November 1, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, November 1-7
November 1 All Saints Day
What is a saint? According to some, any dead Christian a saint. Thus we hear people talk about “sainted” relatives and friends. Others say a saint is a person who has died, made it through “Purgatory,” and reached Heaven. Still others say a saint is a person specifically designated with the title by an official or council of their church.
The Bible presents a different definition of a saint. In its pages, a saint is any person who is reconciled to God through the redeeming work of Christ. When God the Son became a Man, He lived and died and rose again on planet earth. He died in our places, bearing in Himself the suffering and death our sins deserve. Because He died for our sins, we are no longer under the sentence of hell for them.
He also gives His righteousness to us. A great, spiritual transaction has taken place. He has transferred our debts (sins) from our account to His, and He has paid for them in full on the cross. He has transferred His righteousness to our accounts. Therefore, we are no longer regarded as sinners by God. We are regarded as just. We have been “justified.”
There is yet another aspect of this transaction. It happens inside the believer, and it is a change in the life-orientation of the whole person. Our thoughts, values, actions, and desires are changed and changing. We are being enabled to desire God more, and desire sin less. This transformation continues throughout our lives on this earth, and is called, “sanctification.”
People who are justified and sanctified no longer belong to hell, the world, or even to themselves. They have been set aside for God. They are God’s people. The Bible calls these people, “holy.” It also calls them “saints,” and often addresses them as “saints and faithful brethren,” as in Colossians 1:2. So the real definition of a saint is a person who has been forgiven of sin and set aside to live a holy life with God, now and for all eternity.
On All Saints Day, we remember those who have gone before us in the faith. Some of their names and deeds are household words. Some are remembered only in Heaven. It is good to learn of their faith and their faithfulness, to see how they resisted sin and withstood the indulgent, self-absorbed culture that has been the enemy of faith in all ages. Through their examples we may be encouraged to resist it in our own time and culture. But let us never forget that such persons are not saints because a man or council of people officially declared them so. They are saints because God has made them holy through Christ.
Amos 9, Jn. 11:1-29
Obadiah, Col. 2
Amos closes by re-emphasising the two main points of all prophetic books. First is the warning of punishment for disobedience. Israel has left the Covenant and gone so far from God it is virtually no different from the Gentile nations around it. Since they are so much like the Gentiles, they will be treated as Gentiles. God will break the house of Israel, and there will be no place for them to escape from Him (1-6). They will be invaded, conquered, and scattered throughout the nations as captives.
Yet, purely out of His free grace, and purely because He chooses to do so, God will not allow all Israelites to be destroyed. Some will be spared and allowed to remain in Israel. Others will be returned to their homeland after the time of captivity through the benevolent policies of Cyrus of Persia (11-15). Though Israel will not exist as an identifiable nation, nor will it join with Judah politically or spiritually, there is a hint here that individual Israelites will return to God and be included in the restored Davidic kingdom (11). The true Son of David will bring many of them, along with believing Gentiles (12) into the true Israel and Kingdom of God through His cross. We see some of this in Christ’s dealing with the woman at the well and the people in her town. In the time of Christ they were called Samaritans. In the time of Amos they were Israelites. Thus Amos ends with a promise of mercy that is both undeserved and unsought by Israel. Such mercy is the only hope for any person to be saved.
Jonah 1, Jn. 11:30-
Jonah 2, Col. 3
Israel had a very complex relationship with her Gentile neighbors. She admired their wealth and self-indulgent lifestyles, which were fully endorsed and supported by their idolatrous religions. She adopted and fully participated in their pagan culture and religion. She also considered herself morally and religiously superior to the Gentiles because she also worshipped God and was God’s chosen people. By Jonah’s time, at least 400 years have passed since Israel conquered Canaan. The centuries have been marked by almost constant fighting with the Gentile people, though Israel often allied with some Gentiles against other Gentiles, and even against other Israelites. Peace, therefore, was rare, and always fragile in the area.
Nowhere is Israelite snobbery more fully revealed and rebuked than in the book of Jonah. Called to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the Gentiles, Jonah flees to the sea in disobedience. Nineveh is the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which rules the upper Tigres/Euphrates Valley and is the local super power of the era. The Assyrians want to conquer Israel, and subjugate her into their empire, but, have been unable to accomplish this goal yet. But they do dominate Israel, and the Israelites resent them bitterly.
Jonah, like the rest of Israel, does not want Nineveh to receive anything but hellfire and damnation from God. When God tells him to preach in Nineveh, Jonah fears God will have mercy upon them, and might even bring them into the Covenant people. According to Jonah, this must not happen, therefore he decides to go as far away from Nineveh as he can get. He probably believes God is one of many gods, and to leave Israel is to leave God’s territory and beyond His reach (2). He is wrong, which God demonstrates by means of the storm and the fish.
In the fish, Jonah has time to consider his own wickedness. Though he is probably a native of Israel, which divided itself from Judah after Solomon’s death, he seems to have a great love of Jerusalem and the Temple. Many Israelites continued to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem after the division to worship in the Temple and to observe Passover. Like them, Jonah desires to go to the Temple again and offer sacrifices (1:9). He has not repented of his sin. He has simply acknowledged God’s rule is not limited to the geographical area of Israel and Judah.
The call to go to Nineveh comes again (1, 2). This time Jonah goes to Nineveh, where he begins to preach, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (4). The repentance of the Ninevites is astounding (5-9). Though familiar, through trade and military invasions, with Israelite religion, Ninevites are naturally disposed to doubt the ability of a foreigner’s God. Yet they are moved to believe and repent. God also turns from His wrath against Nineveh to mercy toward it (10).
Jonah 3, Jn. 12:1-19
Jonah 4, Col. 4
Jonah is angry at God for sparing Nineveh (1). He would rather die than see Nineveh living in God’s grace (3). He leaves the city and sits under a booth, probably a small shelter made of tree branches, and probably hoping the Ninevites' faith will rapidly decline into unbelief again (4), and that they will be conquered in forty days.
God causes a gourd plant to grow over Jonah’s shelter, which helps shade the prophet from the hot sun. But the wind kills the plant, making Jonah even angrier at God (8). Now God is ready to make the point of the book. It has already been stated once, in verse 2, “thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” meaning to turn away the punishment of Nineveh.
God reminds Jonah that his sorrow over the gourd was due to his own loss of its shade. He only liked it because it was useful to him. But God’s love is not based on any value or worthiness in any person, including Israel. God’s love is based on His nature, and in His love He will have mercy on Nineveh, whether Jonah likes it or not. But, if we want to talk about value, aren’t the people of Nineveh far more “valuable” than a gourd? Therefore, shouldn’t God care more about Nineveh than Jonah does for the gourd?
Jonah learns the hard way that God is sovereign, even in salvation. He can pass over the “chosen people,” who, though they have the Scriptures, prophets, Temple, and many other advantages, have turned from Him and embraced pagan culture and religion. He can choose whole cities of pagans to be saved. Jonah learns that the true Israel (chosen people) is not defined by nationality, but by faith. He learns God’s wrath can be turned upon disobedient Israelites (or Church members), as readily as upon unbelievers.
Micah 1, Jn. 12:20-50
Micah 2, 1 Thes. 1
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, and preached in and around Jerusalem during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; kings of Judah (1). Ahaz did much to bring Judah into spiritual and political poverty. After Israel was conquered in 722 B.C., he allied himself with Israel’s Assyrian conquerors, and vigourously imported Assyrian culture and religion into Judah and Jerusalem. Hezekiah, son of Ahab, sought to return Judah to God and Godliness. For a while his efforts were successful, but corrupt people gained control of the civil and religious authority structures, which they used to silence Godly people and to gain wealth and security for themselves by theft and oppression.
Micah foretells the conquest of Jerusalem, which he says God will allow as punishment for sin. But God also speaks of restoration in this book. A remnant of the people will be left in Judah, and a remnant of the captives will return to the homeland, where God’s work will continue until He brings the Messiah into the world in a barn in Bethlehem.
The sermon which comprises chapter one seems to have been preached prior to the fall of Israel, for verses 2-7 specifically speak of her sins and foretell the fall of Samaria, her capital city. Verses 8-16 continue to warn Israel and extend the warning to include Judah as well.
Like the other prophets, God’s message through Micah indicts the entire structure of Jewish culture. He is angry over the idolatry and hypocrisy, which is encouraged by the corrupt priests and lying prophets. He is also angry at the moral corruption by which people seize religious and civil authority, which they use to steal the property and inheritance of those whose rights they should be protecting. It is a terrible thing when corrupt people pervert the power of government for personal gain. In such a country, laws are meaningless and justice is impossible.
Micah 3, Jn. 13
Micah 4, 1 Thes. 2
God describes the wickedness of the civil authorities in verses 1-4. They hate good and love evil (2). Their actions are so repulsive they are compared to eating the flesh of the poor, and chopping them into pieces to be boiled and eaten (3) as they financially and emotionally take possession of people and their resources. When the punishment comes, they will cry to God for deliverance, but He will not hear; He will hide His face from them (4), meaning He will not deliver them or help them. He will leave them to their fate.
Notice God has more to say to the lying prophets than to the crooked politicians. The prophets are enablers of corruption and vice. Not only do they not confront and condemn it, they actually approve and condone it in God’s name. No matter how wicked a thing may be, there will always be blind guides and wolves in sheep’s clothing who will attempt to pronounce God’s blessings on it. This is no less true today than it was in Micah’s time, as men, entrusted with the ministry of the Word and the care of souls, abandon the Bible and encourage sin and corruption in the name of Christ. Such “ministers” enable wickedness, and weaken the spiritual/moral fabric of the Church and the state. Judah and Israel have suffered under such preaching for generations. By Micah’s time the nation is so morally bankrupt that their heads of government and the courts “judge for reward” (bribes and monetary gain), priests teach for hire (bribes and monetary gain), and prophets divine for money (bribes and monetary gain). When this happens, everyone loses.
For their sakes, meaning, due to the sins of the politicians, priests, and prophets, Zion will be plowed like a field and Jerusalem will be reduced to heaps of rubble (12). This refers to the devastation and destruction God will unleash upon them through the invading armies.
The corruption of the current leaders is contrasted with the selfless service of the coming Messiah. His reign will bring peace, and He will rule in justice. In His time, people from all tribes and tongues will come into the House of God where they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. In His Kingdom people will live in unity and peace.
This refers to the Church, the Kingdom of God on earth, established by Christ and built by His Word and Spirit. It encompasses people from many nations, and many more will come into it before the end. But even the Church is not perfect yet. There are still wolves among the sheep, and false teachers still distort the Word for money and popularity. But the day is coming when such things are finally and forever cast out of the Church. In that Day the whole earth will resound with the praises of God, and His people will walk with Him in holiness and truth. For He is coming back to accomplish these things, and all things will be gathered together in Him. Knowing these words of Micah, and having seen a glimpse of that New Heaven and Earth, the Apostle John in the closing verses of the Bible says, “Even so , come Lord Jesus.” Amen.
Micah 5, John 14
Micah 6, 1 Thes. 3
The Messiah will come from Bethlehem, the ancient home of David’s family, and will be a descendant of David, according to the flesh. Thus, the Davidic kingship will be restored to Israel. Assyria, here should be understood as the literal Assyrian Empire, and symbolically as the representative of all the enemies of God’s Church, in both Old and New Testament eras. In the same way, Israel, here, refers to God’s people in both Testaments. The grace offered to sinners also carries the judgement of those who remain hardened in their refusal of it. Micah is given much to say about the plight and end of the enemies of God and His Church.
God now beseeches His people to hear His words and repent of their sins. His question in verse 3 can only be answered in a way that upholds the absolute goodness of God towards all humanity. It is not God who has sinned against us, but we who have sinned against Him. He brought Israel out of Egypt and defended her from all enemies. He brings us out of our bondage to sin, keeps us safe in Christ in this life, and brings us at last to the Promised Land.
Instead of loving and obeying God, the people of Israel engage in cheating and violence toward each other (11). They keep the statutes of Omri and walk in the counsel of the house of Ahab (16), who were wicked rulers who intentionally led the people into idolatry and immorality. Therefore God will make the people sick (13). He will smite them, and will make them desolate, as in uninhabited places, because of their sins.