What we are reading this week (beginning Wednesday, October 28, 2020):
• Joshua 24 ~ Judges 1-6
• Jonah 1-4 ~ Micah 1-3
• Hebrews 7-13
Notes on Joshua
Joshua ends his time and his book with an admonition to follow the Lord. He goes through a brief history lesson with the Israelites in chapter 24. He reminds them that they saw with their own eyes what God did to the Egyptians when they crossed the Red Sea. Of course, all of them were 20 years were younger when that happened (see Numbers 32:11). I guess it probably would stand out pretty strongly in your memory if you had seen those things as a child. Joshua also tells them in 24.14 to throw away their idols. Those things always seemed to be lurking somewhere. There had been no reference to them throughout the book among the people of God before this, but there you go. We see in verse 31 that the people of God will serve the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlive him. So as a leader, he had spiritually led the people well. This book ends on a very high note. But then there is the Book of Judges.
Notes on Judges
In chapter one, without Joshua at the forefront any longer, the people try to subdue some of the remaining people groups in the Promised Land. And we read in this chapter of failure after failure to do so. If there were any leadership problem with Joshua, it is that he did not mentor and establish someone to take his place as Moses had done with him. Judges were raised up by the Lord, but nobody would listen to them, and the people began to “prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them” (2.17). We see Jesus himself coming to rebuke the people in versus 1 through 5, the “Angel of the Lord.” Even though Joshua had died by 1.1, there is a short flashback in 2. 6, a recap of the end of Joshua 24. That review leads to explaining how the next generation that grew up “neither knew the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” Some very bad days were in store for them right around the corner. The Israelites began to intermarry their daughters in 3.6. This practice came up again and again throughout the Old Testament narrative, and it never ended well. The other gods were invariably incorporated into their worship. We will now encounter a boatload of judges, most of them with names not very familiar to most people. The first of these is Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother. In spite of the growing apostasy as a nation, we will see amazing results of the intervention of godly judges. After Othniel is raised up and takes the people the war, there is peace for forty years (see 3.11). And then there is Ehud. I always like reading about him and the fat king of Moab. You can read about that yourself in chapter 3. In chapter 4 we find Deborah, a prophetess, and a judge. We see that God used women, as well, in positions of leadership and influence. We do not see it often because it’s important to remember that especially in ancient Asia, women had a very low status and would generally not be respected at all. And we read the story about another woman who will become a hero, Jael. Not sure how many women would be willing to drive a tent peg through a guy’s head, no matter how bad he is, but she did. Her heroics are celebrated in a song that we find in chapter five that takes up the entire chapter. Try to think of a happy tune to sing using the words of verse 26. Gideon is one of my favorite Bible characters. His story begins in chapter six. He is commissioned by Jesus himself, appearing as a theophany (see 6.11 and 22). The concept of “putting out the fleece” comes from this chapter. God never condemns Gideon or accuses him of a lack of faith for asking for this supernatural sign. See 6.36 – 40.
Notes on Jonah
I always like to read this book through in one shot. It’s rather short and a very engaging story. Jonah was a legitimate prophet (see 2 Kings 14.25). Like all of us experience at one time or another, he received an assignment that he didn’t like. But his disobedience was really over the top. For someone who doubted God and thereby took his word less seriously than he should have, it’s quite a contrast to see how the ungodly crew were in awe of and honored the God of Israel (see verses 1.10, 16). They must have been serious to offer a sacrifice on a boat at sea! Jonah has a “come to Jesus” moment inside the whale. But his weaknesses come back into play when he attempts to carry out his assignment in Nineveh. The response of the king of Nineveh is remarkable, where he calls even animals to fast (3.7). You’re probably familiar with Jonah’s argument with God in chapter four. But how is it that the prophet— the “man of God”— is unwilling to obey God or to see things his way, when we see all of the other players in this account that do: the crew of the ship that he had been on, the king and all the residents of Nineveh, the whale, the worm, and even the plant... but not the man of God?
Notes on Micah
Micah prophesies from Judah, the southern Kingdom, close to the time when Israel is about to be taken away by the Assyrians. He prophesied the destruction of both kingdoms, and they see with their eyes the first of those shortly, when their brothers to the north are taken away. In 1.1, his vision concerns Samaria and Jerusalem, corresponding to the northern and southern kingdoms, respectively. He comes right out of the gate with a most dismal prophecy for both throughout chapter one. This theme of destruction carries into chapter two, and then there is a warning against false prophets. However, the chapter ends with a little bit of hope as eventual deliverance is promised. The leaders and the prophets, the ones supposed to give spiritual direction and support to the Israelites, have completely failed the people. They are the targets of Micah’s prophecies in chapter three.
Notes on Hebrews
Melchizedek is referenced as a type of Christ. He was not a theophany in the Old Testament. The writer of Hebrews is very clear about this. He uses the priest’s life as an illustration of Jesus, and goes back to the theme of Jesus as a better high priest, a perfect one. In chapter eight, the comparison between the old and new covenants is wonderfully laid out. At the time of the writing, the Temple was most likely still standing. There was probably some confusion for the followers of Jesus, trying to reconcile the Jewish ways and traditions with Jesus in the context of the new covenant.
The writer points out that “if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another” (8.7). He goes on to cite Old Testament Scriptures (Jeremiah 31) that prophesied the new covenant (8.12).
We find out what the contents of the Ark of the Covenant are in 9.4. We don’t find this anywhere else in The Bible, including the entire Old Testament. At the end of verse five, the writer says, “…we cannot discuss these things in detail now.” I sure wish he would have taken time to do it later! The writer now ties together the Most Holy Place (the holy of holies) and the blood of Christ. This chapter is absolutely magnificent. In the beginning of chapter ten, the writer explains that the Law of Moses (the Torah) was only a shadow and not a reality. He shows that Old Testament sacrifices can never make perfect those who draw near to worship. Verse four says it all: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Of course, this may lead to asking how Old Testament people were saved, or even if any of them were. But the reality is that they were saved then the way we are now, and that is by faith alone. Their faith tied them into the blood of Jesus on the cross, just the way our faith does today. They just could not see it. See James 2.20-23. Toward the end of chapter 10 the writer is now going to go into some different territory. First, he is challenging us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (verse 23), and to persevere in our faith (verse 36). Chapter 11 goes off into another place, laying out examples of what faith in action looks like, using examples throughout the Old Testament. In the final two chapters, the writer goes into some amazing places, but doesn’t transition; he just goes from place to wonderful place. In chapter 12 he encourages us to run our race of faith with perseverance. Then he talks about God’s discipline of his children and its importance in our lives. After this, he warns us against allowing bitter roots to grow up that will cause trouble and defile our lives. Finally, he gives us a glorious picture of heaven itself (12.22).
As he wraps up in chapter 13, he encourages us to love one another, to honor marriage, and to honor leadership in the church. Further, there is warning against false teaching (one of the most prominent themes throughout the New Testament). The writer closes out his letter offering encouragement to keep following Jesus faithfully, with further allusions to the Temple worship.