* Old Testament Reading: Numbers 20 & 21

Psalms Reading: Psalm 69

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 6

In Numbers 20-21 we encounter the Israelites at the end of their journey as they wrap up their years in the wilderness and prepare to enter the promised land of Canaan. Unfortunately, before they do that, we see a purging of a generation of people who had rebelled, distrusted, and quarreled with themselves and with the LORD. In Chapter 14 God had instructed them that only Joshua and Caleb would enter the promised land, and now we see God was serious. In Numbers 20:1 Miriam dies, in verse 12 Moses is told he will not be entering the promised land, and by the end of the chapter Aaron is dead. No special privileges here for being a priest, a leader, or related to a special someone who “was a really good person most of the time”.

In recent years I’ve heard more and more talk about generations.  Terms like X, Y, Z’s, Millennials, Zillennials, Baby Boomers. All have their strengths and weaknesses, and since I fall right in-between two, depending where I am or what is being said, I might want to associate with one more than another. That is because there are stereotypes of generations, but none are always accurate nor are they particularly important or beneficial. No matter what, as a body of Christ, we are an intergenerational people, and research continues to show the benefits of multigenerational worship and education. The year of your birth simply does not have anything to do with who we are in Christ. What does matter is our faith in Jesus and being a follower of him. In today’s reading, we see a generation dying out who knew God, yet had managed to waste the better part of 40 years not doing much to please Him, but doing a great job finding things to fight and complain about. We are currently living in a world where fights and complaints are the norm, and also one where our life expectancy is dropping. Many people born in recent generations have a lower life expectancy than their parents did. We are on this earth for a finite time, and unless we live until Jesus returns, we will “rest with our fathers” the same way people have been doing since the days of Numbers.

But, the story of Numbers doesn’t just end with death and burials, and ours doesn’t have to either. Joshua and Caleb (and crew) did get to the Promised Land. And we see more symbolism again in this idea since Yeshua can be translated as Joshua in Hebrew (our OT character leading them to the promised land) and when translated into Greek/from Greek can be translated as Jesus (our NT character through whom we have hope of our promised land in the kingdom). There is lots more out there to learn about as far as name studies if that interests you which I’ve learned a bit more about through a friend who has “Yeshua is my king” stickered across his back window. I couldn’t help ask about that one the first time I met him!

Another thing I found interesting as I read Numbers 20-21 is that a lot of the pagan enemies they are fighting on their way to the promised land are their “relatives”. The Edomites come from Esau (who was later named Edom), the Moabites and Ammonites come through incestuous relationships through Lot, and for that matter, all of them go back to Noah’s three sons! But, it didn’t matter if you were a descendant of Abraham or a relative of someone who once believed in the one true God. The people who entered the promised land were those who trusted and relied on Him, humbling themselves to allow Him to lead. Everyone else who didn’t worship the one true God as he instructed them to, set apart and holy according to his expectations. . . they were enemies. It didn’t matter if they had heard YHWH, the God of Israel, was powerful and real and they were a little scared of him. It mattered if they honored and obeyed him, and they certainly did not. While family trees can be interesting, that is about all they are good for when it comes to things of eternal perspective. The fact that your great grandpa was an elder who walked 10 miles uphill to go to church every Sunday doesn’t matter, and whether or not your relatives called themselves Christians or you attended church as a kid does not matter for your future. What matters is that in your present, regardless of which generation you are from or how much longer you may have left on this earth, you humble yourself before God and let Him lead.  The wilderness surrounds us, but the promised land to come is real.

Yesterday I ended with a verse I really liked about Jesus being the sacrifice for sins for all of us, for the whole world for all time. No more sacrifices required, and we are cleansed and forgiven. That is beautiful and true. But, the verse immediately following is too. It tells us how God expects us to respond to that gift and is a good way to wrap up our studies in Numbers this week I think.

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (I John 2:3, ESV)

-Jennifer Hall

Reflection Questions

  1. What did this Israelite generation have going for them? What were strikes against them? What most important thing did they keep forgetting?
  2. Right now, this week, have you been more like Joshua and Caleb – intent on trusting a great big God who saves and will lead you into the Promised Land – or the generation that will not survive the wilderness – losing sight of God’s greatness as you focus instead on complaining, arguing, living in fear and negativity and quarreling with the Lord? Are there any changes that need to be made starting today?
  3. What does God reveal about Himself in the passages we have read from His Holy Word today?

The Red Heifer

*OLD Testament Reading: Numbers 18-19

Psalms Reading: Psalm 68

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 5

Numbers 18-19 continue laying out God’s specifics for his tabernacle with things like priestly duties, purification procedures, and one topic covered in detail in Chapter 19 is the sacrifice of the red heifer. This sacrifice is unique from others, and worth taking the time to look at a bit. The sacrifice of the red heifer was different than other animal sacrifices laid out in the law of Moses.

For one, this was a female animal instead of male. Also, this one was to be slaughtered outside the camp, burned in all of its flesh and blood (and dung!) with a few specific additions to the fire including cedar, hyssop, and scarlet wool. (Interestingly, I realized that I now have some hyssop popping up that I planted last year, and I added cedar shavings to the garden this past week. But, no scarlet wool and no red heifers around here!).  It seems this sacrifice was extremely specific and unique, and definitely similar to some things we see in Jesus’s sacrifice for us. If you want to read more about the symbolism and foreshadowing from the red heifer to Jesus, it is certainly out there. And, without looking too hard, we can definitely see connections including Jesus being killed in all of his flesh/blood outside of the temple, being perfectly flawless, being offered hyssop on the cross, being a sacrifice for our sins the way the red heifer was for the Israelites, etc., etc.

Evidencing that Old Testament stories are still relevant for us today, according to the Temple Institute, five blemish-free red heifers from Texas arrived in Israel in September 2022. Some view this acquisition as a step forward to the functioning of the new temple and related to Bible prophecy. No matter what, it is interesting to see how this reading from Numbers is still related to current events, and humbling to think what Jesus was willing to sacrifice for all of us.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  and he himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (I John 2:1-2, NASB)

-Jennifer Hall

Reflection Questions

  1. How was Jesus’ sacrifice different from the red heifer sacrifice – and different from all the other Old Testament sacrifices? What do all these sacrifices have in common?
  2. What can we learn about God through our Bible reading today?

I Am the LORD your God

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 14 & 15

Psalms Reading: Psalm 66

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 3

Today’s reading in Numbers takes us back to the scene of the Israelite crimes of complaining, grumbling, and not trusting God. If you have been reading in Numbers at all this week, you will know we’ve seen plenty of these in action already, and Numbers 14-15 is full of plenty more. It is interesting to consider that it’s not like the Israelites’ negativities had been ignored or that they were serving them well up until now. It had been the complete opposite, and there had been plenty of consequences already. Smitten with a plague with quail still in their teeth, a fire sent down from the LORD, Miriam struck with a leprous disease, delayed travels in the desert, etc. Yet, the Israelites were at it again.

In verse 3 we see a phrase that I am guessing hits close to home.  “Why did the LORD…?”.

In this case, the Israelites weren’t asking, “If the LORD is real, why did he….” They knew he was real and didn’t doubt that. But, as believers in the LORD, like us, they struggled to trust Him when things were tough and when they couldn’t see what our sovereign God knows. They focused on their doubts, worries, discomforts, and did not humble themselves and rely on God who had told them what His plans were for them. Along the way, things were hard. It is a broken, imperfect world full of problems just like the desert wilderness. Sometimes they are beyond our control. Sometimes they are because of our attempts to control. Enemies are real. Plagues and diseases are still a thing. Sin is rampant. But, while problems can seem to prevent us from seeing anything else sometimes, even then, we have an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly loving Father taking care of us through it all.

 And so did the Israelites. Reading further in chapter 14 we see Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua seeking to follow God even through the difficulties, and encouraging others. We see the LORD forgiving when asked in verse 20, and eventually, some Israelites did get to the promised land! Canaan still had some problems as far as promised lands go, but the promised land awaiting us in the coming kingdom of God is one without tears, sickness, and sorrow. Nothing to grumble and complain about at all.

Let us trust God to know best since compared to Him . . .we know a lot less! I like the last verse in Numbers 15  to help facilitate trust, love, and honor toward God. Even in the hard stuff.

 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.”

(Numbers 15:41, NIV)

-Jennifer Hall

Reflection Questions

  1. Seriously consider your own negativity. In what situations, and toward whom, do you find your negativity festering or exploding? How is this affecting your relationship with others and with God? Spend some time talking to God about this problem and what you can do to improve.
  2. How has the Lord shown Himself – and His desire and supreme qualifications to be your God – in your life thus far? What has He brought you out of? (Numbers 15:41)? What has He brought you into? Trusting in Him, what is yet to come?
  3. What do you know about the Lord your God because of your reading in His Scriptures today?

Be Humble

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 12 & 13

Psalms Reading: Psalm 65

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 2

In the Numbers 12-13 reading today we start with what appears to be some sibling rivalry.  Miriam and Aaron are sharing some negative murmurings about their brother Moses (verses 1 and 2) in what appears to be some pride or opposition to his leadership.  Years after watching him float down the Nile river in a basket to safety to later lead the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt,  Miriam now sounds envious. But, while she and Aaron are whining for attention, verse 3 indicates quite a contrast in Moses.  Moses was more humble than anyone on the face of the earth!

In this case, the word used for “humble” is a Hebrew word used of Israel itself many times in the OT, suggesting someone who is “poor, lowly, meek, depressed in circumstance, may be oppressed by rich and powerful. “

But, it appears that the LORD, who of course heard everything Miriam and Aaron said and thought, was displeased with what was in their heart. He rebukes their attitudes and speaking against His chosen servant. Miriam ends up with a leprous skin disease, banned from the camp for 7 days, and caused yet another bump along the road of the Israelites’ pursuit of the promised land. But, there was forgiveness and the chance to move forward, and in chapter 13 we find the Israelites starting to explore Canaan.

This story seems an example of  what we see in Proverbs 3:34:

Proverbs 3:34, ESV: Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

Miriam and Aaron in all their human efforts to be recognized, putting down others along the way, ended up chastised and scorned. Moses was in God’s favor. And while the definition we read of the word humble doesn’t sound all that appealing in some ways, God’s favor certainly does. We know verse 3 commends Moses for his humility, and as we seek to find God’s favor, it seems evident that being humble, lowly, and meek are crucial.

Numbers 13 starts with the exploration of the long-awaited Canaan, and in fact they finally saw the milk, honey, and fruit! But, they also saw the. . . men of great size! Forget that milk and honey! Did you hear about all those “-ites” mentioned in verse 29? And so, they spread some bad reports, show fear, and felt like grasshoppers in comparison.  But, of course the LORD is not a grasshopper, and the LORD had told them where they were going, so we’ll have to keep reading this week to see what happened.  And if you are looking for an interesting topic to study, check out the various thoughts/research available on the Nephilim mentioned in verse 33. Pretty interesting stuff!

-Jennifer Hall

Reflection Questions

  1. Who do you know who could be added to the list of most humble?
  2. How would you rank yourself on the humility/pride meter? What can you do to improve (lower?) your score? What is hardest for you about taking a lowly, meek attitude?
  3. What are God’s views and actions toward the humble and the prideful? What else do you learn about God in your reading today?

The LORD is God

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 10-11

Psalms Reading: Psalm 64

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 1

Continuing in our Old Testament reading of Numbers 10-11 today, if you happen to have a silver trumpet handy feel free to get it out. For that matter, if you really want to act out Numbers 10, grab your hammers and make two trumpets of silver because this passage starts with a blast -remembering that the LORD is God.

In the reading yesterday we learned how the Israelites happened to be traveling around at this time in the wilderness. If the cloud above the tabernacle moved, they moved. If it settled, they stayed. In Numbers 10:12, the cloud lifted and the Israelites headed out. From one desert to another, landing in the Desert of Paran this time.  There they made some plans, divisions, and ended with rest.

Numbers 11 starts to get a little uglier. Whining, grumbling, hunger for meat (or “intense cravings” mentioned in verse 4), a consuming fire at Taberah, and even wanting to go back to lives as slaves in Egypt?! The people were displeased. The LORD was displeased with them. Whining kids are just the worst. I deal with a lot of kids at work, I was a kid, and I have a kid. There is something about the hideous voice decibel, the facial expressions, the drama, ungrateful, self absorbed nature of whining that makes us cringe. In this story it also made God “singe”!  If we complain in our head, God knows it. If we whine in a whisper, God hears it. If we blast a nasty social media post, God sees it. And, the LORD is displeased.

Moving beyond the grumblings in chapter 11, verses 21-23 remind me a little bit of the doubting we see prior to the miracles of feeding the 4000 and 5000 in the New Testament. Would all the fish in the sea be enough Moses wondered? The LORD answered clearly in verse 23, and in verse 31, approximately 3 FEET of meat rained down from the sky for an area as wide as a day’s walk!  Umm, yes, it was enough. He is enough.  Trouble was, the Israelites hadn’t thought so, and this chapter ends with a consequence for that.

Interestingly, tonight starts Purim which is a day when the Jews do various things to remember the story of Esther. Because of that, I found myself thinking of some connections between Esther and this reading.  In the story of Esther the “bad guy” is Haman, likely a descendant of the Amalekites… Arab tribe that lived in the Desert of Paran where the Israelites hung out in today’s reading.  Kinda interesting. Also, yesterday’s reading ended with instructions on Passover remembering the story of God’s provision saving the Israelites through the exodus, and Purim is a day remembering the story of God’s provision saving the same people through Esther.  Plus, Esther lived in royalty not known as a Jew initially, similarly to how we see Moses starting his life as prince of Egypt.

Whether we read Numbers, Esther, or something else, we can remember that the LORD is sovereign, He wants us to remember Him, to trust Him, and to be set apart for Him.  And if you want to look up some fun Purim ideas, there are plenty. At our house tomorrow in fact, I’ll have a “Girls Bible Club” of little ladies blowing noisemakers when they hear Haman’s name, eating Hamantaschen, reading the story of Esther. . . and hopefully. . . not complaining!

-Jennifer Hall

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you find yourself whining, grumbling or complaining about? What might God be thinking or feeling or even doing as a result of your whining/grumbling/complaining/bad attitude?
  2. What are some of the things the Israelites were forgetting when they were grumbling? How could a better memory help us complain less? What can we do to boost our memory?
  3. What has God shown about Himself in today’s reading? What do you learn about the length of His arm?

Set Apart But Connected

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 7-9
Psalms Reading: Psalm 63
New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 16

Today’s Old Testament reading takes us to Numbers 7-9 where we see the LORD speaking to Moses laying out some specific plans he has for how they are to live, worship, and remember Him.  Around 70% of the Bible contains the Old Testament, and it seems that the more I study the Bible, I continue to be struck how much the Old Testament foundation is integral to appreciating things that come later in the New Testament.  I definitely find that to be the case in today’s chapters.

Starting in Numbers 7:1, we find Moses at work,

“When Moses finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed and consecrated it and all its furnishings. He also anointed and consecrated the altar and all its utensils.”

So, we have a good “churchy” word here in bold, and while I undoubtedly could have spelled it in third grade (spelling bees were my thing back in the day!), I realized I wanted to research a little more because if you asked me to define it today, I’d  start with “kinda like. . .umm. . .”, and this word comes up a lot in this passage!

Consulting my exhaustive concordance and Bible dictionaries, I see that simply put,

consecrated = set apart

In Numbers 7 we see a tabernacle set apart, offerings to the LORD set apart, and in Numbers 8, Levite priests set apart. In Numbers 9 the trend continues with instruction to keep days set apart for Passover. Interestingly, these days are specifically remembering the time when the LORD set his people apart from the Egyptians.

The Old Testament stands apart from the New Testament separated by ~400 years of history. Yet, they are extremely connected. The Israelites were instructed to be set apart from the world that surrounded them, yet connected to the LORD. The being set apart idea doesn’t stop in Numbers or the Old Testament, but continues as instruction for all of us as followers of Christ today. In fact, the idea of a consecreated, set apart people continues until the very end of Revelation.

Our reading today ends in Numbers 9 with a beautiful picture of the LORD’s consecrated people being set apart and relying on His leading. How many people can say they followed a cloud that appeared like a fire by night, and if the cloud descended they stayed/camped, and if it ascended, they went out? This certainly wasn’t a practice of the world around them, and I don’t know anyone today who camps that way.  Instead, Numbers 9:15-23 shows a unique, called-out, set-apart experience of obedience to our sovereign LORD. One that required patience and was beyond their understanding (check out the casual mention of waiting for the cloud to move for a year in verse 22!). 

Wouldn’t our lives be so much better if we trusted God more, followed His leading, and invested our energies in being wholly His.  We would look set apart and we should look set apart, and we need the practice because one day it will be essential to be set apart when the Tabernacle described in Revelation comes on the scene!

“At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp, as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped.”  (Numbers 9:18)

-Jennifer Hall

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you set apart from the world? If so, how? Do you think God would like to see you more set apart than you are now? What might that look like? What would it require?
  2. Are you connected to the LORD? If so, how? Do you think God would like to see you more connected to Him than you are now? What might that look like? What would it require?
  3. How do you see God in your reading of the Scriptures today? What would you have missed if you hadn’t read His words today?

Lukewarm Warning!

Revelation 3

Friday, November 18, 2022

A few weeks ago, we got to experience an up-close view of a bit of a twist on the classic caterpillar to butterfly spiritual analogy. Maybe you’ve heard the classic version in youth group, Bible School, or a devotion book….the idea that we are all new creations if we are Christians. That we start as these creepy, crawly, fuzzy little beings and then as a gift of God, through faith in Christ….voila….we are made completely new into creations of beauty and wonder like a butterfly.

Thanks to our friend, Terri Tschaenn, and her milkweed stash….we have gotten to watch this truly amazing experience of God’s creation several times, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. We’ve gotten to feed those adorably cute little caterpillars as they grow at amazing rates each day. We’ve watched the miraculous chrysalis formation, and we’ve gotten to hold brand new monarch butterflies on our pinky fingers before they fly off. It is amazing. It is beautiful. And, it certainly is representative of the hope of new life and transformation God tells us about in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

But. . .does every caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Hmmm.

Terri told us the unfortunate story of one of her baby caterpillars that accidentally met a predator while she was trying to keep it safe in her school classroom….and….chomp. All gone. No butterfly.  And, recently, we watched our caterpillar which we had been watching grow for several weeks, for some unknown reason, never develop his chrysalis at all. Instead, he slowly wasted away and died. It was rather depressing to watch. He had eaten milkweed like all the rest, had gotten to full size, and had looked “just right” to us from the surface. But, inside….something was wrong. He never experienced the stage of transformation. And, instead of achieving beauty and new life, he died a caterpillar. It is common. It is sad. And, it is also certainly representative of what God tells us about in scripture whether or not it makes for as many Sunday School craft ideas on Pinterest.

The Bible warns us about the Christians who look like Christians, but who haven’t experienced a transformation through repentance and faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. These Christians are lukewarm. Just like the caterpillars who die, they lack something inside. But mind you, these aren’t atheist caterpillars or caterpillars who don’t go to church. These are Christian caterpillars. Ones who look just like us. Ones who go to church with us. Maybe us. They haven’t achieved the transformation of repentance and faith in Christ which leads to obedience. And their demise if they don’t repent? “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16, NASV).

Truth can hurt, but it matters. It matters because God and Jesus love us. And true love includes speaking honestly and intentionally. It also matters because unless we repent, at the judgment day, we do not become “butterflies” to live eternally with God and his son Jesus in the kingdom of God. The alternative to that option is death. Today, we live in a world telling us that almost any belief imaginable is “Christian”, and it can get quite confusing as we seek to be on the narrow road and not in the lukewarm masses. It requires diligent searching of scripture and faithful prayer on our parts. We cannot rely alone on our teachers, our families, our churches, and traditions of men. We must not just believe “in” God and Jesus, but know what they say and apply those words to our lives. So, if we find ourselves lukewarm and amongst lukewarm believers. . .what does Jesus say to us?

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:19-21, NASV).

Let’s seek and pray to be more than lukewarm this week and to be victorious in Christ.

-Jennifer Hall

(posted originally for SeekGrowLove – then named Grow16 – on June 24, 2018)

Reflection Questions

  1. What good things were the churches of Revelation 3 doing? What needed to be changed in these churches?
  2. What do you think Jesus would want you – and your church – to repent of?

Jerusalem’s Walls & Enemies

Nehemiah 6

March 26

Today’s reading (Nehemiah Chapter 6) begins  with these fellows you might remember being mentioned in yesterday’s reading:  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.  Who might these gentlemen be? In simple terms, enemies. But a little more context, gives us:

Sanballat:  A Horonite

Just this name makes me thinks of hornets, but apparently he was called this since he was from Beth-Horon, and  was a Samaritan leader in the Persian Empire. Samaritans had mixed Judaism with pagan beliefs and intermarried with pagan societies, and had some distinct conflicts with some Jews because of this.

Tobiah: An Ammonite

If you didn’t read about the Ammonite folks earlier in the week in our II Chronicles study, I’ll tell you they were not known for their warm fuzzy tendencies. They were created via an incestuous relationship of Lot and his daughter which didn’t start things well apparently, worshipped pagan gods including Molech, and were known for infant sacrifice and cruelty. Just who Nehemiah needed hanging around on the job-site I’m sure.

Geshem: an Arab

An ally of Tobiah and Sanballat, general antagonist to Nehemiah. Did not worship the one true God.

At the start of Chapter 6, things are coming along nicely with the wall rebuilding project in Jerusalem. In fact, it sounds like pretty much just the gates were left at this point. If success was going to be prevented for Nehemiah and the Jews, it was time to act.  

First, Sanballat and Geshem extend an invitation in verse 2 to hang out on the “plain of Ono.” Sounds nice enough. But, Nehemiah was able to discern this was not progressing God’s work and was a distraction at the time. He declined. And declined again. And again. And again. If a person declines your invitation to join them four times with practical reasons, you could take a hint….or ….you could disparage him or her on social media. 

And that seems to be the next tactic in verses 5-7. Before the days of the internet, there were these things called papyrus scrolls, and because of obvious reasons, they were typically SEALED prior to delivery. Ahh,but this time….Sanballat must have forgotten to seal it tightly. Almost like he wanted everyone to read it and start gossiping? Sounds familiar. And in this case it wasn’t just gossiping, but information in the untruthful message could have definitely gotten Nehemiah in trouble claiming there was another king in Judah. And I had to laugh at “Geshem says it is true” in vs. 5.  Certainly if Geshem “liked a post” it must credible?!  I love verse 8 when Nehemiah responds because it sounds like it could be completely fitting in 2022 as well “. . .you are just making it up. . .” Nehemiah denies the claim and calls out the lie. But, he doesn’t stop there, and he doesn’t let the lie distract him from the work or from the source of sovereign guidance He needs. 

 Being a man of prayer, we see him in a dialogue right away with God in verse 9. He discerns what is going on and the battles around him, and asks God to strengthen his hands.  (I’ve got to say, as a hand therapist, I really tried to work some fun analogy here….but I didn’t want to insert drivel into a meaningful text…and I got nothing other than. . .you want your hands strengthened, you need your upper arm/core strong to support it. If your hands are tired, you’d better make sure further up the chain is working because everything is connected. And in this case, Nehemiah knew how high up the chain to go. GOD would strengthen his hands and he didn’t even need to go buy a  stress ball.)

In verse 10 our troublesome trio seems to have acquired more assistance in their unrelenting efforts to mess up Nehemiah. And this time they involve someone close enough to have access to the temple.  Maybe a priest? We also see Tobiah mentioned toward the end of the chapter and get a feel for how “important” and influential he was in their community as he was actively seeking to intimidate Nehemiah also. What a mix of people, purposes, deceit, selfishness, and fear we see working against Nehemiah.  And yet, how easy it is for the “church” to get caught up into politics and popular agendas, for “Christians” to be bought out and deceived, for the things of God to be muddled by the plans of man. How essential it is that we demonstrate discernment, prayer, and scripture as the source of our truth and gauge for success and ambitions like Nehemiah shows us. 

Despite opposition, verse 15 tells us that in 52 days (minus Sabbaths I’d presume), the walls were re-built.  With modern technology and equipment, this still seems impressive. 

And while this story wasn’t my favorite to go out on with all its corruption and negativity, verse 16 is great stuff:

And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

Nehemiah’s re-built walls didn’t last either, and the Romans made sure to destroy them along with everything else they did. But, scripture tells us that the New Jerusalem, the city of God, will have walls and gates. If we seek first this city, this hope, living a life as a follower of Christ, we have a wonderful eternal promise of a city with streets of gold. And intact walls. 

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you ever been intimidated by others while you were at work for God?
  2. What can we learn from Nehemiah regarding how we deal with our enemies, those who want to stop us from doing God’s work?
  3. How do you seek first God’s kingdom?

Who Do You Talk to First?

Nehemiah 2

March 25

When the main character starts the story in tears and depression, you typically know you are not reading a comedy. And Nehemiah is not one for sure. Today’s reading (Nehemiah 2) starts with Nehemiah despondent, having been in tears the chapter before when he learned the news that Jerusalem’s wall and gates had been destroyed and the remnant of Jews who had survived the exile were in disgrace. Approximately 150 years prior to Nehemiah, King Nebuchadnezzar had violently charged through Jerusalem destroying the city, its walls, and countless Jewish lives, leaving it the heap of rubble and ruin Jeremiah had warned Judah about. Those still there were in affliction.

Sometimes we can mask our pain and sorrow. Sometimes we blast it on social media. And sometimes it is just too raw to hide from those closest to us. In this case, Nehemiah was at work and he was not himself. Many of us have had those days. He was working as cupbearer to the king which was the interesting career of being an entrusted, royal official charged with serving the wine, protecting it from those wanting to poison the king, at times tasting it first to ensure it was safe. And in this story,  the king, who was close enough to him to recognize a broken spirit, asked what was wrong. Nehemiah explained,

 “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3)

And then the king asks what he wants of him. All in all, it seems like the king was acting like a pretty good boss on this occasion. I’ve had the privilege of working for some wonderful bosses over the years, and it is so nice when they do recognize when things aren’t okay, listen to you, and ask how to help. Same with teachers, family, and friends. I was struck with Nehemiah’s response being a little different than I had remembered though.  For some reason what had stuck with me from different sermons and lessons on Nehemiah over the years was how Nehemiah had been willing to ask for specific things, and how he was bold yet humble, and how he rebuilt walls. All of those things are true and noteworthy in Nehemiah. But, what I forgot were the incredibly important few little words tucked away at the end of verse 4.

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king,

I personally don’t think it matters as much what Nehemiah said after that or how he said it, but rather what he did prior to making the request. He prayed to the God of heaven. Before expressing his own highly emotionally-charged thoughts on the subject, he prayed to God.  And in the chapter prior, when he learned of the state of Jerusalem, he wept and prayed to God.  Nehemiah is remembered for rebuilding walls, and our chapter today is the start of his journey to rebuild and restore. But, Nehemiah knows it wasn’t possible because he put on the just-right-amount-of-depression-and-attention-seeking face and earned the king’s sympathy, nor was it because he was very concrete in his request and willing to ask for just what he wanted. Nehemiah gets it. 

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests” (v.8).

How different the world could be if we each prayerfully considered our words, our requests, and our actions. If we trusted God most and sought God first. If we went to God with our concerns and problems before others, prayed before answering others, and lived a life consistently casting our cares on Him rather than casting judgment or personal opinions so flippantly.

Nehemiah was a rebuilder, a cupbearer, and he did ask for something specific in a humble way. But, let’s also remember that he was a man of prayer.  As was our Messiah.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Can you think of a time (or two) when you didn’t stop to think – and more importantly – pray before speaking and your words caused problems or weren’t received as you had hoped. How could pausing a quick moment to pray have changed what you said, how you said it or the response you received? How can you remember to pray next time?
  2. What do you generally do when you are in pain and sorrow? What helps? What does not?
  3. How can you be more aware of those around you who are hurting? What do you have that you can share with those in pain and sorrow (both material -a cup of coffee and a spot on my couch – and spiritual encouragement and support)?
  4. Would others know you to be a person of prayer? Does God consider you a person of prayer like Nehemiah? Any changes you want to make? How?

The Remnant Gets to Work

Ezra 3

March 24

Today, our reading is from a new book of Ezra. Interestingly, at the start of the year when I signed up for a random week to write for Seek Grow Love, I had no idea I would have just finished reading the book of Ezra with my daughter. I can’t say that means much though other than I am a little more knowledgeable on the history than I would have been a month ago. A few things to know about the book of Ezra are:

  • A Jewish man named Ezra wrote Ezra.  
  • Ezra was born in exile in Babylon into a Jewish priest’s family and lived the first part of his life there.
  • He was a scribe, writing the books of the Torah and the Prophets. So, he knew God’s law and instructions regarding the temple and sacrifices well.
  • Ezra was written before Chronicles (the books covered earlier this week) but the story itself took place after the stories retold in the book of Chronicles.
  • Time-wise, the book covers the period when a remnant of Jews in Babylonian exile are allowed to return to Jerusalem to start rebuilding the temple and the years following that.
  • Ezra means “help” or “helper” in Hebrew.

In Chapter 3 of Ezra, we see that the rebuilding began with the altar. This allowed the Jews to offer sacrifices for their sins again according to the instructions given in the law of Moses after so many years without them. Verse 1 tells us this started in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which was considered to be their most sacred month and included several important celebrations including the Feast of Tabernacles.  This feast is one Zechariah speaks of being celebrated in Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom after the return of Christ and some Christians celebrate it today. So, the time period for starting this project was a joyous one.

Verses 7-10 highlight the next part of the project, which was starting the rebuilding of the temple itself, and ends with men weeping and celebrating. We see mixed emotions of excitement, nostalgia, guilt, and hopefulness throughout this book, and we can certainly relate to this as Christians today.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (Ezra 3:11)

Despite opposition, the temple did get rebuilt. And while it was also destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins was not destroyed and will never be destroyed.  Just like the remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem from the exile, the New Testament speaks of a remnant who will be left when Jesus returns whenever that is. Nowhere does the Bible speak of the large masses of “anyone who tries to be a good person” being guaranteed eternal life. It does speak of things like a narrow road, the eye of a needle, and a remnant. Fortunately, no matter how many times we wander off the path, we will be welcomed back and forgiven like the people of Israel if we turn and seek.  Interestingly, there is still a “remnant” of the second temple in the temple mount in Jerusalem which now supports the holy Muslim site of the Dome of the Rock and is the source of some ongoing tensions. Ultimately, Jesus will return to reign in Jerusalem, and all nations, tribes, and tongues will worship him and recognize him as the Messiah, the begotten Son of God.  Bring on the Feast of Tabernacles. Bring on the recognition that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Let’s get this party started.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What stands out to you most in this chapter? What would God want you to learn from this chapter?
  2. What were the obstacles in the way of the remnant completing their task? Is there a neglected project for God that He would be pleased to see you attacking this week? What obstacles are in your way and how will you overcome them?
  3. Do a little research on the Feast of Tabernacles. What was the purpose of the celebration? Envision the remnant celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in the Kingdom with Jesus in Jerusalem. What similarities and differences will this celebration have to the one Ezra wrote about in Ezra 3?
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