Psalm 119:4

Psalm 119:4

In verse 4, the command is not only to keep the Lords precepts, but the keep them diligently. How do we do this? Well, first and foremost, we need to know what they are. We can’t possibly keep the Lord’s commands if we don’t know them, and the only way to know them is to study His word. For those who have been around church for years, some of these are no-brainers; love the Lord, love others, and refrain from killing and stealing.

However, did you know that there is a command in the bible that has to do with assembling together regularly with your local church? Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Habitual corporate worship is a command in the Bible, and the context here is so that we’d encourage each other to bear fruit because we’ll give an account for our lives to the Lord.

Men, are you leading your family to regularly attend your local church? Doing this diligently is your responsibility. Make 2015 the year where you don’t let other silly priorities (NFL playoffs, birthday parties, select sports, extra sleep, etc.) get in the way of obeying scripture.

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Malachi

Malachi Overview

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are familiar to most of us as the greatest of all the ancient Greek philosophers. Less known to many people are the pre-Socratic philosophers who developed their own systems of philosophy before these bigger names did their work. Heraclitus was one of these significant pre-Socratics. “Man cannot step into the same river twice” is perhaps Heraclitus’ best-known observation. When water flows, there are always changes that occur, both perceptible and imperceptible. Riverbanks slowly erode, water molecules constantly move, and, at the very least, people age between the first and second time they step into the river, even if only by a matter of seconds.

Heraclitus’ point in this statement was that change is the only constant. Modern science may tell us that each individual’s DNA code, under normal circumstances, remains largely the same throughout life, but we all experience physical, mental, moral, and spiritual changes over time. Yet as Malachi reveals, the Creator does not change like His creatures do (Mal. 3:6).

Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism argues that God is “unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This is a brief exposition of the Lord’s attribute of immutability, which means that it is impossible for His character or being to undergo any mutation. The power of God cannot be augmented or diminished. He never learns or forgets, and He cannot be anything other than perfectly holy and just. Human beings are ever changing, but not our Father.

It is important to remember that immutability does not mean God cannot move or that He is inert. Scripture testifies often of the Lord’s constant work and movement to sustain His creation (Heb. 1:3a). Moreover, immutability does not mean the Lord’s relationship with us is unreal. Actually, His unchanging righteousness moves Him to pour out His wrath on the impenitent (Rom. 1:18–32), and His ever-abiding love moves Him to redeem His people (Ex. 2:23–25).

Jonathan Edwards said sinners hate the Lord because His immutability guarantees that God cannot overlook their rebellion. For believers, however, the unchanging character of our Creator means we can rely on Him in every circumstance (Ps. 46).

Haggai

Haggai Overview

Zerubbabel and Joshua, upon hearing the word of God through Haggai, began gathering the citizens of Judah right away to recommit to the work of rebuilding the temple. At once, the people got started on constructing a suitable house for the Lord because He stirred up their spirits (Hag. 1:12–15). John Calvin comments on Haggai 1:14 that “we should never be attentive to [God’s] word, were he not to open our ears; and there would be no inclination to obey, were he not to turn our hearts; in a word, both will and effort would immediately fail in us, were he not to add his gift of perseverance… . Haggai’s labors produced fruits, because the Lord effectually touched the hearts of the people; for we indeed know that it is his special gift, that the elect are made disciples.” When the Word of God is preached, only those in whom the Holy Spirit is working will trust that Word.

About a month into the reconstruction of the temple, it became clear that what the returned exiles were building was not all that special from a human perspective. Those in the community who had actually seen Solomon’s temple before the exile saw that the Lord’s new house was as “nothing” in comparison (Hag. 2:1–3). Here we see yet again that although the people were back in the Promised Land, the conditions of exile persisted. The glorious restoration that the prophets anticipated had not yet materialized (Ezek. 40–48; Mic. 4:1–2). Daniel’s vision of the extended exile was coming true (Dan. 9).

Nevertheless, although the restoration was getting off to what seemed to be a slow start, God was with His people, and that was what really mattered. Thus, Haggai spoke to the people again, reminding them not to look at their immediate circumstances but to trust that the Lord would bring their glorious restoration in His time. In short, the prophet issued a call to persevering faith, to believe in the promises of God even when tangible proof of His activity is not clearly evident. Our Creator was not slow in fulfilling His promises but would shake the earth to bring the world’s treasures to His people and to show forth the fullness of His glory in His time (Hag. 2:3–9). Given the corporate requirement of repentance for full restoration from exile (Deut. 30:1–10; Dan. 9) and what the New Testament says about the preaching of the gospel to all creation (Matt. 28:18–20), we understand that God will not consummate the restoration until all of His elect people have heard and believed the gospel.œ

Zephaniah

Zephaniah Overview

From David’s organization of the Levitical musicians (1 Chron. 25) to the book of Psalms to the song of the redeemed in Revelation 19:1–5, Scripture has much to say about the music of the covenant and its importance in worship. What we might often forget, however, is that the Lord Himself participates in this music. This is one of the points of today’s passage.

The prophet Zephaniah spent much of his ministry speaking about the day of the Lord, a day on which unfaithful Judah and the enemies of God’s people would suffer His wrath (1:1–3:8). Much of this prophecy was fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem and exile of Judah in 586 BC, although there remains a final day of the Lord in which all people will receive final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). Nevertheless, Zephaniah’s prophecy is not only about judgment, for he concludes his book by looking at the future salvation of men and women from the Gentile nations and from Israel (3:9–20).

Remarkably, while the redeemed most certainly rejoice in their liberation from sin and evil, Zephaniah tells us that the very God of the universe also sings with joy at the moment of His people’s salvation. The same Hebrew word for rejoicing is found both in 3:14 and 17; the former describes the joy of the people and the latter describes the joy of the Lord. God Himself will sing and make music as He brings His children into the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy.

Such joy points to the deep affection our Father feels for His children, not on account of our worthiness but because of the simple fact that God has chosen to set His love on us (Deut. 7:6–8). It is in our Lord’s nature to love His children; this is who He is.

God is described in Zephaniah 3:17 as the “mighty one,” language that echoes the description of the son of David in Isaiah (Isa. 9:1–7). Here, it is hinted that the creator God and covenant Lord would enter into humanity, through David’s lineage, in order to accomplish redemption. This has been done in Christ Jesus, who sings over us and leads us in singing songs of praise to our Father in heaven.

Habakkuk

Habakkuk Overview

Questioning God is tricky business. On the one hand, we know that many of the questions people have for the Lord are actually veiled demands that the Creator justify His ways to His creatures. This type of questioning is usually disingenuous, coming from people who have already decided that there is no acceptable answer. Such questioning is also arrogant, making the response of faith contingent upon whether or not the questioner finds the answer satisfactory. Paul’s opponent who questions God’s righteousness in election is one who questions the Lord sinfully (Rom. 9:19–24).

On the other hand, it is possible to ask questions of the Lord in a manner that is not sinful. The psalmists and Habakkuk exemplify this manner of questioning the Lord. (Still, let us be careful when asking questions of God, for we can easily fall into questioning Him sinfully.) They ask their question, “How long, O LORD?” (Pss. 35:17; 94:3; Hab. 1:2), in faith. They know His righteous judgment is coming because they trust His holy character, but they are curious as to why His wrath is, from their viewpoint, delayed.

Habakkuk received a most unexpected answer to his question. Indeed, God had not been blind to King Jehoiakim’s evil and the ways in which the wicked Judahites mistreated their righteous countrymen. He would raise up the Chaldeans, who would fiercely and rapidly invade Judah (Hab. 1:5–11). The fact that Habakkuk foresaw this and it came to pass when Babylon conquered Judah confirms the divine origin of the prophet’s vision. The Chaldeans had to defeat the Egyptians to become the region’s leading power. From a human perspective, this looked impossible in Habakkuk’s lifetime.

God’s answer was more perplexing than His apparent delay. Habakkuk accepted that the Lord had chosen the Chaldeans to judge His people and affirmed that Judah’s holy remnant would not die (v. 12). Yet in the prophet’s view, the cure was worse than the disease. Babylon was brutal and persecuted righteous Judahites alongside the wicked (v. 13). Just as the fisherman brings in a full catch of fish with his net, the Chaldeans would capture all the nations (vv. 14–17). Habakkuk could not understand how this was possible, for He knew that God never tolerates evil (v. 13). How, asked Habakkuk, could the holy Lord use such a wicked instrument to judge His own?

Nahum

Nahum Overview

Fewer divine attributes are more clearly revealed in Scripture than God’s goodness. James, for example, tells us the Lord cannot be tempted with evil, nor does He tempt anyone (1:13). Furthermore, our Creator, in whom there is “no variation or shadow due to change” is the “Father of lights” and giver of every good gift (v. 17).

This teaching is far different from the dualism pervading many Eastern religions. Good and evil are not equal forces locked in a never-ending struggle. Instead, because the Lord is holy, goodness will one day vanquish wickedness, and there will no longer be any suffering for the people of God (Rev. 21).

Today, some deny an eternal, conscious punishment for the unregenerate because they feel the classical doctrine of hell denies our Father’s goodness. However, these individuals fail to see that the Lord’s wrath is necessary to His goodness. God is patient with sinners, but He cannot remain good and allow sin to go unpunished (Ex. 34:6–7). If good judges will not allow evil to flourish with impunity, how much more must the perfect Judge condemn the wicked? Three other attributes are related to the Lord’s goodness:

1. Benevolence. God is kind to men even though we are undeserving. He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike (Matt. 5:45b), and He works all things for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28), even though they still struggle with sin. Yet how often do we resent the Lord for not blessing us in the same way He has blessed others?

2. Love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but this love does not eclipse His holiness and is thus not incompatible with His wrath (1:5). The Lord’s love and wrath are both necessary to His being. Love does not deny His self-imposed obligation to destroy sin and death; therefore, He lovingly disciplines His people for their evil (Heb. 12:5–11).

3. Mercy. Mercy is actually an overflow of our Father’s goodness and love. By definition, mercy is His kindness to us despite our wickedness; thus, He can be good without being merciful. In fact, God is not merciful to all, but this does not negate His goodness (Rom. 9:14–24), which is, nevertheless, enriched by His mercy.

Micah

Micah Overview

Micah of Moresheth is the next prophet we will consider. In Micah 1:1, we read that Micah prophesied during the period encompassing the reigns of Jotham through Hezekiah in Judah. This puts the earliest date for the beginning of his career at 742 BC, when Jotham began his reign, and the latest date for the end of his career at 686 BC, when Hezekiah died. Micah, therefore, was a contemporary of Isaiah, who prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah through Hezekiah in Judah (Isa. 1:1).

Unlike some of the other prophets who spoke mainly to either the northern kingdom (Israel) or the southern kingdom (Judah), Micah ministered to both kingdoms, as seen in the references to the capital cities of each dominion—Samaria (Israel) and Jerusalem (Judah). In fact, when Micah uses the term Israel, he typically uses it for the ideal united kingdom, expressing the hope in his time that the people of God would be reunited once more. During Micah’s career, both the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom were in sharp decline. Assyria was on the move against both north and south, occupying much of the north by 732 BC (2 Kings 15:29) and conquering Samaria in 722 BC (17:6), carrying the Israelites into exile. Judah was routinely emptying its treasury in an attempt to buy safety from Assyria (16:5–9; 18:13–16), and Jerusalem was nearly conquered by the pagan empire (18:13–19:37).

Micah famously denounces crooked leaders for oppressing the poor and middle class, and for perverting justice (2:1–4; 3:1–2; 6:9–16). This breach of ethics, like all others, was rooted in false worship, which Micah addresses in today’s passage. Micah 1:2–4 pictures the Lord coming forth to do battle, which was good news for His people when they faced their enemies (2 Chron. 32:8; Zech. 14). According to Micah, however, eighth-century- BC Israel and Judah were the enemies of God because of their high places and carved images (Mic. 1:5–7). The prophet is speaking of the idolatry of the people.

A key part of ancient Near Eastern idolatry was cultic prostitution, which raised significant revenue for the northern kingdom. This inspired God’s ironic judgment on the north. Assyria would make Samaria a wasteland, taking the money Israel derived from cultic prostitution and using it to pay Assyria’s own cultic prostitutes (vv. 6–7).

Jonah

Jonah Overview

Having calmed the storm after the sailors cast the prophet into the sea, Jonah 1:17 tells us God then appointed a “great fish” to swallow him. However, we must be careful not to regard this fish as evidence of the Lord’s judgment. Instead, this sea creature is the instrument of our Father’s salvation.

The prayer Jonah utters to God from the belly of this fish makes this clear. In today’s passage, Jonah cries out to the Lord, thanking Him for rescuing him from the belly of Sheol (2:1–2). In the Old Testament, Sheol can designate several different things, including the abode of the wicked dead, but most often it refers to death in general (1 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 6:5). Jonah uses the term Sheol in this sense, and thus he praises the Lord for rescuing Him from the belly of death.

This belly of death, this Sheol, is found not in the stomach of the great fish but in the depths of the sea itself. Modern westerners often view the ocean as a place of rest and recreation, but for ancient Israel, the watery deep represented chaos. The sea was to be feared if the presence of God was absent (Isa. 43:2), for He alone is able to guide His people safely through the waves (v. 16). As an instrument of divine judgment in the days of Noah (Gen. 6–9), the power of the waters to take life was greatly respected, and to be subject to the raging ocean, as Jonah was, meant that death was certain (Ps. 69). As the prophet makes clear in his prayer, to descend into the tumultuous sea was to descend to the pit — to Sheol (Jonah 2:5–6). The sea creature that swallowed Jonah was thus used by the Lord to rescue Him from His judgment. John Calvin writes: “To save is the prerogative of God alone.”

God could have justly let Jonah die, but in His merciful sovereignty He chooses to do what we may not have done in His place — He spares Jonah’s life and grants him repentance. The Lord “appointed” the fish to save His prophet (1:17), and the ocean dweller releases Jonah immediately when commanded to do so (2:10). Our Father’s sovereign freedom to do what He wills is an important theme in this book, and we will see it reappear over the next two days.

Obadiah

Obadiah Overview

Quarrels between family members certainly rank among the most divisive and intense of arguments. When passions go unchecked, even minor issues can become reasons for brothers and sisters, parents and children, and other family members never to speak to one another again. An ancient family quarrel forms the background for the next book in our year-long study, Obadiah.

Obadiah’s prophecy against Edom for its treatment of Judah must be seen in the context of the traditional rivalry between the two nations. This rivalry goes all the way back to the patriarchal period and the Lord’s word that Rebekah’s two sons would be at odds with one another (Gen. 25:19–28). Indeed, Jacob and Esau routinely battled: the younger, scheming brother regularly took advantage of the older brother, whose passions were controlled by his appetite and not the fear of the Lord (vv. 29–34; 27:1–45). Although Jacob and Esau eventually reached a reconciliation of sorts (chap. 33), their descendants never fully got along. Edom, made up of Esau’s offspring, was particularly embittered toward Israel and Judah, the people descended from Jacob. The Edomites even refused the wandering Israelites the right to pass through their country after the exodus (Num. 20:14–21). Sadly, two nations that were supposed to be brothers hated one another.

God’s judgment on Edom’s maltreatment of Judah is the theme of the book of Obadiah. In a culture that prized hospitality, Edom’s refusal to show empathy or to assist its brother Judah during an invasion of Jerusalem was particularly heinous (Obad. 10–11). The precise invasion that prompted Obadiah to write is hard to identify. A variety of different dates have been suggested, but it is impossible to be certain regarding when Obadiah ministered. All we know about the prophet is that his name means “the Lord’s servant,” and the book itself does not identify its historical circumstances precisely. Since Obadiah describes the calamity of Jerusalem (v. 13), we are dating the book at the time of the exile of Judah into Babylon, which would have provided Judah’s hateful older brother a good opportunity to rejoice in his misfortune (2 Kings 25:1–21).

Although Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, its prophecy of Edom’s fall is a great comfort. It reminds God’s people that the Lord will not long tolerate their enemies. All who stand against the saints impenitently will be “utterly despised” (Obad. 2).

Amos

Amos Overview

We do not know very much about Amos. All the biographical information we do have comes from his book, particularly today’s overview, which tells us he was “among the shepherds of Tekoa” (Amos 1:1). Unlike most of the other writing prophets of the Old Testament, Amos’ lifelong calling was not that of a prophet but involved agriculture. He spent most of his life as “a herdsman [shepherd] and a dresser of sycamore figs” (7:14), serving in prophetic ministry for no more than about two years sometime during the years 765–755 BC. Tekoa was a village in the southern kingdom of Judah, not far from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and we read about Tekoa in passages such as 2 Samuel 14 and 2 Chronicles 11:5–12. Though he was from Judah, Amos ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel, where he first spoke his prophecies (Amos 7:10–17). Later, they were written down for the sake of Judah and the succeeding generations of God’s people.

Amos ministered during the reigns of Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. Scripture remembers Jeroboam II as a wicked king, but he enjoyed a successful reign from a geopolitical perspective. He took back all the territory Israel had lost to other nations, restoring the northern kingdom’s borders (2 Kings 14:23–27). Jeroboam II also helped Judah regain sovereignty over regions it had surrendered (vv. 28–29). Consequently, this was a great time of prosperity for Israel, as God granted Israel’s success (v. 27). Yet the elite soon forgot this. Wealthy Israelites took advantage of the poor (Amos 2:6–8; 5:10–12). Leaders boasted in their own strength, not in the Lord (Amos 6:8). Amos was sent to rebuke Israel for these sins and many others, and to call the nation to repentance.

Success is not inherently bad, but we should recognize that we are often more tempted to trust in ourselves during good times than during the bad. Moreover, we are often tempted to exploit whatever power we have over other people, whether relatives, employees, club members, the laity, and any who sit under our authority. Let us take care to trust the Lord and use our power only to serve others, and may we ask God regularly to strengthen us against self-reliance and exploiting others.