Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: The Bible

The Apocalypse

Two hundred years ago scholars in Germany, calling themselves higher critics, began analysing the writing style of the books of the Bible. They concluded, among other things, that Genesis had been compiled by an unknown writer from two different strands of oral tradition and that the book of Daniel had been written by two different writers hundreds of years apart.

When they came to the last book of the Bible, they expressed great admiration for the way the writer combined elements from Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah with places and circumstances of his day to create a vivid allegory. But, they said, we have no idea who the writer was. He says his name is John, but we cannot identify him with any man named John that we know of from history. It certainly wasn’t the apostle John, because his writing style is completely different from the style of John’s gospel and epistles. So we will just call the unknown man John the Revelator.

Now, if you believe, as I do, that it was the apostle John who wrote the Apocalypse, and that he really did see our Lord standing in the midst of a golden candlestick with feet like molten brass, seven stars in his hand and a sword coming out of His mouth, then it is not hard to believe that he could not describe what he saw in the same style of writing that he had used before. “John the Revelator” may sound sophisticated, but it is the language of unbelief. I will speak of the writer of Revelation as the apostle John.

Apocalypse is the Greek word that is translated Revelation. John tells us in the very first verse that the Revelation was given to him (not by him). The book is addressed to the seven churches of Asia. The cities where these churches once existed were all in the area of Asia Minor that is now Turkey. John lived at Ephesus for many years, but was exiled to the island of Patmos in the year 97 by the emperor Domitian. He was released two years later by the emperor Trajan, The visions recorded in this book were given to John some time during this two-year period.

John was well known to the members of the seven churches of Asia and they will have known that he was exiled to Patmos. Thus he needed no more introduction than that which he gives. Chapters two and three reveal God’s analysis of the spiritual condition of each of those seven churches at that time.

Some Christians try to match the scenes of Revelation to current events an believe they are getting deep into the Bible. I believe they are missing the point. The book is meant to reveal to us that God is yet at work behind all the mystifying events that are taking place in the world around us and that one day He will bring the world into judgment and set all things aright.

I am trying to write an introduction, not a commentary. Every believer should read this book for themselves, looking for the personal spiritual message that God may have for him. Here is just one line of thought to get you started:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. Water in the Bible is a symbol of the turbulent and unstable nature of humanity without God. The dry land is a symbol of the stability of those people who acknowledge God as Saviour and Lord. Thus the beast arising from the sea represents pagan religions and the beast arising from the dry land is something that arises out of Christianity, yet behaves much the same as the first beast. Frogs are amphibious, at home in the water or on dry land. Frog spirits (Revelation 16:13-14) try to deceive Christians into believing that they can be at home in the ever-changing world and also be at home in the changeless church of Jesus Christ.

General Epistles

Most of these epistles are more like essays addressed to a wider audience than letters addressed to a particular individual or congregation.

Hebrews
My Bible says the epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. I don’t know who inserted that, or when, but it has never been the consensus of believers. The writer never identifies himself in the essay and that should be sufficient for us to conclude it is not important to know who he was. There appear to be equally valid arguments in favour of Paul, Apollos or Silas, but it seems pointless to enter into that argument.
The essay is directed towards Jewish Christians who were under intense pressure to observe all points of the Jewish law. It is useful to us today as an antidote to those who argue that certain aspects of the Old Testament Law are still valid. It can be considered a lengthy commentary on Psalm 110, and must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

James
The writer’s name was Jacob; James is the English form of the Greek form of that name. The writer feels no need to offer further identification, thus we must conclude that he was the most prominent James in the church at that time: James the brother of our Lord. Since he met a martyr’s death in AD 62 the letter probably dates from shortly before that.
Some writers consider James the Less, the son of Alpheus, to be the brother of our Lord. That is problematic, as the brethren of our Lord were evidently not His supporters during His ministry, but became so after His resurrection. The attempt to make the sons of Alpheus to be the brethren of Jesus is based more on the Roman Catholic dogma that Mary was a perpetual virgin than upon any Scriptural evidence.
James’ message is valid for all times and places, but may have been inspired by the growing resentment of the poor and landless in Judea and Galilee towards wealthy landowners. This resentment boiled over a few years later in the revolt of 66 AD led by the Zealots. He admonishes the readers to have a living faith, to be patient in trials, to be free of jealousy and hypocrisy and warns against the dangers of an unbridled tongue. He has admonitions for the rich but gives no encouragement to those with Zealot tendencies.

1 Peter
This letter was dictated by Peter to Sylvanus, who is referred to in Acts as Silas, a shortened form of the name. It is quite possible that he was also the scribe for 1 and 2 Thessalonians. All three letters are reputed to be written in a better Greek style than most other epistles.
Babylon is probably a veiled reference to Rome and it seems likely that this epistle was written at the time of Nero’s persecution of the Christians at Rome. Nero was still held in high esteem by the Christians in Asia Minor to whom the epistle is addressed, but Peter is warning that the persecution might soon come their way and admonishing them to steadfastness in the faith.

2 Peter
According to those who know Greek, this epistle is written in a different style than the first, indicating a different scribe. It is a warning against false prophets who claimed spiritual insights unknown to ordinary Christians. This may refer to early manifestations of what developed into the Gnosticism of the 2nd Century. There are obvious parallels with the epistle of Jude; it is probable that Peter saw fit to include them, or asked his scribe to do so. The epistle was probably written not long before Peter’s martyrdom.

1 John
The author of this epistle does not give his name, but there can be no doubt but that it was the apostle John, probably written towards the end of his life. Some had left the faith, either to return to legalistic Judaism or to follow false prophets. He gives two tests of genuine faith: love of the brethren and a correct belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

2 John
Written by the Apostle John, probably from Ephesus. There are two possible ways of understanding the elect lady to whom this short letter is addressed. She is either an eminent Christian lady in another city, or a Christian congregation in another city. In either case the counsel is the same: Do not receive in your home, or allow to preach in your home, anyone who teaches an incorrect view of who Jesus is.

3 John
Christians met in homes in the beginning and there might be several house churches in a large city. This short letter appears to address a situation where the leader of one of house church, Diotrephes, refuses to receive anyone sent by John. Thus John is writing to Gaius, the leader of another house church to ask him to receive Demetrius, probably a travelling evangelist.

Jude
This Jude is the younger brother of James and of our Lord. Neither James nor Jude attempt to trade on their family relationship, Jude here calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. He is writing to counter those teachers who would condone immorality in the church. The references to Michael the archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and to the prophecy of Enoch may be a corrective to false teachers who used such passages to defend their teaching.The last two verses are beautiful and reassuring words of praise.

The Epistles of the Apostle Paul

There is no serious doubt that Paul was the author of these epistles. It appears from the comment of the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:16) that they were considered Scripture from a very early period and collections of these letters would have been distributed to all the churches.

From time to time we should read each of these letters at one sitting, ignoring the chapter and verse divisions. These were added much later to help us find a particular portion more easily, but they also break up the letters in an artificial way. If we allow ourselves to be too much governed by these division we may not catch the full message the Apostle intended for us to hear.

He dictated each letter to a scribe, who is sometimes named in the letter, but added a portion in his own handwriting at the end of each. Galatians 6:11 “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand” should probably be taken to refer to the size of the letters he wrote as compared to the uniform and tidy writing of his scribe. Many reasons have been proposed for this: he was not as skilled in writing as a professional scribe; he wanted to emphasize that this was his own writing; or perhaps he had a vision problem that hindered his writing ability.

Several themes appear frequently in these letters:
– the united status of the church of God, depicted either as a temple with Christ as the foundation, or a body, with Christ as the head.
– it was God’s purpose from the beginning that salvation would be offered to all mankind on the same basis, but is only now fully revealed as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
– the reality of spiritual warfare; Christians are in enemy territory, we can only be victorious through the power of Jesus.

Romans: probably written while Paul was at Corinth. The believers at Rome were of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds and Paul emphasized that in the gospel era these differences no longer had any meaning. This had been God’s plan from the beginning and was now fully revealed and all believers were to live by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians: Corinth was a large and wealthy city where what we would call sexual immorality was commonplace and considered normal. There was also a hereditary class structure. These social divisions did not immediately disappear when they became Christians. One can readily imagine that the wealthier and better educated members would have preferred a gifted orator such as Apollos whereas the poorer would have identified more with Paul the tent maker.

2 Corinthians: This letter was probably written a year after the first. The first part gives commendation for the corrections made and instructions on the way to help one who has repented. There are hints that Paul is still looked down upon by the upper class church leaders. The fact that he has never taken money from them for himself is an affront to them as they feel it their duty to pay their teachers.

Galatians: The Galatians were Celts living in Asia Minor, now Turkey. Paul had introduced these people to the gospel, but now Christian Jewish missionaries had been teaching them that they needed to be circumcised to become Christians. Paul tells them we are all one in Christ and to go back to trusting in Jewish observances will separate them from Christ.

Ephesians: Written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. Most people of that day believed their lives were ruled by Fate, as revealed in the stars, and they had no hope of escaping from that Fate. Paul tells them that God has a better plan for them, that He had planned from the beginning of time to offer salvation to all people through Jesus Christ.

Philippians: Written from prison, probably a year after the letter to the Ephesians. This was the first church established in Europe by Paul and they were devoted to him. There appears to have been some rivalry or difference of o-pinion between leaders of two house churches and Paul exhorts them to unity.

Colossians: Colossae is a city in Asia Minor, or Turkey. There appears to have been some drift into mysticism which Paul addresses in the second chapter.

1 Thessalonians: Thessalonika is in Macedonia, the letter may date from as early as AD 50. It is largely a letter of thanksgiving and praise.

2 Thessalonians: probably written shortly after the first to correct a mistaken belief that the resurrection had already come.

1 Timothy: Probable date is AD 62-64, towards the end of Paul’s life. He instructs Timothy to see to ordaining ministers and deacons in every place to provide leadership and stability in the face of false teachings.

2 Timothy: Written during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome. It is generally assumed that his martyrdom took place AD 64-66, this was probably written not long before that and constitutes a fond farewell and final instructions to Timothy.

Titus: Titus was a Christian of Gentile origin. Paul had left him in Crete, the largest island in the Mediterranean, to establish leadership in the churches there. This epistle is thus very similar to 1 Timothy and was probably written at much the same time.

Philemon: Philemon was a prominent citizen of Colossae who was converted by Paul. Onesimus, a slave, had run away and then sought out Paul in Rome where he became a Christian. Paul sends him back to Philemon with this tender exhortation. No doubt Philemon received the exhortation willingly, as history records that Onesimus was later bishop of Ephesus. If Philemon had not received the letter graciously, it is highly unlikely that he would have kept it and then allowed it to be circulated among the churches.

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Introduction to the New Testament -2

Acts of the Apostles – This is the second half of Luke’s history, the first part being the Gospel which bears his name. Again we see a meticulous historian at work, telling the history of the beginning of the church in chronological order and anchoring it all to places and people in the secular world. If we pay attention as we read, it should cause us to question some popular notions that we may have assumed to be true.

For instance, it is commonly assumed that the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost happened in the upper room. How big a room must this have been to hold 120 men and women? Acts 1:15 says that was the number of the disciples at that time. We find in verses 12 & 13 that this upper room served as the bedroom for the eleven apostles; do we really think they would have crammed 120 people of both sexes into this space?

Luke tells us in the last verse of his gospel that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God and repeats that statement in Acts 2:46. The courtyard of the temple was huge, with room for many thousands of people. There were shelters here, such as the one called Solomon’s porch, and pools of water for ritual purification. It makes more sense to believe that all the action of Acts 2 took place here. Other people would have been drawn to these somewhat rustic people who suddenly began speaking in languages they had not previously known. It would not have seemed unusual to dip water from one of the pools to baptize 3,000 people by pouring. Any attempt to immerse them in one of those pools would no doubt have caused an uproar.

The Book of Acts shows the apostle Peter taking the lead in opening the door to membership in the beginning church, first of all to Jews on the day of Pentecost and not long after to Gentiles when he went to the home of Cornelius. Peter also took the lead in excluding unfaithful members from the church, namely Ananias and Saphira, God bearing witness to the truth of Peter’s decision by causing the immediate death of both.

This must not be taken to indicate that Peter was the head of the church. When the apostles and leaders of the church gathered at Jerusalem to discuss what should be required of Gentile converts, as recorded in chapter 15, it was James who rendered the final decision. This was James the son of Joseph and Mary and brother of our Lord. James, the brother of John had been slain by Herod before this time.

A large part of the book is taken up in recounting the conversion of Saul and his subsequent career as Paul the apostle. His mission journeys did much to expand the frontiers of the church throughout Asia and Europe. Luke appears to have accompanied him during much of this time.

We read in the book of Acts and elsewhere of disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, Paul and John Mark. There is no evidence in these accounts that the disagreements are evidence of sin on the part of the individuals involved, or that they caused a breech of fellowship between them. All were dedicated to the cause of Christ and the spreading of the gospel.

Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

African Americans and the Bible

The January – February issue of Christianity Today carried an article entitled Black Bible Reading Endures. I would like to share some of the statistics and a couple of quotes from that article.

Twice as many African Americans as other Americans to say that Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine. They are twice as likely as white Americans to say that the Bible should be interpreted literally.

56% of African Americans believe the Bible is more important to the moral fabric of the country than the constitution. All other ethnic groups believe the constitution is more important.

What Bible do they read? 42% of black Americans read the King James Version, much higher than any other group.

These statistics, drawn from a couple of different sources, paint a picture of a large segment of the black population of the USA who are more dependent upon the Bible than other Americans.

Earon James, a black pastor, says “Traditional black preaching embraces the great narrative of Scripture, African American believers have historically not had the luxury of holding biblical propositions divorced from actual practice.”

Lisa Fields, founder of the Jude 3 Project, an online apologetics ministry for black Christians, says “In my experience, African American believers want the straight, unadulterated Word.  Often in evangelical circles, Bible study consists of lots of stories, with the Bible sprinkled in . . . but we don’t need apologies because something God has said sounds hard. Just give us the Word, there’s much grace to go with it.”

My thoughts: The King James version was carefully prepared to be read aloud so that all could understand, whether they could read or not. This version still has the strongest appeal to people who have historically not had access to much schooling. The simple words and powerful phrasing of this Bible touch the heart as well as the mind and are much easier to remember than other translations.

The appeal of the KJV seems to last for several generations among the descendents of such people The translations of recent years seem to be designed for effete Christians who want the hard parts taken out, as much as can be done without causing too much of a stir.

Introduction to the Old Testament – conclusion

The Writings
Psalms – The hymn book of Israel and the source of many hymns of the church. Half of them were written by David and reveal his love for God and for the people of God. Some are raw with emotion, some are prophetic. If you look at the headings you will find that the family of Asaph wrote 12 and the sons of Kore wrote 11. Moses wrote Psalm 90 and Solomon Psalms 72 and 127. In addition, the Septuagint attributes Psalm 137 to Jeremiah, 119 to Ezra, and Psalms 120 to 134 to Hezekiah. These attributions in the Septuagint may not be entirely reliable.

Proverbs – Most of these were written by Solomon, his great wisdom coupled with experience and distilled into short and powerful lessons. Chapter 30 was written by Agur, of whom nothing is known. Chapter 31 is the instruction given to king Lemuel by his mother. No one by that name is known to history. Lemuel means dedicated to God and Jewish commentators considered it to be another name for Solomon, which would make Bathsheba the source of this counsel.

Job – Often called the oldest book in the Bible, in the sense that this story was being told before the Exodus and the time when Moses compiled the Talmud. The names and places given in the book identify it as coming from an area near Edom. The most probable explanation is that Moses heard this story while he was a Midianite shepherd and was divinely inspired to put it into writing for the edification of God’s people. The book reveals the greatness of God, the limits of Satan’ influence and the reward of faithfulness during affliction. It is notable that Job’s affliction was not fully relieved until he prayed for his friends who had falsely accused him.

Daniel – Begins with history, revealing God’s care for His people during their years of captivity in His dealings with King Nebuchadnezzar and in placing Daniel and his three friends in positions of great authority in the heathen kingdom. The prophecies of the latter part of the book reveal the kingdoms that would arise and fall before Messiah would come and gave a precise time for the coming of Messiah.

Chronicles is a recap of the whole history of Israel, revealing God’s guiding hand throughout. The genealogies are important in that they show that this is real history of real people and allow the tracing of God’s promise of a Messiah through the descendants of David. Chronicles does not condemn Solomon and reveals the repentance of Manasseh, the most wicked king Judah ever had. The author is Ezra, and the final verses of 2 Chronicles are the first verses of Ezra.

Ezra was the son of the high priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar and the spiritual leader of those who returned after the exile in Babylon. He oversaw the rebuilding of the temple. He appears also to have been the head of the Great Synagogue which established the canon of the Old Testametn Scriptures.

Nehemiah – this book is believed to have been compiled by Ezra from Nehemiah’s personal records. Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem by Artaxerxes to be governor. He oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

Song of Songs – written by Solomon. On the surface it appears to be an erotic love poem with scarcely a passing reference to God. Yet it was regarded by Jewish rabbis as a most holy book, an allegory of the love relationship between God and His chosen people.

Ruth – portrays the love relationship between the aged Naomi, an Israelite and her Moabite daughter-in-law. This account is an antidote to ideas of ethnic purity. Ruth married Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab the Canaanite harlot. The great-great-grandmother of Salmon was Tamar, also a Canaanite. All three of these women are named in the genealogy of Jesus. The book was probably written by Samuel, as it carries the Messianic line only as far as David.

Lamentations – written by Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This book has a unique structure which is not evident in translation. In Hebrew chapters 1, 2 and 4 follow the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet, each verse beginning with a succeeding letter. In chapter 3 there are 22 groups of three verses each, following the same pattern. Chapter 5 has 22 verses, but does not follow the alphabetic pattern.

Ecclesiastes – appears to be the final work of Solomon, towards the end of his life. It speaks of the emptiness of all the things he did to prove his greatness, yet gives clear teaching of our duty to God. Chapter 7 verse 28 says that he did not find one woman in a thousand. The message here is not anti-woman, but appears to be a confession of his own failure. He had taken 1,000 wives, and not found one that was a true help meet for him.

Esther – probably written by Mordecai, the ending may have been supplied by Ezra. Gives a glimpse into the internal workings of the Persian court and supplies the history of the providential deliverance of the Jews in the Persian empire from a plot to destroy them. Haman was an Agagite, possibly a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag slain by Samuel, which explains his hated of Jews. The events depicted here are the basis of the Jewish feast of Purim.

Introduction to the Old Testament, continued

The following twelve are often referred to as the Minor Prophets. Though their messages are shorter, there is nothing insignificant about them.

Hoseah was a prophet in Israel, contemporary with Isaiah. His 40 year ministry was a last call to Israel to return to the Lord before judgment fell upon them, much as Jeremiah’s ministry to Judah 140 years later. Hoseah’s wife became a prostitute and he redeemed her from those who had enslaved her. He uses this a parallel to Israel’s spiritual prostitution and how God wanted to redeem them. He refers to Israel as Ephraim 37 times: “I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled” (chapter 6:10).

Joel – the time of his prophecy would most likely be in the early years of King Joash. Wiked Queen Athalia had been slain and Joash was guided by the faithful priest Jehoiada. Joel’s prophecy is first a call to repentance and restoration, followed by a prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord.

Amos did not claim to be a prophet, rather a farmer from Judah whom God sent to Israel with a one-time message. He dates his message as being durin the reign of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel, and two years before the earthquake. Did he perhaps predict the earthquake? Chapter 9 verse 5 could give that impression. His message to Israel was of the impending judgment of God.

Obadiah was a contemporary of Elijah and Elisha in Israel, during the time of Jehoram, one of the wicked kings of Judah. Elijah wrote a warning letter to Jehoram around this time. Obadiah appears to have written after Jerusalem had been pillaged by Edom, and announces the final destruction of Edom.

Jonah was from Israel, which was oppressed by Assyria, thus he had no desire to see Assyria spared. The book was probably written by Jonah himself, though he does not depict himself in a favourable light. God’s mercy to Nineveh is a message that He has compassion on all mankind.

Micah – a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah warns of the coming wrath of God on those who were outwardly religious, but do not live justly. He names Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah will be born.

Nahum may have been born in Israel and fled to Jerusalem when Assyria overthrew the northern kingdom and led the people into captivity. This would place his prophecy in the latter part of the reign of Hezekiah when Judah was threatened by Assyria. He foretold the end of the Assyrian empire and the destruction of Nineveh. The repentance that was occasioned by Jonah’s prophecy evidently did not carry on to succeeding generations.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah. God was about to use Babylon to judge Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry. “The just shall live by his faith” chapter 2 verse 4.

Zephaniah was the great-great grandson of Hezekiah and prophesied during the reign of King Josiah who would have been a distant cousin, He calls the nation to abandon idolatry and return to the Lord. He warns of coming judgment, but promises “ I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD” chapter 3 verse 12.

Haggai – Prophesied after the return from the Babyloniam captivity and urged the rebuilding of the temple. Tradition says he was born in Babylon and studied under Ezekiel.

Zehariah – a priest who was a contemporary of Haggai, with a similar message, urging the rebuilding of the temple a restoration of holiness. Many messianic prophecies in the latter part:“for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH” (ch 3, v 8); “behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (ch. 9, v. 9); “and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (ch. 12, v. 10); etc.

Malachi – the final prophet before 400 years of silence. One last call to faithfulness and a prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be preceded by “Elijah.”

Introduction to the books of the Old Testament

The Torah, all five books written by Moses
Genesis – Describes the Creation, its beauty and goodness, and then its corruption when our first parents fell for the deception of the serpent. The first promise of a Saviour is in the third chapter where it is said that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. The call of Abraham, his (almost) sacrifice of his son, a type of what God would do. Jacob’s prophecy that “Shiloh” would come through the line of Judah.

Exodus – The descendents of Jacob are slaves in Egypt and God calls an eighty-year-old man who had never properly learned the Hebrew language to be God’s messenger to lead them out of captivity.

Leviticus – A very detailed description of what loving God and loving our neighbour should look like.

Numbers – A record of God’s longsuffering with His people during the 40 years in the wilderness when they tested Him is so many ways.

Deuteronomy – Almost all the adult males who came out of Egypt have died in the wilderness and there is a new generation. Moses recapitulates God’s dealings with His people and His plan for them in preparation for entering the Promised Land.

The Former Prophets
Joshua – Probably mostly written by Joshua himself. Moses, representative of the law, could not enter the Promised Land. Joshua is the same name as Jesus, and means salvation of the Lord. He led the people across Jordan and then led them in the conquest of the land, with many miraculous interventions by God, and then divided the land among the tribes. “There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (Joshua 21.45).

Judges – Written by Samuel. Before the New Testament era the Holy Spirit was given to only a few people. This book is a record of the ups and downs of the spiritual and material prosperity of God’s people, largely dependent on what kind of leadership they had

1 Samuel – Written by Samuel. God raised up a spiritual leader who was not of the Levitical priesthood. During his ministry the Ark of the Covenant was not in the Tabernacle of Moses. Samuel ignored the tabernacle, established places of sacrifices throughout the land and appears to have made them a one year circuit. His ministry brought spiritual unity and stability to Israel.

2 Samuel – Most likely written by Nathan and Gad, David’s seers. The story of King David, a man after God’s own heart. He was as much a spiritual leader as a political leader, with the heart of a shepherd.

1 Kings – The work of Jeremiah, possibly written by his secretary, Baruch. The glory of Solomon’s kingdom, which was the earthly fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. The division of the kingdom after his death and the apostasy of the northern kingdom. The ministry of Elijah to the apostate northern kingdom to point them back to God.

2 Kings – Also written by Jeremiah, probably aided by Baruch. The continuing history of the divided kingdoms. Many godly kings in Judah, the southern kingdom, and others who fell into idolatry so that the land became polluted with idols. Continuing apostasy in Israel, the northern kingdom, with some partial revivals. The ministry of Elisha in Israel; the people finally taken into captivity. The last six verses of 2 Kings are identical to the last six verses of Jeremiah.

The Latter Prophets
Isaiah – written by Isaiah. His ministry lasted for 60 years, covering the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Asa, Hezekiah and into the reign of Manasseh. Filled with prophecies of judgement for the unfaithful and wicked and the promise of the Messiah, the suffering servant.

Jeremiah – written by Jeremiah. His ministry began during the revival during the reign of King Josiah and continued through the time of spiritual collapse until the captivity. He was then carried away to Egypt by rebellious Jews and continued to prophesy there for a few more years. The theme of his book is a last minute warning of God’s impeding judgement.

Ezekiel – Written in Babylon by Ezekiel. The people of God now had no king, no country, no temple to continue their system of worship. Ezekiel was a priest and others came to him looking for spiritual direction. Synagogue is a Greek word meaning congregation or assembly; there is no instruction ever given for the organization of such a worship system, but this is probably how it began. Ezekiel pays little attention to the political situation, but speaks of hope for a spiritual restoration, when the Lord Himself will be the shepherd of His people (chapter 34).

-to be continued

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