Hello, IT. Yeah Huh. Have You Tried Forcing An Unexpected Reboot?

Ezra 1-3

The book of Ezra picks up the story of Israel at a very important moment: the return from exile. The Persians swoop in and conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC. The persian King, Cyrus the Great, acknowledging God for giving him the kingdoms of the earth, issues a proclamation that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. The Jews who were taken captive and exiled in Babylon are allowed to return to the land they call home and help rebuild the temple. We’re reminded of the Exodus, when God’s people were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh.

For an ancient king, Cyrus seems to be especially respectful of the customs and religions of his subjects. It turns out that this is in a way beneficial for him, since allowing your subjects freedom of religion and not enslaving them earns you so much more support and makes for a more stable empire. He was a bit of a trend setter in this regard.

Cyrus is reversing what Nebuchadnezzar set in motion. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took the temple vessels, and scattered the people into exile. Cyrus has conquered Babylon, allowed everyone to go back to where they call home, given back the temple vessels, and ordered the temple rebuilt. But really it is God doing the exiling and reversing, through the hands of these kings, to give his people another chance.

Ezra 2 gives an extensive list of the wave of 50,000 some people who returned to Judah, and details the livestock, if you were dying to know. We usually think this kind of passage is a bit of a drag, but it’s really more of a celebration, with more confetti at every name and number. Think of the importance they placed on leadership, and the legacy and roles of the people mentioned. Each of these people are going back to wherever they call home, where they have deep roots and history. Each of them has something unique to contribute toward rebuilding their lives, and they’ll need the skills and resources of everyone to restore Jerusalem and the temple.

Similarly, in the body of Christ, we need the unique skills and gifts everyone brings to the table. We all play an important role in taking care of each other and reaching out into the world.

And so the project begins. First things first! They make sure there is at least an altar and that the usual schedule of sacrifices is back on track. They are trying to build a continuity between what their lives were like before the exile and what they are like now after the exile. Being able to worship again is a stepping stone toward restoration. Routines are important!

Into the second year after returning to Jerusalem, the materials and workers are all being gathered to get the temple together again. When the foundation is laid, there is a big ceremony with music and singing to God. They sing, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” Things are looking up. We’ve got the people, the temple foundation, and some semblance of our usual worship.

But there is something in the air that signals to us that not everything is quite right again. While many people are shouting loudly for joy, many of the older folks who saw the first temple are weeping loudly. It is bittersweet. It is good that there is now at least part of a temple, yet it doesn’t hold a candle to what it was before.

We end chapter 3 with this very divided response to the temple. The noise is so loud that they can’t tell who is joyful and who is sorrowful. They’ve been waiting so many years just for this chance to rebuild, and now it’s not even clear if it is a good thing or not. 

But restoration is a process. Most things that we want, we can get almost instantly. I can drive to the store and get ice cream. I can order something from Amazon almost without moving a muscle, and it will arrive in two days. Way in the future, in the year 2000, we’ll just think of what we need, and it will materialize in our teleportation device. But doing something of significance takes time, effort, prayer, and also probably money. And so does rebuilding Jerusalem. It is tempting to compare back to what things used to be like (the “good old days”) and be discouraged. What we might be missing is that God’s plans and ideas usually break our categories for what we think is even possible.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – Ezra 1-3

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137 as we continue on our

The Lifting of the Zadokites: Ministerial Faithfulness

Ezekiel 44-45


“‘But the Levitical priests, who are descendants of Zadok and who guarded my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign Lord. They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and serve me as guards. Ezekiel 44:15-16 (NIV)


Yesterday we discussed God’s holiness and how it must be separated from the common. Today we will continue along those lines but in terms of ministering in the presence of such holiness. The temple was the place where God’s presence was located on earth and was considered the holiest place on the planet; it was a sacred space. Not just anyone could visit the temple; Israel was ripped by God for allowing uncircumcised (of heart and body) non-Jews to go into the temple (Ez. 44:7). After laying out the dimensions for a new holy temple in the last few chapters, God turns Ezekiel’s attention to who gets to minister there and in what capacity. 


Israel had not taken seriously the holiness of God, even in the temple, where the Holy of Holies was found. The Levitical priests, despite being chosen to act as ministers in the temple, couldn’t fulfill their duties without corruption. They allowed the unworthy to come into the temple and served as priests to idols. These priests may not have been, but Yahweh certainly was serious about keeping His temple holy and having the right people ministering there. So, in this new temple, those who hadn’t appreciated the importance of the job would miss out. Those who remained firm, those who did not go with the crowd, those who did appreciate the holiness of the temple, the Zadokites (descendants of Zadok), would be lifted up as an example and given the jobs the less than faithful had forfeited.


Today there isn’t a grand temple complex where we must minister before God. We don’t have to make animal sacrifices, wear special clothes, or worry about remaining ceremonially clean. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t just as serious today about those who represent Him as ministers. The sacrifices of today are spiritual in nature and offered by those who have chosen to follow Christ as their High Priest. We are to act as royal priests who, following the example of our High Priest, surrender ourselves completely to the will of God and do the ministry He calls us to. Just like the Zadokites, who were lauded for their faithfulness despite Israel’s disobedience, we need to make sure we stay true to who we are as disciples of Christ and God’s representatives on earth, regardless of how others act–Christian or not. Our God still cares about holiness and has put His spirit within us, let us guard the new temple with the same (or greater) fervor and faithfulness as (than) the Zadokites did. 

-Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at Biblegateway here –Ezekiel 44-45

Tomorrow we will finish the book of Ezekiel (chapters 46-48) as we continue on our

The Holy and the Common

Ezekiel 42-43

Why is it that older churches and cathedrals seem to have an aura about them that is missing from newer Christian constructions? There is a special reverence that is shown to these historical places of worship, but why? They appear to be more “holy” than modern church structures–are they really or is it just perception?

In our reading today, we get more details about the temple complex being shown to Ezekiel. As I mentioned yesterday, one intention for the prophet in giving specifications to all of Israel was so they could imagine what it would be like. Another reason, which flows from first is to draw attention to God’s holiness and, in turn, Israel’s sinfulness. But why would imagining the temple lead to recognizing sin? This question and the ones in the above paragraph are tied together.

The idea of holiness in the Bible is connected with being different, set apart, or sacred. The God of the Bible is called holy; He is without sin, He is all powerful, He is worthy of worship and adoration. Yahweh is distinct from His creation. Though humans are made in His image, they have sins which separate them from God, showing Him to be holy and people common. When humans encounter God’s holiness, it leaves them in awe of His majesty and with awareness of their own sinfulness (see Isaiah 6). When you see a dirty object–even one you think is clean–held up to something that is flawless, every little blemish is revealed. That is what happens when humans meet God.

When we see older churches or cathedrals, we are looking at something different, uncommon, a building designed to be set apart from other constructions. Older places of worship are usually taller, more distinctive, and, dare I say, were built by people more reverent than us. They have brilliant stained glass, magnificent architecture, and invoke a deep sense of beauty. Modern churches, by contrast, aren’t much taller than most middle-class housing and, in most cities, are located every few blocks. They look dull in comparison, with nothing extraordinary to offer. Older churches appear more holy because they stand out more, while modern ones seem all too common.

Older churches and cathedrals were built as the place where humans go to encounter God, much like Jews viewed the temple. Many modern Christians understand they don’t have go to a building to worship God, but for most of Christian history the church building has been the place where followers of Christ have gathered to worship their creator, which is why those older churches were so grand. They wanted the building to reflect the holiness of the God they worshiped. God’s holiness causes people to recognize their own sinfulness. It’s no wonder that the dulling down of Christian architecture has mirrored a more laissez-faire attitude towards sin.

What should we do then? Should we go back to designing and building grand places of worship?

No. When Jesus left the curtain torn, the separation between the holy God and sinful humanity was broken. This means striving after good works and the sacrificing of rams and bulls is not the way to achieve holiness. Instead, we put our faith (believe) in the one responsible for ripping the veil in half and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Because of the righteousness of the Messiah, we can be holy and the spirit of God can dwell in us, as we live as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16).

God’s holiness still causes us to recognize our own sin, but we don’t have to go to a grand building to see it. We encounter it through scripture, reading about God Himself or His son who reveals so much about Him. We see it in nature, looking through binoculars, telescopes, or with the naked eye. We see it when the Church (the people, not the building) acts as it was intended to. Thankfully God’s holiness doesn’t just reveal our sinfulness, but His love for us and willingness to forgive those who ask for it. What a holy, loving, and awesome God we serve!

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 42-43

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 44-45 as we continue on our

Imagine

Ezekiel 40-41

Here we go! I thought we were past the “boring” parts of the Bible. Yesterday we read about God obliterating a mighty leader and his allies and today we get dimensions for a temple? Two whole chapters on dimensions and part of another(we’ll get to that tomorrow)? Give me a break…

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems we are living in one of the least imaginative periods in world history. If you asked me to write a simple short, short story, like under 1000 words, I don’t know if I could think up something that would hold your interest for 10 minutes. I don’t know if it would be because of my lack of imagination or yours (maybe both). This is why we find passages like today’s so boring. And I think I know why our imaginations are so lacking. It is because of the constant bombardment of visual stimulation. We don’t need to exercise our imaginations, so we don’t. We have blockbuster films so we don’t need novels. Kids have IPhones so they don’t need to play made up games. Cars have DVD (or Blu-ray) players so they don’t have to exercise their vocabulary (which takes imagination) to play the Alphabet game. I don’t want to sound like some old fart harping on modern technology, but anyone who thinks smartphone usage among the adolescent (and younger and older) doesn’t carry consequences is being naive at best. Maybe I’m delusional, but at least that means I have imagination, right?

Now on to these “boring” dimensions…

In our key verse for today (40:4) Ezekiel receives instructions to look, listen, and pay attention to what is being said and then to tell it to the people of Israel. This signals for us that even the most minute measurements of this passage are seen as important to the people of Israel. It makes sense that these small details would matter; anyone who has done carpentry knows that even an eighth of an inch can make a big difference when trying to make something square (flush). And that’s the case even if you make something as small as a birdhouse. How much more so when you’re creating a compound as big as the temple being described. If this temple is actually going to be built, it needs detailed specifications. No one builds anything on a grand scale without a blueprint about how to build it. So it makes sense that the builders of this temple would need to know this “boring” stuff. But why does all of Israel need to know what this temple will look like? The answer to this question reveals in part why Ezekiel was told to tell all of Israel the vision and part of what we should glean from the passage. God wanted Israel to be able to imagine what the temple would look like. They could make a mental picture in their minds and imagine being there with Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel . This would have filled the righteous with joy, hope, and a longing for the future and the idolatrous with guilt, fear, and hopefully a desire to repent. It would have revealed God’s holiness to them and made them think about their guilt (we’ll talk about this more tomorrow). There’s no doubt in my mind the Jews in exile had better imaginations than us.

Now to us unimaginative folks…

Just as God wanted to have the people of Israel use their minds to picture the temple and imagine what it would be like to be there, our creator wants us to use our imaginations. We are to love Yahweh with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. I think this last one gets under appreciated or is used simply to refer to knowing about God, but part of loving God with our mind is using our inherent ability to imagine. Today’s passage is a great opportunity to do so. As you’re reading (or, listening) to Ezekiel 40 and 41 and the dimensions listed (read a version with measurements you’re familiar with) picture the temple in your mind and what it would be like to be there with God. There are other parts of the Bible with much less detail, but where we can still picture the scene in our mind. This should help us in our study of scripture and fulfilling the command to love God with all our mind. We can imagine what it was like at creation, what it was like to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, or what it will be like in the Kingdom. These are not only great exercises for our lacking imaginations, but I believe they are ways to worship. We are made in the image of the one who created the entire universe out of nothing. Imagine that-

Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+40-41&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 42-43 as we continue on our

To Ground God Goads Gog

Ezekiel 38-39

Whenever we learn a pastor is going to be reading from one of the Prophets it usually means we’re going to hear something about Jesus or how a prophecy may be fulfilled soon (read: in our lifetime). Now, neither of these is a bad reason to look at the words God spoke through these chosen messengers, but I think there are other reasons we should read them and a mindset we should have when we do that more aligns with why they were written. Our reading for today will be a case in point.

In Ezekiel 38-39, we hear about Gog, a military leader, and Magog, the home of said leader. This guy Gog is someone who wants to go to blows with the people of God. And God will let it (or make it) happen, not because He doesn’t care about His people, but the opposite. God is going to send Gog to destroy Israel, but the tough guy and all who join him will meet their doom instead. Yahweh is going to reveal Himself to the world so that they know He really is God and He really does defend His people and care for them. Though they may be weak and outnumbered, Israel has the God of Angel Armies on their side and He will not be denied victory. The nations will see what happens to Gog and know it was God who put an end to him and his allies.

What Bible teachers and preachers usually do when expositing from these two chapters in Ezekiel, is to try to identify what current world nations are represented by the names mentioned in the text (e.g. Gog) and when these events will take place. This is an acceptable goal when trying to dig into the meaning of this passage and trying to see how it relates to other prophecies, especially if we think it might be fulfilled in our own lifetime. But I think the first thing we need to do (generally) when reading the Bible is try to understand what the purpose of the message was in the first place and then to see what it means for us today. We should have our minds be in a state where we’re hearing as the original intended audience heard it, then bring it to our own context and see how it fits there. Most of the Bible was written for Jewish people in an ancient Jewish context. We have to appreciate that and respond accordingly. One caveat is that just because a speaker doesn’t mention how a passage was heard in its original context doesn’t mean they didn’t think about it, it could be they didn’t have time to bring it up in their lesson/message. That being said, we should seek to regularly look at the original audience/context whenever we do our own study of the Bible.

Ezekiel 38-39 was written down by a Jew in exile for the Jews in exile. People who had a covenant with Yahweh but had repeatedly broken it. They had a relationship with the One True God but continued to cheat on Him with other nations and their false gods. They were being punished for their idolatry through exile. Babylon had conquered the Promised Land and they no longer could claim it as their home. God had revealed previously that He would restore Jewish people back to their home. He does again in this passage and says they will be living securely, in peace when Gog makes his move and is roundly defeated by Israel’s defender and the world is shown that Yahweh is the Holy One is Israel. This undoubtedly would have caused joy to the Jews who heard it, trust from those who believed it, and hope to the ones who thought about the future.

Bringing it to our own context, we may not be exiled from our native land, but we are awaiting a country of our own (Hebrews 11:14). We may not have worshiped false gods like Baal and Asherah, but perhaps we have elevated things or people to a place only reserved for God. We may not be a part of the Old Covenant which brought God to the defense of His rebellious people, but we are a part of the New Covenant which brought Jesus to take on the sins of rebellious people. How much more joy, trust, and hope should we have in Yahweh because of the New Covenant?

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+38-39&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 40-41 as we continue on our

All Glory to God

In Ezekiel 28 through 31 God continues to condemn all of the other nations around Israel for their evil.  He dedicates a lot of time to Egypt because they did not give glory to God for the blessings that he had given to them.

“9 Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord.“‘Because you said, “The Nile is mine; I made it,” 10 therefore I am against you and against your streams,”

The ancient Egyptians had stumbled upon and settled in one of the most fertile areas on earth and because of the natural flooding of the Nile river at the right times of the year had prospered and grown in numbers and in power in the ancient world.  For all of these blessings they did not thank God and instead had taken the glory for themselves, with their rulers counting themselves as one of the gods, and they took credit for the river and the life that it brought.  

Today we live in a blessed nation that has a history of being mostly God fearing and because of that history God has blessed us for many generations and that has led to us being the most powerful nation on earth.  We do not need to be afraid of foreign nations invading our borders because of the large oceans on either side of our continent, and we do not need to worry about having enough food because the fertile lands of the midwest grow an abundance of food and feed.  We need to remember our roots though, and always give glory to God for the blessings he has given us.  The Egyptians were on top of the world for many hundreds of years and might have thought that their glory days would never end, and likewise many in America feel like we are invincible, but if we stop serving God and giving him glory that can all dry up very quickly.  Covid has shown us how quickly jobs and health can be lost, and how quickly life can change in strange ways.  So let this be a wakeup call to us that we cannot be complacent in the good times, we cannot forget about the one who made the world and gave us all of the good things we have in life.  We can also take this slower time during Covid to dedicate more time to God and work on strengthening our relationship with Him.

Chris and Katie-Beth Mattison 

Deceived by Pride

Jeremiah 49-50

Jeremiah 49 16 NIV sgl

More sin, more judgment, more destruction, and a little more restoration – just like yesterday – only the names have been changed.  Yesterday we read about the judgment God was planning against Egypt, the Philistines, and Moab.  Today, we read what was in store for Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, Elam and the big one – Babylon.  God saw their sins and would be bringing judgment and destruction to their lands.

There is one sin that is mentioned again and again.

“Why do you boast of your valleys, boast of your valleys so fruitful? O unfaithful daughter, you trust in your riches and say, ‘Who will attack me?'” (Jeremiah 49:4  NIV).

“The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart have deceived you” (Jeremiah 49:16 NIV).

“See, I am against you, O arrogant one” (Jeremiah 50:31 NIV).

It may come by many names – boasting, pride, arrogance – but every time it is a sin worthy of judgment.

How could the pride of your heart be deceiving you?

A few weeks ago I was preparing a devotion for posting and I was looking for a background photograph for a verse referring to Hezekiah’s pride (2 Chronicles 32:25).  I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for – but figured I would know it when I saw it.  So I typed in that I wanted to see photos of pride and I started scrolling.  and scrolling.  and scrolling.  You of course are smarter than I and know what I ran across – over and over again.  I am pretty sure there were thousands upon thousands of options for gay pride – rainbows, couples, signs, and more rainbows, a lot of rainbows (when did they get to hijack the symbol of God’s promises?).  There was also the occasional national flag or beaming, proud parent pictured with her perfect child.  But, there was NOTHING there to indicate that pride is a sin, a deadly sin worthy of judgment.  Finally, I opted for the proud peacock as my photo background and shook my head at dismay over what we have become – a culture that celebrates and basks in pride.  Are we any different from the countries of Jeremiah’s day?  Arrogant, boastful, flaunting sin and deceived by pride.  Can we expect anything less than what Jeremiah foretold for these sinful nations?

What about on a personal level?  It can be overwhelmingly depressing to think about trying to fix all the evils of a nation – but what can I work at fixing about myself?  Where do I let pride puff me up so I no longer care for others or about what God says?  How is my use of social media contributing to the spiraling problem of pride?  How is pride connected to so many other sins?

It is time to see our pride and sin for what it is – and treat it as the deadly gangrene it is.  Don’t be led astray and deceived by pride.  Jump down from your high horse and humble yourself.  You aren’t as much as you think you are.  For God has promised judgment for the proud and arrogant.  He has also promised restoration and forgiveness for those who humble themselves  – “If  my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to here – Jeremiah 49-50

Tomorrow we will finish the book of Jeremiah with chapters 51-52 as we continue searching God’s Word in our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Isaiah 40-43

He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” ~ Is. 40:1-2 

While the first 39 chapters of Isaiah consist of the judgment pronounced on Israel & Judah, the book of consolation begins in chapter 40 and continues for the last 27 chapters of the book (mirroring the set-up of the Bible itself). Isaiah 40-43 contains beautiful pictures of who God is and breath-taking prophecies of the future messiah. When we look at the story of the Israelites a central theme that we see is the forsaking of the true God for idols. Because they could see the idols and because other nations worshipped in the same way, they felt like it was more profitable to worship them. However, these idols always proved to be worthless and caused pain and destruction. If we see that we are worshipping idols, what should we do? How can we turn away from the worthlessness of these idols to the infinite value found in God through Christ. 

Isaiah 40-43 gives us an answer to that as well. In Isaiah 40, Isaiah reminds us who God is. He asks the question in v. 18-19, “Who will compare God with? What likeness will you compare Him to? To an idol? Something that a smelter casts, and a metalworker plates with gold and makes silver welds for it?” Instead of worshipping a created thing, God points us to what he has created to show his power and to show us that he is the only one worth worshipping. In v. 26, he says, “Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing.” When we find ourselves looking towards idols for our value and worth – and in turn worshipping them, we need to remind ourselves of where our true value comes from. To do that, we have to turn our eyes away from ourselves and the things we think define us – whether that’s our relationships, money, career, or anything else – and turn them towards the only thing that really gives us worth. By focusing on God and basing our lives on his unchanging character, we can rest in God through the storms and trials of life. He is our firm foundation. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 40-43.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 44-48 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76

I will defend this city and rescue it because of Me and because of My servant David._

In Isaiah 36-37, we read more about the good king Hezekiah. Like we learned last week, Hezekiah worked hard to take down the idols in the land and point the people back to God. In Isaiah 36, Judah came under attack from the neighboring nation of Assyria. Hezekiah then undergoes a battle for the minds of the people as he argues against King Sennacherib and the people of the court. In these two chapters, the Rabshakeh, a high-ranking military officer, tries to convince the people to forsake their kingdom and God. In his three speeches, we may see some similarities between what he says and the way that we are tempted today. At the heart of all of his speeches is a desire to turn Judah away from trusting solely in God. 

In the Rabshakeh’s first speech, he points out one of Israel’s insecurities. He says in Is. 36:4-6, ‘What are you relying on? Your strategy and military preparedness are mere words. Look, you are trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff that will enter and pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it.’ Israel and Judah had both sought protection and manpower from Egypt as we read about in Is. 31. Now the Rabshakeh was pointing out that weakness and mocking them for it! We’ve all experienced a time when we have had our insecurities pointed out. I’m a terrible volleyball player. When I would have to play volleyball in gym class, I remember one of the cute guys at my school saying to me ‘You just have to hit the ball like this. It’s not hard!’ You can imagine that in that moment – when a shortcoming of mine was pointed out – all I wanted to do was for someone to take that problem away from me quickly! In my gym class that meant sitting out the next game, but the Judeans didn’t have that option. The Assyrians gave them the option instead to give him 2,000 horses if they could supply riders for them (v. 8). Again, this pointed out the lack of manpower and ability for the Israelites to protect themselves. 

At this point, we would probably say, ‘Well, that’s fine! Israel doesn’t need to protect themselves – they should trust in God!’ The Rabshakeh thought of that too. In verse 7, he says, ““Suppose you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God.’ Isn’t he the One whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You are to worship at this altar’?” The Rabshakeh twisted the actions of Hezekiah to make it seem like he had done something against God rather than something that God wanted. He even goes so far as to say in v. 10, “Have I attacked this land to destroy it without the LORD’s approval? The LORD said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’ In his second speech, the Rabshakeh describes how he had destroyed the gods of the surrounding nations, which would just show that God himself wouldn’t deliver the people either (v. 18-20). 

This is some powerful psychological warfare! We know the Judeans had trust issues to begin with. Now, someone is coming and laying out all of their insecurities for the world to see (right before they try to march in and destroy their kingdom)! The heart of all of the Rabshakeh’s temptation can be summed up with what he said in Is. 37:10, “Don’t let your God, whom you trust, deceive you by promising that Jerusalem won’t be handed over to the king of Assyria.” He basically says ‘Did God really say that he would save you?’ which may sound eerily reminiscent of another ancient tempter (Gen. 3:1). At this point, if someone had tried to break our trust in God in this way, we may have caved and believed them. However, Hezekiah does what we all should do when we have people who try to break our trust in God. He prays and then reminds himself of God’s unchanging character. 

God hears his prayer and we read about the victory that God brings in Isaiah 37:36-38 when an angel of the LORD strikes down the Assyrian army and the king is killed in the temple of his god, Nisroch.

When we face temptations and challenges that try to break our trust in God, we need to be reminded that he is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can trust in what the Bible says. We can trust in the promises of God. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 40-43– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Hosea 1-7

For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

When we think about the faithfulness of God, we tend to speak in terms that I would call fluff in the papers I grade in my English classes. We always say that we have a faithful God, but what does that really mean? When we describe the faithfulness of God and his faithful love, we can easily let these tired terms cause the meaning to get lost. Today’s reading snaps the striking, relentless love of God into sharp focus. In the book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea is commanded to marry a prostitute, named Gomer. She continues to be unfaithful to him, but Hosea is told to return to her each time. The relationship that Hosea has with Gomer is one that mirrors the prodigal love that God shows to the northern Kingdom of Israel. Israel pursues other gods and kingdoms, but despite this, God still calls them back to him. He still loves them. 

When I read these stories, I always question the characters’ motives. Couldn’t Gomer see how much Hosea loved her by the fact that he was always there for her? Why would she pursue other people? Hosea 2 gives insight to her reasoning. In Hosea 2:5, it says that Gomer would pursue other men because she thought they would give her “my food and water, my wool and flax, my oil and drink.” She pursued these men, because she thought they would give her what she needed to survive. Notably, these things are the basics of what she might need to live comfortably. Out of a lack of trust, she did not realize that she was actually missing out on the best things, because she was turning to these men to fulfill her desire for provision and possessions. In verse 8, it says, “She does not recognize that it is I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil. I lavished silver and gold on her, which they used for Baal.” Gomer never realized that the person who would take the best care of her and give her the best things was the person that she continued to leave for other men, Hosea. 

Too often, we follow in the footsteps of Gomer and Israel. We pursue other gods that seem like they could give us satisfaction and comfort, like our families, boy/girlfriends, work, money, education, or our beliefs and ideologies. We don’t recognize that the best things in our life actually come from the one who we continue to leave behind, God. James 1:17 says, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” God will continue to give us the best things in life, but we need to turn back to him. Don’t turn to other idols. God is infinitely better than anything the world could offer. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Hosea 1-7.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Hosea 8-14 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.