What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, October 21, 2021):
Amos 4-9 ~ Obadiah 1
Philemon ~ Hebrews 1-6
Week 30! I guess that means something!
Plan now to keep on the straight and narrow with your reading as the major holiday season is right around the corner. Disruptions to daily routine are the biggest hindrance to our intended goal, but anticipating the interrupted schedule can be very profitable.
Notes on Joshua
There was some laborious reading this week regarding the allotting of the land. Even though the reading may get tedious at times, it is not hard to understand how important land is, especially when apportioned by God. Competing versions of what God said about who is supposed to inherit what drives some of the deepest, longest, and most brutal conflicts in the world today. Notice in 16.10 and 17.12 that there were those enemies that could not be driven out or eradicated. Could the reason have anything to do with the allotment of military personnel of those of the two-and-a-half tribes that waited behind to guard their land and families on the other side of the Jordan? We also see evidence that, through the course of time, the courage and determination of the tribes to finish the job of conquering the land had waned. See 17.14–18. In 17.3, we read one of ten references to a man named Zelophehad, his daughters, and their inheritance. The issue was that he only had daughters and no sons. The law only provided for the transfer of property to sons, but they felt that their father’s land should remain in the family regardless. Provision was made to accommodate this request.
Remember that culturally, women had virtually no rights. God was making an early statement here about their legitimacy and value. Following into the New Testament, the church has always been the leader in granting value, dignity and worth to women, many times throughout history when no one else would. Other references to Z and his daughters: Numbers 26.33, 27.1, 27.7, 36.1, 2, 6, 10, 11, 1 Chronicles 7.15.
In chapter 17, the dividing of the land continues. The tribe of Joseph has been divided into two half-tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh. The division of the land continues in chapter 18. The Levites (see verse 7) will be spread out among the tribes and not have their own territory as a group, but they will have their own towns. Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh are going to go back to the other side of the Jordan, outside of the Promised Land. Allotments for Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan are found in chapter 19. At the very end of the chapter, Joshua is given his own personal allotment of land. Cities of refuge are established in chapter 21. Also in this chapter, specific towns are assigned to the Levites.
In the next chapter, 22, Moses sends the two-and-a-half tribes to their inheritance east of the Jordan, away from the Promise Land. Nevertheless, he sends them with his blessing. The first thing the two-and-a-half tribes do is to build an “imposing altar” by the Jordan (22.10). This almost starts a civil war, but the tribes explain that their purpose was to build a reminder so that the other tribes would not forget about them. Joshua wraps up his ministry in chapter 23 and is preparing to die. He warns the Israelites about staying true to the covenant of the Lord their God.
Notes on Amos
In Amos 4.13 is the second of two verses (that I can find) that allude to the creation of mountains (along with Psalm 90.2). However, neither are definitive. (I am not at all sure that mountains were created. They may have formed as a result of the cataclysmic events surrounding the great flood of Noah). Notice here in the minors (as well as places in the major prophets) that the Lord often sends messages to the surrounding nations.
Amos gives a sobering prophecy to a nation at ease in chapter four. From a place of severe contentment, it was hard for Israel to take his prophecies seriously. This reminds me far too much of America. In chapter five, God desperately pleads for then to repent. “Seek me and live” is a theme here. Beginning in verse 21, God thoroughly rejects outward worship that is devoid of any heart, even if done in strict adherence to the law. Complacency will lull them into destruction. In chapter six, the prophet spends time describing their affluent lifestyle, and then explains how they were so much caught up in sin and pride that the city and the country would soon be given over to another nation. Amos is given two visions at the beginning of chapter seven, visions of destruction. He intercedes and pleads with God for the nation, and God hears him and relents. Then Amos must confront a false priest, Amaziah, who rebukes Amos and bad-mouths him to the king. Amos is then given a word of condemnation for the false prophet. In chapter eight, Amos is given the vision of a basket of ripe fruit, which simply means that the time is ripe for judgment (8.2). There is a prophecy in 8.11-12 that has often been misinterpreted. A famine is declared through the land, not a famine of food or a thirst for water but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Some preachers laud the time when there will be a famine for the word of God, as though it would be a time of repentance and revival. However, by famine the metaphor goes on to show that the hunger for the word of God will go unfulfilled, for his words will not be discoverable. That would be a bad day. As we find in so many of the prophetic books, after a closing argument against his people in chapter nine (the final chapter), along with a promise of judgment, God promises an eventual restoration to his people. The prophecy of restoring David’s fallen tent (cited in Acts 15.16) is given in 9.11. The Lord had a special affinity for this particular house of God in the history of Israel. Obviously, the structure was the poorest compared to the colorful tabernacle and the majestic Temples; but the worship service David created inside his tent had a hold of God’s heart unlike all of the others.
Notes on Obadiah
Obadiah is one of the few books in the Old Testament written to a nation or people group other than Israel. This short book was written after the exile had taken place. The people of Edom, who are the relatives of Israel (they are descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother) have looted Israel’s cities after the Israelites had been taken into exile. Not only that, but we see in verse 14 that they even delivered survivors of the exile over to the Babylonians. At the end of the book, God promises that in spite of all of their difficulties, including those inflicted by Edom, he will restore his people Israel.
Notes on Philemon
Philemon is a wealthy man who owned a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had apparently run away from him, and perhaps had stolen from Philemon on the way out. Somewhere along the way, Onesimus had met Paul and he had become a follower of Jesus. Paul was sending him back to Philemon along with this letter. We see that Paul is pleading with his brother Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother. Paul gives his friend an offer he cannot receive refuse, proposing to pay himself for any wrong Onesimus may have done, asking Philemon to charge it to him.
I find this hilarious, for who in the New Testament church would ever require anything from Paul? Paul also mentions that Philemon owes him his very life (see verse 19).
Philemon doesn’t have much choice here! If that is not enough, Paul is on the way, and will see him soon (22). So Paul will see for himself how well Philemon responds to his request. We never hear what happened.
Notes on Hebrews
The Book of Hebrews, summed up in one word, would be “better.” It explains how the New Covenant is better than the Old. It shows how Jesus is better than angels, Moses, and the Temple and its worship (extremely radical things to say to devout Jews).
The first chapter lays out powerful proofs of the divinity of Jesus. We learn of why it was important that Jesus come into our world in human form in order to be the proper sacrifice for our sins. We find a description of Jesus, declaring his eternity, his power to purify from sin, his deity. Jesus is shown to be superior to the angels (1.5-13). Chapter two makes the strong case on how Jesus was fully human, right after we found out in chapter one that he was deity.
We are a full part of the family of God, and Jesus is not ashamed to say so, to claim us as his brothers and sisters (2.11). I find comfort and encouragement in that! Jesus’ mission is to us, humans, not to angels or any other being or creation (2.16). His humanity gave him a connection to us to help us in our temptation (2.18).
In chapter three the writer takes on Moses to show that Jesus was greater than he. To the New Testament Jew, this is like saying he was greater than Superman. Then Moses and his followers are used an example to warn against the dangers of unbelief. In 3.7, we find these words: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” This phrase is repeated a few times. We tend to almost revere people who convince us that they hear from God. But all followers of Jesus should hear from God. But even so, we find here that you can hear from God, and still have a hard heart. There is nothing particularly astonishing about hearing God’s voice if there is no trail of obedience. This is consistent with Jesus’ parable of the houses built on rock and sand (Matthew 7.24-27). I used to think that this was about a good guy and bad guy— a true follower and a nasty sinner. However, the parable compares two people who have both heard the word. One believes and obeys, the other doesn’t. So you can hear the word of God and still have a hard heart and even be the one Jesus talked about whose house is built on the sand.
Chapter four starts by talking about the sabbath rest for the people of God. This is a very interesting topic and would take a long time to unpack. I won’t do that today. There is also allusion to the word of God being alive and active. The chapter closes describing Jesus as the great high priest. The Jewish readers of this letter would certainly understand the significance of this in a highly enlightened way. Chapter five continues with the description of the high priest and the comparison of how Jesus fulfilled this role ultimately. The chapter closes with a warning against falling away.
The writer delves into the particulars of Temple worship (5.1-4). He begins in looking at the role of the high priest, comparing the Old Testament requirements and role with the ministry of Jesus: selected from among men (Jesus born into the Jewish clan), offering gifts and sacrifices (Jesus offered himself), able to deal gently with the ignorant and straying (obvious parallel), subjected to weakness (taking on human form); and called by God, not appointing himself (see 5.5).
In 5.14, the mark of true maturity is given, and it’s quite simple: Being able to tell the difference between right and wrong. So much of the most important things we need know are so uncomplicated!
The warning against following away continues into chapter six. The chapter ends with showing again the power of Jesus and the certainty of the hope that he gives us as our high priest forever.