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.

Through the Bible, June 14

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflection: Today is the scheduled catch up day for the second week of June.  Take this opportunity, if needed, to get your reading up to date.  If you are all caught up, you may wish to think on the thoughts listed below based on this week’s readings.

  1. Daniel’s prophecies look toward the coming of God’s kingdom. He places the events in historical perspective even bridging the gap from the present (Nebuchadnezzar’s reign) to the time of the New Testament (Roman rule).  He even prophesies regarding events and individuals from during the 400 year time span between the Old and New Testaments (including Alexander the Great, his four generals who inherit his kingdom, etc.)
  2. The fact that New Testament Christians possessed as their Scriptures what we today would refer to as the Old Testament, they were quite familiar with not only the story that unfolds there, but also the prophecies, visions, and messages of the prophets. So, near the end of the first century, when the church began to be opposed by Rome and subject to persecution, God’s message of defeat to her enemies and ultimate victory over Satan was couched in a message based on symbols and figures.  These the Christians readily understood while the enemy Romans did not.  Thus the book of Revelation is replete with words, ideas, and images taken directly from sources like Daniel and Ezekiel.
  3. Zerubbabel led the first return of Jews to Jerusalem and Judah from Babylon. Later groups would be led by Ezra and Nehemiah.  So, just as there had been three primary deportations of Jews from Jerusalem into captivity, there will also be three primary returns from exile; a nice symmetry as we often find in Scripture.

Devotional Thought:

Whether You Do or Don’t, Do

When the people of Israel had the opportunity to return to their homeland from captivity after Babylon fell to Persia, some of them did, but not all.  Of those who did, the Bible says it was ones “whose spirit God had stirred to go up” (Ezra 1:5).  But it wasn’t everybody.  It wasn’t Daniel or Ezekiel, it wasn’t Ezra or Nehemiah—though both of these would eventually go.  Most of the Israelites stayed where they were.

The point is that not everyone is willing, able, or even should do everything.  And just because someone isn’t doing what I’m doing does not make them somehow “less than.”  What is more, even if God stirs my heart to do something, it doesn’t somehow make that more important than what you are doing, or necessarily that you should do what I’m doing.

But also notice this, of those who remained behind the Bible says they “encouraged them” (Ezra 1:6; NASB).  The ones who did not go, did what they could to help those who were going.

Isn’t that true of every endeavor, even in the Lord’s work?  Success depends on active, willing participants as well as strong encouragers and supporters.  Everyone does have a part to play.

So, it doesn’t matter if you do or you don’t, you still need to do!

Through the Bible, June 13

Reading: Ezra 4-6

Summary: The work of the Jews-returned-to-Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel was not without opposition.  As a matter of fact, their efforts were legally stopped based on complaints sent back to the king of Persia.

Eventually, the original decree of King Cyrus was located and the work was allowed to resume.  But, the delay had lulled the people into inactivity and the efforts of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (June 15-17 readings) were enlisted to motivate them to focus their efforts on God’s house.

Devotional Thought:

Finished!

Finishing a task can, at times, be challenging—even when we consider it a God-given, noble and necessary endeavor.

Such was the building of the temple following Babylonian captivity.  What better, God-centered, and more important project could be undertaken?  Yet, it almost didn’t get finished. Opponents armed with legal verdicts brought work to a halt.  Time-consuming correspondence finally cleared up the legalities, but during the long delay, enthusiasm waned.  God intervened with prophets to re-energize the people to get the ball rolling again.  Finally, the temple was completed.

Just because what we’re doing is good and right and necessary and even at God’s behest, doesn’t guarantee unhindered, smooth, and enthusiastic progress.  We may experience times of great progress, frustrating delays, opposition, movement by fits and starts, the need for outside intervention to reorient priorities and provide motivation.

Whatever!  Keep moving forward.  Don’t quit.  Don’t give up.

Maybe it’s time to refocus, regroup, and begin again. Troubles and challenges and obstacles along the way do not mean this isn’t what needs to be done.  Otherwise, God’s temple would have never been rebuilt.

Finish!

Through the Bible, June 12

Reading: Ezra 1, 3

Summary: Babylon fell to the Persians.  Babylon had a policy of dealing with conquered people (such as Judah and others) to take them into captivity.  The Persians did not.  The inherited captives of Babylon were allowed to return home.  It all transpired just as God had said through Jeremiah.

The first group of Jews to return to Jerusalem was led by Zerubbabel.  Their primary intent was to rebuild the temple.  The completion of its foundation was cause for great rejoicing.

Devotional Thought:

Go Home

Out of sorts?  Lost?  Troubled?  Unhappy?  Dissatisfied? Hurting?

You probably haven’t always been, have you?  Can you remember a time when this wasn’t the case?

It’s just possible—very possible—that in order to get back where you were, you need to get back where you were.  What I mean is, you need to go home.  Maybe that is somehow true physically, but it is most certainly true spiritually.

Zerubbabel started just such a process when he led the first of the Jews from Persia back to Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 1).  God’s plan and purpose were moving forward.  Eventually, His Son would come in the flesh, born in Bethlehem of Judea. But right now, what needed to happen is these people needed to come home.

Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal son turned on the realization by that wayward boy that he needed to return home to his father (Luke 15:17-18).

Each of us—all of us—need to be at home with our Father.

It’s time to return.

Through the Bible, June 11

Reading: Ezekiel 37, 38

Summary: The imagery of the valley of dry bones provides a striking and memorable message to God’s people of God’s ability to restore His people no matter how far gone they may appear to be (chapter 37).

The message regarding Gog of Magog (chapter 38) finds life again near the end of the Bible (Rev. 20).

Devotional Thought:

Life’s Dry Bones

Is all hope gone?  Is there any way for the problem to be fixed? for the hurt to be healed? for the destroyed to be rebuilt? for scattered to be gathered? for the soiled to be cleaned?

What is wrong in your life and what can be done about it?

Don’t be too fast to answer.  God has something to say about this.

It’s one of Ezekiel’s most memorable prophecies, and with good reason.  The imagery is striking, but it’s the message that’s most important.

“Very many” bones, “very dry” bones, scattered over a valley (Ezek. 37:2).  God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”  Ezekiel’s judicious answer is, “O Lord God, you know.” (v. 3).

Of course, they could, because God could cause them to do so.  And He did.

What are the dry bones of your life?  How many are there and how dry are they?   Can these bones live?

O Lord God, you know.

Through the Bible, June 10

Reading: Ezekiel 33, 34, 36

Summary: The last chapters of Ezekiel (33-48) follow the fall of Jerusalem and focus on the time of restoration and God’s eternal kingdom.  The prophet also addresses the critical issue of Israel’s failed leaders.  The discussion of the roles of watchmen and shepherd are insightful for leaders of all times.

Devotional Thought:

How Can We Be So Wrong?

It may not seem like a big deal, especially when compared with other concerns and issues, but there’s just something about failing to do things God’s way that is upsetting—maybe I’m reading the Bible too much.  What makes this really bothersome is it’s being done by otherwise sincere believers.  It’s not like it’s a bunch of rebellious ne’er-do-wells.

Let’s start with Ezekiel’s message from God, “As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep” (Ezek. 34:12; NASB).  God has some real issues with shepherds of His people failing in their roles. He lays much of the responsibility for Israel’s deplorable spiritual condition on the “shepherds” (see Ezek. 34:1-6).

Fast forward to the New Testament.  Jesus, of course, is the good shepherd (John 10:14).  He’s the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25).  But beyond that responsibility has been given to others to oversee and shepherd Gods’ people. This is quite explicitly stated, “I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” (1 Pet. 5:1-2; see also Acts 20:17, 28).

So what’s the deal?  Here it is—most typically preachers are called pastors and expected to fill the role of shepherding.  The Bible doesn’t do that—we do that.  It’s not doing things that need to be done the way God wants them done.  That’s the deal.

Is it just me?  Or does God express great concern for shepherds?  Does God not make provisions and give instructions for shepherding?  Would we be best served to follow God’s lead and direction?

I’m just full of questions.

Through the Bible, June 9

Reading: Daniel 6, 9

Summary: Daniel appears to transition from a role of leadership in Babylon to the same under the Medes and Persians.  Today’s reading involves two incidents from the rule of Darius the Mede.  The first is Daniel’s famous visit to the lion’s den.  The second involves a prayer offered by Daniel, truly one of the great petitions recorded in Scripture.  A third vision is also dated during the reign of this same king (chapter 11) and yet another to the time of Cyrus of Persia (chapter 10).

Devotional Thought:

Don’t Dare Pray!

Have you prayed today?

If not, why not?  Is it because you just hadn’t thought about it?  Is it because you only pray at meal time or in a worship assembly?  Is it because you’re not in the habit of praying?  Is it because you’ve been threatened with death if you do?

I’m guessing it’s probably not that last one, is it?  But what if you were told you could not pray to God?  What if you were told that if you were caught praying you would be killed?  You know, like Daniel was (Daniel 6).

Is prayer more of a possibility for you if it is under the threat of death or if there is no pressure, no threat, no ill effects if you do?

Is the proof of the importance of prayer in my life most evident when there is the chance of death if I do or when there is no looming threat at all?