Tag Archives: Book Studies

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.

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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.

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.

Habakkuk: A Book about Faith

HABAKKUK
is a book about
FAITH
in which God is
FAITHFUL.

Background of Habakkuk

Habakkuk, like Jonah, is a personal narrative; his struggle, though, is internal, and so the story takes the form of a conversation between God and the prophet. Unlike Jonah, Habakkuk grows in his faith in God through the course of the book. The prophet begins by questioning God (1:2), and ends in inexplicable joy and triumphant faith (3:17-19). “The story of Habakkuk is that of a movement from the experience of doubt and questioning, to that of certainty and praise” (Morgan1).

The date of Habakkuk must precede Babylon’s invasion of Jerusalem (612BC), since this is yet future during the book. This means he was probably a near-contemporary of Jeremiah and Zephaniah.

Habakkuk’s Question: How Long, God?

Several Bible books deal with faith and doubt, but the content of Habakkuk’s doubt is unique: God’s justice. “Justice never goes forth2” (1:4). Most prophets view God’s justice as perfect and forthcoming, however distant. (Compare, for example, Nahum.) Even though Habakkuk is a prophet, he lacks understanding about God’s plan for his time. Specifically, he cries out about injustice and violence in Judah (1:2-4). Then, God answers that he will send the Chaldeans as a chastisement against Judah (1:5-11), but Habakkuk finds this even more appalling. He again questions God about using the wicked Chaldeans against wicked (but chosen) Israel (1:12-17). It does not fit in with what he thought he knew about God. After all these questions, the major shift in the book comes when Habakkuk determines to wait for a clear answer from God to resolve his inward debate.

Habakkuk’s Watch: Waiting on God

The solution for Habakkuk is to wait; “I will take my stand at my watchpost … and look out to see what he will say to me” (2:1). God’s response (2:2-20) is summarized in one shining assurance: “the righteous shall live by his faith.” (2:4) The righteous will live; that is, they have eternal life, but the proud will not. They will live by faith; trust in God is what enables them to receive eternal life. Despite Habakkuk’s doubt, God leads him to this assurance of God’s future justice, which will outlast any injustice in his day. God has never lied, and the vision that he has given

The rest of this oracle speaks of coming judgment against idol worshippers. God reassures Habakkuk that, even though he will use Babylon (or Chaldea) against Judah, he will also hold Babylon to account. Although “destruction and violence” are present realities (1:3), there is a time coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). A. W. Tozer says it this way: “the resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.3

The oracle ends with yet another encouragement to wait and trust: “But the LORDis in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20). A modern re-statement of this is “God’s still on his throne.” Habakkuk had to recognize and trust the government of God not in history, but in his own lifetime.

Habakkuk’s Worship: “Yet I Will Rejoice”

With the prophet’s doubt clearly resolved, the third chapter is a song of Habakkuk’s faith. Habakkuk recites, in song, a past victory that God brought for Israel as a basis for faith in future victory: “I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD… In the midst of the years revive it” (3:2). The specifics of the song—plague (v. 5), water miracles (v. 15), and geographical details—all point to the Exodus and the birth of Israel as the story which Habakkuk is celebrating in psalm. Likewise God’s unfulfilled promises are known to be certain by his perfect record; the past gives us faith for the future.

The conclusion of the book is exultant praise, rising “to heights of faith which even David did not attain with all his music4.” Job refuses to curse God; but Habakkuk declares boldly that he will rejoice in the Lord even if all his livelihood and material possessions are taken away. This is the highest faith in the lowest depth. Chambers5points out, “faith is trust in a God Whose ways I do not know, but Whose character I do know.”

Book Recommendations

Andrew Murray has a devotional book called Waiting on God, emphasizing the importance of waiting in all aspects of Christian life.

If you are doubting God’s work in the world or your life, Christian biographies such as Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot can restore a right view of God’s timing and his triumphant use of tragedy.

Compare themes with: Job, Lamentations.

Contemporaries include: Jeremiah, Zephaniah.
_________

1 Morgan, G. Campbell. Living Messages. “Habakkuk.”

2 All Scriptures quoted are ESV.

3 Tozer, A. W.  Born After Midnight.

4 Parker, Joseph. The People’s Bible, vol. 17: Hosea to Malachi. p. 332.

5 Chambers, Oswald. Shade of His Hand.

Micah: A Prophecy of God as Ruler

MICAH
is a book about
TRUE AND FALSE AUTHORITY
in which God is
RULER.

The God of Micah

Micah’s book opens by describing a terrible theophany. But this God is not an unconcerned Sovereign; he is Israel’s Leader (2:13), Judge (4:3), Ruler (4:7, 5:2) and Shepherd (7:14, cf. 2:12). He is the sender of true leaders and prophets (6:4-5, Jeremiah 26:5). False leadership is condemned throughout Micah’s prophecy, but the final death-knell on oppression awaits the coming of the true Ruler (ch. 4-5).

Sin in High Places (ch. 1-2)

Micah came from the village of Moresheth (1:1). He prophesied against numerous cities in Israel, calling them by name. He mocks them using numerous puns and wordplays in 1:10-15.

Captivity is no coincidence, but a result of sin and idolatry (1:16). The people are called upon to interpret current events through the character of God. The subjugation of Israel by pagan nations was no coincidence, but was promised in Leviticus for breaking God’s covenant of obedience (Lev. 26:17, 33, 38-39). The prophet Jeremiah cites Micah as preceding him and possibly saving his life (Jer. 26).

Throughout Micah, the places of false leadership and influence are condemned (3:9). Joseph Parker comments that Jesus Christ “differs from all modern teachers in that he finds the wickedness of society in its high places.”1 Rather than associating crime with poverty, the Bible tends to do the opposite: over and over God casts his judgment over the rich, the educated, the religious, and the affluent.

Abuse of Authority (ch. 3)

What does Micah mean that they “build with blood” (3:10)? He is talking about money made through hidden crimes. Prostitution was used to fund pagan temples in Micah’s day (1:7). Micah condemns bribery among officials, and simony among spiritual leaders (3:11, 7:3). Named after Simon the sorcerer in Acts, the sin of simony means performing acts of ministry in exchange for money. In the Middle Ages, corruption of priests was rampant; John Wycliffe of England and John Hus of Bohemia were martyred in part for speaking against it. The prophet Micah likewise risked much by speaking against those who were propping up such a corrupt system.

G. Campbell Morgan writes: “The message of Micah centered on the subject of authority. The prophet arraigns and condemns the authority of those who had departed from the true standards of government, whether the princes, prophets, or priests; and foretold the coming of the true Ruler, under whom all false confidences would be destroyed and the true order restored.”2

Deliverance and the Deliverer (ch. 4-5)

Micah 4 and 5 concern “the last days” (4:1). In Morgan’s notes on Micah, he says that chapter 4 concerns the deliverance to come, but chapter 5 concerns the Deliverer.3 Micah 4 presents a vision of “the mountain of the house of the LORD.” War will be ended on Earth (5:4).

The final deliverance of Israel will not be easily brought about. Micah prophesies that it will involve labor pains (4:9, 5:3), a metaphor that Jesus continues to use to describe the end times. False leadership always uses kind words, but has a mean end in mind (2:6); the God of the Bible forewarns us of coming trouble, but he always has good in mind (4:7, 7:20).

The Deliverer is described in Micah 5. Like Micah, he will come from a little-known village. Final justice means an end to all false worship. Jesus “shall be great to the ends of the earth” (5:4).

What Does God Require? (ch. 6)

Micah reminds Israel of God’s past actions: he had redeemed them from Egypt (6:4); he had sent righteous leadership (6:4); he had refused to repudiate them despite Balak’s efforts (6:5). “From Shittim to Gilgal” (6:5) is especially significant: Shittim was a place where Israel joined in idolatry (Num. 25:1), and Gilgal was where God renewed his covenant with them by circumcision (Joshua 5). This points to the renewal that God would bring Israel if they would repent.

Micah 6 is the crux of the book and perhaps the best explanation of idolatry in the Old Testament. Idolatry involves not only an incorrect view of God, but an ineffective way of approaching him. The God of the Bible is the only god that cannot be bought. No sacrifice is enough to secure his favor (6:6-7).

Instead, God asks for the repentance and faith. “He has shown us what is good: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8). God does not ask what is easy: to bring material goods or sacrifices. He asks what is hard: the surrender of self. “The surrendered life is the foundation of surrendered possessions. Ourselves first, then our offerings.”4

Conclusion (ch. 7)

Micah concludes as it began, with a vision of God: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?” (7:18) This vision of God’s character is Micah’s reason for believing in the forgiveness of sin as well as the deliverance from captivity that will come.

There is no higher conclusion than this simple appeal to who God is. A right vision of God will bring right worship of God, and a right approach to God. He has not only told us what is good; he has shown us what is good, and we should imitate the open and generous ways of our King and Shepherd.

________

1 Joseph Parker. The Minor Prophets (vol. 21 of The People’s Bible). Kindle edition. Locations 3915-3916.

2 G. Campbell Morgan. Exposition of the Whole Bible. Accessed on studylight.org, Oct. 12, 2015. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gcm/view.cgi?bk=32&ch=5

3 Ibid.

4 Herbert Lockyer, The Christ of Christmas. Kindle edition. Location 604.

Ezra: A Story about Revival

EZRA
is a book about
REVIVAL
in which God is
RESTORER.

God the Restorer
– Centering in Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews experience a restoration of almost every aspect of life you can name: their temple, worship, godly marriage—in Nehemiah, their capital—and in more recent history, their nation and language. It is God who “makes all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)
– In fulfillment of a prophetic word, “the LORD stirred” first Cyrus the pagan king, and then many others who would return and rebuild the temple. The temple is the center of Ezra’s story and represents a rebuilding from nothing of the religious life of an entire nation.

Ezra the Scribe: No Revival Without Reformation
– Since Ezra was a scholar of God’s law, he makes many references to other Old Testament books, including forgotten commandments that were beginning to be followed again (e.g., 7:10).
– “It is the rediscovery of these cardinal doctrines that has led to revival.” (Lloyd-Jones)

Ezra the Scribe: Starting Small
– Almost every chapter of Ezra contains a list, letter, or numerical account, since he was a scribe.
– Fundamental to revival is the worth of the individual to God; Francis Schaeffer put it this way: “there are no little people; there are no little places.”

Praying Big
– All of the Scriptural stories of revival, including Ezra’s, involve national awakenings with global implications.
– The vision of any revival should always be bigger than the revival itself.

Responding to Opposition
– In 4:16, the enemies of this revival show that they see its weighty implications.
– Opposition should encourage us that we are doing something powerful.

Return to Unity & Worship
– Uncommon unity (3:1, 10:12) and uncommon prayer (8:23) are the two activities that Pratney says always mark revival.
– Ezra’s repentance and confession (chs. 9 and 10) on behalf of his nation brought them face to face with their sin against a holy God.

Revival is Newfound Obedience
– Finney’s definition of revival is “newfound obedience to God.”
– The key idea in revival is that we begin to take responsibility for both our walk with God and those around us.
“Arise, for this… is your responsibility… Be of good courage, and do it.” (10:4)

Book Recommendations:
While there is a wealth of material on the history of revival in general, I recommend starting with Winkie Pratney’s book Revival.
On the inner workings of revival, I recommend Finney’s Lectures on Revival as well as his autobiography.

References in Ezra:
Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1)
Moses (3:2, 6:8)
David (3:10)
Haggai (5:1, 6:14)
Zechariah (5:1, 6:14)

Revival Language in Ezra (NKJV):
“…the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…” 1:1
“Then…with all whose spirits God had moved…” 1:5
“Then the heads of the fathers’ houses…arose to go up and build…” 1:5
“Now these are the people…who returned to Jerusalem…” 2:1
“Then Jeshua…and Zerubbabel…arose and built the altar…” 3:2
“Now…Zerubbabel…and the rest…began work…” 3:8
“So Zerubbabel…and Jeshua…rose up and began to build the house of God…” 5:2
“And the descendants…kept the Passover…” 6:19
“And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread…” 6:22
“…for the LORD… turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them…” 6:22
“Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it” 7:10
“Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done…” 7:23
“So I was encouraged…” 7:28
“…grace has been [shown] from the LORD…that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.” 9:8
“…Yet our God…extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to reviveus, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” 9:9
“…and let it be done according to the law.” 10:3
“Now therefore, make confession to the LORD… and do His will…” 10:11

Genesis

GENESIS
is the story of
CREATION
in which God makes a
COVENANT.

God of Creation

Genesis is the story of how God created us, and we rejected him, but he would not give us up. This book creates an unbroken narrative from Adam to Joseph of how God continued to speak, to promise, and to reveal his purposes.

Genesis takes a childlike view of life in which God’s activity is visible everywhere. His activity is not always explained or accounted for explicitly. His presence is unquestioned. God never seeks to prove himself through argument. He presents himself through activity.

Other holy books present God as a partisan, or only caring for one group of people. In the Bible he cares for all people from the beginning, and the whole earth is always his dominion. He cares for all that he has created.

God in Covenant

The Bible’s narrative is shaped like an hourglass, and Abraham is the pinch point.1A few generations after the Flood, God chooses Abraham for his plan of redemption, a plan which would afterwards involve “all the families of the earth.” (12:3) He narrows his plan down to Abraham, that he may afterwards bless all people in Christ.

Genesis shows God in covenant. Covenant is the continuation of the purpose he had for his Creation. He continues to reach out to the covenant family, that of Abraham, and extend promise after promise that he is advancing his plan and will fulfill his first promise to Abraham (12:1-3) as well as his original intentions expressed in Creation.

Creation and covenant go hand in hand in the Book of Genesis. God creates with intentions; he maintains those intentions and purposes through his covenants. The KJV says “for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)

Creation and Fall (1-5)

Genesis is not really a book of beginnings but a book of the Beginning. The title comes from verse 1:1, and has reference only to a time when God existed without his Creation.2 Since God existed before his Creation, he does not depend on it. The first thing we learn about God is that he is our self-existent Creator (Rom. 1).

Yet God chooses to involve himself in this Creation, so Genesis 1 and 2 comprise two different accounts of Creation. The first account calls God “Elohim” in Hebrew because it shows God in authority; the second account calls God “Yahweh” because it focuses in on God in relationship with mankind. Yahweh (or Jehovah) is his covenant name.

Adam and Eve are called to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28). This is the First Commission, leading up to the call of Abraham, as well as the Great Commission (9:1, 9:7, 12:1-3, 35:11). The First Commission represents man’s call not only to obey God, but to be king of the Earth. God had a job for us to do that has, in one sense, continued in spite of the Fall.

Watchman Nee comments that God’s week began with work: man’s week began with rest. In the Gospel, man must rest before he can work. In this the Sabbath summarizes the whole Gospel: it is the work of God and the only true rest for man. The Sabbath was created so that man would know that it is God who sanctifies (Ex. 31:13, Ez. 20:12). God supplies all our lack in Christ.

“The Fall” is the common name for the first disobedience of God in Genesis 3, a theological event with global implications. But when Eve and Adam disobey God, it is not so much a “fall” or a “slip” as it is a “rebellion,” and every other human has followed in their train. Human rebellion is the basis for all the problems that have followed, and all the injustices of our present world have their root in this “fall.” Paul explains this using the Eastern concept of corporate personality; “as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). We have identified with the rebellion of Adam, but we may partake of the righteousness of Christ through his death and resurrection.

The genealogy in chapter 5 (as well as others) creates a continuous narrative, and provides authority to the story in the Eastern world. But as these genealogies progress, they focus closer and closer on the promised “seed of the woman,” whom we now know as Jesus Christ.

Flood and Babel (6-11)

The Flood is all over a story of mercy. God uses all possible means to save and restore his Creation. Creation is corrupted by man’s choice. Noah was not only “blameless” but, according to Peter, “a preacher of righteousness.” He gave his contemporaries a chance to be saved.

Salvation out of water is a repeated theme in the Old and New Testaments3; Peter uses it as a picture of baptism. Judgment and mercy intersect.

After the Flood, God repeats to Noah the same commission he gave to Adam and Eve (9:1), and Noah is the first person in Scripture to enter into covenant with God.

Noah also represents all humanity in a second covenant in which God promises that he will not destroy the earth by flood again. The confusion of Babel and the Table of Nations explain how all ethnic and linguistic groups are traced back to Noah. This explains why flood traditions are a global phenomenon.

Patriarchs (12-50)

The rest of the book of Genesis focuses on the biographies of just four men: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, known as the patriarchs, and Joseph, who preserves the people of Israel and leads them to Egypt.

All of the patriarchs trust the Lord, but God’s way of dealing with them differs. Abraham has repeated visions and promises and covenants, about ten times in total. Isaac and Jacob have fewer revelations, until we find Jacob saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).

Abraham (12-24)

We have four personal climaxes in the life of Abraham: 1) Leaving his father’s house; 2) leaving Lot; 3) dismissing Ishmael; and 4) the sacrifice of Isaac.4 All of these involve what Abraham left behind; he was also called to take up the covenant of faith, a new name, the covenant of circumcision, and the election of Isaac. God repeats his promises to Abraham over and over, sealing the promise of the seed of the woman. His life makes us ask, what has God asked us to leave behind? And what is he leading us forward to?

The offering of Isaac and the testing of Abraham (in ch. 22) is an especially important example of Abraham’s obedience, as well as a type of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. The writer of Hebrews comments, “[Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise him [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19). Church fathers have written that the sacrifice of Isaac became for Abraham a revelation of the suffering and resurrection of Christ.5 After the angel stays Abraham’s hand, God confirms his covenant yet again: “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (28:16).

Abraham’s life includes the beginning of the tithe, the continuation of the lineage of Jesus, as well as the call of God for Abraham to a personal walk of faith. He may be the best example of faith in the entire Bible.

Isaac (24-27)

Isaac is the least known of the patriarchs.

Genesis 24 is the best picture of engagement in the Bible.

Rebekah receives a prophecy of the birth of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, but she is told that they will not have the same place in God’s plan. These twins are the Bible’s clearest picture of divine initiative, as Paul teaches in Romans 9. The Messiah would not be born by human choice; we do not teach God what his plan for the nations will be. Although we pray and ask by faith that his plan will advance, God holds the initiative, and God creates the plan.

Jacob (25-36)

Jacob struggles with God, and indeed his whole walk with God is a struggle of faith. Throughout his life, Jacob associates God with special places, but has a hard time remembering his constant nearness. Alexander Whyte says, “it is not that God is any more there, or is any more likely to return there; but we are better prepared to meet Him there.”6

Jacob uses betrayal to secure his brother both Esau’s inheritance and Esau’s blessing. In the West this is often condemned as deception; recent theology points out that this is not condemned in the text. The story itself seems to see Jacob’s use of skill as advancing the plan of God.7

However, Jacob’s family life is one of the most dysfunctional in the whole Bible; his parents choose favorites; he has children by four women; his children embarrass him grievously.

Jacob famously wrestles a theophany while waiting to face his twin brother Esau. All of the patriarchs face many fears and fights, but in the end they find they are always face to face with God.

Jacob pronounces a double verdict on his life at the end of the Book of Genesis: First, he says, with an ounce of bitterness, “My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.“ (47:9) He adds later, though, in his prayer for his sons, that “the blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents” (Gen. 49:26).

Joseph (37-50)

Although Jacob is still in the picture as the patriarch until the end of the book, chapters 37 through 50 are mostly concerned with Joseph’s betrayal into slavery, the favor he eventually found in Egypt, and the preservation of life that resulted. Joseph’s biography does not include the same promises that are repeated to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is not part of the lineage of Christ; however, Joseph is a type of the life of Christ in that he is “beloved, hated, and exalted,” to use F. B. Meyer’s words.

Joseph’s story is one of the most complete and beautiful story arcs in Scripture, and in regard to God’s words and promises, Joseph’s life is the ultimate example of fulfillment delayed and faith rewarded. Psalm 105 adds, “until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.” He bravely acknowledges that God’s plans for him were all good (Gen. 50:20).

Finally, Joseph’s prophetic request that they would bring up his bones creates continuity with the Book of Exodus (Gen. 50:25). Moses made sure that this request was fulfilled (Ex. 13:19).

Study Recommendations

On the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the writings of Erich Sauer are the best. See The Dawn of World Redemption and The King of the Earth. Sauer has a wealth of theological and devotional input. The theme of all his books is “the history of redemption.”

If you are interested in scientific aspects of the Book of Genesis, I recommend the works of Arthur Custance. He has many books and some are very difficult, but I recommend especially those that deal with Adam and Eve such as The Seed of the Woman and The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation. Custance was a minister, a scientist, and a theologian.

On the patriarchs, I recommend a short devotional by Watchman Nee called Changed into His Likeness.

____

1 John York. Missions in the Age of the Spirit.

2 In Hebrew it is named after the first phrase, In the Beginning, and in Greek this was shortened to simply The Beginning—which is γεννησις, Genesis.

3 For example, the salvation of Moses in the Nile (Exodus 1), the story of Jonah, and the figure of baptism all bear resemblance to the Flood story.

4 Erich Sauer. Dawn of World Redemption, p. 100.

5 Chrysostom and Erasmus believed this in reference to John 8:56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.”

6 Alexander Whyte. Concise Bible Characters, p. 68. AMG Publishers.

7 John E. Anderson. Jacob and the Divine Trickster.