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Amos 3: Great Responsibility

In Amos 3, we find the people of Israel having their judgment handed down to them. However, it is interesting how this chapter starts out.

Amo 3:1  Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,

Amo 3:2  You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

Amo 3:3  Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Verse two tells about responsibility. The people of Israel have had the things of God, but they continually turned and ran away from Him. They had the 10 Commandments literally written on stone tablets by the hand of God, but they did not follow them. As a result, because they abused the great privilege they had been given, their punishment is coming.

As we move on to the end of the chapter, we learn a little bit more about the nature of what is going to be happening as a result of this lack of responsibility.

Amo 3:11  Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.

Amo 3:12  Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.

It is brutal imagery, but the people of Israel are going to be devoured from the outside. Not entirely, but they are going to be substantially damaged. They are going to go through these trials because they had disregarded the things that God had given to them.

We don’t want to do what Israel did. Those of us who have the Bible have direction from the God of the universe, but we have to make the decision to follow it. We have to make the choice that might be difficult, but as Christians, following God needs to be our top priority.

Hosea 8: Counting the Bible As Strange

In Hosea 8, God is again laying out the consequences for Israel wondering away from Him and His laws. Within all of that teaching about what is going to happen to them, we find out what was particularly going on with Ephraim.

Hos 8:11  Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.

Hos 8:12  I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.

I do kind of think about this in the context of our world today. God has written to us about His law. The Bible is the most published work in the history of the world, and we live in a country where there are virtually no barriers to reading the Bible. Even if you don’t have the money to buy a Bible, there are so many organizations like the Gideons who will give them out for free. Beyond that, the entire Bible is online through many different websites that are also free to access.

We certainly have the great things of God’s law, but we think they are strange as a society. On one hand, we probably should expect that after Jesus Christ told us that the world would hate us because we are not of the world anymore. It shouldn’t be surprising that the word of God is considered somewhat strange.

However, even though it might not be surprising, Ephraim was going to be punished. Let me show you the next verses.

Hos 8:13  They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it; but the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt.

Hos 8:14  For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.

It clearly is not a good thing that they are going away from the word of God, so while it might not be surprising, it is not a good sign if I am right. Perhaps we can turn the tide.

Daniel 11: The Specifics of Prophecy

Daniel 11 is a pretty amazing chapter. Remember that we spent Daniel 8 talking about Alexander the Great, and Daniel 11 begins with some very impressive prophecy about what would happen around his death as the aftermath of his death.

Dan 11:3  And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.

Dan 11:4  And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others beside those.

Dan 11:5  And the king of the south shall be strong, and one of his princes; and he shall be strong above him, and have dominion; his dominion shall be a great dominion.

The mighty king is Alexander, and when he died, his kingdom was divided into four parts after the dust settled and all of the rivalries for power were done. Also, it did not seem that any of these rulers over these four provinces were descendants of Alexander. Again, this is a pretty remarkable prophecy as we have been noting to the entire book of Daniel.

I picked this specific prophecy to talk about simply for the fact that it is highly specific. It also seems to be counterintuitive. If a king had a great kingdom and was such a powerful ruler, you would imagine that the leadership of that kingdom would become a dynasty. That seemed to be how most ancient governmental structures worked. There really had been no one greater than Alexander in terms of land and power previously, so the point that it would not be passed to his children would be remarkable.

Prophecy is an important thing in the Bible, and, as we have talked about before, it is also one of the most highly controversial. The thing that I keep returning to and encourage you to as well is the fact that as I browse across the Internet reading about most of the disputes to the legitimacy of Daniel, a lot of it comes back to a philosophical assumption that prophecy is impossible by default. That is not a good reason to reject the book of Daniel. Perhaps there are other valid criticisms based on evidence (I did not really see any that did not have solid answers), but at least do not simply make a philosophical assumption that really does not have a base to sustain it.

Daniel 8: Can Prophecy Happen?

Daniel is a controversial book because from a naturalistic worldview, prophecy is not possible. Daniel must have been written late because as we see in chapter 8, Daniel knew that the Greeks were going to invade the Persian Empire. He couldn’t have known that ahead of time, so therefore it must have been written late.

Dan 8:20  The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.

Dan 8:21  And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.

In verse one, it says that this chapter was written in the third year of King Belshazzar, which was his final year. We know that Cyrus invaded Babylon in 539 BC. Therefore, we have a reference point for Daniel’s vision. Alexander the Great, the Greek king we are referring to here, did not come to Persia until approximately 330 BC.

If these dates hold, then we are reading prophecy that was written approximately 200 years before the events. From a naturalistic worldview, this is impossible. Therefore, it becomes very important for the naturalist to put a late date on Daniel. After all, prophecy is not a human talent. If it exists, it is something supernatural.

I feel like most of the criticism of Daniel is simply begging the question. Miracles cannot happen, therefore we cannot accept that Daniel was written around 539 BC when it claims it was. It is allowing a prior philosophical commitment to color the nature of the evidence.

For example, there were fragments of Daniel found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those fragments date to the second century BC. Let’s say 130 BC that for the sake of easy calculating. However, here is my question in regards to that. Obviously Daniel was not written and thrown into a cave immediately. Whoever put those scrolls in the cave obviously had a high opinion of the book of Daniel and had time to get a copy of it. It was something that was worth saving. It was something worth saving along with many other books of the Old Testament. That is at least a point of evidence that indicates that it is not just a modern audience that values Daniel and considered it to be authentic.

I think that much of the opposition to an early date of Daniel does come from the presupposition that prophecy cannot happen, so we need to find some way to move that date. However, there are pieces of evidence that also move the date back. Apparently, there are also textual reasons and stylistic reasons in the original language that indicate an earlier date as well, but I am not qualified to speak on those matters. I am qualified to ask a question though, and my main question for anyone proposing that Daniel was written much later than it claims is to ask for the reason why you subscribe to a late date. Is it simply a philosophical commitment, or is there evidence?

Ezekiel 10: Destroyed by Fire

Ezekiel 10 reads a lot like the first vision that we read about in this book. There are wheels and cherubim. However, there is a very interesting difference in this particular vision that indicates that this is a separate occurrence rather than the recalling of the previous happening.

Eze 10:1  Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.

Eze 10:2  And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight.

We now have a man clothed in linen who is going to be dumping coals over the city of Jerusalem. This is interesting because from a straightforward reading of it, when you dump coals over something, it is going to light on fire.

That is exactly what happened to Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. They obviously pillaged it, but fire was their main weapon of destruction. We hear about the fire being used in Nehemiah.

Neh 2:3  And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?

Now it might not be necessarily mind blowing that an ancient army would use fire, but at the same time, not every ancient army would have had to ransack the city. Some might have moved in and occupied it as a new territory. However, it was prophesied that it would go up and fire, and it did.

I point this out because even though it might not seem to be the most radical prophecy that would automatically convince someone that Ezekiel was truly hearing from God, there is an interesting cumulative case argument to be made through all of these individual occurrences. If you begin adding up all of the little prophecies, it becomes less and less probable that even by random chance you will get every one right.

Jeremiah 51: Spread the Word

I like how Jeremiah had a commitment to preserving his prophecies. In Jeremiah 51, we hear the conclusion of all the judgments that are going to come on Babylon, and here is what Jeremiah did when he finished hearing the word of God.

Jer 51:60  So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words that are written against Babylon.

Jer 51:61  And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to Babylon, and shalt see, and shalt read all these words;

Jer 51:62  Then shalt thou say, O LORD, thou hast spoken against this place, to cut it off, that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but that it shall be desolate for ever.

Jer 51:63  And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates:

Jer 51:64  And thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah made sure that his friend read all that he had prophesied, but he also obviously wanted to get rid of the incriminating evidence since his friend was going to Babylon. However, the main point is that he wanted to make sure that this word got out to other people. God gave him knowledge, and he wanted people to know.

I kind of think about that with the Bible today. We have knowledge that has come to us from God, so why don’t we have a similar commitment to telling people about that knowledge? Jeremiah clearly did what he could to make sure that his message got out in Babylon even though he was not going to Babylon himself.

I don’t know your personal evangelism style. For me, I like to write this because I am better in print than I am in person. I feel like it is a small piece of what I can do to bring the Bible to people. However, maybe you have a different preferred method. That’s fine as well, but the point is that we ought to have a commitment to trying to do what we can to get the word of God out. The Holy Spirit moves in people, but God does use people to spread the word.

Jeremiah 45: Proper Interpretation

In Jeremiah 45, everything seems to be a little bit out of order. Given the chronology presented in the first verse, this chapter was written prior to the conquering of Jerusalem. That then makes these last two verses much more understandable.

Jer 45:4  Thus shalt thou say unto him, The LORD saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land.

Jer 45:5  And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.

With the proper chronology, this is obviously pointing to the fact that Judah will be overrun. Fulfilled prophecy is interesting in and of itself, but I want to do with a little more technical issue today regarding God bringing evil.

In the world today, we have a very specific meaning of the word evil that it has not necessarily had throughout history. The Hebrew word that was used here is ra’. I am not a Hebrew scholar by any means, but as you read the definition in the concordance, this word does not necessarily carry the connotation of evil that we think of today. Some of the proposed ways to translate this word are adversity, grief, or trouble.

This kind of clarifies the issue that we might run into when people take this verse out of context and say that it necessarily indicates that the perfectly good God creates moral evil.

As we have been reading this entire narrative about the people of Judah, there was a choice. They could do what God told them to do, or God was going to allow adversity and trouble to come to them. There is certainly a difference between bringing evil, in the modern sense of the word, and bringing adversity or something like disaster.

The lesson I hope we all take away from this is that Biblical interpretation is not easy. We want to be very careful that we do it properly. There are cases like this where misinterpretation causes potential theological problems, but there are also cases where misinterpretation might not cause a problem per se, but it arises from not viewing the text in the right way. For example, we could read the Psalms as poetry since that are what they are meant to be, and there are certain characteristics of that genre. To read the Psalms as a historical narrative might not create a theological problem, but it would not do the text justice because we would not be understanding it in the way it ought to be understood. We need to make sure that we do not take this lightly.

Jeremiah 36: Written in Black and White

It may seem like Jeremiah was always prophesying doom, but it was not as if there were not opportunities for them people of Judah to listen to him and turn back to God. In Jeremiah 36, we are apparently 18 years before the capture of Jerusalem according to John Gill’s commentary, and Zedekiah was still only a prince.

God told Jeremiah the following:

Jer 36:2  Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.

Jer 36:3  It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Jer 36:4  Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.

This is incredibly significant. This was written down in black-and-white. The people of Judah could not make the argument that they forgot the words of Jeremiah. They were written down for them. That being said, as soon as the king got a hold of the scroll, he cut it up and threw it in the fire. However, many people saw this document, heard it read and apparently witnessed the burning including the future king Zedekiah who did nothing to change the situation once he had the throne. There was also a second copy written later in the chapter.

I think that this is kind of a sad parallel to the world that we live in today. God has also given us a document that basically tells us that we are people who need to get right with God. We are separated from Him because of our sinful nature, but Jesus Christ died to provide the bridge that can bring us back into a relationship with God.

That being said, many people throw it into the fire figuratively (I guess occasionally literally as well). For whatever reason, they don’t want to take the implications of Christianity seriously. There is plenty of information out there on the validity and reasonability of the Christian worldview, so I am not going to repeat all of that for you here, but just like the leadership of Judah at the time, some people will continue to disbelieve in spite of the evidence. However, it is not because God has kept all of this a secret. The Bible is quite clear regarding our need for salvation through Jesus Christ just like it was clear for the people of Judah who needed to come back to God or this judgment.

Jeremiah 30: Planning to Communicate

Jeremiah 30 is largely a prophetic chapter. It is speaking about the time that the children of Israel will be brought back to the Promised Land and will finally be reconciled with God. This is not referring to the Babylonian captivity because not all of Israel was affected by that. That was an event for the people of Judah and apparently some of the people of Benjamin. In other words, this is talking about a time that will be even farther in the future.

I wonder if that is why the chapter begins as it does.

Jer 30:1  The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,

Jer 30:2  Thus speaketh the LORD God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book.

Jer 30:3  For, lo, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.

God is basically saying that in the future, these events are going to happen. However, He wants Jeremiah to write them down right now. Why? Anyone can claim that they prophesied something in the past, but if you actually have it in writing, the evidence is that much more convincing and believable.

I think that this can demonstrate that God is the master architect. He has planned everything out in such a way that the whole picture fits together. For example, God could have spoken to Jeremiah, and it would have been perfect. However, if Jeremiah had never written it down, I can’t imagine we would know very much of it today. Maybe someone would have written it down eventually, but it would not have been from the source; it could have been a few generations away which is a potential problem.

God knew that it was important for His word to be put into a book. It is just one of the many ways that He has planned little details in the world that you may think it would be easy to overlook if you had done job of running everything. However, God, the perfect King, is able to deal with all of that.

Jeremiah 23: On False Prophets

Jeremiah 23 provides us with God’s opinion of the false prophets who have been leading His people astray. They say that they are speaking for God, but God tells Jeremiah that He truly never sent these people.

Jer 23:30  Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.

Jer 23:31  Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith.

Jer 23:32  Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD.

False prophets are rampant today. In a world where ideas can spread so easily on the Internet, it is not hard for someone to gain a following simply by having access to a self-created website. Obviously, we need to be careful about who we are following and what teaching we are taking in.

That being said, this is difficult to do. We might come across a pastor or teacher who says a lot of things that we agree with. They might sound good, and they might be fabulous, inspiring speakers. However, you want to be very careful about what they are teaching. Just like in the times of Jeremiah, not everyone who claims to be preaching the word of God is really doing it.

How do we protect against this? Unfortunately, we don’t always have God coming down like He came to Jeremiah to specifically point out that certain, specific things are blatantly wrong. That being said, we do know about God. We have a Book that tells us a wide variety of things about God, and when we hear things that don’t fit with that image as it is purely portrayed by the Book, we know we are dealing with a false prophet on some level. If not a false prophet, at least we are talking about a false teaching that ought to be corrected.

Implicit in this is that we have a responsibility to be Biblically literate. One of my favorite pastors always mentions the Bereans. Even though Paul and Silas had great reputations as Bible teachers, they did not go by that authority alone.

Act 17:10  And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.

Act 17:11  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Act 17:12  Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

We need to have a similar commitment to the word of God. It is one of the major ways that God reveals Himself to us, and it has a higher authority than any teacher we might run into who deviates from it. The Bible trumps in these types of situations.