Monday, May 9, 2016

Last Days of the Dynasty

We're going to take a break from our Bible studies during the summer, so this is the last one till the fall. Jerusalem is about to be conquered by Babylon. The nation will again be split in two. And fall will take our studies to Babylon, where Daniel and Ezekiel preach. Poor old Jeremiah gets left behind to watch things fall apart, and we'll revisit him too, and Isaiah. But for now, here's a study of an old dynasty's last days.

Watch this space for other studies or stories as we wait for Fall, and thank you for following along with us.

 (26) Jeremiah – A Reluctant Prophet

Judah is falling apart. Cities are falling to the invading Babylonians. Refugees are crowding into Jerusalem. Among the refugees are a small tribe called the Recabites. God uses them to convey an important message through Jeremiah.

1.       The Recabites are descended from Jonadab, who appeared briefly in the story of Jehu, when God used him to oppose King Ahab of Israel.  Read 2 Kings 10:15-16,23-25.

2.       Read Jeremiah 35:1-2,5-7,11. The Recabites have some pretty strict rules. Will rules or personal obedience be more important in this story? Read verse 16.

3.       Read Jeremiah 35:13-14 The Recabites obey their forefather. Are there any people today who might inspire us to greater obedience?

4.       Read Jeremiah 35:17-19. Why does God spare the Recabites? What might this mean for us?

Nebuchadnezzar is almost to the gates. Jeremiah has preached repentance and been kicked out of the Temple. He’s had his friend Baruch deliver God’s words on a scroll, and the scroll was burned. And now he’s gone into hiding. Meanwhile false prophets proclaim that all will be well.

1.       How can we tell the difference between a false prophet and a true one? Do we really have wait until after the prophesied disaster?

2.       Read Jeremiah 23:9-10. What 4 things add to Jeremiah’s troubles? Jeremiah says “because of the Lord...” Have you ever accused God of being part of your problem?

3.       Read Jeremiah 23:13-14. How does God feel about the state of his people? The people’s status as God’s family was always more important than their status as a nation. How do you think God feels about the state of his family today?

4.       Read Isaiah 37:33-35, Jeremiah 23:17. The false prophets are using God’s word to disprove God’s word? Read Matthew 4:6. How can we be sure of anyone’s interpretation of scripture? Read Jeremiah 23:22

Jeremiah proclaims that God will withdraw his word from his people. The prophets respond by attacking him with words

1.       Read Jeremiah 23:33, 18:18. There’s a saying that words don’t hurt. Do you believe it?

2.       Read Jeremiah 18:20-21. Does this sound cruel? Or is he just proclaiming the prophecies he received before?

3.       Read Jeremiah 19:1-3,6,10-12. Do you remember the history of Tophet and the Valley of Hinnon (child sacrifice, garbage dump)? Is Jeremiah breaking the “no words” rule, or is he preaching with more than words?

Let’s meet a false prophet and see what he does to a true one.

1.       Read Jeremiah 20:1-4. How might a modern false prophet act against a modern true prophet?

2.       How do you think Jeremiah might have felt in the stocks? Read Jeremiah 20:7

3.       Read Jeremiah 20:9-10. Do people/the media watch to hear modern prophets “stumble”?

4.       Read Jeremiah 20:13. Do you think the poor felt delivered at this point? Do you think Jeremiah did? How hard is it to praise God before he answers prayer? And how important is it?

5.       Read Jeremiah 20:14-15. God is with him. Why doesn’t he sound triumphant? How might Jeremiah’s depression help us pray when things go wrong?

6.       Read Jeremiah 20:16. Jeremiah knows what will happen to the false prophet, but he doesn’t see any good futures for himself either. How do you react when you can’t see any good outcomes? How does society react?

Pharaoh Necho manages to hold Egypt’s borders against Babylon, but at great cost. Meanwhile Jehoiakim dies and his son Coniah/Jehoiachin takes the throne, only to surrender to Babylon in 3 months (Read 2 Kings 24:7-12). Jeremiah’s not terribly impressed with either Judean king.

1.       Read Jeremiah 22:18-19. Tradition said God chose the kings of Judah, but standing on faith or tradition doesn’t save them. What traditions might we be falsely standing on?

2.       Read Jeremiah 22:24-26. Lots of people were taken to Babylon. This might not include Daniel as he was probably taken earlier, but it probably does include Ezekiel.

3.       Read Jeremiah 22:28-30. So... is Coniah evil, or it just too late?

4.       Read Jeremiah 13:15-18. Why might this be something Jeremiah said to Coniah? Why might a new king be proud? Why might we be proud?

5.       Read Jeremiah 13:20-25. What falsehoods do we personally or nationally trust in?

Read 2 Kings 24:10-17. The Babylonians added the best and brightest to their own court. There they’d be trained as good wise Babylonians, ready to rule in Babylon’s name.  Meanwhile a puppet ruler is left behind to govern the remnant of the people. In this case, Jehoiachin’s uncle becomes king and is given the name Zedekiah.

1.       Which half of the nation, humanly speaking, would you view as the hope for God’s people – those removed or those left behind?

2.       Read Daniel 1:1-4, 2 Kings 24:1. Given that Daniel and his friends have already been in Babylon for several years, does that alter which half of the nation you’d expect to be saved?

3.       Jeremiah is left behind. Read Jeremiah 24:1-3. How might Jeremiah want to interpret the vision?

4.       Read Jeremiah 24:4-7. How might Jeremiah feel, learning that those he’s prophesied against are going to be redeemed? Who does Christian society prophesy against? How might we feel if they become the chosen ones?

5.       Read Jeremiah 24:8-10. But Jeremiah is one of them!

6.       God has provided for the Babylonian exiles, and given them prophets before they even arrive. But he doesn’t seem to have mentioned any of this to Jeremiah. Are there times when you’ve been completely surprised by God’s provision.

So the nation is split in two, again!

Monday, May 2, 2016

When the World starts falling apart...

The more I read about Jeremiah, the more he feels like a real person, committed, conflicted, struggling with real doubts and fears, yet always reminding himself, through prayer, to trust in God. This week's study takes him from the day he got kicked out of the Temple to the day the Babylonians camped at the gates of Jerusalem - scary times, and the whole world's falling apart.

(25) Jeremiah

Jeremiah wasn’t born in Jerusalem, but he probably did most of his growing up in the Temple, associating with his father and the good king Josiah. Now Jehoiakim’s on the throne and things are falling apart. After Jeremiah’s big sermon in the courtyard of the Temple, his life is threatened. A few good priests speak up for him, but he’s banned from the Temple – his home – and God sends him to preach in Jerusalem and other cities of Judah.

1.       Reade Jeremiah 11:1-5. How big a deal is disobedience? Why doesn’t this mean we have to obey the letter of Jewish dietary law or have our sons circumcised?(Read Ephesians 2:8-9, James 2:10)

2.       Read Jeremiah 11:14-17. Is it ever too late to repent? How are punishment and natural consequences balanced?

Jeremiah makes his complaints to the Lord, and the Lord answers. Before you read on, What kind of answers do we expect from God?

3.       Read Jeremiah 11:18-20. Why might it not be appropriate for us to ask to see God’s vengeance?

4.       Read Jeremiah 12:1-3. Does this remind you of Habakkuk? Does the fact that God knows you (verse 3) make you more or less likely to ask to see God’s vengeance?

5.       Read Jeremiah 12:5-6. Have you ever felt betrayed by circumstance, people, or even by God? What helped you?

6.       Read Jeremiah 12:7,14-15. Does God reject his people completely? How does that change your view of history?

In 605BC, when Johoiakim’s been on the throne 4-5 years, Assyria and Egypt ally against Babylon again. Pharaoh Necho has to march through Philistine territory, between Judah and the coast. He defeats the Philistines but fails against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar destroys the Assyrian army and should probably have followed the retreating Egyptians South to conquer Egypt too. But his father has died so he returns to Babylon to be crowned king.

1.       Read Jeremiah 47:1-4 Who really conquers the Philistines? How willing are we to credit God with world events?

2.       Read Jeremiah 46:1-8,11-12. Why do you think God compares the Egyptians to a flood? What might God compare modern countries to? (Gilead, east of the Jordan, was a good source for medicinal herbs, but Egypt was famous for its own medicines.)

With the Assyrians defeated and Egypt kicked out of Carchamesh, Babylon is free to march into Judah. Should Judah be scared of Babylon (the future), or more comforted by seeing God’s power (the past)? How do we balance future fears and past fulfilment of promise in the way we live our lives? Jeremiah offers some parables.

1.       Read Jeremiah 13:1-11. Can you paraphrase the lesson of the linen sash? Can you relate to the idea of being ruined if not clinging to God?

2.       Read Jeremiah 13:12-14. Wineskins filled with wine were essential to survival in their world, so, is this an argument against drunkenness or something else? What is essential to survival in our world? What gifts of God might we see misused today?

3.       Read Jeremiah 18:1-4. It’s a powerful analogy. Can you think of something similarly powerful in our modern world?

4.       Read Jeremiah 18:13-19. Judah was once defined among other nations by how God led the slaves from Egypt. How do other nations see Judah now? How has the world’s view of Christianity changed over time? How does the world view Christians today, and what might we be called to do about it?

Jeremiah has been banned from the Temple since his “temple sermon.” But that doesn’t stop him writing another sermon on a scroll and having his friend Baruch read it. According to recent discoveries, Baruch was probably a royal scribe – an important person. He may have become friends with Jeremiah in the days of King Josiah. He was clearly a good friend, and follows Jeremiah into exile later.

1.       Read Jeremiah 36:1-6,9-10, 45:1-5. There’s a Jewish fast in late 604BC, a year after Nebuchadnezzar’s victory. How might Baruch have felt as he awaited his chance to read? How easy is it to be patient while the world falls apart?

2.       Read Jeremiah 25:1-3,12-13. Why might some historians think these are the words in the scroll?

3.       Read Jeremiah 25:8-9. How might people have felt hearing Nebuchadnezzar referred to as God’s servant? What nations or leaders might be called God’s servants today?

4.       Read Jeremiah 25:11-12. What would the number 70 have meant to the people?

5.       Read Jeremiah 36:11-19. Lots of advisors to the king are named. What kind of risk are they taking?

6.       Read Jeremiah 36:20-26. What image do you get of the king’s court?

7.       Read Jeremiah 36:28. Can God’s word be destroyed?

8.       Read Jeremiah 36:30-31. Didn’t God promise there would always be a Davidian king? How open to interpretation are God’s promises? How easily do we assume he’s promising what we want?

Read 2 Kings 24:1-3, Daniel 1:1-4. Jehoiakim ends up paying tribute to Babylon for a few years. At this point, he probably sends some influential sons of Judah to Babylon as hostages as well, probably including Daniel. He will rebel again later, seemingly successfully. But in 597BC Babylon will lay siege to Jerusalem and capture it. At this point, Jehoiakim will die and his son will be deposed.

1.       Read Jeremiah 15:10-11. How does Jeremiah feel about the messages he deliver? Would you want to be God’s mouthpiece?

2.       Read Jeremiah 15:12-13. What did Jesus say about paying tribute to a governing body?

3.       Read Jeremiah 15:14. Which famous prophet will be taken into exile in Babylon? And where will Jeremiah go/be sent?

4.       Read Jeremiah 15:16. What other times can you remember where people “eat” God’s word? (Read Ezekiel 3:3, Revelation 10:10, Psalm 119:103)

5.       Read Jeremiah 15:18. Is it okay to complain to God? Have you ever complained? How did God respond?

6.       Read Jeremiah 15:21. Is God promising comfortable deliverance? Is that what God gives us?

A time of war, poverty and drought is coming. Jeremiah calls the nation to weep, weeps for the nation, weeps with the nation, wants to run away, wants all everyday life to stop, and still fails to make a difference. What image of Jeremiah are you getting? And what image of the people? How has God balanced punishment and consequence? And how has he answered Jeremiah’s prayers?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Who is your favorite minor prophet?

Habakkuk is one of my favorite minor prophets, for the not terribly spiritual reason that one of my favorite choruses is based on a verse from Habakkuk. I'll leave you to try and guess which verse. Anyway, I was kind of pleased to see we're finally reaching Habakkuk in our journey through Biblical prophets. I hope you're still enjoying the journey.

(24) Josiah Falls and Judah will soon follow - Habakkuk

1.       Read 2 Chronicles 35:20-22. What might have tempted Josiah to fight against Egypt? What might have confirmed, for him, that this was God’s will? How do we recognize God’s will?

2.       Read 2 Kings 23:25, Deuteronomy 6:5, 34:10-12. How does the author view King Josiah?

3.       Read 2 Kings 23:28-30. How do we feel when we think we know what God’s doing, and everything changes?

4.       Read 2 Kings 23:31-32, 2 Chronicles 21:10. What efforts did Josiah take to ensure his sons would be faithful? (Libnah had become a bastion of faithfulness by then.) Can we expect our kids to be made faithful by our efforts?

5.       Read 2 Kings 23:33-34 Pharaoh Necho is the one Josiah attacked. Judah now becomes a vassal state of Egypt.

6.       Read 2 Chronicles 35:23-25, Jeremiah 22:10 Who are the people to weep for? Who do we feel sorry for?

7.       Read Jeremiah 22:11-12. Shallum would be Jehoahaz’ home name (like Eliakim), rather than his throne name.

8.       Read Jeremiah 22:15-16. What trappings do we mistake for signs of God’s favor?

Around this time, the prophet Habakkuk looks at world events and presents his questions to God. He’s sometimes called the philosopher’s prophet, thought his questions might equally be priestly or psalm-ly.

1.       Read Habakkuk 1:2-4 Is this question relevant today?

2.       Read Habakkuk 1:5-6 How might Habakkuk have felt hearing this? What message from God might provoke the same feelings in us?

3.       Read Habakkuk 1:12-13. How does Habakkuk’s response begin? What might that teach us about prayer?

4.       Read Habakkuk 2:1. How does Habakkuk’s response end? Does that teach us something too?

5.       Read Habakkuk 2:2-3. How do we feel about waiting? When people try to predict when the end-times will come, what does that tell us about waiting?

6.       Read Habakkuk 2:4-5. What characterizes a proud man or nation?

7.       Read Habakkuk 2:6-8. Habakkuk asked God how long, and God echoes the question, but who is being asked now? Some translations start “...all these will take up a proverb... a riddle against him...” What is the answer to the “riddle”?

8.       Read Habakkuk 2:9,12,15,19. Together with verse 6, who are the five woes aimed at?

9.       Read Habakkuk 2:11,14,20. Are these verses familiar? What message does God “hide” amid the woes?

Habakkuk responds with a prayer, just as the psalmists respond at the end of their laments.

1.       Read Habakkuk 3:2. Why might this be a good prayer to repeat today?

2.       Read Habakkuk 3:3, Deuteronomy 33:2 Paran, between Edom and Sinai, beside the Gulf of Aqaba, was considered the birthplace of the Hebrew nation. What might outsiders see as the birthplace of American faith?

3.       Read Habakkuk 3:4-6. What images does the prophet convey? How might people of that time have interpreted them? How might a computer-gaming child today view them? Does that change your view of computer games?

4.       Read Habakkuk 3:7. Cushan was a Midianite tribe – not too far away. Why might Habakkuk mention them?

5.       Read Habakkuk 3:8-9. So... do God’s arrows strike randomly because nature has sinned or fallen? Read verses 10-11. What image sticks in your mind? Does it remind you of Revelation?

6.       Read Habakkuk 3:12-13,16. How eager are you to see God bring justice now? Would you repeat “in wrath remember mercy” at this point?

7.       Read Habakkuk 3:17-19. How does this fit with the “in wrath remember mercy” theme?

Read 2 Kings 23:35-37 Jehoiakim becomes king in 509BC. He’s deeply indepted to Egypt, and rules a land that’s basically a buffer zone between two warring nations. Jeremiah preaches what is known as his “temple sermon” at this point.

1.       Read Jeremiah 26:1-6. Jeremiah is still young (maybe around 18). He’s a familiar face in the temple, and his father was very important in the days of Josiah. But he’s probably not Jerusalem born and bred. He probably doesn’t have the accent of “power.” So how well-received do you think his sermon would be?

2.       Read Jeremiah 7:1-7. Why might some historians believe Jeremiah 7 gives a longer version of the Temple sermon?

3.       Read Jeremiah 7:8-10. Is there any sense in which “cultural Christians” do these things?

4.       Read Jeremiah 7:11. Who quoted this? When and why?

5.       Read Jeremiah 7:12. When was God’s tabernacle in Shiloh, and what will they see if they go there?

6.       Read Jeremiah 7:18-19, 44:15-18. The queen of heaven, in this context, seems to be a goddess worshiped by women in the home. When Judah fell to Babylon, refugees from Jerusalem carried their house gods with them, including the queen of heaven, just as Jacob’s family carried theirs. They seem to think their worship of the queen of heaven protected them under Josiah’s reign, rather than crediting God. When are we tempted to credit our own skills instead of crediting God for protecting us? Does that mean we’re making gods of our skills?

7.       Read Jeremiah 7:21-23. Which matters more, obeying the letter of God’s law as it’s relayed to us, or obeying God?

8.       Read Jeremiah 7:30. What abominations might we see in houses called by God’s name today?

9.       Read Jeremiah 7:31-34. A cultic temple has been excavated in Carthage where babies were burned on altars and bones buried in urns. How do you feel, knowing that “good” Jerusalem, which had just had such a good king, still enjoyed a similar cult? Whose rejoicing was silenced?

10.   Read Jeremiah 8:1-2. Does this include the good guys’ bones, or does it refer to the present generation?

11.   Read Jeremiah 26:7-9. Are you surprised by the priests’ response?

12.   Read Jeremiah 26:10-11. Does “This man deserves to die” remind you of a later time? (Read Matthew 26:66)

13.   Read Jeremiah 26:12-16. Bearing in mind that priests also speak in the name of the Lord, are they swayed by argument or by God?

14.   Read Jeremiah 26:18-19, Micah 3:12. How might this help them judge Jeremiah? How can we test prophesy?

15.   Read Jeremiah 26:20-23. So Uriah died. How does this help Jeremiah’s case? Read Acts 5:36-39

16.   Read Jeremiah 26:24, 2 Kings 22:11-13. A long-standing faithful priest protects Jeremiah and the story continues.