Ephesians 1: 1-6

This letter to the church in Ephesus begins with an abbreviated address from the Apostle Paul; to the saints, the faithful, grace and peace to you. However we can understand many things from this brief greeting. First, that Paul was known to the recipients, he felt no need introduce himself or list his bonafides. And it follows that this is a letter to be passed around to all the believers in the sphere of influence of the church in Ephesus. It is a circular letter, carried from house church to house church to encourage the saints and proclaim the grace and peace that the Creator provides for us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:2 gives us a good definition of what it means to be a saint. “To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” This message of Ephesians is for the “faithful followers of Christ Jesus”; it is for the church today and just as important as it was to the church in Ephesus.

Sometimes the hardest part of being a faithful believer is living out our faith in the community (church) where God has placed us. We see today many believers who do not go to church or do not commit to a particular faith community because they find this life together too difficult. Or they hold themselves aloof, always ready to jump to the next trending worship center, constantly moving and not putting down deep roots in community. The Apostle Paul calls believers to life together, as one body, to present a living human witness, faithfully in community. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling… From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.” Ephesians 4:4, 16

Paul greets the church by saying, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” “Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God… Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.” Christianity Today – what is Grace?

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

We have peace with God through Jesus Christ and we have the peace of God through the Holy Spirit working in our lives, to conform us to be like Jesus Christ. This grace and peace is for us individually and for our faith community, the local church.

Paul moves on to his opening statement, verses 3-14 which is one long sentence in Greek without punctuation. Many scholars consider these verses to be a prayer or a call to worship and because it is a run-on sentence we can understand the interconnectedness of the phrases. Paul begins with what could be considered a summary sentence. “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.”(3) Verses 4-6 offers up praise for the blessings God bestowed on us in the past; “For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.” Verses 7-12 offers up praise that the Son has redeemed us; “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.” Verses 13-14 offers up praise that the Holy Spirit has stamped us with a seal, sealed us as a down payment of our future inheritance. We understand that all of these actions are instigated by the LORD God Almighty; by the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit for our benefit; we are blessed with every spiritual blessing.

“For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world”; the Apostle tells us when God’s work of election took place, in eternity past. This “chosen status” was always part of the plan, God’s plan to reconcile us to Him. We understand from this phrase that it is all about God’s work not our works; it is God’s Sovereign work; it is all about God not us.

“Paul says that God “chose us” to emphasize that salvation depends totally on God. We are not saved because we deserve it but because God is gracious and freely gives salvation. We did not influence God’s decision to save us; he saved us according to his plan. Thus, there is no way to take credit for our salvation or to allow room for pride. The mystery of salvation originated in the timeless mind of God long before we existed. It is hard to understand how God could accept us. But because of Christ, we are holy and blameless in his sight. God chose us, and when we belong to him through Jesus Christ, God looks at us as if we had never sinned. All we can do is express our thanks for his wonderful love.” From Life Application Bible

God chose us so that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. For any human being to be in the presence of the Holy God we need to be holy and blameless we cannot do this on our own, therefore God made a way. Under the OT sacrificial system only animals that were without blemish could be offered to God, we are reminded of our perfect Passover lamb, Jesus. In his sight, means that God views us who are horribly flawed, as holy and blameless, this is our position before God. The motivation of God’s choice is love; this is the focus of the entire paragraph. He chose us, He made us holy and blameless, He predestined us for adoption as His sons, we are His own possession and we are marked with the Holy Spirit kept by God, all according to his good pleasure, by His lavish gift of grace, to the praise of His Glory.

All believers are adopted as a first born son with all the rights of inheritance that provides. Through Jesus, we are brought into intimate family of the Creator of the universe. This was decided in advance, “before the foundation of the world”, it was always God’s plan and everything is accomplished by God’s initiative. “See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are!” 1 John 3:1

“For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15

Ephesians – Introduction

The Apostle Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter, and then refers to himself repeatedly throughout the letter. The letter is addressed to “the Saints in Ephesus” then immediately launches right into the reason for the letter without the small talk. This suggests that Ephesians was a circular letter intended for all the churches in the Lycus valley. We can also conclude that Ephesians was written at the same time as Colossians because Ephesians carries on the same train of thought from Colossians. They both highlight the role of Christ as the Lord over the cosmos, the firstborn of overall creation; that we are chosen in love for adoption according to His glorious Grace. Then continues by laying out how we should live in light of this great gift.

The city of Ephesus was the most important city of Asia Minor at that time. It was a major harbor and the intersection of the major trade routes so it follows that it was a significant commercial center. Ephesus boasted of its pagan temple dedicated to Roman goddess Diana, Greek name Artemis. This temple was considered a “wonder of the ancient world” and was estimated to be four times larger than the Parthenon in Greece. Ephesus became the epicenter of worship of the Greek and Roman gods. Roman culture sponsored thousands of gods; the worship was pervasive and overwhelming; invading every aspect of community life.

The following are excerpts from Pagan & Christians in the City, by Steven D. Smith: “Pagan religion locates the sacred within the world. In that way, paganism can consecrate the world from within: its religiosity relative to an immanent sacred. Judaism and Christianity, by contrast, reflect transcendent religiosity; they place the sacred, ultimately, outside the world”.

“The crowds of gods had their own affairs to attend to, and they were for the most part not especially concerned about the mundane doings of mortals. And yet the gods did have the power either to bless or to blight, to help or to hinder, so it was essential to maintain good relations with them. The Romans thus devoted massive resources to honoring the gods and retaining their favor; it was in this sense that the Romans deemed themselves religiously superior to all other nations.”

“In sum, public or civic religion was pervasive in the Roman world. City and religion were thoroughly integrated, coextensive, inseparable. There was a religious aspect to every communal action, and a communal aspect to ever religious action.”

“Sexual fulfillment is not only natural and pleasurable and presumptively acceptable; it is also a kind of ecstatic religious performance….In antiquity, sexual arousal, activity and reproduction were in part immanent divine powers, not simply forms of energy… an ambitious vision of conjugal Eros, in which the most profound stirrings of the body not only connected man with the divine forces that replenished the earth but also offered personal transcendence. This sacralization of sexuality helps explain the ubiquity of erotic imagery – paintings, mosaics, statues – Roman culture. The gods manifested themselves as well, and were honored through sexuality – sexual ecstasy being understood as ‘the mysterious, indwelling presence of the gods’.”

The Apostle Paul arrives in Ephesus on his third missionary journey in 54 AD. Paul will stay in Ephesus making it his home base for his mission to Asia Minor. For three months he taught in the local synagogue, but when the Jews began to oppose Paul he moves his teaching to the school of Tyrannus for another 2 years. During this time Paul is empowered by the Holy Spirit with effective teaching and numerous miracles. “Even Handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him (Paul) were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:11-20) The repeated confrontations with evil spirits caused “the Jews and Greeks in living in Ephesus to be seized with fear, and the name of Jesus was held in high honor”. Many former pagans who practiced sorcery and were now believers brought their scrolls and burned them publicly. Luke writing in Acts calculates the value of these scrolls as 50,000 drachmas; one drachma was equivalent to a day’s wage, thus very costly to the commerce in Ephesus. All this activity sets the stage for a riot in Ephesus among the silversmiths who made silver shrines for the Temple of Artemis.

Artemis was the fertility goddess of Ephesus and was the most worshiped deity in Asia Minor and the Roman world at that time. Hundreds of eunuch priests, virgin priestesses and religious prostitutes served in her temple. Their worship rituals were quite erotic, she was also known as the “Queen of Heaven”, “Savior” and “Mother Goddess”. The city of Ephesus was the center for Artemis worship and they considered themselves responsible for maintaining the cult’s purity of worship. This cultic worship brought great wealth to the citizens of Ephesus because the temple of Artemis was the world’s largest bank at that time. Devotees came from all over the world to worship and celebrate during her festivals. There were huge processions honoring her statues. Celebrations were held with music, dancing, singing, dramatic presentations and chanting of allegiance.

The silversmiths complained about Paul’s preaching and miracles because they were impacting their business of selling small offerings give to the goddess when visiting the temple. “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” (Acts 19:25-27)

In the Greek and Roman worldview, it was common to add new gods to their vast collections of gods. A new “god” was no threat, but what was becoming known to the pagan worshipers is that when people became Christians, they stopped worshiping the pagan deities. This was the threat – not the “new” god, but the diminishing of their community, culture and economy by this new belief system.

Think about the Apostle Paul and his Jewish brothers in Christ interaction with this city where pagan worship was rampant. The courage it is must have taken to go into the very heart of evil to speak God’s truth to those who are hostile to the things of God. Additionally, think of the great, long and difficult task of making disciples of former pagans who were steeped in pagan worldview and practices that was entangled with the everyday culture and economy.

“Christians had to be taught how to live in ways that were appropriate for the kingdom of Christ. Many Christians had been converted from pagan religions. They had spent much of their lives following the ways of Satan before they came to faith in Christ. And they found it difficult to change the ways they thought, felt, and behaved. So, as the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Ephesians, he directly addressed this challenge by painting a sweeping, cosmic portrait of life in the kingdom of God in Christ.” Third Millennium, Prison Epistles – Ephesians

Unlike Paul’s other letters this letter does not address any particular error or heresy which reinforces the perception that it was a circular letter. It was a prison letter Not a personal letter, Not a problem solving letter, Not a teaching letter, Not a need-meeting letter or a how to letter, it is a letter that seeks to change our orientation from a man-centered to a God-centered , as we study this letter our attention will continually be drawn to glory of God.

From the introduction to Ephesians in The Message:
“Paul’s letter to the Ephesians joins together what has been torn apart in our sin-wrecked world. He begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, “sets” this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones—belief and behavior—knit together and heal”……” And so Paul goes to work. He ranges widely, from heaven to earth and back again, showing how Jesus, the Messiah, is eternally and tirelessly bringing everything and everyone together. He also shows us that in addition to having this work done in and for us, we are participants in this most urgent work. Now that we know what is going on, that the energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe, it is imperative that we join in vigorously and perseveringly, convinced that every detail in our lives contributes (or not) to what Paul describes as God’s plan worked out by Christ, “a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.”

Ephesians

The letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus was written during Paul’s 4-year imprisonment. The first 2-years of Paul’s confinement were in Caesarea and the last 2-years in Rome. During this time Paul wrote many letters, we have four of them preserved for us in the New Testament: Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians.

We would assume that the injustices, beatings, and confinement imposed on Paul and his companions would have inhibited or at least slowed down Paul on his mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. But what we need to remember is what some people intend for evil – God will use for good, because Paul was submissive to both the Roman law and to God’s plan, he was effective in preaching the gospel even in chains.

In 56-57 AD, Paul and his companions were on their way from Asia Minor traveling by boat back to Jerusalem. They carried with them the funds they collected from the new gentile Christian communities for their brothers and sisters in Christ in Jerusalem. The Christian church in Judea was suffering at that time from a famine and persecution.

On their journey home, wherever the ship stopped believers would come to visit Paul for worship and prayer. When they stopped at Miletus, the Ephesian elders came to meet with Paul. During their time of worship the Holy Spirit reveals to Paul that he will be imprisoned when he arrives in Jerusalem.

“Compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace”. Acts 20:22-24

This wasn’t a one-time revelation; repeatedly Paul is warned of the coming troubles. Paul determined that these warnings were not intended to cause him to abandon his mission but rather to help him prepare for the coming hardships. Paul knew that his sufferings were part of God’s plan for him, to advance the gospel and to minister to the church. Paul and his companions arrive in Jerusalem, in 57 AD at the beginning of summer near the time of Pentecost.

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem he went to meet with the church and visit with James the brother of Jesus. James was the head of the church in Jerusalem; Paul delivered the money collected and was well received by the church. It was Paul’s hope that the generous collection of funds would help the poor in Jerusalem and reconcile the Jewish Christians to their new Gentile brothers in Christ. Instead what Paul learns is that false rumors continue to swirl around Paul and his companions, they falsely accuse Paul of teaching that Jewish Christians could abandon all Jewish practices including circumcision. The Jewish Christians firmly believed that they should maintain all Jewish traditions and practices even when living in areas outside of Jerusalem in the Gentile culture.

The decision of the church leaders in Jerusalem was that Paul should go through a ritual cleansing ceremony to demonstrate that he was committed to the Mosaic Law. He and four other men would go through the long process with Paul paying for all their expenses. The church elders were convinced that this process would show Paul’s obedience to the Jewish traditions and tamp down the false rumors.

Towards the end of the purification rights, Paul and his companions are in the inner court of the Temple; this is the space where only Jews could go. Some Jews from Asia Minor see Paul and falsely identify one of the men as the Gentile Christian Trophimus who traveled with Paul to Jerusalem. They instigate a city-wide riot against Paul, and grab him with the intention of killing him. All the uproar comes to the attention of the Roman garrison that is on watch over the temple. The commander of the Roman garrison arrests Paul and puts him in chains; his plan was to flog Paul then let him go to appease the crowd. But when he heard that Paul was a Roman citizen he changed his plans, Paul was entitled to legal protections including the right not to be flogged or put in chains without a trial.

The next day, Paul is taken to stand trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling court. The previous day Paul addressed the angry crowd by testifying that the risen Christ appeared to him and he proclaimed the good news of the gospel. When Paul addresses the Sanhedrin he states, “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead”. When he said this the Sanhedrin broke out into another riot and the Romans guards quickly take Paul back to the jail to protect him. The plan was to take Paul back to the Sanhedrin the next day for another attempt at a trial, but the Romans were warned of a Jewish plot to assassinate Paul. So instead the guards take Paul to Caesarea to stand trial before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea.

Five days later Paul stands trial again; the High Priest, Jewish elders and their lawyer arrive to accuse Paul of disturbing the Roman peace and violating the Temple. But once again they had no eyewitness to testify against Paul, they demand that Felix examine Paul to determine his guilt. The only witness is Paul who uses the opportunity to proclaim the gospel and reveal the corruption of the Jewish leaders. Felix could have released Paul based on the lack of witnesses, but he didn’t, instead he saw the opportunity to extract a bribe from Paul and his supporters. Felix didn’t make a decision of guilt or innocence; instead he kept Paul in prison and would send for Paul regularly to talk. For two years Paul continued to proclaim the gospel to Felix and his guests.

In 59AD Felix was replaced by Festus, as the new Roman governor. Once again the Jews saw an opportunity to kill Paul, they petitioned Festus to bring Paul to Jerusalem to stand trial by the Sanhedrin, but in reality the plan was to kill Paul during transport. Festus asks Paul if he was willing to have his case heard in Jerusalem, but rather than agreeing Paul asserts his right as a Roman citizen, he appeals his case to Caesar.

The backstory is that the night that Paul was first arrested, in chains in a Roman prison the LORD Jesus appeared to Paul in a dream to assure him that he will live to proclaim the gospel in Rome. The Holy Spirit had been directing Paul to understand that his suffering and imprisonment will be used to spread the gospel. In late 59 AD Paul, Luke and Aristarchus set sail for Rome under a Roman guard. The normal sailing route is to hug the coast all the way to Rome.

They sail first to Cyprus then north to Asia Minor, but strong winds and rough seas force them away from the coast to the island of Crete. It was now getting too late in the season to travel safely, the Roman commander and ship’s captain planned to sail further up the coast of Crete to a place where they wanted to spend the winter months. Paul warned against leaving, but they ignored his advice and set sail. For two long weeks they are caught in a terrible storm, all aboard feared that they would die. Paul repeatedly assures everyone that they would not die, but would all make it safely to Rome. The ship finally breaks apart, Paul convinces the Roman guard not to kill the prisoners and everyone is wash up safely on the shores of Malta. They will remain on Malta for three months, Paul preaches the gospel, he is miraculously saved from a snake bite, he heals the chief Roman official of the island and everyone who came to him for healing.

Paul and his companions arrive in Rome in 60 AD, where he is put under house arrest for another 2 years. He stayed in his own rented house under Roman guard and welcomed all who came to see him. During this time he was able to teach freely and received many visitors from the Christian communities that Paul started. Paul’s arrest was unjust, painful and life threatening. His imprisonment was a long miscarriage of justice, false accusations, corruption and hardships. But Paul was submissive and obedient to the Roman law and to God’s plan.

Paul’s mission to preach the gospel was not hindered by all these evil designs, instead he was just where God wanted him to be. Paul will spend his time in prison, preaching the gospel in the capital of the Roman Empire, and engage in a robust writing and teaching ministry to everyone who he came into contact.

It is during this imprisonment that Paul wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon. These letters while addressing the different issues in each community, they share the same doctrinal unity, specifically that Jesus Christ is the King of Creation, Jesus is one with the Father, He is our sovereign ruler with the authority to rule. We as believers are united with Christ, as our King he has the right to command our obedience, additionally He has made us able to live a righteous life and we are to treat each other as Christ has treated us.

 

Paul is a compelling example for us, on how to live a faithful life in the midst of suffering and injustice.

 

 

 

Ephesians – Living a Life worthy of God’s calling

This year the JOY of Living Bible study at FPC will be studying the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus. We will begin with two weeks of review and introduction then start with Lesson 1 on Tuesday Oct. 8th. We will be using the JOY of Living workbook for our individual daily study, which can be purchased at Joy of Living or from us when we meet each Tuesday morning.

“Joy of Living is based on the idea that each person needs to open the Bible and let God speak to them by His Holy Spirit, applying the Scripture’s message to their own life and circumstances.”                               Doris Greig, the founder of JOY of Living Bible Studies.

Here is a message from the Apostle Paul to Timothy that is important for us to remember:  “But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers – why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another-showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”                                                                                    2 Timothy 3:14-17; The Message

 

Our purpose this year is to grow closer to God as we come to know Him, specifically by how He has revealed Himself to us through His Word and in this study of Ephesians. Along with this we will learn from Paul how to live together as the Church, and how to be an effective witness to our family, our neighborhood and each other. I came across an article in Christianity Today by Jen Wilkin, her column addressed teaching young children how to be an effective witness to their friends and family, but I thought that her points were very appropriate to our study and life together as we proceed with our study this year. The following is my adaptation from her points in 5 Tips for Training Little Evangelists:

  1.  Be fluent in Kind words
    • Be gracious, encouraging and affirming
  2. Be fluent in Reconciling words
    • We should ask for and extend forgiveness
  3. Be fluent in Slow words
    • Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry
  4. Be fluent in Eternal words
    • Convey the life-giving Word to others
  5. Be fluent in Hospitable words
    • be a person that invites, includes and shares with others

 

I pray that we will be blessed this year as we study Ephesians together. Peggy

Jeremiah and Ezekiel

The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and preached during the final days of the kingdom of Judah. They experienced the reforms and renewal of the Covenant under the godly King Josiah and the dramatic spiral of evil and destruction following his death.

Jeremiah is branded as the prophet of doom or the weeping prophet. He was the son of a priest on the career path to become a priest, to serve in the temple of the LORD. Instead God reveal to Jeremiah that he was chosen before he was born to be His prophet to the nations. Jeremiah did not seek this call, rather God chose Jeremiah for his purposes, to announce God’s impending judgment on Judah and to bear witness to the complete destruction of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah is identified as “a youth” in the 13th year of King Josiah who would have been about 21 years old at that time. Jeremiah will serve as a prophet and deliver God’s message for his entire life proclaiming judgement and promising restoration, 41 years in Judah, another 17 years in Egypt then finally killed by his fellow Israelites in Egypt.

Like Moses Jeremiah responds to God’s call by saying he is too young, and that he doesn’t know how to speak well enough to be God’s prophet. The LORD responds by saying, “Do not say ‘I am too young’. But go to whomever I send you and say whatever I tell you.” Then like Isaiah’s call the LORD touched Jeremiah’s mouth and gives him the assurance that He will give him the words you are to speak for me.

It has been about 100 years since the northern tribes of Israel were conquered and deported by Assyria and about 85 years since Isaiah announced to the godly King Hezekiah that Babylon would invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah has been dominated by Assyria, but with the rise of the Babylonians they now enjoy their independence, which has allowed for the reforms of King Josiah; the purging of pagan influences, the restoration of the Temple and the renewal of the Covenant. The prophets Zephaniah and Jeremiah supported King Josiah; under his rule Judah was economically prosperous and even began expanding Judah’s influence into the former Israelite territory. Josiah’s reforms died with him, his sons will reign over the collapse of the kingdom of Judah.

After the fall of the Assyria during the reign of Josiah’s sons, Judah becomes a vassal state of Babylon. The kings of Judah repeatedly ignore God’s warnings through Jeremiah, to resist rebellion, to submit to God’s judgment and surrender to Babylon. Instead they conspired against Babylon resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the deportation of the people of Judah to Babylon.

Remember that deportation and resettlement of Israel was used by the Assyrians as a method to destroy national and ethnic identity. But God will use this political practice to preserve a remnant of God’s people who will be tested and remain faithful. Jeremiah counseled surrender and submission to the coming threat of Babylon, but the kings and crowd branded him as a traitor. His advice against rebellion was intended to keep Judah from being completely wiped out. Jeremiah also announced the limit of God’s wrath; Judah will be in exile for 70 years after that God will make a “new covenant” with Israel and restore them to the Promised Land.

Before the fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah preached about God’s accusation against His people using the image of marriage. They are like an unfaithful lover, like a new bride who has abandoned a devoted loving husband to chase after other lovers. They should have acknowledged what happened to her sister Samaria when she was unfaithful and sent away, she chased after other gods and defiled the land. Jeremiah announces that Judah is even guiltier than Israel; the LORD says, “How can I leave you unpunished, Jerusalem?”

Jeremiah declares that the coming disaster will come from the north, he repeats the warnings of coming destruction making it clear that it is God who is sending this calamity. But in the midst of these dire messages, there is a glimmer of hope, “Yet even then I will not completely destroy you”, says the LORD. God will not completely destroy Judah.

The LORD commands Jeremiah to stand at the gate of the temple and declare God’s message to His people. He denounces the false prophets and false priests, they are saying everything is all right, but everything is not all right! The people and leaders of Jerusalem were under the false impression that they were “safe” from Babylon because of God’s presence in His temple in Jerusalem. Jeremiah was persistent in delivering God’s message of coming judgment and the people of Judah responded by plotting against Jeremiah. This set up a long pattern in Jeremiah’s ministry, he delivers God’s message followed by beatings, imprisonment and persecution, Jeremiah responds by praying out his anger, frustration and hate then God sends him to deliver the unwanted message again, we understand why Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet.

Jeremiah uses the object lesson of the potter and the clay to reinforce God’s message, “like clay in the hand of the potter so are you in my hand”; the potter can build them up or destroy them. Followed by, “this is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.” After this message the priest Pashhur has Jeremiah flogged and put into stocks in the temple courtyard. Jeremiah denounces Pashhur and reveals that his entire household will go into exile in Babylon and die there. Then Jeremiah falls into great despair saying, “The word of the lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long”, Jeremiah is at his breaking point, he is depressed and curses the day he was born.

Jerusalem is now under siege by Nebuchadnezzar during the reign of Zedekiah the last king of Judah. Jeremiah delivers increasingly dire predictions, “I will kill everything living in Jerusalem, people and animals alike! They will die from terrible diseases. If you stay in the city you will die, whoever surrenders to the Babylonians will live.” However, In the middle of this long awful message, Jeremiah delivers the message of hope: “I, the LORD promise that a new time will certainly come when I will raise up for them a righteous branch, a descendant of David. He will rule over them with wisdom and understanding and will do what is just and right in the land. Under his rule Judah will enjoy safety and Israel will live in security.”

Jeremiah reveals that Judah will become a wasteland and that the nations will be subject to the king of Babylon for 70 years. But when the 70 years are over, the LORD will punish the king of Babylon and his nations for their sins. At this point the prophet Jeremiah has been delivering God’s message of doom for 23 years. This time Judah responds by killing God’s prophets Uriah and Ahikam, Jeremiah narrowly escapes death then delivers another object lesson. He wears a yoke on his neck and walked around proclaiming the coming destruction. “But if any nation will bow its neck under the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let that nation remain in its own land to till it and to live there, declares the LORD”. Jeremiah delivers the message to surrender; bow your neck to the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. But the king and people of Jerusalem refuse to believe Jeremiah; they continued to believe the false prophets who told them the things they wanted to hear.

At this point the prophet Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon; this would have included the prophet Ezekiel. The message was clear, settle down, build houses, plant gardens, marry and grow in numbers, enjoy the peace wait for the LORD to restore the faithful to the Promised Land. Israel’s hope was not in Jerusalem, not in the people still in Judah; Israel’s hope was in the exiles, the faithful remnant. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer. I will hear your prayers. When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you, says the LORD”.

To illustrate this hope for the future God instructs Jeremiah to buy a field while Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah in prison. Jeremiah is told to put the deed to the land in a clay jar and bury it in the field. This illustrated to the people of Jerusalem that at a time in the future, Judah and Jerusalem will have normal life, there will be happy times and sounds of joy in the land.

Once again Jeremiah is sent to King Zedekiah with a message from the LORD. He is told that the LORD will hand over the city to the king of Babylon, that the king will confront the king of Babylon face to face. But you will not die in battle or be executed. Once more King Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to pray for Jerusalem, seeking a different answer from the LORD. Jeremiah’s reply, “Yes, you will be a handed over to the king of Babylon”. Jeremiah is imprisoned in the courtyard, where continues to preach telling all the people that anyone who stays in the city will die but those who go over to the Babylonians will live. So King Zedekiah puts Jeremiah in a cistern to die, but he is rescued by a faithful man and returned to his courtyard prison.

Despite Jeremiah’s warning King Zedekiah attempts to escape during the final days of Jerusalem’s siege. He is captured, his sons, daughters, wives and supporters are all killed in front of his eyes then the Babylonians burn out his eyes and he is taken to Babylon to live out his days in prison.

Jeremiah is released from his prison by King Nebuchadnezzar and chooses to stay in the destroyed Jerusalem under the new governor put in place by Babylon. Eventually, the remnant in Judah rebel and kill the new governor. After this everyone was afraid of what the Babylonians will do in retaliation, they ask Jeremiah about the LORD’s will, should they stay in Jerusalem or should they flee to Egypt. The message remains the same, the LORD says stay in the land, submit to the King of Babylon and you will live, but if you flee to Egypt dread will follow you there. But the Israelites refuse to obey the word from the LORD; instead they force Jeremiah to go to Egypt with them. In Egypt Jeremiah continues to deliver messages from the LORD to God’s people and the nations. Eventually, Jeremiah will be killed in Egypt by the people who do not want to accept the message he is called to deliver from the LORD.

The prophet Ezekiel was among the 10,000 Jews who went into exile in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC, 11 years before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. Ezekiel was born the year that King Josiah found the lost book of the Law. He was from a priestly family learning to serve in the temple but when he was 25 years old before he officially became a priest he was taken to Babylon. Instead of serving as a priest in the temple he is called to be a prophet to the exiles; a priest and prophet cut off from the temple and from the Promised Land.

The first 7 years of Ezekiel’s preaching is about the discouraging news from Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylon deliver the same message from God; Jerusalem will fall to Babylon. God revealed to Ezekiel that Jerusalem would fall at the same time that his wife would die. He was told not to mourn for his wife and that the exiles were not to mourn for Jerusalem.

Ezekiel’s prophecy states, “then they will know that I am the LORD” sixty-five times in his writings. They will know that I am God when Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. They will know that I am God when the nations are judged. Everyone will know that I am God when I restore and renew the nation of Israel.

God reveals his plans to Ezekiel through “dream visions” which Ezekiel acted out with symbolic acts and parables. There is intentional symmetry in Ezekiel’s prophecy. The vision of the destruction of the temple is balanced by the vision of the restored and purified temple. God’s wrath is balanced by God’s comfort as the good shepherd. Ezekiel is called to be a watchman of the judgement of Jerusalem and a watchman of the new temple and the renewed, restored and fruitful land.

Jeremiah reveals that salvation for God’s people would happen through exile in Babylon. Ezekiel teachings helped the exiles understand this judgment and hope for the future. God preserved for himself a remnant of the faithful who will settle down and study God’s law to understand why this great evil overcame God’s chosen people. Like Joseph in Egypt, the exiles can say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”. God also preserved through King Jehoiachin the lineage of King David and the Promised Seed, the Messiah. Jehoiachin’s grandson Zerubbabel will eventually become the governor of Judah. “I the Lord, promise that a new time will certainly come when I will raise up for them a righteous branch, a descendant of David. He will rule over them with wisdom and understanding and will do what is just and right in the land. Under his rule Judah will enjoy safety and Israel will live in security.”

But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, Psalm 33:11-21

God’s Promises are true – He will make them happen – Nothing can stop the LORD Almighty!

Zephaniah and Obadiah

The prophet Zephaniah identifies himself as a 4th generation descendant of the Godly King Hezekiah, who preached during the reign of the good King Josiah. Zephaniah’s name means “the LORD Hides” or the “LORD Protects” some think that like Josiah, Zephaniah was born and hidden away during the wicked reigns of Manassah and Amon. This would have made Zephaniah a contemporary of Nahum, Jeremiah and possibly Habakkuk. Zephaniah’s ministry was in Jerusalem, in the circle of royalty and the ruling class of Judah. This was early in Josiah’s reign, before his reforms, the repair of the Temple and the discovery of the hidden books of the Law. Many think that Zephaniah’s preaching may have influenced Josiah’s faith and thus his reforms and the renewal of the Covenant.

This was during a time of peace and security in Judah, Assyria was on the defensive, they have retreated away from Judah which allowed Josiah to rebuild, reform and cleanse the land of the influences of the pagan aggressors. Similar to Isaiah, Amos and Joel, Zephaniah announced to Judah the coming judgment in the Day of the LORD.

Zephaniah announces the ominous message from God: “I will destroy everything from the face of the earth, says the LORD. I will destroy people and animals; I will destroy the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea. I will remove humanity from the face of the earth, says the LORD.” This describes a sweeping away of all creation, reversing creation by the LORD, notice the “I” statements. Remember the message from Nahum, that it was the LORD leading the armies against Nineveh; we are to understand that however this Day takes place, whether by earthquake, fire or other catastrophic event or if by the destruction of the armies it is the LORD that directs and leads the judgment of the nations.

Zephaniah makes very clear that Judah, God’s people, are included in this judgment by God and proceeds to list Judah’s violations against the Covenant. They have mixed the worship of the LORD with pagan cultural practices, they have worship Baal, they have rejected God’s guidance and they have turned away from His commands. The priests and leaders of Judah have followed foreign influences and have become entrenched in their sins believing that the LORD is indifferent about their sins. Zephaniah announces, “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’s angry judgment. The whole earth will be consumed by his fiery wrath. Indeed, he will bring terrifying destruction on all who live on the earth.” Remember the policy that has previously been used, the gathering of gold and silver from the temple and the people to buy off the approaching armies, this time in the Day of the LORD Judah will not escape.

The first verses of chapter 2 provide a brief interlude in the description of the coming judgement answering the unspoken question, what should we do as the day of God’s wrath is approaching? “So get yourselves together. Shape up! You’re a nation without a clue about what it wants. Do it before you’re blown away like leaves in a windstorm, before God’s judgment-anger sweeps down on you, before God’s judgment day wrath descends with full force. Seek God, all you quietly disciplined people who live by God’s justice. Seek God’s right ways. Seek a quiet and disciplined life. Perhaps you’ll be hidden on the Day of God’s anger.” (The Message)

Zephaniah continues describing the judgments against Philistia, Moab and Ammon, Cush and Assyria; they will be completely destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. They will be repaid for their harassment of Israel and for their mocking of the True and Powerful God. Then once again Zephaniah addresses the sins and God’s judgment against Jerusalem, God has dwelt among them and He has revealed His ways, Judah should have learned from God’s judgment of other nations, but she did not, they have rejected God’s corrections.

After the announced judgment Zechariah delivers a message of hope for remnant of God’s people. “In the end I will turn things around for the people. I’ll give them a language undistorted, unpolluted, words to address God in worship and united, to serve me with their shoulders to the wheel.” (The Message) In that day you will not be ashamed, because God will remove all the guilty from their midst, you will never be arrogant on God’s holy hill ever again and you will no longer need to fear disaster. At that time, the LORD will delight in His people, He will shout for joy over you, the LORD has delivered His people in the past and He will deliver them once again!

God’s final word, “Be sure of this! I will make all the nations of the earth respect and admire you when you see me restore you,” says the LORD. When God removes the wicked, it is so that He may come and dwell with us again. God removes the wicked for our blessings, God’s desire is that everyone be restored to a right relationship with Him, this is for us individually and it is for all nations of the earth, to be delivered from their guilt and sin and to be at peace with the LORD of Heaven and Earth.

Contrary to Zephaniah’s elaborate ancestry, Obadiah has no identification of his family or place of birth. Obadiah is a common name meaning “servant of the LORD”, his message was most likely written and delivered at the time when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem and were under siege for 3-years. Obadiah closely parallels Jeremiah, which suggest that there was some sort of connection between the two prophets, at the very least their ministry and message overlapped during this distressing time.

Obadiah states that he received his vision and message from the LORD at the time an envoy came to Jerusalem to instruct the people to join together to attack Edom. Obadiah announces the LORD’s judgment on Edom, for their hostilities against Israel that has gone on for centuries. The prophet is speaking to Judah, so we can understand that this message is for their encouragement in a time of great distress and as a warning to God’s people that they too will judged for their sins if they continue in their sins against the LORD.

Remember that the nation of Edom is the descendants of Esau, therefore the relatives of the people of Judah. The back story is that the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, are the grandsons of Abraham and the inheritors of God’s Promise. However in Genesis, we are told that Esau’s pride led to his downfall when treated his birthright lightly, throwing it away for a bowl of soup, offered by his brother. This began centuries of hostilities between the two nations, Edom didn’t desire the promise and blessings from the LORD and they did not want their “cousins” to have the benefits of God’s covenant and promises either.

Edom’s sin is pride, “your presumptuous heart has deceived you”. They were especially proud of their impregnable capital of Petra, about 50 miles south of the Dead Sea. They were confident that no one could bring them down; they prided themselves on their wealth, their alliances, their wisdom and their army. Obadiah describes them as eagles that could soar above the fray, but that the LORD will swoop down like a more powerful eagle to destroy them. They considered themselves safe, protected, but they were not unreachable to the Almighty God.

Obadiah says their pride will be turned to shame, and then states the reasons for God’s judgment. “Because you violently slaughtered your relatives, the people of Jacob, shame will cover you, and you will be destroyed forever. You stood aloof while strangers took his army captive, and foreigners advanced to his gates. When they cast lots over Jerusalem, you behaved as though you were in league with them”. When the combined forces of Babylon gathered against Judah, they cast lots over which sections of Jerusalem they each would plunder. Edom stood by indifferent to the sufferings of their brothers, then gloated and rejoiced over their destruction and finally attacked the refugees as they fled in terror. It is important to understand that every persecution of God’s people is pride and rebellion against the LORD.

Obadiah transitions from judgment against Edom and the nations (includes Judah) to the LORD’s deliverance of His people. “But on Mount Zion there will be a remnant of those who escape and it will be a holy place once again. The descendants of Jacob will conquer those who had conquered them.” The descendants of Jacob will be a fire and the descendants of Esau will be stubble. The Day of the LORD is the climax of all history, the ultimate end when God will punish those who oppose him and bring relief to his own people. Obadiah ends with hope for Judah, there will be deliverance from the LORD, Mount Zion will once again be holy, Jacob will repossess their inheritance and the LORD will reign as King!

Nahum and Habakkuk

During the decline of the kingdom of Judah, God sent prophets to warn the people of their sins and to reveal and explain God’s purposes for the world. Nahum preached from Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah. Remember that King Josiah was the boy king who became the last godly king of Judah. He was crowned king at age 8, then at age 16 decided to follow the LORD, later in his 20’s he purged the land of the idols and false worship centers set up by his forefathers. Finally he rebuilt and cleansed the temple where in the process they found a hidden book of the law, which he read to the people of Judah, and then they renewed the covenant with the LORD.

It has been approximately 150 years since the prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire to deliver God’s message to that evil nation. Much to Jonah’s dismay the people of Nineveh repented of their sins and God spared Nineveh’s destruction at that time. Eventually the Assyrians reverted to their evil ways, thus God’s judgment was delayed but not cancelled. Israel and Judah suffered under the oppression of the Assyrians; in 722 BC they invaded the northern kingdom of Israel and deported all the people to separate areas throughout the Assyrian empire. Following the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, Assyria laid siege to Jerusalem, during the reign of Hezekiah, but God miraculously saves Judah and the Assyrians retreat to Nineveh. However, the threat of that violent and evil nation remained persistent to Judah.

Assyria was known for their cruelties, they terrorized the near east for almost 200 years. They encouraged the spread of fear through amplifying stories of their cruelty; they made public examples of those who resisted their rule. Not only did they destroy and burn the cities of the nations they conquered, they also subjected them to humiliation, extreme suffering and did everything to completely wipe out the people groups so they could never regain any sort of tribal or national unity.

Assyria’s control over the conquered nations is crumbling; first the Babylonians gain their independence from Assyria then combine their forces with the Medes and Scythians to destroy Nineveh in 612 BC. The audience for Nahum’s prophecy and prediction of the destruction of Nineveh was Judah, who has suffered for many years under their cruelty and threat. The message is that the rule of the Assyrians is coming to an end, and that end will be by the hand of God. God is the LORD of History; God announces the eminent destruction of Assyria and God will bring it about! The LORD will bring judgement upon Assyria because of their great sin. “The LORD is a zealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and very angry. The LORD takes vengeance against his foes; he sustains his rage against his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will certainly not allow the wicked to go unpunished. He marches out in the whirlwind and the raging storm; dark storm clouds bill like dust under his feet.” Nahum describes God in relation to various impressive and frightening natural phenomena and against this judgment of the LORD no one can stand. The LORD relented during the time of Jonah; nothing can stop this coming judgement.

Compared to the disaster coming to Assyria, Nahum describes the LORD as a fortress in times of distress, that He protects those who seek refuge in Him. The LORD will “break Assyria’s yoke from your neck; I will tear apart the shackles that are on you” The LORD has issued a decree against Assyria, He will destroy your idols, your temples, your dynasty will come to an end. Nahum announces this as good news to people of Jerusalem, it is time to celebrate your festival, because never again will Assyria invade them, they will be completely destroyed.

Nahum then describes the coming defeat of Assyria, the enemy is marching out to burn their chariots, tear down their walls so they will never be able to rebuild again. This will be accomplished by the Babylonians as foretold in Isaiah, but Nahum declares that it is the LORD who commands armies and that it is the LORD who is against Assyria!

When Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC, the city was completely destroyed by a flood that demolished the cities walls as described by Nahum. Later historians’ record that when Alexander the Great fought a battle nearby that he did not know that there had ever been a city there. The fulfillment of Nahum’s prophecy was so widespread that the ruins of Nineveh were not discovered by archeologists until 1850.

Nahum’s name means comfort or consolation; this message would have provided comfort to the people of Judah that the evil of Assyria will be judged by the LORD and that the people of Judah will have relief from their oppression. For us who see the evil of today and the oppression of the innocent, we too find comfort in the sure knowledge that the evils of today will not go unpunished that the LORD God is still the LORD of History!

After the good king Josiah’s death, his son Jehoahaz was anointed as king. When the Babylonians began to attack the Assyrians, Jehoahaz attempted to stop Egypt from going to Assyria’s support. This plan failed and Jehoahaz was captured by the Egyptians, who placed his brother Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah as Egypt’s vassal state. Jehoiakim will reign for 11 years, this was tumultuous time he rebelled against Egypt, allied Judah to Babylon, and then rebelled against Babylon which finally resulted in Nebuchadnezzar and his allies attacking Judah.

It was during this time period that Habakkuk prophesied, his message was not directed to Israel or other nations. Habakkuk records his conversation or argument between the prophet and the LORD. He represents the godly in Judah who are struggling to understand God’s ways and plans. Habakkuk agues with God over his lack of action against the wicked, the lack of justice for the godly and questions why God would use such a wicked nation to punish Israel. Habakkuk addresses God in the form of questions. “God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, Help! Murder! Police! Before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head.” (The Message)

The questions about evil, injustice and sin in Habakkuk’s day are the same questions about evil that we have today. This is not just about nations or politicians, but about us individually and the church too. How do we confront sin? Do we normalize it? Do we remove the negative consequences, with good intentions, but our efforts result in more evil and condone sin?

God’s answer to Habakkuk is that He is raising up Babylon, “that ruthless and impetuous people”, Habakkuk plea to the LORD about how long does he need to wait will be answered in his lifetime by the evil of Babylon. Habakkuk cannot see the justice in Israel being punished by an even greater evil nation like Babylon; he questions why the Babylonians would be allowed to conquer Judah completely. Habakkuk recognizes that God has ordained the Babylonians to punish Judah for their sins, but questions the use of the unrighteous in God’s plan. “Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour those more righteous than they are?”

Habakkuk refers to Israel as being more righteous than the wicked Babylonians, but we know just how far Israel then Judah has strayed from the LORD. We are like Habakkuk, we often consider ourselves more righteous because we compare ourselves to others; we need to compare ourselves to the Holy God not to other sinful people. In the same way, when confronted with our sins, we compare ourselves to other Christians’ who sin in different ways, then justify or excuse our sins because others sin too. Once more, if we feel compelled to compare ourselves, we should compare ourselves to the Holy God not to other people.

God answers Habakkuk and reveals that He will hold the Babylonians responsible for their evil. “And then God answered: write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming-it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.” (The Message)

We learn several things from Habakkuk lament, that God considers honest questions, that God is concerned for all who suffer, and that God will move in His appointed time, all of history is in God’s hands culminating in the Day of Lord.

Habakkuk concludes his message with a prayer in the form of a Psalm, which remembers all the ways God has acted in the history of Israel. Habakkuk recounts God’s demonstration of power in the Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, in the plagues of Egypt, and in the victories of the conquest of the Promised Land. Habakkuk’s final words express faith in God’s good purposes, “when I heard it, my stomach did flips. I stammered and stuttered. My bones turned to water. I staggered and stumbled. I sit back and wait for Doomsday to descend on our attackers. Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen. Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I am singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountains!” (The Message)

Some think that people of faith don’t ever question God, but we learn from Habakkuk that this is not true. Those who trust in God can and do question God and wait on a clear message from the LORD to clarify. Also, we learn that we don’t always get the answer that we want or expect. Finally, do we respond in faith like Habakkuk when we get answers we don’t want or understand? Do we still have faith that God is in control of history and that He will protect and preserve His people from the evil that exists today!