Today's reading places blame for God's punishment -- the political and religious leaders who should know better have not expected people to live justly with each other. Instead, the kings and royal authorities, and the priests and prophets, have allowed behavior. In fact, instead of condemning injustice, they have offered false words, suggesting that God accepts such behavior. Judges, priests, and prophets can be bought off -- not only turning their heads from the problem, but becoming part of the this unjust behavior.
Today's reading is the beginning of Micah, the prophet who tried to give direction amid the decline of the kingdom of Judah. It begins with warnings of punishment for wrong -- idolatry in Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel) and a list of sins in Judah. Promising that the destruction will be complete, and that even Jerusalem will be captured, it gives ways that people have stopped following God's teaching.
Here, the greatest sin of Judah is not idolatry, but an unfaithful way of life. The people are mistreating each other -- instead of living together in harmony, there is selfishness and greed. Evidently, people were willing to do bad things to their neighbors (and maybe even family members) in order to "get ahead." Even so, this long warning of destruction and punishment is followed by a hope for reunification of God's people from the two kingdoms into one peaceful kingdom.
Micah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah. During his career, the northern kingdom of Israel was captured and the southern kingdom was threatened (though it did not fall until decades after Micah's death). Consistently, Micah prophesied to the leaders in Jerusalem to change their ways so that such a defeat could be avoided.
After opening with a short description of God's frustration with the northern kingdom of Israel (here identified by its major city, Samaria), Micah turns attention to the problems in Judah. Ultimately, it is a question of justice -- the people are not living fairly with each other, but instead are lying and cheating to try to get ahead. Worse, the political and religious leaders in Jerusalem participate in such behavior and do nothing to help the people repent and follow God's teaching.
The leaders believe that God will be satisfied as long as worship and sacrifices in the Temple continue regularly; however, God's concerns are much larger than what happens in the Temple alone. Such attitudes have thoroughly corrupted the people; in fact, the few who try to be faithful to God still sin a great deal due to this environment. Drastic steps will be necessary to restore the situation so that they can live up to the special covenant with God to be God's people.
Today's reading is the odd conclusion to the saga of Jonah. After the overwhelming response to his brief prophecy by the people of Ninevah, Jonah was hugely disappointed that God did not destroy the city. In fact, Jonah spoke to God and rationalized his earlier fleeing from God by saying "he knew it all along" that God would forgive instead of punish.
Then, Jonah climbed a hill overlooking Ninevah, still hoping that God would destroy the city. Instead, God tried to teach Jonah a lesson. God allowed a plant to grow to shade the prophet, and then God allowed the plant to be infected by a worm and die. Jonah, full of self-pity, asked to die. God points out Jonah's nearsightedness about the bush and asks why a city of 120,000 people shouldn't attract God's care, concern, and protection.
Tepid Jonah and the Overwhelming Response by Ninevah
Today's reading is a part of the Jonah story that is even more unbelievable than Jonah surviving in the belly of a fish. After he was spit on dry land, the prophet accepted his mission to go to Ninevah, the Assyrian capital. However, Jonah only carried out the mission half-way. He went into the city, but not to its center, said one sentence warning of God's wrath against Ninevah, and left town.
The response to this warning, though, was dramatic. Word spreads and the Assyrian king learns of the foreign prophet's words. He immediately instructed every resident of the city to fast, to wear sackcloth and ashes, and to pray -- further, they were to make every animal in the city do the same thing. The king hoped that through this overwhelming display they could change God's mind, which God did.
Today's reading is probably the most famous part of Jonah. After being tossed off the boat, Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish (or whale, depending on the translation), where his life was somehow preserved. In the belly of the fish, Jonah desperately prayed to God, asking for forgiveness.
Jonah compares falling into the ocean with falling into Sheol, the pit of nothingness that is the farthest point from God humans can imagine. Then, he bemoans that he will not live to offer another sacrifice to God in the Temple. At the end, God caused the fish to spit Jonah miraculously onto dry land.
Today's reading is the beginning of Jonah, the prophet charged with going to Ninevah, the capital city of the Assyrians, with a prophecy of God. Jonah had no desire to go to Ninevah, though, and boarded a boat sailing in the opposite direction.
This behavior seemed to anger God, who caused a great storm to rage around the boat Jonah was aboard. The sailors were unable to salvage the boat, and in a desperate act, drew lots to see if they could determine which person on the boat had angered one of the gods. This dual act of idolatry surprisingly identified the culprit -- Jonah. They asked Jonah to confess his guilt, but he refused. In essence, he skipped to a sentence and told the sailors to throw him overboard. Rather than drowning, though, the prophet was swallowed by a fish. (And the storm immediately ends, causing the sailors to offer a sacrifice to the true God.)
Jonah probably offers the most famous story of the Jewish prophets (with some competition from Daniel and the lions). He runs away from God on a boat, gets tossed overboard during a storm, and is saved by God when he is swallowed by a giant fish (or a whale).
This is not a children's tale, though (despite inspiring part of the Pinocchio story). It is a vivid testimony of the power of God -- Jonah runs from God, but God catches Jonah; Jonah is cast into the sea, but God saves Jonah in a fish; God sends Jonah to a foreign city (Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian empire) with a warning of destruction, which Jonah half-heartedly repeats, but the people of Ninevah respond dramatically to appease God; Jonah is frustrated by God not killing all the people in Ninevah, and God tries to teach Jonah a lesson with a sheltering bushy plant.
Arguably, this is an allegory -- a story that means to teach a broader lesson through a few characters. This is not because of the fantastic elements of the story -- a swallowing fish, a city that completely repents its sins virtually on a dime (and makes all of the animals atone in the same way the humans atone) -- but because it seems to highlight the short-sightedness of the Jewish people.
Often, with the benefit of hindsight, we wonder how this people, given so many opportunities and blessings by God, could have stopped following God. Here is a story about this -- while the Hebrew Jonah is God's prophet, it is everyone else who seems more faithful. Jonah is reluctant about his mission for God, but foreigners respond powerfully to God, especially the king of Ninevah, who orders everyone to fast, wear sackcloth, and pray to save the city. In some ways, Jonah seems to point out this Jewish "half-heartedness" in following God's teaching. Or it is simply the story of God using a person for good (the salvation of a large city) despite the fact that the person only seems to care about what happens to himself.
Today's reading is often read on Good Friday. It describes one who will suffer for the sins of many. This servant will be despised, scorned, and greatly mistreated -- evidently even killed -- but who will be a source of righteousness for many.
Usually, Christians see this as a description of Jesus Christ. (In addition to being read on Good Friday, it also is the source of part of Handel's Messiah about the crucifixion.) In the coming months, during the weeks reading the Gospels, it many of the parallels between this chapter and the life of Jesus become obvious.
Today's reading is another prophecy of God gathering those in exile and restoring them to their captured lands. It begins with words spoken to the lands of Zion themselves, preparing them for the return of God's people. Then it imagines the first messengers who will arrive in those lands, heralding the salvation of God's people. For while many had counted God's people as totally defeated, God will yet show them to be worthy of honor (and worthy of the title, "God's people").
Today's reading is an interesting history lesson. While the Jews were exiled in Babylon, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, who allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. The Persian emperor at the time was Cyrus.
For years, the Jews had waited for God to send someone to lead them into freedom. After their release, they assumed that this person was Cyrus, to whom they give the designation of "God's anointed" -- in Hebrew, messiah. While Cyrus did offer salvation to those in exile, later people (both Jews and Christians) came to believe that another person would come and more fully claim the title of messiah and lead God's people into a new era. Still, this is a hopeful reminder that God can use all sorts of people -- here a foreign emperor -- for good.
When You Carve a Wooden God, What Happens to the Rest of the Wood?
Today's reading offers yet another criticism of idolatry. Again, God wonders how people could think that anything made by human hands could be any sort of god. However, the argument here takes an interesting direction. The makers of these statues probably do not completely use all of the raw materials for their idols, so they must use the rest of the material for other things. This is particularly true of wood -- some of it may be carved into a statue, but the rest is burned for warmth and cooking heat. If part of the wood was holy, why not the rest of it?
Today's reading is a promise from God to restore the Jews to Jerusalem after exile in Babylon. God will gather those scattered by war and allow them to live freely as God's people. As in the past, God will make a way, whether through the desert or through a sea -- a reminder of God's care during the Exodus. Most importantly, this restoration is what God wants, so there is nothing that can prevent it from happening.
Our June break for Godsway 66 continues this week. The overview for the next book, Jonah, will be posted on June 21.
In the meantime, enjoy some bonus readings from previous books. This week, there are extra readings from the prophet Isaiah. These parts of Isaiah are thought to be teachings from the time of the exile in Babylon. They offer hope that God will save them and allow them to reclaim Jerusalem. One challenges the idea of idolatry, and one offers a prophecy that seems to be all about Jesus Christ.
Today's reading is a song of war, which asks for God's help in winning a battle. Beneath this, though, is a deep reliance on God, rather than only on their own weapons and leadership. As Abraham Lincoln suggested, it might be better for us to ask that we be on the Lord's side, rather than God be on our side. Still, it is a common way -- in times of war or not -- to reach out to God, in ancient times and today. 'Look, God,' we say, 'at how we have been good and faithful. Now be good to us and give us what we want.'
Today's reading is a song attributed to David for protection and preservation in the face of enemies. It asks for God's faithful help during dark hours of despair, remembering better times and hoping for better times ahead. Even under these pressures, David's own faith shines through -- asking for God's teaching and seeking ways that God can use him.
Today's reading is a song that appears to be written during the time of exile. In any case, it is the prayer of one who cannot worship God in the Temple, but who warmly remembers going to the Temple in the past. It speaks deeply of the desires of the soul, yearning for God, even in hard circumstances. Despite the heaviness of the situation, it is still a song of great hope.
Today's reading is a new song for the Lord. In particular, it is a request for a restoration in a time of idolatry and faithlessness. People are encouraged to recognize God's attributes, including God's strength and judgment. When God's glory is fully revealed, all of creation -- not simply people, but all animals, plants, and waters -- will praise God.
Today's reading is a plea for protection. In particular, it is a prayer during a time of godlessness and evil. Everyone, perhaps even those who claim to be faithful, seems to be deceiving themselves.
This psalm echoes one dominant theme of many of the prophets -- the people have stopped following God and they cannot be trusted. In this environment, how is a person of faith supposed to keep their faith, without falling into godless traps? Only the patient protection of God can help the faithful in such times.
During the summer months, there will be stops along Godsway 66. Hopefully, this will allow people to enjoy vacations and other wonderful summer activities without falling behind in this trip through the entire Bible. The overview for the next book, Jonah, will be posted on June 21.
In the meantime, enjoy some bonus readings from previous books. This week, there are extra readings from the Psalms, including some which touch on key themes from the prophets, such as the search for hope and guidance in times of faithlessness and exile.
Today's reading concludes the prophecy of Obadiah with a promise. Edom had seemed to participate in the defeat of Judah, but eventually God will flip this result. Judah will be restored to its land and free, while Edom will be completely destroyed and its land will be controlled by the rulers in Jerusalem.
On Sunday, Rev. Joshua Patty preached on the prophet Amos, who was often quoted by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Let justice flow down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." Amos, like the preceding book of Joel, focused on the coming "Day of the Lord." Unlike Joel, Amos was much more pessimistic about the "Day of the Lord," which for him would be a time of awful vengeance by God.
Amos viewed history as a time of perpetual decline, at least from the eyes of God. People had been given a chance to live well, but at every turn they turned more and more away from God. Now, the only solution to this decline would be the "Day of the Lord," when God would powerfully intervene in human history, punishing humanity -- especially the chosen people, who should have known better -- and setting things right. This would be followed by God establishing a new order of peace for those faithful to God.
As Christians, we believe that God has already intervened in history, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. By following Jesus' example, we may limit the need for such a dramatic "Day of the Lord," especially one where almost everyone will be punished.
Today's reading is a list of Edom's misdeeds in participating in the capture and pillaging of Jerusalem. In this portion of the prophecy, the name of Esau is mentioned more than once. This is a reference to the close relationship between Judah (thought to be descendants of Jacob) and Edom (thought to be descendants of Esau, his older twin). Worse than mere plunder is the fact that Edom was battling alongside foreigners against a nation of people of similar heritage -- in fact, the text suggests that it is a battle of brother against brother.
On Pentecost Sunday, Rev. Joshua Patty preached about the prophet Joel, who promised great vindication for God's people at the "Day of the Lord." On that day, Jerusalem will be restored and God's people will live in peace, while those who had defeated God's people would themselves be punished by God.
Offering a word of hope in the midst of people facing suffering in times of war and conquest, Joel explains that God's chosen people are being punished for faithlessness. However, God has a stronger army that will sweep through to defeat the warmongers. Those who repent, though, will be protected and allowed to live in the restored Jerusalem.
Joel believes that there is a great potential for salvation, if people will only return to faith in God. They would be filled with God's spirit, and live well in peace.
The apostle Peter took part of Joel as his scripture text for his great sermon on the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. Drawing on the vision of radical equality presented in Joel, Peter promises that the coming of Jesus is God's offer of a way to salvation in light of "the Day of the Lord." This possibility is offered broadly, regardless of cultural norms (so men and women, locals and foreigners, freepersons and slaves, and even Jews and non-Jews). And it was such an exciting possibility and promise that 3000 people were baptized in Christ's name that day -- which is called by some the birthday of the church.
Today's reading is the opening of Obadiah, the short prophecy of punishment for Edom. This neighboring country of Judah had a long contentious relationship -- beginning with its refusal to allow Moses and the Hebrews to pass through the country during the Exodus.
More recently, they had allied with the Babylonians. Evidently, they participated in the capture and destruction of Jerusalem. Due to this, they received special condemnation, including this prophecy of destruction.
Obadiah is a very short prophecy tucked into the so-called "minor prophets" -- the last 12 books of the Hebrew Bible (Hosea through Malachi). It concerns the actions of Edom, a nation that neighbored Judah to the southeast, during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. Evidently, people from this neighboring country joined in the pillaging of the captured city (probably encouraged to do so by Babylon as part of a political alliance).
Edom was a nation older than Israel. In fact, the Hebrews requested permission to travel through the country of Edom during the Exodus, but they were denied access and had to travel around the kingdom. However, Edom had ties to the Hebrews. Tradition says that while Israel was a nation of people descended from Jacob, Edom was a nation descended from Esau -- Jacob's slightly older twin brother.
This perceived relationship led many Jews to believe that Edom had betrayed them during the capture of Jerusalem, choosing to side with foreign invaders against them. In response, Edom often received special attention from prophets during the exile who warned that God had extra punishments in store for the ancient nation of Edom. In Obadiah, the warning is that Edom should not gloat in Judah's defeat because Judah will one day be restored and will defeat and rule Edom.