God Unfolds a Nation's Destiny: Israel's journey from slavery to a new identity in God.
How to Read Exodus A spectacular escape and a hair-raising chase scene are only two of the many epic adventures in Exodus. But this book is much more than an adventure series; it recounts the supernatural rescue of an entire people by their God. Despite God's intervention, the Israelites seem unable to remain loyal to him. Seeing their faltering faith can actually encourage us with a vivid lesson: Even imperfect people can get to know God, who loves them perfectly.
Exodus can be separated into two sections. The first 19 chapters describe the Israelites' journey from bondage to deliverance, and the last 21 chapters record laws by which God wanted his people to live as they worshiped him and followed him. As you read Exodus, be alert to the marvelous teachings about God contained within its pages. God is revealed as powerful, caring, awesome in glory and majesty and worth of exuberant worship, forgiving and merciful, and passionately loving.
Exodus spotlights God's direct involvement in human history - how he goes to astonishing lengths to reach those he loves. For example, he helps Moses overcome an incredible inferiority complex to become a great leader in Israel. Repeatedly, Exodus shows how much God enjoys people who, aware of their weaknesses, trust him as their only hope.
Who wrote this book and when? Moses wrote it around 1440 BC.
Why was it written? To remind the Israelites how God had rescued them from oppression.
What was its historical setting? Jacob had migrated to Egypt with his family to escape a famine in Canaan some four centuries earlier. But the 'land of escape' became a 'land of bondage' as the Egyptians sought to maintain dominance over the Israelites by forcing them into slave labor. Shortly before his death in the desert, Moses reflected on and penned the swirling events of Israel's escape from Egypt.
Set Apart for Intimacy: A radically different lifestyle in response to God's holiness.
How to Read Leviticus: Rules...who needs them? A fast look around and within gives us a quick, clear answer. WE DO! The Israelites have known nothing but slavery for hundreds of years; God knows they must learn to govern themselves and build a nation. He pulls his people aside into the wilderness to give them the clarity they need to live with justice, good health, loving families, honest business, wholesome arts, etc. So while Leviticus may seem like an out-of-date legal document full of distasteful customs, it's really about maintaining a right relationship with God and neighbor.
As you read Leviticus, think about how important holy living is to God. Be alert to the essential truths the book teaches about God, and let it challenge you to walk more closely and more humbly with your God, as you hear his call: 'Be holy because I...am holy.' (Leviticus 19:2)
You'll discover that God wants us to be free from sin and its fatal effects. You'll find that he wants to have a personal relationship with us. You'll see that he wants us to be set apart for him.
Who wrote this book and when? Moses wrote it around 1440 BC.
To whom was it written and why? God wanted the people of Israel to have instructions for their social and religious life. He wanted to show them how to live in harmony with each other and with him.
What was its historical setting? Moses had led Israel out of Egypt into the desert. At the foot of Mount Sinai, they built the tabernacle to worship God. It was vital time to train them to listen, to obey, and to learn to function as people without the influence of other nations and their ways. While they waited for orders to march toward the promised land, God gave these instructions so they could build their lives and the nation on strong foundations.
Wanderings of a Faithless Generation: Fear keeps Israel from entering into its inheritance.
How to Read Numbers: A title like Numbers sounds about as exciting as 'dictionary' or 'phone book'. That is not the case at all! Get ready for a surprise. This book is loaded with powerful stories of Israel's rebellion and God's judgement and mercy.
Numbers begins at Mount Sinai, as the Israelites wait on God for directions to the promised land. As the book unfolds, be alert to the change in attitude from eager anticipation to petty grumblings and outright revolt. Numbers ends with a new generation of Israelites about to enter the promised land. As you study Numbers, reflect on the temptations in your own life to grumble, complain, or rebel. Consider as well the lengths to which God goes to restore his people.
Who wrote this book and when? Moses wrote it about 40 years after the exodus from Egypt (1406 BC).
To whom was it written and why? To God's people - the children of Israel. Number is Moses' memoirs about the Israelites' 40 years in the desert. He wrote it to document their story, a story of their past to shape their future, to show God's judgement against sin, in the context of his constant faithfulness and patience with his beloved Israel.
Where does it fit in the big story? Numbers covers almost 40 years - specifically, 38 years and 9 months - of Israel's wanderings in the desert, from Mount Sinai to the Jordan River. After Israel came out of Egypt, Moses sent spies into Canaan. The spies' report was met with fear rather than faith. So for every day the spies spent scouting in Canaan, the people spent one year wandering in judgement for their unfaithfulness (Num. 14:33-34).
Seize Your Destiny: What's it take to live your dreams?
How to Read Joshua: Do you have any unfulfilled dreams? Israel sure did...for 38 years they had paid a steep price for their lack of faith and obedience. Now the next generation has a chance at it, and they are not going to blow it! As they walk in obedience, a river stands still, walls fall, enemies are defeated, and their long-awaited dreams come true.
The book of Joshua divides into two sections. The first sections is an amazing story of courage, faith, miracles, and innovative strategies to win one impossible battle after another. Fulfilling our dreams doesn't depend on our skill, size, or resources, but on faith and obedience!
Once the enemies are routed, God's plan continues to unfold through the second section. God doesn't leave his people to squabble amongst themselves over who gets what. He gives them a very detailed description of the land he'd selected for each tribe, ensuring a foundation for peace and justice. Be encouraged as you read this book that even as God had a specific plan for the twelve tribes, so also he las a particular dream in mind for each of us.
Who wrote this book and when? Joshua wrote it probably about 1390 BC. The final section about Joshua's funeral may have been composed by the priest Eleazar, son of Aaron.
How does it fit into God's big story? Joshua records the transition of the Israelites, from a nation of desert nomads, to a conquest of their promised land. It shows how the lands were divided among Israel's 12 tribes and reminds the nation that they owed their existence to God.
Tragic Cycles of Sin and Redemption: A nation suffers the horrific consequences of deserting God.
How to Read Judges Judges' stories are as sensational as today's tabloids: gruesome murders, sexual depravity, superhuman feats of strength, a bizarre mutilation. But beneath the sensational stories are eternal lessons you will never find in a tabloid. The book of Judges shows what can happen when a society slides into moral anarchy. It also shows how God displays his mercy when people cry out to him in repentance.
Judges describes the Israelites' life in Canaan after the death of Joshua and before the time of the kings. In chapters 1-16, you will read a recurring tale that recounts how the Israelites related to God and the impact it had on their national destiny. Each story:
begins by telling of God's blessings;
then speaks of how the Israelites fell into wayward idolatry;
which resulted in them being conquered by their enemies and suffering greatly.
In the midst of the anguish they would return to God in repentance;
and then experience God's merciful deliverance through one of the judges.
This sequence of events repeats itself in various ways six times in this book! The result is a series of poignant stories that are both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. They speak of God's abiding faithfulness and unrelenting love toward his wandering people. By the end of this book, you long for the intervention of yet another judge who will come to save - a longing that will only be fulfilled with Jesus' advent.
As you study the book of Judges, you may want to examine your own life and identify areas where you have been disobedient. Then ask God to forgive you and to deliver you from the consequences that have occurred as a result of having strayed from a passionate pursuit of relationship with God.
Who wrote this book and when? Tradition credits the prophet Samuel, but we don't know for sure who wrote it. The author may have been one of Samuel's associates, perhaps another prophet.
It was written perhaps as many as 380 years after the events it describes - probably as a reflection on the nation's story during one of Israel's first kings, Saul or David (around 1000 BC). The book covers a period of about 350 years.
To whom was it written and why? To the people of Israel, to recount the stories of Israel's heroes - called judges - and to give the nation's history prior to the time it became a kingdom.
A Surprising Love Story: An outsider's loyalty shapes the destiny of future generations.
How to Read Ruth If you have ever felt like an outsider, struggling to fit in, then you will identify with Ruth, the heroine of this book. In the culture in which she lived, Ruth had three strikes against her: At that time people honored women with children; she had none. Women were dependent on their husbands; she was a widow. Communities were close-knit; she was a foreigner. But this story shows how God helped this outsider, bringing her in and saving her from poverty and exclusion. So you'll find hope in this book - a picture of God, who wants 'outsiders' to come to him for help.
Ruth is such an exquisite love story that you won't want to put it down once you have begun reading - so don't. Take special note of the deep love that binds Ruth and Naomi, a love strengthened through suffering. Observe also God's providence in the beautiful way in which Ruth and Boaz meet and fall in love with each other, a love that weds Jew and Gentile into the kingly line from which King David and his most famous descendant, Jesus, would be born.
Redemption - the theme permeates this book: Ruth is transformed from poverty to wealth, widow to wife, barren to fertile, and foreigner to Israelite. Boaz, a kinsman-redeemer who gives Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, a new life, is also a key figure in the book of Ruth.
Who wrote this book and when? Jewish tradition points to Samuel, but it was likely written later by an unknown writer. The events probably took place during the period of the judges (1375-1050 BC). The date when the story was written down is not known, although it was most likely after 1000 BC.
To whom was it written and why? To the people of Israel, to retell an important story and perhaps to encourage the Israelites to include foreigners in their nation (see Isaiah 56:1-8).
A Crisis of Leadership: Two leaders contrasted: God's way or man's?
How to Read 1 Samuel In the two books ascribed to Samuel there are many colorful characters who deal with issues similar to our own. As you experience their tragedies and triumphs, their emotional highs and lows, you will learn more about yourself - and how God wants to work in your life. A common thread running through all these stories is God's undying faithfulness to his people.
As you read this book, consider the impact of godly or ungodly leadership upon the destiny of the Israelites. This book sharply contrasts the life and leadership of King Saul and David. Both were anointed by God. Both accomplished some great feats. And both failed miserably, falling into grave sin. What is the difference between these two leaders? Saul tried to cover up his sin whereas David was genuinely repentant of his.
We have all failed in life, but that doesn't have to be the end of the story. We can adopt an attitude like David's and turn back to God. Or, like Saul, we can live in the fear of man and never face our sin responsibly. Which road will you choose? Consider the examples laid out here: which ones do you want to imitate and which ones do you want to avoid?
Who wrote this book and when? The author is anonymous. The prophets Samuel, Nathan, and Gad all kept records (1 Chronicles 29:29), which later may have been combined to form 1 and 2 Samuel. Some think official court historians may have chronicled these events (2 Samuel 8:16-17, 1 Kings 4:3).
Why was it written? 1 Samuel continues the history of God's relationship with his people and connects the era when the judges ruled Israel to the time of the kings.
The Making of a Leader: David's uncensored story of passion, power, failure, and forgiveness.
How to Read 2 Samuel 'After what I've done, how could God ever love me?' David had as much right to ask that as you or I ever will! Adultery, murder, rape, mutiny...David experienced much pain as a result of his poor choices. Yet, he is remembered as Israel's greatest king and one of the most intimate worshipers of God. If there is hope for David, then there is hope for us!
In the first half of 2 Samuel, David consolidates his power until he finally becomes king over all the twelve tribes of Israel. The second half of the book recounts the personal and family troubles that plague David and lead to a great national tragedy. In the big picture, this book clearly shows God's hand in human events. David rose to power because God selected him. David's heroic exploits were possible because he followed the God who had anointed him. David's moral failures show God's justice and mercy in response to sin.
Who wrote this book and when? Like in the earlier book, the author of 2 Samuel is unknown to us. It is possible the author compiled the records of Samuel and Nathan or Gad (see 1 Chronicles 29:29). It was probably written sometime after the death of Solomon and the division of the kingdom - around 925 BC. Why was it written? This book traces the history of Israel from the death of Saul to the end of David's reign approximately 1010 - 970 BC. It vividly shows the consequences of both faithfulness and disobedience.
Building Upon Israel's Heritage: David's godly rule makes way for the temple's construction.
How to Read 1 Chronicles When you find your old graduation program or school yearbook, whose name or face do you look for first? Chance are, it's your own- or at least those of your closest friends. There is a universal human need to belong. The Israelites were no different. The books of Chronicles demonstrated to the Israelites how they fit into God's plan. These books still show us the principles of how to belong to God.
The first part of 1 Chronicles reads like a family tree; beginning with Adam, it is a list of all who formed links in the story of God's chosen family. After a brief chapter on the reign of King Saul (Chapter 10), the rest of the book is a record of what David did as king of all Israel, ending with an account of David's death. Whereas the parallel accounts of Samuel and Kings highlighted the interaction between the kings and the prophets, the two books of Chronicles emphasize the role of the priests and the place of the temple. As you read 1 Chronicles, consider how the returning exiles would have responded to the message of this book. What does it have to say to you about God's faithfulness?
As you read the names (Chapters 1-9), reflect on how this genealogy connected Israelites who had just returned from exile with their ancestors and the promises God had given to their nation. Also, watch for David's role in leading Israel to worship God, and look for ways to enhance your own worship.
Who wrote this book and when? Traditionally, it has been thought that Ezra wrote Chronicles. But an unknown priest or Levite may have been its author. Chronicles was written around 450-400 BC - more than six centuries after the first events it records, about 100-150 years after the last events in 2 Chronicles 36.
Why was it written? The two books (originally one) reexamined the history of Israel. The writer's goal was that those Israelites too would see their link to godly roots and rediscover their heritage.
What period of history does it cover? 1 Chronicles looks at the genealogical records from the beginning of recorded history until after the Babylonian exile. From chapter 11 on, it focuses on the reign of King David.
Why repeat material from 2 Samuel and 2 Kings? Chronicles is not a rehash of other Old Testament texts. Samuel and Kings were written to a people in exile, who wondered how and why they got there. Chronicles was written to a people returned from exile, who wondered if they still fit into God's plan.
The Temple Built and Destroyed: Hope dashed: Straying from God culminates in national disaster.
How to read 2 Chronicles: In 1 Chronicles, the first break in the story of The Narrator is made by Jabez' prayer. Similarly, in 2 Chronicles, the first time The Narrator pauses the opening issue once again is prayer. On this occasion God asks Solomon, "What do you want? Ask and I will give it to you!" Solomon's prayer is a godly request for wisdom. However, the final time God speaks to Solomon, he warns him, "if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them" This unfortunately is the sad end of this story. As you read this book remember: it is not how well you begin the race, but how well you end it that counts!
A Legacy of Leadership: Nehemiah's courage built up the walls and nation.
How to Read Nehemiah: If you've ever faced an overwhelming task or felt inadequate to meet a challenge, you'll identify with Nehemiah. He understood the timeless issues of leadership: motivating other to action, overcoming criticism, and not succumbing to frustration, to name a few. Addressing both the practical and spiritual aspects of leadership, Nehemiah shows how to tackle God's difficult assignments and overcome both opposition and apathy.
Nehemiah's story can give anyone hope, as an exiled Jew becomes governor of a dispirited remnant and a city in ruins. In just 51 days they accomplish the impossible: they rebuild the city's walls and restore its gates. After rebuilding Jerusalem's wall (Chapters 1-6), Nehemiah gave himself to restoring the people of God (Chapters 7-12). His obedience to God shaped every area of society.
Who wrote this book and when? Probably the writer of Ezra (which was originally combined with Nehemiah), who many scholars think also wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles. He likely drew from Nehemiah's memoirs and from census records. The incidents recorded her occurred between 444 and 432 BC. The book was probably compiled about 430 BC.
Why was it written? To remind God's people of their spiritual heritage and to keep them from becoming careless toward the Lord.
What historical events surround it? The Babylonians conquered Judah in 586 BC. When Persia conquered Babylon (539 BC), the Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem. By 445 BC, however, the challenges of rebuilding their homeland had demoralized them. Under Ezra, they had rebuilt the temple, but the walls of the city remained in rubble.
For Such a Time as This: Seizing their moment of destiny, two risk everything to save their nation.
How to Read Esther: It's the stuff of fairy tales. A poor orphaned refugee wins a beauty pageant and rises to become queen of the land. When her people are threatened with destruction by a vile enemy, she puts her life on the line for them. Then, in a surprising twist of circumstances the tables are turned on her enemies and what seemed like certain doom is transformed into an incredible victory! The amazing thing is that it's no fairy tale: it's all true!
This book is so packed with suspense that you will find it hard to put it down once you begin reading. Expertly crafted character profiles of people like Esther, Mordecai, Haman, and King Xerxes I of Persia make for a gripping read. But this is more than just great literature. It can be a transformational read! As you consider the strengths and weaknesses of these people you can glean important lessons for your own character growth. Even as Mordecai challenged Esther to consider why God had raise her up "for such a time as this" (4:14), reflect on the same question: why has God allowed you to be alive? What challenges does he want you to take on? What redemptive acts does he want to accomplish through you?
Although God's name is not mentioned once in the book of Esther, His influence permeates the whole narrative. Pay attention to the subtle way this book reveals God's character and accents His faithfulness. Notice the indirect allusions to God's involvement in the life of His people. Take comfort that He is in charge, even when things seem out of control.
Who wrote this book? The author is unknown, but it is clear from the details throughout that the author is a devout Jew.
Where and when was it written? In Persia, sometime between 460 and 350 BC. Esther became queen in 479 BC.
Why was it written? As a history, to record the events leading to the establishment of the Jewish observance of Purim (9:24-32), and as a dramatic reminder to the Jews of God's protection.
Why So Much Suffering? Bad things happen to good people - and God cares.
How to Read Job: At one time or another, we all wrestle with life's most difficult questions -
Why is there evil and suffering in the world?
Why do the righteous suffer?
Where is God when it hurts?
Simplistic answers gloss over reality and leave us with serious questions about God's character. You will find none of that here. Job's agonizing search for real answers amidst terrible pain leads to a transformational encounter with God. His dramatic experience brings us face to face with the God who holds the answers to our most profound questions.
The beginning of Job gives the reader important 'behind the scenes' glimpse into the heavenly debate that set the framework for the earthly tragedies that befell Job. We hear Satan accuse God. He declares that God's kingdom is like his own, built on self-serving interests and that the only reason that Job serves God is because he derives benefit from God's many blessings. He essentially tells God, 'Take away the blessings and Job will no longer love you.' The gauntlet is thrown down and the stage is set for a cosmic challenge, the result of which will be determined on earth. All heave holds its breath as Satan - not God - takes away the good things in Job's life. What would happen? How would Job respond? Imagine the jubilant sound of victory when the heavenly hosts hear Job, bereft of blessings - having lost property cattle, and children - proclaim in the midst of his agony, 'Praise the name of the Lord!' (Job 2). Job demonstrated that he loved God simply for who God is and not for what Job had received from him. God had been vindicated and Satan was humiliated.
But only we - the readers - have the benefit of this 'behind the scenes' perspective. All Job knew was that all of a sudden everything good in his life was destroyed. He did not understand why. He was desperate for understanding. He wanted an explanation. He asked myriads of questions until finally he met God afresh amidst the pain. The encounter with God changed everything. At the climactic finale of the drama, Job exclaimed, 'I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes' (Job 16)'. Ask God that you too may see God afresh as you read Job's story.
Consider the various voices heard throughout the book - the same ones we encounter in times of trial - God, the devil, well-meaning friends, family, and Job's own heart. Savor the wide range of literary techniques used in this book: dialogue, poetry, proverbs, riddles, laments, curses, and metaphors. Read carefully, remembering that we have the privilege of seeing the 'behind the scenes' reality that Job and his friends did not.
Who wrote the book and when? The author is unknown. The book may well be the most ancient document in the Bible, dating back to the times of early Hebrew patriarchs in the second millennium BC. Many think the story of Job was passed down orally from generation to generation and only later put into writing.
Why was it written? To address the question of suffering. The writer tells Job's story in a way that allows readers to identify with his spiritual and philosophical struggles. It points to a good God who ultimately vindicates those who love him.
Search for the Meaning of Life A teacher concludes that all is meaningless without God.
How to Read Ecclesiastes: Searching for life's meaning? Wrestling with the big questions? Ecclesiastes will rock your world. "The Teacher" had all the time, money, and intellectual capacity to come up with the big answers. This book describes the author's search with painful transparency, honest confessions of doubts, struggles with faith, and acknowledgements of disillusionment. But what he found is that - apart from God - there is no meaning to life. Wealth and comfort don't create a sense of fulfillment. Food and pleasure leave you empty. Vocational success an intellectual accomplishments don't fill the void. Even when these and all other desires are fulfilled, life is bleak if lived apart from God.
Ecclesiastes challenges easy conclusions and dares to face hard questions. It shows the meaninglessness of a pleasure-seeking world. It offers insight into the life of a seeker who has yet to find God. In so doing, Ecclesiastes's description of the hopelessness of life without God creates a dissatisfaction with living the status quo. Certainly there is more! Clues to how to discover this something more is found in the prologue (1:1-11) and the epilogue (12:9-14). These passages frame the author's internal debate and point the seeker to the only ultimate solution: life lived with God. In a very real sense, Ecclesiastes prepares us to hear the gospel message. God provided the answer to the emptiness of life through his son, Jesus, who came that we might live a meaningful and abundant life.
Who wrote this book? According to tradition, Solomon is the author. However, some thing it may well have been written for Solomon and not by him. Perhaps some insightful court minstrel wrote it, identifying with the king, artfully hoping to call Solomon back to a life with God and away from the meaningless pursuits that had led his heart astray.
When was it written? Probably during the years of Solomon's reign, from 970 - 930 BC.
Why was it written? Ecclesiastes is a study in competing world views, perspectives, and philosophies. It is designed to teach wisdom by showing that a life lived without God at its core is meaningless. After looking at all of life's issues from many angles, the author summarizes: "That's the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone's duty" (Ecc. 12:13).
Song of Songs
Romantic Love at its Best Sex and marriage as it should be.
How to Read Song of Songs: Sex...in the Bible? Yes! For some it is surprising to find a poem of love and sexual intimacy included in the Bible. What should we make of it? Some suggest that we should read it only symbolically, as a picture of God's unconditional love for His people. Others suggest that it is best understood as a marriage handbook and find a treasure of marital delights in it. Perhaps there is value in both approaches. At any rate, Song of Songs is a beautiful picture of the physical side of love, and its appropriate expression within the bonds of marriage as part of God's wonderful creation.
As you read this book, it may help you to understand that the images of beauty, charm, and elegance contained within its pages are to be enjoyed intuitively, not analytically. If you are married, you may find encouragement here to reflect on the level of intimacy and care that characterizes your relationship with your spouse. If you are single, you may take to heart the final exhortation to chastity until marriage (SoS 8:8-9). Song of Songs celebrates romantic, sexual love within the context of marriage as God's gift. Reserving oneself sexually before marriage and joyful fidelity within marriage are the intended results of this beautiful song: 'My lover is mine, and I am his' (The Bride 7).
Who wrote this book? The Hebrew preposition in the opening title can be translated 'of' - that is why this song is traditionally seen as being 'of Solomon', of his authorship. But this Hebrew preposition may equally be translated as 'for' - in this case this dramatic poem would have been composed not by Solomon, but for him. Given Solomon's failures in the area of marital love, this second view may be more likely. This song may well have been composed by an anonymous court entertainer for Solomon to be performed on the occasion of one of his many marriage feasts.
When was it written? During King Solomon's reign from 970-930 BC. We know that by the end of his life, Solomon had acquired 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Perhaps this song was composed at some point in Solomon's reign in hops to arrest his unfettered multiplication of wives.
To whom was it written and why? If an unknown court musician was the author of this song, he may have written it for Solomon in an attempt to remind him that the best romantic love is that which exists between one man and one woman in an exclusive marital commitment. For this reason the author celebrates the wonder of committed, singular love between two people for live (SoS 2:16, 3:3, 4:12, 6:2, 7:10, 7:13, 8:10). It appears that the author may have wanted to call Solomon back to earlier, wiser days in which he had exercised self-control over his amorous passions.
Unfortunately, it seems Solomon did not heed the artful exhortation of this song and proceeded to multiply not only wives (1 Kings 11:1-13), but also gold (1 Kings 10:14-25), and horses (1 Kings 10:26-29). He succumbed to an uncontrolled lust for sex, money, and power, having failed to obey the Law of the King (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). Instead of walking in the purity, generosity, and servanthood that God expects from godly leaders, he fell into hedonism, materialism, and authoritarianism. The author of this song may well have seen where Solomon was heading and tried to call him back to God's standard of romantic love with this beautiful, poetic ode.
A Nation at the Crossroads Amidst tragedy, Isaiah pointed beyond judgement to the coming Messiah.
How to Read Isaiah: Have you known religious people who lived double lives? Isaiah confronted the hypocrisy of his own people and challenged them to change their ways, return to God, and love him with all their hearts and minds.
Isaiah contains some of the Old Testament's most memorable and eloquent writings. This powerful book is as compelling today as it was back then: saturated with passion and power, filled with testimonies of God's faithfulness to his promises, and a thrilling glimpse of the future as God's salvation reaching the ends of the earth. Isaiah's prophecies about Jesus have inspired countless generations to worship our amazing King and Savior.
Isaiah vividly depicts the many facets of God's character. We see him at work in both judgement and mercy, in times of discipline and of grace, justice and forgiveness, exile and salvation. The multi-faceted involvement of God in human history fills the pages of Isaiah, waiting on your response - will it be of faith or unbelief?
Who wrote this book and when? Isaiah, son of Amoz is the author. His prophetic ministry spanned six decades (740-680 BC). The prophetic oracles in his book are organized chronologically and occurred during the reigns of four kings of Judah - Uzziah (1:1-5:30), Jotham (6:1-13), Ahaz (7:1-12:6), and Hezekiah (13:1-66:24). Chapters 36-39 parallel the events of Hezekiah's reign that are also spoken of in 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 29-32. This historical recap in Isaiah underscores the events that framed his prophetic ministry. It speaks of the defining moment at the outset of Hezekiah's reign - the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib's siege in 722 BC in the wake of the northern kingdom's fall to Assyria. Two key episodes that marked the end of his reign are also retold in this passage - the miraculous deliverance from his near-death illness and the fateful visit of the Babylonian ambassadors. These events set the stage for the upcoming judgement and exile of Judah. Isaiah's prophetic role was central to all of these pivotal moments in Judah's history.
How does it fit in the big story? Isaiah lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. During his lifetime, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. In 722 BC as the norther kingdom was swept from the map, he preached a message of repentance to Judah. Because the people heeded Isaiah and turned to God, Judah was delivered from the Assyrians and was spared the fate of their northern cousins.
The Coming Fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah's fiery message of judgement bathed in tears of compassion.
How to Read Jeremiah: Ever struggled with knowing a doing God's will? You're in good company. Jeremiah's journey of obedience reveals the challenges he experiences as he sought to understand and fulfill God's purpose for his life. Even after he'd made his choice to obey God, many pressures and persecution made him wonder if he'd done the right thing. In the process, Jeremiah wrestles with some of life's most difficult questions - ones that we too may confront in life's journey. Reading Jeremiah gives us an opportunity to gain insight and perspective on what it means to serve God even in difficult times. It helps us discover practical wisdom for everyday life as we seek to follow God in the face of opposition.
Jeremiah shares with us much of his own story, more than most prophets do. His personal transparency helps us experience not only his challenging circumstances, but his feelings about those experiences. His identification with God's broken heart over his people, and his description of God's identification with his own suffering, sometimes makes it a challenge to know who is speaking. Are the words describing God's emotion, Jeremiah's, or both?
Jeremiah warned Judah about God's coming judgement with passionate, often tearful speeches. These were hard words to speak, but they were never spoken harshly. They evidence God's pain as he tirelessly reaches out to a resistant people and is forced to bring judgement upon their persistent sins. That's why even amidst warnings of impending destruction we discover promises of hope about Judah's future redemption.
Jeremiah - like may Old Testament prophets - focused not so much on predicting the future, but on preaching to his contemporaries, seeking to woo them back to a loving relationship with God. The prophets served as cultural commentators, holding their society accountable to the standards of the covenant (Deuteronomy 27-30). They warned the people of the impending judgement in hope that they might repent and avail themselves of the mercy of God. The prophets understood that the interplay of God's justice and mercy was designed to draw people back into the covenantal relationship with himself.
Though this thinking underlies the whole of the prophetic tradition, perhaps it is most clearly stated in the encounter between Jeremiah and God at the potter's shop (Jeremiah 18:1-12). God explains to Jeremiah that when He speaks of judgement, it is not an irrevocable situation. He speaks of judgement always with the hope that people will turn and meet the conditions that allow Him to demonstrate mercy. Here is the principle - God will always uphold justice, but He's always looking for every opportunity to display mercy.
After seeing this principle played out in the history of his own rebellious people, Jeremiah would later reflect on how God's mercy transcends God's judgements. He wrote, 'The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning... Though He brings grief, He also shows compassion because of the greatness of His unfailing love. For He does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow' (Lamentations 3:22-23, 32-33).
Who wrote this book? Jeremiah, a priest and prophet. Jeremiah dictated these prophecies to his aide, Baruch.
When was it written? Over the course of Jeremiah's ministry (626 - 580 BC). The last verses were added after 561 BC, about 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.
What was happening at the time? Jeremiah watched his nation fall apart morally from within and be destroyed militarily from without. He say idolatry of his fellow citizens, which ultimately led to the siege and sack of Jerusalem (586 BC). Even when many people were taken captive, his warnings and pleas that Judah should turn back to God fell on deaf ears.
A City in Ruins: Confidence in God's unfailing love in times of disaster.
How to Read Lamentations: Anger, desperation, fear, loneliness, hopelessness...Jerusalem has just fallen to her enemies! In the midst of this devastating chapter of her story, Jeremiah gives voice to Jerusalem's agony. Stripped of everything by their hope in God, Jeremiah deals with the reality of pain and suffering. In the midst of Jerusalem's despair and disaster, he looks suffering squarely in the face, and brings a carefully crafted word of hope based on God's character.
Each of the five chapters of Lamentations has a slightly different theme, revolving around the middle chapter's exaltation of God's compassion and faithfulness. He brings new mercies with each sunrise. Though their judgement is served, there's more than justice on display here, for God is a God of constant grace and mercy.
As you read Lamentations, look for contrasting themes of despair and hope, repentance and renewal - for individuals, cities, and nations. Notice also the book's careful construction. Jeremiah used an alphabetic acrostic to compose these poems expressing the full extent of his pain and sorrow - as though including everything from A to Z. As the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet give start to each meditation, not only on the tragic circumstances, but also on God's wonderful character.
Who wrote this book? Probably Jeremiah.
When was it written and why? Soon after Jerusalem's fall to Babylon in 586 BC, perhaps within a decade. Jeremiah had travailed with his people for years before this happened, warning and pleading with the nation as he knew disaster was coming if they did not turn. In deep agony, he wrote this poem to express his nation's grief.
Visions of Departed Glory: Longing for God's presence after devastating tragedy.
How to Read Ezekiel: The nation was in crises. Turmoil swirled around them. The changing political realities in Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon threatened Jerusalem's very existence. As major empires shifted, God sought to call his wayward people back to Himself. He 'repeatedly sent His prophets to warn them, for He had compassion on His people and His Temple' (2 Chronicles 36:15). These prophets included Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, whose ministries overlapped with one another. 'But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words...So the Lord brought the king of Babylon against them' (2 Chronicles 26:16-17).
The real story behind the political headlines is that of a God who will go to any lengths to pursue His people and woo them back to Himself. Judgement is the last thing God wants to bring upon His people. God would rather forgive than judge, but He will judge if necessary. Given their persistent disobedience, God asks, 'Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?...Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not!' (Ezekiel 18:23-24). Therefore he prophecies impending doom, hoping that the people will repent - and that judgement can be averted. This is the desire of God's heart. He passionately cries out. 'I don't want you to die...Turn back and live!' (Ezekiel 28:32).
Ezekiel is very gifted artistically. He performs plays. He writes poetry. He describes some of the most visually rich visions ever seen. If you can't picture all the details of some of these amazing prophetic experiences, don't worry. Ezekiel is describing the indescribable. As he says, 'This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me' (Ezekiel 1:28). His word pictures challenge our imagination and point us to faith in a God who is out of the ordinary - an amazing God of great majesty, power, and glory! God is even capable of making whitened skeletons live again (Chapter 37). Allow these extraordinary pictures to resonate in your heart. Let them strengthen you hope in a God who powerfully restores life from the ashes. Let them increase your hunger for renewed intimacy with a God who longs for you. Let them refocus you to live fully for His highest glory.
Who wrote this book and why? Ezekiel, a priest taken captive from Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon. It was there - exiled among pagans - that he had his visions of God. Ezekiel wrote to his fellow Jews living in exile between 593 and 571 BC. They needed to know that the God of Israel was still God - even in the hostile environment of idolatrous Babylon.
What was happening at the time? Three times the armies of Babylon would overwhelm Jerusalem. In the first (605 BC), King Jehoiakim was taken captive to Babylon along with other prominent citizens, including Daniel and his three friends. The second time Jerusalem was overrun by Babylonian forces (597 BC), King Jehoiachin and a notable entourage were sent into exile. Among them was the young priest Ezekiel. Though these two blows to Jerusalem were devastating, nothing would compare to the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC. This time Jerusalem and her famous temple would be totally destroyed and all her citizens deported by force. Ezekiel heard the terrible news 'on January 8, during the twelfth year of our captivity' when a survivor told him, 'The city has fallen!'
This is what Ezekiel had feared would happen. Up to this point his prophetic message (Chapters 1-32) had been one of warning, urging Judah and other nations to repent in hopes that judgement might be averted. After Jerusalem's fall, his prophetic message shifted to one of hope (Chapters 33-48). He encouraged the Jewish exiles that not all was lost and that - if they turned back to God - that there would be a new temple and that they would be restored as a people.
A View from God's Throne Room: Beyond survival to impact - making a difference in a pagan world.
How to Read Daniel: Have you ever wished God would show himself so powerfully that it would strike awe into the hearts of doubters? We all have, and in Daniel this is exactly what happened. God's miraculous power and amazing majesty are seen through unbelievable rescues and extraordinary predictions. On display is God's rulership over the affairs of mankind both present and future; He is indeed the King over all kings and His Kingdom will have no end!
The book of Daniel divides into two sections. In the first (Chapters 1-6), Daniel serves as an interpreter of dreams and becomes a trusted royal counselor. Because of hi unblemished integrity, Daniel advised kings and influenced the top rulers of both the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires over a seventy year time span. Daniel and his friends made a powerful impact on the surrounding pagan society as they loved and trusted God in a hostile environment.
In the second section (Chapter 7-12), Daniel is a dreamer of dreams. The visions he has detail some of the most awesome predictions in Scripture. God shows him the great sweep of history, highlighting the rise and fall of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman kingdoms. Almost every prophecy culminates with the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of men with the coming of the Messiah. This unique view of history from the perspective of God's throne room filled them then - and us now - with great hope, anticipating the eternal reign of the King of kings.
Who wrote it and when? Daniel - whose name means 'God is [my] judge'. Possibly a member of Judah's royal family, he was taken captive to Babylon around 605 BC, at the time of Babylon's first invasion of Jerusalem. The incredible detail of future events leads some to contend it must have been written after many of the predicted evens had occurred. But, those who believe God can reveal future events place it between 536 and 530 BC - soon after Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC.
How does this fit into God's big story? The Babylonians (626 - 539 BC) had replaced Assyria as the world's superpower. Nebuchadnezzar's army conquered Judah, taking thousands to Babylon. Jerusalem and the temple were totally destroyed. While Daniel was exiled in Babylon, he reminded the people of Judah of God's ultimate control over history. His message was that God's Kingdom would ultimately triumph over all human authority. Through the coming Messiah, 'the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered...it will stand forever.' (Daniel 2:44)
Tearing God's Heart: Unconditional love in a husband's pursuit of an unfaithful wife.
How to Read Hosea: Adultery! This kind of scandal is the stuff of today's talk shows! The unfaithfulness of an adulterous wife would devastate a husband. But in Hosea's case the private pain was compounded by public humiliation because his wife was a prostitute. This graphic, heart-wrenching story of the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer illustrates another love story gone awry. The gripping story of one man's pain can only woo our hearts back to the Lover of our souls. Hosea's agony over and faithfulness towards his wayward wife depicts God's constant love for his disobedient people.
The first three chapters of Hosea describe his family life, especially the adultery of his wife, which exemplified Israel's unfaithfulness to God. The rest of the book contains vivid messages on the sins of the people and God's passionate desire for them to return to Him. Throughout this book you'll experience in dramatic fashion a portrait of a brokenhearted God who will execute justice if necessary, but who prefers to show mercy if possible, because He loves His people so dearly.
Notice the stark consequences of sin as God states His case against His people. But then look beyond Hosea's suffering (and God's pain) to see an example of love that will not quit. Look for ways that Hosea loved his undeserving wife and consider how God has done the same for you.
Who wrote this book and when? Hosea, a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel, began prophesying around 750 BC and continued until the norther kingdom fell to Assyrian forces in 722 BC. During Hosea's ministry, six ungodly kings ruled on the throne of Israel. The final demise of Israel began with Jeroboam II, a wicked king whose leadership had produced a materialistic, immoral, and unjust society. Those who followed him on the throne only accelerated Israel's collapse. This book was probably compiled shortly after Israel's destruction in 722 BC.
How does it fit into God's big story? After Assyria had conquered Israel, Hosea's words were written down as a record of a prophecy that had been fulfilled. It also served as a warning - possibly to the remnant left behind in Israel, or to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, who were facing their own spiritual and social challenges. Would Judah go the way of Israel or would they turn back to God?
The Coming Day of the Lord A vision of destruction, a call to repentance, and a glorious promise.
How to Read Joel: In the midst of a dark moment in Israel's story, Joel gives voice to God's intense desire for intimacy with all his people. The wickedness of idolatry surely warrants judgement. But Joel goes beyond warnings of doom to passionate promises of restoration, which would culminate in an outpouring of God's own Spirit on all people. Women and men, young and old alike (2:28-29) would all have intimate fellowship with God and minister in His power!
Be alert to God's call on your life as you read through the pages of this book. Joel reminds you that God wants your heart. He wants your love. He wants your life. He is serious about your walk with Him. There is no room for sin, but do not fear. The message - both then and now - is clear: 'Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love' (2:13).
Who wrote this book and when? Joel, a prophet of God. Some thing he wrote it after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon (538 BC). But because Joel mentions no king and speaks of elders as leaders (1:2), others suggest a much earlier date - perhaps around 835 BC when Joash of Judah was still a child (2 Kings 11:21).
How does it fit into God's big story? Seven-year-old Joash had just been crowned king of Judah. Under Joash's wicked father and grandfather, pagan idol worship had flourished (2 Kings 8:25-11:21). But now that they had died, Joel urged the people of Judah to turn back to God. With young Joash, Joel saw great opportunity for renewal in the land. But he also warned Judah that judgement - an agricultural disaster of epic proportions - would come if they did not repent.
Poetic Justice: Edom reaps the bitter fruit of its treachery.
How to Read Obadiah: Has anyone ever taken advantage of you and gotten away with it? Perhaps friends or even family members have turned on you when you need them to stand by you. Obadiah tells the compelling story of how God loves His people and is unwaveringly loyal to them in just such a time. This is evident by the judgement He pronounced against the Edomites who had unjustly taken advantage of His people.
Don't miss this tiny book, tucked in between the better-known books of Amos and Jonah. You'll miss vital truths. Obadiah addresses the issue of pride and the desire for vengeance. This book shows you that these attitudes ultimately leads to destruction - as they did for the people of Edom. The Edomites relied on their mountain stronghold and their military might, and learned a painful lesson: Whenever you find security in your own strength, you're on shaky ground. True strength and security come from God alone.
Who wrote this book and when? Obadiah, an otherwise unknown prophet. His name means the 'servant of the Lord'. Because Edom was unfriendly towards the people of Judah several times during their history, it's not certain which of these events the book addresses. Therefore, he may have written it:
between 849 and 841 BC (during Jehoram's reign; see 2 Kings 8:16-24; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10, 16-17), or
between 732 and 716 BC (during Ahaz's reign; see 2 Chronicles 28:16-19), but it's more likely he wrote it
between 605 and 586 BC (at the time of Jerusalem's fall to Babylon (see Psalms 137:1-9).
Why was it written? Edom were the descendants of Esau, Jacob's twin. For generations there had been a long-standing feud between the people of Judah and the neighboring nation of Edom, their 'close relatives'. It seems that when Judah 'were invaded' by Babylon, the Edomites not only cheered Jerusalem's destruction, they looted Judah in the aftermath. They even captured those who tried to escape and turned them over to the Babylonian enemy. Obadiah condemns Edom's treachery and declares God's coming justice for their war crimes against his people.
Some think that the reference to the Edomite 'rock fortress...high in the mountains' is an allusion to the area where the ruins of Petra in modern-day Jordan stand.
Nineveh Spared: The reluctant prophet is shocked by God's mercy and the city's repentance.
How to Read Jonah: If you've ever thought that some people are beyond hope - so evil that they are incapable of change - the book of Jonah may upset your thinking. Consider serial killer, rapists, drug kingpins, or terrorists: It is no unnatural to wish that such violent, hate-filled individuals would be punished. But this book shows us that God wants to extend his grace and mercy to even the worst of people. It also challenges us to see that God may want to use us to reach out to the very people we may despise or see as beyond redemption.
Masterfully written, this book seeks to grab your attention from the opening sentence to the question at the end. Read looking for the implications of the call of God on Jonah's life - and on yours. God's boundless compassion shattered Jonah's bitter prejudice against Nineveh, the powerful capital of Assyria, which had sorely oppressed Israel. God's eagerness to forgive the repentant sinner exposed the narrowness of Jonah's heart and illustrates for us the greatness of God's love. When Jonah grumbled against God for showing grace to Israel's enemies, God's compassionate response was, 'Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?' (4:11).
As you read, look for passages that show God's compassion for all people. Note his desire for repentance and forgiveness regardless of what someone has done, and the extraordinary lengths to which he will go to get our attention. Rejoice as you observe the book's central truth that God wants the Good News of salvation to be proclaimed to all people who do not know him.
Who wrote it? Most likely the prophet Jonah wrote autobiographically about what had happened to him.
When was it written? Probably between 785 and 750 BC, during the reign of Jeroboam II, the king of Israel (see 2 Kings 14:25).
Why was it written? To tell the story of God's concern even for the enemies of his people and to show how God used a reluctant prophet as a vehicle of his grace.
What was happening at that time? Israel's northern kingdom had regained its influence over Jeroboam II. But the Assyrians, whose capital city was Nineveh, were asserting themselves in increasingly menacing ways.
Glimpses of a Matchless God: Micah's pleas are rooted in the revelation of a God who excels in mercy.
How to Read Micah: Micah's predictive clarity coupled with his vivid insight into the ways of God, makes this book a very compelling read. Standing on the threshold of some pivotal events in Israel's history, Micah looks into the future and prophecies landmark moments with pinpoint accuracy, including:
the fall of Israel in 722 BC,
the siege (and deliverance) of Jerusalem in 701 BC,
the fall of Jerusalem in 605/597/586 BC,
the initial restoration of the exiles back to Jerusalem in 536/516 BC, and
the ultimate restoration of God's purposes through the coming of Messiah.
In four prophetic sequences, Micah begins with his day and telescopes through these future events until he reaches the New Testament era:
First Prophetic Sequence
Judgement and Destruction (1:1-2:11)
Mercy and Restoration (2:12-13)
Second Prophetic Sequence
Judgement and Destruction (3:1-12)
Mercy and Restoration (4:1-8)
Third Prophetic Sequence
Judgement and Destruction (4:9-5:1)
Mercy and Restoration (5:2-15)
Fourth Prophetic Sequence
Judgement and Destruction (6:1-7:6)
Mercy and Restoration (7:7-20)
Through passionate poetry and vivid speech, Micah creates a stunning portrait of God's character. The message alternates between words of judgement and words of hope, between God enacting justice and displaying mercy. Micah warns his generation that God's judgement was approaching because they had rejected God and his law. But he also encouraged the godly that judgement would not be the final word. His ultimate confidence for a hopeful future lies in the character of God. Micah concludes with a signature question: 'Where is another God like you, who pardons the guild of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love' (Micah 7:18).
Who wrote this book? The prophet Micah. His name means 'Who is like the Lord?' How appropriate! For through his ministry we have a brilliant image of the incomparable character of God - no one else is like the Lord!
To whom was it written and when? According to the first verse of this book, these prophecies came to Micah during the reign of Jotham (750-735 BC), Ahaz (735-715 BC), and Hezekiah (715-686 BC), kings of Judah. This makes him a contemporary with Isaiah. We also learn from this first verse that though he was from Judah his ministry was to 'both Samaria and Jerusalem' - capital cities of the norther and southern kings respectively.
During the years of his ministry he would see Israel destroyed by Assyria (722 BC) and Judah very nearly so. He writes, 'my people's wound is too deep to heal. It has reached into Judah, even to the gates of Jerusalem' (Micah 1:9). This refers to the events of 701 BC when the forces of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, had pushed south and taken most of Judah and had laid siege to Jerusalem (see parallel passages in 2 Kings 18:13-37, 2 Chronicles 32:1-22, and Isaiah 36:1-37:38).
This was a critical moment in Jewish history. They found themselves at a crossroads which would determine their future destiny in no uncertain terms. In this moment of great military danger and political upheaval, Micah's message presented his hearers with two options: continue to disobey God and experience His judgement or return to God and receive His mercy.
What was happening at the time? The powerful Assyrian empire was expanding westward and southward, demanding surrender and tribute. When the northern kingdom of Israel rebelled, the Assyrians destroyed its capital city of Samaria and dispersed its citizens. Israel ceased to exist as a kingdom. Later, Sennacherib deployed his forces southward, taking many in Judah captive. It looked like Jerusalem would go the way of Samaria, but in 701 BC, King Hezekiah of Judah heeded the prophetic words of Micah and Isaiah. He led his people in turning to God in prayer and as a result experienced one of the epic moments of divine deliverance in the history of the Jewish people.
Nineveh Doomed: God's righteous judgement triumphs over evil!
How to Read Nahum: Injustice, cruelty, exploitation...at times deep anger is a righteous response. Nahum assures us that our anger over sin is matched by God's. The Judge of all the earth does not stand by indifferently. He will not allow evil to persist forever.
This book is the sequel to Jonah. In the former book, Jonah preached destruction, but when the city and its leaders repented, God extended mercy to them. Now we are back in Nineveh. Years have gone by and the inhabitants of this pagan city have resumed their wickedness. This time there is no repentance and God brings devastating judgement against this powerful Assyrian city.
Nahum displays God as infinitely holy and just (1:2), awesomely all-powerful (1:3, full of goodness and mercy (1:7), and true to His word (1:14). This is just a beginning! Consider what else you can learn about the character of God through the words of the prophet Nahum.
Who wrote this book and when? Nahum, an otherwise unknown prophet whose name means 'comfort', wrote it about a hundred years after Jonah had delivered God's message to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Assyria was at its full strength, arrogant after having conquered Egypt (633 BC) and before it was defeated by Babylon (609 BC).
To whom was it written and why? Although the book seems to be addressed to the Assyrians, Nahum's message is actually for God's people, the nation of Judah. It assures them that evil does not endure forever and that God will one day fulfill His plan to restore good permanently.
What was happening at the time? In 722 BC Assyria defeated the northern kingdom of Israel. Now, almost a hundred years later, the southern kingdom of Judah was ruled by Manasseh, a puppet king controlled by the Assyrians.
From Gloom to Ecstasy: Beyond destruction to a rebirth of joy.
How to Read Zephaniah: When justice is distorted, when the line between right and wrong is blurred, when leaders become corrupt, it's easy to become discouraged. And when religious leaders fall, discouragement can turn to cynicism. Zephaniah reassures us that even when those who are supposed to be examples of good let us down and do wrong, God remains trustworthy. He says, 'Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain. Its priests defile the temple by disobeying God's instructions. But the Lord is still there in the city, and He does no wrong'.
Zephaniah is very blunt, painting a bleak picture of gloom and doom. He uses poetry and emotionally charged language to illustrate both God's judgement and salvation, His correction and compassion. This timely word gives us marching orders in dark times: we are to burn brightly, to carry the light of the Lord into darkness, tor bring a word of hope for those who turn to the Lord for forgiveness and healing. We can rest that God is at work to make everything right in the end. Therefore, Zephaniah ends on a note of triumph and hope, as God’s loving and righteous character is revealed.
Who wrote this book and when? Zephaniah, whose name means “the Lord hides” or “the Lord protects,” wrote it during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BC, see 1:1), but before the city of Nineveh was destroyed (612 BC, see 2:13).
To whom was it written and why? Zephaniah wrote to the people of Judah, warning them of impending judgment for their sins and hoping to stir them to repentance. But he also assured them that God’s judgment would pave the way for a new society in which justice would prevail and all humankind would worship the Lord. What was happening at the time? Despite King Josiah’s well-intentioned civil and religious reforms, many leaders were corrupt and idolatry was still widespread. The Assyrian empire that had pressured Judah for more than a century was disintegrating. Shortly after Josiah died and Zephaniah’s ministry concluded, the Babylonians conquered Judah, destroyed the temple and took many into exile.
The Prophet Who Got Results: God's people heed the call to rebuild the temple.
How to Read Haggai: Come on! Snap out of it! Get going! Ever said that to yourself – or to a loved one – in an attempt to break out of a hopeless and energy-sapping slump? This book is like that. It is a splash of cold water in the face, hitting the blues head on with an invigorating call to action.
Though they had seen God’s blessing upon them as they returned from exile in Babylon, the Israelites became discouraged as they saw the amount of work needed to rebuild Jerusalem after decades of desolation. It seemed like an overwhelming task. But the people were “greatly encouraged by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah” (Ezra 6:14) who ministered together to spur the people of Jerusalem to complete the task of rebuilding the temple. Their message shook their audience out of complacency and got them back on track, provoking them to re-embrace God’s priorities with whole-hearted commitment.
Why did things go wrong with them? Because they were focusing on building their own houses instead of focusing on building God’s house (Haggai 1:9). That’s why Haggai urged them to consider God’s challenge, “Look at what’s happening to you!” (Haggai 1:5). This is as important to do now as it was back then. Take time to evaluate the priorities in your life and reflect on what changes you should make in your life’s goals. Are you aligning your priorities with God’s? Is God’s kingdom the top priority in your life or are selfish goals crowding out God’s destiny for your life? What is He saying to you through this book?
Who wrote this book and when? The prophet Haggai, who delivered his messages in 520 BC. Unlike Jeremiah and Daniel, whose prophetic ministries spanned many decades of life, Haggai’s ministry took place in a very brief time frame. He prophesied on August 29, October 17, and December 18 of the same year – less than four months from beginning to end.
To whom was it written and why? Haggai directed his messages specifically to Zerubbabel the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the high priest (Haggai 1:1). They were the top civil and religious leaders. In addressing them. Haggai was speaking to all the Jews whom they led – all those who had returned from exile. His purpose was simple and direct. He wanted them to see that they had robbed themselves of God’s blessings by allowing the temple building project to lie dormant. If they wanted to see God’s blessings flow again they must finish restoring the temple.
What was happening at the time? Eighteen years before Haggai’s prophecy, the Persian king Cyrus had allowed thousands of Jews to return from Babylon to Judah (538 BC, see Ezra 1:2-4). Although the Jews had begun rebuilding the temple sixteen years earlier, the opposition of neighboring peoples had intimidated them and caused them to abandon their work. The good news is that the people headed Haggai’s exhortation and “began to work on the house of their God... on September 21” – just 23 days after Haggai’s initial prophecy called them to action. The task would be completed on March 12, three and a half years later (Ezra 3:15) – almost exactly seventy years after it had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar's army.
A Fresh Start: Zechariah's visions inspire the people to look to God and rebuild the temple.
How to Read Zechariah: Context makes all the difference. Read this book together with Ezra and Haggai – both of whom were contemporaries of Zechariah and partners with him in seeing the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt after the long exile in Babylon. The leaders and the people had become discouraged. Going home wasn’t turning out to be as wonderful as they thought it would be. There was a lot of work and a lot of opposition. Was it worth all the effort? Zechariah’s answer to them was an unqualified, “Yes!” His prophecies encouraged them to “be strong and finish the task!”.
The book begins with a call to repentance given by Zechariah in November, 520 BC. Then, between February15, 519 BC (1:7) and December 7, 518 BC (7:1), Zechariah had nine amazing – you might even say exotic – visions (1:8-6:15) that describe God’s powerful reign and His life-giving, redemptive acts. They were:
Vision 1 - A man among myrtle trees
Vision 2 - Four horns and four blacksmiths
Vision 3 - A man with a measuring line
Vision 4 - Jeshua clothed before the Lord
Vision 5 - A gold lampstand and two olive trees
Vision 6 - A scroll flying
Vision 7 - A basket with a woman sitting inside it
Vision 8 - Four chariots from two mountains
Vision 9 - A crown on Jeshua’s head
If these visions seem a challenge to understand, don’t worry. Following them comes a series of messages in which God’s vision for Jerusalem and his redeemed people is crystal clear. He says: “My love for Mount Zion is passionate and strong; I am consumed with passion for Jerusalem! ... I am returning to Mount Zion, and I will live in Jerusalem ... Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes ... the city will be filled with boys and girls at play ... I will bring them home again to live safely in Jerusalem ... I am determined to bless Jerusalem and the people of Judah”. With this in mind, God reminds Zechariah’s hearers, “Among the other nations, Judah and Israel became symbols of a cursed nation. But no longer! Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!”.
Tucked away amidst these closing messages are some amazing prophetic gems that predict precise details about the coming of Messiah, the ultimate restorer of God’s Temple:
Zechariah 9:9 - Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt (see Mat 21:1-10; Mar 11:1-11; Luk 19:28-40; Joh 12:12-16).
Zechariah 11:12-13 - And I said to them, “If you like, give me my wages, whatever I am worth; but only if you want to.” So they counted out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—this magnificent sum at which they valued me! So I took the thirty coins and threw them to the potter in the Temple of the LORD (see Mat 26:14-16; 27:3-10).
Zechariah 12:10 - They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died (see Joh 19:33-37).
Zechariah 13:7 - “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, the man who is my partner,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn against the lambs” (see Mat 26:31; Mar 14:27).
Who wrote this book and when? Zechariah, whose name means “The LORD remembers,” was a prophet and a priest. He was born in exile. As a young man he returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. He began prophesying in 520 BC. See the introduction to Haggai, his prophetic companion, for more background information. What was happening at the time? God’s people had been in captivity for seventy years. When Cyrus of Persia came to power, he permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Those who returned set about their task initially with great enthusiasm but soon encountered obstacles and became discouraged. Zechariah not only motivated them to finish what they had begun, but also gave them a vision of God’s purposes beyond the restored temple.
Crucial Questions for Spiritual Leaders: Malachi brings God's message to a people caught up in religious routine.
How to Read Malachi: The crisis is past and the Israelites have slipped into passion-killing rituals. The awe of being restored to their homeland from exile has worn off and they are simply going through the motions of religious activity. God’s questions expose the emptiness of their daily customs. As you listen to their dialogue, you may want to ask some questions inspired by the book: “Do I really believe He loves me? Does He have my wholehearted love and obedience? Or am I only going through the motions of faith?” Perhaps these questions can shake you too out of any monotonous routine and ignite a new passion for God. The name Malachi means “messenger” in Hebrew. It is God’s message to God’s would-be messengers. The question-and-answer format used between God and His people highlights some key issues in the life of God’s messengers: their relationship with God, their family life, their use of money, their attitude toward ministry, the way they treat others and their motivation for serving God. The questions provoke us to check our own commitment to a no-holds-barred faith, obedience and worship. Notice that in this verbal exchange, God is definitely not doing things out of a mechanical sense of duty. Observe how passionate God is in His communication. God loves us passionately. God cares for us passionately. That love – not religious duty – is to be the foundation of our intimacy with Him. And He wants us to reciprocate that love by showing faithfulness in human relationships, by being people of integrity and purity, and by making sure that the motive for our religious service is the desire to honor God, not an effort to gain some personal benefit. Malachi does not simply evaluate external actions, but presses in to the inner workings of our heart. For this reason Malachi can be very disquieting, leaving you with no pretenses, no place to hide. Or it can be most transformational, as you allow God to use its words to expose the roots of ungodly attitudes and change the purposes of your heart. Who wrote this book? Malachi is actually not a proper name. It is a common noun which means “my messenger” which may have been used as an honorific title. Prophets were often called “messengers” of the Lord (see Haggai 1:13). Whether Malachi was his name or his title, this prophet clearly sensed that God was speaking through him. Two passages in the book make a significant play on words with the Hebrew for messenger (malachi). They are:
“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Malachi 2:7, emphasis added).
“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies (Malachi 3:1, emphasis added).
Note that “messenger” (malachi) is used twice in this last passage. The first time it is used to describe John the Baptist, the messenger (malachi) who would prepare the way for Jesus as quoted by three of the Gospel writers (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). The second time, malachi is used to describe Jesus himself – the ultimate divine messenger who reveals the very fullness of God’s message to us (see John 1:14).
When was it written? This is the last book written before the New Testament era. It was composed sometime after 460 BC – after Israel returned from captivity in Babylon (538 BC), after the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt (516 BC), and after worship there had lapsed into mere routine.
Why was it written? To confront the spirit of complacency and indifference that so easily overcomes God’s people and their spiritual leaders.
The Dawn of an Extraordinary Kingdom: The amazing words and deeds of Jesus the Messiah shatter cultural traditions.
How to Read Matthew: Have you ever read a sequel to a novel without having read the original story? The Gospel of Matthew serves as the transition, picking up the storyline and themes of the Old Testament, creating a context for how the life and teaching of Jesus Christ built upon what had come before.
Matthew focuses on Jesus as the Messiah King who comes to establish his kingdom. The story begins at, well, the beginning… the recounting of Jesus’ family line and the circumstances around his birth. But more is being communicated through this introduction than you might expect! This genealogy is not a precise family tree; it intentionally heralds the beginning of God’s Jubilee (see Leviticus 25:8-55; 27:16-25). He does this by highlighting the three major eras of Jewish history, and orders Jesus’ earthly ancestors into three groupings of fourteen each around them. “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to King David, and fourteen from David’s time to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah” (Matthew 1:17). For the Jewish reader these three sets of fourteen would immediately cause them to think of the Jubilee Year, for they are equivalent to six sets of seven which lead into the seventh seven. Thus the time of Messiah would inaugurate the seventh seven, the ultimate Jubilee to be ushered in by Jesus.
Starting with chapter 3, the gospel consists of five main sections. Each section first recounts Jesus acts and then records one of his major teachings. Each section closes the same way (Matthew 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). These five sections echo the five books of Moses, for Jesus comes to establish a new covenant that fulfills and exceeds the old.
Watch for evidence of Matthew’s background as a Jewish mathematician. He was a former tax collector – a man who lived with numbers and employed systematic, orderly thinking. Notice his frequent use of the Old Testament references to address his Jewish audience. He shows how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah who came to establish a new kingdom – one far different from what anyone had anticipated. The last three chapters tell the moving story of how this kingdom is established through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The book culminates with Christ’s stirring final command to his followers – both then and now! – to establish Jesus’ new kingdom among all the nations (Matthew 28:19).
Who wrote this book? Matthew, who is also named Levi. He tells how he first met Jesus in his typical, decisive, matter-of-fact way (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-31). As a Jewish tax collector he seems to have been quite well to do, being able to throw a large dinner party for Jesus and his new team mates. He would have been seen by his peers as a despised Roman collaborator. There must have been some tense team dynamics when he and Simon the zealot (the anti-Roman party which fought for Jewish liberation, even using terror tactics) began talking, as they came from opposite extremes of the political spectrum.
When was it written? Matthew would have been written in the middle of the first century, probably only a few decades after the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, but before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
To whom was it written and why? Primarily to Jewish readers, to offer irrefutable proof that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had come to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth. He offered a persuasive account of the Good News of Jesus, citing Old Testament evidence that supported the claims believers had been making about Jesus.
Good News for People in Crisis: The humility and power of Jesus inspires faith and endurance.
How to Read Mark: All-news radio and TV stations capture the highlights of the world’s news in thirty minutes. Mark’s Gospel offers a similar fast-paced report on the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Out of obscurity, this unique God-man explodes into the headlines as He preaches, performs miracles, and encounters both great popularity and deadly opposition. It’s the greatest news story of all time.
Written by a young man who worked alongside the fisherman who had lived the story, this account is strong on action and wastes no extra words, while giving us a vivid, firsthand portrayal of Jesus. Jesus’ actions are center stage, as He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). We see Him hard at work, helping people in need, healing those who were sick, encouraging those who were without hope, setting free those who were in bondage, enlightening those who were in darkness.
Mark’s action-packed account of Jesus’ life culminates by immersing us in details of the suffering and sacrifice of His final week on earth. These powerful stories were written to strengthen the Roman believers suffering persecution, to both live and die fearlessly. Consider the implications of following the example of the supreme Servant, who calls you to a ministry of servanthood.
Who wrote this book? John Mark, the son of a Jerusalem widow whose home was a meeting place for early believers (see Acts 12:12). Mark served as Peter’s translator, so he most likely recorded the events as he heard them firsthand. So, though Mark wrote the words, it could be said that this book is the Gospel according to Peter.
When was it written? This account was probably written during the terrible persecution of Emperor Nero, close to the time of Peter’s execution. This would be after the burning of Rome in July, 64 AD but before the fall of Jerusalem to Roman armies in August, AD 70.
To whom was it written and why? The book’s distinctly non-Jewish flavor and notable allusions to Roman customs makes it clear that it was written for believers in Rome. The Roman empire, the dominant world power, had begun to persecute Christians. Mark wanted to encourage these suffering believers.
That You May Believe: Jesus revealed as the Son of God, full of grace and truth.
How to Read John: The drive to connect with a spiritual reality beyond ourselves undergirds our human story. In Jesus’ day, as in ours, there were many competing belief systems. John’s story of Jesus’ life and ministry is written to establish that which is unique about Jesus. This is in stark contrast to the variety of gods our world worships. One major religion features a god of power and revenge; another worships one that is silent and indifferent to the suffering of people; still another offers a god that is mysterious and unknowable, absorbing all of humanity into a great cosmic ocean of oneness. Some people worship “gods” of possessions, fame and entertainment. Only one faith worships an amazing personal being known primarily for his sacrificial love. This book profiles that unique God, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ—God in human flesh.
As you examine this account of Jesus’ life, you will be confronted with some pretty astonishing claims about Jesus—who he is and what he came to do. John tells us that he has selected only a few of the many noteworthy things Jesus did in order to help us understand who he is. He records only seven miracles, climaxing in Jesus’ resurrection. For John these signs give indisputable proof that Jesus is the Son of God. There’s more, John says, but “the whole world could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25) had he recorded all of Jesus’ mighty signs. So why has he told us these select stories? To elicit a response of faith in our hearts, “so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name” (John 20:31).
Note some unique features of John’s gospel. He uses the images of light and life to describe God’s activity in the world. He includes several of Jesus’ sermons not found in the other gospels. He highlights Jesus’ many “I am” statements. Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the bread of life from heaven, the one sent by God, the light of the world, the door, the Good Shepherd, the Son of God, the resurrection, the life, the way, the truth, the true vine, and the King of the Jews. These statements should give you ample reason to believe!
Who wrote this book? John, the apostle—one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus.
When and where was it written? Sometime between AD 80 and 95 (although some scholars argue that the book can be dated as early as the 50s and no later than 70). John was probably in Ephesus, a city located in modern-day Turkey.
To whom was it written? Non-Jewish followers of Jesus, particularly those struggling with Greek philosophies, which taught that salvation comes through special knowledge and that Jesus was divine but not truly human. John insists that salvation is received by believing in God’s Son, Jesus, who came in human flesh.
Why was it written? John himself clearly states his goal (see John 20:31). His writes the gospel with an evangelistic objective. He wants people to have eternal life by knowing Jesus Christ.
The Power of God for Salvation: The gospel - the divine solution for humanity's common need.
How to Read Romans: The ultimate power for a transformed life is the power of God. Romans reveals that God has won the victory over sin and death through Jesus, who paid the penalty by dying in our place. He broke sin’s enslaving power over us. Through God’s power, Christians can reflect the attitudes and actions of those who are deeply loved by God. A prayerful study of Romans will uncover the key to the Spirit-filled life: a simple and ongoing response of faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. Be prepared! Martin Luther, John Wesley and many other notable persons of faith found their lives transformed by the message of this book. They then went on to become world-changers as they applied the truth that faith is all that is necessary to become acceptable to God. Like these men and women of God, take hold of this book until its message takes hold of you!
Romans is one of the most highly organized books in the New Testament. After a brief introduction, Paul declares that all humans, regardless of background or nationality, are sinners and thus are not able to have a relationship with God (1:18–3:20). Next he explains how God justly dealt with sin, making the divine-human friendship possible (3:21–8:39). Paul then argues that our faith in response to God’s work through the cross is the key for our justification (salvation) and continues to be the way to gain access to the power of the indwelling Christ in order to say no to sin and yes to God. In chapters 9–11 Paul summarizes how God’s redemptive work through history has prepared a way for the Jews as well as for people of every other nation (Gentiles) to benefit from his gift of grace through Jesus’ death on the cross. In the final five chapters you’ll receive practical guidance on how to live out your faith in unity with other believers “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6).
Who wrote this book and when? The apostle Paul, who wrote about the grace of God both from experience (Acts 9:1-19) and education (Acts 22:3), wrote these words in about AD 57. To whom was it written and why? Paul wrote to predominantly Gentile believers in the capital city of the Roman empire: (1) to introduce himself to the believers there and enlist their help in spreading the gospel; (2) to develop and defend the truth of the gospel he had been preaching; and (3) to encourage the Roman believers to rely solely on God’s grace for their salvation (3:24).
Make Love Your Aim: Words of wisdom for a church in turmoil.
How to Read 1 Corinthians: Fights. Rumors. Factions. It’s all here in 1 Corinthians. Few other passages of Scripture reveal the weaknesses of Christians as vividly as this book does. Some other topics include: Dealing with a sex-crazed society. Divorce—when is it justified? When Christians can and cannot sue. What’s up with spiritual gifts? A compelling look at the resurrection, and, most famously, the “love chapter.” Get ready! God gives us His views on some of the hottest topics of our day. Wrestling with the issues equips us to make a godly impact on today’s world.
Paul sees believers as ones who are holy and called—in spite of their sometimes unholy behavior—and he wants them to know they are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (3:16; 6:19). With compelling words, you’ll hear Paul’s sorrow, anger, shame, tenderness, and the depth of his love for his brothers and sisters in Christ, as he begs them to live holy lives like Jesus. He’s eager to root out jealousies and pride, steering people away from ungodly extremes that undermine Christian unity and love. Read this book again and again! It will shine light on your own life and push you to change.
Who wrote this book and when? The apostle Paul wrote it in about AD 54 or 55.
To whom was it written? Christians in Corinth, an important commercial city in Roman Greece. Why was it written? Two or three years after leaving the church he’d started in Corinth, Paul heard disturbing reports: strife and division were seriously threatening the young church. Some had become spiritually arrogant, leading to sexual misconduct, lawsuits against other believers, abuse of spiritual gifts and misunderstanding basic Christian teachings. Paul gave the Corinthians what they needed: straightforward advice on Christian living and church relationships in order to restore the church.
Pleas of a Concerned Father: Paul bears his heart in a desperate attempt to win back a wandering church.
How to Read 2 Corinthians: Cell phone conversations go on around us all the time; you can tell how someone feels about what they’re talking about, even though you can only hear one side of the conversation! Reading 2 Corinthians is something like that. We may not know all the details, but the feelings come through loud and clear as Paul lays out his joys, sorrows, ambitions, and frustrations for the believers at Corinth. His vulnerability gives us deep insight for our own relationships with God.
The letter divides nicely into three sections. In the first seven chapters, Paul describes both the glory of the gospel message and his experiences as a minister of Jesus Christ. In the next two chapters, Paul undertakes a fund-raising campaign for the poverty-stricken church in Jerusalem. In the last four chapters, he defends himself against church members who refused to recognize his authority as an apostle and leader. In the midst of it all, a powerful lesson shines through: in your weakness, you discover God’s power!
Be especially alert for practical examples and advice on resolving conflict: personality conflicts between church members, theological conflicts over false teachings, and cultural conflicts between the church and the world.
Who wrote this book and why? The apostle Paul wrote it in approximately AD 55. Inner strife had plagued the church at Corinth. Paul wrote to calm the disagreements, to restore unity to the body of believers and to reestablish his role as leader. How does it fit in the big story? Even this early on, churches like Corinth had problems running smoothly. Paul’s instructions on handling dissension within the church, false teaching, and church leadership were given to help resolve these recurring problems. He also draws their attention outward by seeking their help for the poorer believers in Jerusalem.
An Overcoming Joy: Pressing on! A lifetime pursuit of intimacy with God.
How to Read Philippians: Joy, joy and more joy! It’s not the impossibly happy ever after of your favorite fairy tale; Paul describes the current reality every believer can experience! He confidently claims that nothing can stamp out the joy we have in Jesus! There is joy in living even in the midst of painful conflicts; there is joy in serving in a spirit of humility; there is joy in knowing Jesus and in making him and his incomparable blessings known; and there is joy when we walk in contentment and gratitude.
At the heart of this joy-filled thank-you letter to his dear friends and supporters in Philippi, Paul shares the driving ambition of his life. Even after more than two decades of Christian service, Paul passionately declares, “I want to know Christ” (3:10). In his insatiable hunger for God Paul yearned for an ever-growing intimacy with God, a desire he hoped would fill the heart of every believer.
Among many gems, you’ll find one of the Bible’s most prominent psalms of praise to Jesus (2:5-11); you’ll see the futility of religious activity compared to a relationship with Jesus (3:4-11); and you’ll gain practical tools to help reshape your thinking according to God’s ways (4:4-9).
Who wrote this book and when? The apostle Paul wrote it in about AD 60-62, while under house arrest in Rome where he was awaiting trial on an appeal to the Roman emperor Nero.
To whom was it written? Believers in the city of Philippi, located in northeastern Greece. It lay ten miles inland from the modern port city of Kavalla.
What led to the writing of this letter? The Roman colony of Philippi was where Paul planted the first church on European soil (Acts 16:11-40), probably around AD 50. When Paul moved on, the church occasionally sent him financial aid, one of the few churches to do so (4:15). Paul wanted to thank the Philippians for sending him money to help defray his living expenses as he awaited trial (4:10-18). Paul also wanted to warn them against false teachers and urge them to greater unity among themselves.
What More Could We Possibly Need? Paul reminds confused believers that Christ is everything.
How to Read Colossians: The best way to spot a counterfeit is to study the real thing. Paul shines the spotlight on the glory and majesty of Christ and the life he’s given us as the very best antidote to the toxic counterfeit teachings in the culture surrounding this young church. Jesus – who he is, what he’s done, what it’s like to live in him, are center stage. Paul uses the richest language to try to capture the amazing qualities of our extraordinary God!
In the first two chapters, Paul confronts heresy with a one-two punch. First, he declares that Jesus is not only the creator and sustainer of everything, but he is in fact the exact representation of God. Nothing less than “God in all his fullness” dwells in him (1:17-19). Second, Paul exposes the false idea that philosophy and religiosity can successfully combat evil desires (2:23). He reminds them that believers already have what they need for spiritual victory through “union with Christ” (2:10).
In the last two chapters, Paul makes it clear: if you want to do the will of God, set your mind on Jesus and focus on the life we have received “in him.” As you read, be prepared! Your relationship with Jesus could be raised to a whole new level. As you acknowledge Jesus as Lord over your attitudes and actions and place your life under his rule, you will grow in holiness. Soak it all in! As you embrace him, your obedience and faith will take off! The message of the gospel is all true. All other substitutes pale in comparison to the real thing!
Who wrote the book and when? The apostle Paul wrote it in about AD 60-62, while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the Roman emperor, Nero. Not one to waste time, he took the opportunity to write and strengthen the church in Colosse, a city in the southwest of modern Turkey. How does it fit into God’s big story? Epaphras, a disciple of Paul, had founded the church at Colossae. The church was under constant pressure from competing religious groups. One heresy stated that the gospel was not enough; it was necessary to obtain “secret” knowledge if you wanted to be saved. Paul countered this supposedly “secret” (gnostic) sect and its hybrid of religion and philosophy that mixed Christian, Jewish and pagan beliefs. He stated that the time of religious secrets is over! “God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory” (Col 1:25-27).
Life and Death Issues: Paul shows us how to face the future with faith and hope.
How to Read 1 Thessalonians: Seductive images and sexual pressures are everywhere in today’s culture. It seems like the situation was not much different in Thessalonica. We face the same questions the early church did: “How do we live holy lives in the midst of an immoral culture?” As we struggle to maintain a pure life in a free-wheeling society, 1 Thessalonians provides solid guidelines, and an encouraging promise: “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful” (5:24).
Paul’s passionate pastoral heart comes through in his joy over and deep concern for the Thessalonian church. His confidence lies in the power of God’s Word to transform them. Pay careful attention to the beautiful picture of discipleship in 2:8, as love propels you also to share the gospel and your life with those the Lord places in your path. Overshadowing and undergirding all this is the reality of seeing life through the lens of eternity. Look for instruction on how Jesus’ second coming should inspire you to face an uncertain future with great hope and motivate you to live a life pleasing to God.
Who wrote this book and when? The apostle Paul wrote it, possibly as early as AD 50 or shortly thereafter. To whom was it written and why? Paul wrote to the believers in the church at Thessalonica, founded during his second missionary journey. Riots and opposition had forced him to leave them sooner than he desired. But later news of their progress encouraged Paul to write to commend them for growing in the Lord and to urge them to correct some misunderstandings.
Stick With It: A message of Christ's coming encourages believers to endure.
How to Read 2 Thessalonians: What is going on? At times the world around us seems chaotic and unpredictable. This letter provides something stable—an eternal perspective—with which to evaluate society’s shifting standards. Paul’s words remind us that as the world careens towards its final end, our hope of eternity strengthens us to live day-by-day in an anti-Christian environment.
Chapter 1 provides encouragement to Christians undergoing persecution to persevere in the midst of hardship. Chapters 2 and 3 confront false reports that the last days had already come and gone. These chapters reveal that certain things have to happen before Jesus returns, and they urge an unwavering trust that God will accomplish his plan of redemption. The church is encouraged to be patient and steady. We are to faithfully persevere in diligent service until Jesus comes again.
You’ll notice several subjects that parallel those in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: suffering (1Th 2:14-16; 2Th 1:3-12); work (1Th 4:9-12; 5:14; 2Th 3:6-15); and the end times (1Th 4:13–5:11; 2Th 2:1-12). Together, these letters tell us much of what we know about the Lord’s return.
Who wrote this book? The apostle Paul wrote it in the early AD 50s, shortly after he wrote 1 Thessalonians.
To whom was it written and why? Paul wrote to believers at Thessalonica who needed an even stronger dose of the advice he’d given in his first letter.
When Leadership Gets Tough: Firm words to strengthen Timothy's life and ministry.
How to Read 1 Timothy: While a solo performance can be amazing, there’s a unique richness expressed by a symphony of many artists and instruments flowing together under a master conductor. Each of us has an instrument to play. Together in the church we create an incredible expression of who God is when we play in harmony with one another! What you’re about to read is like a conductor’s handbook. It summarizes guidelines for running a church, offering practical help to believers in their relationships with each other, with church leaders and with the world around them.
Paul is writing to a beloved friend who has accompanied him on many missionary ventures. His instructions for the church are interspersed with personal directives and encouragement to his protégé Timothy. This combination results in a fabulous manual for corporate and personal discipleship.
This practical, nitty-gritty wisdom must be understood within the specific situation Paul was addressing. You might repeatedly ask yourself, “I wonder what conditions in Ephesus prompted Paul to write that?” Look for the underlying principles. It might help to imagine you are eavesdropping on the conversation between an older minister and his younger colleague. Although the specific problems and answers might never be exactly duplicated, the principles of the gospel never change.
Who wrote this book and when? Paul, the apostle, wrote it sometime shortly after he was released from imprisonment in Rome, probably around AD 63-65. To whom was it written and why? Paul wrote to Timothy with advice on how to guide the church at Ephesus. False teachers threatened to undermine Paul’s work there, and Timothy, one of Paul’s dear friends, was in a tough situation where he needed personal encouragement and advice on how to guide the church.
A Letter From Death Row: Paul's final words challenge Timothy to protect and pass on the truth.
How to Read 2 Timothy: The last words of a person facing imminent death often make a significant impact. This is certainly the case in Paul’s last letter to his beloved disciple and faithful colleague! Paul, imprisoned in Rome for the second time, faced certain martyrdom. The clarity and power of these his final words not only served Timothy, his son in the faith, but have echoed through the hearts of believers around the world down through the ages. Certainly his “dying words” are words to live by!
Paul’s passionate advice is just as vital for us as it was for Timothy back in his day: guard the priceless gift—the pure gospel of salvation by grace alone; endure hardship; rely on God’s inspired Word; and stay focused on spreading the gospel.
Watch for pithy statements, as Paul attempts to pull together the wisdom of a lifetime of service to God. Note particularly the ways he challenged Timothy to a more effective ministry. The nuggets hidden here were forged in the crucible of life-threatening experiences, but they point to the hope that belongs to all of us in Jesus Christ.
Who wrote this book and when? The apostle Paul wrote it to Timothy, probably in AD 66 or 67, while he was held in a Roman prison after the fire of Rome. How does it fit into the big story? Paul, imprisoned in Rome for the second time, realized he would not be released. Many of his supporters, perhaps thinking things were hopeless, had abandoned him in prison. As Nero’s crazed antics resulted in the death of thousands of believers, Paul knew that his remaining time on earth was short. His difficult circumstances, his concern for the churches he’d planted, and his love for Timothy spurred him to write these final words.
The Gospel in a Nutshell: Redeemed by grace for a life of good works.
How to Read Titus: This short letter shows that it has always been a challenge to develop a good church—even in New Testament days. It tells Titus, a young leader of an argumentative church, to refute false teachers, do away with church disunity and find quality leaders. Even with God’s Spirit at work, church life can involve a lot of sacrificial work! But Paul encourages Titus to persevere. He states, “I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone” (Titus 3:8).
Paul intersperses doctrine and practice throughout this brief but powerful letter in a way that integrates eternal truth and day-to-day transformation in an amazing way. Look particularly at the testimony to God’s truthfulness in Titus 1:1-4. Then reflect upon his marvelous kindness and love and grace that not only redeems you but also motivates you to do what is good (Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7). This is the essence of the gospel!
This book is a must for anyone who is eager to put the gospel into practice. In it you’ll find outlined the qualifications of church leaders, guidelines for a godly life—including successful relationships between family, friends and society—and an emphasis on faith that overcomes division and disharmony among believers.
Who wrote this book and when? The letter begins with a reference to a joint missionary trip taken by Paul and Titus to establish the gospel there among Jews and Gentiles. Because this trip is not recorded in Luke’s account of Paul’s travels, many suggest that it was written sometime after the events recorded in the books are history. According to this scenario, Paul would have written it sometime between AD 63 and 65, while traveling after his first release from a Roman prison.
Another alternative is possible: that Paul and Titus traveled together to Crete before the “first” missionary journey from Antioch (Act 13:1-14:28). This would have occurred during the fourteen mostly “silent” years after Paul’s conversion (see Galatians 1:15-2:10). In this scenario he may have set out from Troas in Cilicia with a young Titus as his ministry companion. If this is the case, Titus could have been written in the ad 40s and is perhaps the earliest New Testament document. To whom was it written and why? To Titus, a close friend and protégé of Paul (2 Corinthians 8:23), who helped Paul organize and lead churches in the eastern half of the Roman empire. Paul wrote these instructions to help Titus – an emerging Gentile Christian leader – guide the young churches on the island of Crete.
Faith in Action: Walk the talk. Live like you believe it!
How to Read James: Tired of spin? Want someone to tell it to you straight? James is the one to do it! He cuts straight to the quick. He’s not trying to please anyone but the Lord in this plainspoken message to believers everywhere. His message clearly exposes wrong motives and wrong actions. Packing this brief letter with 54 commands, he instructs us how to live a life of faith that is “pure and genuine” (James 1:27). Many of James’ statements echo the proverbs of the Old Testament and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). He urges us to respond with love, humility and patience, no matter what the circumstances of your day to day life. This is true faith.
This letter takes a no-nonsense approach to combat hypocrisy and religiosity. James describes the evil of a tongue out of control, of playing favorites with the rich or of prideful boasting about self-made plans. Don’t look for pious platitudes here. Expect a string of hard-hitting, specific, practical instructions to help you live an authentic Christian life.
Who wrote this book? Most probably James, Jesus’ half-brother (Gal 1:19) and leading elder of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21). This letter may have been one of the first New Testament books to be written—between AD 40 and 50.
Why was it written? To teach believers that faith and good deeds go hand in hand in the Christian walk (James 2:14-20) – either one without the other is lifeless. His message is simple but challenging: if you believe in Jesus, do as Jesus did!
What to do in Times of Trouble: You are royalty, so don't give up!
How to Read 1 Peter: Where do you find your hope in times of crises? Where can you find the strength to carry on in hard times? What will help you grow in faith when difficulties abound? The answer? Jesus! Because of what he has done you have been given a new identity. You now belong to God, and form part of a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9).
So what about those tough times? God can and will use difficulties to strengthen us. Discover how faith, refined by suffering, can help you see the Lord more clearly and get to know him more dearly. The words of this letter encourage us to hold firm in difficult times.
But Peter did not stop there. It’s not just a matter of survival. As we learn to embrace our royal identity, we can see the kingdom of God grow – even in the face of adversity. Peter urges us to adopt an on-the-offensive attitude in the midst of difficulty, and “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Who wrote this book and why? Sometime in the early to mid AD 60s, Peter – one of the original twelve apostles – wrote it from Rome to believers scattered throughout the regions of Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. Peter saw that increasing hardship and persecution had caused some Christians to wonder if God had abandoned them. He wrote to encourage them by offering hope and meaning in the midst of their suffering.
Where does it fit into God’s big story? At first the Roman government had given Christians the same freedom of religion as the Jews. As the rift between Jews and Christians grew, tolerance for Christianity faded. Because Roman policy was to ban problem religions perceived as a threat to the empire’s stability, Christians began facing discrimination, violence, arrest and confiscation of property. Some were beginning to waver in their faith. Because Peter had himself been imprisoned and beaten for his faith he could address the subject of suffering with genuine authority.
Witnesses of His Majesty: Get ready because Jesus will come!
How to Read 2 Peter: Information overload! We can be swamped with a barrage of information. How do we sort it all out? How do we tell which information is important—or true? The danger of receiving false information existed in the church in Peter’s day – as in ours. That’s why the message of 2 Peter is so critical today.
Peter confronts those spreading doubts about Jesus’ deity with great personal authority, for he himself was one of the “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Jesus is who he say he is! He is the glorious son of God. You can take him at his word!
As a result Peter challenges believers to resist the temptation to compromise morally or to turn their backs on the gospel. He also counsels us to pursue a godly lifestyle anticipating Jesus’ return. Peter tells us that we can “hurry along” the day of Jesus’ coming (2 Peter 3:12) by actively sharing our faith with others. The reason God has delayed his return is to give us an opportunity to draw more people into his kingdom, for he does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This is God’s deepest desire, his most heartfelt longing. We can bring great joy to his heart as we lead others into living relationship with him.
Who wrote this letter and when? The apostle Peter wrote it most likely from Rome, sometime between AD 64 and 68.
To whom was this letter written and why? To the same people who received his first letter: believers scattered throughout the regions of Asia Minor, in what is present-day Turkey. Peter wrote to warn them about false teachers and strengthen them with the truth.
What was the historical context? The emperor Nero was on the throne in Rome at the time Peter wrote this letter. Nero was a man without moral principles. His volatile nature created a cruel and unstable political climate which threatened both the empire and the young church. At the same time, Christians in Asia Minor were in danger of being led astray by eloquent but erring teachers who had infiltrated their fellowship.
Genuine Fellowship with God: Live like you are loved.
How to Read 1 John: The “beloved disciple” who enjoyed intimate friendship with Jesus on the earth, has authority like none other to assure us of God’s love. His short letter is packed with powerful insights about the love of God. He then to call us to live like we’re loved in our relationships with God and man. The key? Getting to know God more and more. Intimate revelation of his loving character is the foundation for transformation. John tells us “how very much our Father loves us” and then affirms that “we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (3:1-3).
What does it look like to live life as God’s beloved? John describes the security, purity, humility and sacrificial service to others that flows from a genuine, personal experience of God’s affection and commitment for you! John presents you with the wonderful fellowship you can have with God, confident that his “perfect love drives out fear” (4:18). This will equip you to live right by maintaining fellowship with the Lord.
John weaves together several core elements (such as light, love, life, truth and sin) in a beautiful, multi-faceted work of art. You can inspect it up close, or stand back to take in the whole thing at once, and you always see some new combination of the colors and themes. So take in the big picture as you read it through all at once. Pick up one section at a time to study it intently. You can come back again and again, always catching new glimpses of God’s mind and heart that will flood you with courage, faith and deep affection!
Who wrote this book and when? The apostle John wrote it, probably late in the AD 80s, toward the end of his life. This same man also wrote the Gospel of John.
To whom was it written and why? John wrote to encourage and strengthen the believers in a group of churches near Ephesus in the western half of what today is the country of Turkey.
What was happening at the time? Many communities were springing up throughout the Roman empire, and a loose structure of authority and organization was growing. The first great persecution under Nero had claimed the lives of thousands of Christians, including Paul and Peter. As the last surviving apostle, John was the anchor for the soul of the early church in these stormy times.
Close the Door: When not to put out a welcome sign.
How to Read 2 John: John tells his readers to be on the guard, to “watch out” (verse 8) against that which undermines the community of faith. A life of love does not mean living without discernment. John clearly tells believers that if someone “does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement” (verse 10).
Read this letter as if you received it from a beloved, retired pastor whom you greatly respect. In it he is telling you how to respond to those whose words and deeds contradict the word of God – though they present themselves as his messengers. Look for the encouragement to know God’s truth and to walk in this truth without faltering. Be confident that genuine love stands for the truth and does not facilitate the spread of falsehood.
Who wrote this letter and when? The apostle John, who also wrote 1 John and the gospel that bears his name, wrote it at roughly the same time as 1 John in the late AD 80s.
To whom was it written and why? John wrote this personal note to Christians who may have felt manipulated by false teachers. Now as an old man, he writes to try to protect his beloved children in the faith from being deceived away from the truth of the gospel.
Open the Door: Put out the welcome sign!
How to Read 3 John: Hospitality is important to God. He is the most hospitable being in the universe! His arms are always open wide to welcome all who want to join his family. He invites us to join him in this kingdom ministry. John’s words help us to see hospitality as a powerful, practical expression of the love of God. John’s words will also lead you to value the many diverse gifts at work within the church and encourage you to seek unity within the body of Christ.
This letter is an important companion piece to 2 John. In the earlier letter the apostle warned believers against supporting false teachers. In this one, he encourages believers to warmly welcome and strongly support those who do bring the truth of God to us. Taken together, these two letters focus us on the incredible value of the truth of the gospel and the need for both love and discernment. It will challenge you to consider how you can express God’s hospitality to others more fully.
Who wrote this letter? The apostle John, who also wrote the other two letters and the gospel that bare his name. He probably wrote it in the late AD 80s.
To whom was it written and why? John wrote this brief letter to his friend, Gaius, perhaps to accompany his more general letter (1 John). He wanted to encourage him for his faithful support of legitimate teachers. He also was warning him about the actions of a certain strong-willed leader named Diotrephes.
Contend for the Faith: When evil abounds, hold onto God because He holds on to you.
How to Read Jude: Ever disconnect the smoke detector or the seatbelt buzzer because you didn’t want to be bothered with the irritating noise? Ignoring such warnings could cost you your home or your life. But ignoring spiritual warnings could be even worse. That’s why we should pay close attention to this book. Jude sounds a short sharp warning siren we dare not ignore.
Jude doesn’t waste words as he describes what’s wrong and what to do about it. He makes it crystal clear that we’ve got to take a stand for the truth and contend for the faith. As you read, you might want to flip back and forth with 2 Peter. Observe how many parallels there are between these two books as they both seek to combat false teaching in the church.
As you read Jude’s compelling words, be attentive to the warnings, but also notice the promises and the encouragement to live genuine Christian lives. You would think that with the need to contend against so much false teaching, Jude would be somewhat discouraged. Just the opposite is true! He’s more impressed with God’s capacity to keep us in his ways than with the enemy’s attempts to divert us. His final song of praise exudes great joy and confidence: “Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen” (verses 24-25).
Who wrote this book and when? Jude was the half-brother of Jesus and full brother of James (author of James). He may have written this letter around the time Peter wrote his second letter, between AD 60-65. These two letters have striking similarities.
Why was it written? Jude was concerned that Christians might be drawn away from the truth by slippery teachers of false doctrine. He wrote to urge believers “to contend for the faith” (verse 3).
What was happening at the time? Impostors had begun to teach things contrary to the gospel and were wrecking havoc in the church. They taught it really didn’t matter how people lived if they had been saved by grace. You can imagine the disaster this could produce! Jude wanted to make sure that no believer followed the example of Cain (Genesis 4:1-25), Balaam (Numbers 22:1-24:25) or Korah (Numbers 16:1-49).