Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bible Challenge: Revelation

We pick up the second half of the book of Revelation this week.

In chapter 13 we hear about two beasts - one from the sea and the dragon.  The dragon usually gets associated with Satan, the beast from the sea was probably the Roman Emperor.  These beasts are defeated by the Lamb, which is Jesus.

Chapter 15 has one of the most quoted songs of praise to God. "Great and amazing are your deed, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of all the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? for you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed."

As you read Revelation you will find lots of little snippets - phrases and paragraphs - that you are familiar with.  There is some very beautiful poetry that gets used in our liturgies - particularly the funeral liturgy, but also in hymns and choir anthems.

If you did the Challenge last year, you have now read the whole New Testament, take December off.  If you didn't you can read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in December

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bible Challenge: Revelation

We start on the book of Revelation this week.

Revelation is what is known as apocalyptic literature.  The word apocalypse has come to mean the end of the world, but that's not really what it means.

Apocalyptic literature is literature that uses one story to teach a lesson about something else - usually things that it isn't safe to talk about openly.

An example of this is the original Star Trek series.  It talked about issues of race relations, the Vietnam War and women's rights, but because it was set in the future it was allowed to be on the air - if they had tried to tackle those issues head on they would not have had as much of an impact.  That is apocalyptic literature.

The book of Revelation is talking about the struggles of the first century church with the prevailing culture, and especially the Roman Empire.  It wasn't okay to talk about that openly, so the author of Revelation (possibly the apostle John himself) set the discussion at the end of the world.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bible Challenge: Acts part 2

We get the second half of the book of Acts today.

We pick up in Chapter 9 with Saul - the one who consented to the stoning of Stephen and was running around arresting Christians.

He is heading off to Damascus to arrest any of the followers of Jesus he can find there.

While he is on his way he literally meets Jesus in the middle of the road and is struck blind.  This is the turning point for the Church.  This is where it moves from being a small group of Jews believing they have found the Messiah and becomes a religion that will challenge the Roman Empire.  Because Paul (as Saul changes his name to) is the one with the skills and the vision to take the message of Christ into the Roman and Greek world.  He preaches at Antioch and around the region and then comes back to Jerusalem to argue that the Gentile believers don't need to become Jews to follow Jesus and then heads out again.

By the end of the book Paul has traveled to all the major cities of Asia Minor and is on his way to Rome to answer to the Emperor himself.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bible Challenge: Acts

We start this week reading the book of Acts.

Acts is really the second half of the Gospel of Luke.  It is written by the same author to the same audience at about the same time.  It tells the story of the spread of the Gospel in the years immediately after the resurrection.

In the first 8 chapters of Acts we find the story of the Ascension and Pentecost and the calling of Stephen and his stoning to death and the preaching of Philip.

We also get introduced to this character called Saul who is after the church, approved of the stoning of Stephen and is taking away to prison any of the followers of Jesus that he can find.

From the very beginning of the church we see both the power of God and the reaction to the message of God by those who are being challenged by it.

We will hear more about that Saul fellow next week.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bible Challenge: 1, 2 & 3 John and Jude

The Johanine letters are actually teachings from a teacher to what is known as the Johanine community.  That is a group of Christians who were more focused on a spiritual Christianity.  They are the same community to whom the Gospel of John is addressed.

It is possible that the same author who wrote the Gospel of John wrote these letters.  It is also possible that the author was the apostle John - "the one whom Jesus loved"

There is strong warnings about false teachers and a reminder of their central commandment - that they love one another above all else.

This is most clearly seen in 1 John 4:7-8  "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."

Jude is a really brief warning against people who cause divisions in the Christian community.  The exhortations are very general and perhaps it is just to remind people of the threat.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bible Challenge: James and 1 & 2 Peter

James, in spite of its opening sentences, is actually probably not a letter.  It is really a series of admonitions.  It strongly parallels the wisdom writings in the Old Testament, like Ecclesiastes.  It is not clear who James was.  Probably not James, the brother of Jesus who led the church in Jerusalem.

There is confusion over the authorship of the Peter letters.  The opening sentences claim "Peter an apostle of Christ Jesus" as the one writing.  But the closing of 1 Peter claims Silvanus - who was associated with Paul.

In all likelihood the letter was written after the death of both Peter and Paul and the introduction was added later to add to the importance of the letter.

One of the principle focus' of the Peter letters is to encourage Christians who are suffering because following Christ has marked them out as different from the society around them.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bible Challenge: Titus, Philemon & Hebrews

Titus is the last of the Pastoral epistles.  It is written from, in all likelihood, a senior student of Paul to Titus - who was one of Paul's companions.

Titus was a non-Jew who had not been circumcised and therefore it was questioned whether or not he was an acceptable leader for the church.  Paul sent Titus to Corinth to try to reconcile Paul to the church there.

This letter is very much like 1 Timothy - it's the 1st century version of a church administration handbook.

Philemon was actually written by Paul - it was to be delivered by a slave who Paul was sending back to his master.

Hebrews is an anonymous letter.  It is more a theological essay than the other letters - which are anchored in a particular community and that community's particular issues.  It is possible that this letter is written after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and that is why the author spends so much effort on how Christ's sacrifice is superior to the sacrifices offered in the temple.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bible Challenge: 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1 & 2 Timothy

Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia.  It sat on both sea and land routes of travel.  The church there was founded by Paul and his visit there is mentioned in the book of Acts.  These letters are about the life of the congregation and how their problems are both similar to and different from those of the other church communities in the area.  The second letter moves into the fulfillment of God's promises and how to await the return of Christ.

One of the best exhortations in the epistles comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

1 & 2 Timothy are letters to Timothy from Paul - or more likely from a senior student of Paul after Paul's death.  These two letters, along with Titus, are sometimes called the pastoral epistles because they are pastoral counsel to second generation leaders of the church.

First Timothy provides guidance in the problems of leading a church - which seem remarkably similar to some we face today and in how to oppose false teaching.

Second Timothy is much more about how Timothy, himself, should exercise Christian leadership.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bible Challenge: Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians

Today we have three letters to some of the largest congregations in the early Church.  The time that we are in is somewhere between 50 and 75 A.D.

The letter to the church at Ephesus - which was a really vibrant, cosmopolitan, city.  Was in all likelihood written by a close disciple of Paul.  It was the custom of that time that a senior student would write in the name of the master after the master's death.  So this letter was probably written after Paul's death.  So it is probably later than 62 A.D.  The book focuses on the reconciliation to God and the Church's roll in helping us claim that reconciliation.

The letter to the church at Philippi - which was a stop in a main road between the East and the West in the Empire.  This is the first church established by Paul in Europe and he had a close relationship with them.  This letter was written by Paul himself while he was in prison and waiting for his trial.  The letter focuses on proclaiming the Gospel and doing it in the face of trouble and finding the joy in the midst of trial and suffering.

The letter to the church in Colossae - which was not far from Ephesus.  The church was apparently not founded by Paul and had several other teachers teaching different things than Paul was.  There seemed to be a combination of Paul's teaching, more traditional Jewish practices and rituals and gnostic philosophies.  Paul is working holding the church to what he believed to be the true teachings of Jesus.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Trouble in Paradise (or Corinth)

This week in the Bible Challenge we take up Second Corinthians.

Relations between Paul and the congregation in Corinth has gone down hill since he wrote First Corinthians.  He had mentioned in First Corinthians coming to visit them and it seems like that didn't happen.

Much of Second Corinthians is dealing with issues of emotion and hurt feelings that are not resolved in the letter.  That makes the arguments hard to follow sometimes.

Pay attention to chapters 10 to 13 these are a defensive by Paul of himself and his work.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bible Challenge - First Corinthians

This is another of the letters attributed to Paul that was actually in all probability written by Paul.

The letter describes the issues of a particular local congregation - in this case one in Corinth - right around 55 AD.

Corinth was one of the most important cities in Roman Greece.  It was near Athens and Sparta - but it was one of the major trading ports on the Mediterranean.  Corinth was a cosmopolitan city.  It was made up of people from all over the Roman Empire and a variety of cultures, religions and ideas came together there.

Paul himself carried the message of Christ to Corinth and had done most of the work of establishing the church there.  Reading between the lines of the letter it seems as if his later relations with the church had not been smooth - there had been some tension between them.

Much of this letter is focused on dealing with divisions and problems between the people in the community of Christians in Corinth.  Paul is answering their questions about a variety of things.

We see in this letter the tension in the first century church (that continues to this day) of how to find the right balance between being enough a part of the culture that people around them were willing to listen to the message of Christ, and being separate enough from the culture that it was clear that they were different and set apart.

Pay attention especially to chapters 1, 13 and 15 for Paul's teachings on the cross, love and resurrection

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Bible Challenge is Back!

Welcome back to the St. Paul's Bible Challenge.

This year we are starting with the Epistles.  The word epistle means letter

These are the letters to the earliest congregations of Christians.  Most of these letters were written from the earliest leaders of the Church to some of the earliest believers.  Because paper was so expensive - and letters were hard to send, the letters tended to be copied and shared with other groups of Christians and read over and over.

Over time some of the letters got read more than others.  As the years went on there came to be a "core set" of letters that nearly all the groups of Christians read and another group of letters that only a few groups of Christians read.

Around 330 AD Christianity had become legal and the Emperor and the Bishops both wanted to have a defined set of writings that could be called the Scripture of the Christian Church.  Over about 150 years the leaders of the church discussed and debated which of the epistles should be included in the Scripture.  By about 500 AD the Scripture was settled and included 21 epistles.  These are the books that we are going to be reading this fall.

We are starting with the book of Romans.  It is the longest and most influential of the letters attributed to the apostle Paul.

Unlike some of the others, that were in all likelihood written by a student of Paul, sometimes after his death.  Romans was probably written (or at least dictated) by Paul himself.  It was probably written between 54 and 58 AD to the congregation in Rome.

The focuses of the letter are the world's need for redemption and the saving work of Christ and the new life that results from it.  He also touches briefly on the role of the Jewish nation in the plans of God and some ethical teachings.

Pay special attention to the 8th chapter.  It has been said that if all of the rest of the Bible was lost, Christianity could be reconstructed from the 8th chapter of Romans.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bible Challenge - Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon

This week we read Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.

Ecclesiastes - the name of the book derives from the root that has to do with an assembly or congregation.  The name of the author would seem to be something like "leader of the assembly".  The book was probably written around 300 BC and the principle theme is laying out what is important and what isn't important in the life of human beings.  Many things are "vanity" - futile in other words.  But ultimately not even wisdom will save.  Main point of the book is the warn us against thinking too highly of our selves or our abilities and to remember the mystery of God's generosity.

The Song of Solomon is a love song.  Both Jews and Christians have read to work as a love dialogue not just between a man and a woman but also as a love dialogue between God and God's people - either God and Israel or God and the church.

There is nothing else in the canon of Scripture that is like this book.

This is the end of part 1 of the Bible Challenge.  Check back in the fall as we pick up the rest of the Bible.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bible Challenge - Proverbs

This week we read the book of Proverbs.

The book is actually made up of several different collections.

One is identified with Solomon (this is about the first 9 chapters).

Chapters 10 - 21 are also identified with Solomon although less convincingly

Chapters 22 & 23 are the "words of the wise"

Chapter 24 is called "sayings of the wise"

Chapter 30 is "the words of Agur"

Chapter 31 contains both "the words of Lemuel" and an acrostic poem on what it means to be a good wife.

The work was edited after the exile but some of them may have been written before the exile (a few, maybe, even by Solomon himself)

This is one of the book that features "Wisdom" personified as a woman.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bible Challenge - the end of the Psalms

This week we have the last 26 Psalms.  We have the end of the songs of Ascents - these are psalms 125 through 134.  These are the psalms that were sung as people went up to Jerusalem, for the Passover and for other religious festivals.

Psalm 134 is used at our Compline service - the late night prayer - because it puts a cap on all of the praise of God.

Psalm 137 is a lament that reflects on the time of the captivity in Babylon and other times of trial in the history of Israel.

Most of the rest of the book of Psalms is praise to God.

You may have noticed that the reading sheet tells you to read through Psalm 151 while the Bible you are probably reading ends with Psalm 150.  Psalm 151 was a part of the Christian Bible from 350 AD through the 1500's.  It was removed from Protestant Bibles when it was discovered that it was not a part of the Jewish Canon of Scripture.  It is retained in Roman Catholic Bibles.  For Episcopalians it is part of what is called the Aprocypha.  Here is the text as it is in Hebrew:

1. Smaller was I than my brothers and the youngest of the sons of my father*
Yet he made me shepherd of his flock and ruler over his kids.
2. My hands have made an instrument and my fingers a lyre;*
And so have I rendered glory to the Lord, thought I, within my soul.
3. The mountains do not witness to him nor do the hills proclaim;*
The trees have cherished my words and the flock my works.
4. For who can proclaim and who can bespeak and who can recount the deeds of the Lord?*
Everything has God seen, everything has he heard and has heeded.
5. He sent his prophet to anoint me, Samuel to make me great.*
My brothers went out to meet him, handsome of figure and appearance.
6. Though they were tall of stature and handsome by their hair,*
The Lord God chose them not.
7. But he sent and took me from behind the flock and anointed me with holy oil*
And he made me leader of his people and ruler over the people of his covenant.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bible Challenge: Still more psalms

This week we read Psalm 91 through 125

This means that we read the first of the Psalms of Ascent - Psalms 120 - 134.  These were the psalms that the people of Israel sang as they ascended into Jerusalem - they came to be connected with the Passover, when as many people as possible came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

The best known is probably Psalm 121.  "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where is my help to come?  My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth"

This is the psalm that promises the presence and the help of God with us as we go.

Try reading the Psalms of Ascent as a unit - imagine yourself chanting them while you walked through the desert to the Holy place of God.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bible Challenge: More Psalms

This week we read psalms 61 - 90

I want to look at the last psalm in book 2 - Psalm 72.

Psalm 72 is one of the royal psalms - the heading - of Solomon is found in only two psalms; this one and psalm 127.

Verses 1 through 4 honor the king as a provider of justice
Verses 5-8 are a prayer for the long reign of the king
Verses 9 -11 lists the tributes brought to the king by foreign nations
Verses 12 -15 restate the first 11 verses
Verses 16 & 17 are a prayer for the king's heirs

Verses 18  - 20 are the doxology at the end of the second section of psalms

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bible Challenge: Psalms

This week we read Psalms 35 - 60

This finished the first book and moved into the second.

There are several Psalms in this that are worthy of comment - but there are two that I want to focus on - 42 and 51

Psalm 42 is an individual lament.  The refrain - that you find in verses 6 and 12 - is also repeated in verse 5 of Psalm 43 - that leads some scholars to think that these two were once one psalm.

The prominent image in the psalm is that of water - it moves from the stream to the psalmist's tears to the sea.  This is a psalm of lament of exile.  It has resonated with many people through many centuries.

Psalm 51 is used in the Episcopal liturgy on Ash Wednesday.  It is also an individual lament.  The historical heading connects the psalm to David's adultery with Bathsheba.  Verses 3-9 are prayers of pardon and confession.  Verses 10 - 14 are prayers of restoration. Verses 15 -19 are praise of God before the community.  Verses 20-21 are prayers for the restoration of Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Beginning of Wisdom

We begin part of the Bible known as "Wisdom literature".  This is Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.  They are known as wisdom but a better word might be poetry.  The Psalms are the songs of the nation of Israel, Proverbs is poetic writing, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are long poems of praise and theological reflection.

Today we begin the book of Psalms.  This is the hymnal of the people of Israel.  The psalms came into being over a long period of time and were finally edited into the form we have them now around the time of Jesus.

The titles of the psalms contain directions to the musicians and some technical terms - that we don't any long know what they mean - "Selah" being the most common.

The book of Psalms is actually divided into 5 books. Psalms 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 96-106 and 107-150.  There are five books to imitate the 5 books of the Torah.  Each of the first four books ends with a doxology - a praise of God not a part of the psalm that it seems to be attached to.

The Psalms fall into 6 categories:

Hymns of Praise - these are Psalms 8,19,29,33,65,66, 100,104, 105, 111,113,114, 117, 135, 136, 145, 146 and 148-150

Laments - these are psalms of complaint to God - they usually resolve into praise - see Psalm 4 as an example

Royal Psalms - there are royal laments, royal thanksgivings and royal psalms of praise - but in all of them the king is the speaker or the focus of attention - see Psalm 2 for an example

Wisdom Psalms - those with connections to other wisdom books - see Psalm 1 as an example

Liturgical Psalms - for use in the temple - see Psalm 15

and Historical Psalms - that recount God's works in history - for example Psalm 48

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bible Challenge: Lamentation

When we left Jeremiah last week he had been imprisoned and was not the most popular person in Israel.

He continues to tell the people to wait for the Lord and to stay put.  He denounces them for their worship of idols and announces that God will pass judgement on the Egyptians, the Philistines, Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazar.  These are the nations that Israel is hoping will rescue them from the Babylonians.  For good measure he also notes that God will pass judgement on Babylon as well - but that doesn't seem to appease the people very much.

That brings us to the book of Lamentations.

Laments are a type of psalm - in the books of Psalms you can find other laments - for example Psalms 3 - 7 Psalm 39 and Psalm 130.  Usually laments begin with a cry for help and then move into a complaint.

It is likely that this book was not written by Jeremiah himself.

The first four chapters are an acrostic - The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters - each stanza begins with a different letter - in order.

These are laments over Jerusalem and pick up the themes in several of the psalms of lament.

Join the discussion of the major prophets on April 16 at 5 p.m.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bible Challenge: Deeper into Jeremiah

This week we have a long chunk of the book of Jeremiah.

The section begins with reminding the people that they should trust in God and that his ways are higher than their ways.

In Chapter 18 we have the image of God as the potter and Israel as the clay - this image has resonated with Christians through the centuries - the idea that we are in the hands of God can be both comforting and terrifying.  As Jeremiah points out - the potter will destroy his work if it's not coming out right and start over.

As we move later in the book Jeremiah writes to the elders of Israel to tell them that they should put down roots in Babylon - that God tells them to settle in and bloom where they are planted.  This is not what the people wanted to hear.  They wanted to hear that God was going to overthrow the Babylonians and bring them back from exile.

Jeremiah offers comforting words - that God will bring the people back and that there will be rejoicing - but not yet and not soon. - Be patient and wait is the message and it isn't well received.

The king burns the scroll and imprisons Jeremiah.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bible Challenge: Isaiah and Jeremiah

This week we have the end of the book of Isaiah - the concluding oracles of the book remind the people that the restoration of Jerusalem is part of God's plan.

These have come to be read as promises of the kingdom of heaven.

We also start the book of Jeremiah this week.

Jeremiah was the son of a priest.  He was born about began his ministry around 600 years before the birth of Jesus.  The book is a series of oracles against the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem.  There are also some oracles against foreign nations.

The book is not in chronological order.  It was probably put together long after the death of Jeremiah, and seems to be largely drawn from the memoirs of his aide - Baruch - which means blessing - and might refer to more than one person.

Also a part of this book are records of Jeremiah's struggle with God and the trials that he suffered during his ministry.  Jeremiah was not well received by the people of his time.

Jeremiah's writings focus a great deal on reward and punishment and the rewards for good and evil.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bible Challenge: Isaiah

This week we get the end of Second Isaiah.

This week's section contains the First Servant Song - This is Isaiah 49:1-6; 50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12.

These pieces of poetry have come to be seen as prophecies of the Messiah.  When they were first written the assumption of the people was that they referred to someone already alive in Israel at that time.  Someone who would lead the people into becoming the nation that God wanted them to be.

In the 300 years between the time that this was written and the coming of Jesus they had come to be read as telling the nation what the Messiah would be and do.

In the Christian era they have come to be read as prophecies of Jesus.

As we move through this section we find directions to the nation of Israel and reminders to them that God is on their side and will help them against their enemies.  We also hear about the blessings that are in store for God's people and we end this week's readings with the second Servant Song and the promise of the abundant life that God wishes for his people.

Much of this week's section will be familiar - we hear it during Advent as we prepare for the return of Christ and often in funerals as we remind ourselves of the promises of God.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bible Challenge: Isaiah

This week we finish the section of Isaiah that is known as First Isaiah.

We hear the second half of the oracles against the enemies of Israel and Judah and move into a section of reflection from the post-exilic period.

In the history of the Israel there are several times when large portions of the population were taken into exile after a military defeat - but the major one is what is known as the Babylonian Captivity.  This is when the Babylonians conquered Israel and carried the leaders and craftsmen and any one who was educated into exile.  The exile in Babylon lasted around 60 years.  This happened about 500 years before the birth of Christ.  The Post-Exilic period was a period when Israel reconsidered what it meant to be a nation and to be God's chosen people.  There was a lot of debate about purity and the authority of different parts of Scripture and what it meant to be God's people.

Some of those debates are seen at the end of First Isaiah - they are more fully developed in the later sections of the book.

At the end of First Isaiah we also hear of the coming of the Majestic King.  These prophecies talk about the coming of a peaceful reign of a king who rules in the name of God.

When Isaiah wrote them they were referring to the hoped for restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.  By the time of Jesus they had come to be read as prophecies of the Messiah - the one who would come in the name of the Lord and free the people.

This week we also have the first Chapter of Second Isaiah - Chapter 40.

This is between 200 and 300 years after the return from Exile and is calls the people to be ready for the coming of God.  It has become one of the most familiar prophecies of the Messiah - largely because Handel chose it as the opening words for his Messiah.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bible Challenge: The Major Prophets

We are beginning the reading of the Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations.  Ezekiel is also a part of this group - but we will be reading Ezekiel with the histories.

These books are called the Major Prophets because they are longer than the Minor Prophets.

We start with Isaiah.  Isaiah is actually three different books written by three different people at three different times in history.

First Isaiah is the first 39 Chapters and were written during the lifetime of Isaiah son of Amoz who wrote during the days of King Uzziah.  There is some material in those chapters that is later than that and was added over the years.

Second Isaiah covers chapters 40 through 55 and these were written between two and three hundred years later.

Third Isaiah is chapters 56 through 66 and those were written about 100 years after Second Isaiah and between three and four hundred years after first Isaiah.

This wee we read about the first half of First Isaiah.  The book begins with the memoirs of the Isaiah, setting the book in time and place and then moves on to oracles against the enemies of Israel - both those outside the community and those inside.

The chapters that we have this week includes all of the memoirs and the first half of the oracles.

Much of the this week's readings are written in poetic style.  You might have noticed one hallmark of Hebrew poetry - which is stating things twice in slightly different ways.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bible Challenge - Malachi

We don't know anything about who Malachi was.  Malachi means "my messenger" in Hebrew, so it could be a pen name taken by or assigned to a prophet.

However, the book tells us a lot about what the author thinks.  He probably lived between 500 and 450 BC - after the return from captivity in Babylon.  He respects the priesthood and holds the priests in high esteem.  He talks a lot about the covenant.

The question and answer style of the book is different from other books of prophecy.  However, his emphasis on sin, judgement and repentance is very similar to that of other prophets.

The central theme of the book is being true to the covenant and teachings of God and condemning those who have not been faithful to the covenant.

This ends the study of the minor prophets.  We begin the major prophets next week.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bible Challenge - Zechariah part two

Chapters 9 - 14 of the book of Zechariah were not written by Zechariah and were not written at close to the same time as the first part of the book.

The first part of the book of Zechariah was written around 530 BC by Zechariah who was a leader in the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem.

The second part of the book was written during the period between 400 and 300 BC when the Greek influence on Israel was at its height.

This part of the book focuses on the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of God.  The images of the Prince of Peace and the Good Shepherd that resonate through the New Testament for Jesus are picked up from the second part of the book of Zechariah and his prophecies of the Messiah

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bible Challenge - Zechariah part 1

The book of Zechariah is actually two different books written at two very different times and put together.  We are looking at basically the first part this week.

Zechariah, along with Haggai, was a leader in the effort to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.  He casts a vision of a rebuilt temple and a reformed and revived community seeking the presence of God.  His writing has a unique style for the minor prophets.

He relates night visions and conversations between God, the prophet, and the angel who interprets one to the other.

The vision of the flying scroll in chapter 5 is a particular example of this style of writing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bible Challenge - Zephaniah & Haggai

Zephaniah may have been a relative of King Hezekiah - he was certainly a part of the inner circle of both the court and the temple in Jerusalem from about 640 - 610 BC.  Unlike most prophets he is not interested in the lack of care for the poor of the land.  Instead he is focused on corrupt religious practices and violations of the religious laws that were laid down in the book of Deuteronomy.

The book of Zephaniah has three sections: The first proclaims doom on Judah - and warns them of the coming of the day of the Lord.  The second proclaims God's judgement on other nations as well.  The third promises that God will provide comfort to those who wait for him and are patient and serve God.

Haggai was one of the major leaders involved in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.  In the spring of 515 BC the new temple was consecrated.

The book of Haggai is made up of five addresses from the years leading up to the rebuilding of the temple.  They are encouraging the leaders to rebuild the temples and reform and purify the worship of God.  It promises God's blessings on the people if they complete the work.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Bible Challenge - Micah, Nahum and Habakkuk

Yes indeed, these are short books we are reading - we will power through three of them this week.

Micah - contemporary to some of Isaiah and to Hosea.  This is more from the prosperous time around 750 BC before the Assyrian war.  Micah is a common man from a small village and he looks at the pretensions and piety of the Capital from the outside.  Micah calls the people to pure worship of God and to social justice and notes that God will judge them - but there is a promise of forgiveness after judgement

Nahum - is written in the immediate aftermath of the fall of both the Assyrian empire and the city of Nineveh - right around 610 BC.  The center of the book is a long poem celebrating the destruction of Nineveh and explaining that it fell because of God's justice.

Habakkuk - in this short book there are at least 3 major ancient literary forms:  There is a dialogue between God and the prophet.  There is a section of woes, decrying the wickedness of the nation and then there is a long poem - like the Psalms, meant for use as a hymn in worship.  It seems that the three section were actually written at different times by different people.  They are tied together by a focus on theodicy - that is justification of the ways and actions of God - probably all three sections can be dated to a 25 year period around 600 BC.  The main question in the book is how can a just God be silent when the wicked prosper and the just suffer.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Bible Challenge - Amos and Obadiah

We have two very different books this week,

Amos is from about the same time as Hosea - but in the peaceful reign of king Joeroboam II - just before the Assyrian War - so around 750 BC.  This is a time when Israel is prosperous and at peace and feels itself to be blessed by God.  So into this comes Amos and he denounces them for relying on their own strength and being fat and happy and mistaking piety for actual service to God.  Needless to say he wasn't popular with either the priests or the king.

Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament.  We know nothing about the person or the life of Obadiah.  Some of his book was written right after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BC, but some of the book might be earlier or later and some might have been written by other people entirely.  The thread that ties the book together is justice and judgement.  This is a book of hopeful prophecy - God will give justice to Israel and call their enemies to account.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


We finish up Hosea in the Bible Challenge this week; but we also tackle the book of Joel

We don't really know anything about Joel - even his name which means the Lord is God - seems to be designed as a part of God's message.  This book is set in Judah - the southern kingdom - during the time when that kingdom was under the strong influence of Persia (modern day Iran) - so sometime between 539 and 330 BC - probably later in that period.

Joel was familiar with the temple in Jerusalem and the worship there.  Joel may well have been a temple prophet - one whose ministry was bounded by service to the temple, either as a priest or as someone who spent a lot of time among the priests.

Joel calls the people to repentance and focuses on the coming of the day of the Lord and the judgement, but also the blessings that day will bring.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Minor Prophets - Bible Challenge

Welcome - or welcome back to the Bible Challenge

This section of the challenge is to read the minor prophets.  The minor prophets are the 12 books of prophecy at the end of the Old Testament.  They are called minor because they are all short - between 1 and 14 chapters, not because they are unimportant.

As we begin a note about the words "prophet" and "prophecy".  In the modern world these words have come to mean foretelling the future, or a person who foretells the future.  That isn't what the Bible means when it uses the word prophet.  A Biblical prophet is one who proclaimed the word of God to either the people, the priests or the king (or sometimes all three).  The prophets in the Bible were called by God to proclaim to the people, usually, how far they had gone away from who God had called them be be and what God had told them to do.  Now usually the prophecy included something like:  "If you don't shape up, God will turn his face from you and then you'll be sorry"  and usually they didn't shape up and usually they were sorry - but the point of the prophecy wasn't the information about God making them sorry, it was the information that they were not following the ways of God.

This week we start the book of Hosea.

Hosea prophecied in the northern kingdom - that is in Israel rather than Judah - while that kingdom was at war with Assyria.  The kingdom was basically in anarchy, king after king had been assassinated and the Assyrians were on the verge of complete victory.  This is all happening around 730 BC.

The most striking feature of the book of Hosea is God's command to him to "take a wife of whoredom" and to treat his wife "Gomer" with the same redeeming love that God has for the people of Israel - even though they have turned from his ways and done evil things for profit.