Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Preparing for 2014

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have finally made it my own. But in one area I have forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the finish line for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be of this same mind.”
- Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church at Philippians. 3:13-15

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Christmas Carol

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a Christmas carol based on the poem "Christmas Bells" by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.

On July 9th, 1861, tragedy struck the home of America’s most popular poet. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing locks of her daughter’s hair in a packet, using hot sealing wax. It was thought that a spark from a match or a candle caused her dress to catch fire and engulf her with flames. Her husband, sleeping in the next room, was awakened by her screams. He desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife. He was severely burned on his face and hands.

Tragically burned, she slipped into a coma the next day and died. His grievous burns would not even allow him to attend her funeral. He seemed to lock the anguish within his soul. Because he continued to work at his craft, only his family knew of his personal suffering. They could see it in his eyes and observe his long periods of silence. His white beard, so identified with him, was one of the results of the tragedy — the burn scars on his face made shaving impossible.

Although already famous and a legend in his own time, he still needed the peace that God gives to His children. On Christmas Day of 1864, just three years following the horrible accident, he sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joys of the season. He began:

“I heard the bells on Christmas day.
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Civil War was raging full swing. Earlier, the three-day battle at Gettysburg saw 50,000 casualties. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about “peace on earth, good will to men” in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing – and what did he write?

“And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth’, l said,
‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”‘

It seems as if he could have been writing these words for us today! Wadsworth then turned his thought to God, the only One who can give true and perfect peace, both in the heart and on the earth, and continued writing:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Thus we have the marvelous Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. A musician, J. Baptiste Calkin, wrote the musical setting that made the carol a favorite still today.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Trivia

Starla Halvorson sent me this Christmas Trivia. Thank you Starla!

1. What color is Santa’s belt?

2. What were Frosty the Snowman’s last words?
a. I’m melting!
b. I’ll be back again some day
c. It’s too darn hot
d. What’s happening?
3. What Christmas carol contains the line: “Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation”?

 4. How many “geese a-laying” did my true love give to me?

5. What did the Grinch use to pull his sleigh?

6. What popular children’s cracker today was introduced in 1902 as a Christmas ornament?

7. Name Santa’s eight reindeer.

8. What Christmas figure did Robert May create in 1930 as a Christmas promotion for Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago?

9. What popular Christmas candy had its debut and was given out by a choirmaster in 1670 to quiet the noisy children?

10. What movie was released on December 20, 1946 and was a box-office flop at the time?

11. What famous bit of Christmas cheer do these letters stand for?

12. What enduring Christmas classic took just six weeks to write?

13. Which of these states has a city named “Santa Claus”?
a. Alaska
b. Colorado
c. Indiana
d. Maine
14. Whose hair earned her $20 in “The Gift of the Magi”?

15. What is the best-selling Christmas song of all time?

Merry Christmas to you!

Wising you a Merry Christmas!

Hear these songs that I picked specially for you!

1. Angels we have heard on high....

Wait... not quite like that....
You are supposed to sing...
Glo-o-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-o-O-ri-a.... in Ex-cel-sis... De-o!
Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
(Latin for "Glory to God in the highest")

2. Oh Come Let Us Adore Him.
Give Him all the Glory!

3. Joy to the World..
To the wide entire world!

4. Hark the herald angels sing..
Let us sing along..

5. God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen
Comfort and Joy...

6. Last Christmas..

7. Finally... a splendid Medley..that is worth bookmarking.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Malachi 4

The final chapter of Prophet Malachi sets the distinction between those who follow the LORD, and those who don't. The 'day' referred here is the 'day of the LORD' - a time of judgement for the wicked and that of blessing for the righteous.

Those who revere LORD will experience unimaginable joy and go out fully energized like those well-fed calves.
Malachi 4:2 But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.
3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty.
The key to escape judgement and enjoy blessings of LORD's Kingdom is to obey the law of Prophet Moses.

Prophet Elijah will be sent before the day of the LORD to serve as a warning. He will reconcile the turn the hearts of the fathers with that of the children.

Those who refuse to repent and reconcile will be dealt with the LORD. He will come and unleash His total destruction with frightening severity.

My Thoughts
The final words of the LORD closes with a blessed promise, to all those who fear and honor Him.

A frightening warning, for those who decide not to listen to Him, concludes the Old Testament. 

Malachi 3

In response to the grumbling against ungodly men and women prospering, LORD says,
Malachi 3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the LORD you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
The nation is warned to prepare and meet the 'God of Justice'. Coming of the Messiah is predicted wonderfully in those first few verses.

One of the most important theological statements in the Bible is narrated next. The LORD says, "I the LORD, do not change."

LORD feels like He is being robbed when people withhold their tithes and offerings. He promises that faithfulness in giving, brings divine blessings.

Next, the people have spoken arrogantly that the proud and wicked prosper, and therefore it is useless to serve LORD. He will address this in the next chapter.

A book of remembrance is written for those who fear the LORD – they will remain as Lord’s treasured possession. The distinction between the righteous and the wicked will soon be visible.

Malachi 2

This chapter brings additional warnings to the priests. LORD will curse the wicked priesthood, and its descendants. The good example of Levi, with whom a covenant was made, is cited. There is a woeful failure to live up to Levi’s good precedent. LORD instructed Levi's descendants - those set apart especially to serve Him - to teach His people what is Truth. Instead of turning people away from wrong, the priests are leading people straight into it. By doing so, the priests have broken their covenant promise with the LORD.

The priests have caused many to stumble. They have not followed LORD's ways and have shown partiality in matters of law.

The priests offend LORD by marrying foreign wives. They come and weep at the altar, shed tears and ask, "Why does the LORD no longer look accept my offerings?" It is because they have been unfaithful to their wife.

Older men are hating and divorcing their older wife, and accepting younger foreign wives. Such men are committing violence towards those older women, whom they are supposed to protect.

Some grumble about those wicked prospering, than the godly.

Malachi 1

Malachi means 'My Messenger' and this book was written during a time when it was hard for people to hold on to hope. People are doubting the words of the Prophets and thinking LORD has forgotten them. The attitude of worship is casual, and LORD's standards have been lowered. 

This book also aims at correcting the lax religious and social behavior - particularly that of the priests. Prophet Malachi, in this book deals with a key issue - LORD's love for Israel, and Israel's heartbreaking response to LORD's love. 

LORD says that he loved Jacob, and hated Easu, which is why Edom has been laid waste. 

LORD indeed loved Israel and chose them to be His covenant people. However, Israel broke the covenant by dishonoring and showing contempt. Their priests sacrificed defiled and blemished animals, including blind, lame, or stolen animals, which are condemned. 

LORD felt as though He is being cheated at the hands of the priests - even while He loves them wholeheartedly. 
Malachi 1:14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the LORD. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and My Name is to be feared among the nations.

Zechariah 14

The final chapter portrays the final war between nations and Jerusalem, and it's outcome. The day of the LORD - the day of LORD's judgement is approaching. Half the city will be taken in captivity, but the remnant shall not be cut off. The LORD Himself will appear with His angels and fight against those nations. The whole earth shall become His Kingdom, and everyone will worship Him.

It will be a day of frosty darkness, known only to the LORD. The Mount of Olives will be split in two, allowing escape. Living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, which will be safely inhabited. The enemies of Jerusalem and their livestock will be stricken with plague.

All nations shall come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Plague and no rain will be the punishment for those who do not attend.

The LORD will come, deliver His people, and establish a righteous kingdom characterized by peace, blessing and righteousness. ‘HOLY TO THE LORD’ will be engraved on the bells of the horses. Every pot in Jerusalem will become holy to LORD Almighty.

Additional Info:
The Book of Revelation - particularly chapters 21 and 22 resonate the same message. 

Zechariah 13

A fountain will be opened to cleanse sin and impurity. LORD will no longer tolerate idolatry and false prophets.
Zechariah 13:3 And if anyone still prophesies, their father and mother, to whom they were born, will say to them, ‘You must die, because you have told lies in the LORD’s name.’ Then their own parents will stab the one who prophesies.
Every false prophet will be ashamed of his prophetic vision, and the man accused of being a false prophet will insist that those scars on his body are not the self-inflicted wounds - often associated with idol worshipers, rather merely the result of a brawl in his friend’s house.

Prophet Zechariah then narrates a short poem - 'Strike the Shepherd'.

The theme of this poem is about LORD summoning sword to strike those shepherds and scatter the people. They are tested, smitten, refined, and saved.

Zechariah 12

Other nations will attack Jerusalem, but it will protected by the LORD. He will keep a watchful eye over Judah, and give victory to her fighting forces. LORD will shield those who live in Jerusalem.

The feeble among them shall become be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of LORD going before them. All nations that attack Jerusalem shall be destroyed.

The spirit of grace and supplication will be poured on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Israel will mourn for a man they killed.
Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 

Zechariah 11

The first three verses are an ironic lament for the fall of Lebanon and Bashan.

The story of Two Shepherds is narrated next.

Prophet Zechariah is told to feel a flock of sheep for slaughter, as the LORD does with his people, particularly those who are rich and complacent.

The people, however prefer exploitation, to the care of a genuine shepherd.

The LORD then sends a worthless leader - precisely what they seem to want. He then woes such a foolish shepherd.
Zechariah 11:17 “Woe to the worthless shepherd,
    who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
    May his arm be completely withered,
    his right eye totally blinded!”

My Thoughts
There are several wonderful words of wisdom in this tale of Two Shepherds - those rich do not want a good shepherd. They preferred, and have asked for a foolish shepherd instead - one who will not care for the lost, seek the young, heal the injured, feed healthy, BUT will eat the meat of the choice sheep. 

Rejection of the Good Shepherd, and acceptance of a foolish Shepherd was true thousands of years ago, and is so true as daylight even today!

As a shepherd, one could make only two possible grades on the shepherding test - zero or 100. 

Zechariah 10

LORD, not the pagan god, is the One who makes the fields green and earth a fertile place. In the absence of a true leader, LORD's people wander like lost sheep and become easy prey to those fortune tellers and dream interpretebrs.

LORD's anger burns against those shepherds, and He will care for His flock, and come to their rescue.
Zechariah 10:3 My anger burns against the shepherds,
    and I will punish the leaders;
for the LORD Almighty will care
    for His flock, the people of Judah,
    and make them like a proud horse in battle.
Everyone from Judah and Jerusalem will be brought home. Israel will be gathered into the land from across the earth.

My Thoughts
In the absence of a true committed spiritual leaders, people are led astray. 

Zechariah 9

In chapter 9 and 10, Zechariah describes the coming of two kings - Alexander the Great, and a King of Kings and Lord of Lords - the Messiah.

The first part of the prophecy relates to burden against the cities of Lebanon, and the Philistines. This was fulfilled by the conquests of Alexander the Great. LORD promised the Jewish people to protect them during Alexander's invasion - LORD Himself will stand watch over His people.

The next prophecy is about a lowly King riding on a donkey who shall come into Jerusalem. He shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and to ends of earth. The blood of the covenant will set prisoners free from the waterless pit. Restoration is promised.

LORD will appear and save the people as a shepherd saves his flock. Grain shall make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.

Zechariah 8

The LORD repeatedly says He is zealous for Zion with great zeal. The LORD will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem will thrive and be a safe place for old and young alike.

More people will return from the east and the west. People are encouraged to complete the building of the temple.

Out of His great love, comes a heartwarming message of transformation. Judah was a curse, but it shall become a blessing. The LORD is determined to bless them just how He was determined to punish them in the past. He wants everyone to act righteously.
Zechariah 8:16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts;
17 do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the LORD.
Feasting is now more appropriate than the appointed fasting times. Many will go towards Jerusalem to seek the LORD.

My Thoughts
What LORD asks us to do in Zechariah 8:16-17 is exactly what we wished to have, when we were children. 

Zechariah 7

Chapters 7 and 8 should be read together, and they complete the first part of Zechariah's book.

On Dec 7, 518 BC, few men came to the temple to inquire about fasting. They wanted to know whether they should weep and fast to commemorate the destruction of the first temple.

Prophet Zechariah does not give a straight answer. The LORD rebuked rebukes the practice of fasting for being perfunctory, and challenged their motive. He asked them whether they really did fasting for Him, the past 70 years.
Zechariah 7:6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?
It is the purpose of fasting that really matters. Justice, mercy and compassion are more important. The people did not listen to the LORD, and that was the reason they were scattered.

Zechariah 6

Vision # 8: Four Chariots
In his last vision, Prophet Zechariah had a vision of four chariots coming between two mountains of bronze. This was related to the first vision he saw. They were the four Spirits of Heaven going before the LORD, to the four corners of earth. Those Spirits going towards the north country were giving rest to the northern country.

A Crown for Joshua
Using the gold and silver taken from the exiles who arrived from Babylon, a crown was made. The crown was set on the head of high priest - Joshua. The branch - a messianic title, shall build (a future) temple of the LORD. He will rule the world. The crown will be a memorial in the temple.

Zechariah 5

Vision # 6: The Flying Scroll
Zechariah has a vision of a flying scroll, about nine meters coming from the LORD, that represented His law. On it are written curses against thieves and perjurers.
Zechariah 5:4 The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.’
Vision # 7: The Woman in a Basket
Wickedness is personified as a woman sitting in a basket. An angel thrusts down the woman, and places a lead covering over the top of the basket. Two winged women were taking the basket towards Babylon, to build a house for it. 

Zechariah 4

Vision # 5: Lamps and Olive Trees
Zechariah had a vision of a lampstand, next to which there were two olive trees that supplied the seven lamps with oil through seven pipes. Zerubbabel is told that he will accomplish the work of rebuilding the temple. Everything will be accomplished with the help of LORD’s Spirit.

The lamp-stand represents the Temple of the faithful Jewish worshipers, and the two olive trees represent those two anointed ones - the king and the priest, who stand beside the LORD, to shine His light.

My Thoughts
During this season, we can see this lamp - one that represents the power of the Holy Spirit, being lit all around us. 

Zechariah 3

Vision # 4: The High Priest Re-robed
In this vision, Joshua the high priest is standing before the LORD. Satan is also standing before the LORD, leveling his charges against them, and opposing Joshua. The LORD rebukes Satan. Joshua’s filthy and sin-stained garments are removed, and he is given clean garments - including a turban. Joshua is told that if he walks in the LORD’s ways, he will judge His house. The Lord says he is bringing forth his servant, the branch. A stone is laid before Joshua which has seven eyes. The iniquity of the land will be removed, and everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.

Zechariah 2

Vision # 3: The Measuring Line
Zechariah has a vision of a man with a measuring line, who has come to measure Jerusalem for rebuilding. The walls have been broken down, and set on fire in 587 BC. The LORD will serve as a protection - a wall of fire around Jerusalem, and be the glory in her midst.

Vision # 4: Exiles Called Home
In this vision, Zechariah narrates a poetry, where LORD is calling exiles to return from the north. Those who touch LORD's people are touching the apple of His eye. He wants them to 'sing for joy'. When LORD dwells in the midst of His people, many nations will be drawn towards Him.

Zechariah 1

In October 520 BC, LORD spoke to Zechariah and ordered the people to return to Him, and not to follow the example of their fathers.

In chapters 1 - 6, eight (8) visions are recorded. Each of them is meant to be seen as a whole.

Vision # 1: The Four Riders
On Feb 15, 519 BC, Zechariah saw four horsemen patrolling the world on LORD's behalf - just like those mounted patrols. One of them was on a red horse among myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown, and white horses. During their patrol, they found the earth was at peace. However, God was angry at those nations at ease, because they assisted in Judah’s and Jerusalem’s suffering. The Lord’s house will be built in Jerusalem, towns will prosper and Zion will be comforted.

Vision # 2: The Four Horns
Zechariah has a vision of four horns, symbolizing those four nations that scattered LORD’s people completely. Four indicated completeness - the four corners of earth. Craftsmen were coming to terrify them, and cast them out.

Haggai 2

Once they undertook the project, the people and leaders are told to follow the LORD courageously. LORD's power will ensure their protection and success of the building project.
Haggai 2:9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
Haggai quizzed the priests due to their lack of commitment, and told them it had prevented blessings.

He asked them two matters - "Will food touched by a garment that carries holy meat be made likewise holy?"

The answer was, "No."

"If a dead body touches any of these, will be render them impure?"

The answer was, "Yes."

Haggai pointed out that Holiness is not contagious, while impurity is. Similarly, living in the holy land and offering sacrifices did not make one holy, as long as they were unclean by neglecting the LORD. Due to people's refusal to build the temple, a recent drought was pointed out as it's consequence.

LORD saw their change of heart and promised a harvest of blessing to come. The LORD spoke to Zerubbabel and he will be made LORD’s signet ring.

Haggai 1

In the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came via Prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel (governor of Jerusalem) and Joshua (the high priest).

The LORD complained that the people kept saying it was not yet time to rebuild the LORD's temple, which they had stared about sixteen (16) years ago. The LORD criticized the procrastination and lack of progress as they showed little interest in finishing this task.

Individuals have their houses in working order, but the LORD's house is not. They are asked to go up to the mountains and bring wood. Prophet Haggai pointed out that many of his nation's ills are due to their lack of commitment to the LORD. He recommended they immediately repent their lack of commitment and obey LORD.

The people act upon LORD's words which Prophet Haggai spoke.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Zephaniah 3

Prophet Zephaniah pronounced divine judgement upon Jerusalem for it's many sins - chiefly idolatry. Jerusalem obeys none, accepts no correction, does not trust in the LORD, her officials are corrupt, rulers are like wolves, prophets are unprincipled, priests are profaned and do violence to the law.

Rebellion against the LORD and corruption has entered every sector within the society. The LORD has no choice, but to wipe the city out.

The prophet speaks about those survivors - those few humble and faithful, who will remain while the nation is purged and purified. The remnant will trust in the LORD, do no wrong, tell no lies, and nobody will make them afraid.

The LORD is with them, caring and protecting them - it is a reason to rejoice. He is pouring out His love upon them. When He gathers and brings them home, He will honor and praise them, and restore their fortunes.

Zephaniah 2

There is only one hope for LORD's people - to seek righteousness and humility while there is still time. Perhaps there is hope that people may be sheltered on the day of His anger.

LORD will destroy the cities of Philistines and nothing will be left. He will  give their land as pasture for the remnant of the people of Judah.

Moab has insulted and threatened LORD's people. Due to their pride, for mocking and insulting, Moab shall be like Sodom, and Ammon like the people of Gomorrah. The LORD will reduce all the gods of the earth to nothing; people from all shores shall worship Him.

Ethiopians will be slain by the sword, and the Assyrians, who lived in revelry and safety will be destroyed on account of their pride.

Zephaniah 1

Prophet Zephaniah, the great great grandson of Hezekiah prophesied during the days of Josiah. He prophesied even before those 'books of law' were discovered by Josiah.

The day of the LORD is coming and on that day of judgement, the LORD will utterly consume everything from the face of the land, especially those idolaters and idolatrous priests.
Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD,
    for the day of the LORD is near.
The LORD has prepared a sacrifice;
    He has consecrated those He has invited.
He will punish those princes and the king’s children, those who wear foreign apparel. Those who practice violence and deceit will be set apart for destruction. Their cry will be heard everywhere. Neither their gold, nor their silver will be able to save them on the day of LORD's wrath.

Habakkuk 3

The prophet's prayer is narrated in this chapter. It is essentially a psalm to be sung with musical instruments.

In this psalm, the prophet focuses on LORD, who is approaching from mountains, with His glory covering the heavens and His praise filling the earth.
Habakkuk 3:4 His splendor was like the sunrise;
    rays flashed from His hand,
    where His power was hidden.
Several other attributes of the LORD is explained. Habakkuk is afraid, yet he resolves to rejoice in the LORD
Habakkuk 3:19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
    He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    He enables me to tread on the heights. 

Habakkuk 2

Habakkuk after crying out to the LORD about this mystery of evil, knew LORD knew the answer. In great anticipation, with bated breath, he will stand his watch and wait for LORD's reply.

The LORD asked Habakkuk to write down the revelation. Next, he is told to wait patiently, as Babylon's doom will certainly come at the appointed time. The wicked characters of Babylon are set forth. They are filled with pride, inspired by evil desires, deceived by wine, greedy, and assault innocent people.

The righteous person will live by his faithfulness - this cannot be overemphasized. The LORD then pronounced five judgement upon the wicked. LORD mentions that Babylon has served it's purpose and will certainly experience LORD's wrath.

A wonderful promise is mentioned - the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Next, drunkenness is connected with immorality and is depicted as going hand in hand.
Habakkuk 2:15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
    pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
    so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
    Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you,
    and disgrace will cover your glory.
Babylon was the center of idolatry - Marduk, Nabu, Sin, Ishtar etc., were their popular deities. LORD rebukes those who trust in idols those which deceive their followers. He makes a final statement:
Habakkuk 2:20 The LORD is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth be silent before him.

My Thoughts
While life is filled with mysteries, one who trusts in LORD can expect Him to be just and righteous.

If you are like me, who likes to solve mysteries, then grab this book:
Ever wonder why - by Douglas Smith

Habakkuk 1

Remember Job in the book of wisdom? Prophet Habakkuk grapples with the same question. We also saw that in Psalm 73. The mysterious questions are,

"How does LORD allow evil to go unpunished in Judah?"

"How could a righteous LORD use Babylon, a nation far more wicked, to judge Judah?"

First two chapters are a dialogue between LORD and the prophet. At first, the prophet complains to the LORD, as to why is He tolerating injustice, and why He is deaf to his prayers.

LORD gives an answer - which seems to only aggravate the problem.
Habakkuk 1:6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
    that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
    to seize dwellings not their own.
Their horses are swifter than leopards, and more fierce than evening wolves. They gather captives like sand, scoffing at kings and princes. When the Babylonians overwhelm the land of Judah, they will wrongly give the credit to their false gods.

Habakkuk wonders why God would use a nation more wicked than Judah to bring judgment on Judah. He is puzzled, and asks LORD the question that is upon his mind.
Habakkuk 1:12 LORD, are You not from everlasting?
    My God, my Holy One, You will never die.
You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment;
    You, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
    You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do You tolerate the treacherous?
    Why are You silent while the wicked
    swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

My Thoughts
Prophet Habakkuk is trying to understand the mind of the most righteous - The LORD's mind.

How pure should we be, to be able to understand LORD's thoughts?

I wonder why this book is not classified as one of those wisdom books?

Nahum 3

Prophet Nahum portrays the city as a prostitute, enticing nations into submission, due to her wanton lust and sorceries. She will receive a prostitute's punishment.

In a graphic detail Prophet Nahum explains that Nineveh’s nakedness will be exposed to nations, she will be pelted with filth, treated with contempt, made a spectacle, and those who see her will flee from her.

Even though the nation is great as a swarm of locusts, destruction shall still ensue. They will vanish like a swarm that has flown.

The final message is addressed to the emperor, that all is now lost forever.
Nahum 3:19 Nothing can heal you;
    your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
    your endless cruelty?

Nahum 2

The fall of Nineveh

Prophet Nahum makes and ironic call to battle. The LORD will restore the excellence of Jacob.
Nahum 2:2 The LORD will restore the splendor of Jacob
    like the splendor of Israel,
though destroyers have laid them waste
    and have ruined their vines.
In a graphic detail, the prophet explains the coming judgement of Nineveh. He uses every resource of sound, and vision, to explain the onslaught.

Chariots rage in the streets, but ultimately the Assyrians are led away captive, because the omnipotent LORD is against them.

Nahum 1

Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, is the subject of Prophet Nahum. LORD is jealous, angry and vengeful, and has decreed the destruction of Nineveh. Prophet Nahum lays down the credentials of the LORD, who has made such a proclamation.

He is slow to anger but great in power; He won't leave the guilty unpunished, His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, He rebukes the sea and dries it up, He makes all the rivers run dry. The mountains quake before Him, and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at His presence, the world and all who live in it. Nobody can withstand His indignation, and endure His fierce anger. His wrath is poured out like fire; and the rocks are shattered before Him.
Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good,
    a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in Him,
A wicked counselor among people is plotting evil against the LORD. Though the enemy seem to have many allies, they feel safe in the presence of many - yet the LORD will afflict them. He will cut off their idols, dig their grave, as they are vile.

A celebration among the godly is predicted. 

Micah 7

Prophet Micah opens his heart and mourns due to those happenings among his own people. As the society breaks down, faithfulness, honesty, trust, and all those righteous qualities have evaporated. LORD compares Himself to a gatherer of fruit who cannot find any ripe cluster of grapes.

Everyone has been corrupted, and are skilled at doing evil. All human and social relationships are crumbling. Friendship and family means nothing.
Micah 7:6 For a son dishonors his father,
    a daughter rises up against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
    a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.
LORD can be relied upon, and His promise shall never fail. The Prophet will watch for that time when LORD will shepherd His people. There is none like LORD, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression. He will not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy.

LORD will be faithful to Jacob and show His love to Abraham - as He pledged His oath.

Micah 6

Now the LORD puts forth His case and charges against His people. By now, they should know what pleases Him.

With what shall we go in front of the LORD? Is it appropriate to take a calf one year old, or some burnt offerings? Can we please LORD with thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? How about offering the firstborn and fruit of our body?
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.
LORD cannot be bribed with offerings, and there is no substitute for love, loyalty and fair dealings.

The LORD sees all those dishonesty of His people, and they will be punished for their deceit. 

Micah 5

Right after speaking about the Assyrian siege, Prophet Micah speaks about a deliverer - the ultimate deliverer who will come out of Bethlehem. This is one of the most popular verses quoted during Christmas.
Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”
He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD. His greatness will reach ends of the earth, and He will be the peace.

The LORD will cut off sorcerers, soothsayers and idols. He will take vengeance over those who do not obey Him.

Micah 4

With a fresh hope, LORD's temple will be established at the highest of mountains. Many nations. will come to worship the LORD at this place. Disputes between nations will be settled, their swords shall be made into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone in the restored Zion shall walk in the name of the LORD. The lame, the outcast and the afflicted will be part of a strong nation.

Writhe in agony and cry like a woman in labor, as now they will be taken to Babylon, but from there, they will be restored. The LORD will strengthen her and those nations who exult in Zion’s humiliation will be threshed.

Micah 3

Micah rebuked the leaders 

The rulers, priests and prophets are committing sadistic acts of violence against their own people. These leaders do not embrace justice, hate good and love evil, tear the skin from people and the flesh from their bones. They eat people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones into pieces.

These leaders who lead the people astray, and proclaim 'peace' to their people will cry to the LORD, but He will not hear them.
Micah 3:5 This is what the LORD says:
“As for the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
they proclaim ‘peace’
    if they have something to eat,
but prepare to wage war against anyone
    who refuses to feed them.
Darkness will descend upon these false prophets. Micah then declares confidently that he is a true prophet from the LORD. Corruption has spread among the leaders - rulers, priests and prophets.
Micah 3:11 Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the LORD’s support and say,
    “Is not the LORD among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest.

Micah 2

All those in power and influence plan and devise iniquity. The go about coveting property, seizing it by violence, and as a result, families are made destitute. LORD is planning a disaster against these people.

Next, those wealthy wicked and their false prophets are rebuked. People do not have a choice to shut up LORD's prophets and choose their own prophets - those who promise only prosperity. These people are not seeking one with LORD's spirit, instead they entertain one who will encourage and provide them with spirit for their thirst. Lies and deception are the tools of those rich, while they exercise their scam upon the poor. They want a prophet just like them - one who has refused LORD's word, who can lead them into a state of unconsciousness and promise more wine and beer.

Micah 2:11 If a liar and deceiver comes and says,
    ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’
    that would be just the prophet for this people!

A deliverance is promised and a remnant of Israel shall be restored. They will be gathered like sheep at the hands of one who breaks open the way. 

Micah 1

During the time of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah, LORD spoke to Prophet Micah. People were called to hear the indictment against their capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. LORD has been angered due to Israel's transgressions - chiefly due to idolatrous prostitution. LORD will tread down their high places, mountains will melt, and valleys will split like wax before Him.
Micah 1:7 All her idols will be broken to pieces;
    all her temple gifts will be burned with fire;
    I will destroy all her images.
Since she gathered her gifts from the wages of prostitutes,
    as the wages of prostitutes they will again be used.
Prophet Micah calls this a plague which is incurable, and the gangrene has spread to Judah. He is planning to go about barefoot and naked, howl like jackal, and moan like an owl.

Those surrounding nations will know about Israel’s shame. Prophet calls out to shave their heads in mourning.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jonah 4

Jonah became very angry and is upset about LORD choosing to not destroy Nineveh.

He knew LORD too well, and here is what he told the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

LORD asked if he was right to be angry.

Jonah then left the city and sat in the hot sun where God causes a plant to grow to provide shade for Jonah. The next day LORD send a worm to kill the plant. Jonah then said it would be better for him to die. LORD questioned Jonah’s anger about the death of the plant, and asked him why he thought a plant should be spared from destruction but a large city like Nineveh should not.

My Thoughts
Just like how we know our best friend intimately, Jonah knew LORD very intimately - gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love.

If I ever thirst to taste pure and true love, I should look towards the LORD. One sip of His love makes me want more and more.

LORD sent Jonah to the city so that people would repent, and turn away from their sins - and they did. This made LORD happy.

When we repent, move away from sin, and shift our focus towards the LORD, He loves it.

Jonah 3

LORD told Jonah once again, to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim the message He gave them. Jonah went there, and proclaimed, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Word reached the king, and the unexpected revival broke out. The king called everyone, including the animals into a period of repentance, fasting and mourning.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.

My Thoughts
Repentance seems to be something LORD desires. When people of Nineveh repented, LORD relented, and decided not to destroy the city.

If I repent, and if He washes away all my sins, I can hope for an opportunity to go into LORD's presence.

Jonah 2

Jonah then prays from the belly of the fish. This psalm of thanksgiving vividly describes his near death and deliverance. He confesses that LORD has saved him in the midst of hopeless and distress situation.

Now that he has come to senses, he praises LORD for bringing him back to life and remembers the meaning of 'true loyalty'.

He then contrasted his situation with that of idol worshipers who concluded to worship and sacrifice to his LORD.
Jonah 2:8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
    turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”
The LORD then commanded the fish to deposit Jonah on dry ground.

My Thoughts
When was the last time I reached out to my LORD in a time of distress. Did He hear my prayer, during that desperate situation, and was I delivered from that situation?

Had I not prayed, and trusted in people, would I have had any hope of receiving LORD's grace?

Jonah 1

We have heard this story at Sunday school - kids illustrating the dramatic plot with numerous surprises. The book carries a vital message apart from the masterpiece.

Jonah has to learn that Israel's special relationship with LORD does not make Him their exclusive possession - He belongs to the whole world, and His care extends to everyone.

Jonah is called by LORD to go preach in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and to denounce their wickedness. Instead, he flees on a ship going in an opposite direction towards Tarshish. He does this because he knows LORD too well. If the people of Nineveh repent, LORD will forgive them. However, Jonah wants that kingdom to be destroyed, and therefore he disobeys.

The LORD then sends a tempest, while Jonah is asleep on the ship. The mariners cast lots to ascertain who was responsible for the tempest, and realized it was Jonah. Jonah suggested they throw him overboard to save them.

At first, the mariners were reluctant to resort to this extreme measure, but did so, when the tempest did not abate. They then prayed that they may not perish because of throwing Jonah overboard.

The sea was calmed, and a great fish swallowed up Jonah, who was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

My Thoughts
I enjoy listening to the Sunday school version of 'Jonah and the whale', narrated by young children.

Obadiah 1

Obadiah means 'servant of God' and he preached against Edom's pride. His message was to stop picking LORD's people. Edomites, Easu's descendants, launched their raids from mountain strongholds and considered themselves to be invincible. The LORD pledges to bring them down, even though they soar like an eagle and build their nests among the stars. In the midst of destruction, is an advice, not to gloat.
Obadiah 1:12 You should not gloat over your brother
    in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
    in the day of their destruction,
nor boast so much
    in the day of their trouble.
They will reap what they sow - the house of Jacob will be a fire, and that of Joseph a flame, but the house of Esau shall be stubble.

Further prophesy speaks that the children of Israel will possess the land of the Canaanites. Deliverers will come to Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the LORD's.

Amos 9

Amos documented another vision he had - the LORD standing by the altar, supervising the work of destruction. His judgment cannot be escaped and LORD stays close to His hard-work.

The threshold of a house is the strongest structure of the house, and shaking it is equivalent to bringing the house down. The LORD will sift the house of Israel, as grain is sifted in a sieve. Many sinners who think they are safe and unaffected by these calamities will have their ends met by the sword.

Later, LORD will repair and restore the tabernacle of David. At that time, those captives of Israel will be restored and rebuild the ruined city. They will have fruits and wine in abundance. Israel will be planted in the land, and no longer pulled up.
Amos 9:15 "I will plant Israel in their own land,
    never again to be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
says the LORD your God.

Amos 8

Now the prophet speaks about rotting and corruption, dishonesty and cheating.

Amos saw a vision that contained a basket full of ripe fruit. This meant the time was ripe for Israel, and LORD will no longer spare them. LORD again speaks about the most hated quality - pride.
Amos 8:7 The LORD has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.
LORD then rebukes their dishonesty and cheating the poor. In the day of judgement, sun will go down in the noon, the sky will be darkened, religious festivals will turn to mourning, people will experience famine, people will wander and men & women will faint due to thirst.

My thoughts
So far, we saw two things that LORD hates - idolatry and pride. Combining both these qualities is a sure-fire 'recipe for disaster'.

Amos 7

Prophet Amos shares his three visions in this chapter:
- vision of locusts,
- vision of fire,
- vision of plumb line. 
The first vision indicated that LORD would punish the people of the land by taking away all the grass, by means of locusts.

Amos prayed to LORD, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

So the LORD relented.

“This will not happen,” the LORD said.

In his second vision, Amos saw LORD calling for a judgement by fire. Again the prophet prayed to the LORD.

“Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

So the LORD relented.

“This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said.

Then there was the third vision of a plumb line. This was to see if Israel are ‘straight’ by LORD's standards. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, spoke to the king against Amos, and he was ordered to immediately leave the city.

Amos replied to the priest that he was called upon by the LORD to come prophesy. He issued a punishment to the priest.
Amos 7:17 “Therefore this is what the LORD says:
“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
    and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

Amos 6

The prophet woes at those who are at ease in Zion as they indulge themselves in sinful rest - luxury, comfort and lust. They care for self and self only. A reference is made to neighboring countries asking whether they are better off than them.

Woe to those whose lives were that of luxury, lying on beds if ivory and pampered themselves. During the time of economic prosperity, they used that prosperity for pure self-indulgence. They did not have any obligation to use what He gives them to glorify Him.

One thing that LORD abhors is their pride.
Amos 6:8 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by himself - the LORD God Almighty declares:
“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and detest his fortresses;
I will deliver up the city
    and everything in it.”
When a relative of one of the dead comes to burn the corpses, if he finds one person still alive, that person will not permit him to mention the name of the LORD - due to the fear, that the LORD may turn His wrath upon him.

Justice has been turned to poison, and righteousness to bitterness.

Amos 5

In a call to repentance, Prophet Amos laments the fall of Israel saying virgin Israel has fallen and never to rise again. The city will be taken captive and deserted. The LORD and creator of everything invites everyone to seek Him to stay alive. Here the prophet corrects the ironic statement he made earlier.
Amos 5:4 This is what the LORD says to Israel:
“Seek me and live;
5     do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal,
    do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
    and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
He makes it clear that it is pointless and in vain to search Him at places of sacrifice such as Gilgal, Bathel and Beersheba. The leaders of Israel pervert justice and treads down the poor.

His advice is to be good in His eyes.
Amos 5:14 Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.

The day of the LORD is described as a day of pitch darkness when a man fled from a lion, only to meet a bear, and as he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall, he was bitten by a snake. The LORD has no regard for their offerings and will not accept them.

My Thoughts
If I keep quiet while witnessing evil deeds around me, then my silence is my consent for the evil deed, and I am a silent partner in that crime. 

I wonder how many will jump in, and fight for such evil deeds when poor people are oppressed and misled. Majority of the folks want to protect their 'face' and do not risk tarnishing their image in front of others. "Why should I object? I will just take care of my own activities, and stay quiet," is what many think.