What we are reading this week (beginning Wednesday, November 4, 2020):
• Judges 7-13 • Micah 4-7 ~ Nahum 1-3 • James 1-5 ~ 1 Peter 1-2 Notes on Judges
Some of the great stories we heard in Sunday School as kids (for those of us with such privilege) come from the Book of Judges. We started on Gideon last week in chapter six, and his story continues through chapter eight.
Gideon has seventy sons, which would seem to be more than enough for anybody. But one them with blind ambition and no conscience, named Abimelek, kills all of the others (9.5). However, another one of them, Jotham, somehow escapes. As they prepared to make Abimelek king, Jotham climbs a mountain and tells a parable/allegory that still to this day doesn’t make any sense to me (9.7-15).
For his wickedness, God brought Abimelek to a violent death three years later. In chapter ten, we have short accounts of two rather unfamiliar judges, Tola and Jair, who nevertheless led Israel for twenty-three and twenty-two years, respectively. Those are significant tenures.
Then we turn to the heart-wrenching, confusing, and utterly inexcusable account of Jephthah. (It stirs the same emotion I felt the first time I read the short story The Lottery). We are still not for sure what ultimately happened to his daughter. However, it is worthy of note that in Hebrews 11.32, he is listed as one of the greats of the faith.
No matter how many times I read through the Bible, I cringe as I read this account, which goes on through the end of chapter 11.
The next story in chapter twelve involves Jephthah fighting against a tribe of Israel, the Ephraimites. It can be hard to differentiate between who is you friend and who is your enemy when you all look alike. In this case, using a very clever and unique ruse, Jephthah used the disadvantage of the accent to identify his enemies. See 12.5-6.
Perhaps the best-know character and story from Judges is Samson. His tragic story begins in chapter 13 and lasts through the end of 16.
Samson’s story is rife with lessons about the fatal danger of leaning on your calling, your talents, and your good looks to the point where you abandon your relationship with God and become morally lazy.
Notes on Micah
Micah turns his attention to the end of days in chapter four, beginning with a glorious prophecy about restoration in the Millennium. “They will beat their swords into plowshares” (4.3). The opposite of this phrase is found in other Old Testament places (e.g., Joel 3.10, which we read last week).
The promise of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem is given to us in 5.2, one of the most significant Messianic prophecies that we find in the entire Old Testament.
Yahweh’s frustration with his people is on full display at the beginning of chapter six. Micah responds in humiliation, and then utters these famous words: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6.8). As the Book of Micah winds down, he describes his misery in 7.1-6. But he closes out his prophecy with promises of restoration which lead to a closing prayer of praise.
Notes on Nahum
The Babylonians and Medes were just about to overrun the Assyrian Empire, which had been brutally oppressing the people of God. Nineveh is their capital. Nahum’s entire prophecy was directed to the Assyrians (referred to by their capital city throughout, with one reference to “King of Assyria” in 3.18) at this critical historical juncture. Verse 2.4 seems to describe cars!
In addition to their brutal violence, the prophet lays out a laundry list of Nineveh’s other sins as well in chapter three: Lies, theft, prostitution, sorcery, and witchcraft, to name a few (3.1-4).
Notes on James
Though there are a number of men with this name in the New Testament, this James is traditionally thought to be the brother of Jesus. The book is full of practical godly living instructions. As I have been doing a series on the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7, I have been amazed at the parallel themes and thoughts found between the Sermon and this book.
It’s never wrong to ask God for wisdom. This is something he seems quite pleased to give out without pushback (1.5).
Great line in 1.20: “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” These are very good words to take to heart.
In 1.22-27, we find a direct parallel to Matthew 7, the end of the Sermon on the Mount, including the parable of the wise and foolish builders.
The Bible rarely speaks of “religion” per se, but James does in 1.26-27.
After a primer on favoritism, chapter two moves to the iconic clash between faith and works. Even though we are saved by faith, something should look different on this planet because of our faith. I like to say, “Faith leaves footprints.”
The verses on “taming the tongue” at the beginning of chapter three are a great example of just how practical this book is to daily living.
Underlying root causes of strife are laid out in chapter four. The theme of this entire chapter is the need to live humbly, and the many benefits that come about when we do.
In the New Testament church you would find wealthy people (services were normally held in their homes), suffering people, and sick people. James addresses each of these in his final chapter.
With all of the practicality of the book, we should look again at this astounding statement: “Elijah was a human being (ordinary person) even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years…”(5.17). The very obvious point being made is that if he can do this….
Notes on 1 Peter
The books of Peter should be given, imho, a lot more attention that they are. Peter was unique among all humans ever, as he was the one closer to Jesus through his time on earth than any other person.
There is a huge opening statement in 1.3-9, outlining the process of salvation and the resulting benefits, all given in the context of the world we have to live in. He paints a gigantic picture of the joy and glorious end result of our faith.
A unique metaphor of the church is given by Peter in chapter two: a spiritual house built by living stones (us) with Jesus as the cornerstone (2.6).
Peter gives another perspective of the church and its mission in verse nine: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”