Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Bible Overview Series: 1 and 2 Chronicles

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Chronicles by Joseph Novak

1 Chronicles: And behold, in those days all the begetting was done by the menfolk.

2 Chronicles: If we build it, he will come.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)
 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 and 2 Chronicles

What if you had the job of communicating your nation’s entire history—its rulers, wars, religious events, economic cycles—starting with the beginning of mankind? First and Second Chronicles is that history for Israel. It’s the story of Israel’s kings and God’s faithfulness to His promises.

It’s a long story, and many Bible readers find it boring. Maybe that’s because the Chronicles account opens with a list of names—literally, “Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared . . .” (1 Chr 1:1–2). The genealogies go on for nine chapters. But that’s not all there is to this document. First and Second Chronicles is an executive summary of God’s covenant with David, and how things played out afterward. The books tell this story in four major acts:

  1. From Adam to David. The first nine chapters cover all the time that takes place from Genesis 2 to First Samuel 15 (mostly via long genealogies). They trace David’s ancestry along with the other major families in the 12 tribes of Israel.
  2. David’s reign. David was a good king who followed God, united the tribes of Israel, and delivered the nation from her enemies. God makes an everlasting covenant with David: his son Solomon’s throne will be established forever (1 Chr 17). David draws up plans to make a great temple for the Lord. Before he dies, he charges Solomon and the people with building the temple and being faithful to the Lord (1 Chr 28:8–9).
  3. Solomon’s reign. When Solomon becomes king, he asks God for wisdom instead of riches, long life, or the deaths of his adversaries. God is pleased with his request, and grants him wisdom, plus extravagant riches and power. Solomon builds the temple of God in Jerusalem: a majestic house for His name. Israel flourishes under Solomon’s rule, becoming the most prominent nation in their region of the world (2 Chr 9:13–30).
  4. From Jerusalem to Babylon. The kingdom splits after Solomon dies: 10 tribes rebel and form a new kingdom to the North, while the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remain loyal to David’s royal line. This act gives us the highlights of each king’s reign. The kings that follow do not serve the Lord the way David did, however. They neglect God’s temple, they ignore God’s law, they persecute God’s prophets, and they seek out new gods. A few good kings bring about revival, but eventually God disciplines His people for forsaking Him—which is exactly what David warned would happen long ago. The Babylonians sack Jerusalem, raze the temple, and carry the children of Israel into captivity for 70 years. Afterward, the Persian king Cyrus decrees that the temple be rebuilt.

The Chronicles focus on two important themes: God’s covenant with David and the temple. As you read First and Second Chronicles, you’ll see that the temple of God is the main location of interest: David plans it, Solomon builds it, kings are crowned in it, prophets are killed in it, and the law is rediscovered in it. The temple is center stage in the drama of Chronicles.

Theme verses of 1 & 2 Chronicles

“He [Solomon] shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.” (1 Chr 17:12)

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am bringing evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the curses written in the book which they have read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place and it shall not be quenched.’” (2 Chr 34:24–25)

1 & 2 Chronicles’ roles in the Bible

The Chronicles were written sometime after the Hebrews returned to Jerusalem from Babylon—possibly by Ezra. The author, or Chronicler, surveys Israel’s history as a sovereign state. David and Solomon are the key characters, as they were the great kings who ruled all Israel from Jerusalem. The Chronicles record the history of kings through two lenses:

  1. The Mosaic Covenant, which God made with all Israel after delivering them from Egypt. In this covenant, God sets Israel apart as His special nation. The terms: if Israel obeys God’s laws, He blesses them, but if Israel rejects God’s laws, He disciplines them. The documents of this agreement are known as the Law of Moses, or the Pentateuch: they’re the first five books of the Bible.
  2. The Davidic Covenant, which God made to David. David had planned to build a house for God, but God instead promises to establish David’s family on the throne forever. God is faithful to His promise: even when the northern tribes of Israel rebel, God keeps David’s line on the throne in Jerusalem. The Davidic Covenant is later realized in Jesus Christ, who is called both the Son of David and King of Kings (Mt 1:1Rev 17:14).

First and Second Chronicles cover all Hebrew history from the creation of Man (Gn 2:201 Chr 1:1) to the Hebrews’ return from exile (2 Chr 36:22–23Ezra 1:1–4). The content in Chronicles also reflects Moses’ predictions in Deuteronomy:

The books of Chronicles are long. They’re full of genealogies and records. But they’re the records of God’s long-lasting faithfulness to His people, even when they are not faithful to Him.

Quick outline of 1 & 2 Chronicles

 

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Bible Overview Series: Daniel

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Daniel 
by Joseph Novak

I pray (each day) towards the city of the Son of Man; to him all kings (all things) shall bend like grass in the wind.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Daniel

Isaiah was right. Jeremiah was right. Habakkuk was right. The Babylonians had attacked Jerusalem and carried off many Jewish captives. One of them was a young man named Daniel.

Daniel quickly distinguishes himself from the men of Babylon. He is loyal to his God. He is wise beyond his years. He can even interpret visions and dreams—accurately. Daniel’s gifts are from the God of Israel, and the young man becomes a living testimony to his God in a strange land.

Daniel also has vivid, symbolic visions about the future of Israel, world kingdoms, and the kingdom of God—exposing us to some of God’s long-term plan for the world.

The book of Daniel is about how God shows His everlasting wisdom, power, and faithfulness through one of Israel’s greatest prophets.

God’s wisdom is pervasive in the book of Daniel. In God’s wisdom, Daniel was brought to Babylon to give counsel. Through God’s wisdom, Daniel is proven to be a trustworthy prophet, even capable of interpreting other people’s dreams—a gift only shared by Joseph in Genesis (Gn 41:15) and an unnamed man in Judges (Jdg 7:13–14). Daniel attributes his vast wisdom, insight, and understanding to his wise God (Dan 2:28).

Daniel puts God’s sovereignty is on display. The God of Israel is consistently called the Most High God in the book of Daniel. He is the one who raises and removes kings. He is the one who establishes new world empires. He is the Ancient of Days on the throne (Dan 7:9). He is the God of heaven, whose kingdom will never be destroyed (Dan 2:44).

Daniel’s visions show God’s faithfulness to His people. God cares for His people, and gives them a set of prophecies that point to the events that come in later days. Daniel prophecies about the Messiah, the temple, Jerusalem, and a coming kingdom of righteousness. Through Daniel, God promises a full restoration of Israel.

Daniel can be neatly divided into two parts. The first half is primarily narrative, and concerns Daniel’s life in Babylon under foreign kings. The second half is mostly a record of Daniel’s visions concerning Israel and world empires. There are many interesting similarities and contrasts between the two halves:

In the first six chapters:

  • Daniel interprets visions for foreign kings.
  • God’s fame among the nations is emphasized.
  • Daniel’s stories are written in third person.
  • Most text is written in Aramaic.

In the last six chapters:

  • God gives visions directly to Daniel.
  • God’s faithfulness to His nation is emphasized.
  • Daniel writes in first person.
  • Most text is written in Hebrew.

Although Daniel is rich with prophetic visions, the book is better known for its narrative passages in the first half. Many of the stories from Daniel’s narrative sections are taught to children, and several English idioms are references to this book:

The “fiery furnace” story involves Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. The three friends defy King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship a golden image, and the king hurls them into a blazing furnace. God intervenes, however, and the three are miraculously unharmed. (Dan 3)

The “handwriting on the wall” is a reference to God’s work in the fifth chapter of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar’s descendant Belshazzar uses vessels stolen from the Jew’s temple to praise other gods, but is interrupted when a hand mysteriously appears and writes a cryptic message on the wall. Daniel is the only one who can interpret the message: God will repay Belshazzar by handing over his kingdom to the Medes and Persians.

In the “lions’ den” episode, Daniel obeys God rather than men. Daniel has been awarded a position of power in Babylon after the Medes and Persians  overthrew the Babylonian king Belshazzar. Daniel’s peers are jealous, and trick the king into making prayer to God illegal. Daniel does not stop praying, and so he is is thrown to the lions. God delivers Daniel, though, and he survives the night in the lions’ den. (Dan 6)

The book of Daniel is a compelling record of God’s wisdom and sovereignty, and it’s a key book to study if you’re interested in biblical prophecy.

Theme verse of Daniel

“It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to men of understanding.” (Dan 2:21)

Daniel’s role in the Bible

Daniel is the last of the major prophets (the others are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and he was a captive of Judah.

The book of Daniel plays several roles in the Bible. Daniel’s life serves as an example of godly integrity. His visions paint a prophetic landscape for Daniel’s contemporaries. Jesus Christ references Daniel when He describes the future to his apostles (Mt 24:15).

Daniel’s role is unique in that its intended audience is not necessarily Jewish. The book was written in two languages, and Daniel’s ministry seems more weighted toward supporting the government in Babylon than leading the Jewish community.

Another interesting thing to note: Daniel is one of the few OT books that explicitly references a bodily resurrection. In Daniel’s last vision, an angel tells him, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). The angel even promises Daniel’s resurrection in the end (Dan 12:13).

Quick outline of Daniel

  • Daniel’s story (1–6)
  • Daniel is taken to Babylon (1)
  • Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an image (2)
  • Daniel’s friends survive the fiery furnace (3)
  • Nebuchadnezzar is humbled (4)
  • Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall (5)
  • Daniel survives the lions’ den (6)
  • Daniel’s visions (7–12)
  • Vision of the four beasts (7)
  • Vision of the ram and goat (8)
  • Prayer and vision of 70 weeks (9)
  • Vision of kings yet to come (10–12)
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Bible Overview Series: Esther

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Esther by Joseph Novak

The orphan queen is glorious at her feast. In her glittering eyes are sex and armies.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Esther

Courage. Faith. Betrayal. Politics. Plots of genocide. The book of Esther is a drama about how two Jews risked everything to save their people.

The story is set in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire. Not long ago, the Jews were taken from their land to live as captives in Babylon for 70 years. God (via the Persian Cyrus) had brought a remnant of His people back to their homeland, but not everyone had returned. The Jewish people remained scattered across the Middle Eastern world, including a woman named Esther and her cousin Mordecai.

But although the Jews were enjoying a time of restoration, there were still those who wanted them all dead.

The book of Esther focuses on four central characters:

  • Queen Esther, the heroine. When Esther becomes queen, she keeps her Jewish decent a secret (Est. But when she learns of a plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian provinces, she courageously uses her position to intercede on behalf of her people.
  • Mordecai, Esther’s cousin. Mordecai is a devout Jew characterized by conviction. He is loyal, strong, and persistent. He saves the king from an assassination plot early in the story—foreshadowing his work to save the Jewish people. Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, which instigates the central conflict of Esther: Haman vs. Mordecai. Mordecai is a father figure to Esther (an orphan), advising and informing her through the story.
  • Haman, enemy of the Jews. Haman rises to power in Susa, but Mordecai refuses to bow to him. Haman escalates the conflict by getting the king to sign an edict against all Jews in the empire and planning to hang Mordecai. Esther intercepts his plans, however, and the king kills Haman instead. Haman is called an “Agagite,” possibly referring to King Agag the Amalekite (1 Sa 15:8)—the Amalekites had opposed Israel for hundreds of years (Dt 25:17–19).
  • King Ahasuerus. The king deposes Queen Vashti when she publicly disobeys him at his banquet. He then brings on Esther as his new queen. Ahasuerus is a very reactive character in the story: he deposes Vashti, he goes along with Haman’s plot, he makes grand promises to Esther, he allows Esther and Mordecai to write their own counter-laws and enact their own feasts. Ironically, the king of 127 provinces is the weakest of the main characters.

It’s a fascinating story of faith, courage, and conviction. We do not know who wrote the book of Esther, although Mordecai’s records may have served as a source (Est 9:20).

Theme verse of Esther

The theme of Esther is summarized in Esther’s conversation with Mordecai in chapter 4.

[Mordecai to Esther] “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Est 4:14)

[Esther to Mordecai] “I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Est 4:16b)

Esther’s role in the Bible

The drama of Esther is unique among the books of the Bible. There is no mention of God. There is no mention of covenant. At face value, it comes across more like a political novella than a movement in the biblical narrative.

However, when you read Esther in the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, it becomes clear that something bigger is stirring below the surface:

  • Why do Esther and Mordecai fast?
  • How is Mordecai so confident that the Jews will be delivered?

Mordecai and Esther act in faith that someone or something will intervene for their people. Their bold faith propels the story to its end: the deliverance and prosperity of the Jews.

The book of Esther gives us an idea of what faith looks like when it’s played out, and challenges us with the question: is my faith as evident as Esther’s and Mordecai’s?

Quick outline of Esther

The author of Esther makes great use of parallelism in storytelling. The first half of the book opens with a feast and lays out problem after problem for Esther and Mordecai, while and the second half resolves those problems in reverse order and concludes with the Jewish feast of Purim.

  • Ahasuerus holds a feast and selects Esther as his queen (Es 1–2)
  • Haman plots to destroy the Jews.
  • Ahasuerus promotes Haman, who plots to kill the Jews (Es 3).
  • Esther must risk her life to intercede for the Jews (Es 4–5:8).
  • Haman plans to kill Mordecai (Es 5:9–14).
  • Esther foils Haman’s plan
  • Ahasuerus has Haman honor Mordecai instead (Es 6)
  • Esther intercedes for the Jews and Haman is killed (Es 7)
  • Ahasuerus promotes Mordecai, who delivers the Jews (Es 8)
  • Esther and Mordecai institute the feast of Purim (Es 9–10)

 

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Bible Overview Series: Nehemiah

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Nehemiah by Joseph Novak

When he read the scroll it was as if, after a long dementia, I remembered my name and wept to hear it spoken.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)
 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Nehemiah

After 70 years in exile, the Jews had returned home and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. They were able to worship God in their own land, but the city still lay in ruins. The once-great capital of the promised land was a depressing rubble heap exposed to her enemies.

When Nehemiah hears this, he sets out to restore the city walls. The book of Nehemiah is his story in his own words.

The book of Nehemiah is about reestablishing God’s people both physically and spiritually:

  • In the first part of the book, Nehemiah restores Jerusalem in a physical sense. When Nehemiah hears that “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire,” (Neh 1:3), he gets permission from Persian King Artaxerxes to rebuild the city. The governors of surrounding territories viciously oppose Nehemiah’s efforts, but the wall is finished in just 52 days (Neh 7:15). Nehemiah also restores economic justice in the land, admonishing the wealthy for taking advantage of their less fortunate brothers (Neh 5).
  • In the second section, Nehemiah and Ezra bring spiritual revival to Jerusalem. Ezra reads the law of Moses aloud to the people, and the nation rededicates to obeying God. Later on, Nehemiah works diligently to point people back to the law of Moses (Neh 13).

Nehemiah writes in first person. His story is peppered with personal commentary—sometimes it reads like a historical account, and sometimes it reads like Nehemiah’s journal. We know when he is afraid (Neh 2:2). We know when he is angry (Neh 5:6). We even see him break his own narrative with prayers to God (Neh 13:14). This book gives us a look into the mind of an Old Testament man of God, giving us examples of how to lead, pray, and deal with discouragement.

Theme verse of Nehemiah

“Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” (Neh 5:19)

Nehemiah’s role in the Bible

Like the books of Ezra and Esther, Nehemiah tells us what happened after the Jewish exile to Babylon. Israel has been disciplined, and is now being restored to her land and her God. Nehemiah chronicles God’s covenant relationship with Israel, and even provides a sweeping overview of the relationship in Nehemiah chapter 9.

Ezra and Nehemiah were originally considered parts one and two of the same work, and for a good reason: together, they tell the story of God restoring His people—keeping His promise to them in Deuteronomy 30.

Quick outline of Nehemiah

  • Rebuilding the wall (Neh 1–7)
  • Nehemiah gets permission to rebuild Jerusalem. (Neh 1–2)
  • City wall construction begins (Neh 3)
  • Enemies threaten construction (Neh 4)
  • Nehemiah alleviates pressure on the poor (Neh 5)
  • The wall is completed despite the enemies’ plots (Neh 6)
  • Nehemiah numbers the people (Neh 7)
  • Remembering the law (Neh 8–13)
  • Ezra reads the law to the people (Neh 8:1–12)
  • Israel reinstates the Feast of Booths (Neh 8:13–18)
  • Israel confesses sin and rededicates to God (Neh 9–10)
  • Census of the Jews in the land (Neh 11–12:26)
  • The people worship on the wall (Neh 12:27–47)
  • Nehemiah keeps aligning the people to God’s law (Neh 13)
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Bible Overview Series: Ezra

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Ezra by Joseph Novak

When we saw the Temple we thought we must be dreaming, or that all our lives had been a dream from which we had awoken.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Ezra

After 70 years in exile, the people of Israel were coming back home. The new Persian emperor Cyrus had decreed that they return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of their God—which had lain in ruins the whole time (Ezr 1:1–4).  Zerubbabel and Jeshua, descendants of King David and Aaron the priest, answer the call to rebuild the house of God.  But the temple wasn’t the only thing that needed attention. Many of the returning Hebrews had forgotten God’s laws—and were disregarding them in front of the people. They needed to remember the covenant they’d made with God. They needed to remember why they were in their situation: why they had to go to Babylon (which you can read about in Kings and Chronicles), and why they’d been allowed to come back. The temple needed a new foundation, but the people needed to return to the foundations of their faith, too.

Ezra, the scribe, answers the call to teach Israel the ways of God again (Ezr 7:10).

The book of Ezra chronicles both stories: rebuilding the temple and remembering the law. This account weaves together several categories of written works.

  • Historical narrative—events surrounding Israel’s return, temple reconstruction, and revival
  • Official documents—letters and decrees sent to and from the Persian emperors during this time period
  • Jewish records—names of individuals and families who returned to Israel
  • Ezra’s autobiographical texts—prayers, reflections, and actions from Ezra’s point of view

These pieces come together to tell us how God began restoring Israel.

Theme verse of Ezra

“For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezr 9:9)

Ezra’s role in the Bible

Ezra begins a new story arc in Israel’s history:

From Genesis to Deuteronomy, God calls out Israel as a special nation and teaches them His laws.  From Joshua to 2 Chronicles, God gives Israel a land and a king, but Israel loses both when they consistently disobey God.  From Ezra to Esther, God restores Israel from exile in their own land again. Ezra and Nehemiah (the next book of the Bible) were originally considered two parts of one book. Ezra focuses on rebuilding the temple; Nehemiah focuses on rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. Both form the story of how God reestablishes Israel in the land He promised to her. The book of Ezra also references other biblical prophets, namely Haggai and Zechariah, whose messages stirred up the people to finish building the temple (Ezr 5:1).  Ezra calls attention to Israel’s covenant history with the Lord. God had made promises to Israel through Moses:

  • If the people obeyed Him, they would enjoy a good land and prosperity.
  • If the people disobeyed Him, they would face punishment and exile.

The people disobeyed, and God kept His promise (Ezr 9:7). However, God had made another promise: He would gather Israel back to her land after He had punished her (Dt 30:3). The book of Ezra shows us how God kept that promise.

Ezra is also traditionally credited with writing the books of First and Second Chronicles.

Quick outline of Ezra

  • Rebuilding the temple (Ezr 1–6)
  • The remnant returns to Judah (Ezra 1–2)
  • Judah lays the new temple foundations (Ezra 3)
  • Judah’s adversaries stop temple work (Ezra 4)
  • Judah resumes temple work (Ezra 5)
  • The temple is completed (Ezra 6)
  • Remembering the law (Ezr 7–10)
  • Artaxerxes sends Ezra to teach the law in Jerusalem (Ezra 7–8)
  • Ezra has the people put away their foreign wives (Ezra 9–10)
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Bible Overview Series: Ezekiel

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Ezekiel by Joseph Novak

Four flashing creatures, four wheels rimmed with eyes, one scroll, one Spirit, one Temple, one million creeping bones.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Ezekiel

Jerusalem has already been conquered twice. The first time, the Babylonians took Daniel and the noble families of the land (Dan 1:1–36) back to Babylon. Eight years later, the Jews rebelled, and the Babylonians took the king and 10,000 captives. One of those captives was a priest named Ezekiel.

All this had happened because the Jews had broken God’s laws. They were supposed to worship God and God alone, but they turned to the idols of the surrounding nations. They desecrated the temple of the Lord and brutally persecuted His prophets.

So God disciplined them (like He said He would inDeuteronomy). The Babylonians came once. Then they came again.

But instead of turning to God, the people still chased the gods of the nations. They still mistreated the poor. They still disregarded God’s laws.

Now it’s been five years since the Babylonians last attacked Jerusalem. The Jews in the city would soon revolt again (2 Ki 24:20), but they’d been rebelling against a far greater King than Nebuchanezzar for a long, long time.

Israel has a worship problem that they cannot, cannot fix. But even now, God doesn’t leave them without hope. He chooses a man to speak for Him to the people, to tell them the error of their ways and teach them justice. He chooses a watchman to warn Israel of the coming storm (Ez 3:17).

Ezekiel is the watchman. And he sees some incredibly sad things on the horizon:

  • The people have broken God’s heart with their lewd idolatry and self-serving leaders.
  • Because of Israel’s rebellion, God is withdrawing from and destroying Jerusalem.

But the good news is, that’s not all he sees.

  • God will render justice not only on Jerusalem, but on all the other nations who have led her into idolatry and celebrated her destruction.
  • God will form a new covenant with the people of Israel. He will lead them Himself as a good shepherd, and they will be reunited under David.
  • God will defend Israel from her enemies in the dark future.
  • There will one day be a new temple in Jerusalem, and the glory of the Lord will one day return.

Ezekiel may be the watchman, but it’s really God who is watching out for Israel—even as she rebels against Him.

Theme verse of Ezekiel

Say to them, “As I live!” declares the Lord GOD, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” —God, to Ezekiel (Eze 33:11)

Ezekiel’s role in the Bible

Ezekiel is the fourth of the Major Prophets. When God had a message for the people, He spoke to them through prophets: men moved by the Holy Spirit to speak on God’s behalf.

Ezekiel has his fair share of oracles (verbal “burdens” from God), but this book is best known for Ezekiel’s visions. He sees some intense, intense things, including:

  • The Lord enthroned above the cherubim (Eze 1)
  • The flagrant idolatry happening within Jerusalem (Eze 8)
  • The divine executioners who will slaughter the wicked (Eze 9)
  • A valley of dry bones reanimating (Eze 37)
  • A new temple in Jerusalem (Eze 40–48)

Take a spin through Ezekiel and you’ll find angels with four faces, wheels with eyes, and dry bones growing ligaments (which I imagine was like watching a zombie film backwards).

But Ezekiel isn’t the only prophet to have these kinds of visions. DanielZechariah, and John have visions of a similar stock.

But with the larger-than-life visions and watchman status comes some tremendous hardships for Ezekiel.Jeremiah may be known as the weeping prophet, but Ezekiel has his share of suffering:

  • God takes away Ezekiel’s voice, rendering him mute for 7 years(Eze 3:2733:22). He can only speak when the Lord has words for him to share with the people.
  • Ezekiel is tied to the ground on one side for 390 days, and on the other for 40 days. He eats cakes cooked over cow feces for that time, too.
  • Ezekiel’s wife dies, but he is forbidden to mourn the loss. Her death is a sign that Jerusalem will be destroyed, and Ezekiel’s response will mirror the Jews.

Ezekiel prophecies during the same time period as Jeremiah, but while Jeremiah is in Jerusalem and Egypt, Ezekiel is in the land of the Babylonians.

Ezekiel gives us a glimpse of the new relationship God plans to make with His people. His Holy Spirit will dwell within them (Eze 37:14). His glory will be among them (Eze 43:1–9). He will be their God, and they will be united under a righteous king (Eze 34:24). Ezekiel also devotes a great deal of attention to what the restored Israel’s land and temple will look like (Eze 40–48).

Ezekiel is the watchman, and through him we see some of God’s generous plans for Israel that have yet to come about.

Quick outline of Ezekiel

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Bible Overview Series: Lamentations

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Lamentations by Joseph Novak

A Bear Crouches. Destruction Envelops. Flee God’s Holy Implacable Judgment! Killed! Lament! Mourn Nakedly! O Pray!

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Jeremiah

The city of God is in ruins. The temple is destroyed. The king’s palace is in shambles. The gates are burned down. The walls are torn apart. The Babylonians have ransacked the holy city.

“How?”

That’s the original name of Lamentations, this small collection of five poems that mourn the fall of Jerusalem. According to tradition, the prophet Jeremiah writes these dirges for the city he had ministered to for years. And it all begins with the word “How.”

“How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
She has become like a widow
Who was once great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
Has become a forced laborer!” (La 1:1)

The book deals with the question, “How could this happen?” How could Jerusalem fall to the Babylonians? The answer has little to do with the political or military forces surrounding the events.

Rather, the fall of Jerusalem is a theological event, one that happened by theological means for theological reasons.

The people had rejected their God and His prophets. Before they ever entered the promised land, Israel was given a choice: remain loyal to God and enjoy His blessings and prosperity, or worship other gods and be exiled from their land (that’s from Deuteronomy). Israel followed other gods, showed injustice to the poor, and ignored God’s laws.

The people had sworn to love and obey and follow the Lord, and they broke that promise time and time again. But God is faithful and just: and He cannot let the guilty go unpunished.

So Jerusalem falls, and all the people can do is mourn.

The siege is unforgettable, but the reason it happened should never be forgotten. And the poetry in Lamentations is particularly memorable. You can’t tell in English, but the Lamentations are intricate poems built around the Hebrew alphabet:

The first, second, and fourth chapters are 22 verses long, and when lined up, the first letters of the verse form the Hebrew alphabet. That means verse one begins with the letter alep, verse two begins with bet, and so on through the 22 letters of the alphabet. Here’s an example:

Hebrew

Note: Hebrew reads right-to-left.

The third chapter is even more impressive: it’s 66 verses long, and it works through the alphabet three verses at a time. Verses 1–3 begin with alep, verses 4–6 begin with bet, etc. Here’s what it looks like in Hebrew:
Hebrew2

Chapter 5′s verses reflect the Hebrew alphabet in number alone. There are 22 verses, but they aren’t arranged into an acrostic.

But even in a book named “Lamentations,” the God of vengeance is still a God of hope. In the middle of the book, the writer reminds the people to hope in God:

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (La 3:22–23)
Why should any living mortal, or any man,
Offer complaint in view of his sins?
Let us examine and probe our ways,
And let us return to the LORD. (La 3:39–40)

The city was destroyed and the people were exiled because of their sin, but even this is an opportunity to call on God for help. For the people of God, He is the only hope.

Theme verse of Lamentations

The LORD is righteous;
“For I have rebelled against His command;
Hear now, all peoples,
And behold my pain;
My virgins and my young men
Have gone into captivity.” —Jerusalem (La 1:18)

Lamentations’ role in the Bible

Lamentations sits in the Major Prophets section of our English Bibles. It follows the story of Jeremiah, who (traditionally) wrote Lamentations. But the poetic structure of this book clearly makes it more similar to the Psalms, Proverbs, and other wisdom literature.

Why the acrostics? It could be to illustrate how completely Jerusalem has been destroyed, or how completely faithful God is to His people and His promises. It could also be a means of keeping the material brief and memorable—after all, Jeremiah’s other account is the longest book of the Bible.

This book of Lamentations may include some content the author of First and Second Chronicles references when good King Josiah passes away:

  • Then Jeremiah chanted a lament for Josiah. And all the male and female singers speak about Josiah in their lamentations to this day. And they made them an ordinance in Israel; behold, they are also written in the Lamentations. (2 Ch 35:25)
  • Josiah was the last righteous king of Judah, and God had said that Jerusalem would not fall until after Josiah died (2 Ch 34:28). The kings after Josiah led the people into all kinds of rebellion against the Lord, and sealed Jerusalem’s fate. The death of Josiah was the first step in Jerusalem’s march toward utter destruction.

Lamentations fits into the prophetic section of the Bible by describing the theological backdrop of Judah’s exile. Lamentations is a moment of self-awareness: anyone reading the scroll would remember why Jerusalem fell and why the survivors were taken to Babylon. But the book also would have been a hearty (and solemn) encouragement to those who return in the days of Ezraand Nehemiah: no matter how faithless His people are, God remains faithful.

Quick outline of Lamentations

  • Jerusalem: punished and in pain ( La 1)
  • The Lord’s anger on Jerusalem (La 2)
  • The individual’s distress turns to hope (La 3)
  • The siege of Jerusalem (La 4)
  • A plea for God’s mercy (La 5)
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Bible Overview Series: Jeremiah

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Jeremiah 
by Joseph Novak

The Word is at the bottom of the well, burning like a naked flame in the mouth of the weeping prophet.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Jeremiah

The temple of the Lord had stood in Jerusalem for more than 300 years. The nation was known by God’s name: the surrounding nations had heard of the wonders Israel’s God had worked for them in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in their own land. Israel’s God was a great God, and His throne was in Jerusalem.

Yet they did not follow Him. They worshiped other gods, perverted justice in the land, and ignored His laws. Once in a while, a king, a descendant of David, would turn the people back to God, but the other kings led the people into all kinds of disobedience.

The people have gone far enough. God promised to exile His people from their land if they turned from Him, and now Jerusalem’s time has come. The Babylonians will destroy the city, raze the holy temple, and carry the Jews away.

But even as the Lord plans Jerusalem’s destruction, He sends his people a prophet to warn, challenge, and comfort them. That prophet is a young man named Jeremiah.

Jeremiah ministers to the Jews for about 40 years, and his career is a sad one. He is, for the most part, the only prophet of God in the land: everyone else who claims to have a word from the Lord is a fake.

That’s especially difficult for Jeremiah, because while the false prophets preach peace, safety, and victory over Babylon, Jeremiah insists that the Babylonians will destroy everything. The false prophets tell everyone that God is with His people; Jeremiah tells everyone that God is on the enemy’s side. You can imagine which message is more popular.

Jeremiah endures mockery, imprisonment, kidnapping, and death threats from the people he desperately tries to help.

But God’s word comes true: Nebuchadnezzar defeats the Jews, and carries off the royal family. The temple is destroyed. The city is burned with fire. The Babylonians set up a new governor over the area and go back to their land. They also release Jeremiah from prison and tell him to live a happy life.

But it doesn’t end there. A neighboring nation assassinates the governor, and the Jews are left with two options:

  1. Stay in their land
  2. Emigrate to Egypt as refugees

They ask Jeremiah what the Lord would have them do, and He promises them that if they stay in the land of Israel they will flourish. They will live in peace under Babylonian rule, and God Himself will have compassion on them. But if they disobey, God will bring the Babylonians against the Egyptians, and the Jews will perish when Egypt is conquered.

The Jews choose to go to Egypt anyway.

Theme verse in Jeremiah

“See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To pluck up and to break down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.” —God, to Jeremiah (Je 1:10)

Jeremiah’s role in the Bible

Jeremiah is the second of the Major Prophets. When God had a message for the people, He spoke to them through prophets: men moved by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s words.

Jeremiah is also the longest book of the Bible by word count in the original language.

Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet,” and for good reason. Jeremiah’s message is heartbreaking: the people of God have forsaken Him, and now He will destroy them. And even as Jeremiah preaches to the people, they do not listen. Jeremiah’s tragic writings don’t end in this book, either: the weeping prophet is the traditional author of Lamentations, a collection of funeral dirges for Jerusalem.

Jeremiah mixes prophetic discourse with narrative, and the narratives are not arranged chronologically. He speaks to kings, priests, commanders, and the people, and travels to many nations. As you read Jeremiah, you’ll learn to anticipate Jeremiah’s advice and the people’s response—and you’ll see just how many chances God gives His people to follow His voice and keep His covenant.

But the covenant is broken. The people are broken.

And it’s in Jeremiah that we learn about God’s plan to make a new covenant with His people. His law will be on their hearts, and they will all know Him. He shall be their God, and they shall be His people. He will forgive their sin and remember it no more (Jer 31:31–34). God makes this covenant through Jesus Christ in the New Testament—the book of Hebrews explores this new covenant in detail.

When the prophet Daniel reads the book of Jeremiah (Dan 9), he prays to the Lord on behalf of Israel—and nicely sums up how the book fits into the rest of the Old Testament:

The Jews were warned that this would happen in the Law of Moses.

But the kings and rulers did not obey.

They ignored the prophets.

Although Jeremiah’s messages focus on the coming punishment of Judah, this book is not without hope. Jeremiah promises restoration and return for the Jews, which comes to pass in the book of Ezra. Jeremiah also looks forward to a righteous king from the line of David to arise in the future, and although He has been born (Mt 2:2), the Lord Jesus Christ has yet to take office in Jerusalem.

Quick outline of Jeremiah

  • God commissions Jeremiah (Jer 1)
  • Prophecies of God’s wrath against Jerusalem (Jer 2–25)
  • The people reject Jeremiah’s message (Jer 26–28)
  • Messages of hope: God will restore the people (Jer 29–35)
  • The people reject Jeremiah’s message (Jer 36–38)
  • Jerusalem falls, and the remnant flees to Egypt (Jer 39–45)
  • Prophecies of God’s wrath against the nations (Jer 46–51)
  • Chronological summary of Jerusalem’s fall (Jer 52)
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Bible Overview Series: Ecclesiastes

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Ecclesiastes 
by Joseph Novak

Life is an empty sink. Someone has pulled the plug and all the meaning has drained out of it. So enjoy yourself!

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Ecclesiastes

Solomon has it all. He’s a world-renowned wise man (which we see in Proverbs). He’s a world-renowned ladies’ man (more on that in Song of Solomon). He’s king over the twelve tribes of Israel—and several vassal states. But he can’t hold onto it forever. He’ll die someday, and who knows how his sons will handle the kingdom? Who knows what will happen to the people? Who knows what will happen to him? Solomon wrote, gathered, and assembled written words of wisdom throughout his reign. He was the Qohelet, or Preacher: the one who assembled wisdom and assembled the people (Eccl 12:9–101 Ki 4:32). Solomon has ruled in justice and wisdom for years, but now he has to grapple with a new riddle:

What advantage does man have in all his work Which he does under the sun? (Eccl 1:3)

By “under the sun,” he means apart from God. God is in heaven, and man is on earth (Eccl 5:2). So if you deal solely with the visible, tangible, observed-cause-and-effect human experience, what are you left with? It’s a tough question. After all, the universe seems to be in a constant state of resetting itself. The sun rises, sets, and rises again. Rivers flow, but never empty. Information multiplies, but the mind is never satisfied. So in the never-ending cycles of life, what can man do? It sure looks meaningless. And the more Solomon learns about the world, the more depressing a world it becomes (Eccl 1:18). So Solomon explores this problem. The first portion of Ecclesiastes explore man’s situation on earth (Eccl 1:13). And the situation isn’t too great:

So then he turns to explain it. Why is the world this way? What can we do about it? What’s the point? He’s sure that there’s a just God (Eccl 8:12–13)—he’s seen him with his own eyes (1 Ki 3:5). But the world doesn’t always reflect God’s justice, so Solomon explains what man can do to enjoy life, even if God’s works are not apparent:

  • Eat, drink, and enjoy life, because you’re in the hand of God (Eccl 9:7–9).
  • Work hard, and use wisdom while you can (Eccl 9:1018).
  • Avoid acts of foolishness—especially when dealing with authority (Eccl 10:25–620).
  • Take chances, pursue opportunities, and enjoy life while you can (Eccl 11:48–10).
  • As you live, remember who made you (Eccl 12:1).

And then Solomon sums everything up:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Eccl 12:13–14)

The question: in a world of injustice and pain, what’s the point? The answer: fear God, even though you might not see Him make it right.

Theme verse of Ecclesiastes

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. (Eccl 1:14)

Ecclesiastes’ role in the Bible

Ecclesiastes is the fourth book of poetry in the Bible (after JobPsalms, and Proverbs). While Psalms is a collection of songs and Proverbs is a collection of principles, Ecclesiastes is one long-form poetic discourse: it poses one main question at the beginning and spends the next twelve chapters arriving at an answer. The book never mentions its author by name: the author is simply “the Preacher.” This isn’t a Sunday-morning-sermon–delivering preacher we’re familiar with today; rather, it’s “one who assembles.” The original Hebrew word for this role only shows up in Ecclesiastes, and probably refers to someone who assembles wisdom and teaches the people. So why is this book traditionally attributed to Solomon? The Preacher gives us a few clues:

There were only two kings from David’s line who ruled Israel from Jerusalem: Solomon and Rehoboam. And Rehoboam’s legacy really doesn’t fit the bill (check out the twelfth chapter of First Kings). That leaves Solomon the likely candidate, if the verses identifying the Preacher are to be taken literally. Ecclesiastes’ tone isn’t one you’d expect from the Bible. It’s melancholy and dismissive. You’ll find happier language in Lamentations (and I’m only halfway joking). That’s because Solomon’s exploring the world according to human experience alone. Without a God working behind the scenes to execute justice, Solomon sees life as pretty meaningless. But Ecclesiastes is encouraging nonetheless:

We see that it’s OK to recognize flaws in the world around us. The Bible doesn’t bind us to Pollyannaism—there are injustices and inconsistencies that we cannot control, and we don’t have to smile through it or pretend they don’t exist.

We can hope in a good heavenly Judge. The apostle Paul agrees that all creation was subjected to futility (Ro 8:20), and is groaning in anticipation of the coming glory that Christ will bring (Ro 8:22). We join the rest of the universe in anticipation.

Christians don’t live in the same world as Solomon’s. We have something Solomon didn’t experience: the continuous indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Solomon lived in a world where God worked behind the scenes and judged everyone eventually (Eccl 12:13–14), but God is at work in us every single day. The world may be a messed up place, but if Christ is in us, we always have hope (Col 1:27)

Quick outline of Ecclesiastes

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Bible Overview Series: Song of Songs

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Song of Songs 
by Joseph Novak

With the turtledove singing above them in the apple tree, the lovers took off their clothes and made beautiful poems together.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Song of Songs (Song of Solomon)

When God made Adam and Eve, He brought them together as husband and wife. Adam recognized Eve as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Gn 2:23–24)

The Song of Solomon celebrates this kind of union: a man and a woman becoming one.

It’s a ballad of love and longing. It’s an exchange of love notes. It’s a story of adoration, satisfaction, delight, and yes: sex.

It’s the tale of a young woman preparing to marry her love: a handsome king who adores her. They describe their emotions, their passions, their appearances, their fears. They vulnerably display their love and desire for one another—sometimes rather graphically.

Song of Solomon is arranged by character. Three parties join the song:

  • The bride, a hard-working shepherd girl with a rough home life (So 1:6).
  • The bridegroom, a handsome and stately shepherd. The text doesn’t explicitly say whether or not Solomon is the bridegroom, but the bride does reference Solomon’s wedding parade (So 3:6–11).
  • The chorus, the community of people celebrating the bride and bridegroom’s love and union.

If this were indeed an arranged song, think of it as a duet with a choir. And this song has three general movements:

  • The bride and groom prepare for the wedding.
  • The bride and groom profess their desire for one another.
  • The bride and groom are finally united.

It culminates in their marriage and mutual delight in one another: the bride is her beloved’s and his desire is for her (So 7:10).

Theme verse of Song of Solomon

“I am my beloved’s,
And his desire is for me.” —Bride (So 7:10)

Song of Solomon’s role in the Bible

Song of Solomon is the fifth book of poetry in the Bible. Solomon wrote 1,005 songs in his lifetime (1 Ki 4:32), but this is the “song of songs” (So 1:1). Like Psalms, it’s a  book of lyrics; but while every psalm’s beginning and end is clearly marked, Song of Solomon doesn’t give us this level of clarity.

It’s possible that the song of songs has always been one grand piece that Solomon wrote. But it seems that Solomon didn’t always write his own material: he also explored and arranged pieces of wisdom for the people (Eccl 12:9–10). The song of songs may be a metasong: an anthology of smaller pieces.

Song of Solomon gives us a biblical look at human love. The characters experience attraction, lovesickness, and what seems like a pretty great wedding night (So 7).

In fact, the book has an almost secular feel. God is never directly mentioned in the original Hebrew; the closest we get to a mention of God is in the last chapter, when the bride compares jealous love to a blazing flame (So 8:6). That Hebrew word for flame literally means “flame of the Lord,” but could just mean an especially hot fire.

Solomon’s song of songs is an old book, but its portrait of powerful, all-consuming love probably resonates with most of us today:

“Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers overflow it;
If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,
It would be utterly despised.” (So 8:7)

It’s a passionate description of human love. Although some lines are a little awkward to find in the Bible, Song of Solomon is a good reminder that God created marriage and sex, and it’s OK for us to enjoy them.

Quick outlines of Song of Solomon

Here’s the basic outline of the book’s progression:

  1. Preparation for the wedding (So 1–3)
  2. The bride prepares (1–3:5)
  3. The groom prepares (3:6–11)
  4. The couple profess their love and desire
  5. The groom professes his love (4)
  6. The bride professes her love and longing (5)
  7. Both are united in love (6–8)
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