Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

17 May 2012

Reading through the Prophets

I've spent this year reading through the Prophets in my personal Bible reading time.  It has been fantastic to give them the freshness of summer light and energy rather than crashing into them during the cold and dark winter months and dying, as has happened year after year.  I worked through all of them over four months, with some help along the way from some online sermons, the occasional commentary and a little book called The Minor Prophets by Jack Lewis. 

I'm onto my second run through now, going a bit faster.  It hasn't been an exhaustive study.  My aim was to get some basic facility with them, so that when their names were mentioned the essentials would spring to mind, rather than being met with a black hole.  It has been Bible reading time well spent.  I am hoping to be finished the second run through by the end of June and then plan to do a dash through the whole Bible during the second half of the year.  (That may be being a little optimistic.  I'll let you know how I go.)  I'm liking this plan a lot and am thinking that I will do it again in future years - giving the first few months over to something specific (so maybe next year I will take on just Isaiah with a commentary or Job or...) and then going through the whole Bible after that. 

Here are some things I have noticed about the Prophets, from my first sweep through.

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At one level, they all basically say the same thing.  They're all messages from God through individual prophets to various nations, cities or kings to repent of their current godless practices and to turn and follow Him.  It is often presented, just as God first spoke to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy, in terms of blessing and cursing

Sometimes the message is delivered in very black and white terms.  And on first glance it can seem quite harsh.  But while that message is being delivered, God has not drawn down on His sentence.  With abundant mercy, He is throwing out a lifeline.  At other times the words of the Prophets are heavy with God's compassion for His people.  He aches for them to turn back to Him.  It is tender reading.

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.  
Joel 2:13

We know, looking back in a purely historical sense, that God did bring down judgment on His people.  The Northern Kingdom was overtaken by Assyria and the residents of the Southern Kingdom were taken into exile by the Babylonians.  It is grim reading, as these events unfold.  And it is easy to wonder where God is in the lives of the innocent bystanders - in the lives of the humble Israelites who loved God while all those around them were serving false gods,  following their own way and receiving their due punishment.  It doesn't seem to fair to bring down such harsh judgement on the innocent.  But there are small passages here and there throughout the Prophets where God addresses this.  As humans, when the chips are down, we fear for our mortal lives and seek to avoid pain and hardship.  But God's purposes are much higher and are eternal.  There is an especially moving example of this in Isaiah.

The righteous perish,
and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil. 
Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
Isaiah 57:1,2

The Day of the Lord is a common theme throughout the Prophets.  Interesting to note that some the Prophets talk about this day as one which will be glorious beyond imagining.  They almost turn themselves inside out trying to express the wonder of it all.  But others paint a more sober view, explaining in clear terms that it is a day to be feared.  It is a day which will bring judgment and great distress and for those who have ignored the call to follow God, it will not end well.

Another interesting thing I noted was that there is lots of evidence that God's people will be found amongst the Gentiles as well as the Jews.  Paul certainly draws attention to this in Romans 15.  I did find myself wondering, given the weight of the evidence, why there was so much shock about the place in the very early church when the Gospel made its first push out into the Gentiles.  Maybe they all hadn't read the Prophets.

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In God's good providence I was reading through the Prophets while being swept away with JI Packer's Knowing God.  And this section of the Bible certainly gives you the BIG PICTURE of God in all His holiness, right to judge, power, love and compassion.  I have been both humbled before Him (the fear of the Lord in its fullest sense) and strengthened in His grace, love and mercy.

Not easy.  But good and rich reading.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Just letting you know I've tagged you for a meme I came up with: book spine poetry. Only if you want to and have time. I can't wait to see what you come up with!