Day 264 (Sept. 21): Israelites settle in Jerusalem, lists of returning priests and Levites, the returning exiles

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 11-12:26

1 Chronicles 9:1-34

Questions & Observations

Q. Rob, I don’t see anything to comment on.  How about you?

A. Nothing that we have not already covered elsewhere.  Moving on…

Day 262 (Sept. 19): Nehemiah calls for registration of exiles, list of exiled families with a count for each, Israelites settle in their towns, Ezra reads Law of Moses, Nehemiah tells them to celebrate for this sacred day

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 7:4-8:12

Questions & Observations

Q. (Nehemiah 7:65): We have talked about casting lots before as a way of asking God to identify or choose.  Can you explain the process in more detail?

A. We covered this way, way back in March (the 28th to be exact, day 87), but I am happy to reexamine the question.  The two stones: seen here: http://www.bibleandscience.com/store/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=29, would have basically served as the “yes” and “no” for questions that the High Priest asked.  In the Joshua story — as we were looking at when we first addressed the topic — we saw that the priest would basically put the question or names on paper, and then cast the two stones towards the question to determine the answer.  That’s basically all there is to it.  It was one of the responsibilities of the High Priest, but both Christians and Jews have moved away from the practice.

Q. (7:66-73a): At first, I thought 42,000 people in one city is a pretty large number.  (I still can’t imagine cities as big as they were back then.  I always imagine small because of the more physical lifestyle and it was just long ago.)  But, when you consider that this was all of the men (not women, children, servants, etc.?), then it’s not much when they scatter throughout all of Israel.

A. The nation was significantly smaller than the size under David or even Joshua, but keep in mind that’s only the people who returned: there were still people, including Jews, there: the king used them to grow crops on his land.

Q. (8:8): Here they say the Book of God.  It’s the same as Book of Moses or Moses’ Law, right?

A. Yes.  Many Jews would still use that title today.

Day 254 (Sept. 11) God says Temple will surpass former glory, God tells Zechariah to warn Israelites not to repeat sins of ancestors, God chooses Zerubbabel, Angel of the Lord and patrols of the earth bring messages of prosperity, four sinful nations and four overthrowers, Jerusalem will prosper again, exiles called home, God encourages Jeshua the high priest, lampstands and olive trees vision shows nothing can overcome God’s protection, flying scroll contains curse to go over land, vision of flying women carrying basket of sins to Babylonia

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Haggai 2:1-9

Zechariah 1:1-6

Haggai 2:10-19

Ezra 5:2 / 520 BC

Haggai 2:20-23

Zechariah 1:7-5:11

Questions & Observations

Q. (Haggai 2:1-9): Just to clarify, the Temple has not been rebuilt since the exiles returned, right?  We have just heard of the new Temple’s gloriousness through God’s visions to his messengers?

A. They have worked on it some, but no, it is not yet complete.

Q. Can you just tell us, in a nutshell, what the Temple means to God and why rebuilding it should be important to the Israelites?

A. It is the center of their place of worship, and the place where Israel can once again be in the very presence of God.  I would say that is pretty important.

Q. (2:19): Why would God decide to bless them because it doesn’t appear that they are looking toward God?  (I am confused about whether the message about disobedience is being addressed to the returning exiles or their ancestors.)

A. Generally, I would say that the message was “to” the dead exiles, but it is serving as a warning to the present generation.

Q. (2:20-23): Why is God going to “shake the heavens and earth”?  Just all the sinning in these other nations?

A. It is a message of judgment against the nations, yes.  With many of these powerful nations at war with each other (Persia, Greece, etc.), it was a very unstable time, where the size of the armies could make the very ground shake.  That might be what God has in mind.

Q. (Zechariah 1:8): Is there any significance to the colors of the horses?  Any idea what the duties are of the Angel of the Lord?  We have learned that the Angel speaks for God.  Could the Angel of the Lord be any angel or a specific one?

A. The colors (red, brown, and white) would be best understood as war (bloodshed), partial peace (conflict), and peace (white).  It appears for this passage that the Angel is given the task of “gathering” information for God: why that would be necessary for God is unknown to me.  We do not know which Angel is mentioned, so we cannot tell if it is Michael or another angel we have encountered before.

Q. (1:18-2:6): There are four horns, four blacksmiths and four winds.  Significance?

A. The four horns (they are probably metal or artificial horns) are probably Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and Persia: symbolic of the nations that subdued Israel over the last several centuries.  Since there are four of them, they are dealt with by four different smiths, who might be angels of judgment, as we will see in Revelation.

Q. (3:8-9): Who is the Branch?  Why seven facets to the stone?

A. It is a term of the Messiah.  The facets (symbolic of eyes) seem to represent the eyes of the infinite (7 being the number for God’s completeness).  We will see this image of seven eyes used again in Revelation, since Zechariah is an influential book on John the writer.

Q. (5:4): What does it mean to swear falsely?

A. To lie, usually under oath or after swearing that you are telling the truth in God’s name.

Q. (5:5-11): What does this story mean?  Is Babylonia the same as Babylon?

A. It is a summary of the process of the “purging” of the idolatry — personified as a woman named Wickedness — from the land of Israel.  The “woman” was taken from the good land to a land of idolatry (Babylonia — the region rather than the nation of Babylon), and things would not be made right back in Israel until this curse had been purged.

Day 252 (Sept. 9): Exiles who returned to Israel with Zerubbabel, altar is rebuilt, people begin to rebuild temple but face opposition, Zerubbabel’s descendants

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Ezra 2-4:5

1 Chronicles 3:19-24

Questions & Observations

O. If you are curious about who Ezra is, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra

Q. (Ezra 2:1-70): How did all of these exiles know to return?

A. As the first chapter of Ezra noted, the decree from Cyrus went out among his entire empire, so the Jews likely received notice either by messenger or by public posting of the decree.  It appears that the Jews in the story were quite prepared for this event, as they appear to have kept land records and family genealogies that helped them settle claims and redistribute the recovered land.

Q. (3:12): The ones who had seen the old Temple wept when they saw the new Temple because they were reminded of it’s grandeur and felt ashamed for not upholding the law to honor God?

A. Yes, and for all of the anguish the people had been through.  No doubt they were grateful for God’s provision and restoration, but they could not hold back the tears in crying aloud for their former glory.

Q. (4:4-5): Why did the local residents discourage the Judeans from building the Temple?

A. The area that had been the Jewish Promised Land was now controlled by a number of outside forces that centered in the region of Samaria (part of the Northern Kingdom that was destroyed by the Assyrians).  Having a Jewish state with any sort of clout (which the Temple would certainly provide) would be a threat to their rule, so they were opposed to this move.  We will see more about this in Nehemiah, which these same forces would oppose his efforts to rebuild the wall around the city.

Q. (1 Chronicles 3:19b-24): Is there anything in these family lines we need to make note of?

A. Other than them being lines of David’s distant descendants (via Jehoiachin), not really.

Day 251 (Sept. 8): Daniel earns honor among Darius’s court, other members of the court are jealous and form scheme, Daniel thrown in with lions, God closes mouths of lions, Darius has Daniel’s accusers arrested and thrown to lions, Daniel prays to God for mercy on the Israelites, King Cyrus of Persia proclaims for Israel’s exiles to return, Cyrus orders the plunder from Jerusalem be returned with the exiles, Jehoiachin’s descendants

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Daniel 6

Daniel 9

2 Chronicles 36:22-23

Ezra 1:1-11

1 Chronicles 3:17-19

Questions & Observations

Q. (Daniel 6:1-28): We all probably know this story very well and admire Daniel for his loyalty to God.  Some may say that it would be ridiculous to apply this story to today.  If someone were thrown in a lion’s den, would God save him or her, if asked?  Should anyone be crazy enough to go into a lion’s den anyway?  This reminds me of a story in a sermon I heard several months ago where prayer was the subject.  Someone had just arrived in California (I don’t remember all the details) to speak or maybe he was a pastor at this church.  Anyway, he was being driven to his destination and was notified that there were wild fires all around this place he was going.  Instead of rushing off to the place of the fire, he had the driver pull over and he prayed for 20 minutes or so.  The fire burned everything around this building, but spared the building.

A. God may do as He pleases, as we have often discussed.  I sometimes wonder if we do not vastly UNDERESTIMATE the impact of prayer: too often we assume that circumstances are beyond our control (or even beyond God’s control) when we might find our situation different if we would but pray, as is the case in the story you mentioned.  Now having said that, let’s look at the story a bit more closely.

Daniel does NOT pray for God to rescue Him; he simply prays as he always has, and has faith that God will meet his dire need.  Daniel knew he was being punished unjustly, so he counted on God to be his avenger, and God obviously delivers him.

One of the central themes of Daniel is faithfulness through times of persecution, with this story and the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from chapter 3 being the primary examples of this.  It appears that God was sending His people a message (and a message to future generations who would read it): don’t compromise your faith, even when it appears foolish to not do so.  And while most Americans do not face REAL persecution for our beliefs (unlike many parts of the world), the pressure to compromise what we hold most dear is real in our society.  The book of Daniel still has much to teach us, even if we are not at risk to be thrown to hungry lions anytime soon.  Keeping the faith is easy when times are good, but the true test of the power of our faith is what effect it has on us when the chips are down.  To those in difficult times Daniel reminds us: it is always worth it to keep the faith.

Q. (9:1-19): I am surprised that Daniel pleads with God since God said that the land lay fallow for 70 years.  As a follower of God, why would Daniel plead for God to change His heart?  I would think that would be disrespectful.

A. He’s not asking for God to change His mind, he’s asking God to keep His promise to restore His people by confessing on His people’s behalf.

Q. (9:20-27): I’m not really following what’s all going on here.  Can you clarify this passage?  I don’t know what a “set of seven” (didn’t we talk about this with another vision) is?

A. Daniel is being given a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah (the Anointed One) along with the decree from Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem, which will be narrated in Ezra and Nehemiah.  A set of sevens is most likely 7 years.  What that means is that according to verse 26, the Messiah will appear (what “appear” means we don’t exactly know) approximately 483 years after the decree from Cyrus (7×7=49, 62×7= 434, giving a total of 483), though it is possible Gabriel means the actual restoration of the Temple, which will come a few decades later.  In other words, we don’t know exactly HOW to do the “math” on the coming of the Messiah, and obviously Jewish and Christian sources disagree on how it should be interpreted.  You can read about the various interpretations here, but I will warn you, it gets a bit technical, and frankly cumbersome to me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophecy_of_Seventy_Weeks.  A lot of Christians have gotten taken in by many attempts to “force” the math to show that Jesus is “proven” Messiah by these verses, but I am jut not convinced that you can make it “work” without stretching the numbers.  To me, Jesus is proven Messiah by what He does on the cross and His resurrection, not because some vague prophecy says that was coming at a set time.  But I would not stop anyone from looking into the math, I would only warn them that they will need to dig deep.  It is not an easy passage to interpret.

Q. (2 Chronicles 32:22-23): Is this the same Cyrus who was well, ugly?  He just seems to come out of nowhere.

A. I do not know exactly what you’re talking about, but Cyrus II was a major ruler of the Persian Empire who would have been well known to Jews of this era because of his role in restoring the Jews to their land.  We will see that process unfold over the next few weeks.

Q. (1 Chronicles 3:17-19a): I just assumed we were all done reading anything about Jehoiachin.  Do any of his descendants rise to be known?

A. His son Shenazzar might be the person that Ezra mentions as the “treasurer” of the people, but there’s not much here other than that.

Day 244 (Sept. 1): God sends a once-glorious Egypt to it’s grave alongside others destroyed by God’s sword, God charges Ezekiel to be Israel’s watchman, 4,700 captives in Babylon, descendants of Simeon, descendants of Reuben, descendants of Gad

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Ezekiel 32:17-33:20

Jeremiah 52:28-30

Psalm 137

1 Chronicles 4:24-43

1 Chronicles 5:1-17

Questions & Observations

Q. (Ezekiel 32:18): The pit just means the grave?  I get more and more feelings like God is talking about hell.  As a child, I pictured heaven and hell so vividly that I keep looking for references to them.

A. Patience.  Visions of heaven and hell come from the NT, not the Old (a point of contention between Christians and Jews- many Jews do not believe in hell).  Terms like “pit” and “Sheol” refer to the realm of the dead.  Which leads me to…

Q. (32:27a): I have seen tons footnotes that say “Sheol” for grave or pit.  What does that mean?

A. In contrast to the more what we might call “familiar” versions of the afterlife — basically, heaven and hell — Jewish thought at this time would appear to point towards a lack of an afterlife as we would recognize it anyway.  The closest comparison I can give you is that realm of Hades from Greek mythos.  It was the realm of the dead, but it was not a place of punishment.  This goes a long way in examining the way that God has addressed judgment in the OT books we have read: the reward of righteous living at this point is long temporal life, and the punishment is an early death: eternal consequences are not yet coming into play.  But for reasons that are not entirely clear (there’s debate about the origins of afterlife thought in this era for Jews), in the later writings and especially among the Prophets, we see a thread of new awareness and emphasis on the afterlife and resurrection enter into Jewish thinking.  This is an ongoing issue, and it was not even settled by the time of the NT.  We will see this issue come up in the Gospels, for obvious reasons.  So the Jewish understanding of the afterlife at this time is that death is a place of rest where everyone is destined to go, this is what we call Sheol.  But that idea is changing, and will continue to evolve over the next few hundred years.

Q. (33:1-9): Why does God put such heavy responsibilities — burdens — on Ezekiel?

A. Honestly, this isn’t a new burden of Ezekiel.  We saw God put this burden on him back in chapter 3.  His call was to declare God’s word faithfully, and allow the people to decide if they would repent or not.  Now if you are asking why did God make this burden his to begin with, I don’t have a great answer to that.  God calls many people to many different paths, including many that are lined with suffering and difficulty.  But our job is not to decide if we are being treated “fairly,” but instead to decide if we are willing to submit to God’s desires, as we understand them, or not.

O. (33:10-20): This passage comes into play in two different stories, one personal.  My neighbor’s father died a year or so ago.  Her father got married not long before he died.  In fact, I think it was a known fact that he didn’t have long to live.  His new wife was a “black widow.”  She didn’t kill him, but my neighbor’s dad isn’t the first of her victims.  She finds men who are terminally ill and has them sign over wills, life insurance policies, etc. to them before they die.  My neighbor said that she hopes she will get what’s coming to her, but maybe it won’t be on earth. She said her stepmother has angels all over her house.  Whether she things she is holy or the angels will protect her.  It appears she lives in fear.  I can only pray that the smiling angelic statues may prompt her to seek a more peaceful life with the Lord.

My other story is from a little over a year ago.  We moved and I sold a really nice swingset to my good friend for about one-third of what it cost us.  My husband was in the process of staining it and cleaning it up.  There was a black growth, like mildew, on the rungs and slides.  I told her that we would work on it and it would look a lot better.  Well, if you have ever moved, you know how everything happens in the last 48 hours.  We didn’t get the swing set the way I thought it should be — not to mention it was going to an very upscale neighborhood — the playset movers came and it left with black-marked rungs and a slide and a little staining that was not finished.  I felt bad and told her I would try to get over there to finish cleaning it.  That didn’t happen, so we paid the playset movers to finish staining it (they did this for a living).  Needless to say, according to my friend, they didn’t do a good job and she wasn’t happy with them.  But, I’m sure she was upset with me to because it wasn’t how I promised it.  My husband said that I shouldn’t worry about it.  It’s a used set and she got a good deal.  So, I used that rationale to try to get rid of the guilt I had.  It momentarily worked, painting over the shame.  But, I figured out it was just a fog that settled.  Now that God has blessed my husband with more work, I want to take that money and start looking on Craig’s List for some furniture that we “need” and a used swingset.  But, then, I read this and think that I still owe my friend an apology — which I’ve done in writing — in the form of cash.  I won’t feel right until that happens.  As long as I have shame in my heart, that feels like sin and it doesn’t feel good.  I refer to this scripture because it says that if righteous people do what’s wrong, they will die.  I don’t think I’ll die from this, but it would be a sin to buy something for myself when I have not righted my friend.

Q. (1 Chronicles 4:24-43, 5:1-10): Anything we should take note of in these genealogical lists?  Why is Simeon listed first?

A. There is nothing particularly important as I read it.  Chronicles puts an emphasis on the tribe of Judah as its leader, and tells the history of Israel from their perspective (being the tribe of the kings).  Technically, we’ve already read that Judah is “first” in this listing — we read their lineage several months ago, but the exact date escapes me.  Simeon (the second of Jacob’s sons, Reuben was first, Judah third) is listed “first” in this section because his tribe settled within Judah’s land as part of their inheritance, and as such, the tribes apparently became fairly intertwined such that it became difficult to tell one’s story without the other.  After listing the group that was “closest” with Judah, the Chronicler moves back into birth order with Reuben.

Day 243 (Aug. 31): God revives valley of skeletons and tells them to return to Israel, God tells of Israel and Judah joined again, God mobilizes Gog to attack the flourishing, “confident” Israel, God will protect this wall-less city, Gog to be helpless before God, Israel gets cleansed, Ezekiel prophesies the fall of Pharaoh

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Ezekiel 37-39

Ezekiel 32:1-16

Questions & Observations

Q. (Ezekiel 37:1-14): What an amazing scene.  This is something that we have not seen at all.  Did he really do this or is this something that Ezekiel is supposed to tell the living exiles?

A. Ezekiel is receiving a vision of resurrection, but it is an important image that will become a reference point for both Jews and Christians about God’s vision for an afterlife.  God is speaking here of restoring the dead, which foreshadows the action of the gospels.

Q. (37:15-28): Why is uniting Israel and Judah important?

A. God’s desire for Israel/Judah was that they be one. He had no desire to split the Kingdoms, so part of restoring Israel is “reuniting” His people.

Q. (38:2): Gog had not been friendly to Israel? This is the first that I have heard of him … I think.  Why was God mad at Gog?

A. It is difficult to say.  These chapters appear to point to a massive confrontation between God’s restored kingdom of Israel and a great army of the nations, led by a king or ruler named Gog.  We don’t really know much about this ruler, and it is very possible that God left it intentionally vague in this vision for Ezekiel, pointing to some shadowy enemy as yet unrevealed.  There are references to Genesis 10 here, with Magog (which probably means ‘land of Gog’) being listed as part of the lineage of one of Noah’s sons, Japheth (Abraham and his descendants coming from the line of one of Noah’s other sons- Shem).  According to my notes there had been a long period of hostility, which apparently is not recorded in scripture, between Israel and other tribes from the lineage described above (other Semitic people, in other words), so it is probably not a surprise that the “great enemy” of Israel would be a ruler from this lineage.  Ultimately, these verses are shrouded in mystery, but you will note in December that the writer of Revelation pulls from these verses in casting a vision for the final confrontation between good and evil.

O. (39:12): Remember that “7” represents completeness and fulfillment, traced back to the seven days of creation.  For more symbolic numbers to take not of, see Day 3 of our readings.

Q. (39:17-20): I hope this wasn’t a real feast.  I hope it’s just a metaphor.

A. It is a vision of the great defeat and humiliation of these enemy people, and not a “real” event.

Q. (39:27-29): This reminds me of God’s promise in the rainbow.  He never again flooded the earth.  So, in this instance, we know that God will never cause such devastation and abandonment as he did here.  He says he will “pour out my Spirit upon the people of Israel.”  Sounds comforting!

A. Israel’s tribulation is done, and God is beginning the process of restoring her, for it is through Israel that God will restore all humanity to right relationship with Himself via Christ.  The role of the Spirit in that process will be more clearly defined in Acts.