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.