Number of Pages:1816
Here are some answers to questions I’m getting about the Bible:
I am reading the Christian Standard Bible version called the CSB Reader’s Bible, Gray Cloth Over Board. It is a hardcover version put out by Holman Bible Publishers in 2017. The reason I chose this version is that it does not contain verse references or additional notes. There are a few maps at the back of the book and that is it. So far, the only thing I wish it had more of is blank pages at the very end of the book where I could take notes.
I am reading the Old and New Testaments. I am not reading the Apocrypha. There are 66 total books (39 Old Testament, 27 New Testament).
I am consulting an iPhone and iPad app called Bible Maps. This app makes it possible to search locations by chapter and verse. It has been extremely helpful.
I am noting questions in the margins. I am hoping many of these questions are answered later in the Bible. If not, I plan to use future Bible study time to delve into these questions. I am not taking the time to look up all answers to questions I have while I read. But many of these questions have me thinking deeply about them. One question was answered in the church service I went to almost immediately after reading about it in Genesis.
Thoughts per Book (time it took to read each book):
The curses were very interesting. A common view is that Adam and Eve were cursed in the Garden of Eden because they ate the fruit from the tree of good and evil. But they were not cursed. The ground and the serpent were cursed. The ground being cursed made it so that Adam would have to “eat from it by means of painful labor.”
Then, once the flood had subsided and Noah and his family got out of the ark, he built an alter and offered sacrifices to the Lord. Then it says this:
“When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, he said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of human beings, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth onward.”
So here, it appears that the curse on the ground is removed but the curse for the serpent remains?
The next talk of curse happens when Noah’s youngest son Ham sees his father’s nakedness. Noah then curses Canaan, Ham’s son. A few interesting things here. First, this is the first time the curse comes from a human and not God. Second, if Ham was the one who saw Noah naked, why was he not cursed? Why was his son (who the text doesn’t say was there, but that may be implied) the one who was cursed?
I had a lot of questions like this that I wrote in the margins. I expect that some of them will be answered later in the Bible. And for the others, I plan to go back through the Bible to dig deeper into these questions.
I used a Bible Map app while reading and that helped in understanding where everything was happening.
The current situation at the end of Genesis is that the 12 sons of Israel (formerly known as Jacob) are in Goshen, Egypt (except for Joseph who is working for Pharaoh). They have been promised:
…a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the territory of the Canaanites, Hethites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
This sets the stage for the next book of Exodus for someone (Moses) to lead God’s people on an Exodus out of Egypt into the promised land.
Exodus starts with Moses’ birth and discovery on the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. The first 14 chapters tell the exciting story of the Israelite escape from Egypt with the plagues and passover. Exodus 15 is the song of Moses, and I believe the first place where God’s “faithful love” is acknowledged. Chapters 16 – 40 then deal with wandering through the wilderness and the law being given to Moses.
The thing that stuck out to me the most while reading Exodus was the contrast of Moses being presented with the law and the manner of conducting sacrifices at the top of the mountain while his brother Aaron, the priest, and all of the people were worshipping a golden calf at the bottom of the mountain. Those two things were is such opposition that it was heartbreaking. Moses is learning about Aaron’s role as priest and yet Aaron is actually leading the melting of the gold to be turned into a golden calf. Moses comments on how fast this all happened and that is the sense I got reading it. It seems like Aaron doesn’t even offer a fight against the people’s desire to worship a golden calf instead of God. He just goes with the flow.
Leviticus starts getting into the weeds. Sacrifices, mildew laws, and years of Jubilee. It’s interesting to see what is of concern to God. It makes me wonder how much of this was known beforehand and what would have been new. For instance, did people know about the skin diseases and how to identify their severity or was this a revelation of sorts?
My other major question in this section had to do with the different types of required sacrifices and offerings. There were clear sacrifices required when sin was committed. But there were also sacrifices required when someone had a skin disease or a house had mildew. Why would a sin offering be required when a house had mildew? No one sinned to make the house have mildew, did they? Sin wasn’t necessarily committed for someone to have a skin disease. Then, why the same punishment or requirement for atonement?
I just keep writing questions in the margins as I’m reading and I look forward to going back and digging deeper into the questions that aren’t necessarily answered later in the Bible.
It’s amazing – I’m trying to read very carefully and yet I miss major things. It’s interesting how the narrative will go rather slowly and even repeat quite a bit (festivals, sacrifices, etc.) and then all of a sudden there’s a very important event like Moses messing up and being barred from the promised land. I’m thinking – what did Moses do that was so bad?
Numbers starts out with a census of the 12 tribes. There’s a second census in chapter 26. Most of the tribes go down in number from chapter 1 to 26 due to getting wiped out by God-sent plagues for disobedience or rebellion. Only Judah, Benjamin, Naphtali, and Manasseh increased in number.
The famous blessing appears in Numbers 6:
“May the LORD bless you and protect you;
may the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
may the LORD look with favor on you and give you peace.”
Numbers 12 – Moses called the most humble man on the face of the earth.
Numbers 16 – the Lord causes the earth to open up and swallow some rebellious people. They go down into Sheol alive. Think this is the first time Sheol is mentioned.
Numbers 20 – Moses strikes the rock to get water instead of speaking to it. For that, he is barred from the promised land. Seems a bit harsh.
Numbers 22 – I need to dig in deeper here. God appears to Balaam at night and tells him to go with the servants of Balak. But then God is incensed that Balaam went. I missed something in the telling him to go and then being mad at him for going.
Numbers 30 – Midianites wiped out. Moses had once lived amongst these people.
Israel’s borders are defined in Numbers 34.
The first 20 chapters of Deuteronomy are a straight retelling of what was in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. I kept wondering why everything was being repeated again, and my friend Joey said that Deuteronomy was for the children of those who had received the 10 commandments. These were the children who were to go into the promised land. Their parents would not be entering due to disobedience and rebellion. So, Moses had to recount everything to this new generation so they knew.
It ties in with the admonition to teach the children these laws and recount the history of freedom from Egypt. Also, the entire law was to be read every 7 years at the Festival of Shelters (Deuteronomy 31).
I have now finished reading the Torah (the Pentateuch / five books of Moses). Here are a few things that have stood out:
- As I mentioned before, I was surprised at how often the stories, laws, festival information, etc. was repeated. I would have thought it just would have been stated once and that’s that.
- There has been little to know comments on the afterlife. Everything is geared towards becoming God’s people. The promise is that the Israelites will become God’s people. There is mention of heaven, but only that God created the heavens in Genesis and that he dwells there and rides to the aid of the Israelites from heaven. There is no mention of hell, but there is some mention of Sheol, as when the earth opens up to swallow the disobedient alive. They go down to Sheol alive.
- The covenant is that God will give the Israelites the promised land if they obey and keep all of God’s statues. God says keeping his statutes is not too difficult.
And here are my main questions after completing the Pentateuch:
- What is the main difference between the two most common names for God – 1. God, 2. The Lord. Why is each one used in a given circumstance.
- Why was Canaan cursed for the sin of his father in not covering up Noah’s nakedness? What was done that was so bad that Canaan was perpetually cursed?
- In general – what are the full ramifications for a curse? In Genesis, we see the serpent and land cursed. The curse on the land appears to be removed after the flood. People can be cursed for disobedience. Do sacrifices remove the curse?
- What is the difference in the Israelite conception of the heart and the soul.
It has been fascinating to read straight through the first five books of the Bible. These set the stage for the rest of the Bible. I don’t recall having read straight through these books in such a short timeframe before in my life (12 days). It’s amazing how much more I get out of it through careful reading, intentional reading, and reading straight through.
Joshua was action-packed. The book starts with the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan River about to cross over. There is another parting of the sea, it says the water was cut off, so that they could cross. Then, as the Israelites are all set to attack Jericho, God has them get circumcised? God is making it quite clear that the inhabitants of the land will fall by his doing and not the Israelites.
So, Jericho falls by 40k Israelite soldiers marching around the city walls for 7 days and then screaming really loudly. The Israelites go on a rampage from there, conquering nearly everything in sight.
Some neat things about this book:
- Again, we see the law repeated. This time, Joshua reads it to the entire people.
- Joshua comes in contact with the commander of the Lord’s army, who states “neither” when asked by Joshua whose side he is on.
- The land is divvied up. Interesting to see who got what, and that the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of the tribe of Manassah settled to the east of the Jordan River. They were able to do this as long as they fought with the 9.5 other tribes of the Israelites in order to gain the promised land.
Towards the end of the book, it says God fulfilled every promise that he had made. He “gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their fathers, and the took possession of it and settled there.” “None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled.”
The Israelites are now in the promised land and everybody lived happily ever after.
Ha ha ha.
No – in Judges 2, we see this statement pop up for the first time in the book:
The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.
As a result, “the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and he handed them over to marauders, who raided them.” “The Lord raised up judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders, but they did not listen to their judges.”
That’s why the judges come into place. From there, it’s a swing from one side of the spectrum to the other – judges ruling and Israel being in charge to the Israelites doing evil and God handing them over to be subject to the surrounding people.
We see the Lord becoming weary. We see the near wiping out of an entire tribe – the Benjaminites. Their crime is reminiscent of the events leading up to the complete destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – a traveler spends the night and the local townsmen want to rape said traveler. The particular story in Judges 19 is so disturbing that the Israelites does an about face and seek the destruction of the men and tribe who committed these acts.
Oh how far Israel has fallen in just one generation. After Joshua dies, the next generation “rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel.”
So, Adam and Eve are given a chance in the Garden of Eden. They fail. Noah gets out of the ark and gets completely drunk. The Israelites are freed from slavery in Egypt, cross the Red Sea on dry ground, and begin complaining just a few days after that. And now, the Israelites are in the promised land and they go off a cliff after just one generation. People who have seen mighty works done by God end up doing the same things of the nations around them. God’s chosen people are not acting the part so far.
Judges is full of memorable stories, from Samson to Gideon to Abimelech to Jephthah.
Short book, just 6 pages. There is a family line that ties the Bible together and that culminates in the birth of Jesus. Ruth is part of that line. And what’s astonishing is that she is a foreigner. She is from Moab, which is on the opposite side of the Red Sea from Israel. The Moabites are from the descendants of Lot.
Boaz becomes Ruth’s family redeemer after her husband Mahlon dies. Boaz and Ruth become the parents of Obed. Obed is the father of Jesse. Jesse is the father of David, who we’ll start reading about in the next book, I Samuel.
Very exciting book with epic stories and memorable characters. The book starts with Eli, goes to Samuel, Saul, David, Goliath, Jonathan, Nabor, Abigail, Michal, and others. I always remembered reading the David and Goliath story in the sense of the weak defeating the strong, the small defeating the big, and with God’s help. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book about David and Goliath and that changed my thinking on it. Gladwell says David was actually in a very good position to take Goliath out. Anyone going head to head with him was going to lose. By David took a different approach.
Here are some questions I have after reading this book:
- We keep reading about the Spirt of the Lord coming upon people, namely Saul. What does that mean? If the Spirt of the Lord comes upon someone, do they automatically do the right thing?
- And what is prophesying? When the Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul, he began prophesying. Does that mean he’s in a trance and can only say the things the Spirit of God says through him? Does he have consciousness while prophesying?
- What does it mean for God to regret? It says God regretted making Saul king. But in I Samuel 15, it says “the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change his mind…” Isn’t regret a changing of the mind? You did something you thought would be good but now you wish you hadn’t done it?
One part I’ve always liked is where the Lord tells Samuel to find the next king among Jesse’s sons. Samuel is sure the first son, Eliab, was the one to be king because of how he looked. Then the Lord said this famous line to Samuel:
“Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”
II Samuel covers the reign of David – 7 years over Judah where he ruled from Hebron and 33 additional years over both Israel and Judah where he ruled from Jerusalem.
I Samuel has a lot about David running from Saul. II Samuel has a lot about David running from his son Absalom. In each case, David is in the wilderness.
II Samuel also contains the story of David and Bathsheba. I found it interesting that God considered David’s act murder. It was murder for hire, but the guilty party was David. That may seem obvious, but there was no question of blame. David’s son as a result of the tryst with Bathsheba paid the price in death.
The big thing that stuck out in this book was in II Samuel 7 where God establishes David’s throne forever. After seeing how the Israelites abandoned God after just one generation, it seems quite clear that something else is going on here. That this discussion is not about an earthly rule but one outside of that. Would God use humans for his forever throne?
Interesting how we begin to see a shift in “the people” committing evil to particular kings doing evil in the sight of God, and the people in turn responding likewise. David was a man after God’s heart. Yet Solomon, despite his God-given discerning heart and wisdom, has a divided heart:
“Solomon loved the Lord by walking in the statutes of his father David, but he also sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the kingdom becomes divided in the next generation – with Solomon’s son. Jeroboam takes over 10 of the 12 tribes in what is called Israel. Solomon’s son Rehoboam takes over 1 tribe (Judah) in what is called Judah. That split continues onward.
I find the following things interesting about Solomon. The kingdom is torn away from Solomon because “he loved many foreign women” and “they turned his heart away.” The throne to be established forever is done within a few generations when viewing from a physical, worldly rule. This evil Solomon committed impacted the rest of Israel’s history and yet later on, there’s a book of the Bible written by Solomon about erotic love. That’s really quite incredible.
Solomon also built the temple of God (took 7 years), a personal palace (took 13 years), and an even bigger harem (1,000 women, presumably took a lifetime).
After Solomon, we’re introduced to a line of kings ruling both Israel and Judah. All Israel kings “do evil in the sight of the Lord.” Some Judah kings do good in the sight of the Lord. The surrounding nations also begin to attack Israel and Judah (there was relative peace during the time of Solomon).
Some other notable characters in I Kings – Elijah, Elisha, Ahab, Jezebel, and Obadiah.
I printed off a page with a listing of all kings of Israel and Judah, the years of their reign, and whether they did good or evil in the sight of the Lord. It’s astonishing to see that not a single king did good from Israel’s side (however, there were some who were better than others). There are a handful on Judah’s side who did good in the sight of the Lord.
Action-packed. This is the book covering the majority of the kings of Israel and Judah. All of Israel’s kings do evil in the sight of the Lord. Eight of the twenty kings of Judah do good in the sight of the Lord. The others do evil.
We see quite a few prophets in 2 Kings – Elijah, Elisha are the main ones, but we are also introduced to Jonah and Isaiah.
One key idea in this book is that the Lord is the one who directs history. In 2 Kings 18, the Lord told the king of Assyria to attack Judah and Jerusalem. God uses people to fulfill his plan for history. These people may be kings or commoners, willing or unknowing participants, an Israelite or a foreigner.
By the end of 2 Kings, the people of Israel have been attacked and deported to Assyria and the people of Judah have been attacked and deported by Babylon. God’s covenant with Israel has been broken – the Israelites didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The punishment was being kicked out of the promised land.
1 Chronicles starts out with the begats. So and so begat so and so who begat so and so… For those parts, which were quite extensive, I tried to recognize names from earlier in the Bible. While reading that part, I also wondered if there is any other record of people like this from ancient times. This is an amazing record of family lineage that spans centuries. It’s an unbelievable set information from history.
After and even amidst the begats, 1 Chronicles retells the stories from 1 Samuel. At times it seems like it is an exact copy and at other times, we’re given additional detail. Here are some of the things that stuck out to me:
- When David took the census, 1 Samuel says “the Lord stirred up David” to initiate the census because he was mad. 1 Chronicles says “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to count the people of Israel.” That’s an interesting difference. Was it the Lord or Satan?
- Also, if I recall correctly, this is the first or one of the first mentions of Satan. Even Genesis says the serpent instead of Satan.
- 1 Chronicles highlights the extent to which David prepared for the building of the house of God. The Lord told him that he would not be the man to build God’s temple since he was a man of bloodshed and that his son Solomon would be the one to build it instead. However, 1 Chronicles highlights the planning, preparation, and provision made by David for the temple. It’s neat to think of David in his later life wholeheartedly devoting himself to this project – poring over drawings, creating spreadsheets highlighting provisions on his tablet (stone, not Apple), and dreaming of the day his son would dedicate this temple.
- It was also interesting to see how David requested an “undivided heart” and “insight and understanding” for his son Solomon. This is very close to what Solomon famously asked God for – “a receptive heart to judge your people and to discern between good and evil.” The Lord in 1 Kings gave Solomon “a wise and understanding heart.” It’s neat to think of Solomon’s father’s influence on that choice of what to ask the Lord.
- Bathsheba was not mentioned in 1 Chronicles. The time where David was at home instead of out to war was mentioned, but Bathsheba was left out.
II Chronicles is about the kings of Judah. It only gets into the kings of Israel tangentially. It starts out with Solomon and goes in order of the kings all the way to Zedekiah and Judah’s deportation to Babylon. There are some nice extra details not found in the book of Kings while other parts seemed like an exact quote from Kings.
Here are a few things that stuck out to me as well as some questions I have:
- Many of the good kings create a new covenant that they and the people will follow the Lord with their whole heart and soul. Why did they need that? Wasn’t the covenant with Moses still in place? Did these new covenants supersede the covenant with Moses?
- Why is the covenant with Moses always referred to but not the covenant with Abraham?
- It’s amazing to me that some of the sons of the bad kings turned out to be good kings. You’d think the influence of their fathers would have been strong enough to where they would have continued in the evil. Perhaps they saw the negative outcome of doing evil and that made the choice to do good quite easy.
- It’s interesting how closely the direction of Judah was tied to the king and his doing good or evil. It’s obvious on some front, but I also wondered if there was anyone (other than the prophets), maybe a common person who was saying – hey, what the heck are we doing here? We’re not supposed to be doing this? It just seems that everyone was in lock step with the king and punishment or blessing followed as a result.
- There is an amazing part of 2 Chronicle 30 where there were a large number of ritually unclean people partaking of the Passover. This was a no-no. Hezekiah intercedes on their behalf and “the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” I thought that was a beautiful scene.
- We read about the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah in 2 Chronicles.
- Towards the end, Judah attacked by Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Then, when King Cyrus of Persia comes to power, he makes a proclamation that God has given him “all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build a temple at Jerusalem in Judah.” Crazy.
Ezra picks up right from the end of 2 Chronicles. There, we see a proclamation from King Cyrus of Persia where he says that God has “appointed me to build him a temple at Jerusalem in Judah.”
Ezra starts out with a more detailed version of the proclamation where King Cyrus (rules 559 – 530 BC) says “let every survivor, wherever he resides, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.”
So, Cyrus allows 42,360 Jews to return to Jerusalem. These were people deported by the Babylonians during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Persia is now in charge and these deportees are still living in Babylon.
The Israelites return and begin building the temple. The locals halt construction through fear and bribery and it doesn’t pick up again until King Darius of Persia (532 – 486 BC). The temple / house of God is completed in the 6th year of Darius – 516 BC.
The locals also send a letter to Artaxerxes (465 – 424 BC) saying the Israelites are rebuilding Jerusalem and how this is an evil and rebellious people and that if the king allows this, these Jews will not pay tribute/taxes.
Ezra goes to Jerusalem with Artaxerxes’ blessing in 458 BC. Ezra is a scribe who is studying the law of the Lord in order to teach it in Israel. Once Ezra arrives, he sees that many Jews in leadership have taken local wives and some have had children. Ezra is devastated. This is a no-no. The Jews make a covenant to return their wives and children.
The book of Ezra ends with a list of shame – the list of all men who took foreign wives. It seems everyone was on board with returning wives and children save a few people.
Nehemiah was a contemporary of Ezra and was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia while in exile. Artaxerxes noticed he was sad and asked what was up. Nehemiah says “Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
Nehemiah then gets permission from the king to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This is in 445 BC, so the temple of God has already been rebuilt by this point (during Darius’ reign in 516 BC – written about in the book of Ezra).
Nehemiah was appointed governor of Jerusalem by King Artaxerxes from 445 – 433 BC. Ezra was the priest and scribe of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah recounts the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem amidst local opposition. In fact, the builders construct with one hand and their other hand is on a weapon. The wall is dedicated and the Jews seem to get their act together to begin obeying the law of Moses, which Ezra is reading out loud on a daily basis during the dedication.
Nehemiah reminds God of his promise that he commanded Moses:
I will scatter you among the peoples. But if you return to me and carefully observe my commands, even through your exiles were banished to the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I chose to have my name dwell.
Nehemiah is a fulfillment of that promise.
I’ve always loved this book. If I recall correctly, it’s the only book of the Bible where God is not mentioned. The story is enthralling, the famous phrase “for such a time as this” comes from this book, and the Jews still celebrate Purim where the Jews were saved from destruction by Esther and Mordecai.
Up until Job, the Bible has followed a somewhat logical and chronological progression. Then, it’s almost like Job comes out of left field.
Job was a difficult book. In Job 1, the Lord tells Satan (I believe only the 2nd mention of Satan up to this point, the first where Satan led David to ask for a census) “have you considered my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
The Lord is holding Job up as a man of “perfect integrity.” The Lord then tells Satan that “everything he (Job) owns is in your power.”
The Lord allows Satan to test Job to see if he would curse God if all his financial and familial blessings were removed. So in one day, Job’s sons and daughters are killed and he loses his property and livestock. And Job’s response? He falls to the ground and worships – “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” That’s quite the response and seems to confirm the “perfect integrity.”
From there, Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (and then one more at the end, Elihu), tell Job that God is just and that bad things happen to bad people. Therefore, Job must be bad for these horrendous things to have befallen him. Job fights back and says he is upright and that what has happened to him is not right.
His friends say things that are right but yet that are so wrong. It makes for an interesting conflict throughout the book. It’s one of those things where you wouldn’t want to quote what his friends are saying. It’s like quoting an evil dictator. They may have said something wise at one time, but step back and consider the source.
For roughly 40 chapters, we go back and forth between Job and his friends. Then the Lord enters at the end and asks where Job was when the earth was created and questions his understanding of the great cosmos. It’s a confusing end to the book. The Lord allowed Satan to destroy Job’s life as a test. Job maintains his innocence, and then the Lord sort of overrides Job’s case with a you don’t know what you are talking about. Perhaps he doesn’t, but it’s still a disturbing situation.
At the end, Job gets back double what he had before, except his original children aren’t raised from the dead, so there’s carryover.
The question I have at the end is, did Job have perfect integrity? In 2 Chronicles 6, Solomon says “for there is no one who does not sin.” Where does sin fit in with integrity? Does perfect integrity mean you do not sin? Did Job have a case to be made before God? Can any human have a case to be made before God? Can the Lord allow Satan to utterly destroy someone’s life as a test showcase?
Really amazing to read what King David wrote. Psalms can be summed up with the following statement:
His faithful love endures forever.
That phrase keeps repeating over and over within the 150 chapters in Psalms.
This is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Check out this intro:
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: For learning wisdom and discipline; for understanding insightful sayings; for receiving prudent instruction in righteousness, justice, and integrity; for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced, knowledge and discretion to the young man –– let a wise person listen and increase learning, and let a discerning person obtain guidance –– for understanding a proverb or a parable, the words of the wise, and their riddles.
Then, it says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does the fear of the Lord mean? I’m really trying to ask the questions and write them in the margin and see if the Bible gives an answer later on.
For the question of what does it mean to fear the Lord, the answer did come later, in Proverbs 29:
The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.
When I read that, it clicked. I know all about the fear of mankind. I live my life concerned about what others think. I live my life acting in a way to gain favor from people because I fear their displeasure. Solomon says that is a snare.
What if I take the fear I have of mankind and think of the fear of the Lord in the same way. And what if I begin to shift from fearing man to fearing the Lord? Solomon says that is the beginning of wisdom.
Quite the downer. Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes. Back in I Kings 3, Solomon famously asked God for “a receptive heart to judge your people and to discern between good and evil.” Well, he got that wisdom, and the end result according to this book is utter futility. More wisdom = more futility.
It’s quite a depressing book. I’m sort of wondering how this fits in. Are we to take on a bit of this mentality? Are we to know it exists? To know that more wisdom may not lead to a better life but that it may lead to a sense of utter futility? That trying every pleasure, having endless riches, and pursuing total gain may backfire?
This book is full of famous sayings:
- There is nothing new under the sun
- For with much wisdom is much sorrow
- There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven (hello The Byrds: Turn, Turn Turn)
- He (God) has also put eternity in their hearts
- From dust to dust
- Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself (be merry) (hello Dave Matthews Band)
- For the bird of the sky may carry the message (a little bird told me)
- There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body.
I like that some readings of this book are said to describe God’s love for us. That’s an interesting interpretation because this is as explicit sexually as it comes.
For an explanation on the arcane language, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this study on the Song of Solomon by Thomas Nelson of Denton Church.
I had difficulty understanding Isaiah. It was hard for me to know what was prophecy about the near future and what was prophecy for a longer timeframe. I understood a lot of the references to a Messiah, but was unsure if that Messiah was to come in the next 100 years or so or further out in the timeline.
There were also quite a few verses that seemed to describe Jesus exactly. What do Jews who don’t think those verses speak of Jesus think they refer to?
I was amazed at Isaiah chapter 45 where King Cyrus of Babylon is predicted by name and by action 150+ years before he even arrived on the scene. That’s unbelievable.
Jeremiah was much more accessible and understandable than Isaiah for me. I think the main reason was that it was clear in Jeremiah that the prophecies dealt with a specific period of time (the upcoming Babylonian exile) where I was always questioning Isaiah as to what was upcoming in the near future, what was coming in a longer future timeframe, and what was referring to the coming Messiah.
Jeremiah was a prophet from 627 through the exile in 586 BC. He was a prophet during the following kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Joconiah, and Zedekiah.
In Jeremiah 3, Jeremiah says the Lord asked him if he had seen how even after Israel had been exiled, that had not caused Judah (“her treacherous sister”) to change her ways.
The whole book of Jeremiah is a warning of the destruction that is coming to Judah as a result of unfaithfulness to the Lord’s covenant. Judah is not interested. King Jeconiah actually cuts up the scroll with Jeremiah’s warning and burns it in the fire.
Throughout Jeremiah, and amidst the clear and present danger, the Lord has Jeremiah tell the people that “he will gather the remnant of my flock…and return them to their grazing land. He will raise up a Righteous Branch for David…called The Lord is Our Righteousness.”
The people are also promised that even amidst exile in Babylon, the Lord will “give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people and I will be their God because they will return to me with all their heart.”
Jeremiah also prophesies that Babylon will fall after just 70 years after the exile, after 586 BC.
Then, the Lord talks about a new covenant that will not be like the old covenant in which the people broke. The new covenant will be this: “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people…For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sins.” This is called the permanent covenant.
Altogether, 4,600 people were deported. I would have thought it would have been more than that.
A devastating book supposedly also written by the prophet Jeremiah where he laments the destruction on Jerusalem and its people.
Amidst the doom and gloom (as in, mothers eating their children to avoid starvation type doom and gloom) are verses of hope like this:
Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!
Jeremiah returns to the clay jars imagery with this:
Zion’s precious children – once worth their weight in pure gold – how they are regarded as clay jars, the work of a potter’s hands!
In the final chapter, chapter 5, Jeremiah laments:
We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are widows.
They became what the Lord had told them to always take care of in their midst.
Overall, a devastating book. I cannot imagine having had to have lived through that. To see your prophecies come true before your eyes.
Ezekiel writes from exile in Babylon, in a place called Chebar Canal, not too far from modern-day Baghdad. Ezekiel gets visions of the Lord, visions of Jerusalem, and visions of what is going to happen to other nations at the hand of the Babylonians. It’s a very interesting book with vivid descriptions and unforgettable scenes.
Chapters 40 – 48 got a little tedious as it explained the dimensions of the temple and city for those exiles who would return to Jerusalem and Israel.
Main themes included the Lord creating a new and permanent covenant with Israel where the Lord would provide them with a new heart and a new spirt. The Lord would remove people’s hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. There is also a lot about personal responsibility, not just national responsibility. The Lord keeps repeating that this will not be for Israel’s sake but for the Lord’s sake. He’s doing this for himself.
The Lord will also take the separate nations of Judah and Israel, represented as sticks in Ezekiel 37, and will combine them into one nation, one people, to which the Lord will make a permanent covenant of peace. The Lord says. through Ezekiel that David will be king over them. That seems like an odd thing to say, and an impossible one as David is quite dead by this point. I’m wondering why it says David instead of someone from the line of David.
The first half of Daniel is a set of very memorable stories. The second half goes into la la land and is so confusing Daniel has no idea what’s going on. Daniel is shown visions of the near future. The visions reveal the future of the major kingdoms – Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks. From there, it gets confusing on what is being referred to. I’m making a mental note of these questions and am going to see if they are explained further later on in Revelation.
Hosea is the last prophet to Israel. The Lord told him to marry a whore. They have three children yet Gomer, his wife, is sleeping with other men. It’s supposed to show Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Yet, God declares his faithful love saying:
I will take you to be my wife forever. I will take you to be my wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion.
I didn’t understand the distinction between Israel and Ephraim. They are continually spoken of and so is Judah. So, instead of it just being Israel and Judah, it was Israel, Ephraim, and Judah.
Through it all, Hosea calls Gomer to return to him and the Lord calls his people to return to him.
Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.
The book ends in a fantastic way:
Let whoever is wise understand these things,
and whoever is insightful recognize them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the righteous walk in them,
but the rebellious stumble in them.
A quick 3 chapters that start with the locusts coming to devour the land. Amidst the devastation, there is hope:
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And a promise:
After this I will pour out my Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out my Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days.
A coming judgement against the nations is discussed and it will take place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. It is referred to as the valley of decision for the nations.
I didn’t understand towards the end where Joel says:
I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mount. Jerusalem will be holy, and foreigners will never overrun it again.
My questions – how is Zion different from heaven, because the descriptions before have always said that the Lord dwells in heaven. Also, Jerusalem is eventually overrun by foreigners, so is this about a different Jerusalem or a different time?
Let’s see if these questions get answered later on.
Amos was a prophet to Israel. The book starts by recounting the coming destruction to Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, to the Ammonites, Moab, Judah, and Israel. Let’s just say it doesn’t start out on a happy note.
The main reason for Judah’s coming punishment is that they rejected the instruction of the Lord. For Israel, it is because they have “trampled the heads of the poor…and have obstructed the path of the needy.”
Another theme is that no one will be able to outrun the coming disaster or save themselves.
Here were some cool verses:
This one speaking of the Lord:
He is here: the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man.
I like that – reveals his thoughts to man. That’s a big part of the Bible.
And this famous one that MLK Jr liked:
But let justice flow like water;
and righteousness like an unfailing stream.
There is hope for restoration throughout Amos, especially at the end:
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel.
Big reminder: prepare to meet your maker! This comes for us all.
Interesting contrast here between Jacob and Esau, going deeper into Israel vs Edom.
Jonah is a very short book but it covers a lot of themes that keep popping up throughout the Old Testament:
- three days
- “faithful love” of the Lord.
There is also a beautiful word used about God when he saw the Assyrian’s change of heart. It says God relented from the disaster he had threatened them with. In my dictionary, relent has a three-word definition – yield to compassion. Throughout the Old Testament, we see that the Lord is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love.” I love the relent word – yielding to compassion.
Micah was a prophet between 737 and 690 BC to both Israel and Judah. That means he saw Israel’s exile in 722 and was prophesying before Judah’s exile. There are some famous lines in Micah. Here are some of my favorites:
- “Quit your preaching,” they preach. – a funny way of putting that showing how demanding preaching to stop is a form of preaching.
- “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from anquity, from ancient times.” – foretelling a coming ruler from Bethlehem
- “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
- And the very end is just awesome – “Who is a God like you, forgiving iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not hold on to his anger forever because he delights in faithful love. He will again have compassion on us; he will vanquish our iniquities. You will cast all our sings into the depths of the sea. You will show loyalty to Jacob and faithful love to Abraham, as you swore to our fathers from days long ago.”
Also, I don’t know if I’m reading this correctly, but this verse stuck out to me:
You will go to Babylon;
there you will be rescued;
there the Lord will redeem you
from the grasp of your enemies!
Is God saying here that Israel and Judah’s exile to Babylon (eventual exile to Babylon in Israel’s case) actually protected/rescued the people? The remnant? Would the people have been annihilated by a power had they stayed in Israel & Judah?
Here are other common Old Testament ideas and themes that show up:
- The Lord will collect the remnant out of exile
- Each person will sit under his grapevine and under his fig tree. – a call-back to the days of King Solomon
- NO ONE is upright among the people
- The faithful love of the Lord
Nahum is a prophet in Judah who prophesies that the Assyrian capital of Nineveh will soon fall. They will no longer trouble Judah. It’s a message against the Assyrians meant for those in Judah. It’s interesting though that the Babylonians were right around the corner. Assyria eventually fell in 612 BC.
Habakkuk asks the Lord – “why do you tolerate those who are treacherous?” He’s referring to the Chaldeans / Babylonians. The Lord tells Habakkuk to “wait for it.” Habakkuk decides to celebrate in the Lord and rejoice in the God of his salvation as he waits for the day of distress coming from the treacherous Babylonians.
Habakkuk 2 contains the famous verse – “But the righteous one will live by his faith.”
Destruction is coming to the surrounding nations as well as Judah and Jerusalem. A remnant will remain who will plunder the nations. There will be a restoration and the Lord will remove Daughter Zion and Israel’s punishment. “I will save the lame and gather the outcasts.”
I love this verse:
The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will be quiet in his love. He will delight in you with signing.
In the second year of Darius, King of Persia, the exiles have returned to Judah and have set up their lives there. But the Lord’s house, the temple has not been rebuilt. Haggai says the land is not producing what it should and overall output is down because the Lord’s house has not been rebuilt. Reconstruction begins in 521 BC and ends in 515 BC. The workers get a move on a the bidding of Haggai.
Quite a book. Some parts were easily understandable while others were just plain out there. There’s a lot here I’ll need to look into deeper at another time. There are a lot of references to a coming Messiah. I was surprised to see the exact reference of the 30 pieces of silver, the money being thrown into the house of the Lord, and given to the potter – an exact reference to Judas.
Curses are removed. The remnant goes from a curse to a blessing. There will be restoration – as though they were never rejected. But there’s also another battle against Jerusalem foretold where the city will be captured, the houses looted, the women raped, and half the city exiled. What does that refer to?
I enjoyed Zechariah.
If there was any hope that the remnant who return to Jerusalem would fare any better in terms of obedience to the Lord, the book of Malachi quickly shuts that down. The priests despise the Lord. “Judah has profaned the Lord’s sanctuary, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.”
There are more prophecies about a coming Messiah. “The the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in – see he is coming.”
And also – “I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the greatest and terrible day of the Lord comes.”
There is also mention of a book of remembrance where the names of those who feared the Lord and held high regard for his name were written. Again, the fear of the Lord from Proverbs.
The final word of the Old Testament is curse.
Now onto the New Testament.
The start of Matthew is just incredible. If you’ve taken the Bible in order, you’ve just read about all of these different people and here is a genealogy that ties a lot of them together leading up to the birth of one “Jesus who is called the Christ.” It’s like you’ve been looking at all of these different puzzle pieces and then you see the box for the puzzle and you see the bigger image.
From there, the main thing that surprised me was how much Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven. It’s on nearly every page of Matthew. Heaven hardly gets a mention in the Old Testament but it’s all over Matthew.
Other things that stuck out to me were the names of Jesus. He keeps referring to himself as the Son of Man. Those who are demon-possesed call him the Son of God. And those needing healing call him the Son of David. Then, Pilate has “King of the Jews” written on the cross.
Mark when much quicker than Matthew. Most of Mark is a pretty close copy of the content found in Matthew. There are some slight differences. For example, stories in Matthew seem to start out more with “the kingdom of heaven is like…” where the same stories in Mark don’t start that way.
I really enjoyed Luke. Much of the content is also found in Matthew in Mark, but the stories had some additional details in Luke. Some beautiful details.
My favorite verse came in Luke 16:
The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urgently invited to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out.
At the end, Jesus said this, tying a lot of the Bible together so far:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was with you – that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
The first three gospels are pretty similar to one another. Jesus is almost presented as cautious – only using the term Son of Man for himself. In John, it’s like Jesus has come out with guns blazing. He’s not presented as cautious but in constantly revealing that he is one with the Father God. He’s picking fights with the Pharisees.
I liked John the most of the 4 gospels. It is a beautiful book.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles. It starts out with Jesus telling the disciples to stay in Jerusalem. After Jesus is taken up into heaven, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, who allows them to each speak a foreign language to speak their message to the Jews in Jerusalem who have traveled from around the world.
The first part of Acts focuses on Peter, who has become the ring leader, and John. The disciples are in the temple daily telling other Jews about Jesus.
Acts shifts in chapter 9 where the focus moves to Saul (later called Paul). For the rest of the book, we follow Paul on his missionary journeys across Asia Minor and Greece. He eventually winds up back in Jerusalem where he is arrested. During the trial in Caesarea, Paul appeals to Caesar, and to Caesar he is sent. The final chapters are about the perilous journey by sea to get Paul, a prisoner, to Rome to stand before Caesar. Acts ends with Paul being in Rome for two years in a rented house awaiting his appeal. He is able to meet with local believers in Jesus during this time.
This leads perfectly into the next book, a letter Paul wrote to the Romans.
I realized while reading Romans and looking at the map that Paul had never been to Rome before writing this letter to them. He wrote this letter from Corinth and was hopeful of seeing them on a stop for a trip he had planned to Spain after first visiting Jerusalem. He was going to Jerusalem to drop off alms given to the poor of Jerusalem. In Acts, we find out that Paul is arrested in Jerusalem. He appeals to Caesar and is then sent to Rome. So, Paul gets to Rome eventually, but not in the way he had planned.
Romans is a book of contrasts:
- the law of works vs the law of faith
- one trespass vs one righteous act
- death coming through sin vs dying to sin
- old self vs new self
- slaves to impurity/lawlessness vs slaves to righteousness
- bearing fruit to death vs bearing fruit to God
- spirit of slavery vs spirit of adoption
Here, Paul addresses concerns both specific to the Corinthian church and to the church at large. The first thing he addresses is the divisions and rivalries between believers. Some say they are of Paul, others Peter (Cephas), others Jesus, and others Apollos. Paul addresses that, sexual immorality, and spiritual gifts to name a few.
Chapter 13 contains the famous definition of love that you’ve likely heard read at weddings. It’s a good answer to the question “what is love?” The chapters starts with “love is…” Later on in 1 Corinthians, Paul commands the believers to “do everything in love.” Well, the definition for that love is in chapter 13.
Paul calls the believers the “managers of the mysteries of God.” That’s pretty cool to consider.
Newness. The concept keeps coming up in 2 Corinthians:
He (Christ) has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit.
Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
I really enjoyed 2 Corinthians. One verse that has always stuck out is the one about repentance:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death.
This is a letter written by Paul to the churches of Galatia, a region in modern-day Turkey. The letter centers around a problem. The churches of Galatia are “turning to a different gospel.” The one they are turning to is one that says that circumcision is a requirement in the life of a Christian.
Paul is livid. This is a huge affront to the gospel that he is preaching. Circumcision is the specific issue for the Galatians, but it’s an example of a larger problem. And Paul’s point is that if you go down the road of saying one thing is necessary, then it will lead to more and more things.
The point is this:
- Christ set you free
- If you view circumcision as necessary for freedom, you are becoming a slave, because seeking justification through the law obligates you to the entire law.
- Justification by law means that person is trying to obtain righteousness through works and not through faith.
- It’s either/or, not both/and. It’s either works of the flesh (ex. circumcision), which leads to death, or fruit of the spirit, which leads to life.
- The offense of the cross is that people cannot be right with God through their own actions.
My pastor has recently been preaching from the book of Galatians. He said that circumcision is any type of legalism. For example, it could be environmentalism. If you have this mindset and these behaviors, then you are part of our environmental group. It could be political. If you adhere to these beliefs, you are of our political group. You are in. Others are out. That helped me see how easy it is to slide back into works of the flesh instead of relying on the fruit of the Spirit. Everyone wants you to be a part of their group, to adhere to their standards, and add to their numbers. Beware – that obligates you to the entire law.
Paul wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus, a city in Asia (modern-day Turkey), while in prison. Two main themes are:
- The Gentiles (non-Jews) are co-heirs with the Jews of the promise of God.
- As such, this then is how you should live.
Other themes are that of being dead in sin, Christ raising us up with him and seating us with him in the heavens, and the armor of God. There are two beautiful prayers that Paul has for the believers of Ephesus.
Philippians was quite upbeat. Paul’s writing from prison telling the church in Philippi to rejoice. There’s talk about a new citizenship for believers. They are now citizens of heaven instead of citizens of earth. They are therefore ambassadors on earth. I’d say that’s a pretty fundamental shift in how one thinks of the world.
Paul also gives a lot of practical advice in this book about worry, prayer, and thought life.
This book is very similar to the book of Ephesians. Ephesus is not too far from Colossae (100+ miles) and is further inland in Asia (modern-day Turkey). A few themes:
- Reconciliation – “he (Christ) has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him…”
- Mystery – Paul keeps talking about the mystery of Christ that had been hidden in ages past, hidden within the Old Testament, but now revealed. This theme crosses a number of Paul’s letters.
- Circumcision – yep, it comes up again. But it clicked for me in Colossians. One verse – “You were also circumcised in him with a circumcision not done with hands…” The reason Paul hates when believers insist that Gentiles get circumcised is that there is another verse in the Old Testament that says the circumcision that is to take place is a circumcision of the heart “not done with hands.” So, for believers to get circumcised, it’s a reversion to fleshly, human works instead of spiritual work that only God can do through Christ.
And here was a great section against self-help:
If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, fast humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.
Paul talks about the severe persecution the believers in Thessalonica experienced. Paul loves them very much saying “we cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”
The rest of the book describes Paul’s attempts to travel to Tehssalonica again and how he is hindered as well as a number of areas of advice for Godly living.
Then, there is also a pretty wild section at the end of chapter 4 that talks about the brothers and sisters (fellow believers) who have fallen asleep (died) and how they will be caught up together with the Lord in the clouds “to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” Those who are asleep will proceed those still living as “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God…”
Paul talks a little more about the persecution going on in Thessalonica. Then, the book goes into more of end times type content. Persecution seems to require some info about the end of times to provide context. We hear about the “man of lawlessness,” which I’m guessing is the anti-christ in other translations.
The rest of the book is more practical advice. How to be an effective Christian – don’t be idle, work quietly and prove for yourself, don’t grow weary in doing good, etc.
A letter written to a person. Timothy has traveled around with Paul, and here is a letter written by Paul, to Timothy, likely from prison / house arrest in Rome. Paul addresses the letters to Timothy, my true son in the faith. So, a father/son type deal that immediately brings Proverbs to mind.
It’s neat to think about Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in a huge context covering a large swath of the map. But here is Paul the apostle to the Gentiles encouraging one person. It’s really amazing to have letters written to whole churches and then right after that, letters written to Timothy and Titus.
Again, a lot of practical advice here, things to look out for, how to choose leaders for the new groups of believers, warnings about pursuing wealth, and the avoidance of empty speech.
Another letter to Timothy. This one has some truly remarkable and memorable parts. Paul also makes a statement about the Scriptures:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Was he referring to the existing Scriptures at that time, what we know of as the Old Testament, or more?
The very end is a list of people to avoid and greet. It’s neat. Very personal.
I really enjoyed 2 Timothy.
I had to look up what was going on in this letter. It’s one page long, but I didn’t understand it. The letter is written by Paul to Philemon. Paul has been housing a former slave named Onesimus. The slave’s former owner was Philemon. Paul treated Onesimus as a son. He is now asking Philemon to take Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.” Paul then offers to pay whatever is owed for this change in relationship from slave to non-slave. That’s pretty remarkable, all the more so because Paul is in prison at the time.
A large portion of Hebrews covers the distinction between two orders of priests:
- The order of Aaron / Levi
- The order of Melchizadek
The order of Aaron is temporary, repetitive, and ultimately, not a permanent solution for the forgiveness of sins:
Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins.
The order of Melchizadek is a forever priesthood. Hebrews makes the case that Jesus is the new forever high priest:
But this man (Jesus), after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.
Hebrews (as the title would suggest) is written to a Jewish audience. The issue of priesthood and sacrifice is quite important as the center of these things, the Temple in Jerusalem, is about to be destroyed (70 AD).
James is the younger brother of Jesus. He didn’t believe Jesus when he was on earth, but had a change of heart and become a leader of the church after Jesus left for heaven.
Perhaps the most famous line from James is that “faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” Or more concisely, “faith without works is dead.”
This has tripped some people up who really want to drive home the “faith alone” side in that works don’t make someone right before God, but “the righteous shall live by faith.”
Later on, in James 4, it says “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” This helps put the “faith without works is dead” into context. Resisting is an active process. It is a work. It is work. When resisting, you are working. Faith does not make the devil flee from you. Resisting the devil results in the fleeing. That’s actually comforting that an individual act of resisting a temptation (which in James 1, he lays out the life cycle of death starting with temptation starting with an enticement of one’s own evil desire, then conceiving and giving birth to sin, and the fully-grown child of sin is death) can lead to the devil fleeing.
That “resist the devil” line actually tied together many of the key themes of James.
One other thing that really stuck out to me is a contrast given to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I’ve been surprised to see how often “love your neighbor as yourself” has been repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jesus quoted it and it’s truly amazing to think that the entire law can be summed up into two statements of loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
James contrasts this here:
Indeed, if you fulfill the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. If, however, you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
The “however” here contrasts with loving your neighbor. Showing favoritism is the contrast, is the opposite of loving your neighbor. I’ve found through the reading of the Bible that the contrasts have helped me understand ideas and concepts in a much deeper manner.
This book is written by the apostle Peter to “those chosen, living as exiles” across the Asia region / modern-day Turkey. I didn’t know if this just meant Jewish believer exiles or all believers. In this book, Peter contrasts them with the Gentiles, so it seems like this is to a Jewish Christian audience. I will need to look into that.
This is Peter as in the disciple, one who denied Jesus three times, and the rock on which Jesus was to build his church. After having read Hebrews, this section struck me:
As you come to him (Jesus), a living stone – rejected by people but chosen and honored by God – you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are bing built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
So, now believers, those whose faith is in Jesus, will become a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. That’s insane.
Peter says some other neat things here:
- The goal of your faith is the salvation of your soul
- Sinful desires wage war against the soul
- Love covers a multitude of sins
The beginning of this letter does not say who it is to in the sense that 1 Peter says “to the exiles…” Instead, this one is to “those who have received a faith equal to ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” However, later on in the book, Peter says that “this is now the second letter I have written to you…” So, apparently, it’s to the same audience.
The biggest thing that stuck out to me in this book came in 2 Peter 2 in this statement:
…people are enslaved to whatever defeats them.
Wow – that’s quite profound and perhaps an easy way to spot where we individually are having trouble in our lives.
In 2 Peter 3, Peter talks about the “day of the Lord” and how it will come like a thief.
Interesting that the Gospel of John and 1 John start out similarly:
- Gospel of John – In the beginning…
- 1 John – What was from the beginning…
There are a lot of memorable verses here. Here are some of them that stuck out to me:
- “This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands.”
- “And this is the promise he himself made to us: eternal life.”
- “See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children.”
- “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things.”
- “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment.”
There was also an interesting verse in 1 John 3:
The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s works.
This made me think back to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where the demon-possessed were the ones who called Jesus the Son of God. Jesus didn’t call himself the Son of God, only the Son of Man.
Very similar content to what is in 1 John. It’s addressed to The elder: To the elect lady and her children.
3 John is written to Gaius. I don’t know where Gaius is located. John has gotten a good report about Gaius that he is “walking in the truth.” This make John quite mad.
John then writes about Diotrephes, who is slandering John and then Demetrius, who is also praised.
As in 2 John, he keeps the book short because he wants to meet “face to face.”
Jude is a brother of Jesus. It’s interesting that he doesn’t mention this in his intro. Instead, he says he is the brother of James. The book is written to “those who are the called, loved by God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.”
Jude wanted to write a letter about the audience’s shared salvation, but instead, he warns about those turning the grace of God into sensuality and denying Jesus. He spends the majority of the book talking about these people (“shepherds who only look after themselves.”)
He encourages the believers to “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life.
The book ends with the famous blessing:
Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.
What a wild book. However, it didn’t seem as wild as it did in the past because I caught so many more of the references having just read the entire Bible.
Revelation ties everything together. So many of the themes and ideas that appear across the Bible come back here. So much of the imagery of both the Old and the New Testament are brought back here again.
There will be a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth will pass away. There will be a new Jerusalem. There will be 12 gates in the new city and the names of the gates will correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel as well as the 12 apostles. There will be no sun because the glory of God will illuminate it.