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The Minor Prophets: conclusion

All summer we’ve been going through some of the minor prophets, in a bible study I wrote two years ago (learn more about the background of this study in the introduction). We’re going to close the series with some of the conclusion I wrote for the original study guide.

Here’s a brief look at some of the topics we’ve covered while studying these six books:

Obadiah

  • Pride deceives
  • The good  you DON’T do is sin
  • Deeds return on your head (the Boomerang Effect)

Joel

  • Crying out to God
  • Turning your heart toward God
  • God’s gifts satisfy fully –and more!
  • God is both Judge and Protector
  • God is present with us

Zephaniah

  • Seek God
  • Seek God together
  • Trust God to deal with injustice
  • God is faithful when we are not
  • Serving shoulder-to-shoulder

Habakkuk

  • When sin goes unpunished
  • Trusting God when life doesn’t go to plan
  • Watching for God’s answers
  • God’s heart for the exploited
  • Lament worship

Haggai

  • Serve God first – trust Him to take care of the rest
  • Obeying (not procrastinating)
  • God’s presence makes the temple great
  • Offerings of faith
  • Tools chosen by God

Malachi

  • What would your life be like without God?
  • Priest offering sacrifices
  • Breaking faith/keeping faith
  • Trusting God’s timing
  • Robbing God
  • Unity affects God

There’s a LOT packed into these six short books. One thing I love about reading the Bible is that no matter how many times I read the same book, there’s always SO MUCH MORE to learn. I discover new treasures every time as I turn my heart to God.

  1. These lists reflect some of the things that are special to me in each of these books. I encourage you to make your own list, of the things that spoke to you from each book.

I hope that you have enjoyed taking a brief look at some of the minor prophets. I pray that you have a deeper understanding of the character of God, and his passionate love you his people – his passionate love for YOU.

I also hope that you have been recording your thoughts, your insights, your questions. These are the things we need to share with each other! This is how we strengthen our faith – gathering together, sharing together.

I’m going to close with a beautiful prayer from Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

God is truly beyond comprehension, beyond imagination.

He is greater than all our wildest dreams.

I pray he will be glorified through me, through you – through us, as we continue to seek him together.


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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Joel, part 3

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction

Click here to read Part 1 of the Joel study

Click here to read Part 2 of the Joel study

Read Joel 3 in the NIV

Read Joel 3 in the NIRV

The first section we’re looking at today goes from Joel 3 verses 1-16.

KEY VERSE: “I will sit to judge the nations on every side” (verse 12)

Here, AFTER speaking to the Israelites about their need to repent, God turns his attention to other nations. God sees what’s going on. He sees each time someone insults or hurts his loved ones. There will be justice, when God’s chosen time comes.

It’s not my job to complain. It’s not for me to doubt God because I see people who ignore him doing well for themselves. I should be concerned with what he’s doing in ME and in MY life – not looking to others, and what I think he should be doing with THEM. That’s GOD’S job. It’s a job he takes seriously, the task of providing justice to all. He desires MERCY rather than judgment, but he never sacrifices justice. (Take a look at the verses for more on God’s desire for mercy – Hosea 6:4-6; Zechariah 7:9-10; Matthew 9:10-13, 12:7; James 2:12-15).

KEY VERSE: “But the LORD will be a refuge for his people” (verse 16)

In the midst of shaking up the earth, in his most awesome displays of power, God is AT THE SAME TIME a place of safety for his people. He is PROTECTOR at the same time he is Judge. Those who abide in him have nothing to fear. No matter how it looks, I am safe and secure in God – AT ALL TIMES. He is strong enough to see me through the darkest night, and through the fiercest battle.

  1. Do you ever feel you are outside the stronghold that God describes? What emotions does that image of being outside bring up?
  2. We don’t always FEEL God’s protection, even if we know it’s true. What are some ways to TRUST God’s protection when you don’t feel it?

KEY VERSE: “then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion” (verse 17)

There is a point to all of this – sending disasters, sending prophets, calling the people to repentance, judging the nations. What God wants in the end is for his people to know one simple fact.

I AM WITH YOU

God doesn’t just visit, he takes up residence, makes a home in Zion – the heart of the nation. This is a permanent placement, not a temporary assignment. He’s not going anywhere. He won’t abandon his people. He is not, however, a silent statue, an unseen stalker. He wants his people to KNOW he’s with them!

He wants to CHANGE them by his presence. He wants to make them holy, set apart, separate, different, unique. He wants his people to be HIS people – marked, identified by their association with him. He will FORGIVE and he will BLESS and he will BE WITH them!

This concept of Yahweh as the God who LIVES WITH is found throughout the Old Testament. (Check out these verses for a taste of it – Exodus 13:21-22, 20:18-23; Numbers 14:13-14; Deuteronomy 31:8, 23; Nehemiah 9:9-15; Isaiah 34:1-4; Amos 5:14). The name “Emmanuel” even MEANS “God with us”. He was different from the gods of the nations because of his PRESENCE. He was really there with them. God does not change, so his desire to be WITH us, intimately, is all through the New Testament, too (see John 14:16-21; John 15; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philemon 4:9).

Why do you think God calls Israel his bride, and calls the Church the bride of Christ? He uses the most intimate relationship found among humans to describe his love and desire for us. He wants to know us and be known by us. (For a taste of God’s intimate love for us, see Isaiah 62:5, Hosea 2:14-23; Revelation 19:6-9)

Everything he does in our lives will comes back to this – that we might know him more. Not just because knowing him is good for us, blesses us (although it does) but because it blesses HIM to be known by us.

  1. How does “God with us” affect you, your life, and your relationship with God?
  2. Human relationships mirror aspects of the way God loves us and interacts with us. Which of these different relationships have you felt present at some point in your relationship with God?
    • Parent
    • Friend
    • Best Friend
    • Lover
    • Judge
    • Counsellor
    • Healer
    • Advisor
    • Others…
  3. Describe two different ways you’ve known God.
  4. What are some ways you can start getting to KNOW God, in a deeper way? How can you start doing this?
 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Joel, part 2

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction

Click here to read Part 1 of the Joel study

Read Joel 2 in the NIV

Read Joel 2 in the NIRV

The first section we’re looking at today goes from Joel 2 verses 1-17.

KEY VERSE: “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart” (verse 12)
Some scholars believe that this passage refers to a coming invasion by an army of men. Others believe it refers to a second plague of insects, worse than the first. I’m persuaded by the second theory, mostly because of all the metaphors – an appearance “like” men.

In any case, the point is that the coming disaster will be MUCH worse than the current crisis. Joel essentially asks the people to recognise how desperate their situation is, then says “if you think this is bad, just wait and see what’s coming next!”

Not only that, but Joel is also clear that this is no mere natural disaster, or scheme of evil men. God himself is bringing this disaster on his people. This army (whether made up of men or insects) moves at HIS command. God is the commander of this army and he’s on the front lines, leading the way.

In verse 12, God speaks directly for the first time. This time the Tanya Paraphrase would say: “It’s not too late! I’m trying to get your attention – see how far I’m willing to go to get it? If it takes such drastic measures make you turn back, that’s what I’ll do.”

Joel carries on straight away, clarifying what this “returning” and “mourning” God wants is really all about. It’s not an outward thing, going through the motions of external ritual. It’s not about pressing the right buttons so as to appease a demanding god. This is not ordinary religion as practiced by the rest of the world. Tearing one’s clothes was, among that people, a sign of remorse and mourning – but an external showing wasn’t enough. There needed to be a real change of HEART. God doesn’t want empty ritual, he wants our hearts. Every time we RETURN, he listens, and takes us in. He answers the CRY of his loved ones’ hearts.

Joel reminds us of God’s character (verse 13). Repentance works because God wants our hearts. He doesn’t punish out of cruelty of sadism. His punishment has a purpose. There is an element of consequences for sin, yes, but throughout the prophets God is shown to be sending hard times on his people so that they will notice him, and turn back to him.

return = re + turn = turn again

The repentance Joel describes is one of unity – a gathering together of people from all walks of life. Coming together is so important!

  1. What are some things you associate with “being right with God”?
  2. How often do you notice yourself perform these “rituals” out of habit, without engaging your heart?
  3. Describe an occasion you found your heart easily engaged in connecting with God?
  4. What can you do this week to turn your heart toward God?
The next section is Joel 2 verses 18 to 32.

KEY VERSE: “I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully” (verse 19)

This section is God’s plan to bless his people once again. Some scholars believe that this section is designed as a follow on from the previous section – that the people had repented as Joel urged before this word was given.  Regardless of whether this was the case or not, I find it very beautiful to read God’s words of love and blessing. He delights to give good gifts! He gives plentifully, good gifts in abundance.

This section is very clear that God gives more than the essentials – he gives enough to satisfy fully. When we trust God to supply our needs, we can be assured that he is able to SATISFY us FULLY – not just give us enough to get by on. I know it’s easy for me to doubt him on this one. I figure he’ll provide me with just enough – that’s fair, right, for giving me a freebie? Handouts are about essentials, not luxuries. That’s not how God looks at it. I am not his charity case. I am his beloved child and heir – all he has is mine, and he loves to give!

I love Joel’s little section in verse 21-24 – he responds to God’s word with joy, and calling others to joy! Restoration WILL come, there WILL be fullness, even if it’s not evident right now. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that God will restore us, but God is faithful, even when we aren’t. We can rejoice NOW for what will be true in our lives LATER – we can be joyful during the night because we KNOW morning will come.

The phrase “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” in verse 25 is very powerful to me. God is telling his people that they won’t lose out. They won’t be worse off for the years of God’s discipline. He isn’t out to get them, he is trying to teach a lesson. When the season of teaching has passed, God will repay them what they lost. God isn’t short on resources – he has more than enough to go around. Whatever I might feel I “lose” through following him, obeying him, receiving lessons from him, he can easily “repay” to me. I’m not saying that God keeps some tally of what he “owes” us – that seems a silly picture to me. This promise, however, gives me hope during the times I feel I’m missing out on something. I’m not missing out. I might lose in some areas, but I will gain in others. Anything I give up for the sake of following God is more than made up for by what he gives me.

KEY VERSE: “And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (verse 28)

Now here comes the best part. After all this talk about the physical blessings God will give, he says “And afterward”. I love those two words. After satisfying his people FULLY, God still has more to give! Filling our stomachs isn’t enough – he wants to give us spiritual blessings as well.

This passage is quoted in Acts on the first Christian Pentecost. The early followers of Jesus believed this prophecy was fulfilled as the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. Acts 2 has the whole story and is worth reading – it helps apply this passage to us, now. The same concept is also found in other prophets – if you’re interested you can check out Isaiah 44:2-4 and Ezekiel 39:27-29.

The main point I’m making here now, though, is that God GIVES. He is a GIVER. He gives over and above what is necessary for life. He gives abundant life and THEN GIVES MORE. This is the giving nature of our God. A God who LOVES us and wants to give us GOOD gifts. For more evidence of this giving nature, check out these verses: Matthew 7:7-11, Luke 11:1-13, Ephesians 3:20-21, James 1:17, 2 Peter 1:2-4.

This section of the book gives us a picture of how God gives – his giving nature. Scripture shows us that God loves to give good gifts, but our understanding of his giving nature is affected by living imperfect lives among imperfect people.

  1. Describe one of the best gifts you’ve ever received. Why was it so special? How did you feel about the giver?
  2. Which of these fits the way you REALLY feel about God’s giving nature when you ask him for things?
    1. Charity Donation – God will give me the essentials I need when I don’t have enough to get by.
    2. Birthday Present – God will give me something every so often. It’s almost like an annual obligation.
    3. Perfect Parent – God will provide everything I need, and also enjoys giving me fun things.
    4. Other……
  3. How does your perception of God’s giving nature affect how you ASK for things from him, and how you RECEIVE the things he gives you?
 
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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Joel, part 1

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction

WHO IS JOEL?

“The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.”

And that’s the sum total of our knowledge about the prophet. There are some theories about him (he lived in Judah, he lived in Jerusalem, he was a Levite) but it’s all conjecture based on the sort of things he writes about. Joel was a common name at the time – there are a dozen other Joels in the OT but none can be connected with the author of this book.

WHEN WAS JOEL WRITTEN?

There are many theories, none of them conclusive, about the date of writing. Most are based on the fact that he talks about priests, but not kings, and external sources which are similar enough that it seems they have quoted Joel or Joel has quoted them. Here are the three main theories:

1)      Joel was written around 800 BC – when the boy king Joash was on the throne, hence the lack of talk about kings. this puts him as an early prophet, around the same time as Amos (they talk about some similar conditions – drought etc) who was then quoted by others.

2)      Joel was written around 400 BC – after the exile in Babylon, when there was no longer a king of Israel, roughly the same time as Malachi. This makes him a very late prophet, who was quoting other prophets in his work.

3)      The book was written at two different times – the first section around 800 BC by the prophet Joel, and the second section around 400 BC by a different person.

WHAT IS JOEL ABOUT?

The first half of the book is a narrative by Joel. Through all of Joel 1:1-2:17 God speaks only once, in verse 12. Joel describes the current state of the nation, crippled by a natural disaster. Then he shares a vision he receives of a worse disaster yet to come. He calls Israel to react to the situation they are in by crying out to God.

The second half of the book is mostly God speaking. Joel only breaks in to respond to God’s message twice (a total of six verses – 3:9-11, 14-16). The first section is all talking about disaster, but the second section is more encouraging. God speaks mostly of the restoration of his people.  The big difference between these two sections is part of the reason some scholars believe they were written at different times, by different people.

STRUCTURE

Joel breaks down into five main parts, within the two basic sections.

Section 1 – Joel speaks

1:1 – by Joel. And that’s all we know about him.

1) Current Disaster

1:2-1:12 – a record of the present disaster

1:13-1:20 – call to respond

2) Coming Disaster

2:1-2:11 – prophecy of coming disaster

2:12 – God speaks

2:13-2:17 – call to respond

Section 2 – God speaks

3) Blessings after Reconciliation

2:18-2:27 – God promises blessings

2:28-2:32 – But wait, there’s more!

4) Judgment

3:1-3:8 – God speaks of coming judgment of nations

3:9-3:11 – Joel responds

3:12-3:13 – God speaks

3:14-3:16 – Joel responds

5) Restoration

3:17-3:21 – God speaks a promise of restoration

Read Joel 1 in the NIV

Read Joel 1 in the NIRV

KEY VERSE: “Wake up, your drunkards, and weep!” (verse 5)

There are two sections in this passage. Verses 1-12 are a description of the current state of the nation – in the midst of a crisis. Verses 13-20 are Joel’s response, his call to the people to react.

This is a wake up all to the people. Joel is calling them to open their eyes to the mess they’re in. Crops have failed. They can’t make money. They can’t make offerings to God. They can’t even FEED themselves. The promised land of milk and honey is failing them. Joel begs them to response to the misery they are in. He wants them to recognise their need for God’s intervention, and in their desperation, to turn to Him.

How did things get so bad without anyone calling out to God? Why is it crisis time and Joel still has to beg the people to go to God? God’s people have stopped depending on him. In the Tanya Paraphrase this passage might go something like this:

“Wake up and see the mess you’re in! Despair over your desperate situation! You might not care about your spiritual poverty, your distance from God, but when your material life is threatened you notice that! So wake up and take a look around! You can’t support yourselves anymore, you’ve lost God’s promise. You are far from him, and maybe now you’ll realise that.”

Sometimes things have to get really bad before I stop and realise that I can’t do it alone. Until I recognise how bad things are, how powerless I am, I don’t recognise my need for God. When I see things as they really are, I realise that I can’t fix it all by myself. I need God to intervene in my life.

What I LOVE about this passage is that it encourages me to cry out to God when life is hard. Crying out to God is not something those less-than-perfect Christians* do because they’ve screwed up and forgotten about God. Again.  (*That wouldn’t be any of us, would it?!)

Crying out is the reaction God WANTS from us. Over and over throughout the Old Testament God promises to hear when his people cry out to him. He WANTS us to cry out to him! Crying out to God should be our first response when life is tough. Trouble reminds us that we NEED him. The benefit of troubles is that they can usher us into new depths with God. When things go wrong and I KNOW I can’t fix it I have a desperation that prompts me to seek God with an EARNESTY and INTENSITY I don’t have at other times.

In good times we relax and enjoy God. In hard times, however, we grow into new DEPTHS. Instead of blaming God when life sucks, we are to see an opportunity. Our instant response should be to turn to God with all our hearts – all our emotion and passion and intensity – and SEEK Him.

  1. Can you think of an example from your own life where problems you experienced actually deepened your understanding of/relationship with God?
  2. Think of an area of your life that is troubling you right now. What new depths might God be wanting to lead you into through this hard experience?
  3. Take a minute to try crying out to God about your troubles. You can speak out loud, or write down your thoughts – it doesn’t matter how you express your cry. Sometimes I turn my cries into songs. The important thing is to be honest – to see your situation for what it is, to recognise your need for God to come and change things. Cry out to God from that place of honesty, and ask him to do what only he can.
 
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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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