Weekly Insights

Sunday, November 19: Apocalyptic Writing

Revelation opens with an explanation of how it came to be. It is in fact a “revelation” (hence the assigned title of the letter) and the Greek word is “apokalypsis.” This word of course gives us our English word “apocalypse,” although the definition of the Greek word is quite different from our modern understanding of “apocalypse.” We see this word mainly as relating to the end of the world. There are entire stories dedicated to people’s ideas of how the world could end. However, we must understand that this Greek word has the following primary definition:
‌apokalypsis: to uncover, to reveal, to disclose, to make fully known.
This is why most english translations of the Bible render the word as “revelation.” It is a revealing of something that was previously unknown. The author of the letter states that the primary source of this revelation is God the Father, who then gave it to Jesus, who then sent it to the author through an angel. The author is identified as a man named John, and many believe he is indeed the Apostle John who walked with Jesus. Others believe he was a different John; a prophet in the first century church. The main argument for identifying him as the Apostle John is the way he describes himself as one, “who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” Most early church fathers and Bible scholars throughout history have agreed this letter was penned by the Apostle John in AD 95 or 96 while exiled on the island of Patmos. ‌The purpose of Revelation is clearly stated by the author:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, (Revelation 1:1)
‌Revelation was given to John so that those who follow Jesus can see things that must soon take place.‌ The use of the word “soon” communicates an expectation that these events would take place in short order. However, we must remember that the timing is subject to God’s perspective of “soon” rather than ours. He is beyond the limits of time, so “soon” is not meant to be according to our definition but to His, and we are not given specifics regarding this.

We must also briefly consider how we are to approach this letter. Notice Revelation 1:3, which reads “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Followers of Jesus are not to avoid this letter or fear it; we are instructed to read it and keep its instruction.

Having addressed the authorship, transmission and purpose of Revelation, we must now consider its contents, albeit briefly. The chart below lists the basic outline of the letter:

Chapters 1b-3
‌ The letters to the seven churches, in which Jesus shares how believers are demonstrating faithfulness and disobedience.

Chapters 4-5
Vision of the throne in heaven, and the introduction of the scroll and the Lamb who is worthy to open the scroll.

Chapters 7-14
Seven seals, seven trumpets and seven signs (symbols) which depict judgments of God upon Satan and all who reject Jesus.

Chapters 15-16
Seven bowls, which are a repetition of the plagues of Egypt in Exodus. These bowls culminate in a final battle between Satan and Jesus.

Chapters 17-22‌
The fall of Babylon, the final battle, and the coming of the restored creation through a new heaven, new earth and new Jerusalem.

‌It is extremely important to remember that this type of literature is highly symbolic. While many have attempted to predict the future through the symbols in this letter, these two points remain clear:
  1. God will vindicate His people and judge the enemy and those who follow his ways.
  2. We who follow Jesus are to remain faithful as we consider this heavenly perspective of history in light of its final outcome.

BibleProject video: Revelation 1-11

BibleProject video: Revelation 12-22

Sunday, November 12: The Letters, Part 2

Our journey through selected New Testament letters continued this week as we read from Philippians, 2 Timothy, Hebrews, James and 1 John. In these writings we continue to see the instruction given to believers in the first century church; the theology of the Gospel and how this theology is to be lived out by those who follow Jesus. The authors include Paul, James the brother of Jesus and John the apostle.

The entrance of the Gospel into Philippi is recorded in Acts 16:12-40 as Paul and Silas came to the Macedonian city after the apostle received a vision from God to travel there. Paul wrote to the church during his first imprisonment in Rome; as we read this week in Philippians 2, one of his purposes was to commend a man named Epaphroditus to the congregation. This man was a native of Philippi and Paul mentioned in his letter that he had just recovered from a serious illness. Epaphroditus had brought a gift from the church to Paul, so they already would have known him. Paul desired to ensure that the church would recognize this man’s sacrifice in risking his life to deliver their gift. Paul also commended Timothy in this letter and shared his plan to send his young apprentice to encourage them and report back to him about the status of the church. Earlier in Philippians 2, we read how Paul stressed the importance of unity within the church, and how this is founded on “having the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5).

Paul also wrote 2 Timothy while imprisoned in Rome, though this final incarceration was more serious than the first. In fact, Paul knew that the end of his life was near as he already had received word that he would be executed. His final letter to his apprentice has markings of a farewell message. In the second chapter, he instructed Timothy to invest in those who would then invest in others, thus carrying on the way of Jesus from generation to generation. His messages of hard work, endurance of suffering, focus on the Gospel and pursuing purity reinforced the course of Timothy’s life and still inspire and challenge us today.

The author of Hebrews is unknown and many attempts to link this letter to other New Testament authors have proved inconclusive. This letter was intended for Jewish Christians and its contents seem to assume that its readers had a working knowledge of the Old Testament. The primary message of this letter is the preeminence of Jesus Christ; how Jesus is greater than any previous Jewish leader and the Jews’ previous way of life under the old covenant. Chapters 9-10, which we read this week, form a portion of the letter that emphasizes how the sacrifice of Jesus is greater than the Old Testament sacrificial system; how he gave his life as the perfect sacrifice once for all people.

James is known as a practical letter of instruction, and tradition ascribes this letter to James, brother of Jesus. His writing is one of exhortation as he challenged and encouraged his readers – identified as Jewish believers scattered throughout the ancient world – to follow the teachings of Jesus. James used multiple metaphors and illustrations to make his instructions easy to understand and apply to everyday life. Our reading from James 1 included teaching to trust the Lord when encountering troubles and actively applying God’s truth to one’s life (not just information, but transformation).

1 John gives no indication of a specific intended audience; this letter was likely meant to be circulated among believers throughout the ancient world. The apostle focused his writing on the themes of fellowship with God through Christ, fellowship with other believers, living in the joy of the Lord and pointing his readers to Jesus. Chapter 3, which we read this week, draws a distinct contrast between those who follow Jesus and those who reject him. Included in this is John’s basic message to “love one another” (1 John 3:11). He defines love through the person and work of Jesus, and shares that when believers actively demonstrate love, we have confidence as we come to God.

BibleProject videos

Sunday, November 5: The Letters, Part 1

As the early church grew, so did persecution against those who followed Jesus. Acts gives us a record of one man who led this effort, and his name was Saul. In Acts 9, Luke records the conversion of this man as he encountered the risen Jesus on the way to complete his next mission. Eventually Saul’s name was changed to Paul and he became a driving force in the spread of the good news about Jesus, the Messiah.

There is no detailed record of exactly how the Roman church began. It is possible that some who traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost witnessed the events of Acts 2 and heard Peter’s message, and then came to faith in Christ and shared that faith with others when they returned home.

Paul’s letter to the Roman church is often viewed as a theological work of literature. The letter clearly explains God’s plan of redemption through the person and work of Jesus. More recent scholarship regarding Romans emphasizes the practical aspects of Paul’s writing, specifically the last five chapters which begin with this statement:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

From this point through the end of the letter, Paul describes how a follower of Jesus is to live. The power of the Gospel transforms a person both in this life and life beyond the grave. Seen this way, Romans is more than a theological masterpiece; it is a guidebook for right theology applied to everyday life.

Paul’s missionary journeys are detailed in the book of Acts, and in Acts 18:1-18 we are given a brief description of his time in Corinth. He first visited this city on his second missionary journey, approximately 52 A.D. He met Aquila and Priscilla while there, and it seems they already were followers of Jesus before befriending Paul. Paul established the Corinthian church through his preaching ministry in the Jewish synagogue and, once he was expelled from there, the house of a Gentile named Titius Justus. Paul often received reports regarding the churches he planted and then followed up with letters to give instruction and send greetings. Paul wrote a total of four letters to the church at Corinth, though only two have been preserved and included in the New Testament.

Through the content of these two letters, we learn that the church in Corinth struggled with division, conflict, false teaching and sexual immorality. Paul hit these topics head on and gave clear instructions to the believers in Corinth to turn from their sin and renew their commitment to following Jesus. In our reading this week from chapter 12, Paul emphasized the diversity of spiritual gifts within the church and how members of the church must each exercise their gift together with others rather than the desiring to have the gifts God had given to their brothers and sisters. He shared a very clear explanation of the Gospel in chapter 15 and focused on teaching the Corinthian church about the resurrection of Christ and the coming resurrection of believers.

The church in Ephesus was founded by Paul at the beginning of his third missionary journey. Paul spent three years in the city, and his time there is outlined in Acts 19. There were believers in Ephesus when Paul arrived and his ministry there led to more people coming to faith in Jesus. The culture of the city was one of idolatry and many of the locals opposed Paul’s teaching for fear of losing money that was being made through the worship of the local deity named Artemis. The ensuing riot led to Paul’s eventual departure from the area (Acts 20:1). The church in Ephesus was apparently well established by the time he sent for the church’s leaders while traveling to Jerusalem (Acts 20:13-38).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is unlike his other letters in that there are no specific problems that are addressed. The letter is focused on the eternal purpose of God which He is fulfilling through Jesus, and which is being worked out through those who follow him by faith. The first three chapters are more doctrinal in nature while the final three are more practical. Once again, we see how Paul ties together the understanding and application of theology. Ephesians 2 explains the truth of how we are reconciled to God through faith in Jesus and how we then come together to form the body of Christ, which is the church. Ephesians 6 continues the theme of godly relationships that began in the fifth chapter and closes with the teaching about how to fight the spiritual battles we face as believers.

These New Testament letters served to instruct, encourage and correct the early the church, and they serve the same purpose for us today. As with all biblical literature, we must carefully read, study and apply these writings by taking into account their purpose and context, and doing so in the power of the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth.

BibleProject videos

Sunday, October 29: The Gospels/Early Church History

After many Israelites returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem and re-establish their worship of Yahweh, they continued to anticipate a time when they would be free of foreign rule. Israel was still controlled by the Persian Empire, which then gave way to Greece and eventually Rome.

Approximately 400 years passed after Malachi’s prophetic ministry, and God’s people had seen nothing that would indicate they were any closer to the foretold glorious restoration of their nation. During that time, the idea that the promised messiah would be a political/military savior had gained traction. Many people believed the savior would rescue Israel from foreign rule and usher in an era of political freedom and peace for the nation. They clung to the hope that God would send the Messiah as a mighty king who would dwarf the rulers of other empires with his strength, wealth and charisma. This was the king they were looking for; a king who would deliver Israel from Rome.

The four gospels that reside at the beginning of the New Testament tell the story of the king sent by God to deliver His people. However, this king was not the type of king the people had hoped for. His rescue mission was spiritual rather than militaristic. Our reading this week touched on two of these four gospels: Matthew and John.

Matthew, written between 60-80 A.D. by Jesus’ disciple of the same name, begins with a genealogy that traces the lineage of Jesus back to Abraham and David. Overall, this account of the life and ministry of Jesus bears a strong Jewish emphasis which indicates the author expected his readers to be familiar with Jewish writings and culture. There are many references to Old Testament writings that connect Jesus directly with statements made by the authors of those ancient books. And yet, this aspect of Matthew’s writing is likely meant only to relate to the early Jewish Christian church, not to limit the reach or scope of his gospel account. After all, his letter ends with Jesus commanding his followers to go and make disciples of all nations.

The apostle John authored the gospel account that bears his name. It is believed to have been written between 80-98 A.D. and is unique among the gospels. While Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels due to the similarity of their content, John complements the other three with his introduction of Jesus as the Logos (Word) who was present with the Father during and active in creation. John also presents the teachings of Jesus in long conversations rather than the parables or short statements found in the synoptic gospels. There is a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit in John that is not found in the other three. John explicitly states the purpose of his writing in a section we read this week:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)

We concluded our reading this week with the first two chapters of the book of Acts. The full title of this historic narrative is “Acts of the Apostles,” though some believe a more accurate title would be “Acts of the Holy Spirit” because the book so clearly points to the Spirit of God as the source of power for all that is recorded. Acts was written by Luke, who was a physician by trade and a close friend and ministry colleague of the apostle Paul, and the date of authorship is believed to be approximately 70 A.D. Acts is connected to the gospel of Luke; the introduction to Luke states that it was written to Theophilus, which is a Greek name that means “lover/friend of God” and Acts is addressed to the same person. The gospel of Luke states that the purpose of that letter is to give Theophilus “certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). In the opening of Acts, Luke refers to his gospel as “the first book” before continuing to outline the events leading up to the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:1-8). Howard Marshall writes, “… the two volumes cover the beginning of the gospel, the establishment of salvation in the ministry of Jesus and the proclamation of salvation by the early church.”1

Luke intended Acts to be a historical record of the growing kingdom of God through the early church. While some have taken this to mean that the events described in Acts are not meant to be repeated today, there is no clear instruction in the New Testament to indicate this. Followers of Jesus today should consider Acts as evidence of what God has done and can still do if He so chooses. Otherwise, believers today are left to discern which parts of Acts can be directly applied to today’s church and which parts cannot, and this approach will lead only to confusion.

1 I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 20.

BibleProject video

Sunday, October 22: The Minor Prophets

The twelve books at the end of the Old Testament known as the “Minor Prophets” are named only according to the length of their content as compared with the Major Prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Our reading this week took us only through three of these twelve books:  Hosea, Jonah and Malachi. This was not meant to minimize the other nine. The intent was to focus on the unique ministry of Hosea, the familiar narrative of Jonah and the direct challenges from God recorded in Malachi to give us an overview of the messages of these writings. We read two chapters in each to ensure a solid understanding of the context.

Hosea is unique among the prophets because his message from God was given through the example of his family. He was sent to Israel before God’s judgment was rendered against the nation through foreign powers. God commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him. She gave him three children, who each were given names that denoted judgment. As the book unfolds, it becomes apparent that Hosea’s wife Gomer represents Israel and Hosea represents the Lord, who brings charges against Israel but does not forsake His people. The third chapter (which we did not read and is only five verses) records how Hosea redeemed his wife as an illustration of God’s unfailing love for Israel. It also includes the prophecy of David’s descendant who is a future king, which is a reference to the Messiah.
The familiar narrative of Jonah is one typically introduced to us early in life. This prophet was commanded to give God’s message of judgment to the people of the foreign city of Nineveh, an Assyrian city located on the banks of the Tigris River. Jonah went the opposite direction and sought to escape the Lord on a boat headed out to sea. God sent a great storm and eventually the crew on the boat discovered Jonah was the cause. The prophet explained to the sailors that they must throw him overboard if they wished to live. Once in the water, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and prayed to God who heard him and caused the fish to vomit him on dry land so he could accomplish his mission. Jonah obeyed but did so reluctantly, and his attitude of self pity revealed that even after his ordeal, he was not compassionate toward the people of Nineveh nor was he joyful in his completing the word God had given him to do.

Malachi prophesied after God’s people returned from exile. His message focuses on the need for the people to keep God’s covenant through the Law of Moses. This message comes through a first person address from God to Israel. God charges the people with failing to love Him and failing to love their neighbor. He points out the broken marriage relationships among the people as an example of their basic disregard for loyalty and sacrificial love. There is a direct call to repentance and those who turned back to God were given mercy.

The following note from James Smith shares an overview of the importance of the writings of the Minor Prophets:

The twelve authors of this collection preached and wrote at different periods ranging from the ninth to the fifth centuries B.C. In this collection of books, then, are the earliest and latest prophetic testimonies concerning the future of the kingdom of God. Here also one can trace the development of that testimony. Taken together with the writings of the larger prophetic books they constitute the essentials of the prophetic word to ancient Israel. Here are the warnings that both the northern and southern kingdoms would fall to foreign powers. Here are the pleas for repentance as the only mechanism which might postpone those destructions. On the other hand, here the final touches are applied to the messianic portrait which began to emerge in rough sketch as early as the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:15).1

1James E. Smith, The Minor Prophets, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1994), 20.

Events Timeline

  • Hosea: 752-725 B.C.
  • Joel: specific date unknown; proposed date ranges from 835-300 B.C.
  • Amos: 760-755 B.C.
  • Obadiah: specific date unknown; proposed date ranges from 845-587 B.C.
  • Jonah: specific date unknown; proposed date ranges from 770-750 B.C.
  • Micah: 735-700 B.C.
  • Nahum: 663-612 B.C.
  • Habakkuk: 609-598 B.C.
  • Zephaniah: 630-612 B.C.
  • Haggai: 520 B.C.
  • Zechariah: 520-480 B.C.
  • Malachi: 465-432 B.C.

BibleProject video

Sunday, October 15: The Major Prophets

Already we have read through some of the Old Testament books of history, which chronicle the rise and fall of the kingdom of Israel. As we have moved into the major prophets this week, we have been able to see that the Old Testament as a whole is not organized in chronological order. Instead, it is broken up into sections that each have their own form of organization. The major prophets are largely organized chronologically with some of the prophets ministering at the same time in different settings.

Isaiah prophesied before Jerusalem was conquered and Jeremiah’s ministry began before that event but also continued through the city’s fall and destruction. Ezekiel began after Jerusalem was conquered and before its destruction, but also continued through the exile. Though Daniel was called before the city’s fall and destruction, he was taken to Babylon and primarily ministered during the exile.
While each prophet had his own calling from God, as a group their mission was a common one:  warn the leaders and people of Judah that their continued disobedience to God would result in calamity, but also convey hope for the future because the Lord would one day restore their nation. While many regard the role of a prophet as one who foretells events yet to come (telling the future), biblical prophets were not limited to this. They also proclaimed the truth of God and His ways and served to instruct, correct and rebuke their audiences. Of the major prophets, Daniel’s role was unique due to his many years of ministry after the destruction of Jerusalem while in a foreign land, and his focus on far future events rather than instruction or correction given to the Israelites. ‌

There are multiple connections between the major prophets and the book of Revelation, which includes depictions of a new creation, new heaven and earth, and a new Jerusalem. Ezekiel and Daniel have the strongest connections to Revelation, Isaiah to a lesser degree than the those two, and Jeremiah contains the fewest direct connections. What do we learn from this? These prophets were given messages from the Lord that stretched far beyond their present setting. In addition to the connections with Revelation, there also are multiple prophecies regarding the coming Messiah who would institute a new covenant. Seeing these prophecies fulfilled through the person and work of Jesus Christ gives us great confidence in the Lord, His Word and His unfailing love for humanity. ‌

As we consider the writings of these four prophets, we must remember the basics of reading, studying, interpreting and applying the Scriptures. Each of these writings has its own purpose, historical context and original audience. As we factor these into our time spent in our readings, we will be able to draw personal applications from them and grow in our walk with the Lord.

Events Timeline

  • Isaiah ministers in Judah: 739-680 B.C. (approximate end date)
    Kings of Judah during this time: Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh
  • Jeremiah ministers in Judah: 627-586 B.C.
    Kings of Judah during this time: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah
  • Lamentations written after destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
    Jeremiah is most likely the author
  • Ezekiel ministers in Judah and in exile: 593-571 B.C. (approximate end date)
    King of Judah before fall of Jerusalem: Zedekiah‌
  • Daniel ministers in exile: 604-536 B.C.
    Israelites under rule of Babylonian Empire until it is conquered by the Persians in 539 B.C.

BibleProject video

Sunday, October 8: The Books of Poetry and Wisdom

Our reading this week took us through sections of Job, Psalms and Proverbs. There were two days in each of these three books because each is extensive in nature and required more than one day to better grasp the content. Unfortunately, this did not leave time for us to read in Ecclesiastes or Song of Solomon.

Job is unique in biblical literature. The genre of the book is difficult to pin down because of the variety of literary devices incorporated by the author. James E. Smith identifies Job as a “wisdom debate;” this serves to describe the book’s form and content.1  It includes prose narratives, but most of the book is poetry. More specifically, Job includes laments, complaints, hymns, proverbs and rhetorical questions. Scholars believe the events referenced in Job took place before the days of Abraham, and the details were passed down through generations until either Moses or Solomon were inspired to record them. The book addresses the suffering of those who are righteous and also focuses on the majesty and mystery of God. Regarding how Job points to Christ, Smith writes:

Like the other books of the Old Testament, Job looks forward to Christ. Questions are raised, great sobs of agony are heard, which Jesus alone can answer. The book takes its place in the testimony of the ages that there is a blank in the human heart which Jesus alone can fill ... In this book Christ is anticipated in several ways. Job cries out for a mediator (9:33); he longs for a heavenly witness/advocate (16:19–21), a divine bondsman (17:3), and an interpreter (33:23–28). Job knows he needs someone who can unlock the mystery of suffering. Through his own suffering on the cross, Christ provided the victory over the plague of evil, pain and death itself.

The one passage in Job which may be regarded as predictive of Messiah is 19:23–27. Job here expresses confidence that his redeemer would one day stand upon the earth as “the last,” i.e., he who survives the desolation of the present order. Job anticipated his personal resurrection to life in connection with the appearance of this redeemer.2

The collection of psalms is commonly known as the worship songbook of Israel. This poetry was set to music and used in the worship of God at the temple. David began the work of establishing this music program before the temple was even constructed. There are various references to musicians associated with worship in the historical books. It should be noted that the psalms were written over a period of approximately 850 years from Moses to the exile and even beyond, which means the collection grew and evolved over centuries. There exists a five-fold grouping of psalms in the collection:  Psalms 1-41, Psalms 42-72, Psalms 73-89, Psalms 90-106 and Psalms 107-150. Regarding authorship, 73 psalms are attributed to David, 10 to the sons of Korah, 12 to Asaph, two to Solomon and one each to Ethan, Heman and Moses. There are 50 psalms that are anonymous, and it is likely that many of these were written by David. Multiple psalms point to Christ; there are 16 psalms that can be classified as messianic in nature: 2, 8, 16, 22, 40, 45, 68, 69, 72, 78, 89, 102, 109, 110, 118 and 132.

The book of Proverbs is a collection of poetic wisdom writings that share God’s instructions for everyday life. These come in the form of short statements that utilize parallelism, a literary device that consists of repeated statements that serve to make the same point. The majority of the book is believed to have been written by Solomon; superscriptions identify him in Proverbs 10:1-22:6 and 25:1-29:27. Main themes in Proverbs include:

  • Wisdom: understanding of what God requires of man and what man owes to God
  • Instruction: chastisement, correction, education and moral training
  • Righteousness: that which is in accord with the will and ordinances of God
  • Judgment: the delivery of a correct judgment on human actions
  • Uprightness: integrity of thought and action

The author also seeks to help those who are vulnerable (those who are simple/naive and young), as well as those who already possess wisdom.3
1James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 39.
2Smith, 44.
3Smith, 468–469.

BibleProject videos

Sunday, October 1: The Books of History, Part 2

Israel had established its kingdom in the promised land of Canaan and three kings led God’s people before the kingdom was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Each king who ruled these two kingdoms had a direct impact on the spiritual condition of the people. In our reading this week, we were introduced to Hoshea who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him” (2 Kings 17:2). During his reign, the northern kingdom came to an end as Assyria captured Samaria and took the people into captivity.

We also read of Josiah, who became king of the southern kingdom at just eight years old and “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah led the people to return to God and His ways, and as a result, God’s judgment on this kingdom was delayed until after Josiah’s death. However, the sins of the people over the years still brought the Lord’s wrath upon them and eventually the kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon and the inhabitants were taken captive. Eventually the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and God’s people were then subject to a new king.
While the results of disobedience and obedience are evident in Scripture, so is the truth that God in His mercy would not abandon His people. He rescued them from what seemed certain destruction after Esther – one of their own – became queen of the Persian Empire. The Lord also paved the way for Ezra and Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple, and to lead the Israelites in renewing their worship of Him.

This timeless truth is exemplified in the coming of Jesus, the Son of God. It was through his sinless life, death and resurrection that God the Father pursued all people and opened the way for each person to be forgiven and reconciled to Him. While ancient Israel renewed their worship of the Lord with a new temple, Jesus has instituted a new covenant and each of us who believe becomes a temple of God as the Holy Spirit dwells in us from the moment we give our heart to Christ.

How is your walk with Christ? Whether you are reading, meditating and praying each day, or you’re struggling with this, tomorrow is a new day! Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up. God has pursued us, but because of our human weakness, building a vibrant relationship with Him takes time.

If you missed last week’s sermon that demonstrated how to put the inductive method of Bible study into action, take some time to listen to it this week. It could help you start to use this valuable study method in your life. The link to the sermon is below!

Events Timeline

  • Assyria captures Samaria; inhabitants exiled: 722 B.C.
  • Josiah reigns in Judah: 640-609 B.C.
  • Josiah turns back to the Lord: 633 B.C.
  • Book of the law found: 622 B.C.
  • Egypt controls Judah: 609-605 B.C.
  • Babylon defeats Egypt and Assyria: 605 B.C.
  • Jerusalem falls to Babylon; inhabitants exiled: 597 B.C.
  • Persia conquers Babylon: 539 B.C.
  • Esther becomes queen in Persia: 479 B.C.
  • Ezra sent to Jerusalem: 458 B.C.
  • Nehemiah sent to Jerusalem: 445 B.C.
  • Ezra reads the law: 444 B.C.

Sunday, September 24: The Books of History, Part 1

As we move into the Old Testament books of history, we notice that the pattern of obedience and rebellion that emerged in the wilderness continues as Israel moves into the promised land and establishes its kingdom. Joshua opens with a charge from God to Israel’s new leader, who then rallies the tribes to follow God’s commands and take possession of the land of Canaan. Although we did not read in the book of judges this week, we did get a glimpse at the end of this era as Samuel’s sons employ unethical behavior in their roles as judges, which results in the leaders of Israel choosing to ask Samuel to give them a king like the nations around them.

Saul was the first king, but his disobedience caused God to reject him and seek another to take his place. Samuel then anointed David, who was known for his faithfulness to God during his younger years, but rebelled against God later in life. His son Solomon followed the same path. After the kingdom divided, kings in the northern and southern kingdoms were mostly disobedient to God, though there were some who attempted to launch reforms that briefly brought God’s people back into compliance with His law. Our reading this week closed with a demonstration of God’s power through the prophet Elijah, who ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of an evil king named Ahab.
One person from our reading stands out as a shining example of faithfulness and a recipient of God’s grace during a very difficult time, and her name is Ruth. She was a foreigner from Moab who lived during the time of the judges, and she was married to an Israelite man who died. Her father-in-law and brother-in-law also died, so her mother-in-law Naomi and her sister-in-law Orpah were left to fend for themselves. Naomi chose to return to Israel and Ruth committed to go with her. Ruth demonstrated faith and a strong work ethic as she gleaned grain in the field of a man named Boaz, who was designated as a “redeemer” in Naomi’s family. The following note gives some background for this:

The point of this is that Mahlon, Ruth’s husband, had died childless. There was therefore an obligation resting on the next of kin to marry the widow and have a child who would be regarded as the child of the deceased and carry on his name (see Deut. 25:5-10 for an account of the custom).
Arthur E. Cundall and Leon Morris, Judges and Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 273–274.

Ruth and Boaz are both found in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:5. Boaz served as a redeemer for Ruth, and their descendent would serve as the Redeemer for all mankind.

Events Timeline

  • Joshua succeeds Moses: 1405-1234 B.C. (early and late dates)
  • Period of the judges: 1375-1051 B.C.
  • Ruth and Naomi return to Israel: 1290-1115 B.C. (early and late dates)
  • ‌Saul anointed king: 1050 B.C.
  • ‌David anointed king: 1025 B.C.
  • Solomon becomes king: 971 B.C.
  • Israel is divided into two kingdoms: 930 B.C.
    • Northern kingdom of Israel (capital city was Samaria)
    • Southern kingdom of Judah (capital city was Jerusalem)
  • Ahab becomes king of Israel: 875 B.C.
  • Elijah serves as prophet to Israel: 865-847 B.C.

Sample meditation verses
Highlighted phrases are points of focus
(quoted from New Living Translation)

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Joshua 1:8)

May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:12)

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. (1 Kings 18:21)

Sunday, September 17: The Books of the Law

The books of the Law record the account of God creating all things. Though we did not read the early chapters of Genesis this week, it is in these chapters that we see the entrance of sin into the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. We also see the promise God gave to Eve, that one of her descendants would be superficially wounded by Satan, but in the process that descendant would inflict a mortal wound on the enemy.

These books introduce Abraham and Sarah (whose original names were Abram and Sarai), and the covenant God made with Abraham to give him a son, descendants as numerous as the stars in the night sky, and a land in which they would live. And another part of this promise is referenced in a chapter we read this week, Genesis 22.‌

and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)

This ties back to God’s original promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12.
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

Through these ancient writings, we are introduced to God’s plan of redemption for all mankind. We begin to see that He refused to turn His back on the people He created in His image, even though they rebelled against Him. He would crush the deceiver through the promised seed of Adam and Eve, and we see that carried through in His promise to Abraham and Sarah.

These books of the law trace the plight of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants as slaves held captive in Egypt, their deliverance brought through the works of God and the leadership of Moses. We also can read about Israel’s wandering in the desert due to their disobedience to God.

These books record the Law of God given to His people:  a new legal code that would govern Israel and set them apart from the other nations of the earth. It was this legal code that allowed His presence to dwell among them.

And yet, Israel’s disobedience prevented them from entering into their promised land. An entire generation would die before they could begin to take possession of the land of Canaan. This section of writing closes with the end of Moses’ life and the passing of leadership to Joshua.

This collection of writings is widely believed to have been authored by Moses sometime around 1400 B.C., though the final chapter of Deuteronomy must have been written by someone else because it records Moses’ death. Nevertheless, Jesus credited this collection to Moses. Modern scholarship has developed a variety of theories regarding the authorship of these writings. However, this is mostly built on literary analysis of the text and many assumptions about the accuracy of that analysis.

Jesus and New Testament authors refer to these five books simply as “the Law.”
This collection also is known as the “torah.” The Hebrew word “torah” originally meant “instruction” or “direction.” As the concept developed, the word took on the meaning of “law” ...
Rachel Klippenstein and Bernie Hodkins, “Torah,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
So, the term “torah” refers to the books of the law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are various literary styles in these writings, including law (instruction), narrative, poetry and genealogy.

Sample inductive Bible study (short)
Deuteronomy 30

I. Observation
Moses spoke to the people of Israel to give them a message from God. This is took place just before the end of his life and their entrance into the promised land.

II. Interpretation
God's message to Israel indicated He knew they would rebel against Him. However, He also told them that when that happened, He would not abandon them. They would experience hardship, but would also experience renewal through His grace and mercy. He clearly explained that the law He gave to them was "not too difficult" for them (v. 11) and they did not have to search for it. The choice was a stark one: obedience and life or disobedience and death.

III. Application
As I consider the people of Israel, I am not unlike them. God has rescued me through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ just as He rescued them through the blood of the Passover lamb. He has commanded me to love Him and love others just as He commanded them to obey the Law (which is supported by the command to love Him and love others). He knew I would fail to be obedient just as he knew they would fail to be obedient. And yet, He has not forsaken me just as He has not forsaken them. His grace restores me as I turn back to Him, and He does the same for them. My goal is to strive for obedience in the power of His Spirit, knowing that obedience to Him brings great joy. But when I fail, I will turn back to Him and know He will restore me and empower me to grow on my journey of faith.

Sample inductive Bible study (long)
Genesis 15

I. Observation
Main themes:  God’s promise, God’s provision, God’s interaction with mankind
The context of Genesis 15 is God’s covenant with Abram. He already had promised Abram and Sarai that they would have a son. He had called Abram to leave his home and travel to a land that he would show him, and Abram had obeyed, though along the way there were times that he fell back on his own plans rather than seeking God’s path.
Verses 1-9 record a conversation between God and Abram.
Verses 10-21 record the details of God’s covenant with Abram.

Six Questions
Who:  God and Abram, God appears to Abram in a vision and speaks with him.
What:  “Do not be afraid”, “I will protect you and your reward will be great”, “you will have a son of your own” … God issues promises to Abram and Abram responds with a question, then faith, then another question. The text states that God counted Abram as righteous because of his faith. God gives Abram instructions for animal sacrifices to be made for the process of creating a covenant with him. God also tells Abram that his descendents will be captives in a foreign land and God will deliver them, punish the people of that land and Abram’s descendents will return to the land God gave to him.
Where:  The location is not directly listed in this text. Looking back through the chapters leading up to this one, Abram had last camped in Hebron where he built an altar to God, so this is probably the setting of Genesis 15.
When: God tells Abram to go outside and look at the stars, so it must have been late enough in the day that stars would be visible. The end of the chapter takes place “as the sun was going down” and “as darkness fell.”
Why: God made a covenant with Abram to demonstrate His commitment to this man and his wife. This served as an event that Abram could look back on and be reminded that God would keep His promise.
How: I’ve answered this already in response to the questions above.

God made a covenant with Abram that he would have a son, his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and they would receive the gift of the land in which he was encamped. God counted Abram as righteous because of his faith.
Main unsolved problems/unanswered questions: Is there any significance to the vultures coming and Abram chasing them away? Why cut the larger animals in half? Why did God send a smoking firepot and flaming torch between the pieces of the larger animals?

II. Interpretation
Sovereign Lord: Hebrew word translated “sovereign” in NLT is “adon” which means “master” or “lord.”
Covenant: an agreement or contract
Counted him as righteous: declared him as right with God

Calling God “Lord” reveals that Abram respected God and desired to follow Him.
God saw Abram’s faith and that was enough to declare him as righteous and enter into an agreement with him.

Abram acknowledged God as his Master and Lord, and he believed God. Because of Abram’s faith, God chose to declare him as righteous and initiate an agreement with Abram to multiply his descendents and give to them a land to call home. Abram was made righteous by faith, and his faith in God led him to obey God’s command to set up the animals to complete the agreement.

III. Application
God is telling me to not be afraid, and to trust Him. While for Abram that meant trusting God to keep His promise of a son, protection, reward, many descendants and a new land, for me it means He loves me, He will be with me and He will bring me to the place He has for me  … which I believe is a place of possessing peace regardless of circumstances. I have dealt with times of discouragement these last few years and I have often responded by worry, fear and anger rather than faith. Eventually I get to faith, but only after responding in my flesh first.

He is calling me to build discipline into my life; the kind of spiritual discipline that does right even when things aren’t seeming to go right. I am seeing growth in this and I want that to continue. My response needs to be turning to Him through prayer, Scripture, godly counsel and a loving faith community … and doing that as my FIRST response rather than my LAST response.

Sample meditation verses
Highlighted phrases are points of focus

Sept. 11
Some time later, the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” (Genesis 15:1)

Sept. 12
“Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” (Genesis 22:5)

Sept. 13
God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)

Sept. 14
On this night the LORD kept his promise to bring his people out of the land of Egypt. So this night belongs to him, and it must be commemorated every year by all the Israelites, from generation to generation. (Exodus 12:42)

Sept. 15
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)  

Sept. 16
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. (Deuteronomy 30:15)

Sunday, September 10: The Journey Begins

Have you been asking God to give you an overwhelming desire to abide in His word? If you have, then you likely have experienced an excitement about this new journey, and you’ve probably also come up against some challenges to that excitement. This underscores the importance of community. Make sure you share these experiences with another believer you trust, or even multiple believers you trust (like your life group). When you open up to other people, God will work through them to help you move forward in your walk with Jesus.
As we begin this new series, take advantage of the resource on this page. When you click or tap on the How to Read the Bible Video Series button, you will be directed to a series of videos by the BibleProject, which will give you insight into how to read the Bible. This resource is completely free for you to use and has gained a solid reputation as a trusted aid in Bible study. Their website states, “From page one to the final word, we believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.”
Of course, the most important resource you will use is the Bible itself. Remember that the Bible is not one book, but is instead a collection of books. In addition, the authors of the Bible used a variety of literary styles, which are important to consider in reading and understanding what is written. Each book may have a primary style, but it will likely include the use of other styles as well. (For more detailed insight about literary styles, watch the BibleProject series.)

Make sure you use your Sword of the Spirit series guide this week. It includes a method of Bible study, method of Bible meditation and a reading plan. You will be reading six days each week, with the goal of using the Bible study method twice and the meditation method each day.

Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind while reading this week, shared by author Dan Kimball in his book How (Not) to Read the Bible:

1. The Bible is a library, not a book
The realization that the Bible is a library helps us remember that there are various authors, time periods, settings and purposes for different books. This is key to understanding, interpreting and applying what we are reading.

2. The Bible is written for us, but not to us
God used the original authors of Bible books to write to original audiences. We cannot carry our own cultural assumptions with us as we read the Bible because it was written to people who lived in a very different setting from ours. Learning more about the original audience can help us discern what instructions and insights the Bible has for us today.

3. Never read a Bible verse
Never is an extreme word, and Kimball used it to make the point that a Bible verse should be read in the context of what is around it, rather than in isolation. It’s true that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament quoted single verses, but they did so with an awareness of the context. After all, the Jewish people knew the Old Testament so well that even one verse would remind them of the context.

4. All of the Bible points to Jesus
Jesus is the central figure of the entire Bible. The Old Testament points to his coming, the Gospels tell the story of his life, ministry, sacrificial death and resurrection, and the New Testament letters share how Jesus transforms people as they grow in their journey of following him.

Finally, as you prepare to read in the Old Testament books of law this week, it is important to remember that Jesus referred to these writings as “the word of God.” When confronted by religious leaders about how his disciples did not follow a particular tradition for washing their hands before a meal, Jesus responded by quoting the Law of Moses and rebuking these leaders for ignoring it. He then said, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God,” (Matthew 15:6). Jesus acknowledged the importance of the Old Testament and identified it as God’s Word. We must do the same. If we fail to understand the Old Testament, we will struggle to understand the writings of the New Testament.