by Richard Preston
30 July 2015 at NCMI Connect
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It’s the Ukwakha Isizwe Fete on Saturday 12 September! At the main (lower) parking at Bedfordview.
Kicks off at 9am.
In aid of Hope Centre, Klopperpark.
There’s still an opportunity to volunteer for the day – contact Lynor at the office (011-616-4073 / firstname.lastname@example.org).
Amos gives us a lot of detail about his situation compared with other writers. Amos and Hosea prophesy and speak for God to the Northern kingdom – Israel under the reign of Jeroboam II. Isaiah was in the south while Amos was in the north, says Amos. Amos probably grew up knowing Elisha, Jonah, Isaiah and Micah. Amos was a little different however. He never went to a prophetic school and was called to prophesy while being a working man in the field. The time of Amos is during the period of Isaiah chapter 1-5 chronologically, in case you were wondering about why the reading plan is jumping around like it.
Israel is flourishing at this time. They are experiencing economic stability and prosperity. The surrounding nations were not strong enough to give them trouble. Assyria was not yet a conquering world power. It does depend on what ‘flourishing’ means, however. Israel is far from being a witness for God and was reveling in ease, loose morals, and had no problem with discrimination of the poor. Worst of all, religion was also flourishing but it wasn’t to do with Yahweh but the gods of the neighbouring nations. Israel were idolaters, yet again.
Amos spoke boldly for God and this landed him in trouble with Amaziah, who condemned him to silence (7:10-17). Amos believed there was a bright day for Israel as the book finishes. If Israel would listen and change they would come to true national prosperity spiritually and physically. After being ousted by Amaziah, Amos went back to Judah and wrote his ministry imperative in a book for all to see and know who cared.
In his background book, David Pawson sees four themes in Amos: eight sentences (1:1-2:16), three sermons (3-6), five symbols (7-8), three surprises (9). Whatever the structure, Amos’s chosen message is clear. Almost like when Nathan came to David and David proclaimed ‘that person should die’, Amos shows that the surrounding nations are terrible and that Israel has been just like them. God’s sentence on them will be for Israel too. But it need not be that way if they would only listen and return. If they don’t, God will warn and punish them with five pictures that will prove that Amos is right in his prophecy. But praise be to God for his mercy means that one day He will show his ultimate mercy in restoring the nation.
Apparently (quoted in Longman’s Introduction to the Old Testament) Martin Luther said, “the prophets have a queer way of talking, like people who instead of proceeding in a orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at”. Micah is a culprit of this. The last few verses of Micah summarise its message: “he will tread our iniquities under foot, he does not retain his anger forever, he delights in steadfast love and will show faithfulness” (7:18-20). Micah teaches Judah that God hates sin. He hates it so much that when he cannot put up with its presence any longer he gets rid of it. He warns and warns that he hates sin, and then deals with it. God deals with Judah’s sin.
Micah is the prophet alive in Judah when Assyria sweeps in and levels Israel brutally. Micah has a message for Judah (chap. 1-2) – God is not asleep, he sees what is going on and is about to sort it out powerfully (1:2-16). He sees the sins of the people and proves it by naming even secret things (2:1-11). God is holding the leaders who are supposed to be keeping the nation for God responsible for sin they too are committing (chapter 3). The Lord immediately promises hope in the coming of the Messiah who will rule perfectly. And the people of Judah listen! The book closes out (6:6-7:20) telling them what they are to do in returning to the Lord and making things right. The answer is as simple as it is strong – this is how you return to the Lord: “Wait for the mercy of the Lord” (7); live rightly with people; walk with God (6:8) and trust in his faithfulness to restore you (7:18-20).
Pic: John Singer Sargent, “Micah, Haggai, Malacchi, and Zechariah” from The Triumph of Religion, Boston Public Library (Photo: Bill Kipp & BPL)
As you embark on reading Isaiah you are about to read through arguably the most magisterial and beautiful of all the Old Testament books.
Isaiah’s name means Jehovah saves. Isaiah was a prophet to Judah, the southern kingdom, and lived at the time when the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria. Isaiah’s voice saved the kingdom of Judah in these trying hours.
The book has two distinct emphases – so much so that some scholars argue that there are actually two authors of Isaiah. Actually, the structure of Isaiah is quite amazing. It is like a ‘mini bible’. Isaiah has 66 books, divided into two parts with chapters the same as Old and New Testament books. The first 39 chapters summarise the message of the Old Testament’s 39 books and the last 27 chapters summarise the messages of the New Testament’s 27 books.
In the first part (1-39) he is addressing Judah. He preaches through the times of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. In the second part (40-66) Isaiah reveals Jesus bearing the load of sin and then exalted and glorified.
Under Uzziah and Jotham (1-6)
Isaiah received his commission in the year king Uzziah died. Uzziah had a long and glorious reign of fifty-two years. For the last four years of his ministry he suffered from leprosy and was banished from the business of state. The message was punishment to come as God had been long-suffering in patience.
Under Ahaz (7-14)
Ahaz was a terrible king. He was a shameless and open idolater. These chapters of Isaiah can be confusing. Keep in mind God’s message to Isaiah is filled with thoughts of the present and back then. Because of Ahaz’s poor leadership God will allow Assyria and others to attack but ultimately a saviour will come that will establish a lasting glory for ever.
Under Hezekiah (15-39)
Hezekiah was a king who followed God. He lived at possibly the most crucial time in the history of Israel and Judah. The Assyrian armies have gathered strength and sweep in from the North to take Israel in 722 B.C. But their hunger is for more than Israel. They invade Judah over a period of four years. Hezekiah strips the temple of its riches and attempts to purchase help from Egypt that Isaiah denounces (31:1). Finally Assyria have encamped Jerusalem and demand surrender, but they are miraculously slain (37:6-8).
Isaiah prophesies many things during the reigns of these kings. He deals with God being the God of the nations and has words for foreign invaders. His constant themes are disobedience, disaster, discipline, despair; then faith, return, reign leading to rejoicing.
In the second part (40-66) Isaiah reveals God. God the god of all nations, the god who saves, the god who sends the servant, the god who rules, the god who will send a ruler whose kingdom will never end. The book ends with rejoicing in God’s great work of restoration and salvation.
Hopefully this background contains enough detail to orientate you. If that is not the case there are numerous introduction and background books to help you with more detail. Just ask the elders for recommendations!
Painting: Isaiah (1838) by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier.
According to extra-biblical sources, Jonah was a disciple of Elisha and was his successor. His mother was possibly the widow of Sarepta, which Elijah brought to life, and he grew up in a town called Gath-hepeher, about a half and hour walk from Nazareth.
Jonah was a famous statesman who lived at the time of Jeroboam II of Israel and helped to make it powerful and prosperous.
The Lord Jesus made the book of Jonah very important. When he was asked for a sign to prove his claims he said that only the sign of Jonah would be given (Matthew 12:38-40). Interestingly, the internal evidence of the book suggests that our Sunday School teachers should be teaching that Jonah died. It says he sank to the bottom of the sea and weeds entangled him. This would also be the reason Jonah was Jesus’ sign – it points to death and resurrection.
Unfortunately, the last few years have been riddled with scientists trying to understand what kind of fish could have swallowed Jonah. We don’t need science to prove this story, however. Instead we need to hear God talking with us through the timeless teaching found here. There are many important lessons in the book. As with all of our Old Testament books, knowledge of the background makes the account come alive and helps us extract the teaching.
We are told that Jonah is told to go to Nineveh and call them to repent. Jonah flees. Nineveh was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. The sheer scale and magnificence of it was only dwarfed by the extent of its wickedness and lust for power and wealth. It was surrounded by immense walls twelve kilometres in length, thirty meters high and fifteen meters thick enough for four chariots abreast. Every eighteen meters stood a monumental gateway. It was filled with palaces and beautiful gardens with seventy halls decorated in alabaster and sculpture.
Jonah flees to Tarshish. We are told why Jonah flees in chapter 4:2. Assyria was Israel’s dreaded enemy and it appears that at this point in time they were weakened in power. Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh and call them to repent because they may be spared destruction. He wants Nineveh to be destroyed to protect his people of Israel from Assyria’s future attacks. He is thinking of his nation’s benefit. But he was wrong. This also explains his otherwise puzzling depressing thoughts at the end of the prose. Jonah didn’t think mercy triumphed over judgement.
God didn’t let Jonah go. Through a series of circumstances Jonah finds himself preaching in the streets of Nineveh. The common people turn first and then the nobles. It is like Johannesburg turning to God because of the preaching of one person! It was a sheer miracle.
We learn in the book about God’s compassion towards non-believers. God’s interaction with Jonah is filled with a sense of God’s long-suffering and willingness to persevere with mere people.
Apply the principles of interpretation to dig into Jonah. Dig, ask questions, ask what is the teaching here? Why is this book in the Bible? What lessons did Jonah learn? What does this mean about God and about me?
Elijah. A man like us. A call like ours.
We’ve launched a new series on Elijah, who you can read about in Kings 1 and 2. Elijah was a normal person just like the rest of us and had a call just like we do. The Church is called to be God’s voice in this world. His name in Hebrew means “My God is Yahweh”. At one of Israel’s darkest hours, he comes to declare exactly what his name means, calling Israel back to their true God from idolatry.
There are many things we can learn from this man’s life that show us what God’s call is and how we can live it out. But the biblical narrative never leaves out the humanity and weaknesses of this prophet, which is also a great encouragement for us.
You may be wondering why this little book, tucked in the back of the Old Testament, comes next in our reading plan. This is because the internal evidence of the book suggests that it was written in the sixth century B.C., although there are seven schools of thought on exactly when it was written.
The book is an oracle against Edom for rejoicing in Jerusalem’s fall at the hands of the Babylonians and possible attacks at that vulnerable time. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. They inhabited a large piece of land south of Israel and south and south east of Judah.
Relations between God’s people and the Edomites were always antagonistic and violent. Edom refused to let Israel move through their territory along the King’s Highway when they left Egypt (Numbers 20:14-21). King Saul fought the Edomites. David conquered Edom with considerable force. He planted garrisons in Edom sending Joab there for six months until ‘he had cut off every male in Edom’ (1 Kings). It must be that all the men weren’t killed as the Edomites join with the Ammonites and the Moabites to attack Judah under Jehoshaphat’s rule (2 Chronicles 20:1).
There was a time when Judah and Edom formed a coalition, but the Edomites rebelled and could not be subdued for forty years (2 Kings 8:20-22). After Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, Edom rejoiced and planned small raids and attacks to gain more land. In the third century the Edomites were taken over by the Nabateans (famous for their buildings at Petra). Some Edomites settled in southern Judah and became known as Idumeans. Interestingly, the Herods of the New Testament were Idumeans.
Obadiah is unknown to us other than his name means ‘servant of Yahweh’. He wrote for us the shortest of the Old Testament books. There are two mains parts to the letter – the future doom of Edom (v.1-16) and the sure deliverance of God’s true people (v. 17-21). We see here that Yahweh is indisputably the God of every nation in the world, no matter which god they take as theirs. We can assume that Obadiah actually went to Edom and read to them the word from the Lord. It seems they didn’t listen at all. Further, Yahweh is a God who keeps his promises. Abraham was promised a land and in due time neither Edom nor Babylon will keep them out of it.
Probably the greatest message for Christians and non-Christians is verse 3: “The pride of your heart has deceived you.” If we think that we could get along just fine without God we could never be more wrong. A day is near when this will be proved true.