Category Archives: Through the Bible

Through the Bible, June 22

Reading: Ezra 7; 9:1-10:17

Summary: Ezra was a teacher, specifically of God’s Law.  His contribution to the “restoration of the Jews” following Babylonian captivity was to guide them in knowing and practicing God’s word.  That could, at times, be very challenging when the people had long neglected God’s word.  And it was that very fact that hand landed them in captivity in the first place.

Old habits die hard, but Ezra was a leader strong enough to not allow these returned Jews to fall into those old ways.

Devotional Thought:

Hating God’s Word

How do you feel when you read God’s word?  Encouraged? Built up? Motivated?  Happy?   Comforted?  Hopeful?

Of course, many circumstances go into our emotional response to the Bible.  But surely, one of the reasons we love the Bible is because it can make us feel so good.  It can give us comfort for our grief, hope for our despair, joy for our sorrow, strength for our weakness, and so on.  How marvelous are the “words of eternal life.”

Just as for every day there is a night and for every laughter there is a tear, so also there is another side to what God’s word can, and should, do for us.  Think about the response of Ezra and the people.  They trembled and Ezra tore his clothes, pulled hair from his head and beard and sat appalled (Ezra 9:3).  This was all because the people heard the word of God and Ezra heard of the faithlessness of the people.

Sometimes the Bible makes us feel so good, but it might also make us feel so bad.  Remember Jehoiakim reacted violently (literally cutting up the scroll of Jeremiah with a knife and burning it in the fire) and Felix became alarmed (Jer. 36:23; Acts 24:25).

The real test of our love for God and His word doesn’t come when we’re made to feel better by it, but worse.  It’s not when I love what it says, but when I hate it.  What comes next tells everything about us.

June Week 4 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 4: The Old Testament Story Concludes

June 22-28

         Ezra, for whom the book is named, leads another group of Jews from the land of their exile back to the land of their heritage.  While Zerubbabel’s focus in the first return had been on rebuilding the temple, Ezra sought to reestablish a viable religious life among those returned Jews.

Still another group is led by Nehemiah whose intent is to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. With that task accomplished he pairs with Ezra to further religious reforms.

The last prophet of the Old Testament and appropriately the last book in the order of our English Bibles is Malachi.  Four hundred years will pass before another voice, directed from heaven, will be heard.  Not coincidentally, John the Baptist will be the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah.

Through the Bible, June 21

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflection: This is the scheduled day to catch up on your Bible reading for the third week of June in case you may have fallen behind.  Though no Bible reading is planned for today, you may wish to consider the following thoughts drawn from this week’s reading.

  1. It’s hard to imagine, considering the prominence and central role of the temple in Jerusalem for the Jewish people as we read in the New Testament, that it took such great effort to get it rebuilt during the days of Zerubbabel. Many opposing forces and influences had to be overcome.  This serves as a fitting reminder that any worthwhile task will likely require persistence to overcome obstacles and opposition.  Don’t quit!
  2. The book of Esther is the only book of the Bible in which God is not explicitly called by name. Yet, in no other book of the Bible is God’s work on behalf of His people any more evident.
  3. The Bible reminds us that it is in the power of God to exalt man or to bring him low. The case of Haman stands in contrast to that of Joseph.  In a single day,  Joseph went from a prisoner to the third most powerful man in Egypt, while Haman, also in a single day, went from an exceedingly high and powerful position to being executed on his own gallows.  We simply do not know what a day may bring or what God might accomplish.

Devotional Thought:

Wherever You Are, Begin

When Jesus came to earth, the New Testament says it was at “the right time” (Gal. 5:6).

From the vantage point of the return to Jerusalem following captivity and the struggle to rebuild the temple, that must have appeared to be an impossibility.  Things looked so bleak.  The people were so weak.  They were such a small and struggling people with so little to offer.  Kind of like how we feel about ourselves sometimes.

Jerusalem and the Jews were not then what they would become.  Not that they ever became perfect.  The “right time” most certainly involves some other factors than the condition of God’s people and the city of Jerusalem.   Even so, they had to start from where they were.  They had to rebuild the temple, reestablish right practice of their faith and construct the city walls again.  It was a place to start.  Eventually, things would be right.

We may not be right now in our own lives where we want to be, what we want to be or who we want to be.  Things may not be “right” with us.  But they can be.  To get there, we have to begin where we are, right now.

So what needs to happen next?  It may still be a long way from what will ultimately need to be true, but it’s a place to start.  For anyone to reach the destination for which they desire and dream, they must begin where they now are.

And that’s the key, begin.

Through the Bible, June 20

Reading: Esther 7-10

Summary: Though Haman is dead, the decree authorized by the king for the mass slaughter of the Jews is still in place.  Mordecai and Esther move quickly by the king’s authority to authorize their people to defend themselves against their enemies on the fated day set by Haman.  Exactly the opposite result that Haman planned unfolds as the Jewish people successfully defend themselves.

Devotional Thought:

The Transforming Power of Hope

Dread and fear debilitate, hope and opportunity invigorate.

You’ve experienced it haven’t you?  The threat of harm or oppression causes a dark cloud to shroud your thoughts and feelings. You are beaten down and defeated long before anything actually happens.  Suddenly a ray of hope appears.  There is a chance; an opportunity to overcome and emerge victorious.  Again, before anything actually, happens your disposition has been changed completely.  The dark cloud is gone.  Hope and possibility replace dread and woe.

Under Haman’s threat, the Jews were “fasting, weeping, and lamenting” (Esth. 4:3).  Given the opportunity to defend themselves they had “light and gladness and joy and honor” (Esth. 8:16).  Again, nothing had actually yet happened, but hope and opportunity changed everything.

Is this not precisely what God provides; hope and opportunity?  That changes everything, even before God has done anything.

Through the Bible, June 19

Reading: Esther 4-6

Summary: The drama further unfolds and Mordecai convinces Esther to take action on her people’s behalf.  Haman’s fool proof plan unravels in a matter of hours as he looses not only his powerful position but also his life.

Devotional Thought:

Silence Is Not Golden

Sure, there are times when silence is not only appropriate but very beneficial; a golden blessing.  But not always.

Mordecai urged Esther to not remain silent, but speak on behalf of her people (Esth. 4:14).  Her silence would have been a disgrace and tragic.  Our silence could be same.

Silence is tragic when…

  • the strong do not open their mouths on behalf of the weak (Prov. 31:9)
  • one’s given responsibility to watch do not warn of impending danger (Ezek. 33:7)
  • one generation fails to tell the next of the goodness of God (Psalm 78:3-4)
  • words of comfort and encouragement are kept from the discouraged and downcast (1 Thess. 4:18)
  • the gospel is not preached (Mark 16:15).

Mordecai further suggested that Esther was where she was for this very purpose.

It is true.  No matter where or with whom we are, something needs to be said.  Don’t be silent.

Through the Bible, June 18

Reading: Esther 1-3

Summary: After the first group of Jews returns to Jerusalem (as led by Zerubbabel, Ezra 1-6), but before the second group (as led by Ezra, Ezra 7-10), an incredible drama unfolds back in Persia and is recorded as the book of Esther.

No greater example of God’s providential care is found anywhere in Scripture than in the story of Esther.

Today’s reading sets all the pieces in place.  Esther is chosen to the position of queen as Haman also attains to a position of high prominence, but also plans his villainous plot to exterminate Mordecai and his people, the Jews.

Devotional Thought:

God is Nowhere and Everywhere

The book of Esther is odd.  Not one time is God explicitly mentioned in this entire book.  Not once.  But neither is the presence of God any more evident than in the events unfolded in its pages.

“God” is nowhere in Esther and God is everywhere in Esther.

A memorable cartoon pictures two figures sitting at the bar of a saloon.  One of them is impeccably dressed; broad-brimmed large cowboy hat, rhinestone studded and colorful western-cut shirt with pressed jeans held up by a belt sporting a very sizable, shiny buckle and tucked into highly-polished pointy-toed boots.  The other wore a crumpled hat, wrinkled shirt, sagging jeans, over dusty, mud (or something else) caked boots—a generally disheveled look.  The latter says wryly to the former, “I see by the way you are dressed that you are a cowboy.”

Externals are sometimes—not always—superficial.  Externals get noticed.  Externals can be seen by others.  Externals can also be deceptive. The appearance they give can belie the reality within.

A cowboy is evidenced more by what he does, not what he wears.  The presence of God in Esther is not measured by the number of times He’s called by name in that book.  Our place as a follower of Christ is not established by the jewelry we wear, the t-shirt logos we sport, or even the assemblies we attend or how loudly we praise Him.  It’s His presence in our lives. It’s His love reflected to others.  It’s His compassion for people in need. It’s His commitment to fulfill the Father’s will.

“God” isn’t in Esther but He is, just as Christ must be in us.

Through the Bible, June 17

June 17: Zechariah 7-9

Summary: Further messages from God by His prophet Zechariah, including further reminders of the consequences of Israel’s former unfaithfulness, God’s plan’s for Zion, and some specific details regarding the coming Messiah.

Devotional Thought:

Let God Do Good

God is good and wants to do good. That sounds obvious but it’s not always how it works out.

To His people God said, “I purposed…to bring good” (Zech. 8:15).  What He had brought, though, was “disaster” (Zech. 8:14).  Why?  Because “your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent.”

That God is good is unquestionable and undeniable.  But what we receive from Him is not based on His goodness, but rather on us.  So, the prophet tells God’s people what they must do to receive from their good God His goodness, and not disaster.  In short it was, “Love truth and peace” (Zech. 8:19).

Love truth and peace?

God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

Yep, love truth and peace.

Through the Bible, June 16

Reading: Zechariah 1-2

Summary: Two months after the word of the Lord came to Haggai, it came to Zechariah.  This prophet reminds the people in Jerusalem of their need for faithfulness to God.  They should not be like their fathers who had ignored (at best) God’s prophets and look what happened to them.

Devotional Thought:

Call Me Chicken

The ill-advised game of chicken—for ones who may not know—is a “sport” involving two speeding automobiles on a head-on crash course, each occupied by one or more thrill-seeking (read “foolish”) young people.  The “chicken” is identified as the one who changes course first to avert the collision.

Whoever makes the first move loses (???).  I suppose the only consolation is the fact that you’re still alive.

It’s a perverted value system that identifies winning with doggedly pursuing one’s present course despite the inevitable and undeniable negative consequences.

True in “chicken,” true in life.

God’s prophet’s message was pretty straightforward, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 1:3; see also Isa. 31:6; Jer. 3:1, 22; Ezek. 18:20; Mal. 3:7).

It’s not just an Old Testament message, either.  “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8).  The prodigal’s father ran to him, embraced him, and kissed him when he saw his lost son returning to Him (Luke 15:20).

God will return to us when we return to Him.  When we move, God moves.  And we need—desperately need— God to move.  Because of sin, we can’t get all the way back to Him.

He’s ready.  He’s willing.  He’s waiting.

Go ahead. Make the first move and call me “chicken.”

Through the Bible, June 15

Reading: Haggai 1-2

Summary: Haggai, along with Zechariah, is named in Ezra 5:1 in connection with Zerubbabel’s efforts to rebuild the temple.  Prophets have been sent to deliver God’s message to nations, cities, and kings.  Haggai is sent specifically to leaders of the Jewish people attempting to re-occupy Jerusalem to remind them that it is time to rebuild the house of the Lord.

Devotional Thought:

It’s Not Complicated

God’s expectations of humanity are not difficult.  We really can—and must—know what God wants.  The Bible makes these things rather explicit and clear.

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13).

Fear God and obey God–simple enough.

That’s what happened as a result of the message of the prophet Haggai: “…the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God…and the people feared the Lord” (Hag. 1:12).

Here’s the thing, obedience without fear is worthless.  Fear (reverence) without obedience is no fear.  Fear God and obey God.

But what about love? you ask.  Fair enough.

The Bible is also explicit and clear about this too.  Jesus calls it the “great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).

Remember too that “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Love God and obey God.  The same holds true for this pair as well; one without the other is not real or valid.

Fear God.  Love God.  Obey God.

It’s not multiple choice.  It’s not mix ’n’ match.  It’s not pick and choose.

June Week 3 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 3: The Jews’ Saga Continues in Both Jerusalem and Persia

June 15-21

         The post-Babylonian captivity story of the Israelites continues on two fronts. In Jerusalem the people have become comfortable, having turned their attention from God’s house to their own homes.  Haggai and Zechariah play important roles in getting the people back on track for the task on which they are to focus.

Meanwhile, back in Persia, an amazing drama is unfolding in which by the incredible providential work of God, a beautiful Jewess, Esther, assumes a most unlikely position as queen.  From there she is able to literally save the Israelite people from extermination.