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Monday, April 18, 2016

When nations start to fall

I can't quite believe this. We're finally looking at Jeremiah! Of course, we're still only halfway through Isaiah, and Nahum is the prophet this study is meant to be about. But nations are starting to fall, and it's neat to know we're really moving forward through those lists of prophets. I'm certainly still enjoying watching how the stories, characters, prophecies and history all fit together.

(23) Jeremiah and Nahum

In 622BC, civil war is raging in Assyria. The new king Josiah tries to clean up the temple—an act that has secular relevance as a declaration of independence, and religious relevance as a response to the calls of the prophets. Are mixed motives always wrong?
Josiah’s reign is a time restored faith for the Jews, though prophets still predict dire things, and Josiah’s reforms won’t be enough. Read 2 Kings 23:26 How might Josiah have felt as prophets continued to predict dire things for Judah?
The discovery of the Book of the Law in 622BC lends greater impetus to Josiah’s reforms, and probably propels the prophet Jeremiah into fame.
1.       Read Jeremiah 1:1-2. Who was Hilkiah (2 Kings 22:8)?
2.       What type of person is Jeremiah? What’s his background? Where might he have lived?
3.       Read Jeremiah 1:3. How long was Jeremiah a prophet?
4.       Read Jeremiah 1:4-8. Why might the leaders not have wanted to listen to a “youth”? Which famous (older) prophet preceded Jeremiah? What assumptions do we make about who God might use? Does this affect our willingness to be used?
5.       Read Jeremiah 1:9-10 Who is Jeremiah going to speak to? How do we imagine God speaking to non-believers?
6.       Read Jeremiah 1:11-12 What might an almond branch symbolize? (Read Numbers 17:8)
7.       Read Jeremiah 1:13-14. Which nation(s) lies to the North? Can you remember what is going to happen, in the near and less near future?
8.       Read Jeremiah 1:15-19. God compares Jeremiah’s protection with the city’s. How might that have made him feel? What sort of protection do we seek? What makes it easier or harder to say what we think God is telling us?
Jeremiah begins his ministry by preaching against Israel. What is Israel’s situation at this time? Would you expect Jeremiah to gloat over Israel’s fall? Would you expect Josiah to gloat? How should we react to news of other people’s (or nation’s) troubles?
1.       Read Jeremiah 2:1-2 What is God’s relationship with his people? Is this a question of nationality or belief?
2.       Read Jeremiah 2:3. Who is going to suffer disaster?
3.       Read Jeremiah 2:5-8. Does this sound like a legal argument, a moral argument, or a personal plea?
4.       Read Jeremiah 2:10-12. God compares Israel to its enemies – Cyprus belongs to Philistine, Kedar to Assyria. How favorably or otherwise might he compare, say, America to its enemies?
5.       Read Jeremiah 2:13. Who else used this image of “living water”?
6.       How might these “two evils” translate into modern behavior?
7.       Read Jeremiah 2:18-19  Which places do we go today, instead of following God?
8.       What images does Jeremiah use in verses 20-26? What images might apply today?
9.       Read Jeremiah 2:28. What type of “gods” did the cities have? Might there be any analogy of this in modern American society?
10.   Why is Jeremiah suddenly talking about Judah instead of Israel? How hard do we find it to stop accusing others and accuse ourselves instead?
11.   Read Jeremiah 3:1 How does this compare with Hosea’s being called to marry a harlot?
12.   Read Jeremiah 3:3-5 What is God’s relationship with his people?
By 615BC, Assyria is beginning to fail. Judah has reconquered much of Israel. King Josiah is ruling well according to God’s law. And the prophet Nahum begins to speak. It’s unclear where Nahum comes from, but he could be a refugee returning from Assyria (from Alqosh), now living near Capernaum (which could mean “town of Nahum”). Assyria’s capital, Nineveh, will fall in 612BC, and the “good king” Josiah will die soon afterward, at which point Judah will slide toward disaster.
1.       Read Nahum 1:1 Which famous prophet was sent to Nineveh? What has happened since then?
2.       Do you think the Ninevites will hear this prophecy? Might Josiah’s independence make them listen?
3.       Read Nahum 1:2-5. Why would this be a powerful image of God at that time? What might be a powerful image of God today – for scientists, back-to-nature groups, computer programmers, movie geeks, etc?
4.       Read Nahum 1:14. The Assyrians carried “gods” captive and gave them subservient temples. What does it mean when God says he will bury their gods?
5.       Read Nahum 1:15, Isaiah 52:7. Why might feet on mountains be a repeated theme?
6.       Read Nahum 2:1-2. Who is coming to attack them? Who do the Assyrians think is coming?
7.       Read Nahum 2:8-10. What image does this convey of the city and its destruction?
8.       Read Nahum 2:11-12. What image does this convey of how the Ninevites saw themselves?
9.       Read Nahum 3:1. Assyrian art portrayed mutilated prisoners. Its leaders wrote records of their cruelty on the doors of their temple. How might God describe our places of power?
10.   Read Nahum 3:8-10. Thebes is deep in Egyptian territory, controlled by Egypt and Ethiopia before Assyria conquered it. How might God view our power in far corners of the world?
11.   Read Nahum 3:11. When Nineveh fell, the Assyrians asked Egypt to help repel Babylon. What strange allies might our nations make?
12.   Read Nahum 3:16-17. How does God view an increase in funding for the business and defense?
13.   Read Nahum 3:18-19. What image does this give of their defeat?
14.   How might Josiah have felt when Nineveh fell?
Read 2 Kings 23:28-30. Nineveh falls to Babylon in 612BC. The Assyrians retreat to a new capital at Haran and ally with Egypt (which fears new Babylon more than old Assyria). Then Haran falls (610BC), and Pharaoh Necho heads north to support Assyria. Josiah leads an army of Judahites to attack him. Why would he do that? How can we tell the difference between opportunity and temptation?

Egypt wins, Josiah dies, and Judah becomes subject to Egypt. The golden days of Josiah’s reforms are over. Read 2 Chronicles 35:23-25.

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