Lamentations 1-5

Lamentations 1-5…The Lamentations of Jeremiah.

In the history of God’s people, few events have been as traumatic as the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. Though the Lord promised that His people would be removed from the Holy Land for impenitent and flagrant sin (Lev. 26:14–39; Deut. 28:15–68; Jer. 27), few in the old covenant community of Judah believed it would happen even after Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Even those who understood that God would bring the ultimate covenant curse of exile upon His disobedient people struggled with the degree to which the Lord allowed foreigners to decimate the descendants of Jacob (Hab. 1:12–17; see Jer. 39:1–10; 52:1–11).

Assuming that the ancient traditions surrounding the book of Lamentations are correct, then even the prophet Jeremiah, who saw Babylon’s conquering of Judah as entirely just, was amazed by the horrors that the Babylonians inflicted upon Jerusalem. According to the most ancient references to Lamentations, Jeremiah wrote this book and there are few good reasons why we should believe this attribution is incorrect. The issue of authorship is nothing to be dogmatic about, since Lamentations nowhere identifies its author; however, Jeremiah is a good fit because Lamentations reflects both sadness over Jerusalem’s fall and an understanding that the punishment was deserved (Lam. 1:5, 8, 18). Jeremiah likewise wept on behalf of the Lord for Judah even though he affirmed God’s justice in exiling His people for their idolatry (Jer. 9:1–11; 30:10–11). The vivid descriptions of Jerusalem’s destruction likewise mean that its fall in 586 B.C. is the best inspiration for the book (Lam. 1:1; 2:11–12), making an author such as Jeremiah, who witnessed this destruction, the most likely candidate as the author of Lamentations.

Lamentations shows us that there can be a godly grief over the fate of a people even when that fate is deserved. If even God Himself does not delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 18:21–23), then certainly we should never rejoice in another person’s pain. We can take pleasure that the Lord uses such things to set us and others back on the right path. We can rejoice at the display of the Lord’s justice. Yet what we are not to do is rejoice in others’ suffering for the sake of suffering itself. Like Jeremiah, we can rightly mourn when the wicked fall even when their punishment is deserved (Lam. 1:1–14).

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Job 19-21

Job 19-21…Why is this world broken?

Why is there evil in the world? Related to this is the question of why the wicked seem to get away with their wrongdoing. There’s no easy answer to this problem, and this fact forms the basis of Job’s reply to round two of his friends’ speeches. In this speech, for the first time, Job does not address the Lord, but instead counters his friends’ claims. This speech is also much less emotional.

The biggest problem with retribution theology, Job begins, is that it doesn’t really explain the ways of the world. As he looks around, he finds numerous examples of the wicked prospering. They grow old, they are safe, and they are successful. What’s more, they die happy, even though they deny God. The picture that Job paints here is similar to the one that Eliphaz drew of the good man, so it may be that Job intends a deliberate contrast. Ironically, Job’s friends have accused him of opposing God by challenging His ways, but it is they themselves who have been, in essence, telling God how the world should be run.

The book of Job doesn’t answer the problem of evil. We need to look elsewhere in Scripture to consider various aspects of this difficult question. Psalm 73 is a good place to start. Here the psalmist considers the apparent success of the wicked and wonders if he has been faithful in vain. The turning point comes in v. 17, where the psalmist begins to understand the final destiny of the wicked beyond this life. Then his heart is encouraged, as he considers his own eternal destiny with the Lord.

2 Chronicles 19-21

2 Chronicles 19-21…Jehoshaphat.

If Ahab was wrong in defying the prophet Micaiah’s warning from God and going into battle, wasn’t Jehoshaphat guilty of disobeying God too? And what was this good king doing linking up with Ahab in the first place?

We find some answers in 2 Chronicles, where more details of Jehoshaphat’s reign are recorded. He had allied himself with Ahab through marriage (2 Chron.18:1)-a very common diplomatic tactic in that day. So the occasion at which Ahab persuaded Jehoshaphat to help him take back Ramoth was a visit to the “”in-laws”” (18:2).

However, God was not pleased with this alliance, and Jehoshaphat was rebuked by a prophet when he returned to Jerusalem after barely escaping from the battle with his life (2 Chron. 19:1-3).

Aside from this piece of bad judgment, Jehoshaphat was a religious reformer and a king who wanted his people to know and obey the Scriptures. He sent teachers with God’s Law in their hands to the various towns of Judah (2 Chron. 17:7-9), and God honored the king for his devotion.

And much like Joshua before him, Jehoshaphat once won a great battle without ever firing an arrow (2 Chron. 20:1-30). An invasion by the Moabites and Ammonites, two traditional enemies of God’s people, may have been part of the discipline God brought on Jehoshaphat for his alliance with Ahab.

But the king and people of Judah humbly sought the Lord. God promised that the battle would be His, and the people were told to take their positions and watch what God would do. As they sang and praised, God Himself wiped out their enemies. Jehoshaphat’s reign was largely a time of revival and peace (2 Chron. 20:30).

2 Kings 5-7

2 Kings 5-7…The long arm of the Lord.

The nation of Aram (“Syria” in some translations) lay to the northeast of the land of Israel. Throughout the eighth and ninth centuries B.C. Israel and Aram were in a constant state of tension. Military clashes occurred frequently, interspersed with occasional periods of peace. Israel would have kept a close eye on the Aramean armies, for they were perennial rivals.

Understanding the international politics of the day makes today’s reading all the more startling. This healing of Naaman the Aramean was an extension of God’s grace not just to a foreigner, but to the very enemy of God’s people Israel! And from this text we learn important lessons about God’s ways. First, we see that He is the God of the whole world. Our text shows us that it was God who supervised the military victories of the Arameans, orchestrated the arrival of a nameless Israelite girl into the home of the foreigner Naaman, and then extended His grace and healing powers to one outside His people. As Psalm 24:1 proclaims: “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.”

We also see that God’s ways can affect great change. Naaman expected a lot more attention and fanfare in his healing experience. Instead, he was asked to take a bath in the Jordan. Naaman eventually obeyed, but notice the transformation in his attitude. His initial reaction to Elisha’s command was anger and pride. Thanks to the wisdom of some servants, Naaman shifted to an attitude of obedience. Finally, he softened to a humble confession that “there is no God in all the world except in Israel,” and then made the promise to worship God alone for the remainder of his days. God’s unexpected ways have the power to humble our pride, elicit true confessions of faith, and prompt us to appropriate worship.

Notice, finally, the warning at the end. Countering the message that God’s grace was truly free, Gehazi’s greed and lying undermined that message by asking Naaman for payment. In the end, there was a switch: while Naaman was healed through faith, Gehazi became leprous.

Deuteronomy 1-4

Deuteronomy 1-4…Israel refuses to enter the promised land, they wander in the wilderness for years, Moses is forbidden to enter the land, and God commands obedience through Moses.

Unbelief is at the core of all sin. In Deuteronomy 1, unbelieving hearts were driving the refusal to enter the land. All disobedience to God’s laws, and distrust of his power and goodness, flow from disbelief of his word, as all true obedience springs from faith.

Only a short account of the long stay of Israel in the wilderness is given in Deuteronomy 2. God not only rebuked them for their unbelief, but prepared them for Canaan by humbling them, teaching them to hate their lusts, to follow God, and to find contentment in Him.

God’s refusal to answer Moses’ prayer to enter the promised land is a helpful lesson for us. God matures us by denying many things we desire. He hears all our prayers, but doesn’t give us all we pray for. The prosperity gospel ignores Deuteronomy 3, because Moses’ lack of faith wasn’t the reason for him not getting what he wanted. God is good, and disciplines those He loves, which often includes holding back things we want.

We see even in Deuteronomy 4 that we cannot earn our salvation. Our obedience as individuals cannot merit a right relationship with God. but it is the only evidence that we are saved. We are saved by faith alone, through grace alone, but our faith should not be alone without fruit. A fruitless faith is described by Jesus in Matthew 13 (The Parable of the Sower) as being one that doesn’t result in eternal life.

Exodus 35-37

Exodus 35-37…Constructing the tabernacle.

As would be expected, constructing a beautiful structure like the tabernacle out of the finest materials (Exodus 26) could not be done for free. God had to provide the gold, costly threads, silver, brass, animal hides, etc., either through direct intervention or indirectly through moving His people to give what they had for the important work of building His tent. We see in Exodus 35:4–29 that the Lord worked not apart from Israel but through Israel to gather the necessary materials.

Moses made known the need for Israel to donate time, talent, and funds to the work of God, perhaps through telling the elders of the people and then having them share the news with the nation (Exodus 35:4–19). In any case, Moses’ action demonstrates that it is appropriate for the leaders of God’s people to let those under their care know what is needed to support the work of ministry, whether it is funds for buildings and salaries, time surrendered to teach or to care for church grounds, special donations to expand the outreach of para-church ministries and seminaries, and any of the other countless, godly endeavors that help in small ways to advance the kingdom.

Israel responded with lavish generosity, choosing to live on less in order to fund the worship ministry. Note that the people gave what they “could” (vv. 23–24) and were not encouraged to give anything they did not have. This is an important principle in a day when televangelists encourage people to contribute “in faith,” which often means giving more than is prudent or worse, taking out loans that cannot be repaid because of the false promise of a hundredfold return.

Exodus 26-28

Exodus 26-28…Design plans for the tabernacle, the altar of burnt offerings, and the priestly garments.

There is much that could be said about the tabernacle’s design, but perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it was designed to be a copy of the Almighty’s heavenly throne room. The ark of the covenant sat within the Most Holy Place as the Lord’s footstool (Exodus 26:34), and the cherubim woven into the curtains of the tabernacle were depictions of the heavenly host that glorify God day and night in heaven (Exodus 26:1).

Clearly, the details of the tabernacle, altar, and priestly garments were to be a sign that there is a massive separation between our holy God and sinners. Entering His presence is no small matter, and His worship must be carefully guarded so His name is not profaned. The care given to entering God’s presence because of sin shows just how desperately we need a savior to intercede on our behalf. Christ’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, because of His holiness. It is a healthy spiritual practice to remember this huge chasm each day, so we esteem Jesus properly, and cling to His righteousness, seeking to grow in righteousness ourselves.

Exodus 23-25

Exodus 23-25…The last few laws, the covenant confirmed, and offerings for the tabernacle.

Three observations about these chapters:

1) God desires our worship

In Exodus 23, the last of the laws are given, and God expects the people to obey. He desires our worship of His word and His ways. He tells Moses in Exodus 23:13, “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.” This piece of instruction closes the loop on the commands in Exodus. Back in Exodus 20, the first commandment was “you shall have no other gods before me.” Now, as the Lord concludes, He gives them some hints on how to carefully live this out practically. Carefulness, specifically avoiding speech that includes other gods. For us, this means being intentional about what we talk about. Do you ever discuss God’s word with someone else? Or are you constantly obsessed with talking about your troubles, your difficulties, your life? What are most of your conversations about?

2) God provides spiritual help for His people

Exodus 23:20 tell us, “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” God has sent His Son for us and His Spirit to work in us to preserve us until we’re called home or He returns. But not only that, Christ has established His church, which is like a foreign embassy for heaven. Are you struggling to pursue Him joyfully? Commit to a local church, and live out this spiritual battles in this life with other believers. Share your life with them. Pour into them, and let them pour into you. The bible has no category for the long ranger Christian.

3) Salvation requires bloodshed

As we’ve progressed through this year-long study, beginning in Genesis 1 and now through Exodus 25, we have seen clearly that humans don’t initiate with God, but He pursues them. The blood of the covenant in Exodus 24 is a symbol of the blood Christ would shed for us. To pretend that one can come to God without blood atonement simply means that one is not coming to the one true God, to the God of the Bible, for the God of Holy Scripture lives in holy love. Yes, some have invented a convenient God of “love” who has no character of holiness in which that love functions, and to which he holds his image-bearers accountable. But this is a mere idol of the mind, who can be used to do the bidding of his deluded inventors. You will not meet such a “God” in the Scriptures. On the contrary, the true God of infinite love is at the same time a God of infinite holiness. That is why Hebrews 9:22 states: “without shedding of blood is no remission of sins.”

Exodus 20-22

Exodus 20-22…The ten commandments and the judicial laws.

Following the commandments of God is one mark of the true Christian. After all, Christ lives in His people (Gal. 2:20), and since Jesus’ food is to do the will of His Father (John 4:34), He certainly works in us so that we see following God as essential to our sustenance. Yet may we never forget that our obedience is always grounded in grace, for apart from the Lord changing our hearts, we have no desire to please Him (Rom. 8:7–8). Following God’s law, therefore, does not mean obeying it to secure our right standing in His heavenly court, for we can stand before Him by His grace alone (Eph. 2:8–9). Also, following God’s law does not mean obeying it in order to boast of how we are more godly than others. We are always to confess our failures and remember that “there but for the grace of God go I” (Luke 18:9–14).

Until we trust Christ, God’s law can merely restrain the extent of our sinning, encourage us to love sin, and condemn us as sinners who need the Savior (Rom. 7:8; Gal. 3:23–25; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). But once we are converted, God’s law becomes something in which we rejoice. Redeemed hearts no longer experience the Lord’s regulations as burdensome (1 John 5:3), and they see the importance of keeping “the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19). Through obedience, we thank Him for the right standing granted to us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 5:12–6:14).

Exodus 17-19

Exodus 17-19…God brings about water from the rock, Jethro visits Moses, and God instructs Moses at Mount Sinai.

The Rock is one of the titles of Jehovah (Deut. 32:15). In 1 Corinthians 10:1–4, we read that the Rock (of Horeb) was Christ. Christ would stand in our place, the place of the accused, and bear judgment for the sins of His people. The rod is a symbol of judgment—in this case, divine judgment, for Moses was God’s representative. By the rod, Jesus was smitten, and by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5) from sin. In the same way, by the smiting of the rock at Horeb, water flowed forth, just as the Holy Spirit flows forth from Christ to nourish and equip His church. And so, in the Old Testament, we see this beautiful picture of God’s grace in the salvation of His people, for He stands in our place so that by His wounds we will be healed.

In Exodus 19, Moses gives us an inspired account of what happened at Sinai when the Israelites arrived. God made His presence known on the beginning of the third day, descending as fire and enveloping the mountain in lightning, thunder, cloud and smoke (vv. 16–19). This was truly an awesome sight, and it was meant to remind the people that the God who set them free was no deity to be taken lightly. Other passages of Scripture tell us that angels were also present (Galatians 3:19), their submission to the Lord being a further indication of His glory and power. God’s holiness is also demonstrated in His appearance to the people at Sinai, as the need for the people to be purified is stressed. They are also forbidden to touch the mountain lest they be destroyed (Exodus 19:9–15).

Our need for a Savior is woven throughout these chapters. Each day, we need to be laid low, humbling ourselves before God in repentance, and esteeming Jesus greatly. The more we grow in our understanding of the massive chasm between God and us because of our sin and His holiness, the more we’ll love Christ. If we believe in Him for any other reason, we’ve missed the entire point of Christianity.