorting new believers to “remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”

In “Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).  “Christian” is the most common term we use in referring to ourselves, but it was not the first term or the most common.  Disciple was.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 10

Today’s reading are from Genesis 11, Matthew 10, Ezra 10 and Acts 10.

Genesis 11 is about the tower of Babel, the line of Shem, especially focusing on Abram’s family, preparing us for the story of God’s covenant with Abram, Isaac and Jacob.

Image result for genesis book chart

One can see from Swindoll’s book chart of Genesis that the first eleven chapters focus on four great events, while chapters 12-50 focus on four great men.  We are now at the turning point of the book of Genesis.

The problem (sin) which caused God to divide humanity into different languages is found in Genesis 11:4

4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

the anu ziggurat at uruk, with former height superimposed

The basic sin seems to be “make a name for ourselves,” establish our authority and importance.  It may be another way of becoming “god-like,” taking His throne and being independent of God.  They wanted to empower themselves.  They were proud and arrogant.  God opposes the proud.

Also, God had instructed Adam (Gen. 1:28) and Noah (Gen. 9:1) to multiply and fill the earth, not congregate in one place.  Their unity was not a God-sanctioned, God-given unity, but a unity that would likely challenge God’s place, just like the end times unity under the Antichrist.

Interestingly enough God would “make a name” for Abram (Genesis 12:2-3).  Just like becoming like God is God’s desire for us, just not Satan’s way (Gen. 3), so having a name (importance, honor) is God’s desire, just not the world’s way (Genesis 11, 12).

I was listening to and old episode of Russell Moore’s Signposts podcast yesterday and he was interviewing Michael Card.  Michael said something like, “If Satan cannot get us to do bad, he will get us to do good in a bad way.”

The builders undoubtedly expected to ascend to heaven to meet God. Instead, God descended to earth to meet them (“The LORD came down to see the city and the tower”).  God’s soliloquy (“Come, let Us go down . . .”) in this verse mimics the language of the tower builders in verses 3 and 4 (“Come let us build . . .”; cf. 1:26).  The tower was so puny that He had to come “down” to see it (cf. Isaiah 40:22)!

Down in vv. 27 and 31 we come across the name Haran, first a brother to Abram (v. 27) and then a name of a place (v. 31).

location of haran in mesopotamia, leon mauldin

This map from Bible Atlas shows some of the ancient cities, including Haran.  Ur would be further down river from Babylon.  Was the city Haran named after Abram’s brother?

beehive houses in haran

Houses in Haran today.  Wikipedia.org

31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

Notice that it was Terah who took the lead, intending to take his family “into the land of Canaan,” but they stopped short.  Was Terah a follower of Yahweh?  A monotheist?  We don’t know.  But Abram is and will continue the journey to “the land of Canaan.”

abraham travels (genesis 11)

In Matthew 10 Jesus sends out His disciples on a mission trip, preparing them for the inevitability of persecution.  One of the factors often missing in our discipleship today is “on the job training” or practical experiences.  Jesus did missions, then he sent His disciples on a mission trip.  In Luke’s gospel he sends them out twice, in chapters 9 and 10.

Jesus chooses 12 disciples (Matthew 10:1-4), sends them to the people of Israel (10:5-6), tells them what they are to do (10:7-8a), instructs them how they are to provide for themselves (10:8b-15) and then prepares them for persecution (10:16-42).  They will suffer like their master, but be rewarded for it.

Ezra 10 recounts the action on the part of the people to put away foreign wives.  Marrying foreign wives would soon cause them to adopt foreign gods.  The verse at the end of the chapter says…

44 All these had married foreign women, and some of the women had even borne children.

The list of men prior to this verse shows how widespread was the contagion.

Acts 10 recounts the spread of the gospel and the inclusion in the church of the Gentiles.  Acts 10:1-8 tells how God heard Cornelius’ prayer and told him to send for Peter.  Acts 10:9-23 indicates how God prepared Peter to actually go into the home of a Gentile (no longer unclean).

28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.

In Acts 10:24-48 Peter and Cornelius confirm how God had led them to this time and place, and Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius.  In vv. 34-35 Peter says…

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Now inclusivists would like us to understand by this that God had already accepted Cornelius and that that was all that was needed.  He didn’t need to hear about Christ and respond in belief in Christ, just general faith was enough.

However, Peter goes on to share the gospel and it is only after Cornelius believes and the Holy Spirit comes upon him that his salvation is made evident.

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.  Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

We had said back in Acts 8, that the gospel was being proclaimed and the church was being established first in Jerusalem (Acts 2), then in Judea-Samaria (Acts 8) and now to the Gentiles (Acts 10).  In both cases when these new groups of people (both hated by the Jews) accepted Christ, they were baptized by the Holy Spirit in the presence of leading apostles and other Jews (v. 45, “the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter”) so that it could be confirmed, as indeed it will be in Acts 11, to the Jews who had first believed in Jerusalem.

Remember that Phillip had witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.  He had received Christ and had been baptized in water, but the Spirit was not visibly poured out on him because it was not witnessed by an apostle.

What happened in Cornelius’ house was “the Pentecost of the Gentile world.” By pouring out His Spirit on these Gentiles, God showed that—in His sight—Jews and Gentiles were equal.  The Jew had no essential advantage over the Gentile in entering the church. God observes no distinction in race when it comes to becoming a Christian (cf. Eph. 2:11—3:12).

The Ethiopian eunuch was probably a descendant of Ham, Saul was a descendant of Shem, and Cornelius was a descendant of Japheth (cf. Gen. 10).  Thus, with the record of their conversions in chapters 8—10, Luke told us that the church is equally accessible to all branches of the human family.

Genesis 24:28-26:35

This is from the “straight through Bible reading plan” for today.

Genesis 24 is the account of Abraham’s servant going back to the land of Paddan-aram (Genesis 25:20) to get a wife for Isaac.

Genesis 24 fills us in on what Laban was focused upon in these verses…

30 As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had [oh yeah also] heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring.

Laban’s greed is evident throughout his whole story.

Notice how specific the servant’s prayer was…

42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘LORD, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the LORD has chosen for my master’s son.’

He wasn’t satisfied with a quick, “Lord, please bless me,” but expected a specific response from the young woman who came to draw water.  That way he could watch to see if his prayer was answered.

When we pray specifically and see God answer in just that way, then our hearts are filled with worship (Genesis 24:48).

Laban and family didn’t likely know of God’s promise to Abraham, to make his descendants as numerous as the stars (repeated in 26:4)…

17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,

but they said something similar…

60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.”

As I was reading of the sons of Abraham through his second wife, Keturah, in Genesis 25:2

2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.

I wondered if Midian was the same as the place where Moses went after killing the Egyptian.  Moses did send them to “the land of the east” (25:6).

Image result for midian

Geni.com

It is accepted fact that Midian lay southeast of Israel and it was, in fact, the place where Moses went to escape Egypt.

Gulf of Suez and Southern Sinai Peninsula

https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney2/25-the-israelites-journey-from-egypt-to-mt-sinai/prince-moses-escapes-to-midian/

The description of where the sons of Ishmael, the Arabs, lived, is somewhat ambiguous

18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria.

That would seem to be in the same vicitnity as the Midianites and other sons of Abraham.

Genesis 25 describes Rebekah’s inability to bear children, then the birth of Esau and Jacob.  Esau was the firstborn, but despised his birthright by selling it for a pot of beans.  Jacob valued the birthright, but schemed to get it.

Then, in Genesis 26, Jacob (and Rebekah’s) scheming got Jacob the blessing from his blind father.  Somehow, it seems to me that something deeper kept Isaac from realizing that this man he was touching was not Esau.

Hebrews 12 says this about Esau…

16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The opportunity had passed Esau by.  He didn’t appreciate the blessings he had, but traded them for temporary pleasures.  Jacob valued spiritual blessings, but got them the wrong way.  Both of them were failures.

Paul explains that God was gracious to Jacob, though he (and we) didn’t deserve it.  Romans 9…

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls– 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Paul goes on to answer the objection that this whole situation was “unjust” in Romans 9:14-16.

Isaac, faced with a famine (Genesis 26), was told by God not to go down to Egypt.  Isaac went to Gerar, which was about on the edge of the land promised to Abraham.

 

Image result for Gerar

https://headwatersresources.org/jacob-in-the-land-of-canaan-genesis-33-35/

Like father, like son, Isaac lied about his wife to king Abimelech.  With disputes about wells with the Philistines, Isaac went to Rehoboth, and then finally back up to Beersheba (Genesis 26:22-23).  There God renewed the covenant with him…

24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”

I wonder how many bad marriages have “made life bitter” (Genesis 26:34-35) for Dad and Mom?  And, of course for the person who got married.

 

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 9

Today’s Bible readings are from Genesis 9-10, Matthew 9, Ezra 9 and Acts 9.

Genesis 9-10 are about Noah’s sons and the “table of nations.”  After the flood, Noah and his sons were blessed by God, told they could now eat meat (and I assume until then everyone, including animals, were vegetarians), and that they were to hold the blood precious.  They should neither drink the blood of animals or shed the blood of man.

Verse 6 is where we get the idea for capital punishment…

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Genesis 9:6)

God promises that He will never again bring a global flood upon the earth, testified to by the rainbow (Genesis 9:8-17).

An introduction to the nations is given in vv. 18-19

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

and then the sin of Ham occurs (Genesis 9:20-29).  Noah gets drunk, Ham sees his nakedness and told his brothers.  They cover his nakedness without looking.  Ham is cursed and Shem and Japheth are blessed.  Then Noah dies.

Genesis 10 records the descendants of Japheth, Ham and Shem.  Here is a genealogical table (genealogical table of the descendants of noah, lambert dolphin) and here is a map.

This map is from Martin Luther.

Here is another map from Bible History Online…

Image result for table of nations

Significant to Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel is this description of one of the sons of Ham…

8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD.  Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Matthew 9 is a collection of miracles performed by Jesus, which often raised the ire of the Pharisees and they frequently challenged him.  Does he have the authority to forgive sins? (9:1-8)  Why do you associate with sinners? (9:9-13)  Then a question from his own disciples (9:14-17), followed by three healing miracles (9:18-31) and casting out a demon (9:32-33), at which the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons” (9:34).

This chapter ends by noting Jesus’ compassion and His desire for His disciples to take notice of the potential harvest of souls…

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

In Ezra 9 Ezra is confronted with the situation of Israelites intermarrying with Canaanites.  The issue is not inter-racial marriage, but the reality that marrying Canaanites had historically proven to be deadly to one’s spiritual life and devotion to the one true God.

Ezra prays a prayer of confession, noting Israel’s guilt and God’s grace throughout their history, and even now.  I love what he says in verse 13, that You “have punished us less than our iniquities deserved…”  In the face of such mercy, dare we break Your commandments again???

Acts 9 recounts the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.  Since chapters 1-12 are basically the story of Peter, this scene with Paul is merely an interlude.  Peter’s story is resumed in 9:32-43, preparing us for chapters 10-11 and the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.

The gospel to Saul was simply,

4b “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Apparently Saul already knew enough about Jesus to put 2 and 2 together, for as soon as he regained his sight, he argued that Jesus was the Son of God everywhere he went!

Hosea and Amos

Hosea and Amos were both prophets to the northern kingdom.  Hosea picked up the mantle from Amos.  John Phillips, in Exploring the Old Testament Book by Book contrasts the two:

Amos thundered out the righteousness of God; Hosea wept out the mercy of God.

Amos took the heathen nations into his prophecy; Hosea limited his utterances to Israel, with occasional reference to Judah.

The style of Amos is clear and lucid, his illustrations drawn from the countryside; Hosea style dispenses short, sharp sentences, his broken home giving him ample illustration to convey the truths that were heavy on his heart.

Hosea is the prophet of outraged love–that love which never lets go; the love that many waters cannot quench; the love that suffers long and is kind.

Amos is the prophet of law, but Hosea had no such unhampered vision of great laws.  He was the prophet of love.  He tells us that in its deepest aspect, sin breaks not merely God’s law, it breaks His heart.

p. 317

New Morning Mercies, January 6-8

Here are some quotes from Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies from the last three days:

The contented heart is satisfied with the Giver and is therefore freed from craving the next gift. (January 6)

I need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit living inside me because sin kidnaps the desires of my heart, blinds my eyes, and weakens my knees.  My problem is not just the guilt of sin; it’s the inability of sin as well.  So God graces his children with the convicting, sight-giving, desire-producing and strength-affording presence of the Spirit. (January 7)

I don’t know how much you’ve thought about this, but faith isn’t natural for you and me.  Doubt is natural.  Fear is natural.  Living on the basis of your collected experience is natural.  Pushing the current catalog of personal “what-ifs” through your mind before you go to sleep or when you wake up in the morning is natural.  Envying the life of someone else and wondering why it isn’t your life is natural.  Wishing that you were more sovereign over people, situations, and locations than you will ever be is natural.  Manipulating your way into personal control so you can guarantee that you will get what you think you need is natural.  Looking horizontally for the peace that you will only ever find vertically is natural.  Anxiously wishing for change in things that you have no ability to change is natural.  Giving way to despondency, discouragement, depression, and despair is natural.  Numbing yourself with busyness, material things, media, food, or some other substance is natural.  Lowering your standards to deal with your disappointment is natural.  But faith simply isn’t natural to us.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 8

Today’s readings are from Genesis 8, Matthew 8, Ezra 8 and Acts 8.

“God remembered Noah,” what precious words.  More specifically, God remembered to do good to Noah for his faith and obedience.

In Genesis 19:29 God remembered Abraham and even though he did not specifically ask for Lot and his family to be saved from the destruction of Sodom, God delivered them.  He knew what was in Abraham’s heart that caused him to intercede for the people of Sodom, primarily the preservation of his nephew Lot.  In Genesis 30:22 God remembered Rachel and opened her womb to conceive.  In Exodus 2:24, God heard the cries of the Israelites in bondage and remembered His covenant with Abraham.  This is re-emphasized in Exodus 6:5.  In 1 Samuel 1:19 God remembered Hannah, and she was able to conceive.  Psalm 115:12 is plural, God has “remembered us.”

Several times God remembers His love or His promises.

Because God remembered Noah and his family, the waters receded and “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4).

greater ararat, ferrell jenkins

A photo of Mount Ararat, by Ferrell Jenkins.  Go to his site, Ferrell’s Travel Blog for years of research articles and photographs from Israel, Egypt, Asia Minor and the Mediterranean area.

Verse 20 is another painful reminder that our sinfulness can only be atoned through a sacrifice.  More than likely, these animals had become “pets.”

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

In God’s promise not to judge all humanity with a catastrophe like this again, he acknowledges that man’s heart has not changed.

21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.

In Matthew 8 we have Jesus performing his first miracles, to verify that He is indeed the king of the Jews.

I like the prayer (request) of the leper…

2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

He didn’t demand that Jesus heal him.  He didn’t “name it and claim it.”  He fully believed that God could heal him, but he submitted to God’s will.  He left it up to Jesus.  He presented his request fully believing that God could heal him, but acknowledged his dependence upon God’s will.  This is the balance we need in prayer–fully confident that God can, but completely submissive to whether He will.

Jesus’ first words about hell (the lake of fire), though by no means his last, are in Matthew 8:12.  He calls it…

the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What is meant by “outer darkness”?  Maybe simply that unlike those invited in to the banquet, they would be left outside, alienated from the “party.”

How can this place be “dark” and “fiery” at the same time?  Or is it referring to two levels of judgment–one for those who were ignorant (darkness) vs. those enlightened?

Thomas Constable notes:

Jesus shocked His hearers by announcing three facts about the kingdom.  First, not all Jews would participate in it.  Second, many Gentiles would.  Third, entrance depended on faith in Jesus, not on ancestry, the faith that the centurion demonstrated.

Verse 34 (Matthew 8) is surprising and shocking…

34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

We look at the amazing miracle done to turn this man’s life around completely and would expect them to beg him to stay; they looked at the profit loss from pigs (which they should have anyway, unclean) and begged him to leave.  As someone has said, “they preferred pigs to persons, swine to the Savior.”

Apparently Ezra’s return to Jerusalem was delayed due to not finding any Levites among the returnees (Ezra 8:15).  So they sent for some to return with them and they were successful because of “the good hand of our God on us” (Ezra 8:18).  They celebrated Passover before going (Ezra 8:21).

“It is emphasized that the date of departure from Babylon was carefully calculated to take place on the first day of the first month, though in the event they could leave only on the twelfth day due to the need to recruit Levites ( Ezra 8:31).  While the point is not made explicitly, this arrangement implies that the Ezra caravan, like the Israelites of old, marked their departure with the celebration of Passover (cf Exodus 12:1Numbers 33:3), and that therefore this second episode in the restoration of the commonwealth begins in the same way that the first ends.” [Note: Joseph Blenkinsopp, “A Theological Reading of Ezra –Nehemiah.” Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 12 (1989):29.]

Ezra’s refusal to depend upon an armed escort despite the large amount of gold they were carrying displayed genuine faith.  We need to remember this.  Like Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac, our faith needs to be put to the test and stand the test.

“It is well to affirm faith, as many Christians do regularly in the creeds.  Yet it is salutary to ask whether anything that one ever does actually requires faith.” (NOTE: McConville, p. 58)

What is the last thing I’ve done that required faith?  How about you?

Here is the way Ezra states it…

22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him”  23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

If we’ve stated to others that God can be depended upon, then we need to act like it.

Acts 8 records the church finally going to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8) due to persecution.  God had to kick them out of their Christian ghetto in Jerusalem.  So Philip “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (Acts 8:5).  Many of them believed, because they heard the gospel and saw miracles and were baptized.  But they had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  Why didn’t the Holy Spirit baptize them when they first believed?  Because leading apostles from Jerusalem needed to witness it and verify that the Samaritans (remember they were the antagonists early in the book of Ezra) were part of the same body of Christ, the newly-founded church.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

We will see something similar happen in Acts 10 when Cornelius believes and receives the Spirit.  There, he receives the Spirit immediately, but that is because Peter is already there on the scene to witness it.

Normally, the Spirit baptizes a person into Christ the moment they believe (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 8:9).

Philip, the evangelist, formerly a deacon, was available to go wherever God called (and took) him!

30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

I had the exact same thing happen to me in Switzerland in 1978.  I was waiting for a train, reading my Bible, when someone approached me and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Being in Bible College at the time, I said yes, but I wonder what kind of person that was.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 7

Today’s readings are from Genesis 7, Matthew 7, Ezra 7 and Acts 7.

Genesis 7 records the flood.  That it was global is clear from verse 19, where it says…

19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.

flood chart (genesis 7-8)

Noah and his family, and the animals that gathered to the ark, were the only ones who survived.  Note in verse 16 that it says that “the LORD shut them in.”  God made them safe and secure in the Ark, just as He makes us safe and secure in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 7 finishes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  It begins with the verse that has superceded John 3:16 as the most well known verse in American society–“Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Of course, from the context we know that this was not meant to exclude all judgment, but to be careful in our judgment.  To get the speck out of our brother’s eye, we have to judge.  There is judgment being made in not casting one’s pearls before swine.

What an encouragement to pray is verse 11, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Since our earthly fathers give us good gifts, “how much more” will our Heavenly Father!  All we have to do is ask!

I’ve always thought, when comparing the narrow and broad paths (Matthew 7:13-14), that the narrow path led in one direction and the broad path in the opposite direction.  But in reality, the broad path could be all around the narrow path, on every side, since upon the broad path are religious unbelievers who look, act, dress and speak a lot like true believers.

It is scary to think that people in ministry, who do even miraculous things, can be unsaved.  It is possible to be deceived about one’s salvation (Matthew 7:21-23).

Ezra 7 speaks of the return of Ezra (and others) to the land of Israel.  Even though the book begins with the first return under Zerubbabel, Ezra doesn’t come until 57 years later.

Ezra’s priestly pedigree is first established (Ezra 7:1-6a), then his spiritual credibility (Ezra 6:b, “and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”), then his teaching pattern (Ezra 7:10).  And lastly, a letter of recommendation from the king (7:11-26).

This is a great pattern for any teacher of God’s Word…

10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

Study…do…teach.

“The order is very significant, for you cannot effectively practice what you have not thoroughly learned, and you cannot convincingly teach what you have not practically applied.” [Note: Laney, p52.]

Ezra then gives thanks for all the “loyal love” God had shown to him (Ezra 7:27-28).

Acts 7 is Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin.  He first recounts Israel’s history.  I wonder if his mentioned of Moses (their hero) being rejected (Acts 7:24-28) and then again in the wilderness, was meant to set up a statement about them rejecting their Messiah.  But Stephen didn’t get that far.  He directed a stinging rebuke against them that they did not even keep their own law (reinforcing the bad news that they were sinners) and they rushed him and stoned him.

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

In his death, Stephen imitates our Lord, surrendering his spirit (Acts 7:59) and asking God to forgive his murderers (Acts 7:60).

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 6

Today’s readings are from Genesis 6, Matthew 6, Ezra 6 and Acts 6.

Genesis 6 is the beginning of the flood narrative (Genesis 6-8).  Verse 5 is a good description of total depravity…

5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

In the midst of judgment, Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).  Was that favor/grace free?  Or was it because “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9)?  Was it because Noah “did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22)?

“The same explanation for Enoch”s rescue from death (“he walked with God”) is made the basis for Noah”s rescue from death in the Flood: “he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).  Thus in the story of Noah and the Flood, the author is able to repeat the lesson of Enoch: life comes through “walking with God.”” [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 119.]

Matthew 6 is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, dealing first with righteous that is performed “in order to be seen/noticed” and therefore praised.  I can remember Dr. Stanley Toussaint, a professor I had for a Summer class at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, every time he would say “paid in full,” would pound the desk to emphasize–this is all you get!  But righteousness done in secret, seen only by God, will be rewarded by Him.

The last part of Matthew 6 deals with worry.  Three times Jesus says “do not be anxious” (25, 31, 34). But he doesn’t stop there. Jesus is interested in more than handing down commands. He wants to get at our hearts.

So Jesus gave His followers 7 reasons we shouldn’t worry.  First, life is more important than the things of life (v. 25).  Second, you’re more important to God than the lillies and the birds, but He makes sure they have what they need (v. 26).  Third, it doesn’t accomplish anything!  Nothing gets better by worrying (v. 27).  Fourth, God really does care about you (vv. 28-29).  Fifth, worry is what pagans do.  In other words, it’s an act of unbelief! (vv. 30-32a).  Sixth, what is even more important is the kingdom.  Seek it (v. 33).  Seventh, grace comes each day.  For today’s troubles you have today’s grace.  Tomorrow’s grace will come tomorrow (v. 34).

Years ago I heard Phil Keaggy sing this song:

Worry is assuming responsibility for things that are out of our control. That

Years ago I heard Phil Keaggy sing this song:

Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”

And here is a great bedtime song for worriers, sung by the Haven of Rest Quartet:

Ezra 6 plays out one of the Proverbs.

Proverbs 26:27 says…

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.

In other words, when you plan evil against God and His people, it will come back to bite you!  The letter that Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai had sent, trying to get the Israelites in trouble for rebuilding the wall, declaring that they had no authority to do this, was turned on its head.  Darius found the decress which Cyrus had made (because God had stirred his spirit, Ezra 1:__) and made Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai support the building project by getting out of the way and providing animals for sacrifice.

Verse 14 says…

They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia;

Notice what came first, the “decree of the God of Israel…”

The Passover was eaten “by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Acts 6 records the internal problem of some people being neglected.  Deacons were chosen to serve them, and at least two of those deacons, Stephen and Philip would do much more than merely waiting tables.  Stephen began preaching Christ and he was brought before the council, the Sanhedrin.