October 1, 2017
A Table of Lessons for October
Jer. 51:35-64 , Lk. 14
Jer. 52, 1 Cor. 16
The book of Jeremiah closes with a summary of all the events addressed in the prophecies given to Jeremiah by God. This summary shows how the prophecies were truly and literally fulfilled. Beginning with Zedekiah (1-3), it makes the two points: that Zedekiah did that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, and that he rebelled against the king of Babylon. Zedekiah was only a puppet king. The real ruler of Jerusalem, humanly speaking, was Nebuchadnezzar, to whom Zedekiah had vowed fidelity and obedience. Instead of keeping his treaty with Babylon, he attempted to make an alliance with Egypt to fight the Babylonians. It was this action by Zedekiah that brought the Babylonians to Jerusalem, and ended in the conquest and destruction of the city and Temple, and the deportation of the Jews to Babylon.
The fall of Jerusalem, often predicted by Jeremiah and other prophets, and the capture, punishment, and death of Zedekiah, are recounted in verses 4-22. The destruction of the Temple (17-22) is a particularly telling event. The Jewish people had allowed pagan idols to be placed in it, and worshiped alongside God. They trusted in the Temple, thinking that doing the sacrifices, feasts, and fasts in the proper way at the proper times would be enough to please God, who would then be honour bound to defend and prosper Israel, according to His promises to Abraham and his descendants. But God makes it clear many times that He wants the whole person, not just sacrifices and ceremonies. He also warned Israel many times that He would not continue to bless them if they continued to break the Covenant. Finally the day arrives when God turns them over to their enemies. The destruction of the Temple shows God’s disgust with the polluted and insincere faith and worship offered there. It also signifies His withdrawal from Israel. He no longer maintains His house because He no longer dwells in it.
Verses 24-27 recount the Babylonian revenge on the leaders and people of Jerusalem. Many of these people were simply executed after Jerusalem surrendered. 28-30 tell of people deported to Babylon. The count probably only includes the heads of families, so many thousand more were actually deported. Thousands more probably died in the journey to Babylon, but those who lived eventually made homes in Babylon, and many of them refused to leave it when Cyrus released them in 536.
Though Zedekiah died in prison, Jehoiachin, who had been taken to Babylon prior to Jerusalem’s fall, was released from prison and treated well in Babylon. Of course, he spent 37 years as a prisoner, but as a king, his prison was probably house arrest in the palace. He is given his freedom, but not allowed to return to Israel. He dies in Babylon.
Thus, the things Jeremiah prophesied happened, just as he said they would. But all the suffering and killing could easily have been avoided, if only the Jews had heeded the real message of the book, which is; repent of sin and love God with your whole heart.
Lamentations 1, Lk. 15
Lamentations 2, 2 Corinthians 1
This short book is Jeremiah’s lament for Israel. It is his expression of grief for the suffering, deportation, and death of thousands of the people, and for the destruction and devastation of Jerusalem and the Temple. But the prophet weeps for more than just the people and the buildings that have suffered in the conquest. The entire social/theological structure that made Israel who and what she was has died. It will be resurrected, but, as Jeremiah writes Lamentations, it is dead. It has been dying for generations and hundreds of years. It died, not because it was killed by the Babylonians, but because the people drove the soul out of it by turning away from God. They let the spirit of the Covenant get away from them, thus they were left with only the shell, the exterior body of ceremonies and sacrifices. In other words, they had only the corpse of the faith. The Babylonians did not kill it, they only destroyed the corpse, like vultures.
Jeremiah laments not only the destruction of the corpse, but also the loss of the life of the faith. He regrets that the people have become so vile that the Lord has left His sanctuary, and allowed evil people to destroy it. The nation that was created to be a peculiar people unto God and a light unto the Gentiles, has become so filthy, that God willingly destroys the outward forms of His worship and the social organisation of His people. It is for this that the weeping prophet weeps most (see Dr. E. J. Young’s comments in An Introduction to the Old Testament, p 345).
Chapter 1 describes Jerusalem, and through her, the entire nation and fabric of Israel, as without friends or help. She is alone. She is deserted (3). She is naked (8). Her lovers (2) are the pagan idols with whom she became a spiritual harlot. Her friends are the nations around her with whom she attempted to form alliances, and from whom she learned the ways of idolatry and sin. Where are they now? Did they help her at any time? Can they help her now? No. They are gone, fallen under the same people God used to punish Israel. They, too, are under the wrath and punishment of God.
Verse 13 assures us that Israel’s condition is from God, not fate or accidents of history and other people. They are “from above.” God put the consuming fire in her bones. God spread the net that captured her. God made her desolate and faint. “For these things I weep” (16) Jerusalem says through the literary technique of personification.
We could easily look at our own world and weep for its current condition, all of which we suffer because we collectively fail to keep the commandments of God. Western culture once attempted to build itself on Biblical values and ideals. It was from the Bible that we learned about justice and equality and freedom. It was from the Bible that we learned about government of, by, and for the people, rather than of, by, and for dictators or elites and their cronies. We cannot claim perfection by any means. But all of our failures are due to our lack of following the values, ideals, and faith of the Bible, not to following them. Today we are seeing our culture crumble like ancient Jerusalem. Why? For the very same reasons Jerusalem fell; because we have turned away from our founding faith and values, and the further we go from them, the more our culture crumbles. Our problems are not political, they are spiritual.
Verses 18 and 20 give a hint of repentance in the Jewish people. Jeremiah has Jerusalem say, “I have rebelled against [God’s] commandments.” How we wish all of Israel would say these words from the heart. How we wish all people, especially in the Church, would do likewise.
Even the very Temple of the Lord is fallen and destroyed. God has “cast off His altar” and abhorred His sanctuary (7). His anger is so great that He no longer accepts the sacrifices and offerings of the people. He despises even the place where they were offered. This destruction also signifies God’s withdrawal from Israel. She has broken the Covenant, therefore, God is no longer bound by it. Therefore, He removes His house from the city. He has moved His home, so that He no longer dwells with Israel.
Lam. 3:1-36, Lk. 16
Lam. 3:37-66, 2 Cor. 2
Jeremiah continues to write of Israel as a person. Thus, “the man” in verse 1 is all of the people of Israel collectively. It is the nation. The “rod of his wrath” is Israel’s conquest and captivity, which comes to them as Divine chastisement. The chapter encourages Israel to repent, and to wait patiently on the Lord. Jeremiah knows the day of deliverance will come, but many of the Jews either do not know, or do not believe it will happen. Jeremiah urges all to seek God, have hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
This is good advice for God’s people in any era. Troubles will come and go. Evil people will often prosper while the Godly suffer. God may even put troubles on us to chastise us, or to grow our faith. We must not give up hope. We must repent of our sin and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Lam. 4, Lk 17:1-19
Lam. 5. 2 Cor. 3
Jerusalem is compared to fine gold, pure and shinning. But her gold has become dim. Now she is like an ugly and dirty clay pot (1, 2). Her people were once full, but now are starving. Mothers do not nurse their infants because, in their hunger they have become cruel, keeping what little food they find for themselves. Weaned children seek bread, but find none (3, 4). People who once fared well, desperately search for scraps in garbage heaps (5). They have even turned to cannibalism (10).
Their priests and prophets bear much of the blame. Jeremiah often warned them not to preach false doctrine, or dilute the truth for popularity or money. But they did not listen. They told the people what they wanted to hear. They prophesied peace when God foretold war. They promised the people God was pleased with them when God was actually angry. They told the people their sins were good, and the Bible is evil. They promised Egypt would keep the Babylonians away from their city (17), even though God intended to bring the Babylonians to Jerusalem. Because the people listened to their false words, Israel is destroyed (13-18). Her people are scattered like the stones of the ruined Temple (1, 2). Even wicked Edom has fared better than Israel.
But this will not last forever. God promises relief and forgiveness. Israel’s punishment is accomplished, and God will not carry more of her people away to Babylon (22).
We cannot escape this passage’s clear teaching of the responsibility of the ministers to preach only sound doctrine. Sadly, few pastors preach the true Gospel of Christ today. Instead of Christ, they preach worldly prosperity. Instead of souls, they seek “peace and justice” according to whatever way the world defines it at the moment. Instead of Godliness they encourage religious experiences. In the eyes of God it is as though the Old Testament priests and prophets killed the people of Israel with their own hands. Does not this also mean that the ministers are equally responsible for the deplorable state of doctrinal understanding and Biblical living in the contemporary Church?
Nor can we escape the clear responsibility of the people to seek, attend, and support, at great personal inconvenience and cost, if necessary, only churches where the true Biblical faith and practice is taught and lived. The people of Israel may have been led astray by their ministers, but they paid for their sins anyway. Likewise today, we may be led astray by wolves in sheep’s clothing, but we are still responsible for seeking and hearing the truth. Ignorance of the true Gospel will not excuse us on Judgement Day.
We can easily apply this to nations also. Good leaders, making wise decisions, can help make a nation strong and prosperous. Weak leaders making bad decisions cause poverty and vulnerability. The world is in turmoil today. Debts are up. Defenses are down. War and violence are rampant. Angry and fearful people riot in the streets. If the Old Testament priests and prophets are guilty of the blood of the Jews as if they had killed them with their own hands, are not the religious leaders and civil rulers in our own time equally guilty of the turmoil, suffering, and death caused by their teaching, decisions, and policies?
The heart of chapter 5, and the conclusion and climax of Lamentations, along with the hope of Jeremiah are expressed in verse 21: “Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord.” In the physical sense, Israel is unable to fix her problem. She is under the yoke of oppression (5). Her women are ravished (11), her men are killed (12), and she has no hope of delivering herself from her troubles.
Spiritually, she is still just as deep in idolatry, graft and sexual sin as she was before her conquest. She is still just as far from God as she ever was, and she cannot get back to Him by her own efforts. The same is true of every person. If we have sinned, as we all have, we are dead toward God and cannot make ourselves alive toward Him. Our problem is not just that we cannot save ourselves by doing good works; it is that we cannot make ourselves want to be alive to God. We prefer darkness to light (Jn. 1:5, 3:19), and sin to obedience (Rom. 1:32). Just as we cannot, and did not, give ourselves physical life, neither can we give ourselves spiritual life (Jn. 3:6) Spiritual life can only come to us a gift from God (Eph. 2:8, 9). Thus, Jeremiah’s prayer for Israel, and the heartfelt prayer of every person who realises his complete dependance on the grace of God, is, “Turn thou us unto thee O Lord.”
Ezekiel 1, Lk. 17:20-37
Ez, 2 Cor. 4
Ezekiel, a priest, was born around 625 B.C. and is a younger contemporary of Jeremiah, whose words he often quotes. He spends most of his early life in Jerusalem and is profoundly influenced by the Temple liturgies and the theological/social reforms of King Josiah. He is very saddened that, after Josiah’s death, the people quickly returned to idolatry, even placing pagan idols inside the Temple.
Meanwhile the Babylonians are beginning to expand their empire. In 605 they defeat the Egyptian army and gain control of Canaan, including Judah and Jerusalem. But many in Jerusalem hope Egypt will form an alliance with the Canaanite nations, which would be strong enough to force the Babylonians to leave the area permanently. Though Egypt fights the Babylonians several more times, the Babylonians are able to invade Judah and force Jerusalem to surrender. This happens around 600 B.C. The king and several thousand Jews are taken prisoner and deported to the upper Tigris Euphrates valley in what now may be modern Iraq or Syria. Ezekiel is among the captives. Wars and skirmishes between the Egyptians and Babylonians continue in Canaan, with the Jews often siding with Egypt. Finally, the Babylonians sack and destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Thousands of Jews are killed, and thousands more are deported to Babylon in what is known as the Babylonian Captivity.
Thus, Ezekiel opens his book saying he is among the captives by the river Chebar. The date is around 595 B.C. The captives are those deported after Jerusalem’s surrender in 600.
He is shown a great and mysterious vision of a whirlwind churning toward him. Beside the whirlwind are wheels spinning furiously, accompanied by four enormous creatures, which are identified by various commentators as cherubim or angels. They are sent from God to open the physical veil of what we call “space” to allow Ezekiel to see into Heaven, in which a Being with the form of a man sits on a sapphire throne. Half of Him burns like fire, and behind the throne is a rainbow. Like Ezekiel, we immediately recognise the One on the throne. He is obviously God: possibly the Second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ. Seeing Him, the prophet does not have an ecstatic experience. He bows with his face in the dust; an act of humility and fear. As he falls, a voice thunders from the sky.
God commands and enables Ezekiel to stand. The man is commanded to go to the children of Israel, which are called a rebellious nation, impudent, and stiffhearted. He shall say unto them, “Thus saith the Lord.”
God does not promise that the people will receive His word, and repent of sin. He does not promise a great revival, or a happy welcome from the people. He does say they will “know that there hath been a prophet among them.” God promises to be with Ezekiel, so that he need not fear the people, and warns him not to be like them, but, instead, to be obedient and faithful.
When God is finished speaking, a hand brings a scroll to the prophet, “and there was written within and without; and there were lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” The deported people probably still hope Egyptian and Canaanite forces will combine to defeat the Babylonians. If this happens it will free the captives to return to an independent and safe Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s message will crush this hope. Jerusalem will not be spared from the Babylonians, and the deportees will not be returned to a safe and independent city any time soon.
Ez. 3, Lk. 18:1-29
Ez. 6, 2 Cor. 5
The prophet is told to eat the scroll given to him by the hand. It is as sweet as honey in the prophet’s mouth because it tells of God’s protection in the coming days when Ezekiel preaches to the Jews in captivity. He is not called to preach to the pagan people, whose language he does not know. He is called to preach to the people he knows, in his native tongue. They will not listen. They are impudent and hardhearted. But God will make Ezekiel harder than they.
The vision ends in verse14, and Ezekiel is left in bitterness (sadness) because his people will not receive the message of God. The Lord leads him to Tel-abib (15), which is another city by the Chebar, where other Jews are being held by the Babylonians. After seven days in the city, spent watching the people and waiting on the Lord to tell him what to speak, the word of the Lord comes to Him (16). This word is to the prophet, not the people (17-21). Ezekiel is warned that he will be held responsible for the blood (lives) of the people if he fails to preach the whole word of God to them. But if he is faithful, he will be innocent of their blood.
The ministers of God’s word are always accountable to Him for their words and actions. We are required to preach the word, not our own ideas of what God ought to say. We are to be faithful, even if/when the people reject us and turn to false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. This message is a recurring theme in the Bible.
Ezekiel leaves the city, apparently not told to say anything to the people in it. He walks into the plain, probably beside the river. While he is walking the creatures appear to him again, and the way is opened for him to see God on His throne in Heaven again.
Ezekiel learns he will not preach this message immediately. God will strike him dumb and they will bind him to his house. He will be unable to go among the people, and unable to speak. Only when the Spirit releases his bonds and opens his mouth will he be able to go out and speak. By this, the people will know this is a sign from God, and that Ezekiel’s words are from God. But, they will not listen. Many will probably scoff and call it a trick and an act, just as people today scoff at the sign of Jonah.
Chapters 4 and 5 record symbolic acts depicting the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Chapter 5 includes a graphic depiction of the conditions during the siege and conquest of the city, especially the horrible acts committed by starving people.
“Israel” here may refer to the northern tribes, which formed their own nation after the death of Solomon. They were conquered by, and absorbed into the Assyrian Empire, and many of the people adopted Assyrian culture and religion. Some seem to hope the Babylonians will be stopped by a coalition of Egyptian, Assyrian, and Canaanite forces. This would keep Israel from the terrible consequences of invasion and conquest. But the word of the Lord crushes this hope. Their altars and high places, where they have worshiped idols and Baals will be destroyed. Their homes will be laid waste. Their carcasses and bones will be scattered around the pagan altars, symbolising the inability of the idols to deliver them from the hand of God. But some will be left alive. Many of them will be scattered among the nations. Those left in Israel will become known as Samaritans in the time of Christ.
Most of the things in which we place our hope are as unable to help as the idols of Israel. Politicians, alliances, self-help gurus, money, and power cannot deliver us from the hand of God, nor can they build a world, or a life, of peace and security. Our only hope is God.
Ez. 7, Lk. 18:30-43
Ez. 13, 2 Cor. 6
Chapter 7 continues to foretell the destruction of Israel. Despite its conquest by Assyria, some Israelites continue to worship God. But their worship is as polluted with idolatry as the worship of the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem. Therefore, their worship is hypocrisy and unacceptable to God. He will not deliver them. They will fall to the Babylonians, just as surely as Jerusalem will fall.
There is great meaning here for people today. People often think a few pious words and good deeds, mixed into our lives are enough to please God. They go to church (or stay home and pretend to worship God in their own ways), but their hearts belong to them and their values and lives are shaped by their own desires rather than God’s word. This, essentially means they are their own gods. But God wants your whole heart. He wants your undivided love and obedience. He wants you to love Him with all of your heart, mind, and soul. This requires you to worship and live as He directs, not as you like. Anything less than perfect obedience and love makes you unfit for His fellowship. This is true for all people. In short, we are all like Israel, and our only hope is the grace of God in Christ.
Our reading and comments reach ahead to chapter 13, but reading chapters 8-12 is important and assumed. Chapter 8 describes the idolatry in Jerusalem. It is so pervasive it is even practiced in the Temple. Chapter 9 describes the destruction of Jerusalem. This chapter is particularly relevant today because the imagery of Revelation 7 comes from this chapter of Ezekiel, in which those, whose lives will be spared in the Babylonian conquest, are marked by the man with the inkhorn. In Revelation 7, those who bear the mark of Christ are spared in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. In a more spiritual sense, those who bear the mark of Christ will be spared in the final judgement, when all of God’s enemies are destroyed and His people are saved to dwell with Him forever.
The glory of the Lord leaves the Temple in chapter 10. God is saying He no longer “lives” in the Temple. It is no longer His “house.” He has moved. People have often wondered how God could allow Gentile conquerors to enter the holy of holies, where Jews are forbidden to go under pain of death. The answer is that it is no longer the holy of holies, or even a holy place. The glory of the Lord has departed, leaving it empty and profane. Let the “churches” and “Christians” today take heed. It is amazingly easy to leave the Biblical faith, and become a synagogue of Satan.
Chapter 11 rebukes evil civil authorities. It is a passage that should be read often by both the rulers and the ruled.. It also promises restoration and forgiveness. Chapter 12 gives symbols of the fall and captivity of the Jewish people.
Chapter 13 turns to the false prophets who have encouraged Israel to embrace idolatry and immorality. They have spoken lies in the name of God. They have preached peace when there is no peace. They have promised deliverance from enemies, and a new era of peace and prosperity for Jerusalem. Their words have built a “wall” around Jerusalem (10). But the wall only exists in their words. God will destroy the wall, meaning their lies and false security. And with it will fall the physical wall of Jerusalem.
The prophetesses, too, have spoken lies. Their words have strengthened the hands of the wicked (22), rather than calling them to repent. To deliver the people from their hand is to destroy the prophetesses. They will see no more vanity (false visions) or divinations (false revelations), because they will be gone, destroyed in the conquest (23).
Ez. 14, Lk 19:1-28
Ez. 18:1-18, 2 Cor. 7
As already noted, the Jews have combined the faith taught in the Old Testament with the various pagan religions practiced by the other nations around them. They worship God. They offer the sacrifices and keep the various religious festivals and ceremonies required by the law. But they also worship others gods, and see no contradiction in this. They hear the priests read “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” yet in the Temple of the Lord, these same priests also offer prayers and sacrifices to Egyptian, Babylonian, and Canaanite idols. They see no problem with consulting the prophets of Baal, and the prophets of God, when making important decisions or seeking spiritual direction. They think this is good and wise. God does not. The first 11 verses of chapter 14 are God’s word to such people. God says He will deceive the prophets, meaning, He will allow the prophets to continue in ignorance and self-deception, so when they see visions and revelations they will not be from God nor will they be accurate or true. Thus, the prophets will deceive the people. The idolaters who also seek the prophets of God will be cut off, and the false prophets will be punished.
This should cause Christians to pause and ask ourselves a few serious questions. Is our faith in God, or in the world? Do we get our values and views and morals from the Bible or from the world? It seems the Church is so excited about the world’s culture, music, and fads, we forget that we are not to form our lives by them. It seems that our lives and values are often shaped more by the world than by the word. Can we really believe God will bless us in this?
The heart of this passage is clearly stated in verse 4, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” A lengthy summation of the sins of the people is given, as is the promise that those who are not guilty of them will not be punished with the wicked. The Lord is saying the fall of Jerusalem, and the suffering of the people, is not due to the sins of past generations. Yes, the fathers committed such sins eagerly, but the people of Ezekiel’s generation commit the same sins with the same zeal and the same disregard for God as the previous generations. Therefore, it is for their own sins that they will suffer. It is for their own sins that Jerusalem will fall, and all the calamities of war will crush the people. They had, and continue to have, the opportunity to repent, but they continue in sin, and they will bear their own punishment for it.
Ez. 18:19-32, Lk. 19:29-48
Ez. 33:1-20, 2 Cor. 8
The point of this passage is the mercy of God. He will not punish the current generation for the sins of their ancestors. Nor will He withhold forgiveness from those who repent of sin and return to Him. But He will punish the wicked. Those who remain in their sin, and those who leave God to dwell in sin will be punished. This does not mean those who have true, Biblical faith, as evidenced by holy living and Godliness, will lose their salvation if they sin. It means those who leave God, no matter how “good” their lives appeared, and no matter how sincere their faith appeared, are no longer part of God’s people, and no longer under His protection under the terms of the Covenant with Israel. They are, in their thoughts and ways, Gentiles, and will be treated as such by God. This is as true of God’s New Testament Israel as it is of His Old Testament Israel.
The warning to Ezekiel (1-9) is necessary because the opposition of the people toward his message has the potential for turning violent. Even without violence, he will be scoffed at and badly treated. There will be little or no positive response to his preaching. Under such conditions, he will be tempted to stop preaching. Most true ministers face the same temptation sometimes. They rarely have megachurches, and are scoffed at by the ministers and congregants of the larger churches or liberal denominations. They pray and preach, and labour in the word, and their work goes mostly unheeded by the world, and the “Christians” who want more exciting, “upbeat” and “relevant” sermons and churches. But, like Ezekiel, they are set as watchmen to warn the people of the coming destruction by preaching the pure and undiluted word of God. If they fail to do their duty, they are as guilty of the blood of the people as the false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Verses 10-20 repeat God’s willingness to forgive sinners. The Jews are in grave danger. In less than ten years Jerusalem will be sacked and most of her people will be dead. But they still have time to repent, and if they do, this disaster will be averted. But the Jews are like a righteous man who turns away from God and embraces terrible wickedness. As long as they persist in their sin, they are without hope.
Ezekiel 33:21-33, Lk. 20
Ezekiel 34, 2 Cor. 9
The date of the first part of this chapter is unknown. The date of the part beginning at verse 21 is known. It is 586 B.C., for the news reaches Ezekiel and the deportees in the Chebar region of upper Mesopotamia that Jerusalem has been conquered (21).
The news causes an immediate crisis of faith. The people essentially accuse God of breaking His promise. In their minds, they have not sinned. They have kept the ceremonies and offered the sacrifices, just as the Law commands. The land of Canaan was given to them by God forever, they thought (24). But now it is conquered, its people are dead, and even the Temple of God is destroyed. Since they are “good” in their own minds, the destruction and loss must be because either God is unable to resist the power of the Babylonian gods, or, He simply does not keep His promises. They conveniently forget that the land is given to them conditionally. It is theirs only as long as they continue in the Covenant, and the covenant requires much more than ceremonies and dead sheep. It requires faithfulness to God with an undivided heart (Ps. 51). The Jews have not kept the Covenant in their hearts, therefore, God is under no obligation to keep it either. This is why Jerusalem has fallen.
The shepherds of Israel have failed. They are the religious and civil servants of Israel, placed in positions of authority for the protection and good of the people. But they have turned from shepherds into consumers. They no longer seek the lost, care for the sick, or provide for the spiritual and worldly peace and prosperity of the flock. They use the flock for their own benefit. The take the wool for their garments, and they eat the sheep for meat. This means they use their positions to enrich themselves instead of to benefit the people. They are very similar to the politicians, socialists, crony capitalists, and false religious teachers in America, and to the religious, political, and financial “elite” of every nation, who enrich themselves at the expense of the people. The flock (people) has become the prey of the shepherds (8).
But God will deliver His flock (10). We must remember that this promise is to the people of God, which we may call His Church, consisting of Israel in the Old Testament, and the Christian Church in the New Testament eras. The primary meaning in this chapter is that the current shepherds of Israel will be destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem. This literally happened when the Babylonians killed most of the the priests and prophets, and even the political leaders, after conquering Jerusalem in 586.
God Himself will be their Shepherd when He opens the way for the conquered Jews to return to Jerusalem after the fall of Babylon to the Persians and their king, Cyrus in 536. These words make us think of Christ gathering His Church out of all the nations of the earth and making them one flock with Himself as the Good Shepherd. They also make us think of that promised day when all of our enemies will be conquered and the people of God inherit the earth.
The remainder of the prophecy of Jeremiah refers primarily to the restoration of the Jews after their release from Babylon in 536 B.C. The famous valley of the dry bones in chapter 37 is an illustration of this. The bones represent Israel, dead, scattered, and dry. Through the word of God, they are brought together and given flesh and life. So shall Israel be when God returns her to the promised land. Chapters 40-43 foretell the rebuilding of the Temple, and the glory of the Lord returning to the Temple, along with also instructions for the conduct of worship. Laws regarding the prince and civil government are given in 43-46, with added instructions to the priests in 44:9-31.
Chapter 47 gives a beautiful picture of the abundance of the presence of God flowing out of the Temple in the form of a river. This image will be used many other times in the Bible, most notably by Christ (Jn. 7:38). The latter part of 47, and extending into chapter 48, tells the returning captives how the land is to be divided. Thus, Ezekiel ends with a message of hope. The devastation of Jerusalem is not the end of God’s mercy, or of His plan to bring the Saviour into the world through Israel. He will bring the Jews out of Babylon and they will dwell again in Israel. Babylon, and all the kingdoms of the world, are but passing phases in history, but God and His Kingdom are forever, and those who dwell in it by faith will be with Him eternally.
Daniel 1, Lk. 21
Dan. 2:1-23, 2 Cor. 10
The book of Daniel was written over the course of several decades during the Babylonian Captivity, and into the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians. It records and interprets many of the events of this period, and predicts and interprets the rise and fall of four great empires, between the time of Daniel and the birth of the Messiah.
Daniel was born in Jerusalem and deported around 600 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar forced Jerusalem to surrender and moved about ten thousand of her people to various places in his empire, where he thought they could not cause trouble. Daniel was taken to the capital city, Babylon (1-3).
Nebuchadnezzar intended to make Babylonians of his conquered people, thus Daniel and other young men were selected to be educated in the religion and culture of Babylon (4-7). Daniel’s decision in verse 8 is about more than meat and wine. It is a decision to remain true to God and Israel rather than become a Babylonian. The other Jews sided with Daniel. Yet they excelled in learning and skill, and became favourites in the court. Their understanding of times and events far exceeded that of the Babylonian astrologers and religious leaders. Even the king began to favour them (19).
The king’s dream is about the empires between the time of Daniel and the Messiah. By giving Daniel the understanding of the dream God shows His glory to His people, and gives them an incentive to return to Him rather than become assimilated into the pagan culture. Notice that Daniel remains separated from the culture, rather than joining it. This is an important message to Christians who desire to adapt themselves to the pop culture that is rapidly engulfing the world.
Dan. 2:24-49, Lk. 22:1-31
Dan. 3, 2 Cor. 11
The king dreams of a fantastic creature, described in verses 31-35. The various parts of the creature represent empires. The first is Babylon. We know this because Daniel identifies it in verse 38. The others include the Persians, Medes, Greeks, and Romans. Some Bible scholars believe the Persians and Medes are represented as one empire. Others believe the Greeks and Romans are represented as one empire, since the Romans considered themselves the heirs of the Greek culture and Empire. Thus the creature could represent the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire. Or it could represent the Babylonian, Medo, Persian, and Greco-Roman empires. I have often thought that the Grecian and Roman Empires are symbolised together in the feet of clay, but I also see how the dream could combine the Medes and Persians. Either way, the Empire of God is established in the Roman era (44).
We all know how this happened. The Messiah was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, and He began to call people into the Kingdom of God. He said that, in Him, the Kingdom of God is at hand, meaning present and able to be entered. Those who know Him by faith have entered His Kingdom, and it will never pass away. The creature does not symbolise current nations, such as China, Russia, or the United States.
Here we have the famous account of the fiery furnace. Most people know the story, yet they miss its point, which is stated in verse 18. The reason these young men are sentenced to be burned to death is their refusal to bow to an idol, according to a law enacted by Nebuchadnezzar. The image and the law are part of Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to unify his empire. He has already gathered boys from the conquered nations, to raise in the palace, where they were to be instructed and raised in the history, religion, and political system of Babylon. This would have the effect of Babylonianising them. They would then become missionaries of Babylonianism to their people, gradually uniting the entire body of conquered peoples into one. Since the peoples had their own national gods, Nebuchadnezzar wanted one god to be worshiped by all as a unifying factor. He did not require people to stop worshiping their other gods. He only wanted them to worship his idol too. Most had no problem with this because they were already polytheistic, and adding another god to their pantheon was easy. But the Jewish boys, led by Daniel, made a compact not to become Babylonianised, which included not worshiping Babylonian idols. Knowing it will probably cost their lives, they openly refuse to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and are brought to the furnace to die.
Before having them burned to death, Nebuchadnezzar gives them a chance to save themselves by worshiping the idol. Their answer is simple and courageous. They will not worship the idol. God may save them from the fire, or He may allow them to suffer a horrible tortuous death. Either way, they will not worship the image.
This is the real heart and message of this chapter. They were faithful, even in the face of death. The message is not that God always delivers people, if they have enough faith. Surely the Apostles had enough faith, yet they died as martyrs for Christ. The message is that the truly faithful remain faithful at all costs, even the cost of their own lives.
Dan. 4, Lk. 22:32-71
Dan. 5, 2 Cor 12
Nebuchadnezzar has another dream, which Daniel interprets for him. He will be cast out of the palace and live like an animal. Even his mind will be deranged during this time, which will last for seven times, meaning seven years (23). All of this happens as Daniel says (28-34).
Because of this experience, Nebuchadnezzar worships the King of Heaven (37). This does not mean he becomes a Jew, which would be the natural result of a true conversion to God. It means he adds the God of Daniel to his collection of religions and gods. He may acknowledge God as the High God and king of all the gods. But he is not, and never seems to become a believer in God alone. This account of the event is given by Nebuchadnezzar after it ends, and it is noteworthy that he says the spirit of the holy gods is in Daniel (8). But Daniel’s inclusion of the account, is not meant to convert Nebuchadnezzar. It is meant to strengthen the faith of the Jews. Most of them probably worshiped the idol Nebuchadnezzar created. They, like the other conquered peoples, simply added the image to the many gods they already worshiped, for idolatry was one of their primary sins. This debasing of the one they believed was the most powerful man in the world, as foretold by Daniel, at least reminds them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is able to raise up people and nations, and to cast them down at will (35).
We come now to the hand writing on the wall, a passage so familiar it has become proverbial. Nebuchadnezzar has died, and the Empire has passed to his grandson, Belshazzar (verse 11 uses the word “father” to denote an ancestor in the same way the Jews would call Abraham their father). Belshazzar gives a party, which is nothing more than a pagan, drunken orgy, during which he orders the holy vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem to be brought before him so he can drink from them. This is meant as an extremely arrogant boast, as though he is saying the God of the Jews, if He exists, is too weak or uncaring to do anything to Belshazzar. We see this same attitude in many people in the Bible, even among the Jewish people.
But God proves Belshazzar wrong. A hand supernaturally appears and writes words on the wall that neither Belshazzar, nor any of his wise men understand. The queen reminds him that Daniel was able to help his grandfather, and the king sends for Daniel, who interprets the writing.
The news is not good. Belshazzar’s kingdom will be taken from him. He is murdered that very night and Darius the Mede takes over the empire.
Dan. 6, Lk. 23
Dan. 7. 2 Cor. 13
Daniel again finds himself in the forefront of empire leadership. Darius is a skilled organiser who divides the empire into provinces and appoints governors (princes) to rule them. He also appoints something like a board of supervisors (presidents) over the princes, and Daniel is the first president, or chairman of the board. The others are jealous. No doubt, people being what they are, the presidents and princes would have abused their people and used their power for personal enrichment rather than the benefit of the king and the empire. But Daniel seems to be a diligent and able overseer, ensuring that the rulers do justice. The rulers also want Daniel’s position, so they plot to get him removed (5).
An emperor cult is the heart of their plot. It will unify the empire because it will have all the people worshiping Darius. It will flatter the emperor, and it will trap Daniel, because he will not worship Darius. Forced worship of emperors, kings and queens, and the state or nation, have often been used to unify political entities and persecute minorities. The Romans used it against the Church, and many nations and churches today function as personality cults.
The plot has its desired result, and Daniel is thrown to the lions for praying to God (16, 17). We all know Daniel was saved by God, and his accusers were fed to the lions. Darius adds Daniel’s God to the pantheon of deities worshiped in the empire, calling God the living God whose kingdom will not end (26).
This passage is not a promise that God will deliver His people from all afflictions in this life, if they have enough faith. Many, with great and steadfast faith have died in lion’s dens, or were otherwise martyred in the cause of Christ. Not even the Apostles live forever on earth. The promise of God is not for peace, health, and prosperity in this life. It is that He is with us in our troubles, and He is preparing a place for us where there are no more troubles, and we will walk with Him in complete fellowship forever.
The book turns again to the time of Belshazzar when Daniels sees a vision of four beasts, representing four empires which rise and fight over the land of Israel. Each beast rises to great power, only to fall into decay and be conquered by the next. The beasts represent the Babylonian, Medo, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Here again, either the Medes and Persians, or the Greeks and Romans are symbolised by a single beast.
During the fourth empire, the kingdom of the Ancient of Days will be established (9), and the Son of Man will come forth to establish a Kingdom which will never pass away (13, 14). We know the Son of Man as Jesus our Saviour, born of Mary, crucified under Pilate, risen from the dead, and ascended into Heaven where He reigns until all things are put under His feet.
We should not become distracted by attempts to sort out the empires represented by the beasts. Especially, we should not be mislead by attempts to apply the symbolism to contemporary nations, such as the United States of America and Russia. Instead we should focus on the primary emphasis of the passage, which is the glorious promise of the birth of the Messiah and the establishment of His Church during the reign of the fourth empire. Other empires will come and go. They will be powerful, and often, viciously antagonistic toward God’s people, like the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. Their glory will fade and they will pass away. But the Kingdom of the Son of Man will never end, and it will be a Kingdom of grace for people of all nations and tribes to dwell in by faith.
Dan. 8, Lk. 24
Dan. 9, Galatians 1
Still in the days of Belshazzar, Daniel has another vision. A ram is butting at things toward the west, north, and south. One of its horns is larger than the other. The smaller horn represents the Medes; the larger horn is Persia. Thus, the ram is a symbol of the growing Medo-Persian empire. The goat with one horn is Alexander the Great and his army, which conquers the Medo-Persian army and takes possession of their empire.
The goats horn is broken off, signifying the death of Alexander. Four smaller horns grow in its place, representing the division of the Grecian Empire. One of the horns waxes exceeding great toward the south east, and toward Israel, which is described as the pleasant land. Thus, Israel comes under Grecian rule, which turns to terrible and bloody tyranny after Alexander’s death. Stamping the host of heaven refers to the harsh treatment of Israel by the Greeks, and to the destruction of the Temple and murder of the priests in 167 B.C. All of this is explained in verses 15-26.
Daniel is moved to pray while reading Jeremiah’s words (2). During his prayer Gabriel is sent to tell him about the Kingdom of the Messiah (22). In their first application, the angel’s words refer to the destruction of the second Temple. The first was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Israel. But the Jews who return to Jerusalem when Cyrus releases them from Babylon rebuild the Temple. It is much smaller and plainer than the original, but it is still the Temple, and many faithful Jews rejoice to worship there. Antiochus, one of the rulers of the Grecian Empire, is especially harsh toward the Jews. He forbids traditional Jewish dress, and many Jewish customs. He especially curtails Biblical worship. When the Jews resist, more out of political than religious concerns, Antiochus crushes Jerusalem and destroys the Temple (26), just as Nebuchadnezzar had done before him.
In their second, and more important application, Gabriel’s words look forward to the work of Christ, who makes reconciliation for iniquity and brings in everlasting righteousness by His death and resurrection (24). Our Lord refers to this chapter when He tells the disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 (Mt. 24:15, 16). Much of the book of Revelation deals with this same event.
Dan. 10, John 1:1-28
Dan. 11 Gal. 2
Daniel now lives under the rule of the Persian Empire and its king, Cyrus. The vision in this chapter reminds Daniel of the earlier visions, in which the pagan empires wax and wane. Babylon is gone. Persia rules in her place, but Grecia (Greece) will soon conquer the Persians and rule the area (20).
The setting now is in the reign of Darius the Mede. The Medo empire is great and powerful, but a “mighty king,” Alexander the Great of Greece, conquers it and rules it according to his will (3). The Grecian Empire divides after Alexander’s death, and soon falls into internal conflict as the rulers of various areas fight to gain control of the complete empire. How wicked of them to cause such death and devastation, when they could easily have worked together to allow people to live in peace in an empire that stretched from the central Mediterranean to India.
The king of the south (5) is the ruler of Egypt, and the king of the north (6) is the ruler of the Tigris, Euphrates region. Specifically they are former generals in Alexander’s army, Ptolomy and Selucus. The remainder of the chapter foretells the continuing wars of them and their successors, until their bankrupt and demoralised provinces are conquered by, and absorbed into the Roman Empire.
Verses 20-24 are about the Greek control of Israel during this era of war. Specifically, they tell of Antiochus, who will gain control of Jerusalem and attempt to turn the Jews into Greeks. When some Jews rebel, Antiochus sacks the city and demolishes the Temple in retaliation.
Dan. 12, Jn. 1:29
Hosea 1, Gal. 3
The vision of this chapter is given to secure the faith of the Jews who will suffer and die in the persecution and destruction rained upon them by Antiochus. It shows that, even in that dark time, God will give His angels charge over them, and even the archangel will stand over them to strengthen and protect Israel from total annihilation. The prophet is allowed to see into the distant future, when the Lord will raise the dead and His Kingdom of righteousness will be fully realised upon the earth. All of His enemies will be judged, and His people will inherit the earth.
Christ’s Church has much more light on this subject. Though the nations persecute it, and internal strife divides it, yet it will not be destroyed, even as Israel was not destroyed by Babylon or Greece. Not even mighty Rome can stamp out the faith. Therefore, this vision strengthens the New Testament Israel as surely as it strengthens the Old Testament Israel, by foreshadowing the final victory of God’s Kingdom on earth, and the resurrection of His people into everlasting peace. There is much to be endured. Babylons and Romes will always persecute. People will suffer, and the earth will run with blood. But the enemies of God will be raised to everlasting sorrow. Those who are faithful, even unto death will be raised to new life in His Kingdom.
Joel 1, John 7:1-32
Joel 2:1-14, Eph. 5
Very little is known about Joel the man, but his book is one of the most influential works in all of Scripture. Amos, Isaiah, Peter, and John all knew and quoted Joel, and the ideas found in his book are found in most of the prophets after him. He is probably from Jerusalem, where he spends much of his time teaching and preaching, possibly in or near the Temple during the time of king Uzziah (767-740 B.C.).
His book begins with a vivid description of a locust plague which nearly destroys Judah. Bible students, from ancient to modern times have wondered whether the locusts are meant literally, or are symbolic of invading armies, which God will allow to harass, and eventually destroy Judah and Jerusalem. But there is no reason why the locusts cannot be both literal and symbolic, and Joel himself seems to speak of them in both senses throughout his book. It is as though the locusts are the harbinger of the invading armies God will bring to Israel if the the people do not repent of sin and return to sincere devotion to God through the spirit and the letter of the Covenant. The invading armies will come from the north, like the locusts, indicating the succession of empires that will conquer and control the Israelite people. Greece is specifically mentioned for buying Jews as slaves (3:6), and the captivity and scattering of Judah and Jerusalem (3:1, 3) presage the conquest and deportation of the people by the Babylonians. In Joel’s time Greece is a disorganised collection of city states, mostly fighting other Greeks, and Babylon is under the yoke of Assyria. Isaiah is greatly influenced by Joel, and his prophecies foretell northern empires from Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, as do other prophets, like Jeremiah and Daniel. This makes Joel’s work foundational for understanding the events and plan of God from the time of Uzziah (ca.750 B.C) to the first advent of Christ. It is the first warning of the disasters that will come if Judah continues in her sins.
Because the people are deep in sin, God calls Judah to repent. Blow the trumpet as an alarm (1), but also as a call to prayer (15).
As an alarm, it warns of an invading army. Indeed, Jerusalem has already been invaded. The locusts have invaded the land, but idolatry and hypocrisy have invaded the people’s hearts. As an alarm the trumpet is also a call to arms; a call to fight this inward enemy, which is devouring their souls.
As a call to prayer it calls the people back to God through serious and sincere fasting and penance. It calls them to true faith and love of God rather than lukewarm faith and a half-hearted, casual attitude toward God.
Joel 2:15-32, Jn.7:33-53
Joel 3, Eph. 6
The symbolic nature of the locusts is seen in 2:17. The people are made to understand that they represent foreign invaders, thus they are told to beseech God not to allow heathen peoples to rule over them.
God will answer their prayers by pouring out on them all the Covenant blessings He has promised in Scripture. He will forgive their sins, and bless them as though they have kept the Covenant with all their heart. He will pour out His Spirit upon them (28-32), by whom they will walk more closely with God and more fully in His fellowship. But God knows they will not repent. Therefore, just as clouds of locusts blot out the sun and moon, the dust of invaders’ feet will join the smoke of burning villages and cities to make the sun go dark. The bloodshed will be so terrible it will be as though the moon itself runs red with Jewish blood. All of this will happen before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes, but, whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
The day of the Lord is not a single day. It is an era of God’s grace extending to humanity. It also includes His wrath. His grace encompasses all who call upon Him in Biblical faith. His wrath encompasses all who do not. Like the days we are familiar with, it begins in darkness moves into the pre-dawn, to morning, and to full sun. It begins in the darkness of Genesis 3:15. It moves into the pre-dawn light of the Covenants and the Law. It grows brighter in the prophets, and moves to sunrise in the advent of the Saviour and His Spirit. The full and everlasting noontime glory will only be seen when our Lord returns to fully conquer every enemy and bring His everlasting Kingdom of righteousness to complete fulfillment. Thus, we, who know the Lord, live in the Day of the Lord, but its full glory is not yet present.
As repeated by other prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, God will not allow the enemies of His people to go unpunished. He may allow them to oppress His people, but their sins are still sins (3), and they will not go unpunished. He will gather the nations and visit them in His wrath (2). He will recover His people from among them and return them to Jerusalem, where they will have yet another opportunity to return to His Covenant and be His people (1).
The ultimate gathering of His people is His gathering His Church from among all the nations of the earth into that Kingdom where there is no more Jew or Gentile, and all are one in Christ. We are in the early dawn of that era now, but, one day, the Lord will bring His work to full completion, and His people will inherit the earth and worship Him as one.
Amos 1, Jn. 8:1-20
Amos 2, Philippians 1
Amos is from Judah, but he is called to minister in and around Bethel in Israel. He is of humble means, earning a meagre living herding sheep and working in sycamore fig orchards for other people. He is not a priest, nor is he a student of a prophet. His theological education is that received by all Hebrew boys, taught by the local priests to read and write by reading the Scriptures in Hebrew, and being instructed in their meaning as he reads and hears the Scriptures read and expounded every Sabbath. He probably has the Psalms, and long passages of Scripture, memorised, as do many Jewish youths of his era.
He is called to the ministry of the prophet during the reign of Uzziah (783-742) in Judah, and Jeroboam II (786-746) of Israel (the people divided into two separate nations after the death of Solomon. The northern kingdom called itself Israel while the southern kingdom was called Judah).
He begins with sermons about the nations around Israel and Judah. They have been in almost constant war with the Hebrews, and Amos foretells their doom. Damascus, an area north and east of the Sea of Galilee, has gone through Gilead like threshers through a wheat field (3). Gaza, still known today as the Gaza strip, has captured Jews and sold them as slaves to Edom (6). Tyrus, Edom, Ammon, and Moab are guilty of similar crimes against the Hebrews, and also face punishment from God.
The world continues to abuse God’s people today. At the same time, it ridicules the Bible, flaunts its unbelief, and glorifies its sin. But the Day of the Lord is coming when God will give the earth to His people, and His enemies will go into everlasting sorrow. Thus we pray for our enemies; not just that we may be freed of their oppression, but that they may be converted and escape the eternal prison of hell.
Even Judah will face God's wrath because of her many and egregious sins. Since Amos is preaching in Israel, his sermons against the Gentiles, and against the Jews of Judah are welcomed by the Israelites. But in verse 6 the prophet begins to address the sins of Israel.
Their sins toward one another are hardly less wicked than the Gentiles’ have been against them. They use the courts and governing powers to take the lands and incomes of people, then pay them poorly when they are forced to work for them, keeping them in poverty and dependance. Additionally, they have adopted pagan idolatry, with its accompanying practices of sexual immorality. They do all of this while outwardly worshiping God and offering the sacrifices commanded in the Law. Verse 8 refers to their participation in the drunken orgies that passed as worship among the pagans.
Verses 13-16 foretell military defeat. The warriors of Israel will be unable to fight, as though the people have lost their will to do anything but indulge themselves in their luxuries. But they are also unable to flee from their enemies. It often happens that, as people increase in wealth, they want to devote their lives to the pleasures of luxury and ease. They lose the desire to do the work necessary to run and defend their nation, or do anything but indulge their passions as much as they are financially able. Thus, they become easy targets of other aggressive nations around them.
The same can happen in the Church. A comfortable Church becomes more concerned about enjoying her comforts than serving Christ. The people want sermons about how Christ makes them happy rather than about taking up their crosses and following Christ. Such a Church almost always takes more of its doctrines and practices from the world than from the Bible. The evidence of this is easily seen in the vast majority of the radio and TV preachers, and in the majority of local congregations today.
October 28, Saint Simon and Saint Jude
Simon and Jude were Apostles who helped establish and extend the Lord’s Church. Little is known of them, but an ancient tradition says they took the Gospel to the Tigris Euphrates valley, where they established churches and shared the words of life in Christ until martyred for their service.
Amos 3, Jn. 9
Amos 4, Phil. 3
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” This is God question to Israel in verse 3. The obvious answer is, “no.” One will go one way; the other will go another way. God is saying Israel is not walking with God because she is not in agreement with Him about the things that really matter in life and faith. Israel’s values are worldly. The goal of her people is to get wealth by any means, and to enjoy it as much as possible. They hate the Gentiles, but, in their hearts and minds, they are just like the Gentiles, even down to the gods they worship.
Samaria (vss. 9-13), about 50 miles north and east of Jerusalem, is the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. It is a walled city with a large army, and its people consider themselves secure. But God, through Amos, calls her enemies to witness her fall. In a very short time the Assyrian army will conquer the city.
Bashan is known for its abundant pastures and well fed sheep and cattle. God calls the people of Israel “kine” (sheep and cattle) of Bashan, meaning well fed, lazy, and ready for slaughter. God’s past actions and warnings have not roused the people from their spiritual stupor, so they continue on their way to destruction like Sodom and Gomorra.
Amos 5, Jn. 10:1-21
Amos 6, Phil. 4
“The virgin of Israel is fallen,” (5:2). The “virgin” is not a person, she is the entire nation of Israel. Rather than keeping herself pure for God, she has become a fallen woman, who gives herself to every god and idol for pleasure. She has gone to Bethel and Gilgal to find her lovers. Once revered and holy places, they have become centres of pagan worship and debauchery (Hos. 4:15). God says the idols in these places will not be able to save her from His wrath. Rather than resorting to them, Israel should seek God, who promises, “Seek me, and ye shall live” (4-6).
Verse 7 begins a long and devastating list of the sins of Israel. She hates the words of Godly people (him that speaketh uprightly, 10). The rich and powerful increase their wealth and power by “treading upon the poor” and “afflicting the just.” With ill-gotten gains, they build mansions of hewed stones and pleasant vineyards by which they expect to indulge themselves with beauty and luxury. They use the legal system to enforce their theft and abuse through corrupt judges and courts bought with bribes. The “gate” is the place where the religious and civil authorities gather to hear the cases and charges against the people, like our courthouses today. Rather than securing the rights of the people, they turn aside (rule against) the poor, who cannot afford to bribe them. People live in obvious and open opposition to the righteousness of God, yet they offer Him sacrifices and attend the assemblies called for by the Law, as though there is no contradiction between their lives and the will of God.
God’s word to them is, “I hate, I despise your feast days (such as Passover).” He does not accept their sacrifices, or regard their peace offerings (22). This means God does not forgive their sins. Why not? Their peace offerings insincere. They are not accompanied by repentance and faith. They are offered in the belief that God is satisfied with dead sheep and does not care when they return to their corruption and sin. Instead of offerings and phony religious acts, God instructs them to keep the moral law as eagerly as they keep the laws regarding sacrifices and religious observances. He does not negate the ceremonial law, or the observances and functions He commanded in it. He does say that without the moral law, kept out of love for God and God’s people, the ceremonial law will not make them right with God. Therefore, let the people repent of their sins: “let judgement [justice] run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (24). But Israel will not repent. Therefore God will allow her enemies to conquer her, and her people will be taken into other countries as captives (27).
The folly of trusting military and political power is well expressed in verse 1. Samaria is the capital of Israel, the home of the king and the army. But they cannot save Israel, for her problems are not political or military, they are spiritual. If kings and armies could solve problems, the conquered cities of Calneh, Hamath, and Gath would be free and prosperous (2). Yet Israel trusts her politicians, and, while her people grow fat and weak by indulging their dreams of luxury (3-6), an enemy grows stronger and will come upon them in fierce and deadly invasion. God will deliver up Samaria and all that is in it (8-11). He will “raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the Lord the God hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath unto the river of the wilderness” or, as we might say today, from one end of your country to the other.
Amos 7, Jn. 10:22-
Amos 8, Colossians 1
The Lord postpones the punishment of Israel, called “Jacob” in verse 3, in answer to the mournful prayer of Amos. The prophet, understanding that the Lord intends to make a complete end of Israel as part of His people, is both shocked and moved to beg for mercy.
The plumbline (7) measures the straightness of a house or wall. Here it shows that Israel is like a house whose walls lean dangerously. The vision is meant to show Amos how far Israel has gone away from God and into sin. She is beyond repair. She will collapse under the weight of her wickedness. She will be unprepared for the day of battle, and she will perish by the sword of her invaders.
Amaziah (10-17) is a priest at Bethel. Since there are pagan shrines there, he could be a pagan priest, or a priest of God who has embraced diversity by allowing and worshiping idols. Either way, he resents and resists the preaching of Amos, and goes to the king to report the words of Amos. He clearly wants the king to use his power to silence Amos. The inclusive, diverse elite always want to silence everyone who does not fit their idea of inclusiveness and diversity. They demand absolute uniformity in their inclusive and diverse world.
He tells Amos to go back to Judah, the southern kingdom, and preach against Israel there. They will welcome such preaching (12, 13). Amos’ answer is that he did not learn his message by following another prophet. He speaks only out of faithfulness to God, and a desire to see Israel strong, safe, and blessed by God. For this reason he will not be quiet; he continues to tell Israel of her coming disaster, hoping she will repent and be saved. Why does the true Church today expose the failed policies and practices of the world? Because we love people and desire to see them embrace God and all His blessings.
The basket of summer fruit image is similar to that of the kine of Bashan in chapter 4. There, God was saying Israel is like a fattened cow ready for slaughter. Here He is saying she is like ripe fruit ready to be picked and devoured by her enemies. God never stops reminding the people of their guilt, and verses 4-6 reiterate the abuse of Israelite upon Israelite in opposition to the the known moral demands of God’s Law, which the people pretend to believe and to which they swear allegiance in the Sabbath liturgies. Instead of securing freedom and peace for all, some have joined forces to take control of the positions of power in order to gain wealth and security for themselves and their cronies, very similar to what is happening in most of the nations of the world today. The poor and the weak always suffer under such conditions, no matter how many promises the politicians make in their attempts to persuade the poor to vote for them. They buy and sell the poor for silver, and give them the scraps and refuse of the wheat.
They will pay for this. Their false gods (sin of Samaria and god of Dan, vs. 14) cannot save them, and their false worship of God does not deceive Him. Verses 8-14 warn of God’s coming wrath upon them; “they shall fall, and never rise up again.”
True to His word, the northern Israelites were conquered, dispersed, and absorbed into the pagan culture of their conquerors. They have never risen up again in a way that identifies them as the people of God.