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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Jonah’s Journal: Trials and Triumphs of a Prickly Prophet, Part 1

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

We all know Jonah was a grouchy man of God. Specifically, a prickly prophet. Ever wonder what it was like for Jonah as he became the first person in history to ride in an organic submarine? I do.

Day One: Supplies are–well, there are no supplies. Morale is not only low, but it’s far below sea level (as I am right now). I can’t see, and it stinks so much in here I can barely breathe. I suspect God is supernaturally allowing me to stay alive even though technically I’m not breathing enough to live.

Where am I? Here’s the short story.

God told me to preach to the Ninevites. Yeah, those people. We Israelites hate them. Who wants to see the Ninevites in paradise? Not I! That’s why when God told me, I chose instead to disappear. Surely, He had to be kidding.

He wasn’t. I got on a boat to go elsewhere and immediately a storm struck the ship. I knew what it was about and after the sailors tossed all their cargo overseas, I explained they should toss me overboard instead.

They yelled in some strange language, and I suspect they were saying, “WONDERFUL, Israelite! Telling us to throw you overboard would’ve been useful information before throwing OUR cargo overboard!”

Into the water I went and then almost immediately a huge fish swallowed me.

Getting eaten by a fish is a terrifying experience. At first, I thought it was getting revenge on me for all its relatives I ate out of the Great Sea*. But then I remembered, gee, I disobeyed God and didn’t preach to the Ninevites. Maybe that’s why this is happening.

Well, it’s very dark in here. It smells like vomit. There are a few other fish flopping around in here. I’m hungry but…eating them, blech.

And so I lay down here, getting sick and nauseous as the fish swims deeper and deeper into the ocean…and up again…and down again. Icy cold water floods in as the fish eats more and more fish.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad to go to Ninevah after all…

*What the Ancient Israelites called the Mediterranean Sea.

Post comments here or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

12-8-10 devotions: Amos 7-9, Acts 24-25, Psalm 38, Proverbs 22

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Today, I did my reading after going on a 3.6-mile walk. I really think I’d like to have it where I get up early and the very first thing I do is Bible reading. With the amount I do, I figure half an hour is enough time to get everything read and to read comprehensively. Perhaps the reading could be studied again later in the day. Or perhaps it could be Old and New Testament passages in the morning and Psalms and Proverbs at night. All I know is there really is no one-size-fits-all approach.

I doubt I’ll blog about my Bible reading every day and will save those postings for what is truly beneficial to others.

With that, here is what I read today.

Amos 7-9: Because it has been years since I’ve read Amos, I will not really even start to truly understand it on the first time through. Amos, a sheepherder and a tender of sycamore trees, was called to be a prophet. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, complained to the Israelite king Jeroboam about Amos, and apparently the king ordered exiled him to Judah because he didn’t like the message. Amos’ response was he was only relaying God’s message and that Israel faced desolate times for its disobedience.

Bad things in store for Israel at that time because of its idolatry and sin. God does promise forgiveness and restoration if the nation returns to Him. But if not, they will wander, be desolate and will be thirsty and have no relief.

Acts 24-25: Paul is accused of defiling the temple and causing many problems. He stands his ground, says the charges cannot be proven and, being a Roman, wants to appeal before Caesar. He also spends his time witnessing. This passage is a good example of how Christians don’t have to be passive all the time and just take abuse. They can, in a righteous, dignified way, stand up for their rights. Paul realized he could be executed, I believe. Apparently, the Roman law regarding this was far fairer and just than the Jewish law.

Psalm 38: This Psalm David talks about sin, healing from it and how sin can make you physically ill. I know in Psalm 51 David confesses his sin with Bathsheba.

When David writes in verses 4-5: “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness.”, it reminds me of the reverend in The Scarlet Letter and how his private sin goaded his conscience continually.

If a person ever were to want to read what sin does to a person and what true repentance is, this would be an excellent Psalm to examine.

Proverbs 22: We in western society have a skewed idea of wealth. Many think of wealth as lots of money in the bank, excellent investments, a nice house, a nice car, a few vacation homes and the ability to travel whenever and wherever.

God tells us that it’s more important to have a good name than great riches; if you have lie, cheat, steal and be a cut throat to be rich, ultimately it is not worth it. God created all people, both those who are rich and those who are poor, and all are accountable to Him.

Wow, this chapter is chock full of great stuff:

…A wise (prudent) man sees evil ahead and avoids it…

…Train up (establish lifelong habits for) a child the way they shall go, and when they become adults they will be the right type of person…

…A person who gets into sin (whether by mistake or willingly) will reap heartache.

…Walking with the Lord helps you develop knowledge, but those who do not will be “overthrown” by God…

…A lazy man is so content being lazy that he will make excuses not to go out and get things done…

…God abhors men who are fooled by the words of an immoral woman…

…For those blessed with money, God expects them to be good stewards and, in my understanding, help out those in need before further fattening their accounts or indulging in excessive wants…

…Listen to the wise and apply godly knowledge…

…Getting into a personal relationship with an angry person opens you to learning their ways and troubling your own soul…

…Be responsible in your financial dealings. If you say you will pay a bill, pay it…

…Do not be quick to be arrogant and tear down the traditional ways your family has done things. Be very cautious…

…A man who “excels” in his work will be respected and will be sought out by important people…

Richard Zowie is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. He hopes by the end of 2010 to complete his first visit in years with all the Minor Prophets. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Dec 6-7: Amos 1-6, Acts 20-23, Psalm 36-37, Proverbs 20-21

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

On December 6, I did my devotions around 5 a.m. due to having to get up extra early. Surprisingly, it was easy to stay awake and read. I had wanted to re-read the passages in the evening, but I grew too tired and went to bed.

On December 7, I did my devotions after walking nearly three miles on a cold, crisp day (wearing shorts, something I don’t recommend).

I am trying to further summarize my devotions readings as to not bore my readers, since, again, nobody wants to read an exegesis. But I’ll do my best:

Amos 1-6: Reading this book makes me think Amos was just as exasperated at the Israelites as Joel was. You know it’s bad when a prophet tells you not bother making sacrifices to try to make things right: repent and turn from your wicked ways instead. God even tells them He is so disgusted that making music to Him will accomplish nothing. Perhaps it is comparable to a person cheating on their spouse and thinking a box of chocolates or a thoughtful gift will make all the pain go away and will fix things.

We find Israel is guilty of moral and ethical corruption. Israel has thwarted God’s efforts to get its attention through plagues, droughts and failed military campaigns, and in today’s reading it is suggested God will allow the Israelites to go into exile and once again serve another nation. That nation, eventually, would be Babylon.

Acts 20-23: Paul preaches and gives his testimony of how he came to Christ. The way it is worded, with God talking about how Paul was chosen to meet Jesus the way he did, I’m sure there are Calvinists out there who will say this proves God called Paul to Him and that Paul, overcome by irresistible grace, succombed. I wonder if they know how many wonderful, spiritual, ethical people I’ve met in my life who will probably not be in heaven someday because they are convinced there are many paths to God or that their works will save them or that there is nothing beyond this life. Sadly, some of the most condescending dirtbags I have ever met have been Christians. Sorry, but the notion that God programs people to accept Him or reject Him is a perversion of the Gospel. God does not want robots. He wants people who genuinely desire a personal relationship with Him.

That being said, Paul escapes a beating by reminding the authorities that he is a Roman citizen. He points out he was born a Roman citizen and did not buy his citizenship.

I suspect a showdown is coming…

Psalm 36-37 and Proverbs 20-21: Lots of encouragement from reading the Psalms and Proverbs. The importance of living righteously, using wisdom and knowledge and how if you keep your eyes on God and maintain an intimate relationship with Him, He will guide you through life. How foolish indeed it is to trust solely in yourself or in your bank account!

When I was in Monterey, California, in the military, I attended Monterey Bay Baptist Church (now Central Coast Baptist Church). Pastor Rick Flanders, who has since gone home to be with the Lord, told of witnessing near Pebble Beach, a very affluent area of northern California. He asked a man who had a beautiful home, RV and other expensive toys: “If you died today, are you 100% sure you would go to heaven?” To which the man replied, “I feel like I’m already in heaven!”

Also, David tells us to cease from anger and wrath and that worrying only causes harm.

Some people are warriors, but I certainly have been a worrier.

Richard Zowie is a Christian writer who believes it is his responsibility to use his talents for God’s glory. Hence, this Richard’s Two Shekels blog. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

12-5 Bible reading: Joel, Psalms 35, Proverbs 19, Acts 18-19

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I got off to a late start with this Bible reading, unfortunately. Saturday was pretty stressful in the Zowie household due to our van breaking down. My wife and I were both very frustrated because we’ve had it in twice at one shop and now there are problems again that sound like they have something to with what we thought had already been repaired. We’re supposed to find out today what the problem was, and I pray it’s not too expensive.

So, I went to bed around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and didn’t wake up until 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. It was one of those fun slumbers where nine hours felt more like five. I had intended to do devotions that morning, but time ran short as my sons and I had to get ready for church (which included getting rides to and from church).

So, that night when my work was finally done for the newspaper, I was able to sit down and read God’s Word.

Joel: On recent broadcasts of Insight For Living (one of my favorite Bible-teaching programs), Dr. Charles Swindoll has been talking about Joel. This is a book I have not read since probably around the time of college when I was making it a point to read the Bible through each year. I read some of the commentary in my Bible about Joel and then read all three chapters. It’s a story about the horrible desolation that will soon come upon Israel if it continues its path of disobedience against the Lord. Very poetic in the way it expresses how devastating it will be, and how its enemies will tear through its lands the way locusts tear through a crop. The book also ends with how things would return to normal if Israel repents and returns to God.

Joel 2:13 says this: “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”

And, of course, for Israel’s enemies, they will be dealt with. God, of course, allows Israel’s enemies to work in ways to get the nation’s attention if they stray off His path, but when Israel is serving Him, it is a different story.

Psalm 35: This passage was a huge blessing for me as I deal with lots of frustrating issues in my personal life. You get to a point where you have to put things in God’s Hands and move on. I was encouraged and was reminded that for Christians living for God, they have nothing to worry about from their enemies.

Proverbs 19: Proverbs in each chapter is laden with wisdom, and this one is no exception. I was reminded again the importance of being wise, careful and living for the Lord. I also was convicted about making sure I am doing my job as a father (something I was far too lackadaisical on for too long).

My two favorite passages in this chapter:

Verse 8: “He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will find good.”

And verse 11: “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.”

Acts 18-19: At Corinth, Paul continued preaching the Gospel and came across some who rejected his words. He told them their blood would be on their own heads. You know: while you can preach the Gospel and present it on a clear level, it is still the individual’s responsibility whether or not to accept it. If they reject it, that is their choice.

After receiving a vision from God that he would not be harmed, Paul remained there for a year and a half teaching and preaching. Paul then returned to Antioch and apparently got his hair cut after having taken a Nazarite vow. Anyone know why he took this vow?

Then in the next chapter, Paul teaches about what baptism does, heals the sick.

Some Jewish exorcists then try unsuccessfully to cast out a demon, whose words show the type of reputation Paul has. The demon says to them in verse 15: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”

Many come to Christ and burn their books on magic, books that totaled 50,000 pieces of silver (I’m no economist, so I have no idea what that equals in today’s money).

No, I’m not a proponent of book burning, but this is a basic principle of the Christian life: if there is something in your life that is hindering your walk with God, get rid of it.

Paul then encountered problems in Ephesus, notably from a silversmith named Demetrius who apparently thought Paul’s call to repent from idol worship and serve the true God would kill his own business of making and selilng silver shrines of Diana. Despite the discord in the city, God was in control.

Richard Zowie is a Christian writer who laments the years wasted by having a Bible that collected dust on a shelf. His goal is, once he completes his long-put off Bible reading plan sometime in the spring or early summer, to read the Bible through again before the end of 2011. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

12-4-10 devotions: Hosea 11-14, Acts 17, Psalm 34, Proverbs 18

December 4, 2010 1 comment

I read these passages of Scripture this morning–all of them. This is a habit I would like to make a regular one.

Because I am limited on my portable Bibles, I read Acts, Psalms and Proverbs out of a Gideon pocket King James Bible and Hosea out of a slim line New American Standard. As I told my wife last night, I’m not the most comfortable with the NASB and, as far as modern versions go, find that I prefer the New King James. I am still looking at the English Standard Version but am undecided on it. (If you’d like to know more about my current stand on Bible versions and the King James Only debate, click here for a previous blog posting on the topic).

Hosea 11-14: I did not intend to finish the Book of Hosea today, but chapter 14 was so short I decided to go ahead and do so. This passage talks about God’s incredible, undying love for Israel and how He continues to love this nation even to this day. I think it’s obvious that God’s correction is based on heartache rather than anger. Yes, God is angry, but that is not the dominant feeling He has when dealing with His People.

I like 11:8: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred.”

Later, God reminds Israel how He has been there for the nation from the early days of Jacob to the delivery from Egypt and through other times where He has blessed His nation continually. It is reminder to us as Christians to not waste each day with frivolous activities but instead to set time aside to read God’s Word, pray, worship and serve Him.

It brings a sorrowful thought to my mind: Dear God, I am so sorry You had to shake up my life and allow heartache to come in for me to truly grasp this. May You find me five years from now still diligently reading and meditating on Your Word.Hosea closes out his book in the fourteenth chapter with a message of hope as Israel learns reconciliation is possible and what will happen if the nation does repent. Consider verses 4 through 7:

“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.

“I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon.

“His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon.

“Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”

(As a side note, by wine I think Hosea is referring to actual wine and not the IFB phenomenon of Biblical “wine” that magically turns into non-alcoholic grape juice each time).

Hosea closes this fascinating book with this thought in verse 9: “Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

Great words of encouragement if you are a backslider to get your walk back on God’s path. Think it’s too late? If there is any inkling you have that you want to walk with God again, then it’s not too late. Don’t fool yourself, and please don’t let Satan tell you differently.

Acts 17: Paul continues his rabble rousing ways in Thessalonica, city he would later write two letters to.

Naturally, he made lots of enemies. This is par for the course if you are a Christian; if you are a Christian and everybody likes you, that’s usually a sign that you are doing something wrong. Everybody should respect you if you are walking with God, but not everybody will like you.

Paul and Silas left in the middle of the night to Berea, with similar results. They then went to Athens and encountered a reaction of strangeness. It was also here that Paul found an altar with the inscription “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”.

It makes me wonder if Athens was such the city at the time that was starving for some type of relationship with a divine being that they established that altar. Or maybe it was their way to trying to blindly reach out to what they perceived to be a true god somewhere out there. Either way, Paul declared that God was this “Unknown God”.

Some believed, others didn’t.

Psalm 34: A great sense of relief and anxiety must have been on David’s mind as he wrote this Psalm. My Bible notes say he wrote this after leaving the presence of Abimelech, which he was successfully able to do by pretending to be crazy (David even worked up frothy spittle and let it get into his beard). Reading over this Psalm, you can almost imagine David crying happy tears as he wrote the words.

He writes in verse four and then six: “I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears…This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”

This is a very encouraging Psalm that encourages us to experience God and see that He is indeed good.

David also reminds us in verses 17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

“The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”

Proverbs 18: I have read about half the Proverbs on my list of completing my Bible reading. This is one of those books, like Psalms, where you shouldn’t only visit it once a year but should read one Proverb each day.

That being said…

This Proverb has been described as a contrast between the upright and the wicked. The first verse really, really spoke to me:

“A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.”

That really describes the person I was when I went long dry spells without reading God’s Word, without being in church regularly. When you don’t read the Bible, you lose your way and start doing things and even saying things you’d never dream of doing if you are a Christian walking with God daily. You know what’s right to do, but in your backslidden state you work overtime to rationalize your sins.

Make no mistake: sin is sin. We may try to tell ourselves there is a justifiable reason for sinful choices we make, but at the end of our lives we will have to give an account to God for those stupid choices and will finally realize what a waste we made of our spiritual lives.

Verse nine tells us that whoever is slothful in their work is a close relative of him “who is a great destroyer”. It really is convicting and an encouragement to me to live my life where I am being productive and where my times of recreation are needed breaks rather than something that overpowers my own day.

And in my own marriage (which most likely will end in divorce), verse 13 is particularly haunting: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”

If you have a spouse who has something to discuss with you, LISTEN to them. Don’t be so quick to dismiss their concerns, worries or complaints as unimportant. To ignore them is to drive a wedge that could eventually be fatal to a marriage.

There are also other gold and platinum nuggets in this chapter, such as verse 14 telling us that while man’s spirit can sustain him (or her) in sickness, a broken spirit is a different story that requires the services of the Great Physician. Or, how about verse 15 telling us that the heart of the prudent acquires knowledge.

Interestingly, verse 17 encourages us to be very discerning with what people say: “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.” Perhaps a neighbor (or someone who knows the story very well) knows far more about it than others realize.

And verse 19 is a reminder for us to be careful in our conversation and to behave ourselves wisely:

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

Once you’ve offended someone, it is very difficult to win back their respect or trust. If ever.

I am also curious about verse 24, which tells us: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Who might that friend be? Is this a best friend? Perhaps it is referring to God? Anyone care to guess?

Richard Zowie does not claim to be a Bible scholar: he graduated from Pensacola Christian College in 1995 with a bachelor of arts in history and earned an associates degree in 1998 from Defense Language Institute’s Russian Basic Course. He hopes someday to earn an English degree and, if the Lord opens the door, to obtain more formal Bible training. He currently is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. He hopes in the coming months to complete his first visit with all the Minor Prophets. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com. 

 

12-3-10 devotions: Hosea 8-10, Acts 16, Psalm 33

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I did my Bible reading Friday night after my work was done for the day, and I was upset with myself. Devotions should really be done in the morning–or at least begun in the morning.

In my current path, I think what I will try to do is read the Old and New Testament in the morning and at night, read from the Psalms and Proverbs. Or perhaps it is best to read it all in the morning and to take a closer look at each passage at night; each delve into Psalms and Proverbs provides encouragement to take on the day.

What works best for you, Dear Reader?

I knew of one man who was serving at the Roloff Homes and spoke at my then-home church, Beeville Baptist Church, to speak. He told of how he was reading the Bible through in a month.

Wow! I thought. That is a LOT of reading.

Sometime I may try that just to see if I can accomplish it, but I’m leery because with my short attention span, it would be a classic case of quantity over quality. At least three times in my life I’ve read over Old Testament books like Ezekiel, Amos, Obadiah, the other Minor Prophets along with tiny New Testament books like 1, 2 and 3 John and can barely–if at all–tell you what they were about. In fact, if I died today, I’d have to ask God to let me have a crash course on what Obadiah and other books were about since I must presume that, until we are completely perfected in heaven, it is possible still to feel embarrassment in heaven. (Perhaps some young Christian may even go up to David and say, “Yo! David! Was Bathsheba as hot as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models?!”)

Rabbit trail aside, what I am trying to say is I like the year-long approach to Bible reading much better.

That being said, what I might do is when I finish reading the Bible through (I am almost halfway through with my current plan that, sadly, I have been doing since 2003), I may see if I can read the Word of God through again before the end of 2011. We will see.

That being said…

Hosea 8-10: In these chapters, Hosea continues speaking to the brick wall that is the hardened heart of Israel as he urges the nation to repent and not face the humiliation of God’s correction. I imagine as he returned home for the night, perhaps Gomer even gave him encouragement and insight. “Honey, you won me back through tough love, and that’s what you need to have in your message to Israel–tough love.”

It’s a question I intend to ask Hosea someday. I am so glad now that when I get to heaven I won’t have to say, “Hello, Hosea! I’m ashamed to have to tell you this, but I don’t remember what your book was about!”

Hosea 8:14 says this: “For Israel has forgotten his Maker, and has built temples; Judah also has multiplied fortified cities; but I will send fire upon his cities, and it shall devour his palaces.”

Acts 16: This chapter touches briefly on a subject I intend to blog about in the near future.

Circumcision.

Timothy, a Christian whose Mom was Jewish and whose father was Greek, was not circumcised. He was in the ministry in Lystra and Iconium, and Paul had Tim circumcised. Since his ministry was among Jews (who were and are still circumcised), it was determined Tim could be a more effective missionary if he were circumcised.

Yes, by modern standards it seems silly that ancient man could get so hung up over foreskins, but it’s about how you can best tend to the needs of those you minister to. Having no respect for the culture of a country you work in makes you an ineffective missionary.

That being done, Paul continued to minister and lead people to the Lord, including the very prominent businesswoman Lydia, a merchant of purple in Thyatira.

Also in this chapter, Paul and Silas were famously beaten and imprisoned for exorcising a demon from a girl who told people’s fortunes. Paul saw her anguish and ordered the demon to leave her, which angered her masters since it deprived them of their lucrative income.

So, Paul and Silas were jailed and through their testimony of praising God despite their tough circumstances, the jailer came to know Christ. I wonder what would have happened had they moped, cried and complained? The jail probably was not a very pleasant place to be, and we can hardly imagine the miserable times there as they were beaten.

After leading the jailer and his family to the Lord, Paul then informed the officers of the local legal community that he and Silas were Roman citizens and that it was illegal to beat them without a trial.

Oops!

This was no doubt why tradition says Paul eventually was probably beheaded instead of crucified. It has been said crucifixion was the most severe form of Roman capital punishment: no Roman citizen could be crucified.

Reading about Paul and his trials leads me to one incontrovertible conclusion: I may be dealing with heartaches and craziness in my own life, but compared to Christians in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, China and other places, I practically live in Beverly Hills.

Psalm 33: As I read through the thirty-third Psalm, I wonder if it has been made into a song. I imagine David in heaven in a recording studio with musical instruments we cannot even begin to imagine, instruments that play melodies well beyond the limits of finite human sound.

In short, it is a Psalm encouraging musicians to use their talents to praise God.

Verse four tells us: “For the word of the LORD is right, and all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.”

This Psalm also speaks of God’s work during Creation (before man ruined things) and how God is in ultimate control over the affairs of man. It speaks of how God works in every human individually, placing things in their hearts that He hopes will bring them to Him.

Verses 18-22: “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy,

“To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.

“Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.

“For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.

“Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, just as we hope in You.”

Richard Zowie is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. He hopes in the coming months to complete his first visit with all the Minor Prophets. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

 

Hosea 5-7: God’s severity and Israel’s unfaithfulness

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Reading through Hosea for the first time in many years has reminded me of something: I will probably better grasp this book the next few times I read through it as I re-commit myself to reading the Bible through every year.

I had been reading one chapter of Hosea at a time and while there is the quality issue, I also want to make sure I’m pushing myself to read more.

This book, which follows Daniel in the English version of the Old Testament, was written a few centuries before. It was God’s admonishment to Israel to turn around before He had to take drastic measures. He tells them through His prophet the type of punishment they will face and what they have done to merit the punishment. We know from 2 Chronicles and from Jeremiah that Israel faced the humiliation of exile in Babylon.

God wants nothing more than to have an intimate relationship with us, a “romance”, and each time Israel forsook Him and worshiped false gods and broke His commands, it broke his heart.

For God to go back and forth like this as a patient husband with an unfaithful wife tells me God loves this tiny nation more than it will ever know.

It’s heartbreaking to read chapter five, and read Hosea’s words. It’s as if he went around the populations and cried as he declared God’s Word–only to have the people roll their eyes at him (or whatever the ancient custom was to show contempt) and go about their lives. What’s worse is that in verse six, he states that when hard times come and they cry for God, he will ignore them.

Tough love, in other words. It’s the product of ignoring God for too long and only calling out for him when it’s convenient or expedient.

Verse 15 tells how long this punishment will last: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.”

After warning the Israelites of what’s coming in chapter five, Hosea spends chapter six calling on his people to repent. God is punishing, he tells them, but He can heal and forgive.

In verse six, he tells them something the prophet Samuel centuries prior told King Saul: it is better to obey and seek God’s knowledge than to make burnt offerings. Perhaps it’s better to obey and follow God than to have to make sacrifices and burnt offerings for sins committed.

Then, in chapter seven, Hosea details the sins Israel has committed against God. It’s a lengthy list with very unpleasant comparisons.

In verses 3-7: “They make a king glad with their wickedness, And princes with their lies.

“They are all adulterers. Like an oven heated by a baker— He ceases stirring the fire after kneading the dough, Until it is leavened.

“In the day of our king princes have made him sick, inflamed with wine; He stretched out his hand with scoffers.

“They prepare their heart like an oven, While they lie in wait; Their baker sleeps all night; In the morning it burns like a flaming fire.

“They are all hot, like an oven, And have devoured their judges; All their kings have fallen. None among them calls upon Me.”

There is so much more that could be said, and perhaps I will someday when I re-visit Hosea in a future blog posting. Bottom line: it was not a good time to be a godly Israelite with all the wickedness rampant.

No wonder Hosea and God were heartbroken.

Richard Zowie is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. He hopes in the coming months to complete his first visit with all the Minor Prophets. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Acts 13: Bible-reading thoughts; Paul rebukes, preaches

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I read this passage after Hosea 3 as I continue my trek to reading the Bible and hope to return soon to reading the Bible completely through once a year. One minister spoke of reading the Bible completely through in one month, which really brings to mind quantity versus quality.

At Pensacola Christian College, Pastor Jim Schettler spoke of how he liked to read a Proverb each day. Some Christians take this a step further and read both a Psalm and a Proverb daily. Not a bad system.

It may seem like a lot, but when you consider reading a few chapters of the Old Testament, one of the New Testament, a Psalm and Proverb, meditating and pondering and praying and taking notes, it can easily be done in an hour. Is one hour a day really asking that much? Perhaps it could be split up where in the morning you do your Bible reading and then at night review over it to learn and consider how it applies to you.

Yes, Richard’s Two Shekels reader: I am talking to myself most of all!

In Acts 13, we continue reading of the Early Church as Paul and Barnabas continued going out and being a nuisance by preaching about that radical Jewish rabbi named Yeshua, who was rapidly becoming known as Yeshua Ha Meshiach (Jesus the Messiah).

At the island of Paphos, Paul and Barney encountered a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus (which means “Son of Jesus”; keep in mind that Jesus–specifically, Yeshua, was a common name in those days). B-J proved to be a nuisance to those who wanted to hear the Gospel, such as Sergius Paulus, so Paul used God’s power to temporarily blind him.

Close minded? Nope. Sergius Paulus wanted to hear the Gospel, and this false prophet was trying to stand in the way.

After this, they traveled to Perga and then to Antioch and spoke at the synagogue. Paul preached, going through Jewish history and talking about Jesus’ earthly ministry and all the people who saw Him after he arose from the dead.

Paul then left the synagogue and preached to the Jews and to Gentiles who were interested in the message. The religious Jews, angry with the message, were opposed to Paul. He then made no friends by telling them in verse 46-47: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

In this passage, Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6.

The Gentiles were very happy and many came to know Christ on that day.

Eventually, Paul and Barnabas were kicked out of the city, and they then shook the dust from their feet, as per what Jesus instructed His disciples to do when their message was rejected.

Richard Zowie is a Christian writer. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Hosea 4: Israel’s adultery against God

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I read this passage yesterday during some down time at work. Thankfully, at that job they don’t care if you read when things get slow. And since the Bible and I have been apart for far too long, I felt it was necessary to re-visit Hosea.

Last we chatted, in Hosea 3 the prophet and his wife Gomer reconciled. She returned to him after falling back into her lifestyle of prostitution. We presume their marriage was a happy one as Gomer learned that Hosea was the only man who could ever truly love her and Hosea learned to forgive and to show his wife love through actions rather than just words.

In the fourth chapter, we see by Israel’s activities what it was like for God as the nation He loved “cheated” on him time and again with false idols and immorality. At this time, Israel truly is a nation that is an asylum where the inmates have taken over. Name the sin, and chances are it has been committed.

Verse 6 reads: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

In other words: the Israelites rejected the knowledge that would have been beneficial, and this led to their moral corruption. God then decided they were unworthy of being authorities of His moral laws and that they had harsh lessons to learn.

It is hard to believe this is the same nation for which God had done so many wonderful things, but it makes you think of how we, as Christians, continue to sin and break God’s heart despite all the blessings He gives us. This chapter shows how far a godly nation can fall and how a loving God has to use drastic measures to get its attention.

Recently at church during a video sermon on raising children, Ken Ham reminded us of this equation: Rules — Relationship = Rebellion. Maybe that’s what happened: for too long generations came and went just were not equipped to have a relationship with God.

Richard Zowie is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Hosea 2-3: Gomer is punished, restored

August 4, 2010 3 comments

Things apparently were blissful for some time between Hosea and Gomer, but as the years passed, perhaps Gomer felt the temptation to return to her former way of life. God obviously knew this, because, again, He wanted their marriage to be an object lesson to the Jewish people about how much their idolatry hurt Him.

Verse 1 of Chapter 2 begins with this: “Say ye unto your bretheren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.” Whether this means Hosea’s middle and youngest children had new names or whether God’s commanding the brethren to be called “My People” and the sisters “Mercy”, I do not know.

The next several verses show the direct correlation between Gomer’s adultery and Israel’s spiritual adultery against God. Just as Hosea tried to enlist his children to talk sense into their mother, God was trying to talk sense into His people.

Sadly, neither worked as both Gomer and Israel went their own ways and had to learn the hard way what happens when you live a foolish life and make foolish decisions. God’s plan for both Gomer and for Israel would be that they’d see nothing but misery and no fulfillment in their paths that they’d return back to Hosea and God and realize they had it far better then.

I imagine this must have been a heartache for Hosea to see his wife, whom I’m sure he loved and probably was very attracted to, reject him and go on her way and return to her old life. Even today, when a spouse learns they’ve been cheated on, it’s an extremely bitter pill to swallow. The recovery time takes years, if ever. And at this point of the book, I imagine Hosea was praying that Gomer would return to her senses and come home and, while facing judgment, would also face forgiveness and mercy.

In verse 23, God pledges, once Israel has returned from her wickedness and idolatry, to “sow her unto me in the earth,” and to have mercy and restore His people and for them to acknowledge Him as their God.”

Chapter 3 begins the restoration process for Gomer, who apparently has faced the further public humiliation of being sold on the market as a slave (which, of course, was common when someone accumulated more debts than they could pay). God tells Hosea to love an adulteress as God loves Israel in all its seeking after idols. On the market, Hosea bought her back for 15 pieces of silver, and 1.5 homers of barley.

In verse 3, Hosea tells Gomer: “Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee.”

He wanted her back as his wife and pledged that both would be faithful to each other. There would be no revenge extramarital sex for Hosea. By this time, I believe Gomer was the Prodigal Wife and was more than glad to return to Hosea. She had learned her lesson, just as David had painfully learned his lesson about adultery a few centuries before.

Verse 4 tells us that Israel would abide many days without a king or prince. Whether this refers to the Babylonian Captivity or the nearly-1,900-year gap between Jerusalem falling in A.D. 70 and statehood for Israel in 1948 or perhaps even a future event, I do not know. But, eventually, they would return to seeking God.

Richard Zowie is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Hosea 1: ‘God, you want me to do WHAT? Marry a PROSTITUTE?!’

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

When he received his commandment from God, I have little doubt that the prophet Hosea checked his calendar to see if it was April Fool’s Day. Or whatever the ancient Israelite equivalent of it was.

“Dear God, surely you are joking?!” Hosea probably asked, reverently. Could he really be hearing God correctly?

God had instructed Hosea to do the unthinkable:

“Go and marry a prostitute.”

It must’ve been a very strange pill to swallow. Little is known of Gomer, Hosea’s wife, and I wonder if she was one of those prostitutes in the temples of the false gods. If so, it must’ve seemed especially distasteful for Hosea.

This minor prophet, we learn from the opening verse, lived during the time of King Hezekiah of Judah and of King Jeroboam of Israel. This means, of course, that the events of this book actually happened before those of Daniel.

We see in the second verse that God doesn’t call Hosea to marry Gomer for divine amusement. There’s a reason for it: “…And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.”

There’s a lesson to be learned: Hosea and Gomer’s marriage will mirror God and Israel’s marriage.

They had three children: a son named Jezreel (because God would soon avenge Jezreel upon Jehu and would bring Jehu’s rule in Israel to a close and would judge Israel); a daughter named Loruhamah (from the Hebrew phrase meaning “no mercy” to indelicate God would cease from having mercy for Israel and would take them away while having mercy on Judah through some apparent tough love); and another son named Loammi (from the Hebrew meaning “not my people” to indicate a period of separation that would take place).

According to my Bible commentary notes, some believe that Loruhamah and Loammi were not Hosea’s biological children due to the wording of the text. I’m not so sure, simply because similar wording is used to describe all the kids Leah had when she was married to Jacob, but yet the context of Jacob and Leah shows nothing to indicate Jake wasn’t the father of all those boys and the daughter.

Verses 10 and 11 indicate that Israel will have a period of separation from God as God punishes the country for its idolatry before restoring it. I suspect this refers to the Babylonian captivity and then the Jewish people’s return back to Israel.

Richard Zowie is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Acts 7: Stephen is martyred

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I actually read this passage on Monday and am, sadly, just now blogging about it. Getting off my duff, I plan to return to daily blogging about Bible reading. Later today or, most likely, tomorrow, I’ll blog about the next chapter of Daniel.

Acts 7 is a fascinating chapter, in that it’s the first Biblical recording–post crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus–of a martyr.

That martyr’s name, of course, was Stephen.

In his sermon, Stephen preached a sermon summarizing the Old Testament from Abraham, to Moses, down the line and eventually ending in the New Testament with Jesus. He concentrated heavily on Moses, particularly his early life and when he was receiving the laws from God on Mt. Sinai.

Bluntness was a normal practice in the early church’s preaching, and Stephen was no different. He referred to the authorities in the temple in verse 51 as “stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.” Notice he did not say they were physically uncircumcised. All obedient male Jews then were. He was telling them they were crude and stubborn in their ability to listen and hear what was being preached, and if they were truly open and receptive, they would’ve seen that Jesus’ life was a fulfillment of Scripture. Instead, the authorities and their ancestors chose to persecute, torture and even kill the messengers who called for obedience unto God.

And then Stephen looked up to the sky and described seeing Jesus at the right hand of God. A death sentence. They took him outside the city and stoned him.

Like Jesus at His crucifixion, Stephen showed compassion to those who stoned him. In his final words in verse 60, he asked God not to lay this sin at their charge.

We also see in verse 58 that Saul held the outergarments of those who went to kill Stephen. Saul had yet to become a Christian and transform into Paul, but I have to wonder what went through his mind at this time. Perhaps seeds were being planted and watered as he saw this Christian die for their faith.

Richard Zowie, a Christian for 28 years, operates several blogs. Post a comment or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 6: Lions, dens and Daniel, oh my!

February 11, 2010 1 comment

Yes, I must admit, that’s probably the most cheesiest, recycled title imaginable, borrowed from Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. (A special “thank you” goes out to the late Judy Garland, also affectionately known as Liza Minnelli’s Mom).

I read this passage last night, right before I went to bed around 10 p.m. to get ready for my 4:45 a.m. wake up to go to work at the gas station. As I read, I noticed some new things. Reading from my Zondervan King James Study Bible, I consulted with some of the footnotes. I know some Christians detest Bibles with extensive footnotes, but it really helps in learning the background of the passage. Otherwise, you’re almost helpless to understand the historical and cultural backgrounds of the ancient Biblical cultures. What you read will either go straight over our head or will become misunderstood and misapplied.

At the beginning of Daniel 6, King Darius the Persian has set up his new kingdom. He has 120 princes and three presidents to whom the princes are all accountable. Who’s the head president?

Daniel.

So, after being given the consolation of third-highest ruler in Babylon shortly before Belshazzar’s death, Daniel actually receives a promotion. Good help is so hard to find, and I’m sure that Darius was very familiar with Daniel and his wisdom. Perhaps Belshazzar, when asked if he had any final words before being executed, said, “Daniel…is a smart…guy…should’ve…listened to him sooner…put…him…in charge…(gurgle! gasp!)”

While Daniel was the head president and accountable to Darius, the decision to promote Daniel was obviously a very sore one for the other presidents and many of the princes. “Why should this filthy foreigner–a JEW!–be put in charge of us?” They no doubt reasoned among themselves. “Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar unceremoniously wrench these slaves out of their homeland? And now one of them’s ruling over us again?”

So, they try to find dirt on Daniel. They called on all their spies, private investigators, everybody, to see what Daniel did that was embarrassing enough to be relieved of his position in the kingdom. Mind you, this had nothing to do with the good of the kingdom. It was about power.

What did these gentlemen find? Absolutely nothing. Daniel was squeaky clean. No crazy secret sex life, no love children, no strange habits, no embarrassing personal problems.

Not unless you count his praying towards Jerusalem thrice daily.

So, these men approach Darius with the usual apple-polishing “O king, live forever” rhetoric and trick him into signing a law stating for the next 30 days all petitions must be directed to the king: anyone who asks a petition of God or man shall be thrown into a lion’s den.

Everyone agrees this is a great idea, Your Majesty!, the men tell the king. This is an outright lie, of course: Daniel knew nothing about it and certainly would not have given it his support. In those days, lying to the king was pretty much grounds to have your head permanently separated from your body.

When the men then make accusations against Daniel’s violating this law, the king realizes he’s been had, but it’s too late. the laws of the Medes-Persians were ironclad and could not be revoked.

As Daniel is put into the lions’ den, Darius in verse 16 tells the sage prophet that perhaps God will save him from this injustice.

Nice kitties!

The whole night, Darius doesn’t sleep, eat or have any entertainment. He is worried, thinking that a wonderful man and a great advisor may die because of a stupid law that he no doubt signed after the princes and presidents tickled his ears and tricked him. Morning can’t come quickly enough.

And when it does, Darius rushes to the den and calls down to Daniel asking if his God was able to save him.

It must’ve been a gargantuan relief to Darius to hear Daniel answer back in verses 21-22:

“…O king, live for ever.

“My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.”

Furthermore, when Daniel came out of the den, the king saw he had no marks of physical activity of any kind. This reminds me of how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were pulled from the fire a few chapters earlier and were found to have no burns or singes.

Darius, we read in verses 25-27, made a new law decreeing that Daniel’s God was to be revered and respected throughout the kingdom. His is a kingdom that is eternal with infinite power, and he delivered Daniel from the lions.

What about the men who tricked Darius into signing that bad law? Verse 24 tells us that they, their wives and children were thrown into the lions’ den. The lions were no doubt hungry and had a big breakfast.

This may seem like a bitter pill to swallow for modern readers: how could God let women and children be eaten by lions?

There are a few things to consider. First, a lot of distasteful activities occur in the Bible. This doesn’t mean that God condones it, it’s just reporting on things that happened in the ancient world. Their cultures, their perceptions on the world and their ideas of justice no doubt differ much from ours. I also understand that executing a man and his family was a Persian custom at the time, presumably to prevent the man’s wife or kids from plotting revenge down the road. This is right there with other gross practices, such as David collecting 200 foreskins of the Philistines (to prove to the circumcised King Saul that David [who was also circumcised] had killed 200 enemy soldiers).

Second, it’s entirely possible that these men’s wives and children were just as wicked and ungodly as they were. After all, they’d tried to murder an innocent man. Perhaps their wives and kids encouraged it. We don’t know for certain, except that Darius possibly wanted to give the others in his kingdom incentive to leave Daniel alone.

Richard Zowie is an active blogger. Post comments here or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Acts 3: Peter heals a lame man, preaches, and, no surprise, gets into trouble

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

About the reading: I read this passage of Scripture this afternoon after finishing work. It was very nice to stretch out on my bed, get off my feet and read and jot notes. Doing this daily Bible reading is like getting reacquainted with an old friend I haven’t seen in a very long time. Too long of a time. I’m hoping to discipline myself to read the Bible early in the morning during the quietest time in our house. It’s certainly a prayer request, since I’m much more of a night owl rather than an early bird.

Of all the New Testament saints, Peter is one I identify with the most: impulsive and energetic with a lot of regret thrown in. Well, you know how a Christian should handle regret: whenever Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.

That being said, Peter and John headed to the Temple, presumably to begin preaching. Before they arrived, they see a man born lame who was asking for donations. For a Galilean fisherman, Peter really responded eloquently in 3:6: “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”

 

“I don’t have any silver or gold, but I have something I think you’ll really, REALLY like!”

The lame man arose, and walked and was indeed very excited. He headed into the temple, jumped around and did a lot of shouting. He was, no doubt, the world’s first cheerleader. It must’ve absolutely shocked the people in the temple that this same man who’d just been down on the ground asking them for donations was now able to walk!

As the people continued to be astonished and as a reporter from the Jerusalem Post began interviewing witnesses while also asking the formerly-lame man to do a quick jump into the air for a picture, Peter used this time to preach a sermon. He asked the people why they’re so surprised and why they seem to think that he and John had anything to do with the healing when it was really the Lord God of Israel who did it.

Ever the man with effective icebreakers, Peter then reminded the people that in their ignorance towards the truth they crucified Jesus while allowing a murderer like Barrabas to go free. Peter, again, no doubt astonishing the crowd with his Galilean accent as he preached, gave them examples of many prophets who foretold of Jesus. He even quoted Moses in Deuteronomy.

Jesus gave the command for His disciples to preach the Gospel, and that’s exactly what Peter did. We’ll find out soon that some in the temple were no doubt less than happy with Peter’s preaching.

Richard Zowie has three other blogs on WordPress and has been a Christian since October 1981. He sees himself as having some catching up to do in terms of Bible reading. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 2:24-49; Daniel introduces Nebuchadnezzar to God, interprets dream

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

About the reading: I read this passage of Scripture around 12:30 a.m. this morning. After reading it, I thought briefly about continuing reading a few more passages of Scripture but decided instead to get some sleep. In my experience, I don’t get much from the Bible when I’m reading it while nodding off. Doing this results in reading the same sentence over and over again without comprehension. It’s about as useful to me as trying to read 10 chapters in five minutes.At this stage, I’m reading the Bible in small sips in hopes of focusing on quality instead of quantity.

So, with the second part of Daniel 2, Daniel was quite relieved to know what King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed and how to interpret it. He went before Nebuchadnezzar and made it abundantly clear, in what we’ll see as Daniel’s trademark humility, that the interpretation of the dream came from God and not from Daniel; Daniel was merely the messenger.

Daniel then proceeded to tell the king that in his dream he  (the king, not Daniel) saw a huge image: gold head, silver chest and arms, brass stomach and thighs, iron legs and feet mixed with iron and clay. Nebuchadnezzar’s the gold head and would be followed by subsequent, weaker kingdoms. Much debate has arisen regarding which kingdoms these represent, but at the end Daniel made it clear: eventually God will establish a permanent, eternal kingdom that will rule over all and will dominate these.

Nebuchadnezzar has a dream…

For a man who was in a dangerous rage earlier in this chapter, the king was now a happy man. He fell to his feet and worshipped Daniel, which, for a modest man like Daniel, must’ve been extremely awkward. Um, Your Majesty, live forever. This really isn’t necessary. However, the king’s behavior was almost to be expected considering he was a polytheistic ruler. Be that as it may, verse 47 tells us: “The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth [it is], that your God [is] a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.”

The king then gave Daniel gifts and power and one of the highest rulers in the land, similar to what Joseph was in Egypt. Not too bad for a Hebrew kid.

Verse 49 tells us that Daniel requested that his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (we presume they’re referred to this now to avoid the confusion of jumping back and forth) to be in positions of leadership also. Interestingly enough, despite all that he attained, Daniel chose to sit in the gate of the king. Sounds pretty modest, doesn’t it? It is a lesson, though: being in a position of authority and power does not require an ego.

Richard Zowie blogs at several places, including three other WordPress blogs. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Reading the first chapters of Daniel, Acts

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I spent about half an hour today actually reading three passages of scripture: the 19th chapter of II Chronicles along with the first chapters of Daniel and Acts. I’m using the King James Version Zondervan Study Bible. I also like to use the New Open Study Bible, King James Version, but my old one wore out. One of these days I’ll purchase a large print from Ebay or someplace. Story of my life, really: everytime I find a Bible or pen that I really like, the powers-that-be in their wisdom choose to discontinue it.

What a joy it was to return to reading Scripture. I know some may scoff at that children’s church song “Read your Bible, pray every day and you will grow; neglect your Bible, forget to pray and you will shrink”, but I’ll tell you from personal experience–it is absolutely true.

Daniel 1: This prophet, whose name in Hebrew means “God is (my) judge”, is the first of the Minor Prophets. I’ve always been intrigued by Daniel for a few reasons: there’s nothing negative about him recorded in the book (unlike Jonah, whom we’ll be talking about a month or so down the road), and he had practically no ego. When we as Christians look for a Biblical example to follow, Daniel comes to mind. We’ll later learn about how his enemies searched vigorously for dirt to use against him, and found absolutely nothing; Daniel was squeaky clean.

On his legal documents, I wonder if Daniel had to list himself as Daniel or as Beltashazzar

In the first chapter, we learn that God punished Judah and Israel by allowing the country to be ransacked with most of the people deported to Babylon. The smartest and most useful are for use by King Nebuchadnezzar.

In retrospect, as we read this account, God’s plans are very clear; however, with the current crisis going on in Haiti, it is very unwise to rubber stamp the earthquake and the endless tragedies as God’s judgment for sin since we don’t have the whole picture yet and may not have the whole picture until many years down the road. There are godly Christians serving in Haiti, and it is stereotypical to believe that all Haitians practice voodoo.

Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were among those slated for special service. Their names were also changed. Daniel became Beltashazzar (which apparently meant “Bel, protect him”), Hananiah (“The Lord shows grace”) became Shadrach (apparently “Command of Aku”), Mishael (“Who is what God is?”) became Meshach (“Who is what Aku is?”) and Azariah (“Lord help us”) became Abednego (“Servant of Nego”).

As I read, I thought to myself, most of us know that Daniel’s friends’ Babylonian names were, but how many know what their original Hebrew names were?

When I see Daniel, I see a tremendous leap of faith. He and his friends were to eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine, but Daniel saw it as ceremonially unclean. The food and wine, ostensibly, had initially been offered to idols while some of it probably wasn’t kosher. Despite how delicious the food must’ve smelled, to consume such food and drink was forbidden by Mosaic Law. Refusing it, though, would create massive problems. Melzar, who was in charge of Daniel and his friends, explained to Daniel that if Daniel and his friends ate pulse (the Hebrew word זֵרְֽעֹן, zeroa, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “vegetables”) and water, they would look physically undernourished and Nebuchadnezzar would literally call for Melzar’s head.

So, Daniel compromised: give us pulse and water for 10 days, and if we look less healthy than the others, we’ll eat the king’s food. And indeed, after 10 days, Daniel and his friends looked even healthier. So, they continued eating the food acceptable to them.

Nebuchadnezzar then found that these Jewish kids were 10 times smarter and wiser than their counterparts. Being the “end justifies the means” pragmatist that he probably was at the time, he then promoted Daniel and his friends into higher positions. Looking at this, we can really see something that Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:20: What man intends for evil, God can use for harm. One has to think that with Jews in positions of authority, it would make it far less likely for these exiled Israelites to be exterminated.

Acts 1: This first chapter of Acts reminds me of that debate among Christians (primarily Baptists): did the Church begin in Luke 6, when Jesus gathered/assembled His disciples together, or did it begin in Acts 2, when Pentecost took place? One Baptist minister I remember said this: “I believe Pentecost was the birthday of the church, but I believe it was the third birthday.” On this issue, while I believe the church began in Luke 6, I would add that godly Christian men and women will study this issue and will differ.

Acts marks a transition for the early church as Jesus prepared to ascend up into heaven while assuring the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come. The disciples, like so many love to do now, asked if it was time for Jesus to set up His kingdom. They were told this: the time will come when it comes. Meanwhile, all of you are to go out and evangelize the world.

Including–GASP!–Samaria!

(We remember, of course, that the Jews didn’t care for the Samaritans and vice versa). I suppose this would be like telling a newly-minted Israeli Christian to share the Gospel with a pro-Ahmadinejad Iranian.

A vote is taken to replace Judas, and we find from this chapter that the details of Judas’ death were pretty gruesome. It is indeed a pity: Judas spent three years with Jesus and probably got to know Our Savior on an intimate level, but the Bible suggests very strongly that Judas never knew the Lord. It reminds me of a story a residence hall manager (one of my Facebook friends) told at Pensacola Christian College. He spoke of some students leaving PCC and how they told him flatly that they were not saved and didn’t want to be.

With Judas deceased, a vote was taken to replace him. It came down to Joseph Barsabas Justus and Matthias. Lots were cast, and Matthias was elected. I imagine the confusion since Matthew the disciple’s name meant “Gift of Jehovah” and Matthias’ name meant “Gift of God”. Perhaps if the other disciples referred to them as M1 and M2.

Since lots had to be cast to decide between Joseph and Matthias, I wonder if perhaps some disciples thought, “Oh no! Isn’t one Matt among us enough?!”

Interestingly enough, Acts 1 is the very last time in Scripture that two things are mentioned: Mary the mother of Jesus and the tradition of casting lots. It’s also the only time in Scripture (at least in the King James Version) that we see the term bishoprick.  This word, which comes from the Greek word ἐπισκοπή (episkopē), which probably means overseer or the office of a bishop. It has to do with allowing someone worthy to take over Judas’ position with the disciples.

Richard Zowie is an active blogger. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Are you different? God can still use you

August 8, 2009 1 comment

I’m different from most people. I don’t concern myself too much with the latest styles. Most of today’s popular sitcoms, such as Seinfeld, bore me to tears. I find humor mostly through older shows and in movies that are so terribly made that they become hilarious. Whenever I write fiction, I often find myself trying to write unpredictable endings.

But what makes me more noticeably different from most people (besides my bulbous nose, Coke bottle glasses and short stature) is that I’m left-handed. Eating at a restaurant often means eating at the end of a table on the left side to avoid bumping elbows with a right-hander. I also write, throw, bat, golf, shoot and do virtually everything southpaw. I can use scissors right-handed, but only because lefty scissors aren’t common.

Growing up in the latter part of the 20th century meant not having to suffer as left-handers in the past have. Some, such as left-handed baseball great Babe Ruth, were forced at an early age to write with their right hand. I also read a sickening tale of an early 20th century minor leaguer named John King in the book Peanuts and Crackerjack: A Treasury of Baseball Legends and Lore by David Cataneo. In the book, it describes King as a ballplayer who hated left-handed people and thought of them as deceptive albatrosses. King’s only son began showing signs of left-handedness at an early age as he consistently reached for objects with his left hand. King solved this “problem” by restraining his son’s left arm in a tobacco pouch until the boy showed telltale signs of conversion to right-handedness.

Left-handed people in history have always stood out as different, and not always in good ways. They’ve been considered different, deceptive, unlucky and evil.

The Bible does specifically mention one left-handed person in the book of Judges. The third chapter tells the story of Ehud, a Benjamite.

In this book Israel, went through the endless cycle: doing evil and forsaking the Lord, being persecuted and oppressed by ungodly nations, crying to the Lord for help, receiving the help in the form of a deliverer who would rescue the Israelites and then often serve as judge. Finally, the Israelites would grow complacent and return back to the first stage of this cycle. During Ehud’s time, the oppressor was King Eglon of Moab.

God called upon Ehud to be Israel’s next judge, and it must’ve been unusual to some to see God use a man who did everything backwards—use a slingshot, wield a sword, throw, etc. But God had a special plan for the southpaw, one that involved ending the Moabite rule over the Israelites.

Ehud went to visit King Eglon under the pretense of giving a gift of tribute. Before he went, Judges 3:16 tells us that Ehud took a two-edged dagger measuring a cubit and fastened it to his waist under his garment. His private intentions were to kill the king.

King Eglon, knowing that assassination was always a lingering possibility, had his bodyguards search anyone coming to meet with him. Whenever someone did come, the guards checked under the person’s garment on their left side to see if they had any weapons hidden there. The world generally is more than 90 percent right-handed, so most people would reach to their left side and use their right hand to draw their weapon.

Except Ehud. When they checked his left side, they found nothing because Ehud had fastened his weapon to his RIGHT side.

After this, Ehud asked for a private audience with King Eglon, and once everyone left, Ehud drew his sword and stabbed the king, killing him. Ehud discreetly escaped from King Eglon’s place and later led the Israelite charge to defeat the Moabites and reestablish independent rule.

Not bad for a left-handed man. I must say that as a southpaw whose left-handed family members include an older sister, an uncle, a cousin and (by marriage) an aunt, I’m very proud of Ehud. This Benjamite proves that no matter how different you are, whether you’re left-handed, possess an exotic personality or have some type of disability that limits what you can do, God can still use you. We’re all formed in God’s image, and if He made you different, there is a reason. God doesn’t make mistakes, and He has a special plan for those who are different.

'Contradictions' in the Bible

I don’t remember the title, but I encountered an old book at the local library that deals with “contradictions” in the Bible. I perused through it, my stomach churning, wondering if I’d still have my faith.

Actually, it was pretty funny. Many of the “contradictions” were easily refutable, such as a passage where Jesus declares He’s God and then another where he all but says he’s not God. Of course, the latter deals with Jesus’ early ministry when he was keeping a low profile and the former later on when he’s closer to crucifixion.

Another “contradiction” deals with the census in Israel and how 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. Have conflicting numbers on the same census. How quickly people forget that the ancient world didn’t have access to the same technology we use for counting, never mind that the Israelites, I understand, weren’t know for mathematics.

Some also point out that one version says Satan moved David to do the census while the other account says God. It is entirely possible that Israel had sinned against God, and the census was part of His plan for bringing across judgment. If it was his plan to allow it, then He in turn allowed Satan to move to do the census.

I find that virtually all of the “contradictions” in the Bible come from a poor understanding of the context and a hurried attempt at research.

One of these days on this blog, I’ll start doing a series about “contradictions” and how they can be easily explained. There are those who attribute some “contradictions” to “copyist errors”, which opens the proverbial Pandora’s Box: if the Bible has a copyist error in one section, where else are they?