What we are reading this week (beginning Friday, November 11, 2022):
Habakkuk 1-3 ~ Zephaniah 1-3 ~ Haggai 1
1 Peter 3-5 ~ 2 Peter 1-3 ~ 1 John 1
We are touching on seven different books this week! Habakkuk is one of my favorites!
Notes on Judges
We find our friend Samson again in chapter 14. Then as now big, tough guys were chick magnets, and this led to a lot of trouble for him. Keep in mind that his story is presented because he was appointed as a judge in Israel. His story is a tragic account of wasted opportunity. Actually, many of them. Actually, nearly his entire life. His tenure as a judge was 20 years (15.20).
The story of his wife forcing him to tell the secret of his riddle is a great tragedy. Of course, she was desperate, because Samson’s enemies threatened to burn her and her father’s household to death if she didn’t get the answer (14.15). However, in 15.7 we see that they went ahead anyway and fulfilled their threat against her. It’s hard to imagine just how fierce this man Samson was. In a fit of anger, he could just go down the street and take out 30 guys (see 14.19). Of course, the Spirit of God would come upon him to empower him to do this. But here he was only warming up. After they killed his wife, he picked up a donkey’s jawbone and went out and killed a thousand more (see 15.15). Then, Delilah. Why did he keep answering her requests to the secret of his strength (see 15.6-16), since she immediately tried to use her new information to sap his strength over and over again? The power of the deception of lust! Like any man ruled by hormones, we see in chapter 16 his inability to see the obvious as Delilah is trying to subdue him physically. He caves in to her demands, and will pay for this with this life. Following Samson’s ordeal, beginning in chapter 17 we see Israel starting to come completely come off the rails spiritually. Idolatry became tangled with the worship of Yahweh. This would not end well. The spiritual times were so whacky, a man dedicated silver “to the Lord” in order to make a carved image and metal idol (17.3). The eleven hundred pieces of silver is the same amount each of the conspirators promised to Delilah in 16.5. Not sure if there is any connection.
The young Levite was hired on by a man named Micah (not the prophet) as a private priest, and then is stolen away from his master by a group of Danites. They enlist him to lead them in the worship of idols. He is glad to get a paying gig as a priest after being forced away from his previous patron, even though it involves idols (18.20). The account of the men of Gibeah (19.22-26) is very similar to the account of the men of Sodom coming against Lot in Genesis 19.
And then we come to the absolute pinnacle of wickedness in the horrible spiritual condition of Israel in chapter 19, the Levite and his concubine. You can read it yourself. I will not spoil the terrible story for you, if you are not already familiar with it. Because of the wickedness we found in the chapter 19 episode, the Benjamites were attacked by all of the other tribes. Even though in the first offense they fought valiantly, the second time they lost so badly that the entire tribe was nearly exterminated. When the men went out to fight the Benjamites, they inquired of the Lord. He sent them twice to disaster before they eventually overcame them. I have no answer for these two defeats after seeking God’s will (see 20.23-28). The result of this battle was that the number of military-aged and capable men in the tribe of Benjamin was reduced to less than a thousand (from 26,000) in a single day.
Notes on Habakkuk
Many of you know that this is one of my favorite books, certainly my favorite of the minor prophets. The story line has to do with the justice of God. God uses ungodly people to do his work, sometimes using those more ungodly than the people that they are used to inflict the judgment upon. Habakkuk complains to God about this in a set of official complaints, and God responds to each of them. The prophet is in turmoil because God seems to be acting against his own nature: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” And, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil. You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”
It is not possible to get a complete answer to any of these questions. But God reveals the end product: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
All of our idols are man-made, lifeless, unable to help in any way. They all are a work of our own hands. And yet we look to them. This includes our money and human pursuits and knowledge. Such foolish sources to look to. The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all of earth keep silent before him (2.18-20).
Notes on Zephaniah
Zephaniah is the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah. He is the only prophet given such a deep ancestry. This means he had royal blood in him. Hezekiah had been one of the very best kings of Judah. However, his son Manasseh turned out to be one of the very worst, with long and terrible reign of 55 years. His son Amon was only seated a couple years until Josiah came to the throne. Josiah was an excellent, godly king and strove to reform Judah. But God gave him the word early on that it was already too late, the Lord had already decreed judgment on Judah, and everything would be coming down. This is the time of Zephaniah’s prophecy.
The Day of the Lord is laid out in chapter one. There are positives about that Day and there are negatives. There will be wonderful things for the faithful to look forward to, and there are terrible things for the unfaithful to anticipate. This chapter is completely about the latter. As judgement is on the way, God reaches out to any of those that would still humble themselves at this point (2.3). God can protect his own even in the midst of severe judgement.
After this, the prophet goes on to prophesy against several of the surrounding nations. In the third and final chapter, the prophet targets the city of Jerusalem. Once again, death and destruction are all he has to offer them. However, as is often the case, the book is closed with a promise of the eventual restoration of the remnant. A wonderful song of praise in found in 3.17: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you. In his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Notes on Haggai
This is the only book in the entire Bible with exactly two chapters. Haggai appears after the exile in an anti-climactic time for Israel. The 70 years of exile are behind them. Jerusalem has been rebuilt. Cyrus, King of Persia, monarch of the reigning world power, has been replaced by Darius, who is amenable to the Jews. The good king is willing to allow Haggai and his people to rebuild their Temple. Haggai serves along with Zerubbabel, the appointed governor, and Joshua, the high priest. This was a trio of godly men that Israel desperately needed during this time period. You can find details about Haggai and his ministry in the Book of Ezra, chapters five and six. Haggai prophesies after the Jews have returned, following their seventy years in Babylon.
In the first chapter, the prophet gives the people the word from the Lord that the time has come to rebuild the Temple. They had been focused on building their own houses. Now it’s time to build God’s house. The rebuilt Temple (thanks to Ezra and Nehemiah) is far, far less ornate and elegant that the original. But the prophet claims that its glory would exceed the original (2.9). That is because the Messiah will enter this one. Nonetheless, Herod would later procure millions of Roman dollars to restore the Temple to its original outward glory before the birth of Jesus.
Notes on 1 Peter
At the beginning of chapter three, Peter gives us a parallel message to the writing of Paul regarding marriage that we find in Ephesians 5. Peter points out that being inconsiderate to wives can affect a husband’s prayer effectiveness (see 1.7). Then he returns to the very common theme of suffering for the faith. Peter describes Jesus as having “made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” There are a lot of theories about where and when this happened and what it all means, but no matter what anyone tells you, nobody knows for sure. There is no place in the Bible where women are commanded to obey their husbands per se. The only inference to this is in 3.6, but it is reflective, not a directive. Wives are called to submit to their husbands, but this is significantly different in purpose and presentation.
Baptism is shown here to be symbolic of removing dirt (sin) from the body, but is indeed clearly symbolic and not material. The act itself does not remove sin.
Chapter four stays with the theme of living for God while enduring persecution. This is something that Peter and the rest of the original disciples certainly knew well. Peter ends this short letter with instructions for elders of the beginning of chapter five. His well-known words, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” are directed to church leadership. Many, many people could profit in their lives considerably by meditating often on 5.6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Notes on 2 Peter
I’ve come to appreciate this little book in an enormous way. It is significant that Peter, the one person closer to Jesus during his earthly years than anyone else, is giving his very last message to the world before he died. It is a book thereby worthy of intense study. This letter was most likely written to an entirely different group of people than the first. He opens up in chapter one by declaring the power of God that works in us, the divine nature. In verses five through seven he gives a list of characteristics which I believe are the pattern for discipleship growth. We start with faith which eventually leads to love, with many important milestones along the way. All of these should be developing at one level or another as we go, but we should look to see where we are fully aligned to know what the focus of the next step in our spiritual walk should be. These qualities, he reminds us, will make us effective and productive in our spiritual walk (1.8 ). At the end of the chapter, beginning his summary in verse 20, Peter is alluding to the coming of the increase of Scripture itself. Up to that point, they only had what we know today as the Old Testament. But with the death and resurrection of Jesus, there would be more on the way as the life and teachings of Jesus would be written down and passed along. All of chapter two is about false teachers and their destruction. I don’t know anywhere else in the Bible where it goes into such detail about the horrible end to those who present a false message (even though there is a lot of overlap with the Book of Jude). It would be well worth for anyone considering the dissemination of other “gospels” to read this to make sure that they really do want to present a counterfeit. The last chapter, Peter’s very last written word to us, is about the Day of the Lord. Once again, he paints a very large picture with awesome and astonishing details. Notes on 1 John
Coming on the heels of Peter, the amazing man of God, is the apostle John. He likewise was extremely close to Jesus, both spiritually and physically. His theme will be truth and love. His opening statement shows us why the gospels are so powerful. He is talking about the things that he himself has heard, the things that he himself has seen, the things that he himself has looked at and has touched, and now proclaims concerning the Word of life. He was an eyewitness to it all. The assurance of salvation found in verse 1.9 is as comforting as it is simple: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Of course, this is immediately followed up with a warning of the folly of anyone to claim to be without sin.
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all (1.5). Light is on a spectrum, and the part that is visible we identify as ROY-G-BIV, the colors of the rainbow. But the spectrum extends on both sides of this: low frequency, such as radio waves, microwave, and infrared; and high frequency, such as ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays. What a picture of the Trinity! One part visible, two parts invisible, in three parts, but yet all one!
John places such an emphasis on love. It has always been on the priority list of the church, but usually not high enough; often love has been sacrificed on the altar or “truth”, doctrine and theology, et al. However, in our day the pendulum has now swung way over on the scale for many, allowing room for just about any violation of biblical mandates, appealing to “not judging” and that “God is love” and that “you can’t put God in a box.” This is faulty reasoning. You CAN put God into a box of sorts: the box of his Word and his nature and character. He doesn’t venture outside of that box ever.