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Monday, January 2, 2017

Wishing You Blessings and Hope in the New Year.

The Fall of Jerusalem must have felt like the end of everything, not just the end of an old year. But now we start up our Bible studies with a new year, new dangers and fears, and a continuing hope in the Author of it all. What was known is gone. The future will come, and the past will confirm our hope.

(38) Lamentations After the Fall

Movies and television news give us fairly comprehensive images of cities being destroyed. So does the Bible. Read 2 Kings 25:8-21 (also Jeremiah 52:12-27). Does all this sound painfully familiar? Can you suggest why a conqueror would remove bronze pillars, etc? Why would he have recruiting officers publically executed? Why is the history of the artifacts (back to Solomon’s time) important?
Do people still treat conquered nations (or tribes) this way? Have they in recent history? Why?
Read Jeremiah 39:8-10. Why are the poor left behind? Will they become rich? Can you apply this to the fictional interpretations of Revelation, say in the Left Behind series of books?
The book of Lamentations is usually believed to have been written by Jeremiah after Jerusalem fell. It’s clearly written by an eye witness to the death of Jerusalem.
1.       Read Lamentations 1:1-5. Can you imagine anyone writing similarly about a besieged city today? How might you feel if the besieged city were somewhere you’d visited, or somewhere you hoped to live some day?
2.       Read Lamentations 1:7-8. The author remembers the good and accepts blame for the bad. How easy or hard might we find it to accept national misfortune as a well-deserved punishment?
3.       Read Lamentations 1:18. The author imagines the city speaking, but if he’s saying this aloud he will sound like is accepting personal blame. How careful would we be to avoid blaming ourselves for national misfortune? Is it right to accept blame for the mistakes of others?
4.       Read Lamentations 2:4,8. Is God killing the good (“those who were pleasing to his eye”)? Or is something else being pictured here?
5.       Lamentations 3:1-66 is an acrostic poem, with groups of 3 lines for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. What other famous acrostic can you think of in the Bible? How might composing an acrostic help the author focus his thoughts on God? Have you ever tried to compose one during prayer? Have you used one (ACTS or ALTAR for example) in prayer?
6.       Read Lamentations 3:25-30. Who else spoke of turning your cheek to your adversary? Why would words like this appear in the middle of a lament?
7.       Read Lamentations 4:17. What do we “watch” for that cannot save us? What should we watch for? And how is watching different from taking action?
8.       Read Lamentations 5:19-22. Is this hopeful, despairing, or just human? Do we ever feel this way?
There is still a city of Jerusalem, though there’s no king or temple now. And there’s still politics—still trouble.
1.       Read Jeremiah 40:2-4. Do you think the captain believes in God, or is he just hedging his bets? We’re not told that Jeremiah tackles him on his beliefs. Do we think he should? In situations where we hear people half-quoting beliefs we half agree with, should we try to set them straight? How do we know what we should do?
2.       Read 2 Kings 25:22-24, Jeremiah 40:5-6, Jeremiah 39:11-14. Does it matter that the accounts don’t quite agree? Does it make this more or less likely to be historically factual?
3.       Read Jeremiah 39:15-18 Do you remember who Ebed-Melech is? (Read Jeremiah 38:7-10)
4.       Read Jeremiah 40:11-12. What image do you get of the remaining society in Judah?
5.       Read Jeremiah 40:15-41:3. How easily might they have persuaded themselves they were doing God’s will? How easily do we, or others, persuade ourselves that we’re doing God’s will?
6.       Read Jeremiah 41:5-10. Asa and Baasha were certainly enemies and Asa could well have dug a pit as part of his defenses. What image of the remaining society do you get now?
7.       Read Jeremiah 41:14,17,18. The newly removed Israelites are rescued by Johanan but they don’t feel very secure. Where should they turn? (Try to answer before reading on.)
8.       Read Jeremiah 42:1-3, 7-16. Which advice sounds more humanly wise, to leave or to stay? How would we choose—safety in a place of visible danger, or safety in a place that we remember was safe?
9.       Read 2 Kings 25:26, Jeremiah 43:7-12. So Jeremiah is still preaching doom and gloom. Why might God not want them to go to Egypt?
10.   Read Jeremiah 44:15-19, 7:18-19. How pervasive was the worship of false gods then? How pervasive is it now? And when might we be tempted to imagine our “good fortune” was caused by our own good efforts?
Read Jeremiah 52:28-30, 2 Kings 24:14,16. The dates and numbers in Jeremiah don’t quite match with Kings, but royal reigns were measured differently in different places, and people were listed differently too (sometimes including women, sometimes not, etc.).
The third exile is probably Babylon’s response to the murder of Gadaliah. Do these events sound distant now, or do they evoke modern-day images? Do you think it helps to read the Bible and recognize historical events and human interactions underneath the rule of God’s plan?
Chronicles covers all these events rather briefly in 2 Chronicles 36:17-21. Is there a different emphasis here? Why?
Bible scholars have suggested that Chronicles and Kings were compiled from the same original documents, with Chronicles looking at priestly rules and influences, focusing on the Temple, and Kings looking at royal rules and influences, focusing on rulers. What do you think?
Does this make you think of any other books in the Bible? Do they always agree on details, timelines etc? Does their disagreement add to or remove from their (secular) authenticity? Why might this be important?

Monday, December 5, 2016

What Happens at the End of the Road?

It seems like Jerusalem has been falling for weeks in these Bible studies--for years in reality as we read "the ninth year" "the tenth" "the eleventh." But this week's study sees a kingdom destroyed, while a different type of kingdom takes root in the heart. I hope you're enjoying the journey as much as I am.

(37) Jerusalem Falls at last

Ezekiel spends a lot of time (or a lot of writing) describing the fate of Jerusalem, but he’s not even in Jerusalem. Why is it such a big, time-and-page-consuming deal?

Can you list, from memory, the things that have been done wrong in Jerusalem? Can you list modern-day equivalents for each? Read Ezekiel 22:2-16

1.       Verse 3. How do we shed blood?

2.       Verse 4. How are we defiled with idols?

3.       Verse 5. Are we a reproach to the nations / an infamous place?

4.       Verse 7. Do we oppress strangers?

5.       Verse 7. Do we care for widows and orphans, and for anyone else in need?

6.       Verse 8. How do we mistreat sacred things?

7.       Verse 9. How does slander cause bloodshed? What modern actions cause bloodshed?

8.       Verse 9-10. What is lewdness? (Other translations use other words, but what is being condemned?)

9.       Verse 10-11. Is it just sexual immorality with neighbors and relatives that’s being condemned?

10.   Verse 12. Who profits from whom in the modern world? And who profits from war and bloodshed?

Read Ezekiel 22:17-22. What kind of melting pots come to mind? What is the message?
Next Ezekiel compares Judah and Samaria to two sisters, both of whom betray their spouse.

1.       Read Ezekiel 23:4-5. What happened when Israel made agreements with Assyria? Does this mean our nation shouldn’t make agreements? That faith shouldn’t mix with politics? That… what do you think?

2.       Read Ezekiel 23:11-12,14,16,19. Do you remember the history these verses refer to? Do you think the first listeners remembered?

3.       Is this really about lewdness and harlotry? Why is sexual sin such a good image of spiritual sin?

4.       Read Ezekiel 23:38-44. What sort of images does this bring to mind – old movies perhaps? What sort of images would it have brought to the minds of the first listeners? Is it literal or symbolic?

When Zedekiah made an alliance with Egypt, the Ammonites (East of the Jordan) jumped at the chance to join what they hoped would be the winning side. Ezekiel imagines the Babylonian armies halting and pondering who to plunder first. But the plunder of Jerusalem is only delayed to the ninth year of Jehoiachin’s exile – ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign.

1.       Read Ezekiel 21:18-20,28-29. News of Zedekiah’s alliance and the Ammonite agreement would have brought false hope to the exiles. How willing do you think they will be to hear that hope denied? How willing are we to hear messages contrary to our hopes?

2.       Read Ezekiel 24:1-2.  Why do you suppose Ezekiel listed the date so carefully?

3.       Read Ezekiel 24:3-5. Why cooking pots again? What might be just as familiar to a modern family as a cooking pot filled with choice cuts of meat was to them?

4.       Read Ezekiel 24:6. What is usually done to the scum (some translations say “deposit”)?

5.       Read Ezekiel 24:10-11. What happens if the pot is put back on the fire?

6.       As the women cook dinner, after hearing and seeing this, what thoughts might be in their minds? How can we become more mindful of God during our everyday actions, especially as we prepare for Christmas?

Ezekiel’s whole life becomes a parable, even the death of his wife, which must feel to him like the death of Jerusalem feels to God. Read Ezekiel 24:15-24. What do you lose if you cannot mourn properly?

Read Ezekiel 24:25-27. How would it have helped Ezekiel to know he would eventually be allowed to mourn?

Read Ezekiel 3:22-27. Ezekiel, who speaks God’s words, has been silenced and must prophesy without words. Many commentators believe these “silent” chapters represent what he taught while silently mourning his wife. (Traditional mourning involved lots of loud words.)

1.       Read Ezekiel 4:1-2. Ezekiel uses street theater to pantomime the siege of Jerusalem. How hard would it be not to respond to the comments of the crowds? Why is silence so difficult – silence of others, or of ourselves?

2.       Read Ezekiel 4:5-6. If Israel’s first sin is Jeroboam’s rejection of Davidic rule (930BC), what happens 390 years later (540BC)? And if Judah’s first sin is the rejection of Christ, what happens 40 years later? Does it matter that historians change the dates as new evidence comes to light – what if Jeroboam was once believed to take the northern throne in 970BC? What if the first sin is Solomon’s? And why/when will Judah suffer for 40 years?

3.       Read Ezekiel 4:9-13. Ezekiel must be speaking about Judah’s exiles. In what sense are they “eating defiled food”? In what sense do we eat defiled food?

4.       Read Ezekiel 4:15. Remember Abraham arguing with God? Can we argue with God?

5.       Read Ezekiel 5:1-4. What is Ezekiel being told to do at the end of his siege pantomime? Which hairs survive? How are we supposed to protect ourselves?

6.       Read Ezekiel 6:1-3. Ezekiel is allowed to speak again but the message is the same. Do you think he has more or fewer listeners after the year-long pantomime?

7.       Read Ezekiel 6:8-10. Are his listeners part of that remnant? Are we part of God’s remnant?

8.       Read Ezekiel 6:11. Can you imagine Ezekiel pounding his fists and stamping his feet? Is it okay to be emotional?

9.       Read Ezekiel 7. What is going to happen in Jerusalem?

Three years pass (from Ezekiel 24:1-2). The Jews hoped Egypt would save them, but it wouldn’t. Ezekiel prophecies against Egypt, much as Jeremiah did, and the end is drawing closer. Read Ezekiel 29:1-2, 30:20-21

1.       Read Ezekiel 31:1-2 How would we answer this question for our nation?

2.       Read Ezekiel 31:9 God describes Assyria with the words “I made it…” How might that change our view of our country’s history?

3.       Read Ezekiel 31:10-11,13-14. What is the punishment for exalting ourselves? This is Egypt’s punishment, and then it falls on Jerusalem too. Read 2 Kings 25:5-7, Jeremiah 39:2-7, 52:7-11. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

How bad can it get and still be good?

We're continuing in Ezekiel this week, living among the exiles as they wait for the other shoe to fall. The story kind of begs the question, how bad can it get and still be in God's hands. Ezekiel had a faith we might all need to share, and message we might all need to heed.

(36) Prophet to the Exiles - Ezekiel

We’ll look at Ezekiel 12 later, as it describes a visual parable of a captive people’s escape. For now, we continue looking at why the people are captive in the first place. Ezekiel has 4 years (Read Ezekiel 20:1, 591 BC) in which to explain to the people why they can’t go home and won’t have a home to go back to.

Jerusalem is under attack. How do we defend ourselves when we feel attacked?

1.       Read Ezekiel 13:1-7 How might someone recognize if prophecy comes from their own heart rather than from God? By the time it’s fulfilled might be too late.

2.       What do the false prophets tell people to do or not do? Are these real or metaphorical walls? How do we choose between trusting God and taking action to help ourselves?

3.       Read Ezekiel 13:10-12. What might be modern parables for this?

4.       Read Ezekiel 13:17-19. So women are prophets too, and women are false prophets too. What are they doing, and why? (And how does this fit with women wearing veils on their heads out of modesty?)

5.       Are there any modern parallels to magic charms?

6.       Read Ezekiel 13:20-21. Does this mean magic works?

The exiled leaders come to Ezekiel for advice. Who would we turn to?

1.       Read Ezekiel 14:1-3. What idols do we set up in our hearts?

2.       Read Ezekiel 14:7-8. How do our idols separate us from God?

3.       Read Ezekiel 14:9-11. Why should the prophet be punished?

4.       Read Ezekiel 14:12-14. What do Noah, Daniel and Job have in common?

5.       Read Ezekiel 14:13,15,17,19,21. Why four beasts? Is an increase in trials really a prequel to the end-times?

6.       Read Ezekiel 14:22. Can you think of other situations in the Bible where a remnant brought hope? Read 1 Kings 19:18,2 Kings 17:18, Jeremiah 39:10, Nehemiah 1:2, Romans 9:27,Romans 11:5 Is it always a good thing to be part of the remnant?

7.       Read Ezekiel 15:2-5. What was Israel “made” for? What were we made for? (Read verses 6-8)

Ezekiel tells a parable of Israel’s relationship with God. How would we describe our church’s/our nation’s relationship, from birth to the present day?

1.       Read Ezekiel 16:2-5. Babies were washed, named, rubbed with salt, and loved in Palestinian tradition. Why would a baby be abandoned like this? What does it tell us about what we might deserve from God?

2.       Read Ezekiel 16:6-7. God names the baby, “Live.” What kind of love does he show it? How does he show us this kind of love?

3.       Read Ezekiel 16:8,13. God changes the name to “Mine.” What kind of love does he show now? How does he show us this kind of love?

4.       Read Ezekiel 16:15-19. How do these images relate to images of worship? How do we play the harlot with what God has given us?

5.       Read Ezekiel 16:20-21. Why did they give their children to the flames? Remembering those metaphorical walls, has this got anything to do with abortion and child sacrifice, or is something else going on?

6.       Read Ezekiel 16:24. How did Israel “build itself a shrine”? And how do we?

7.       Read Ezekiel 16:26-29. Do you remember what parts of Jewish history are being referred to here? Do you think they remembered?

8.       Read Ezekiel 16:44-47. Remembering back to the beginning of the chapter (and the parable), who might be Israel’s “mother”? If there is a battle between our father’s and mother’s spiritual genes in our lives, who is our “mother”?

9.       Read Ezekiel 16:60-61. So there is hope. But what does this hope mean for Israel’s neighbors? For us?

Ezekiel tells the parable of the Eagle and the Vine in chapter 17. Read Ezekiel 17:1-10,22-24. Remembering that eagles represent Babylon and Israel is God’s vine, how does this fit what is happening back in Jerusalem? What does it promise for the future?

Ezekiel then goes on to set rules for God’s people, starting from another popular proverb. Read Jeremiah 31:29, Ezekiel 18:-3-4. What do you think the proverb was being used to imply?

1.       Can you paraphrase Ezekiel 18:4-18 in modern terms?

2.       Read Ezekiel 18:21-23. How does remind us of New Testament promises?

3.       Read Ezekiel 18:24. What does this mean? Can we really say once saved, always saved?

4.       Read Ezekiel 18:25. Even in Old Testament times, people still said “Not fair!” Do we want God to be fair?

5.       Read Ezekiel 18:32. How might we do this today?

Four years before the fall of Jerusalem, the elders come to Ezekiel to hear God’s word. Read Ezekiel 20:2-4. How does Ezekiel feel about these people? How does God feel about them?

1.       God recites a history of his relationship with his people. In the New Testament, various sermons are based on the history of God’s relationship with his people. How important is it to know our spiritual history?

2.       Read Ezekiel 20:33. Why is God furious? What makes us furious?

3.       Read Ezekiel 20:34-36. What does God do in his fury? What do we do in ours?

4.       Read Ezekiel 20:45-49. Who else spoke in parables?

5.       Read Ezekiel 21:3-5. God says his sword will not return – does this remind you of royal edicts at the time? What image does it convey of God?

6.       Read Ezekiel 21:13. Why can’t Jerusalem be spared? Should we expect to be spared?

7.       Read Ezekiel 21:14-17. What do you think Ezekiel is doing while he speaks these words? Why might God use actions, parables, etc to convey his meaning?