With the calendar still showing August
it is hard to think that fall is right around the corner. I am looking forward
to fall. I love the cooler evenings, and the regular pace of life that begins
once school is in session. Fall brings a new school year, new pencils, new
challenges and in our Old Testament readings we will be getting into some new
territory. The main narrative story of God’s people is over. We will see some
more narrative in the prophets but for a while we will have new things, like
the books of Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. We will get into the
prophets by the second week of September, but for now, enjoy the change of pace
and see what God will reveal to you through His word. On to the study…
The Old Testament
We finished up the book of Ezra and
began the book of Nehemiah this past week. Ezra was a book about a priest and
served as a theological perspective to the return of the Exiles. Nehemiah is
more of a political book. Nehemiah was in the service of King Artaxerxes as a
cupbearer. This was no small job; it was very important. Nehemiah was one of
God’s people in exile. He had heard of the return of some of his own people
back to the land to rebuild the temple and now he too desired to go. He asked
for and received permission from the king and he went back with the purpose of
rebuilding the walls of the city so it would be safe from foreign enemies. This
was not popular with the governors of the area and they tried to stop the
rebuilding of the walls many times. But God’s plan was for the wall and the
city to be rebuilt because of his ultimate plan of sending the Messiah to
fulfill prophecy. It took just 52 days to finish the wall and after it was
completed, the Law (remember Law = writings of Moses) was read to the people
and they all rededicated themselves to the LORD. Nehemiah gives us a good
history lesson along the way as he reminded the people of the grace of God and
his love for the people in spite of their disobedience. For as important as the
ministry of Ezra was to the spiritual lives of the people, Nehemiah was to the
political life of Jerusalem. The stage was set, the pieces have been put in
place, everything was ready for the events to come to pass just as the prophets
had foretold. All that was needed was for the fullness of time and the promised
Messiah would come.
The New Testament
In our readings in 1 Corinthians we
finished up Paul’s introduction with a message on legal matters. His advice is
to stay out of the courts when you have a disagreement with another Christian.
It just makes you look bad and is a very poor witness to Jesus. In fact it does
not honor God when, in the public eye, Christians can’t get along. Paul then
moves on to the questions that the church asked him. We do not have a copy of
their letter to Paul but we do know how he answered some of their questions.
Paul spends a lot of time dealing with marriage. He does not condemn marriage,
but he does give some warning about how the desires of the flesh can get us off
track spiritually as well as in our relationships. Paul then spends quite a bit
of time on the issue of food. Food is something very important to a person of
the Old Testament. Food laws were abundant and issues regarding food came up
often in the early church. The root of the problem stems from the fact that the
early church was multicultural. There were Jews and Gentiles together who had
vastly different ideas about food. What was clean and unclean according the
groups differed. God had made it perfectly clear that what ever He made clean
was clean. This did not mean the people could go “hog wild” (no pun intended).
In fact the church needed to be very careful about what it ate. Some people had
a hard time with eating foods sacrificed to idols. They wanted to know if they ate
the food were they honoring that idol. Then there was the whole problem of what
would people think if they saw a believer eating that food. This is a complex
issue. Paul tries to break it down, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my
brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause
him to fall.” (1 Cor. 8:13 NIV). And in the next chapter he says, “We
put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” (1 Cor.
9:12b NIV). The bottom line is, if it causes someone to stumble or struggle in
his or her faith we should try to avoid it at all costs. This has implications
for us today. Do we have freedom in Christ? Yes! Can we do whatever we want?
Yes, but not everything is beneficial. We must be careful of what we do and how
that reflects Christ to the world.
Bits and Pieces
The Old Testament
We will read the entire book of Esther
next week. We will also get into the book of Job.
Here are the vital stats for Esther:
PURPOSE: To demonstrate God’s
sovereignty and his loving care for his people.
To record the Lord’s providential deliverance of the Judeans from
destruction by their enemies in the Persian Empire.
AUTHOR: Unknown, possible Mordecai.
Some have suggested Ezra or Nehemiah because of the similarity of the writing
DATE WRITTEN: Approx. 483-471 B.C.
SETTING: Although Esther follows
Nehemiah in the Bible, its events are about 30 years prior to those recorded in
Nehemiah. The story is set in the Persian empire, and most of the action takes
place in the king’s palace in Susa, the Persian capital.
KEY VERSE: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the
Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will
perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such as time
as this?” (Esther 4:14 NIV)
LAW THEMES: Weakness before one’s
enemies due to disobedience; the Lord thwarts grudges and hatred.
GOSPEL THEMES: Preservation of God’s
people from whom Jesus would be born; the Lord works constantly for the deliverance
of His people.
KEY PEOPLE: Esther, Mordecai, King
Xerxes I, Haman
KEY PLACE: The king’s palace
SPECIAL FEATURES: Esther is one of only
two books named for women (Ruth is the other). The book is unusual in that in
the original version, no name, title, or pronoun for God appears in it. This
caused some church fathers to question its inclusion in the canon. But God’s
presence is clear throughout the book.
Here are the vital stats for Job:
PURPOSE: The Lord shows He is our
Redeemer, despite what we may suffer in life.
It addresses the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?”
AUTHOR: Unknown, possible Job. Some
have suggested Moses or Solomon.
DATE WRITTEN: Unknown. Records events
that probably occurred during the time of the patriarchs, approx. 2000-1800 BC.
SETTING: The land of UZ, probably
located in northeast Palestine, near desert land between Damascus and the
KEY VERSE: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon
the earth.” (Job 19:25 NIV)
LAW THEMES: People suffer unduly in a
sinful, broken world; no one can justify
himself or herself before God; Satan can tempt people and inflict suffering.
GOSPEL THEMES: God accomplishes His
righteous purposes amid and through suffering; the Lord is our Redeemer; the
resurrection of the body.
KEY PEOPLE: Job, Eliphaz the Temanite,
Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, Elihu the Buzite.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Job is the first of
the poetic books in the Hebrew Bible. Some believe this was the first book of
the Bible to be written. This book gives us insights into the work of Satan.
Ezekiel 14:14 and James 5:11 mention Job as a historical character.