Category Archives: Jesus on Every Page

Daniel: God’s Kingdom is Supreme

DANIEL
is the revelation of
GOD’S KINGDOM
in which God is
SUPREME.

God’s Kingdom in Exile (ch. 1)

The beginning of the book is similar to a dystopian novel: it begins with teenagers, in their most formative years, being brainwashed by a godless system and society. Nonetheless, Daniel’s steadfastness in prayer is a bulwark to his faith (6:10), and he and his friends live on in exile, not without pain, but without stain.

In their first examination, they were found “ten times better” than the pagan magicians of Babylon (1:20). Not only in his spiritual life, but in his intellectual life, his social life, and his work life, “they could find no charge or fault.” (6:4) Joseph Parker said in a sermon on Daniel, “Men are influential not according to their numbers, but according to their convictions.”⁠1 Daniel was thus enabled to influence several pagan kings and kingdoms, even as a minority in exile.

Jesus came to his own, and his own didn’t receive him. Until the ushering of a new era, exile is the natural state of righteousness on this earth. Other religions may come with political theories; the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36-7), and comes not with observation (Luke 17:20-21).

Revelations and Revelation (ch. 2)

The key confession of Daniel’s prophecy is that of Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan Babylonian king: “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery” (2:47). For Nebuchadnezzar, divine revelation is evidence of the superiority of Israel’s God.

Daniel’s tale mirrors that of Joseph quite closely. In Daniel’s case, God’s revelation saved him from death and brought him an exalted position. Revelation is heavenly; it comes from another realm. God is able to reveal even another’s dreams, if it serves providence. Every secret bows to God’s kingdom.

He Is God of Gods (ch. 3, 6)

The Lord’s supremacy over other gods is demonstrated in his deliverance of his people. Daniel and his friends are not persecuted because of cultural insensitivity, or issues of religious form, but specifically because they were public proclaimers of the God of Daniel. God delivers them both because he cares about them and because they are proclaimers of his glory.

In ch. 2, God shows mercy to Daniel and his friends (2:18) by revealing the king’s dream; in ch. 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rejected the Babylonian gods with impunity; their God was with them in the furnace. Likewise, in ch. 6, Daniel prays to his own God rather than Babylon’s; again he is punished, but with God as his defender. God’s deliverance reinforces the point that, even in exile, even among lawlessness and corrupt kingdom, God holds sway.

He Is Lord of Kings (ch. 4-5)

God’s supremacy over human kings and kingdoms is demonstrated in almost every passage of Daniel. God’s sovereignty does not mean that he cannot be rejected in working his will, but that he is not constrained in working his counsel. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in ch. 2 illustrates the supremacy of God’s kingdom.

The shaming of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4) and the “writing on the wall” of Belshazzar (ch. 5) teach the same lesson: “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (4:25, 32).

He Is Revealer of Mysteries (ch. 7-12)

Daniel’s Second Vision

The apocalyptic section of Daniel consists primarily of three visions. The first vision (ch. 7) is about four beasts, and it is the most uncontroversial of his visions, since it can be connected to Daniel’s first vision in ch. 2. One of Daniel’s guides explains that the beasts symbolize “kings” (7:17), and Bible interpreters have further identified these as four kingdoms: Neo-Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman. Again, this prophetic vision concludes with a statement of God’s supremacy over all kingdoms (7:14, 18, 27).

The vision is interrupted, too, by a vision of “one like a son of man” (7:13). “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (7:14). Jesus identifies himself as this figure before the high priest at his trial (Mark 14:62). (See the motif study on “The Son of Man.”)

Daniel’s Third Vision

Daniel’s third vision (ch. 8) involves a ram and a goat, symbolizing the Medo-Persian and Greek kingdoms (8:20-21). Like Daniel’s second vision, it includes some very clear interpretive guidelines (8:15-26).

Daniel’s Prayer

In ch. 9, Daniel repents on behalf of his people. His fasting and repentance is intimately  connected to his prophetic understanding of current events, based on the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10). Although God had even orchestrated the timing, he wanted Daniel to cry out on behalf of his people. What an encouraging thought about prayer!

When Gabriel answers Daniel’s prayer, he tells him, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place” (9:24). Based on the work of Sir Robert Anderson in the 19th century, this is believed to date from Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 B.C., to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Daniel’s Fourth Vision

Daniel’s fourth vision begins with a terrifying vision of Christ (ch. 10). Matthew Henry writes of this vision, “Let us admire his condescension for us and our salvation. The greatest and best of men cannot bear the full discoveries of the Divine glory; but glorified saints see Christ as he is, and can bear the sight.”⁠2

Daniel’s fourth and last apocalyptic vision (ch. 10-12) is more intricate and controversial than those that precede it, in particular in ch. 11, which deals with the kings of the south and the north. Unlike his other visions, Daniel’s guide doesn’t give him much guidance in understanding this vision (see 12:9).

The vision of the Daniel 11 deals with either Antiochus Epiphanes, who defiled the temple during the Maccabean period; or the Antichrist who has yet to come; or both. This debate extends back many centuries. This is probably the most detailed prophecy in the entire Old Testament, to the extent that secular scholarship (since the third century A.D.) seeks to place the dating of Daniel after the events he described concerning Antiochus Epiphanes (known as the “Maccabean thesis”). It is interesting that Nonetheless, as Daniel’s guide says, “The words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (12:9).

Study Recommendations

For thoughts on success in exile, read The Daniel Files by Winkie Pratney.

David Cross usefully relates Daniel 1-6 to tentmaking missions in his book, Work of Influence.

Irving Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament has helpful charts on the prophetic sections of Daniel, although several resources should be consulted, since theologians are not unanimous on some points.

1 Ezekiel and Daniel. Volume 19 of The People’s Bible. Kindle edition. Location 3863.

2 Matthew Henry on Daniel 10.

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Lamentations: A Guide out of Grief

 LAMENTATIONS
is a book about
GRIEF
in which God shows his
COMPASSION.

Introduction

Lamentations is a cycle of five separate poems (comprising five chapters in most modern versions) about the fall of Jerusalem, 9th of Ab, 586BC.⁠1 This important event is recorded in four places in the Old Testament. The Babylonian siege resulted in horrific human suffering as well as the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Jeremiah’s poetic account implies not only murder and starvation (4:9), but rape (5:11) and even cannibalism (2:20, 4:10).

The fuller title of the book is sometimes “The Lamentations of Jeremiah,” but in Hebrew its title is simply the interjection “how!” from the first verse: “How empty lies the city!” The poem’s conclusion is just as bleak as the beginning; however, the “weeping prophet” (as Jeremiah is sometimes called) does make some sense out of their suffering in the course of the poem, and points to his hope in God’s enduring faithfulness.

Communal Suffering, Communal Repentance

Suffering and grief in the Lamentations are communal. Throughout the first poem (ch. 1), Jerusalem is allegorized as a friendless widow, defiled and deceived. The prophet laments not just personally, but on behalf of the great capital, Jerusalem. His poems encompass men and women, old and young (2:21), king and princes (2:9), and prophets.

Repentance likewise must be communal. Jeremiah confesses and repents on the people’s behalf (1:18). Like Moses (33:1-17, 34:9) and Ezra (9:5-10:4) before him  and Daniel after him (Dan. 9:1-19), Jeremiah repents vicariously on behalf of the people, standing in the gap as their representative before God in his prayer. By interceding before God for Israel, these prophets point to Christ who “lives to intercede” (Heb. 7:25; see Rom. 8:34, etc.). 

God’s Righteous Judgment

Jeremiah is unapologetic about two things: First, God brought this about (2:17); second, we deserved it (3:37-38, 5:7). In the first poem, he sings: “The LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (1:5, ESV). Again, he writes: “The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word” (1:18, ESV; compare Ezra 9:15, Neh. 9:33).

No matter how dark times get, an attitude of humility should always lead us to these two conclusions: God is still at work, and righteousness leads to an attitude of repentance.

Suffering: Did God Cause It?

First, God is always at work, even in the worst of times.  “The LORD has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago” (2:17, ESV). “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it” (3:37, ESV)? Everywhere in the poem, God’s agency is acknowledged, especially in passages like 1:12-15, 2:1-8, 3:1-17, 42-45, 56-61 and 4:11. In these verses, God is the agent of more than 80 verbs, a remarkable testimony to his activity in times of trouble.

The worst affliction of all is the closing of divine channels. See especially 3:1-8: God “shuts out” prayer (3:8; the prophets “find no vision” (2:9); “the Lord has become like an enemy” (2:5). Few Scriptures are as forthright 

Suffering: Does Judah Deserve It?

Regardless of his personal righteousness, Jeremiah freely admits that Judah is suffering in guilt, not in innocence. God does not owe them any favors. Unlike Job, Jeremiah does not question whether the suffering is personally deserved or not. He cuts to the chase: This is judgment! We are guilty, and God is in the right. “Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins” (3:39, ESV; see also 3:42; Neh. 9:33, Mic. 7:9, 1 Pet. 2:18-24)?

Jeremiah does, however, petition God for justice where justice is lacking, especially in the fifth and final poem (3:64-66; 5:1-22). Admitting guilt before God and pleading for reversal of fortune are not mutually exclusive.

God’s Compassion—Our Hope

The core of Lamentations is found in its message of hope in the middle of the third poem:

“But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. . . .

For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men.” (3:21-23, 31-33, ESV)

Jeremiah mentions three character traits of God: his steadfast love, his mercy, and his faithfulness. The character of God is his reason to have hope.

Summary: Four Applications for Times of Grief

Jeremiah’s book offers an important example for those crushed by grief. There are four ways that we can see Jeremiah finding a pathway out of grief:

1. The first solution is simply to express yourself in grief. Trauma often leads to avoidance behaviors, but Jeremiah counsels us to pour out our hearts:

“Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!” (2:19, ESV)

2. Next, repentance is always a good idea; even if you cannot recall any personal sin to confess before God, you can repent on behalf of your nation. Take an attitude of humility and lift your heart to God.

“Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the LORD!
Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven.” (3:40-41, ESV)

3. Third, remember God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah says “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (3:21, ESV). We must remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness by calling it to mind, whether through song, through reading his Word or through other acts of devotion.

4. Fourth, ask for justice. (See 3:40-66, 5:1-22.) Even though they are guilty, Jeremiah does not hesitate to ask God to restore justice by coming to the aid of the penitent and restoring his covenant people. We should never wallow in injustice, but entreat God’s aid and the comfort of his mercy.

Book Recommendations

Besides the books recommended on Jeremiah, I recommend a compilation called Devotional Poets of the Seventeenth Century. It includes a paraphrase of Jeremiah’s Lamentations. Poetry and song can be a great comfort in times of grief.

1 However, some contest this date to be in 587BC.

Psalms: The Believer’s Prayer Book

PSALMS
is a book about
WORSHIP
in which God is
WORTHY.

What Is Worship?

Worship is not music, but a posture of the heart. Etymologically, worship means worthship or worthiness; worship, then, declares his worth and our surrender to his good will.

What we worship ends up defining us. One definition of worship is “the reflection of the worshipped on the worshipper.” Our lives are a reflection of whatever we value most highly, whether that be an idol, a lover, or the Most High God.

Psalms: The Anatomy of the Soul

John Calvin wrote, “I have been accustomed to call this book [the Psalms], The Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul. There is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”

While it is common to try to exclude the emotional life from our spirituality, the Bible makes it clear that the whole man is to be involved. The warning God gives us about emotions is not that we should avoid them; it is that emotion can make a useful servant, but a terrible master.

Ways of Categorizing Psalms

What follows is an attempt to delineate the most important categories of psalms, first by theme; by author; by historical context; and lastly, by Messianic context.

By Theme: Psalms’ Pageant of Experiences

While the Psalms have a traditional division into five books, it can be more useful in study to compare them based on the experiences which they convey. Some psalms are very closely connected or have shared material, like Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 (written as one psalm in many ancient versions). Other ways of grouping psalms, like the so-called “penitential psalms,” have been given that name and grouping for many centuries, although they are not adjacent to each other in the Psalter.

Hymns: 8, 100, 103, 104, 145-150
Thanksgiving: 32, 75, 116, 118, 136
Trust: 23, 27, 91, 121, 131
Penitential psalms: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143
Laments: 13, 42-43, 80, 120, 126

By Author

The psalms are unique in that many of them contain notes about their authorship, usage in worship, and sometimes the author’s circumstances. While these epigrams are sometimes considered later additions to the text itself, they appear to be very ancient and contain important information.

In the whole book of Psalms, David is listed as the author of 73 psalms. New Testament cross-references would add two more to the list: Psalm 2 (in Acts 4:25) and Psalm 95 (in Hebrews 4:7). Below is the full listing of psalms that are identified by author, although the remaining 48 are anonymous:

David wrote (or assisted in writing) at least 75 psalms: 2-9, 11-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 95, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, and 138-145.
Asaph wrote 12 psalms: 50, and 73-83.
The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms: 42, 44-49, 84-85, and 87-88.
Solomon wrote two psalms: 72 and 127.
Heman wrote one psalm, with the sons of Korah: 88.
Ethan the Ezrahite wrote one psalm: 89.
Moses wrote one psalm: 90.

Our understanding of some psalms is greatly enhanced, though, by knowing not just who wrote them, but when. Psalm 51, the greatest psalm of repentance, was written “when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” (ESV) We can go deeper by studying these contexts, especially the life of David.

By Context: Psalms with Jewish Contexts

A few psalms relate to specific aspects of Jewish life, like:

Torah wisdom: 1, 119, and 133
The temple: 24
God’s covenant: 78, 89 and 132

(See also, below, the “Songs of Ascents.”)

Other psalms are unique in their subject matter or require more contextual considerations for modern readers to understand their meaning. Imprecatory psalms, for example, implore God to intervene between the singer and his enemy. (While these might be difficult for believers living in power and influence, they are easier to understand when we are suffering persecution.)

Imprecatory psalms: 35, 52, 58, 69, 109, 137, 140

A specific group of psalms, 120-134, are traditionally known as songs of ascents and related to Jewish pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem.

Songs of Ascents: 120-134

Many other psalms relate to royalty. As always, it is best to read these first in light of their ancient context, before applying any metaphorical meanings.

Royal psalms: 45, 93, 95-99, 110

Prophetic and Messianic Meanings

Prophetic passages often refer to Jerusalem’s king or David, and, by extension, Jesus. Jews do not only find prophecies in passages specifically marked as prophecy; they also found prophetic meanings in Psalms, and the Book of Ruth for example.

The Epistle to the Hebrews explains the Messianic meanings of Psalms 8, 45 and 110. Psalm 2 and Psalm 22 are also somewhat difficult to understand outside the story of the Messiah, so that is the primary lens through which Christians see them.

Psalm 8 is the Hymn of Creation, in which man is the apex of God’s Creation since he bears God’s image.

Psalm 22 is the Psalm of the Messiah’s Crucifixion.

Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 are the Psalms of the Messiah’s Coronation.

Psalm 45 is the Psalm of the Messiah’s Wedding Day.

The Importance of Poetry to the Spiritual Life

Poetry, in and of itself, has always had importance for the spiritual life. Nearly every book of the Bible includes some poetry, and some world religions rely heavily on poetic language. Poetry has been called “language distilled.”

Poetry always resists dogmatic or one-sided interpretations. The abundance of poetry in the Bible shows us that the Bible is more than a cerebral book. It exceeds the limits of our brains, and involves the whole spiritual person.

Interpreting Psalms

Understanding poetry can be difficult enough in English. Although believers have always expanded outward from the Psalms by interpreting some of them as prophecy, it is much more difficult to interpret them in narrow limits but plucking proof texts from them. Of all the Bible’s books, the Psalter resists this practice the most.

Parallelism is the primary source of “prosody” in Hebrew poetry; it also serves as a hedge for interpretation, since it almost never makes sense to introduce a radically new theological concept on only one side of a parallelism. (The Masoretic text included the parallel lines in two columns, so the parallels were clearly seen as you read the text.)

Recommendations for Further Study

For study of the Psalms, I recommend the following books:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a very good devotional book called Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.

John Calvin’s preface to his Commentary on the Psalms is a helpful introduction.

Dennis Bratcher’s website has a very helpful way of classifying the psalms, although there is no perfect way of dividing them. His list includes all 150.

John Owen’s Exposition of Psalm 130 (also called The Forgiveness of Sins) draws heavily on the Book of Psalms, although it ostensibly is written on Psalm 130. Owen deals with subjects related to depression, guilt, and the need for a continuing experience of grace.

Notes on the Psalms by G. Campbell Morgan gives a straightforward summary of themes in each psalm one by one.

Herbert Lockyer, Walter Brueggemann, Alexander Maclaren and C. S. Lewis all have books on the Psalms that I have not read yet! Brueggemann, in fact, has several, although most of his works are for a scholarly audience.

I also highly recommend the reading of devotional poets such as John Donne, George Herbert, William Cowper; or hymnwriters such as Isaac Watts and F. W. Faber. A hymnbook that you like is a great place to start.

Leviticus: Be Holy For God Is Holy

LEVITICUS
is a book about
HOLINESS
in which God provides
ATONEMENT.

The Book of Leviticus: God’s Holiness

Leviticus is named for its relation to the Levites, and most of its commands pertain to the priesthood, especially commands about atonement for sin, which is the subject of about half the book.
In Exodus, one of the most important phrases in the Old Testament is introduced: “I am the Lord.” In Leviticus, God says his nature is essentially holy (20:7-8, 21:8, etc.). In the ESV, the word “holy” is used 91 times in Book of Leviticus.
He is also the Lord who sanctifies or makes us holy (20:8; 21:8, 23; 22:9, 16; see also Ex. 31:13; Ezek. 20:12, 37:28, etc.). This is a key concept in Leviticus, repeated five times: “Be holy, for I am holy” (11:44-45, etc.). God’s holiness informs us about what it means for us to be holy, and God’s holiness is the reason that he provides atonement for us. This is the attribute of God most clearly on display in Leviticus, and nearly every passage in Leviticus can be seen through this lens.

Plain Teaching on Sin (ch. 1-7)

These commandments about sacrifice are filled with specific truth about sin and guilt. There is no need to seek any allegorical meaning in them, when they teach plain truths about sin and sacrifice:
1) We learn the difference between sins and trespasses (Ps. 19:12-13). There are sins that are obvious to us, but there are also sins that we commit unknowingly (4:2). 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our (known) sin, he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (which would include unknown sin).
2) We learn the difference between personal sin, public sin, and priestly sin (4:13, 22, 27). If I cheat my neighbor, that is my own sin. But Nehemiah acknowledged, for example, that the people had sinned corporately, and corporate repentance was required.
The sin of priests and leaders is also treated differently. Ministers and teachers of the Gospel carry more responsibility because of their consecration, and this even affects the way their families are treated.
3) We learn from Aaron’s four sons that there are sins of commission and omission. Just as Nadab and Abihu sinned by offering fire “which the Lord had not commanded” (10:1), Eleazar and Ithamar sinned by neglecting to eat the sacrifice as commanded priesthood(10:18).

Plain Teaching on Priesthood and Sacrifice (ch. 8-10, ch. 21-22)

The tabernacle is established in the Book of the Exodus, and the  is established in this book. In Leviticus, we have plain teaching about the meaning of sacrifice—not only that God requires our best, or that he requires blood, but beyond that, we learn:
1) Sacrifice required confession (4:15, 5:5, 16:21). The purpose of placing hands on the animal was to confess guilt in its presence. Likewise, the sacrifice of Christ has no effect if we do not admit our guiltiness.
2) Sacrifice required consecration (ch. 8-10). Not everyone can make a sacrifice, but only a priest can make atonement under the Old Covenant (4:35, 5:16, etc.). But now the Lord requires consecration from all his children, and we are all priests in the new order (Heb. 7:11, 1 Pet. 2:5).
3) Sacrifice required cleanness. It is not undertaken flippantly (10:1), or in any place, or at any time (16:2). But under the New Covenant we learn that God seeks those who worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It is not just clean hands but “a pure heart” that the Lord desires (Ps. 24:4).

Holiness and Cleanliness (ch. 11-15)

All the rituals involving food, skin diseases, etc. may be seen as involving cleanliness, and may or may not involve the guilt of sin. The commandments about food (ch. 11) are practical and interesting. (Winkie Pratney says, if you break these commands, you won’t necessarily go to Hell, but you will feel like Hell.)
Before the New Covenant was established, the Lord frequently required healed lepers to abide by Leviticus 14 in presenting themselves to the priests.
Leviticus 13 and 14 are dedicated to the separation of those with contagious skin disorders from the crowd of the camp.
The idea that these diseases were transferred through physical contact, and not by some other mystical means, has suffered a lack of acceptance, even recently, even in the educated West. At the height of his career, Joseph Lister was criticized and laughed at in his early career for his ideas about cleanliness and antiseptics in hospitals; in his old age, Queen Victoria made him a baron and a royal counselor; now, he is known as the “Father of Modern Surgery.”

Day of Atonement (ch. 16)

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is at the center of the Book of Leviticus, and it is central to the whole practice of making atonement. This is neither the same as the daily sacrifices, nor is it “business as usual.” We see this in 1) the rarity of the occasion, which was annual (v. 2, 29); 2) the entry of the Holy of Holies, which was not allowed at other times (v. 2); 3) the special release of the scapegoat, which is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible.
The meaning of the scapegoat is up for debate, but the custom is clear enough: In addition to the commands laid out in this passage—namely, confession over this goat—the high priest tied a scarlet thread to the goat, representing guilt, before sending him away. In later years, rather than merely releasing it, the man charged with the duty would push the goat off of a precipice, and wave a signal to people stationed nearby that the atonement ritual was complete. Regardless, it represents a distancing from sin (Ps. 103:12), God not counting our sins against us (Ps. 32:1-2, Rom. 4:7-8).

General Commands (ch. 17-20)

It is no coincidence that sex is mentioned so prominently (ch. 18) in a book about holiness and atonement; sexual immorality is the quickest path to deceive yourself and destroy your family, and must be taken seriously (Heb 13:4).
This section contains what Jesus called the second most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). Thomas Fuller, a Puritan author, had a fascinating insight on this verse in connection with the Sermon on the Mount: “Many things pass to be in Scripture, when no such matter is to be found therein. ‘Ye have heard it said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.”’ (Mt. 5:43) But where is it said, ‘Thou shalt hate thine enemy’? Surely nowhere in God’s Word.”[1]

Feasts, Sabbaths and the Year of Jubilee (ch. 23-25, 27)

Note especially how the Feasts of Passover and Booths have been fulfilled in Christ’s death, and Pentecost, respectively (Mt. 26:2, 1 Cor. 5:7, etc.). (It’s important to know that Pentecost is simply the Greek name for the Feast of Booths.)
The Year of Jubilee (ch. 25) ensures justice and provide balances to the economic system; most interestingly, debt is freely forgiven, while in our modern system it simply accumulates unchecked.

Covenant and Consequences (ch. 26)

In Leviticus 26, God outlines consequences if Israel should fail to keep her side of the Covenant. This chapter shows that for believers, God will progressively try any means to get their attention, so that they will return to him (v. 3, 14, 18, 21, 23, 27; see also Deut. 28). But God promises in spite of this that he will bless and help them “if they confess their iniquity” (v. 40), and he could never forget or break his end of the covenant (v. 43-44).
This important section of the Pentateuch is what is referenced by Jeremiah and Daniel when they say that the punishments of the covenant have fallen on Israel (Dan. 9:10-14, Lam. 2:17). The complaints of other prophets of the exile period also prove that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their day (Hag. 2:16-17).

Study Recommendations

Written in Blood by Robert E. Coleman is a readable, well-studied devotional on the meaning of Jesus’ blood.
Andrew Murray published two books of sermons on Jesus’ blood: The Power of the Blood of Jesus and The Blood of the Cross.


[1] Concerning Christ’s Temptations.

Haggai: Work Is for Fellowship

HAGGAI
is a book about
WORK
in which God
DWELLS.

The Messenger and His Audience

Haggai is unique in that his audience is primarily just two people: Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. Both of them participate in this revival in a personal way (1:12, 14), receive personal words from God, and special promises. (See Ezra 5:1-2, Hag. 2:21-23, Zech. 3:1-10, 4:9-10, etc.) The only verse specifically directed at the public is 1:13: “I am with you, says the Lord.”
Haggai’s message is intimately related to the Books of Zechariah and Ezra. (See Ezra 5:1.) Zechariah and Haggai’s prophecies dovetail in confirmation of each other, and the people prosper through their prophesying (Ezra 6:14).

Haggai’s Message: Realignment of Priorities

Haggai’s primary spiritual message was one of priorities, and its primary application was that is it is time to work. Five times God commands them to “consider” (1:4, 1:7, 2:15, 2:18). It is easier to live selfishly; righteousness requires that we turn off autopilot mode and examine our priorities.
When we experience spiritual revival, it leads to a realignment of priorities. The first way this seems to happen is in the area of work. Haggai’s hearers were invited to invest time. Building the Lord’s temple would require some sacrifice of the time that they spent on their own affairs.
The second result of revival is in our finances. Haggai’s hearers were challenged to contribute materially (1:8, 2:8). Our time and money go towards what we value. Whenever there is repentance, spiritual renewal translates into an active response in these two ways.

Why Build?

“‘Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,’ says the Lord.” (1:8) God commands the Israelites to build “that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified.” This twofold purpose reminds us of the Westminster Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We build because God says “I am with you” (1:13, 2:5).
When God ordered the building of the Tabernacle, the reason was “so that I may dwell among you.” But now God says he is already among them, and they needed to acknowledge and prepare for his presence.
When God asks us to commit to the work of ministry, it is never to receive justification or atone for guilt; it is always for his pleasure and because he is worthy of glory. Work is for fellowship.

The House of the Lord

The temple is not “a house for the Lord” but “the house of the Lord.” It is a holy place belonging to him that he might reveal himself to his people; it is not a place for a tribal god to live. They did not rebuild the temple so that God could dwell among them; they rebuilt the temple because God was dwelling among them. “Work . . . for I am with you” (2:4).
In the New Covenant, God’s preeminent dwelling place is his people. A church building is never called the house of God in the New Testament. As Solomon said, “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you!” (1 Kings 8:27, NKJV) But it is also written: “You [plural] are God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). Building God’s house for us means prioritizing our time and money for spiritual ministry. (See also: Christ’s Body Is the Temple.)

Special Promises

“The heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit” (1:10, KJV). God hearkens back to his covenant promises in Deuteronomy 7:13 and Leviticus 26:4. Abundant crops are specifically promised for Israel if they obey the covenant; drought and lack are promised if they disobey.
The promise is not universal, and it is not the same as karma—it is a specific way that God proves himself to his covenant nation (Lev. 26:9). In Haggai, God is trying every economic expedient to get the attention of believers, because they should know better. However, he promises specifically that this will turn around from the date of the foundation of the temple (2:18-19, Lev. 26:40-42).
In the Old and New Testaments, God never commits himself to a law of always returning good for righteousness and evil for wickedness. In his great wisdom and faithfulness, he can allow suffering on the righteous (e.g. Job), or mercy for the wicked (e.g. Saul). He sends his sun and rain on the righteous and the wicked, because he is perfect (Matt. 5:45); and the wind and storms come to both, whether our foundation is built on the sand or the rock (Matt. 7:24-27).

The Latter Glory

Haggai says the latter glory will exceed the former glory (2:9). This is immediately about the temple but also relates to the Messianic kingdom to come. The “shaking of all nations” and the “desire of all nations” relate to the future period when Israel becomes the center of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom. (The “desire of nations” is often thought to mean Jesus, but from the context, it seems to refer to the wealth that will be brought to Jerusalem, as in Zechariah 14:14.)
Victory over the Gentiles is also one of the promises of this time period. (See 2:20-23)

Shares themes with: Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah.

Jonah: God’s Heart for the Nations

JONAH
is a story about
MISSIONS
in which God is
MERCIFUL.

God’s Mercy: The Theme of Jonah’s Book

Missions is but one manifestation of God’s mercy. God shows his mercy in Jonah’s book by sending Jonah and saving the sailors (ch. 1), in saving Jonah from the storm (ch. 2), in using Jonah’s message and saving Nineveh (ch. 3), and in soothing Jonah (ch. 4). The entire book is a manifestation of God’s mercy.

Jonah’s book is unique among the Prophets because his story includes both the prophecy and the response. Only a small portion of his book is strictly prophetic, and that is his message to Nineveh.

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” begins a hymn by F. W. Faber. Jonah is set up as a foil (or a contrast) to God’s perfect mercy—towards the sailors, towards Nineveh, and towards the prophet himself. “The selfish unbelief and vindictiveness of man is contrasted with the gracious patience and benevolence of God.”1

The humor of the book is a large part of its appeal. The sailors and Ninevites receive God’s message eagerly, but God’s ordained prophet gives it reluctantly. He is the most self-effacing prophet of the Old Testament, and he accomplishes the bare minimum of righteousness. Yet Jonah uses humor to deal with serious needs that are universal to Christian life.

Jonah’s Flight

Comparing Jonah with John the Baptist (John 1:6), S. D. Gordon writes, “All men are sent. But they don’t all come, some go. There was a man sent from God whose name was Jonah. But he didn’t come. He went.”2

The reason for Jonah’s flight to Tarshish is explained by G. Campbell Morgan: “The book of Jonah is a prophetic story indicating the inclusiveness of the Divine government for Nineveh as well as Israel; and rebuking the exclusiveness of the Hebrew nation as manifested in the prophet himself.”3 Even today ethnocentrism is one of the largest barriers to missions. We are often glad to see someone else go, but feel in our hearts that we would never do so ourselves because we do not love other nations, and do not desire their salvation.

Jonah’s Song of Repentance

As always, the believer who flees from the Lord then seeks God “out of his distress” (2:2). “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried” (2:2). Thus Jonah compares his underwater hideaway to the grave itself. By taking him to the depths of death, God chose to make Jonah a sign of resurrection.

His song concludes: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (2:9) Then the sea-creature spits him out. By this God-wrought salvation, Jonah proclaimed death and resurrection(Matthew 12:39-40), both to Nineveh and to future generations.

Jonah’s Sermon of Repentance

Alexander Whyte summarizes thus: “The prophet Jonah was both the elder son and the unmerciful servant of the Old Testament.”4 The key is that he did not rejoice at the mercy received by others; as Christians, we should rejoice when God pours mercy on any other nation. We should never have any nation written off in our mind, as if God could not or would not grant mercy to those people, or they would not receive it.

Jesus gave credit to the Ninevites, saying that Jonah’s generation of Nineveh would rise in judgment against Jesus’ generation of Jews that had rejected him (Matthew 12:41). In this way, Jesus asserted that Jews could live stubbornly unrepentant while Gentiles could be righteous with God by faith.

Jonah’s Depression

Finally, after all the lessons that God has taught him, Jonah still shows resentment, in spite of his correct view of God! (4:2) However, Whyte writes that Jonah must have repented and written the book “in sackcloth and ashes”5 as he learned that God’s mercy was not to be hoarded. Through the repeated dealings of God, he must have learned God’s intended lesson, for no one else could have shared the story. May God teach us this same great truth.

The book ends with God’s glorious expression of mercy. “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:11)

Study Recommendations

Many books and Bible studies show that God’s plan has always included all nations. A few that come to mind are Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson, Missions in the Age of the Spirit by John York and Mission in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser.

1 Herbert Lockyer. All the Books and Chapters of the Bible, pp. 203-4. Zondervan, 1966.

2 S. D. Gordon. Quiet Talks on John’s Gospel, Locations 585-586. Kindle Edition.

3 G. Campbell Morgan. Voices of Twelve Hebrew Prophets, p. 12.

4 Alexander Whyte. Concise Bible Characters, p. 301. AMG Publishers.

5 Ibid.

Ezekiel: A Prophecy of God’s Glory

EZEKIEL
is a book about
GLORY
in which God is
GOD.

“God is God, and I am not”
– Winkie Pratney says that the above statement can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars of theological education.
– This summarizes Ezekiel’s preaching and prophecy, as well as the reason for his evident hope in the midst of judgment; the statement “I am the LORDis repeated in his prophecy some 92 times by my count!
– While God is always God, we don’t always know it or act like it; thus, in Ezekiel the objective of God’s activity is that people would “know that I am the LORD.” (5:13, etc.) A change must take place in us, and God must take His place as glorified Lord in our lives.

Ezekiel: Prophet of Holiness
Holiness is Ezekiel’s concern as both priest and prophet. More than other prophets, his book focuses on ritual holiness that Israel lacked.
– In ch. 1, Ezekiel has the vision of God’s glory that leads seamlessly to his great responsibility as prophet (ch. 2-3, 33, also cf. Isaiah 6.)
– As A.W. Pink said, “God is sovereign, and man is responsible”; these twin ideas exemplify Ezekiel’s focus on both God’s holiness and man’s obligation. The two ideas are constantly and completely connected.

Israel: A Holy Nation,
– Ez. 2 to 24 focuses on prophecies of judgment against Israel. God’s anger is placed in the context of his choice of Israel and Jerusalem as the epicenter of His self-revelation (5:5-8), and the weight of such a rejection (16:47).
– The Jewish captivity (ch. 3) and the fall of Jerusalem in 588/587 BC (see 33:21) provide the historical backdrop against which God spoke through Ezekiel in judgment of the nation that had forgotten him.

Glory: “For My Name’s Sake”
– Jeremiah deals with God’s judgments in terms of what God feels—grief; Ezekiel deals with God’s judgments in terms of what God wants—glory.
– For Ezekiel, judgment contains a revelation of God—often God says that when they are chastised, “they will know that I am the LORD.” Yet even this revelation is not for their sake, but “for [his] name’s sake” (20:9, 36:22, etc.)

Glory: The Importance of God’s Presence
– Ezekiel’s book begins and ends with the glory of the LORD, as does the book of Revelation. The presence and intimacy of God finally cherished among his holy people is the ultimate fulfillment of all biblical prophecy (Ez. 48:35, Rev. 21:11, 21:23, 22:4).
– In the narrative, God’s glory departing (ch. 8-10), and later returning to a new Israel (43-44), form the most central images in the entire narrative.
Glory (Heb. kabod=weight, honor, importance) in the OT is related to God’s physical manifestation 45 times; Kittel calls it “the force of His self-manifestation,” or “that which makes God impressive to man.”

Pride: Rebelling Against God’s Glory
– Ezekiel deals with Israel’s wicked elders at length (ch. 8, 11, 14, 20), as well as false prophets (13), selfish “shepherds” (34), and laments for Israel’s princes (19). He deals with pride in high places quite extensively.
– Ezekiel also prophesies against wicked Gentile leaders in ch. 29, 32, 38, and 39. This reaches its apex in ch. 28 with the prince of Tyre, a kind of spiritual carbon copy of Satan in his original calling and rebellion. Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 give us the most biblical insight into the independent spirit—which is what made Satan into Satan.

Making Israel Homesick
– In ch. 20, the Lord hearkens to Israel’s history in detail, recounting the story of the exodus. As with Jeremiah and Hosea, broken covenant is the background for both judgment and renewal (Ez. 16 & 23, Dt. 31:16ff).
– God’s covenant with the nation of Israel in Ex. 19 involved a new land, a dwelling-place for God, and a calling to holiness (Ex. 19:3-6, Ez. 20); inasmuch as Israel had persistently violated its calling, God did not want to dwell among them (Ez. 11:23, Dt. 32:30) or keep them in the land he had promised (Lev. 26:15ff, note v. 33).
– For these covenant promises to be renewed, Israel would have to remember the covenant and live holy (Ez. 11:17-25, 36:16-38, Lev 26:40-45).

Millennium: Israel Restored
– Ez. 36-48 especially concerns the restoration of Israel; the regathering of their nation has begun in our time, but it is obvious that the wars (38-39), restored temple (40-42), worship (43-46) and land (47-48) are yet future.
– New Jerusalem has no death (Rev 21:4, cf. Ez. 42:13) and no temple (Rev. 21:22), so this leads most to think that Ezekiel 40-48 was not describing the new heaven and new earth. Rather, comparison with similar passages (Isaiah 66, Rev. 20) bears witness that this is the longest prophecy about the Millennium in the entire Bible.

Book Recommendations:
Two books that I highly recommend on the person and character of God are Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, The Nature and Character of God by Winkie Pratney. Tozer’s book is devotional, while Pratney’s book is an accessible manual to key concepts about who God is and what he is like.

Winkie Pratney also deals with many themes relevant to the study of Ezekiel in the 21CR Conference, Session 5 (“The Chief End of Man”). For more material specific to Ezekiel, see my general recommendations.

Key Passages:
The (manifest) glory: ch. 1, 8:2-4, 9:3a, 10:4, 10:18, 11:23, 43:2-6, 44:2-4
Covenant renewal: 16:60-62, 37:26
The land of Israel: 20:42, 28:25-26, 37:15-28
Dwelling/sanctuary defiled: 23:38, 36:17
Dwelling/sanctuary cleansed: 37:23,27-28, 48:35
Purpose of judgment: 35:11, 39:21-23
Purpose of the temple vision: 43:6-11, (also 44:6-8, 45:9)
See also separate page on “I am the LORD” in Ezekiel.