From Beginning to End

Malachi 1-4

            In the English Bible we’ve come to the last book of the Old Testament, but not for the Hebrew Bible. It’s the end of the Prophets and now the Writings start. In my Hebrew/English Bible the next page starts the Psalms then Proverbs…. The book of Malachi is filled with warnings and exhortations and many familiar and excellent verses for such a small book. He’s a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah.

            “The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.” (1:5) Amen!  That’s for sure these days from those days.  Look how far from the borders of Israel He’s magnified. “If then I am the Father, where is my honor? And if I am Lord, where is my reverence?” (1:6) “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, my name shall be great among the Gentiles.” (1:11) “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” (2:10) Amen.

            “The LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce. For it covers one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.” (2:16) “Behold I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (3:1) “For I am the LORD, I do not change.” (3:6) Those are very simple and yet clear verses.

            “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed you? In tithe and offerings.” (3:8) This is a good question to ask children. I’ve asked some of our older kids before, and now I’m going to ask our younger children and see what response I get. 

            “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble, and the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts.” (4:1) This is certainly true, and, in some ways, THIS is the ultimate climate change and global warming some are talking about now that will one day take place.  God will purify and purge, and it won’t be by a flood the next time like he promised.

            The last two verses of Malachi 4:5,6 are quoted in Luke 1:17, when the angel told Zacharias about his son, “He will also go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” So even though it’s not the end of the Hebrew Bible it still fits going into the English New Testament.  So does the end 2 Chronicles in Hebrew that goes into the New Testament, when Cyrus king of Persia was stirred by the LORD which says, “May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!” (36:23) That also goes nicely with Matthew 1:23, which says, “the virgin will bear a son and call his name Immanuel, God is with us.” Same idea, God is with us and helping us (not God the flesh). “The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.” (1:5) Amen! 

Stephanie Schlegel

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – Malachi 1-4

Tomorrow we begin the NEW Testament, with Luke 1 and John 1:1-14. If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to commit to reading the New Testament before the New Year begins. Finish off 2020 strong in God’s Word. Below is the Bible reading plan we will be following with our daily devotions. Let’s seek God together!

Keep Calm and Babylon

Daniel 1-3

The book of Daniel is a fun and strange ride, and there is kind of a lot going on. But it’s totally worth it. I’m glad you’re here. Today we are reading chapters 1-3.

Babylon has been around since its debut as the Tower of Babel, and all along has maintained its poor reputation for being the quintessential oppressive and arrogant empire. It is such a powerful symbol that it is recycled to apply to pretty much any oppressive empire in the Bible. Big, bad Egypt is not actual Babylon, but it’s Babylon. Much later in the book of Revelation, those references to Babylon are about Rome, but they are meant to point you back at all the other Babylons and trigger your imagination.

The symbol of Babylon is flexible enough it has a way of representing basically any human governed kingdom, which possess varying degrees of terribleness. I have to admit I don’t mind my Babylon much. All things considered, the U.S.A. isn’t a bad place to be. I can’t think of any place I would rather be. Sure, this place, like all other places, provides me with plenty of things to gripe about if I want to, but I’ll keep my greener grass wishes in check, because somewhere else could be truly terrible. I wish my Babylon well, and I’ll work toward making it a better place how I can. I’ll enjoy relative peace and security while it’s a reality.

As great as my Babylon is, it’s still Babylon. It’s often claimed that we live in a Christian nation, but I don’t buy that. If it was ever true, it is certainly not now. My best case scenario is if Babylon allows me to practice my faith without interfering, meddling, or controlling. My hope rests in God and in Christ, not in party politics, culture wars, economic growth, particular governmental systems, or military strength. If the state of all those other things happens to be firing on all cylinders, that is just icing on the cake, but I’m not counting on it.

In the book of Daniel, things get rolling very quickly with Babylon living up to its name by besieging Jerusalem. The temple vessels are looted and placed in a treasury of a Babylonian god, and Daniel is among the royalty and nobility carted off to Babylon. 

Daniel and his friends are integrated into the culture, receiving Babylonian names, learning the language, wearing the clothes, being trained in all the knowledge and wisdom, and eventually receiving government jobs. All of this is okay, but what they are facing is the challenge of deciding where to draw lines. How can they maintain their identity as Israelites while in many ways embracing this new Babylonian culture? 

The first place Daniel decides to draw a line is that he doesn’t want to be defiled by eating the royal rations. After Daniel voices his concern, the palace master is terrified he’ll lose his head if he doesn’t feed them the rations and they start looking unhealthy as a result. Daniel’s wise strategy is to suggest a trial period of 10 days with a diet of vegetables (or seeds) and water. The result is that their new diet has caused them to look better than the other guys who were getting the king’s rations. So they are allowed to continue with their special diet, and claim back a small part of their identity. The best part is that nobody had to lose their head in the process.

Now Daniel is set apart in another way: He has earned the reputation of being able to interpret dreams. The king calls upon his magicians and enchanters and sorcerers because he has been having terrible dreams. Being the reasonable man that he is, what he requires of them is that they tell him not only the interpretation of the dream, but also tell him what his dream was. The penalty for not being able to do this is death. They reasoned with the king that this is too hard and “no one can reveal it to the king except the gods,” but he just raged and ordered that they all be dead.

Enter Daniel, who says that he’ll be able to figure it out if he has some time. Have you ever over-promised? If I were him, I would be plotting my escape from Babylon right about now. But since Daniel is wiser than I am, he tells his friends about the problem and they all ask God to reveal the dream and interpretation to them. God reveals it to Daniel in a vision, and he prays a beautiful prayer acknowledging God as the source of all wisdom, knowledge, and power.

It’s time for Daniel to report back to Nebuchadnezzar, and the stakes are high on this one. If Nebuchadnezzar is not satisfied, a lot of people could die, including Daniel and his friends. This is another characteristic of Babylon: Human life is expendable in the hands of the powerful.

Daniel recounts the dream to Nebuchadnezzar. There is a giant statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet partly of iron and partly of clay. Then a stone is cut out, strikes the feet, and causes the whole statue to disintegrate and blow away in the wind. Then the stone becomes a mountain that fills the earth. 

The dream with the statue is revealing a pattern of the transfer of power from one king or kingdom to the next ones in line, in a degrading fashion, and lastly to the final one that lasts forever. Usually the kingdoms represented by the body parts going down are thought to be Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece (consisting of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties), but the specific kingdoms are less important than recognizing the big picture pattern. It can be observed in the original historical context of Daniel, but I think it is able to describe a recurring reality throughout history. It is just the way things work. Babylons get taken over by other Babylons, and earthly kingdoms are temporary. The transfer of power is presented as being more in the hands of God and less in the hands of earthly kings. 

The stone, or the last kingdom, could be said to be like the rulership of God manifested through a restored Israel. This is the hope and expectation of God’s people who are in exile. This idea of the reign of God is as central to believers now as it was in the distant past, but like other themes and patterns, it has taken up new, rich meanings as the story of God has progressed.

When Nebuchadnezzar heard the dream and its interpretation, it might have hit him like a little love letter from God, going something like this:

Dear Nebuchadnezzar,

Yeah, that terrible dream came from me, and I revealed it to Daniel. By the wisdom I gave him, he interpreted it. No need to kill your wise men or anyone. They were right, nobody can do what you asked.

The only reason you were able to take over my people and destroy my temple is because I let you. Yes, you are powerful, but the power you have really comes from me. There will be a day when others will come along and all your power will be given to them. And they will also have their day when their power will be taken from them. You see, I am the one who has power over the patterns of history, not you. And from me will come a kingdom that will crush all other kingdoms. It will never end and will never be taken over. It would be best if you accept this. I will contend with you for as long as it takes for it to sink in. There are things worse than bad dreams.

Best Wishes,

Revealer of Mysteries

It was never really a showdown between Daniel and the king. The real fun is watching the shoving match God and Nebuchadnezzar are having behind the scenes. Make no mistake about who is schooling who. God is trying to give Nebuchadnezzar a chance to understand the big picture. For now, the tyrannical Nebuchadnezzar is truly amazed and at least acknowledging God as “the God of gods and Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries,“ but don’t hold your breath. He still doesn’t get it.

The next thing we know, Nebuchadnezzar has built a giant golden statue as an image of his god and has commanded everyone to worship it. Really? Just a second ago you were calling Daniel’s God the “God of gods.” Worshiping Nebuchadnezzar’s god isn’t something our old pals, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are willing to do. Being Jews, they will not worship a Babylonian god, or any other god, but only YHWH. 

But there is a smear. We’re not sure if the giant statue is an image facilitating worship of a Babylonian god, Nebuchadnezzar, or Babylon itself. They seem to be blended together in some ambiguous combination. So there may be another kind of idolatry in play that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are not on board with: nationalism. This isn’t simply respecting your country or deriving part of your identity from it, it is a level above where the country or leaders are gods. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. The kingdoms of this world will come and go. It’s important to tie our identity to the one that lasts forever.

They knowingly risk their lives to draw a line and remain faithful to and hopeful in God rather than Babylon. I love what they say to the king:

“If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

Whether God could or would save them is irrelevant to them. It would be easy to always do the right thing if we knew God would always protect us, but that just isn’t how it works. For every story of amazing deliverance like this one, it seems like there are several others of pain or martyrdom. Our hope doesn’t hinge on safety! God be praised when he delivers us, and when he doesn’t.

Luckily for our friends in this story, God does deliver them in a mindblowingly impossible way. And now Nebuchadnezzar is convinced not just that God reveals mysteries, but also that he delivers in ways no god can. He is convinced of this so powerfully that he declares that anyone who blasphemes against this God will be torn to pieces.

It’s at least a step. Maybe there is hope for this king after all… we’ll see what happens.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 1-3

Tomorrow let’s read Daniel 4-6 as we continue Daniel’s story and our

Isaiah 13-17

A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.

Isaiah revealed a prophecy against the nations in our reading today.  In some cases those that received these warnings had years before the prophecies would occur. There was time to listen, repent, turn their lives around, prepare and be ready. What holds us back from surrendering everything to God and getting ourselves “right with Him”?

Sometimes it is pride. In Isaiah 13:11 we read “I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.” When we become prideful, we exalt ourselves as our own god. We put our desires and wants as our top priority. We justify and reason that our actions are acceptable because those actions are “right” in our own eyes (Proverbs 21:2). As I grew up, I had friends that rejected following God because “they wanted to do, what they wanted to do”.  They viewed God’s commands as restricting them instead of seeing Him as a loving Father providing the best way for His children to live life. Pride tells us that we know what is best for ourselves. We think that God does not understand who and what we are. C.S. Lewis stated that “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

In Isaiah 14 we see so clearly that the leaders in the world appear to have power, but they cannot defeat death. Those leaders claimed that “I will make myself like the Most High” (v.14), but only God has power over death. In the following chapters we see that the great cities and wealth of nations will not last. The armies of vengeance and wrath destroyed the cities and carried the wealth away. Punishment was administered to nations. In fact we explore that God is the only One who controls nature, which provides our food source. Though they planted the finest plants and imported vines, yet they did not have a harvest. These illustrations should show us that God is ultimately in control. We need to be humble before Him. Isaiah 17:7 contains the answer. “In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.”

That is the answer for us today. We need to come to God humbly, honoring Him as the absolute authority. God is sovereign. He is the supreme authority and all things are under His control.

We need to turn our attention away from the raging nations of the world, and turn to Our God who gives love, wisdom and salvation.

~ Rebecca Dauksas

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway.

Tomorrow, we continue reading the history of Israel in Isaiah 18-22 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Follow Your Heart – or Not?

Proverbs 16-18

Proverbs 16 3 4 NIV

For those of you that don’t know, I love Disney.  Like, a lot.  But one thing that often bothers me about many of the movies is the message to follow your heart.  It sounds nice, but I know if I always followed my heart, I would not be in a good place.  The beginning of Proverbs 16 reminds me of this.

If we just follow our hearts, we are likely to go the wrong way.  We need to seek the LORD, and He will establish our steps (16:9).  When we set our hearts on the LORD, then we become the wise.  When we are the wise, then we become the discerning (16:21), the ones who say what is right (16:23).  There are examples of many kinds of people in these chapters, but one thing is clear – all of the good things come from God.

A couple other of the lines of these proverbs stood out to me:

17:6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.

I have a daughter, and I know how much she is loved by her grandparents.  I may have even heard them say something like grandkids are better than kids.  What really struck me in this one is that parents are the pride of their children.  Am I living a life that my child would be proud of?  I mean, she is almost 2 right now – she loves everything I do.  But give it a few years – are my actions worthy of her pride?  Maybe some of you reading are parents and can ask yourselves this.  Maybe some of you are younger – direct yourselves to that first part – are you living a life that makes you a crown to your grandparents?

18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

When we talk, do we think about this big of an impact in what we say?  The power of life and death.  Sometimes we (or at least I) say the first thing that comes to my mind, and it is not always the best thing.  If I could remember this proverb, would it make me take the time to think about what I am going to say before I say it?  I hope so.

As you read through these chapters, spend some time focusing on the lines that stand out to you.  Take time to examine the parts of your life that might be calling out as you read these Proverbs.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+16-18&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 19-21 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Not Seeing Eye to Eye?

Job 24-28

Job 28 28 NIV

This section of Job is beginning to wind down.  Today we hear the final (and brief) closing arguments from Bildad, the last of Job’s 3 friends to speak.  And then Job begins a 6 chapter speech which will be all we will hear from him until the final chapter 42.  But, don’t worry there will be a new character introduced soon, as well as a thrilling climax ahead.  The best is yet to come.

 

Today Job is not quite as bitter as we have seen him earlier this week.  He has lost a bit of his accusatory sting toward God.  I think we are seeing some progress through his stages of grief and he is getting closer and closer to acceptance and after that will come hope.  He speaks eloquently of God’s greatness, while also still asking about God’s timeline in dealing with the wicked.  He is showing his awe of God and trust in God, even while not understanding all God is and does.  It is a great example for us.  It is wise to remember that we don’t need to understand God, but we can still trust in Him.  I know I sometimes have a difficult time understanding other created beings – some of whom I have spent a lot of time with and study regularly.  If I don’t understand people who are “like me” – isn’t it a bit arrogant of myself to think that I ought to be able to understand the Almighty who is on a completely different playing field than even the most wise and competent human.  If God and I don’t always see eye to eye – whose eyesight do you imagine needs some adjusting?

 

Speaking of wisdom, all of chapter 28 details the search for wisdom.  It is more valuable, and sometimes harder to find, than the most costly material treasures.  Can you think of any places you have searched for wisdom, and been disappointed when it came up lacking?  At the end of the chapter we find the answers to the search for wisdom…


20 
Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?…
23 God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
24 for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
25 When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
26 when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
27 then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
28 And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”

Job 28:20, 23-28 (NIV)

 

It can sound so simple – but still be so challenging to live out in our daily lives, especially if we are in a season of suffering or loss. If you want wisdom – seek out God and give Him the honor and respect that is due Him, even when you are hurting.  And if you want understanding – follow Him, do what is right and flee evil, even when it is hard.

 

It can help our eyesight immensely when we can say, “I am not God.  You are.  I will follow You.”

 

Marcia Railton

 
To read or listen to today’s passage check out https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+24-28&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s passage, as we continue the  2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan will be Job 29-31.  The best of Job is yet to come.  Jump in and read with us!

 

 

 

Clarification of the Christ

Colossians 1:15-20

colossians 1 15 NIV

I love to look deeper into these verses in Colossians to fully understand what Paul was writing and why. Paul was poetic in his language and using wording that the Israelites used to describe the personification of wisdom. If you look through the Old Testament it is not likely that you will find the phrase “Holy Spirit”. You will however find the term “Spirit of God” which we discover is the same thing, God’s power within us. Likewise “word of God” is not seen in the Old Testament. Once there is a reference to the “word of the LORD” but the majority of the references toward the Word of God are seen describing this personification of wisdom. A different way of saying the same thing. Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word of God.

“He is the image of the invisible God” – Jesus is called the image of God in these verses and in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Hebrews 1:3 he is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. Two truths are revealed through the first half of this verse: God has remained unseen “no one has ever seen God” John 4:18 and second, Jesus reveals the nature and character of God for he is the image of God in which humanity was originally created in Genesis 1:26. It is the image that we as the faithful will be transformed into upon Jesus’ return.

“The firstborn over all creation” – Paul borrowed from his Jewish upbringing; firstborn was a Hebrew way of saying someone was especially honored. The nation of Israel was called firstborn (Exodus 4:22), as was David (Psalm 89:27). The word, in these instances, did not refer to their physical birth but to their place of honor before God. So here Paul is saying that Jesus has a place of honor over all creation.

“By him all things were created” seven times in these verses Paul mentions “all creation”, “all things”, and “everything” stressing that the Christ is supreme over all through the power God granted him. The tense at the end of this verse was not translated correctly in the NIV, it says “all things were” however the original language was not past-tense “were” rather present “are”.

“Before all things” like with firstborn this does not speak of time but importance. The Christ is before all things in importance for it is only through him that all things will be restored.

“All things hold together” he will usher in a new age in which sinful man will be redeemed and united with our holy God.

This passage speaks of the importance of the Christ, the place of honor over all things that he holds. Additionally it points to both Jesus’ place of honor over the church and those who will be resurrected to eternal life as well as a chronological order. Jesus was the beginning of the church as we know it. And he was the first, and only one to this point, which God raised to new life. We the faithful will follow suit once Jesus returns.

“All (his) fullness dwell” (his) was added to many translations which adds to the confusion and skepticism that people may have concerning these verses. Before moving forward think about what happens to those who come to God through Jesus. We are filled with God’s spirit, His power and character, at least to a point. But Jesus was filled with the fullness of God, all power and authority were given to him. He also displayed the nature, character, and attributes of God. Paul also had another reason for his choice of words, “fullness” was a popular term among the Gnostics who used it to refer to the combination of all supernatural influences. So Paul used their own word to elevate the Christ above all other religious ideas and systems.

“To reconcile to himself all things” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection set the stage for not only the faithful to be made new but also all of creation. Unfortunately it does not mean that everyone will be saved from sin and ultimately death. We have free will and we make our own choices. But God does not give up on us. I believe that even those He has already seen reject Him are given daily opportunities for redemption.

It is important that we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is and the reason that we need a Christ, Messiah.

To be continued… (by someone else)

Jeff Ransom

 

(Editor’s Note – Thank you Jeff for finishing off the book of Proverbs with us this week, and giving us two free theme days to think on!  Tomorrow we will begin looking at the book of Revelation – one chapter a day through the month of November.  And in December we will finish off the New Testament with the book of Luke.  So many precious things in God’s Word!  Keep taking it in.)

From a Wise Mom

Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31 1 2 NIV

This proverb is the words of wisdom from a mother to her son, who just happens to be a king. She cautions him against giving into his desires. Her words advise against dulling the senses with excessive alcohol until no longer remembering what he is working towards and ending up mistreating those around him. Wise words for us all. Moderation or in most case, abstaining all together, are key to carrying out the will of God. I must admit though that verses 6 and 7 perplexed me. She is teaching her son one thing but advising something else for others? That made me dig deeper (Strong’s Concordance here I come!). While most versions say “Give” the Hebrew could just as easily translate as “Leave”. This would mean that she is acknowledging that others drink but he ought to avoid it. So that actually makes a lot more sense and hey guess what? I did not have to stretch or twist God’s word to figure that out. Score one for hard work and discernment.

In addition to staying away from mind numbing substances, she urges him to champion the cause of those less fortunate. To speak for those who have no voice and defend those in need. This is very near and dear to the heart of Christianity. Jesus himself uplifted the most destitute of peoples and worked to save those who others thought unworthy. Going out into the world and making disciples of all nations is, at its heart, administering to the lost and broken. It is what we are called as Christians to do for the glory of God and in the name of Jesus.

I saved the third verse for the end because it ties into the final two thirds of the proverb. She says “women”, plural. That he would be faithful to one woman and save himself the trouble and ruin that would come from chasing many women around. She then gives a thorough description of the qualities of a wife worth pursuing. Many look at this portion of Scripture and see an antiquated view of women, being in their proper place. Yet anyone with that mindset is clearly not reading or understanding what was written. This describes a woman who works hard alongside her husband. She is not the dutiful housewife but an equal. She is shrewd enough to make major decisions such as purchasing land and dealing in various business affairs. She is wise and praised as a teacher. She is a woman of God who is strong in faith and character. She is what I pray for all young women to grow into and what all godly men should be seeking.

Mothers are so wise! God bless them for putting up with us.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Contentment and So Much More

Proverbs 30

Proverbs 30 8 9 NIV

The author of this proverb, Agur, begins by belittling his understanding. The irony is that his words hold great wisdom. He is not bragging about his knowledge and understanding. He is declaring the LORD our God as unfathomably great. He asks six questions, five of which identify the power of God. The sixth is prophetic of the yet unborn son of God, Jesus. Additionally, his understanding of the perfection of God’s word and the refuge it provides us is astounding. This is a man of great wisdom who humbly recognizes his insignificance before God which in itself makes him all the more wise.

He then focuses on two requests of God; honesty and contentment. He asks that falsehoods and lies be kept far from him. He provides a variety of ways in which lies and deception can bring curses down upon our heads. They destroy our relationships and cause us to spiral ever further from the God who loves us. Entwined in these illustrations are lessons of being satisfied with what we have. Appreciating that our needs are met and being content with that is not easy when there is often so much more that we want. God provides for our needs, the author acknowledged this. Everything beyond our needs comes from our desires which are, more often than not, borne of our sinful natures.

Agur then contrasts contentment with greed. First pointing to leeches which will gorge themselves beyond their needs. Then he personifies four things which are never satisfied. Two of these are actually life-giving; the womb and land. These are bookended by destructive examples; the grave and fire.

Verse seventeen seems oddly out of place and more than a little disturbing. It actually goes with the theme of honesty. The person suffering such a creepy fate has been dishonest in action and words with their family, and likely with everyone else in their life. Ultimately they will be alone and everything they had will be scattered among the people around them.

How do the eagle, snake, ship and couple fit together? Is this what Agur did not understand? I doubt it. Each of these examples can be seen as somewhat mysterious in what path they will take. The eagle is not limited in the great expanse of the sky just as there are few obstacles that the snake could not overcome. Without a rudder and someone to steer, the ship would be tossed at the whim of the sea just as the whims of men and women often make courtship, that is dating for all those not familiar with the term, tumultuous. So how does this fit in with what Agur is trying to convey? It goes back to his self-proclaimed ignorance of, well, everything but specifically of God’s ways and will.

And then we get back to a verse that makes us scratch our head. The mention of the adulteress is actually an example of someone who is neither content with their relationship or dealing honestly with others. Additionally, she is completely without remorse as she sees nothing wrong with her actions. My prayer is that none of us would get caught up in this specific type of behavior but even more so that we would be remorseful of any actions that we take or words that we use which hurt others.

Up until verse 21, Agur has been consistent with themes of God’s power and majesty, honesty, and contentment. Somewhat enigmatic but consistent nonetheless. Beginning with verse 21 though he expands his words of wisdom. First to include the injustices of the world or what he refers to as four things by which the earth cannot bear. Of the four examples the first and last are of one who is raised to a higher position, likely without the benefit of knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities. This type of unfair promotion can lead to disaster in most cases. It is not uncommon though to see someone with little knowledge of how to manage situations or how to lead people placed in a high position. Additionally it is a warning to us not to seek after something we are not prepared or equipped to handle. I guess that goes back to one of the main ideas as well, contentment.

Agur then reminds us that wisdom and understanding are not reserved for anyone. Young and old, big and small may seek after these great treasures. His specific examples are of course of the small creatures and the wisdom found in how they act. The contrast however is of larger creatures and their “stately bearing.” The imagery used is of pride and arrogance. Perhaps a reminder of humility in our own positions, whatever they may be. Given how this proverb concludes that would certainly seem to be the final lesson.

So what have we learned from Agur, other than that he has a pretty cool name? Humility is greatly valued, especially in light of our amazing God’s power. He was in awe of the gift of God’s word that has been given to all men. He esteemed honesty and contentment as the greatest gifts to request from God. And he reminds us that it is not our age or size that matters but our willingness to seek after wisdom that counts.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Sucked into Sin

Proverbs 29

Proverbs 29 16 NIV

This chapter of proverbs continues the thoughts from the previous one – speaking on the contrasts from the wicked and the righteous. Proverbs 28 and 29 give us wonderful examples, not only of recognizing sinful ways but, of the habits that could sneak into our own lives. Many a good man and woman have been corrupted in time by the allure of sin. Additionally, it is noted in this proverb that those who we surround ourselves with can lead us into sin. We must choose carefully who we associate with and be wary that they do not drag us into sin and away from God.

In my youth I hung out with people that did a lot of things that I knew were not good. Drugs, alcohol, and other activities were happening all around me. I hung out with them because I liked being around them but I never let myself fall into their ways. I always thought that made me okay but all it would have taken is one encounter with law enforcement and I would have been found just as guilty as the rest. Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks when I first realized that. God was watching out for me but I was really pushing the boundaries of His grace and I realize that now. In that I am reminded that we are not to put our God to the test. Yet that is exactly what I was doing for years. He truly is merciful and gracious!

One last thought from this passage that actually ties back to what I wrote about for Proverbs 27 concerning anger, check it out if you missed it. Giving full vent to our anger as this proverb points out is bad. Yet I said before that it is good. No, not is good, but may be good and can help. Verse 11 says that a wise man keeps himself under control. Anger released rationally, controlled, is what I spoke of the previous day. This is talking about rage. Rage is uncontrolled, irrational, and violent. There can be no compassion or concern in rage but you can have both while angry. Understanding this is important for our relationships. That is why we have the saying, “Count to ten before speaking.”

In closing, I urge you to be aware of the various ways in which we can get sucked into sin. Be careful to not place yourself into a situation where you become guilty by association. And remember that we were created for relationships. They are vitally important to our God and to our daily existence. Treat them with the care that they deserve.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

In This Moment – Our Relationships

Proverbs 27

Proverbs 27 1 NIV

How often do you think about tomorrow? What is it that you think of? Are you hoping for certain things to happen, praying for a specific outcome? Are you dreaming of what might be?

The implication from James 3:13-14 and 4:13-15 as well as Matthew 6:34 is that tomorrow is promised to no one. Ecclesiastes 9:11 tells us that time and chance happen to everyone. With billions of people each doing their own thing for their own reasons it is easy to see how true that last statement is. So we truly cannot boast about tomorrow for we do not even know if it will come to us and if it does, what it will bring.

We are to prepare for tomorrow, but not presume it. When we dream of tomorrow we may find ourselves imagining our own plans being better than God’s. Additionally, thinking to the future is more often than not the primary source of our anxieties. So again I say, prepare for tomorrow but always trust in our incredible God’s will. If He has called you to Him it is to succeed in His will, not to fail in it.

Of the 27 verses of the 27th Proverb, 16 deal directly with relationships (2-6, 9-11, 13-18, 21-22). It is telling of the importance of relationships to our amazing God. He places the greatest emphasis on our relationship with Him and one another all through the Scriptures.

The three points on relationships that this chapter of proverbs focuses on is a humble heart, the sting of honesty, and the destructiveness of things left hidden.

If there is something that you are really good at you are probably accustomed to receiving praise for it. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that we need to remember not to let it go to our head. If you let it, it can inflate our ego. A brilliant writer receives critical acclaim but it is likely that their talent was developed and nurtured by their parents, numerous teachers, and peers. The passion to do what they do is fueled by hundreds of authors that have come before them. Likewise a superstar athlete has family, teachers, coaches, trainers, teammates and even their competition to thank for honing their abilities. As you can see there is nothing that we do that we could honestly boast about. Everything we do and are capable of comes from others guiding us and believing in us. Ultimately this is all traced back to our LORD and Creator. In His image we are strong and creative. We are intelligent and powerful because of Him.

The second point made in this proverb deals with the pain of honesty and how good it can be for us. It can hurt when someone tells you, “You sing horribly!” Well, not so much for me because I already know that. But you get the picture. When someone tells you in such a point blank manner or preferably in a more caring way a truth that you need to hear that is for your benefit. Sometimes it is an honest remark about something we said or how we acted that we know was not right. We need to be called out from time to time over our words and actions. This is what the Bible calls a rebuke, a correction of what we do and say.

One of the honest expressions this passage speaks of is anger. Anger can be cruel, to the one who is angry as well as the one at which the anger is directed. But a sudden outburst of anger may allow us to clear the air. It can move us into a place of reconciliation and forgiveness so that healing can begin. The point is that open and honest communication is not always nice and polite. Sometimes it is not possible to be honest in a demure, quiet way. There are times when honesty hurts. Actually, most of the time honesty hurts. But can we truly grow and mature if everyone around us is sugar-coating and shielding us from the reality of a situation?

The third and final point I took from this proverb goes hand-in-hand with honest communication, burying things away. I mentioned the point of anger and the author continues by asking the rhetorical question, “Who can stand before jealousy?” Jealousy, envy, and the like are like smoldering embers. The heat is held inside, never dying down and ready in an instant to ignite at the first opportunity. They are not easily vented or burned out. While anger may subside soon after being released, jealousy and envy grow stronger the longer they are held. They feed off of our relationships, slowly burning them away to nothing. Be careful of what you hold inside for this is the very reason we have the expression, burning bridges.

There is so much more within this wonderful passage that we could have covered. The significance of being in this moment and trusting God for what may come as well as the importance of relationships is what really stuck out to me. So remember, not only do we owe God but many others for all that we are capable of. Honesty hurts but, when coupled with compassion, is helpful. And finally, be careful what you hold hidden inside for it can destroy your relationships and do great harm to you as well. We were created to be in relationship with God. Our Savior, Jesus, spoke of how vital our relationships are. He simplified the incredibly convoluted system of 613 laws that man had in place to two – love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. The heart of these is relationships. Never forget that.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom