What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, October 28, 2021):
Joshua 24 ~ Judges 1-6
Jonah 1-4 ~ Micah 1-3
Notes on Joshua
In chapter 24, the final chapter of the book, Joshua gives his official farewell as he prepares to die. He utters the famous words that I remember well from childhood Sunday School: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (verse 15).
So much of the Old Testament is a record of the continual spiritual failures of the people of God. But Israel served the Lord throughout all of Joshua’s tenure, as well as the elders who outlived him (24.31). This is one of the best times for Israel throughout all of her history. Perhaps being at war against a common enemy is a good strategy for keeping everyone on the same page with one another and the Lord.
Joshua tells the people in 24.14 to throw away their idols. There had been no reference to them throughout the book among the people of God before this, but there you go. Those things always seemed to be lurking somewhere. This book ends on a very high note. But then there is the Book of Judges.
Notes on Judges
We come to the end of Joshua’s tenure, and are now going into a time of great apostasy, immense debauchery, and unfaithfulness to God by the people of God in the Book of Judges. It’s almost like they were trying to make up for lost time under the godly leadership of Joshua. The Israelites will be led now by judges, some of whom we are familiar with, many others not so much. The judges ruled over various territories within Israel.
In chapter one (vv 27-36), we see the failure of most of the tribes to dislodge the inhabitants in their designated portion of the Promised Land. I wonder how much of this was due to the thousands of military aged males left behind to protect the land of the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan that they had claimed outside of the Promised Land.
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.
There is a theophany in chapter 2, speaking to Joshua one last time before his death (2.1–4). Jesus himself comes to rebuke the people for their unfaithfulness.
After Joshua’s generation, the people went apostate (see 2.7, 10). Children need to be taught what God has done, but if they have not experienced the great things themselves, they are vulnerable to fail spiritually. Each generation needs its own direct interaction with God.
Judges were raised up by the Lord, but nobody would listen to them, and the people “prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them” (2.17).
The Israelites began to intermarry their daughters with the surrounding people groups (their enemies) in 3.6. This practice came up again and again throughout the Old Testament narrative, and it never ended well. The gods of the other nations 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).
These judges often rescued them after their frequent spiritual failures led to bondage under outside forces. These rescues often brought about long stretches of peace (3.11, 30; 5.31, 8.28).
Just taking out the leader makes the entire army vulnerable. Ehud killed Eglon, the king of Moab, who had exercised power over Israel for eighteen years (3.14, 21). By the death of the king, the Moabites were utterly unable to stand against Israel (3.29-30). This led to an 80-year peace in Israel.
And yes, there were female judges leading as well. The story of the capable Deborah is found in chapter four, who is a judge and a prophetess. We do not see women in leadership very often, especially in ancient Asia, because women had a very low status and would generally not be followed or respected at all. 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).
In matters of faith, Gideon does something that many people consider a symptom of weak faith: he asks for a sign. He does this THREE TIMES (6.17, 36–38, 39– 40). All three times God honored his request. And he was given a place in God’s Faith Hall of Fame that we will read about in Hebrews later this week (see 11.32).
Notes on Jonah
Jonah is one of three books (along with Ruth and Esther) that I virtually always read through in one sitting. 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.
I have always admire the valiant effort we find in chapter one by the sailors to save Jonah. How is it that the “man of God” had such a reluctance and stubborn resistance to what was in God’s heart? (See 4.2).
Even though Jonah admitted that the storm was because of him, and all they needed to do was throw him overboard, it is to their credit that the crew tried furiously to row back to land and save the prophet. And then they pled for mercy from God when that didn’t work and they finally tossed him overboard (1.8-15). The sailors must have been impressed with the hand of God; I’ve always wondered how you could offer a sacrifice on a boat! Of course, I always imagined a burnt offering! Prophets sometimes have a hard time with mercy! Jonah called them to a repentance that he had no intention or desire of seeing. As a prophet, he was lacking in a number of ways.
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?
Let me recommend to you a wonderful study on this book written to compare Jonah’s indifference to our reluctance to reach out to Muslims, written by my friend Jamil Sadiq. You can buy it on Amazon for ten bucks.
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.
He was prophesying at the same time as Isaiah (see 1.1. and Isaiah 1.1). In spite of a ministry during the time of a line of good and great kings, we see from this prophet that the spiritual condition of the people was in serious disrepair. He comes right out of the gate with a most dismal prophecy for both kingdoms throughout the first chapter.
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.
The imagery of beating swords into plowshares is an encouraging prophecy about the future (4.3). However, there are other place in the Old Testament where the reverse is prophesied (as we read last week in Joel 3.10).
We do find a wonderful picture of life in the Millennium, when Jesus himself will live and rule right here on planet earth (4.2-4).
And Micah has some wonderful Messianic kingdom prophecies, as well. In 5.2, we read: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, through you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for the one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This speaks of the deity of Messiah. Also, the tag Ephrathah is an identifier of the correct village. There are actually two Bethlehem’s in Israel. There is a Bethlehem in Galilee that we read about in Joshua 19.15, which is actually close to Nazareth.
Notes on Hebrews
Some have suggested that Melchizedek was a theophany, but there are details we know about his life that contradict this. He is a “type of Christ,” so to speak. He had biological parents, but we don’t know who they are, so the writer of Hebrews takes this idea of “without father and mother/genealogy” (simply because we don’t know who they are) and applies this spiritually to Jesus, who is eternal. He is a priest of a higher order than those prescribed by the Law. Jesus is eligible as a king because he comes from the tribe of Judah, Israel’s royal tribe. Priests, however, come from the tribe of Levi; except that now we see in 7.16 and 26 that Jesus also qualifies as a priest, not because of heritage, but because of his eternal, indestructible, holy life. Therefore, he qualifies as both our High Priest and King
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).
It’s amazing to me to think about the Temple and its furnishings: this pattern was exactly what actually exists in heaven. During his forty days on the mountain, Moses was given the privilege of seeing the genuine originals (8.5).
In chapter nine, the writer ties together the Most Holy Place (the holy of holies) and the blood of Christ. This chapter is absolutely magnificent.
We find in 9.4-5 that the Ark of the Covenant contained three things: a golden jar of manna, Aaron’s rod that had blossomed (see Numbers 17) and the hard copy (with emphasis on the “hard”) of the Ten Commandments.
In 9.5b, the writer to the Hebrews (whom I am convinced is not Paul), wrote, “But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.” I sure wish he (or she) would have found time later and wrote it all down. We do not have any more details of this anywhere else. Jesus’ first appearance on the earth was primarily to die on the cross, to take away sins. His second appearance will be primarily for our resurrection. These are two distinct benefits. (See 9.27-28). Again, the sacrifices of the Old Testament accomplished absolutely nothing in and of themselves. They took away no sin (10.4). They showed a picture of what the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God would do.
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. This process was like using a credit card, taking on sins that would be paid on the cross through the blood of Jesus; the blood of the animals could not accomplish this. I could go on all day about chapter 11. Just bear in mind that putting faith in action merely required three things: 1) God spoke to someone 2) That someone listened 3) They obeyed. Faith is no more complicated than this.
In 11.16b, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” How I hope that he has the same thoughts about me!
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 twelve, 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). The picture of the joyful assembly that awaits us on the other side, painted by the writer in 12.22-24 should bring encouragement to us just about any time.
Haven’t thought about 13.2 in a while. It is amazing to think that some of our interactions on this planet well may have been with an angel. What kind of report did they bring back to the Boss about me? 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 doing his will.