Tag Archives: Old Testament

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: Malachi

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Malachi: You’ve got a new temple; now get new hearts to go with it, before the temple’s Lord appears and turns the tables on you.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)
 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Malachi

The Jews had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. They’d obeyed the messages of God from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. They’d rebuilt the temple of God.

And nothing happened. No Messiah, no great divine war against Israel’s enemies, no worldwide kingdom of God—none of the good things those prophets said would come about.

So the people grew indifferent. They offered faulty sacrifices (Mal 1:8,13), married pagan women (Mal 2:11), were unfaithful to their wives (Mal 2:14), and withheld tithes and offerings (Mal 3:8). Furthermore, the priests of God were misleading the people and disrespecting the God who had called them to ministry (Mal 2:8).

God has made sacred covenants with His people. He’s their Father and Master, the one who loves them and disciplines them. This sort of behavior just won’t do, so a prophet named Malachi (which means “my messenger”) points out the great disconnect between God and His people:

He cares for them, but they don’t care for Him.

The people and the priests have become estranged to God, and the disconnect has grown to a point where the people just can’t wrap their minds around God’s nature and expectations. Malachi will state the way God sees things, but anticipates that the people will not understand. Malachi often says something to the effect of, “This is what you have done, yet you say, ‘How have we done this?’”

Here are a few ways the disconnect takes shape in the people:

  • They doubt His love for them (Mal 1:2).
  • They don’t understand how God view their offerings (Mal 2:13–14).
  • They forget the way God values justice (Mal 2:17).
  • They neglect their tithes and offerings (Mal 3:8).
  • They claim that serving God is useless (Mal 3:13–14).

Fortunately, Malachi’s message resonates with some of the people. The Jews who still revere God write their names in a book, and God promises to purify Israel: punishing the wicked, but sparing the righteous.

But before He comes to purify them, God will send another messenger to clear the way  . . .

Here the prophets, and our Old Testament, end.

Theme verse of Malachi

For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. (Mal 3:6)

Malachi’s role in the Bible

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament.

Malachi finishes off the Minor Prophets, the last 12 books of the Old Testament. When God had a message for the people, He spoke through the prophets. His word came in visions, oracles, dreams, parables, and the like.

Most of the Minor Prophets wrote about the coming destruction of Judah, Israel, or the surrounding nations, but Malachi is different. Like Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi shows up on the scene long after the destruction took place—and warns against repeating the sins of the fathers (Mal 3:7).

The prophet Malachi isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, but he deals with some of the same issues that Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah the governor deal with when the Jews disregard God’s law in their times:

We can’t be sure, but it’s possible that Malachi ministered between the time that Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and the time that he returned as governor (Neh 13:6).

This is interesting: if we’re going by the Jewish arrangement, Malachi isn’t the last book of the Old Testament—that’s First and Second Chronicles.

Quick outline of Malachi

  1. God loves His children (Mal 1:1–5)
  2. God disciplines His children (Mal 1:6–2:17)
  3. God will purify His children (Mal 3:1–15)
  4. Some people again revere The Lord (Mal 3:16–18)
  5. God will bless those who fear Him (Mal 4)
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Bible Overview Series: Zechariah

Zechariah

If only you could have lived to see the day he read your scroll, and loved it, and told his friends to fetch a donkey.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)
 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Zechariah

When God had a message for the people, He sent His prophets. The prophets would then speak forth the word of God to kings, priests, and the people. The prophets warned the people of God’s need to punish sin, and pleaded with the people to turn to God. But the Jews almost never listened (2 Ki 17:13–14).

So God exiled them to foreign lands. The northern tribes were carried off by Assyrians; the southern tribes went to Babylon for 70 years. Now the Jews had been released to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the Lord.

The city is in ruins. The royal family has been reduced to governor status. The temple is under construction. But the words of the prophets still remain.

And now the Jews have another chance to pay attention. God sends them a new prophet: Zechariah. This prophet has colorful visions—messages of comfort and hope to the Jews. It all begins with a simple request: “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you” (Zec 1:3).

Zechariah’s writings encourage and admonish the Jews of Jerusalem. He specifically affirms the governor and priest of that time (Zec 3, 4). He chastises the foolish leaders among them (Zec 11), and calls all the people to follow God and remember the words of the prophets before (Zec 1:6).

But most importantly, he anticipates a full restoration of God and His people. The temple will be rebuilt, Israel will be purified, the enemies will be overcome, and the Lord Himself will dwell in Jerusalem. But this restoration isn’t only for the Jews: the Lord will rule the whole earth, and all the nations will worship Him (Zech 8:2214:9).

Theme verse in Zechariah

“Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zec 1:3b)

Zechariah’s role in the Bible

Zechariah is the eleventh of the Minor Prophets, the last 12 books of the Old Testament. When God had a message for the people, He spoke through the prophets. His word came in visions, oracles, dreams, parables, and the like.

Most of the Minor Prophets wrote about the coming destruction of Judah, Israel, or the surrounding nations, but Zechariah is different. Like Haggai and Malachi, Zechariah shows up on the scene long after the destruction took place.

Of the Minor Prophets, Zechariah is easily the hardest to understand.

This is partially due to the dense symbolic nature of his writings. Whereas Hosea, Micah, and others give direct instructions and warnings of what is to come, Zechariah “lifts up his eyes” to see scenes, characters, and strange objects. Zechariah is one of only two Minor Prophets who records his visions in this way; the other one is Amos (Am 7:8; 8:2; 9:1).

Zechariah uses a few different ways to communicate God’s word to the people in this book:

  • Visions. Zechariah has vivid visions, similar to those that you see in the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. He sees lampstands (Zech 4:2), horses(Zech 6:2), flying scrolls (Zech 5:2), and other images that symbolize the spiritual landscape. Lucky for Zechariah—and us!—an angel interprets many of these symbols (Zech 4:4–6).
  • The word of the Lord. This is your typical prophetic discourse, which you’ll find in almost every book of the Minor Prophets (except Jonah). This is God using Zechariah as His mouthpiece to the people through word alone.
  • Symbolic demonstrations. Sometimes, Zechariah will do something in the physical world that represents the spiritual side of things. In one example, Zechariah forges a crown for the high priest Joshua (not the one who fought at Jericho) to remind Him that one day, there will be a Man who is both king and high priest in Jerusalem.

The prophets Zechariah and Haggai were contemporaries: the book of Ezra notes that these two prophets compelled the Jews to finish rebuilding the temple of the Lord, even thought he surrounding nations were opposing them (Ezr 5:1–2). Haggai’s recorded ministry seems to conclude after three months, but Zechariah continues to preach for at least two more years (Zech 1:1, 7:1).

Here’s something interesting: while Ezra sees Haggai and Zechariah motivating the Jews toward one goal, the two books of prophecy show some striking differences:

  • Haggai gives brief, almost clipped messages. Zechariah is the longest book of the Minor Prophets.
  • Haggai focuses explicitly on the present temple work, while Zechariah deals with the larger picture of Israel’s history and future.
  • Haggai is very literal, directly addressing the economic decline and the tangible solution (building the temple). Zechariah is highly symbolic, instead pointing to the spiritual activities behind the scenes.

Zechariah is ultimately a message of assurance: God has brought the Jews back to Jerusalem, and His work of restoration is far from over.

Quick outline of Zechariah

  1. Zechariah’s first visions (Zech 1–6)
    • The Lord calls Jerusalem to return to Him (Zech 1)
    • The Lord will return to Jerusalem (Zech 2)
    • The Lord affirms Jeshua and Zerubbabel (Zech 3–4)
    • The Lord’s judgment on other nations (Zech 5–6:8)
    • The Lord promises a priestly king (Zech 6:9–15)
  2. Zechariah’s teaching to Israel (Zech 7–8)
    • Learn from the former days (Zech 7)
    • The Lord’s return to Zion (Zech 8)
  3. Zechariah’s oracles (Zech 9–14)
    • Judgment on the nations, blessings on Israel (Zech 9–10)
    • Warnings against foolish shepherds (Zech 11)
    • Victory for God and His people (Zech 12–14)
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Bible Overview Series: Haggai

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Haggai: After the return from exile, the prophets spoke in prose. It took captivity to wring the poetry from their souls.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)
 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Haggai

After spending 70 years as captives in Babylon, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. The Persian emperor Cyrus issued a decree:  the Jews were to rebuild the temple of the Lord. Zerubbabel, who was of the royal line of David, led the Jews back home.

They made some progress, too. They set up a new altar (Ezr 3:3), and they even laid the foundations of the new building (Ezr 3:11). But when the surrounding nations interfered, the temple construction stopped (Ezr 4:24). The Jews built their own houses, worked their fields, and let the Temple lie in shambles.

But their lives were in shambles, too. There was little food, little wine, little clothing, little rain, and little money (Hag 1:6, 10).

At this time, a new prophet named Haggai speaks up: “Consider your ways!”

Because the people have ignored God’s temple, God has withheld rain, food, and prosperity. The solution? Get back to work on the temple!

Zerubbabel and the people do so, and Haggai responds to their obedience with four more brief messages from God:

  1. “I am with you” (Hag 1:13).
  2. “I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory” (Hag 2:7).
  3. “From this day on I will bless you” (Hag 2:19).
  4. “I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant [. . .] and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you” (Hag 2:23).

The book of Haggai begins as a wake-up call to the Jews who had neglected the temple, but it ends with an example of how God delights in His children’s obedience.

Theme verses of Haggai

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. (Hag 1:7–8)

Haggai’s role in the Bible

Haggai is the tenth of the Minor Prophets, the last 12 books of the Old Testament. When God had a message for the people, He spoke through the prophets. His word came in visions, oracles, dreams, parables, and the like.

Most of the Minor Prophets wrote about the coming destruction of Judah, Israel, or the surrounding nations, but Haggai is different. Like Zechariah and Malachi, Haggai shows up on the scene long after the destruction took place.

Haggai points the Jews in an obedient direction, particularly their leaders Zerubbabel (their governor) and Joshua (their high priest, not the one who fought at Jericho). When they obey, God affirms.

The book of Ezra specifically mentions Haggai and Zechariah as the agents God uses to kick temple work back into action (Ezr 5:1–2). If you’re familiar with the past relationships between Jewish kings and prophets, you’ll probably find Zerubbabel’s response surprising. Whereas most kings ignored the prophets (2 Ki 17:13–14), the governor Zerubbabel hears and obeys in reverence (Hag 1:12).

Here’s something interesting: while Ezra sees Haggai and Zechariah motivating the Jews toward one goal, the two books of prophecy show some striking differences:

  • Zechariah is the longest book of the Minor Prophets. Haggai gives brief messages, including the shortest message from God found in the Minor Prophets: “I am with you” (Hag 1:13).
  • Zechariah deals with the larger picture of Israel’s history and future. Haggai focuses explicitly on the present temple work.
  •  Zechariah is highly symbolic, instead pointing to the spiritual activities behind the scenes. Haggai is very literal, directly addressing the economic decline and the tangible solution (building the temple).

Haggai blends history and prophecy like no other Minor Prophet. Most of these books are collections of discourses and visions, but Haggai mixes short messages from God with the way people respond to them. Haggai is also the most specific of the Minor Prophets when it comes to dates: he gives the month and day of every message God sends him.

Quick outline of Haggai

  1. God calls the people to complete the temple (Hag 1:1–11)
  2. The people obey (Hag 1:12–15)
  3. God responds with encouragement and blessing (Hag 2)
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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

Esther2

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

Nehemiah2

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

Ezra2

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

Ezekiel2

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

Lamentations2

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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