Through the Old Testament prophets, God spoke to His people; in the Psalms, God's people responded to God as He acted in their lives. One emphasizes God's message to His people; the other focuses on their response to God.
This study is designed to help you consistently spend time in God’s Word. You will gain more from this study if you do it day by day, answering just that day’s questions, rather than trying to stuff it all in at once. Each week’s lesson is divided into five days of homework to encourage you to listen daily to His voice. The Bible is God’s message to you, and He wants to speak with you personally.
This study is designed to help you consistently spend time in God’s Word. You will gain more from this study if you do it day by day, answering just that day’s questions, rather than trying to stuff it all in at once. Each week’s lesson is divided into five days of homework to encourage you to listen daily to His voice. The Bible is God’s message to you, and He wants to speak with you personally.
This study is designed to help you consistently spend time in God’s Word. You will gain more from this study if you do it day by day, answering just that day’s questions, rather than trying to stuff it all in at once. Each week’s lesson is divided into five days of homework to encourage you to listen daily to His voice. The Bible is God’s message to you, and He wants to speak with you personally.
Unless instructed otherwise, use only the Scriptures to answer the questions. Rather than go to commentaries or notes in a study Bible, enjoy the excitement of letting God speak to you from His word. When we need help in interpretation because of a difficult passage or because of cultural information, I will include it in the lesson. Trust God to help you answer the questions.
Although paraphrases are often easier to understand, it is best to study with a literal translation. Paraphrases are someone else’s interpretation, not the actual words. The NET Bible, the New King James, the New American Standard, or the New International are good choices.
A Precious Word from God—Each week you will have a verse to memorize that brings out an essential lesson or thought from the week’s study. Begin learning it the first day, hiding God’s Word in your heart.
Personal Stories—-Each lesson includes a true story that relates the truths of the week’s lesson to a woman’s real life experience. Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty! These stories will encourage you in your walk with God and your growth in godliness.
Sharing questions are designed for you to write stories, insights, and applications from your own life. You will never be forced to share one of these answers aloud with your group, but growing in community with one another requires us to be open and vulnerable, so volunteer to share.
Responding to God questions are reminders that we study God’s Word so that He can speak to us and we are changed thereby. We should be listening for His voice. These types of questions ask for a response to God’s personal message to you. I have found that writing out my prayers helps me to focus better on what I need to say to God. No one will ask you to read yours, but you should always feel free to share your response with your group.
Diamonds in the Word are optional questions designed for those who want to dig deeper. Some of the answers will be easy for even a beginning Bible student, and some will require more experience in God’s Word. As a group you will not discuss these, but the background that you gain will certainly enrich your personal study. Feel free to discuss these with your leader.
I would be thrilled if you decide to use one of my studies! They were written just for women, with their needs and concerns in mind in order to maximize their spiritual growth. In order to make the most of these studies, it is necessary to follow the format in the following order: 1. Personal study should always precede discussion.
2. Weekly small group discussion should precede any lectures.
3. Lectures should be the final thing you do, and they are optional.
“You are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment”
Jonah, speaking of God in Jonah 4:2 b (NET)
How familiar are you with anchors? Maybe you have no experience with boats at all. I have spent some time in boats, but not a lot, and I was never the pilot! However, I grew up near the Texas Gulf coast and spent many hours there through the years with my friends, just floating on the waves in inner tubes or on floats. We would paddle out past the breakers and float back until we got caught in them; then, we would push back out and start over. The problem was that eventually we found ourselves far from “home”, being the area of beach where we began and where all our stuff was! I remember one day a storm came upon us, pushing us far away from home, even more quickly and violently than ever. It was a bit scary!
In time the ocean inevitably carries all that is on it away. The only way to prevent floating away from “home” is to be attached to the ocean floor by an anchor of some kind; otherwise, whatever is on the water drifts away.
Our study deals with anchoring our souls so that we don’t drift away from God—either slowly, by simply letting life carry us with it, or quickly, because of a storm that builds up around us.
Each week we will look at a portion of one of the books of the Minor Prophets and pair it with one Psalm that deals with a thought in the prophet’s message. Through the Old Testament prophets, God spoke to His people; in the Psalms, God’s people responded to God as He acted in their lives. One emphasizes God’s message to His people; the other focuses on their response to God. We begin with the book of Jonah and then will move chronologically to the end of the Old Testament period.
The Bible gives us one big story, made up of many smaller stories. Because people rebelled against God, who made them and loved them, all of creation has experienced upheaval. It doesn’t take much to see the hatred, broken relationships, and strife that have been spawned because we all choose to align ourselves with something other than the Creator. Yet, in the midst of it all, God is working to heal our lives and our relationships by placing us in alignment with His great purposes. He is constantly seeking our best and our good, but we generally go our own way and reject His call to us.
If we read the entire story in the Bible, we would see that long before Jesus came, God reached out to Abraham and his descendants, known as the children of Israel or the Jews. They were to be God’s agents to the world, and He planned to bring His ultimate agent of restoration, Jesus, through them. God blessed them with special revelation so that they could know and worship Him and learn to have right relationships with one another. Despite this, they rebelled against God over and over again, unwilling to follow Him by aligning their lives with His plans for their best; nevertheless, God’s love is persistent, and He continued to reach out to them, often speaking through the Old Testament prophets.
Eventually Jesus came to earth, as both God and man, and showed us how to heal our brokenness with God and with one another. He revealed God’s desire that we ally our lives with His and, thus, be restored to His original intention.
The book of Jonah takes us back to the middle of that story, before the days of Jesus. Because of their determination to go their own way rather than God’s way, the nation of Israel itself was divided into two countries: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
The prophet Jonah lived during the time of this divided kingdom. His may be the earliest of the books of prophecy that we will study. He prophesied during the reign of King Jeroboam II, who ruled from 793-753 B.C.1
The book of Jonah is a book about God’s mercy. Jonah is very different from the other books of prophecy that we will consider. It reads as a biography, which tells the story of Jonah, a prophet from Israel, the northern kingdom.
There has been much controversy about the book’s historicity. Many scholars who filter the Bible through their own reason insist that these events are impossible. Others insist upon a literal meaning, partly in response to those who criticize it on the basis of human reason. Dr. Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. of Dallas Seminary comments:
Unlike the exodus and the resurrection of Jesus, the historicity of the Book of Jonah is not foundational to redemptive history and the biblical faith. Unfortunately, the debate over the book’s historicity has often distracted interpreters from focusing on its theological message, which is not affected by how one understands the book’s literary genre. Whether the book is labeled historical narrative, legend, parable, or something akin to a historical novella, its themes seem apparent.2
In other words, we should focus on the message rather than the method of bringing that message. Jesus used stories to teach, and perhaps that is what Jonah did. We believe that God is perfectly capable of bringing these events to pass, and I read it that way. However, if we focus on the debate, we may miss the message that God has given us in this book, which is His very word.
Today you will read through the book of Jonah. Try to read it all at once rather than in smaller chunks. Although it is four chapters long, there are only 48 verses, less than one chapter in many other books of the Bible. So don’t let the chapter numbers scare you! Read it as Jonah’s story, which is exactly what I believe that it is.
1. Read the book of Jonah and record your thoughts, feelings, and first impressions below.
2. A good journalist includes the answers to the “who, what, where, when, and why” questions to cover a story well. Either summarize Jonah’s story by answering those questions, or write a short “newspaper article,” telling the story.
We certainly see here the truth that the Bible does not paint a picture of perfect people!
Diamonds in the Word: Make a book chart of Jonah. Instead of giving you an optional assignment each day, I will just give you a weekly assignment if it is a book chart. Just work on it a bit each day. I have found that my charts are more insightful if I work on them for several days rather than all at once. There is something about coming back to the text several times that allows God’s Spirit to give me fresh insights.
3. Write down your insights into Jonah’s character from his words and actions in the book.
4. Sharing question: Have you ever tried to run away from God? You may not have fled literally, but you ran nevertheless. You may have avoided church or your friends who followed Jesus. You may have quit praying or reading the Bible. Share what you did and what happened to bring you back to God with your small group.
5. Responding to God: Write a prayer or a poem of praise to the God who rules the seas.
Reread Jonah 1:1-2:10.
6. Jonah’s actions (1:3, 10) suggest a misunderstanding of God’s character and power; yet, his words to the sailors (1:9, 12) suggest that he really knew better. Compare his words and his actions with Psalm 139:7-12. Write down your insights.
7. Sharing question: Share about a time when you acted in accordance with some misunderstanding of God’s character. Maybe you misunderstood who God was, His feelings toward you, or how He would respond to you.
8. Sharing question: What comfort does Psalm 139:7-12 give you today? Write down your thoughts to share with your group.
9. How would you have felt in you were one of the sailors in the ship with Jonah? What could they have learned about the God of Israel from what happened? (LORD in all caps stands for the name YHWH, the God of Israel.)
10. Sharing question: What one truth about God did you learn or apply in a hard time? Share the truth and the situation with your group.
11. Responding to God: If you feel far from God today, write a prayer or poem or draw a picture reflecting how you feel. Express your desire to move closer to Him in the midst of hard situations. If you feel close to Him now, thank Him for His loving mercies.
Read Jonah 3:1-10.
12. Describe the reaction of the people of Nineveh to God’s message. What was the key to their avoiding judgment?
13. What does this chapter reveal about the character of God and His purposes in sending prophets to speak of coming judgment?
14. Jonah responded differently this time when God told him to go to Nineveh. How does Hebrews 12:5-13 relate to Jonah’s story?
15. How do you see God as an anchor for Jonah’s soul?
16. Sharing question: How do Heb. 12:5-13, which you read above, and the story of Jonah encourage you as you follow Jesus today?
17. Responding to God: Spend some time quietly before God, asking Him to show you any areas where He, as a good Father, is bringing discipline into your life because you are running away from what is truly best for you. Write down your response to Him.
Read Jonah 4:1-11.
18. Compare 2 Peter 3:8-9 with what you learn about God’s judgment and mercy in Jonah.
19. Contrast God’s heart for the people of Nineveh with Jonah’s heart.
This week’s memory verse, our Words to Anchor Your Soul, is taken from this chapter. Knowing God’s character can truly be your anchor when times of crisis develop.
I find memorizing verses difficult and growing more difficult as I get older. You may want to cut out the card with this week’s verse and carry it with you this week. Then, place it in a file of all the verses in this study. As you learn a new one, go back and review all of those that precede it at least once a week. By the end of this study, you will know all of them.
20. God gave Jonah an object lesson with the small shade plant. Explain the lesson.
Justice sometimes demands severe consequences. I think of those who mistreated others in the Nazi concentration camps; we would all agree that justice required serious punishment. Our inner sense of justice leads us to cheer when the bad guys get their due and the good guys win.
God is both just and merciful, and those truths are anchors for our souls. There are times when we see His mercy emphasized, and there are other times when His justice is at the forefront. As we study these selections in the prophets, we will see both His justice and His mercy and will continue considering them in the coming weeks, as they are themes in the prophets.
20. Sharing question:Some of us tend more toward justice and some toward mercy. I think we balance one another out if we are willing to listen. Which tends to be your fallback concern? Why?
21. Sharing question: Is there a group of people or one person that you would not desire to receive God’s mercy? Who and why?
22. Responding to God: Talk to God about His mercy and His justice. Pray to be like Him, being both just and merciful with your children, with your employees, with your neighbors, and others. Thank Him that knowing that He is merciful and just will be an anchor for your soul. Write your prayer or poem below.
Today we will look at a selection from the psalms and read a story that relates to this lesson.
Understanding Hebrew Poetry: The psalms, and much of the prophets, are written in Hebrew poetry, which is very different from the poetry that we write and read in English. The primary poetic form is found in the relationship of the lines to one another, and not in rhythm or rhyme.
“Although Hebrew poetry contains some rhythm, it primarily makes use of repetition and recapitulation. One line of a verse is followed by another that gives a variation of the same idea. . . The first line makes a statement that the second line sharpens or heightens.”3
In order to understand it, realize that there is much figurative language. The psalmist intends us to understand his message through the rich symbolism and the relationship between the lines of poetry; however, parts of it are literal, as in our poetry. The way the psalmist speaks his message is simply a different method of speaking than you would find in a narrative or a letter, but his message is there to be understood. As we go through particular psalms and prophets, we will look at some features that relate to that particular passage.
We have already read some poetry in Jonah 2:2-9. Jonah wrote his prayer in poetry. Perhaps it is a poetic rendition of the words that he actually said. This poem represents his heart before God. Spend a couple of minutes rereading those verses. Notice what a great visual picture Jonah paints through his poetry.
24. What speaks to you from this poetic section? What pictures catch your attention?
Now we are going to look at a psalm written by David that emphasizes one thought from our study this week. Although both Jonah and David refused to align themselves with God’s best for their lives, at least in these instances, He granted mercy. This psalm is one of confession. It is important that we confess our sins. When we experience broken relationships with others, confession and forgiveness are needed in order to restore those relationships. The same is true of our relationship with God.
25. Copy 1 John 1:9 below and express your feelings about its promise.
Read Psalm 51, which David wrote after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband.
23. What principles do you learn from David about confession? Write down your thoughts.
24. On what did David base his prayer for forgiveness? Which characteristics of God did he recognize? (Consider particularly v. 1, 4, 7, 17.)
25. Sharing question:Share with your group the one line of this psalm that is most meaningful to you, and give your reasons for choosing it.
26. Responding to God: Pray through this psalm, expressing confession for a sin in your life.
Jan shares her story of not wanting to follow God’s call. Hers may have been closer to reluctance than rebellion; however, our reluctance becomes rebellion when we continue to refuse God’s leading. Thankfully, Jan did not refuse!
Years ago while I was living in New York, my pastor called me into his office, along with his assistant pastor. He said that the Bible teacher at the Presbyterian Old People’s Home on Long Island was moving away and they needed someone to take her place. Both of them had prayed and God told them I was to be the new teacher. I said that was impossible because I was just learning the Bible, I didn’t have the gift of teaching and I’d never been around old people as all of my grandparents had died while I was a baby. They told me to go home and pray about it for a week before giving them my answer. I went home and once again fell to my knees sobbing to God about this impossible situation and as I was praying, God changed my heart and gave me a desire to teach this class.
Our four children were all in grammar school, so I drove out there for my first class and told them that I felt like Moses when God told him to lead His people out of Egypt. I told them that I was just learning myself and would have to use the Living Bible. One of the women raised her hand and said that was fine with them. She said that I had a loud, clear voice and that’s what was most important to them. Every Friday, God kept my children healthy for the next three years while I taught. Then my husband was transferred to Houston and on my final day, they gave me a farewell party. Once again I cried all the way home because I would miss all of these grandparents whom God had given to me.
1 Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 406.
2 Chisholm, 408.
3 Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, H. Wayne House eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 647.
“I will commit myself to you forever; I will commit myself to you in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and tender compassion. I will commit myself to you in faithfulness.”
God to Israel in Hosea 2:19-20 (NET)
I am sure that we all know couples whose marriages have been destroyed by adultery. Some of you may be victims of your husband’s adultery or guilty of it yourself. From experience and/or observation we all know how damaging infidelity is to a relationship.
So it was between God and His people, Israel. They were unfaithful as God’s “marriage partner.” They had taken vows to be exclusively related to Him as their God, just as those in marriage do; however, they turned away and worshipped other gods, creating a gulf between themselves and the God who created and loved them. They refused to follow God’s best, and so they had to deal with the consequences.
Sadly, we cannot study the entire book of Hosea because of its length; we can cover only the first three chapters. These are the chapters that I see as most significant in anchoring our souls because they give us insight into the heart of God. So often all we see in the prophets is God’s judgment, but there is more there if we study carefully. As we saw in the first lesson, our relationships with God are broken, and He is broken-hearted about it. The story of the Bible is that of God moving us back into right alignment with Him; that restoration then spreads to our relationships with others and all of creation.
The prophetic ministry of Hosea is dated according to the first verse of the book. The reigns of the listed kings extended from 792 B.C. until 686 B.C. 4 Hosea’s ministry probably began sometime after the first date and ended before the last king died. Both he and Jonah’s prophecies date sometime during the 8th century B.C., but Hosea’s seemed to have extended later.5 Jonah was from the northern kingdom while Hosea lived in the southern kingdom, called Judah.
James Montgomery Boice refers to the book of Hosea as the “second greatest story in the Bible” after that of Jesus.6 Consider that as you read.
Read Hosea 1-3. Try to use a modern translation (NET, NIV, NASB, NKJV), but not a paraphrase (New Living Bible is an example of a paraphrase) unless you are just completely lost! To help you better grasp the story, keep in mind that “chapters 1 and 3 describe Hosea’s dealings with Gomer, which serve as an object lesson of God’s love for Israel (chapter 2).”7
1. Summarize the story of Hosea and his wife.
Diamonds in the Word:Read the entire book of Hosea and make a book chart or simply list the themes of the chapters. Use up to four days on this assignment. I will not give you another optional assignment until Day Five.
Different translations use different words for the term God uses to describe Gomer in 1:2. The NASB translates it “harlotry”; the NIV reads “adulterous”; and the NET Bible uses the word “prostitute”. The note in the NET Bible is helpful: “The phrase ‘wife of harlotries’ probably refers to a prostitute, possibly a temple prostitute serving at a Baal temple.”8 James Montgomery Boice feels that the term refers only to what Gomer became, not what she was when Hosea first married her.9 Robert Chisholm suggests that either could be true: she may have already been a prostitute or she may have later become unfaithful. “Gomer’s subsequent unfaithfulness, no matter what her status at the time of the marriage, was enough to satisfy the intended symbolism.”10
2. God gave Hosea symbolic names for his children as prophecies for the children of Israel (Hosea 1:4-9). What would happen to Israel according to the prophecies behind the names?
3. Contrast the prophecies in 1:4-9 with the promises of 1:10-2:1.
4. What are your feelings toward the situation into which God led Hosea? How would you have felt if you had been in Hosea’s place?
Dr. Boice comments on God’s leading Hosea into an adulterous marriage:
God does sometimes lead his children into situations that are parallel if not identical to this. We live in an age where everything good is interpreted in terms of happiness and success. So when we think of spiritual blessing we think of it in these terms. To be led of God and be blessed by God means that we will be ‘happy’ and ‘successful.’ . . . This is shallow thinking and shallow Christianity . . . . God sometimes leads his children to do things that afterward involve them in great distress. But because God does not think as we think or act as we act, it is often in these situations that he accomplishes his greatest victories and brings the greatest blessing to his name.
5. What do Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 teach us about some of God’s possible purposes for us in hard situations? (Each situation is different and there are other purposes in trials.)
6. Sharing question: Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt that God led you into a situation, and yet, when you got there, it was difficult and hard? Maybe a job situation brought great distress. Perhaps a relationship, which seemed to be ordained by God, went sour and hurt desperately. Can you look back and see a blessing? Share what happened with your small group.
7. Responding to God: Write a prayer thanking God for a difficult place that he has you right now and asking Him to bring blessing in it.
As we look at Hosea 2 in more detail today, remember that Hosea’s marriage was a picture of God’s relationship with Israel. In this chapter, the emphasis is on God and Israel.
Read Hosea 2:2-13. You may want to begin reading at Hosea 1:10 so that you see that 2:2 is dealing with Israel, pictured as the mother of the children of the previous verses. Sometimes chapter divisions confuse us!
8. What are God’s charges against Israel, the mother (v. 2, 5, 8, 13)?
9. What would be the consequences if the nation refused to change its behavior (v. 3, 4, 6, 7, 9-13)? What was God’s purpose in bringing these consequences (v. 7)?
10. Go back through these verses looking at God’s feelings as the “husband.” Write down your insights and how this helps you understand God’s judgments.
Read Hosea 2:14-23.
11. Contrast 2:14-23 with 2:2-13.
This week’s memory verse is from this passage. Although the words are specifically written to Israel, they do express God’s love for you, also. Spend time memorizing them.
12. Sharing question: You are not part of the nation of Israel, but you have made similar choices by being unfaithful to God as you worship the idols in your heart: money, appearance, entertainment, children, success, pleasing people, possessions, etc. How are the two contrasts in 1:4-2:1 and 2:2-23 encouraging to you personally as you think of God’s heart for the church and His children? Or if you are a mother, how do they encourage you concerning your children?
13. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem that expresses your thanks for God’s encouragement.
Read Hosea 3.
14. What did God tell Hosea to do?
It is likely that Hosea and Gomer had divorced at this point of the story because Hosea had to buy her.11
15. How did Hosea’s actions picture God’s relationship to Israel?
16. Parallel Colossians 1:13-14 with what Hosea did for Gomer.
17. Sharing question: Summarize your story of Jesus redeeming you from the life that you led apart from Him. If you have not turned away from your other “lovers” to Him, will you choose to align your life with His, trusting that He will forgive you as Hosea did Gomer?
18. Responding to God: Picture yourself in Gomer’s place because of your choices to align yourself with other lovers rather than with God. Spend the rest of your time today meditating upon the significance of Jesus coming to that place to redeem you. Write your thoughts below.
What great love God has for us! Today we will look at true love, not the chick flick or romance novel variety, but the kind of love that God gives us, pictured in the story of Hosea and Gomer.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a.
19. Compare this definition of love with the Words to Anchor your Soul for this week (Hosea 2:19-20). What strikes you about true love?
20. Sharing question: What actions are most difficult for you when you need to love someone who is unlovable?
21. Sharing question: Choose one particular aspect of love that means most to you as you consider how God loves you. Why is it most meaningful?
22. Responding to God: Write a poem or prayer to God, expressing how much His love for you means.
Today we will look at Psalm 103. As surely as Hosea took Gomer back into his home and forgave and forgot her sins against him, so our God is ready to bring us back into relationship with Him and forgive and forget.
Read Psalm 103.
Diamonds in the Word:Find some of the parallels used by Hebrew poets. One line may restate the same idea as the line before it, or it may extend the thought beyond the first line. Write down the added insights this gives you into the message of the psalm.
23. Which of God’s “benefits” (NASB; NIV) or “kind deeds” (NET) does the psalmist instruct us not to forget?
24. Sharing question: Which of God’s character qualities praised by the psalmist causes you to praise Him today? Why?
25. How does this psalm help you understand how God can love you unconditionally?
26. What does God do with the sins of those who fear Him?
To fear God means that we come before Him in awe and reverence for His power and His holiness. We understand that He alone is God while we are merely created beings who act in much the same way as two-year-old toddlers who want what they want! To fear Him means that we anchor our lives in His life.
George Bowen says this about the fear of God: “The fear of God is that deference to God which leads you to subordinate your will to His; makes you intent on pleasing Him; penitent in view of past willfulness; happy in His present smile; transported by His love; hopeful of His glory.”12
The prophets and psalms were written many centuries ago. After they were written, God continued to unfold His revelation to mankind, but His greatest revelation came in Jesus.
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NET) says, “After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Those who fear God in light of His final revelation recognize that they can do nothing to earn the forgiveness found in Jesus’ cleansing death for them; that death and resurrection brought healing of our brokenness and the possibility of anchoring our lives in God and realigning ourselves with His purposes for us and the world.
If you are far from God, choosing to anchor your life in other things, He is calling you to turn around. Jesus is there to take your sins as far as the east is from the west and to heal your broken relationship with the God who loves you.
27. Responding to God: Draw a picture today (sticks are great), aligning yourself under Jesus, or draw Him as your anchor. Instead, you may draw a picture of your life in the slave market where Jesus rescued you by redeeming you. Write a prayer of response to what you draw.
The need to be loved has been a central theme in my life. When I went away to college, I began to wonder, “Who will love me here?” My family had loved me when I was with them, but I was in Virginia and they were back in Houston. That first year of college I met some nice girls who had very different standards from the ones my parents had taught me. For the first time, I felt challenged as I considered the choices I would make. I knew what my parents would tell me to do, but that was no longer good enough. I needed to decide for myself. That first year I sampled some of what the world had to offer and I was miserable.
One night while I was home on spring break, my younger sister Anne told me what a difference knowing Jesus Christ had made in her life. The difference was apparent, too. She had calm confidence and strength of character that was attractive. Over the summer I read some literature she gave me. As I read, I began to feel that before I could come to God I needed to clean up my life. As I kept reading, I realized that the only way I could be clean enough was to let Him clean me up. I could never do a good enough job on my own. I went back to college the fall of my sophomore year, broke up with my boyfriend and quit hanging out with those girls. One day I noticed a notice on our dorm bulletin board about a weekly Bible study being held on campus. “Anne would go to that,” I thought to myself, feeling close to her. “I’ll go.”
There I met Evelyn Saunders, who along with her husband had been a missionary in India for many years. The pages of her Bible were worn and the margins were full of her hand-written notes. That particular night we read from Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus said “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden.” How that verse described me! I was worn out from searching for love and not finding it. He went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That night I said “Yes” to Jesus’ invitation to come to Him.
That was many years ago, but this verse has become a picture of my life. Being yoked with Jesus. Walking with Him. He satisfied my search for love by giving me His unfailing love. He satisfied my need for guidance in life by giving me a manual, His Word, so I would know how to make choices in life. When I try to take the leadership away from Him, as I often do, He reminds me that He knows the way and wants to lead me in it.
In 1976 I had been married three years to the "perfect" man who had an exciting career with a substantial salary; we had a "perfect" one-year-old baby; we lived in our "perfect" first home in the "right" neighborhood; and we had family and friends close by. What a charmed life I was living! I had all the "stuff." Why then did I sit at my kitchen table and ask myself what was missing? I felt imperfect with a void, an emptiness, and a loss of connection to anything meaningful. I believed there had to be more to my life.
A few days later I was invited to a seminar, "Inherit a Blessing." I attended but felt my mind and thoughts clouded by my confusion. I don't even remember what was said until the end when an invitation to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior was offered. And only God knows why I made the effort to accept Him! Days later as I shared this with a friend, she told me she had been praying for me. This earthly friend loved me enough to know I needed a Heavenly Father, full of unconditional love, who would be my contentment and joy for life. One by one, friends invited us to church, Bible studies, and fellowship groups. My life began to have a meaning and purpose.
4 Chisholm, 336.
6 James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, 2 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 13.
7 Chisholm, 336.
8 Note #11 in NET Bible: New English Translation (Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 2003), 1557.
9 Boice, 17.
10 Chisholm, 337.
11 Chisholm, 346.
12 Quoted in Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Spurgeon’s Classic Word on the Psalms Abridged in One Volume, Abridged by David O. Fuller (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976), 428.
“Justice must flow like water,
right actions like a stream that never dries up.”
Amos 5:24 (NET)
As I write this in June of 2006, the apparent designer of the 9-11 attacks is still at large, outside of the reach of justice. When dealing with such clear evil, most people call for justice. We know that Osama Ben Laden deserves punishment for his crimes. It is easy to agree on the need for justice when a dictator has taken advantage of his power. I remember watching the television coverage of the Iraqi people pulling down the statue of their former dictator Saddam Hussein; it was a visual representation of the need to see him come to justice for the crimes he committed against his people.
We have seen that God tempers justice with mercy and that He calls us to do the same. Through the prophet Amos, God reminded His people of the need to provide justice to one another. Justice is a hallmark of the character of God; as His representatives on earth, we should be about dispensing justice in our lives and in our land as well.
Again, the book is too long to study it all in a week. We will look at selected parts of the book as we go through it.
Although Amos was from Judah, he preached in the northern kingdom of Israel during the days of the divided kingdom, about 750 B.C. or so. Approximately thirty years later, in 722 B.C., the northern kingdom would fall and the people would be taken captive into Assyria. As we saw in our last two lessons, God loves even His disloyal people enough to warn them about coming punishment. We will see in the message of Amos that they deserved the justice that He was bringing.
James Montgomery Boice says this about Amos: “The Book of Amos is one of the most readable, relevant, and moving portions of the Word of God. But in much of church history (until very recent times) little or no attention has been paid to it. Why? It is because the book speaks powerfully against social injustices and religious formalism . . . .”13
It was apparently a time of prosperity in the northern kingdom, which allowed the rich to treat the poor callously. It seems to parallel the situation in the United States here at the beginning of the 21st century.
Read Amos 1:1-2:16.
Diamonds in the Word:If you want to develop a book chart, you can spend your time this week on that. I will give you daily assignments in case you prefer another type of research. Today, study in your commentaries or Bible encyclopedias for information about the times of Amos in Israel. Use the list of kings in Amos 1:1 to do your research, or use a commentary to read about the background of the book of Amos. Leave the rest of the commentary on the book itself until you have completed the week’s study.
1. What do you learn about the prophet Amos from 1:1 and 7:10-17? Use a map in the back of your Bible or a Bible atlas to identify his home in Judah.
Dr. Boice finds the order of the oracles here significant:
Chapters 1 and 2 contain eight oracles: one against each of the six nations that surrounded Judah and Israel . . . and one each against Judah and Israel themselves. These are not a random collection. The list is carefully constructed so that the judgment net slowly and inexorably closes around the very people to whom Amos was speaking.14
The NET Bible explains the wording of these oracles:
The three . . . four style introduces each of the judgment oracles of chaps. 1-2. Based on the use of a similar formula in wisdom literature (see Prov. 30:18-19, 29-31), one expects to find in each case a list of four specific violations. However, only in the eighth oracle (against Israel) does one find the expected fourfold list. Through this adaptation and alteration of the normal pattern the LORD indicates that his focus is Israel (he is too bent on judging Israel to dwell very long on her neighbors) and he emphasizes Israel’s guilt with respect to the other nations. (Israel’s list fills up before the others’ lists do.)15
2. Responding to God: Do you ever focus on another person’s relationship with God instead of listening for what God is saying to you? Maybe you listen to a sermon and think about how he/she should be there. Write a prayer of confession to God and ask Him to convict you when you begin to focus on the sins of others rather than your own.
3. What countries did God warn about coming judgment? (You may want to look at a Bible map or Bible atlas to locate each one.) What was the major charge against each?
4. What can one learn about God from both the judgments and the fact that God warned them in advance?
5. Sharing Question: Maybe God has tried to warn you of the consequences of your actions. Perhaps He used the Scriptures or another person to do so. If that has happened to you, share the story with your group. Into what area of your life is God trying to speak right now?
6. Responding to God: Spend some time before God. Thank Him that He loves you enough to show you where you are wrong. Ask Him to make you more sensitive to His voice and more eager to hear! Write down your thoughts.
Read Amos 3:1-8.
7. How does Amos 3:1 relate to the cause and effect questions that follow it in these verses? In other words, why would Amos put these questions here? (This does require you to think and there is no right answer!) Also, consider the order of the situations used in the questions. Do you have any insights into the prophet’s choice of order?
Read Amos 3:9--4:3. (If you have any problem understanding these prophecies, go to the NET Bible at bible.org and read that translation.)
FYI—Samaria (v.9) was the capital of the northern kingdom, and the term sometimes refers to the entire nation.
In case you were wondering about the “cows” in 4:1, the NET Bible may help:
The expression you ‘cows of Bashan’ is used by the prophet to address the wealthy women of Samaria, who demand that their husbands satisfy their cravings. The derogatory language perhaps suggests that they, like the livestock of Bashan, were well fed, ironically in preparation for the coming slaughter.16
The significance of the “horns of the altar” is also explained by the NET Bible: “Fugitives could seek asylum by grabbing hold of these corners . . . . When the altar’s horns were cut off, there would be no place of asylum left for the LORD’s enemies.”17
8. What examples of injustice in the actions of God’s people do you see in these verses?
Read Amos 4:4-13.
The NET Bible says:
Bethel and Gilgal were important formal worship centers because of their importance in Israel’s history. Here the Lord ironically urges the people to visit these places so they can increase their sins against him. Their formal worship, because it was not accompanied by social justice, only made them guiltier in God’s sight by adding hypocrisy to their list of sins.18
9. How had God been trying to get the attention of His people? How had they responded?
10. Compare Jeremiah 2:29-32 to this passage. Record your insights.
Diamonds in the Word: Compare God’s attitude toward worship in Amos 4 and Psalm 50.
11. Sharing question: Share about a time in your life when God used your circumstances to get your attention. How did you respond?
12. Responding to God: Thank God that in His love and mercy He continues to call you to come back to Him, even using difficult circumstances, when necessary. Thank Him for that specific situation that you shared in the last question. Ask for the discernment to recognize the times when He is bringing hard times into your life to get your attention. Write down your prayer or thoughts.
Read Amos 5:1-17.
13. Of what injustices did God charge the Israelites in these verses?
14. Put yourself in the place of the poor, the uneducated, the physically challenged, the immigrant, the refugee, etc. What injustices do you see happening today in your neighborhood, schools, workplace, city, country, and world against them or any other groups? How would you feel about it if you were where they are?
15. What things did God call the people to do to remedy the evil?
Read Amos 5:18-27.
16. Compare this passage with Isaiah 1:11-20. Why was God upset when they went to the temple to worship?
17. Sharing question: In what ways have you been guilty of looking religious and yet been far from obeying the heart of God? Maybe it is true today. Confess your hypocrisy to your group. (See Jam. 5:16.)
18. Responding to God: Pray from your heart for Amos 5:24 to really happen in our world today. Be sure to work on memorizing it as the week’s Words to Anchor Your Soul. Write your thoughts below.
Diamonds in the Word: Find other biblical references to God’s desire for worship to be from the heart.
Read Amos 6:1-8.
19. Describe the attitudes of the rich according to these verses. What similar attitudes do you see prevalent today?
20. How can you, as a “rich” American (knowing we are all rich compared to most of the world) protect your heart from becoming calloused instead of being compassionate and merciful?
21. Sharing question: Meditate before God considering whether you are guilty of similar attitudes. Write down a specific way you can reach out to show love and bring justice to your world.
Read Amos 9:8-15.
Although Amos’ message was hard on those who were not living their lives in alignment with God’s heart, he ended his message with hope.
22. What promises did God make to Israel that would bring hope to those who really listened to Amos’ message?
23. Sharing question: If you have favorite Bible verses that bring you hope when things look impossible or hopeless, share them with your group. Share the story behind the verses. What was happening at the point that the verse(s) became so special to you?
24. Responding to God: Write a prayer of thanks for His promises that give you hope even today.
Diamonds in the Word: Read the parts of Amos that you have not read so far (6:9--9:7) and write down your thoughts about how they relate to the rest of the book.
Read Psalm 33, a psalm of praise.
Diamonds in the Word: Go through the psalm, looking at the way the Hebraic poetry parallels the meaning in a pair of lines or uses the second line to extend the understanding of the first. Do you receive any insights from carefully reading it that way?
25. The psalmist praises God for His sovereignty (meaning His rule over all things). Write down his specific illustrations of God’s sovereignty.
26. Sharing question: How can focusing on God’s sovereignty help you anchor your life in His justice when the world is so unjust? How can it help you be more just in your treatment of others?
27. In what ways are we to respond to God, according to this psalm?
28. Sharing question: How does this psalm help you trust God more with your circumstances, even when they are unjust or difficult? What particular verse(s) increases your faith in such situations?
29. Responding to God: Take this psalm and make it a prayer to God. Insert your name and your situations in place of words such as “ones”, “you”, “people”, etc. Do as the psalmist says and sing His praises! Choose a song that praises God as Creator or Ruler of the world.
We are quick to call for justice when we have been treated unfairly, even in the small things! Mary shares her story of what happened when she felt wronged.
I am 68 years old and have been a widow for 14 years. I have no children or grandchildren so I have basically lived alone for all these years. I work part time for a church which employs young seminary students who have no money. They live with families in the church or buddy up 4 to 6 in a one-bedroom apartment.
Six weeks ago my boss asked me if I would allow one of these young men to live with me, and feeling that this would be a way that I could serve the King, I said yes. I was assured that he was clean, made his bed, was engaged and wouldn’t be around much, etc. Right!
His first promise was that he would store my suitcases and boxes which I moved into the garage to make room for him in the attic. They are still sitting in the garage. His second promise was that he would nail up a fence post that had fallen down. His cleanliness includes (a) not making his bed 50% of the time (b) piling my very nice bath towels on the floor to mildew (c) never taking out the trash, etc. You get the picture, he’s not that tidy.
The crowning blow came last Thursday. I took the day off to take my aunt to visit her brother who is terminally ill. Not an exciting prospect. However, I had prayed with my friend from San Antonio for 30 minutes and then spent an hour with my accountability partner so I was ready for the day. I rushed home from meeting with her to hang out my new tee shirts I had bought to wear with my new suits. I opened the washer and there was one of his wet tee shirts which he had washed in 10 gallons of water. I opened the dryer and there were my very short shrunk tee shirts which have washing instructions that read “wash in cold water and line dry.” I lost it. I called him on his cell phone and shrieked, “You shrunk my tee shirts!” I was blowing enough steam to propel a freight train from Dallas to St. Louis. Fortunately, he was in a car with my boss when he got my screaming call so I got to yell at him as well. He kept saying he did it to help me. I thought about that and somehow I did not think that he woke up thinking “what can I do to help Mary today?” and then threw my laundry in a hot dryer. He did it because he wanted the washing machine to wash one tee shirt in ten gallons of water.
All day Friday, I rehearsed how I was going to handle this situation. I was torn between sitting him down and having a “revival meeting” and going to my boss and telling him to have the meeting since he started this debacle. Saturday morning I began to pray about everything and I told God about everything that he had done in six weeks to irritate me. God just would not let me end my quiet time. I finally realized that what he wanted me to do was “nothing.” He convicted me that Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burdens on the Lord” did not just mean my grief or financial burdens. He wanted me to give Him this and say nothing to anyone. I tried to tell Him there should be consequences for all the injustices I had suffered but He reminded me that He is more than able to convict the young man of his iniquities without any help from me. It is so plain that I am to just “be still and quiet” about this matter and let God handle it. I am watching things carefully. The fence post has been nailed up so there is one step of progress. This has been an interesting journey for me and an interesting lesson. If you are reading this, pray for me as the wedding is still 5 months away.
13 Boice, 161.
14 Boice, 169-170.
15 Note #15 NET Bible, 1589.
16 Note #14 in NET Bible, 1595.
17 Note #9 in NET Bible, 1595.
18 Note #27 in NET Bible, 1595.
“He has told you, O man, what is proper, and what the LORD really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.”
Micah 6:8 (NET)
A former pastor of mine was forced to resign from his church when it was discovered that he had been having an adulterous relationship. The story behind the story was that this was not the first time he had been caught! The situation brought much grief and disillusionment to the church membership. Sadly, after many years some of them have never recovered.
What causes someone in leadership to take such a risk? What could be going on in his heart? He is likely worshipping an idol rather than God. Perhaps the idol is sex; perhaps it is the search for significance in the desire of women; it may be the thrill of having what is prohibited. Something means more than God’s pleasure. Something other than God rules on the throne of his heart.
We will see in Micah that God detests idolatry and that He expects much from those who lead his people. We are responsible for our influence upon others. To anchor our souls we must put away the idols in our hearts.
As Micah 1:1 tells us, the prophet spoke God’s message during the reigns of Jotham (750-731 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.), kings of the southern kingdom of Judah.19 He was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. During Ahaz’ reign the northern kingdom was destroyed (722 B.C.), as Micah had already predicted. He also warned the southern kingdom of impending doom.
Read Micah 1:1--2:11.
1. There is beautiful but somewhat scary poetic imagery for God’s judgment in 1:2-4. Describe the picture.
2. What sins of the northern kingdom, represented by the name of the capital city Samaria, did Micah mention (1:5-7, 9, 13, 2:1-2, 8-9)?
3. What were to be the consequences of Israel’s sins (1:6-7, 15-16; 2:3-4)?
4. Jeremiah began prophesying about sixty years after King Hezekiah’s death, denouncing the idolatry of God’s people just as Micah and previous prophets had already done. Read these passages and write down your insights.
a. Jer. 2:9-13
b. Jer. 10:2-16.
5. Sharing question: Trusting in a handmade idol may sound foolish to us; how can a piece of wood carved by people help us? Instead of a physical idol, we often trust in other things to bring us happiness, significance, security, and peace; we may set up career, appearance, health, pleasing people, sex, entertainment, or family as idols in our hearts. In what things do you tend to trust? What idols have you set up in your life? What do you seek more than God?
Read Micah 2:12-13, which brings hope beyond the promised judgment.
6. Responding to God: Write down your prayer for a friend or someone in your small group who is facing trials or even difficult consequences from her own choices. Pray for hope beyond today. Pray for a focus on God’s kingdom plans for her. Write her a note to let her know that you have prayed for her to be encouraged.
Diamonds in the Word: This book seems to be a loose collection of Micah’s speeches rather than a highly structured message. It may not be helpful to make a book chart, so read through the book and note the recurring themes.
Read Psalm 115, which deals with idolatry. We saw yesterday that Micah warned the children of Israel about idolatry in the land.
7. In what ways did the psalmist contrast the true God with idols?
Diamonds in the Word: Read in your resources about the culture that accompanied idolatry, the practices that went with the worship of Baal and other idols common at this time.
8. How did the psalmist call God’s people to respond to the truths about God?
9. Sharing question: In what one area of your life today are you having trouble trusting God? Why? What aspect of God’s character are you failing to believe in? Maybe it is His goodness, His power, or His wisdom.
10. Sharing question: Consider God’s character trait that you mentioned in the previous question. Write down all the ways you can think of, in the time you have, that God has shown Himself strong in the past in your life in that way. For example, if you are having trouble trusting His goodness, write down ways He has shown Himself good even in the midst of trials you did not understand.
11. Responding to God: Pray through this psalm. When you get to v. 9-11, insert your name and the names of others involved in the situation you mentioned in #9. Insert the same names into v. 12. Write down your thoughts after your time of prayer.
Read Micah 3:1-12.
12. The imagery in 3:1-3 is quite vivid. Micah painted a terrible picture of what the leaders of the nation were doing to the people. Read more than one translation of these three verses, and write down an explanation of the image and of Micah’s point. (You can freely access the NET Bible online at bible.org.)
13. Contrast Micah and the false prophets (3:5-12).
Diamonds in the Word: Read 2 Peter 2 today, considering the false teachers of today and paralleling them with those of Micah’s day.
God’s harsh words for the nation’s leaders parallel what we saw in Micah 1 about Israel’s influencing its southern neighbor Judah to sin (1:9, 13).
14. Consider Jesus’ words in Mt. 18:1-7. How do they make you feel? Why is it so serious when God’s people influence others to sin?
15. Read these verses and write down what you learn about your accountability for others before God.
a. Romans 14:1-12
b. James 3:1.
16. Sharing question: In what ways do you watch yourself so that you don’t become a stumbling block, especially to “little ones,” whether children or the weaker believers?
17. Responding to God: You may be a leader in your home, in your office, in your neighborhood, in your extended family, or in the church. Think of those who look to you as a model. Express your desire to never cause them to stumble by writing a prayer or a poem, or by drawing a picture representing your heart in this area.
We can open ourselves up to stumbling because of the influence of other people when we look to others rather than God. I put Kathy’s story in today’s lesson so that the verses would be fresh in your minds!
Being married to a seminary professor has its marvelous benefits as you can imagine—training godly students for Christian ministry, meeting Christians from all over the world and becoming involved with them and their ministries, being constantly stimulated and challenged by students or visiting lecturers that we have the privilege of entertaining in our home, etc. But along with all the wonderful things associated with being married to such a man, there is also the heavy side.
Some students can and do idolize various Christian ministers and when one of these people fail in a significant way, these students are devastated. They feel like they will never be able to make it in ministry because their hero has fallen. At times like this my husband and I have had the privilege of reminding them that we all are frail and that there is no substitute for a personal, intimate walk with the Lord, for accountability in our lives, and for committed prayer on our part for each Christian leader ministering to us and our family.
We have seen the Lord’s faithfulness through many of these situations, some after years of heartache, but through it all God has and is revealing Himself to His people in ways we did not expect. He alone is our perfect, Holy, righteous, loving, unfailing God. He wants us to take our eyes off men and placed them on Himself because He is GOD and there is none other!
Review Micah 3:12.
18. What did Micah say would happen to Jerusalem?
Read about King Hezekiah, the last of the kings under which Micah prophesied, in 2 Kings 18:1-8.
19. Why did God approve of Hezekiah?
Read Jeremiah 26:1-19. These events probably occurred early in the reign of Jehoiakim, who ruled in Judah from 608-598 B.C.,20 perhaps a hundred years after Micah’s prediction in 3:12.
20. Why were the leaders upset with Jeremiah (Jer. 26:1-11)?
21. Compare Jeremiah’s defense (Jer. 26:12-15) with what Micah said in Micah 3:8.
22. What argument did the elders give on Jeremiah’s behalf (26:17-19)?
Dr. Chisholm has this insight: “This demonstrates that Micah’s prophecy, though seemingly unconditional in tone, was implicitly conditional. Because of Hezekiah’s repentance, the prophesied judgment was postponed.”21 However, in 586 B.C. during Jeremiah’s days, Micah’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem was fulfilled.
23. Sharing question: Has God ever graciously protected you from the consequences you deserved from your actions? Share the story with your group.
24. Responding to God: God doesn’t always protect us from the consequences of our actions, even if we do repent. Sometimes we have irrevocably set events in motion; sometimes we need to live out the consequences in order to learn better. Thank God for loving you enough to do what is best. Ask Him for help in seeing places where you need to repent and turn the other way.
Diamonds in the Word: Read Micah 4:1--5:15. There are some great prophecies in this passage about the future. I am sure you have heard Micah 4:3c-d quoted. Micah 5:2 is a prophecy of Jesus’ birth. Read carefully through these verses, considering when they have been or will be fulfilled.
Read Micah 6:1-9.
25. What insights do you gain into the heart of God from these verses?
26. Sharing question: God reminded the Israelites of some of the things that He had done for them (6:4-5). Take a minute of silence to concentrate on what God has done for you. Write down one great thing that God has done for you to share with your group.
27. Responding to God: Spend time praising God for both His heart and His work for you. Recognize how much it must hurt such a great God when we turn to other things to give us what we need.
Our Words to Anchor the Soul is Micah 6:8. Work on memorizing this verse and reviewing those from the three previous weeks.
28. Contrast the two ways of entering the Lord’s presence in 6:6-8.
29. Sharing question: Share one specific way in which you can apply Micah 6:8 today in your life. What one thing will you do this week?
30. Responding to God: Pray Micah 6:8 for yourself and for your church family. Ask for forgiveness for outward rather than inward worship.
Diamonds in the Word: Read Micah 6:10--7:20 and write down any insights you gain into the sins of the people or into the future.
The people of Micah’s day attempted to replace the true, living, and loving God with idols. We have two stories dealing with personal idols: one concerning career, etc., and the other concerning marriage.
My husband and I were both Christians when we began dating and actually grew up in the same church. When we were in college, our church attendance began to slip. Most Sundays I found it more convenient to sleep or study for the next day’s class. God had slipped down my priority list behind academia and fun.
After we graduated and got married, my negligence only worsened. We were so busy with our careers that we couldn’t fit God in anymore. We both worked long hours including most weekends. My husband went to school at night to get an MBA. Then I did the same. About this time our marriage, weak from little time with God or each other, began to unravel. This was the wake-up call we needed to see that major changes were necessary. I am happy to report that through much prayer and putting God first in our lives we were able to turn our marriage around.
It was really only after having children and quitting work that I realized that all those years I had been worshipping the idols of education, career and money.
Constructing an “idol” in one’s life can be done ever so subtly. It was the Word of God, and I wanted to be a “doer of the Word.” I was so zealous to be obedient; I was hungry to follow Him! But I had let the instruction on being a submissive wife (attending seminars, Bible studies and reading books) get all out of proportion and meaning. I thought that submission was “asking permission, seeking counsel on every move that I made” from my husband. There was some real error in teaching on the topic going around about thirty-five years ago. Some teachers on the topic were really hammering the concept to the point of subservient behavior. That is what happened with me.
My dear husband finally sat me down one evening. It still ranks as one of the most difficult nights of my life. He basically told me that I was “strangling him to death”; that he couldn’t possibly “be all that I was asking him to be/do.” Wow! What a major wake-up call that was! The Lord allowed me to get over my hurt feelings. I called out to the Lord for what went wrong with my desire to be obedient, to be a submissive wife. He impressed my heart with these words: “You put your husband into the place that is only reserved for Me. Remember the part about ‘No other gods before Me?’ I never made your husband to take my place. Your love for your husband has replaced your love for Me. It was easier to talk to him than to seek Me, wait upon Me. You made him an idol in your life. You have put him between you and Me. That is what an idol is/was/and always will be.”
If you had asked me prior to this encounter if I had any idols in my life, I would have stated firmly, “Absolutely not!” It was this incident that taught me to be on the look-out for things that are in the Word but can be twisted by my flesh, the world, and the evil one to create an idol. Even something as wonderful and blessed as being a submissive wife can lead to idolatry. Through these ensuing years, I have continued to ask Him to reveal anything or anyone who is slipping in between Him and me; I don’t want an idol in my life.
19 Chisholm, 416.
20 Chisholm, 187.
21 Chisholm, 421.
“When the fig tree does not bud,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
when the olive trees do not produce,
and the fields yield no crops;
when the sheep disappear from the pen,
and there are no cattle in the stalls,
I will rejoice because of the LORD;
I will be happy because of the God who delivers me.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NET)
Have you ever dealt with a very difficult time when everything seemed to be going wrong, and then it got worse despite your prayers? I expect you questioned God about what He was doing in the midst of it all. If you have ever been in that situation, you have company in the prophet Habakkuk. He had the courage to come right out and ask God what He was doing and why. In the end, Habakkuk learned to trust God as his anchor in the midst of a time when what was happening seemed unjust!
The message of Habakkuk dates from the seventh century B.C. Parts of the book seem to predate the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C., and some suggest a date following the victory of the Babylonians over the Egyptians in that battle.22 That battle occurred some eighty years after the death of King Hezekiah, whom we met in our study of Micah last week.
Read the book of Habakkuk at one sitting, if possible, and answer #1 as you go through it. The book is easy to read when you understand that it involves a series of dialogues between Habakkuk and God.
1. Divide the book into Habakkuk’s words and God’s. (Don’t read notes but read the book carefully and do this yourself!) Write down who is speaking and in what verses. You should end up with three “speeches” of Habakkuk’s and two of God’s.
Diamonds in the Word: Add more detail to what you just wrote down about Habakkuk. You can put it in outline form or in a book chart.
2. Write down your first thoughts, feelings, and impressions of the book.
Read Habakkuk 1:1-4.
3. What did Habakkuk see happening around him at that time? How do those things parallel what we have seen the past four weeks in the other books of prophecy?
4. What questions did Habakkuk have for God because of what was happening in his world?
5. Sharing question: Share with your group some questions that you have for God about what you see happening in the world today.
6. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem honestly asking God those questions, just as Habakkuk and some of the other writers have done. It is not a sin to ask God questions! It acknowledges humility, that you do not know everything and cannot fathom Him because He is God and you are not.
Read Habakkuk 1:5-11.
7. What was God’s answer to Habakkuk’s questions in 1:1-4?
8. How would you have felt if this were the way God answered your questions about injustice and evil?
Read Habakkuk 1:12--2:1.
9. Describe the Babylonians in your own words from Habakkuk’s description.
10. God’s reply brought more questions for Habakkuk. What was Habakkuk’s main issue with God’s plan (1:13)?
Diamonds in the Word: Read about the Babylonians and their methods of warfare.
11. Read these cross-references and write down your thoughts about what Habakkuk said to God in 1:13:
a. Romans 2:6
b. Acts 17:30-31
c. 2 Thess. 1:8-9
d. Revelation 20:12-13
12. Sharing question: What injustices in the lives of individuals or in nations have you seen that have not been righted? How do you feel about them?
13. Responding to God: Although we desire justice, we read about the final judgment and recognize how final it will all be. We realize that it is only by God’s grace that we will escape it. Pray 2 Peter 3:9 for specific people in your world but also for world leaders.
Read Habakkuk 2:2-20.
14. Summarize God’s answer to Habakkuk’s questions in 1:12--2:1.
15. What do these verses teach about the character of God?
16. Responding to God: Write a prayer, psalm, or poem of praise to God extolling these character traits.
Diamonds in the Word: What Bible stories do you think of when you consider how eventually God brings justice for a person’s or nation’s actions.
17. Sharing question: Share a story of a time when you did see justice prevail in a situation.
18. Sharing question: How does Hab. 2:3 give you hope for the future?
Read Psalm 37. We will finish Habakkuk tomorrow.
19. This psalm helps us see how to respond when we see people prosper and succeed although they are committing evil acts against other people. What kinds of injustices did the psalmist mention?
20. What hope does this psalm give those who have seen or experienced the apparent success of evil?
21. According to this psalm, what does God want His people to be about while we wait for Him to deal with evil?
Diamonds in the Word: Carefully read this psalm. What do you learn from the parallelism in the lines?
22. Sharing question: Copy one verse in this psalm that gives you hope. Why did you choose that verse?
23. Responding to God: Draw a picture representing God as you see Him in this psalm. Yes, you can draw! Then, spend time thanking Him for the hope that He gives us, knowing that we will have questions about what is going on in times of trouble.
Read Habakkuk 3:1-19.
Our memory verses come from this section of Habakkuk. They are one of the most beautiful expressions of trust during times of trouble in the Bible. Knowing these verses will be an anchor for you when all seems to go wrong. Work on learning them today!
Diamonds in the Word: What stories from the scriptures come to mind that model Habakkuk’s trust despite his questions? What other Bible characters had that kind of faith when nothing made sense?
24. The imagery here for the acts and power of God is beautiful. What picture do you like best? Why?
25. What feelings did Habakkuk experience after God let him in on His thoughts, according to v. 16?
26. What was the secret of Habakkuk’s ability to withstand the times of trouble and question that were there and getting worse (3:17-19)?
27. Compare Psalm 46:1-3, 8-11 with Habakkuk 3:17-19. What do you learn from these about dealing with times when you question God?
28. Sharing question: In what present “time of trouble or questions” are you in right now that makes you feel limp and shaky, much like Habakkuk?
29. Responding to God: Write your own prayer or psalm of trust in God in your present situation.
Habakkuk questioned God because his prayers for God to deal with the injustice and evil in the land seemed to be unheeded. Then, things only got worse! This week’s stories deal with times of questioning God and with the God who anchors despite not giving the reasons for what is happening. Although both stories are long, they are worth reading!
Last year was a year I will never forget. My husband was in a difficult work situation. We didn’t feel peace about his staying there, but no matter how often we asked God, he didn’t provide another job. To top it all off, we were expecting our third child due in the midst of this. We began to feel as if the Lord wanted my husband to resign without having another position to go to. It’s not something I would ever consider encouraging someone else to do, but it was clear that is what the Lord wanted him to do.
Our son was born with complications. (God what are you doing here?) My husband returned to work two weeks later and resigned. (God, how long until you provide, and why is this taking so long?) I’d like to tell you that the Lord provided right after my husband resigned, but that wasn’t the case. My son recovered from his complications within a month, but we spent 8 long months crying out to God to provide financially for our family, the whole time living off of all the inheritance we had. (Lord, why are you wasting this money? Like Peter said: Lord, to whom shall we go?) Ironically, though my husband has a graduate degree, he couldn’t even get a call back to stock shelves on a night shift. God had closed all opportunities.
Eight months later, to the week our savings ran out, we received our first paycheck for my husband’s next position. Reflecting on “our wilderness,” as I call it, I have realized several things about how the Lord loves His children. First, sometimes he wounds us intentionally, just so he can be the one to precisely put us back together again, only this time better, more Christ-like. We are all like zebras, parts of us still black with sin, and other parts masterfully changed to white because we met up with our Father, the surgeon. Second, the “promised land” after the wilderness doesn’t always make sense or look nice, but our promises are little pieces in a bigger promise. It’s less about our thing, and more about His larger plan. It’s more about our hearts, our view of His nature, and our faith that He is orchestrating all things. Third, after all this the deepest of peace and an ability to trust the Father like never before remain. I feel it; I feel it now, deep, deep, down inside.
Job 5:17-18 (NET) "Therefore, blessed is the man whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also bandages; he strikes, but his hands also heal.”
On a Sunday morning several years ago I was awakened by the phone ringing. The call was from my son. He was crying so hard that it was all that I could do to understand what he was trying to tell me. After he calmed down a bit he told me that he and his wife were separated. She was involved in an affair, and he needed me to come be with him. I was on the first plane possible. My son Tom was so grief-stricken that he could not come to the airport to pick me up. When I arrived at his home, I was shocked to see the physical condition that he was in. This had apparently been going on for a while and he just could not bring himself to tell us.
I was so heart-broken for him. He would get in a fetal position in the floor and cry uncontrollably. The more I heard and saw, the angrier I got. How could she have done something like this to him? My son had allowed her to have control of the checkbook, and she had spent most of their funds unwisely. She was going out with her guy friend to fancy restaurants, buying him gifts, and you name it. Tom found this out after he learned of the affair. I just wanted him to come to Texas with us for a while to get well both physically and mentally—and to file for divorce.
I stayed with him for at least a week. He would go from being certain of what he wanted to do to falling apart. We had a meeting with her and her parents to try to decide how things like bills, the sale of their home, etc., would be handled. Her parents were great, but she was very hateful and showed much disrespect toward us both. Needless to say, I wanted to get as far away from her as possible and never wanted to see her again. I did have to get back to my job, so I made arrangements for the return trip home. My son would not come with me. Even as much as she hurt him, he stilled loved her and wanted to try to make things work.
My son did come to visit us and was almost to the point that he was not going back to her. This is what I wanted. I had only prayed that he would leave her. I felt I could never forgive her and that if he went back to her that I would lose my son forever. He did go home. One day we got a letter saying they were back together and that they would be glad to discuss their decision at any time. The letter was supposedly written by our son and signed “Sincerely,” not “Love.” That hurt so much.
I was consumed by the situation. I did not want to talk to God about it because I did not really want to hear what He had to say. I finally reached my breaking point. I asked God to forgive me for my actions and attitude toward Him. I asked my family to forgive me. I also told God that I was ready to forgive my daughter-in-law. I could not do this alone and asked for the faith to turn it all over and to leave it with Him. What a relief this was! I could function; I could sleep; I was at peace.
It was more than a year before we heard from our son. Our daughter called him to see if he would come to her wedding. He was not able to do so, but this broke the ice. When my first grandchild was born, he asked me to stay with them when they got home from the hospital. This time together was so healing. There is a good relationship now between their family and ours. My daughter-in-law and I have a love for one another. This could have never happened if I had not finally been willing to turn myself and my son over to the Lord. He taught me so much about faith in Him and what forgiveness really is. I am glad that He did not give up on me when I lacked faith in Him for a solution. He was there waiting to meet me where I was in my life once I decided to meet Him. What an awesome God we have!!
22 Chisholm, 433.
“The LORD’s many kindnesses never cease,
for his great compassion never comes to an end.
They are renewed every morning;
Your faithfulness is abundant!
I said to myself, ‘The LORD is the portion of my inheritance;
Therefore, I will put my hope in him.’”
Lamentations 3:22-24 (NET)
Most of us have experienced grief in some form: some have dealt with death; others with divorce; many with loss of health or friends. Loss involves grief, which is the natural response. As I have watched Christians deal with various losses over the years, it seems that too often we do not encourage grief, but instead we praise those who cover their feelings of sorrow. We seem to think that is a measure of their faith. We look at others and say, “She is doing so well. She is so strong!” and make it difficult for her to be real. Then, when we deal with it ourselves, we are afraid to show our grief, thinking we lack faith. As a result, often the storm of loss and grief causes many believers to drift away from God.
The New Illustrated Bible Commentary says this about Lamentations: “Rather than explaining away pain, the book helps us face pain. By avoiding cheery clichés, the Book of Lamentations provides companionship for those who are suffering and plants seeds of hope for rebuilding after the suffering is over.”23
This week we meet someone grieving over the loss of his nation, his place of worship, and most of his people. Hopefully, studying this book will help anchor us by helping us grieve well ourselves when we encounter loss.
For the past five weeks we have studied prophets who preached before the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. Most of them prophesied of these events but did not live to see them. In 586 B.C., the city and the temple were destroyed by the Babylonians. The book of Lamentations is the author’s outpouring of grief and sorrow because of those experiences.
Although the author is not named in the book, tradition says that the prophet Jeremiah wrote it, and we know that he did experience the destruction firsthand. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, attributes it to Jeremiah. On the other hand, the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible suggests that someone else wrote it.24
The structure of the book involves five poems, of which the first four are written in an acrostic form. That means that each stanza of each of those poems begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (If they were written in English, the first stanza would begin with “A”, the second with “B”, and so on.) Each of the first four poems has twenty-two stanzas, and the fifth has twenty-two verses but not in acrostic form.25 Not all modern English translations make this clear by looking at the text. If that is true of your Bible, you may want to read it in the NET Bible so that you can better see the structure.26
Read Jeremiah 52:1-16, Jeremiah’s account of the destruction of Jerusalem.
1. Describe the events that accompanied the fall of Jerusalem.
Diamonds in the Word: Make a book chart of Lamentations, or read Deut. 28, in which Moses warned the children of Israel of the consequences of failing to ally their lives with God’s. Parallel his warnings with what you read in Jeremiah 52 and Lamentations.
Read Lamentations 1, the first of the five poems. Note that the poem includes words that come from the prophet himself and those that suggest that the city is speaking.
2. Consider the poetic language in Lamentations 1 and the straightforward account you read in Jeremiah 52. How does the poetry affect your feelings differently than the prose? What does Lam. 1 add to your description of the destruction in question #1?
3. Poetic language paints a visual picture for us. What visual picture of what happened to Jerusalem hits you hardest? Why?
4. Sharing question: With which picture of grief and sorrow do you most identify? Why?
5. Responding to God: Write a prayer that you will never so rebel against God and his desire for your best that he is forced to bring disaster into your life as the only way to get through to you. Pray for a soft heart, open to the voice of His Spirit.
Read Lamentations 2.
6. The pictures of the siege and the effects on the people are difficult to read. Which picture in this chapter is most sad and difficult for you as you think about what happened to these people?
7. The prophets (these called themselves prophets of Yahweh, the God of Israel) had falsely prophesied, according to Lam. 2:14. Read the following passages, and write down your insights into how the prophets were misleading the people.
a. Micah 3:5-8 (You read it a couple of weeks ago.)
b. Jeremiah 23:16-22
Diamonds in the Word: Find other references in your Bible to prophets who are falsely speaking, claiming to speak for God. If you did the Diamonds in the Word a few weeks back, you already looked at 2 Peter 2. Use your concordance to find others. You may use the word prophet(s), false, or even speak. What additional things do you learn?
The grief expressed by the author involved a recognition that the people went forward in defiance of God, bringing these terrible things on themselves.
8. Sharing question: When you see loss and hardship because of consequences that someone has brought on herself, do you grieve over what she suffers or do you harden your heart because the person “deserves it”? What do you learn from the author of Lamentations about that?
9. Responding to God: Write a prayer or a poem expressing grief over the loss with which someone you know is dealing right now. If you cannot feel that grief, pray for God’s heart in the matter. Write a note to the person sharing your encouragement.
Read Lamentations 3:1-20, which describes the author’s personal grief over the city and its inhabitants. Remember that he was using figurative language and may not have physically experienced all of the things he mentioned, but they may simply describe how he felt.
10. Which picture of the author’s grief most intensely affects you? Why?
Diamonds in the Word: Read John 11, considering it from the perspective of grief. What do you learn?
Read Lamentations 3:19-33.
In Lam. 3:21, the author’s feelings and thoughts seem to change. The New Illustrated Commentary calls 3:22-24 “the beacon of light in the midst of disintegration.”27 The author moves here from grief and depression to hope. These are this week’s Words to Anchor Your Soul. Memorize them so they can light your way when you face painful and sorrowful situations.
11. Sharing question: Why might Lam. 3:22-24 anchor you if you faced this kind of situation?
12. Compare Lam. 3:28-30 with Heb. 12:7-13. What can you learn about dealing with times of discipline from God (like these times were)?
13. Sharing question: Have you ever dealt with a time when God made it clear that He was bringing discipline into your life to get you to turn around to Him? If so, describe it and how you dealt with it.
Read Lamentations 3:34-66.
14. The author based much of what he said on the character of God. What did he reveal here about who God is and what He is like? What difference did it seem to make to him?
15. Sharing question: Describe a time in your life when you dealt with depression or grief. How long did it last? How did God work in your life through it?
16. Responding to God: Pray through Lam. 3:22-33 for yourself or someone dealing with a time of grief or difficulty. Write down your thoughts below.
Read Lamentations 4, which provides more visual pictures of what befell Jerusalem.
17. What details about the situation in Jerusalem did the author add here to what he said in the previous chapters?
Diamonds in the Word: Read in your Bible resources about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
18. Wrong thinking can destroy us by causing us to act wrongly. What deceptive thinking did the author mention that misled the people of Jerusalem into believing that they would not be conquered?
Read Lamentations 5, the only chapter that is not an acrostic. It is written as the author’s prayer to God.
19. In this prayer what did the author ask God to do? How did he end his prayer?
It seems to me that the book of Lamentations is a great picture of what true grief looks like. There are times of immense sorrow when tears and heaviness are our companions (Lam. 1:1--3:20). We turn to God and hope revives (Lam. 3:21-33), but grief isn’t over and begins to invade our hearts once again (Lam. 3:34--4:22). Even when we pray, we pray out of both hope and despair (Lam. 5).
20. Sharing question: Share about a period of grief in your life and how it parallels this description. If you have never experienced this kind of grief, write down what you have seen in the lives of others.
21. Responding to God: Write a prayer about a difficult situation in your life right now. Write out specifically what is happening and how you feel, just as the author of Lamentations did in the final chapter.
Read Psalm 77. The psalmist deals with his feelings of depression. Although he does not give the causes, his feelings are very similar to those reflected in Lamentations.
Diamonds in the Word: Outline this psalm.
22. Describe the psalmist’s feelings.
23. How does the psalmist show faith in God in the midst of feeling abandoned and forgotten?
24. What parallels do you see in this psalm to the book of Lamentations?
25. Sharing question: The NET Bible translation of Psalm 77:6c says this: “I tried to make sense of what was happening.” This is when faith gets tricky, because we are not always able to do so. Share about a time in your life when you tried to make sense of what was happening but could not. How did you keep faith alive?
26. Responding to God: Write your own short psalm based on the outline of this one. Just write a line or two on each subject. Begin with a cry to God; write about your true feelings about a difficult situation that you experienced at some point; lay out your questions before God; and then list some of His great deeds.
We have two stories again this week. Both deal with difficult situations where women cried out to God, knowing that He alone could help. He was truly an anchor for their souls in extremely trying times, when they were so low they could not go on without Him. In all such situations, we deal not only with the struggle of the situations, but we also deal with the grief of loss.
We went through a very difficult time with our son. He had to be in control of everything. He would rage and meltdown frequently. Our family was in shambles because of the instability of his moods – fine when things were good and TERRIBLE when things were bad. In searching for answers, we tried medication which helped in the day, but at night it was like letting loose a spring that had been held down for a long time. The Lord led us to a woman, a believer, who had experience in this area and worked with us to do a home-based intensive therapy. In this type of therapy, the child learns that the parent is in charge, and he (the child) is not in charge, and this actually builds closeness and attachment. We had intense time together with no outside activities. And it was incredibly stressful as we worked through the rebellion that comes with this kind of a shift. I did not sleep well and would often wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep.
One morning about two weeks into the program, after having a terrible night’s sleep, I rose early alone and went outside. I truly did not know how I was going to make it through the day. I was wasted before it began. I felt that my well was totally dry; I had nothing left to give. As I prayed, He graciously gave me the passage from John 4:14, where Jesus tells the woman at the well that He is the Living Water. I knew that His strength, His Living Water would carry me through the day. And He did.
A week or so later the Lord was also immediately there in a time of despair. I went to church alone, one of the few times I got out of the house in the week, and my husband stayed home. It felt good to be refreshed by the songs of praise and words of encouragement in the sermon. But when I got home, things were falling apart and had been raging for almost two hours. My heart sank as I cried out to the Lord, not knowing how to pray. But the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the verse that He intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). The Lord took over again. I knew I could trust Him to work this together for His good.
The Lord had prepared me for this time by leading me to begin memorizing James 1 before the troubles even began. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Time after time I have seen His faithfulness. He is the rock. And He is always there. He promises to never leave us or forsake us.
We are still on the journey. He encourages us in Isaiah that those who WAIT ON THE LORD (emphasis mine) will renew their strength . . . We are waiting on the Lord and finding Him faithful and He is and will be glorified by His mighty works.
I was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 32. I had 3 children under the age of 5. My tumor was too big to remove, so I did chemo and radiation before surgery. After my body recovered, I had surgery to remove what was left of the tumor and the surrounding lymph nodes. I then started more chemo in hopes of killing any cancer that might still be growing in my body! I had to have a temporary colostomy bag for 3 months so that the area where the tumor had been could heal. Then, I had surgery again to "put me back together." Things were fine for about 2 weeks until I started having intense cramping and vomiting. The area where surgery #2 took place had filled with scar tissue and nothing was passing through. At 7 weeks post-surgery, I went back in for my 3rd surgery.
My oncologist said that there was no way that my body could handle another round of chemo. He said in the "big picture" it wouldn't make much of a difference. For now, I have to recover from this surgery, give my body time to start working again, and gain weight. (Never thought I would hear those orders from a doctor!)
One thing that I have been reminded of in all of this is that God is good—REGARDLESS. God is good—regardless of whether or not my cancer comes back. God is good—regardless of whether all of our prayers are answered the way I want them to be. God is good—no matter what He chooses to do, whether this is the end of my cancer battle or just the beginning. So many blessings have come from the past 9 1/2 months. I know that God is sovereign, and He is still on His throne! Of course, I hope this is the end of my cancer. I will just take it one day at a time. God has a plan—this did not take Him by surprise. I am honored to be a part of His plan, and I will do my best to honor Him no matter what that plan is.
I have been so humbled during this time just knowing that the God of the universe is concerned about me. I have never felt more loved and more cherished than I have in the last 9 months. God certainly has bigger issues to deal with than me, and yet, I have felt like I was just sitting in the palm of His hand this whole time.
It has definitely been a trying time. Like with any trial, no one truly understands unless they have been there. A friend, whose husband has battled cancer for nearly 10 years, summed it up best when she said, "Even on your best days, it is still so hard." This has been the hardest 9 months of my life. I am so blessed to have a wonderful husband, family and friends to carry me and help me through this. On my lowest days, someone would unexpectedly brighten my day in one way or another.
There isn't a “thank you note” big enough for all others have done! I have been bathed in love and kindness. I never thought joy and blessings would come from cancer, but they did. It was not always easy to be on the receiving end of it all; it is much easier to help than to just accept it yourself. But, I have been so blessed.
When I was first diagnosed, I told Jeff, “It is time for God to show up and show off,” and He certainly did that!!!!!
23 Radmacher, 947.
24 Chisholm, 216-217.
25 Chisholm, 217.
27 Radmacher, 947.
“In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem for sin and impurity.”
Zechariah 13:1 (NET)
A “do-over”! Sometimes we get to go back and try again without being penalized in a game when we play with gracious people, but life doesn’t afford us “do-overs.” How we long to be able to go into the past and fix our mistakes! Instead of going back and redoing life, God does provide for our mistakes. He totally forgives our sins and uses even the worst of our mistakes and circumstances for good (Rom. 8:28-29).
Despite the sins of the Jews, which resulted in their exile from the land, God gave them hope and the chance to learn and begin again. He reminded them that His promises to David given long, long before would last forever because they depended upon God’s faithfulness rather than the faithfulness of His people. He promised that One would come whom He had anointed to rule the house of David in glory, whom we now know was Jesus. He promised a future day when justice would prevail and all wrongs would be made right.
We have covered selected studies in the prophets in a somewhat chronological fashion. We spent five weeks reading in the pre-exilic prophets, who spoke before the final exile and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Last week we read Lamentations, which detailed the terrible things that occurred when the Babylonians besieged and then destroyed the city.
Ezekiel and Daniel experienced the exile and wrote during that time while in a foreign land. We will not read from their prophecies in this study because of their lengths; hopefully, you can study them in the future.
The Israelites began returning to their land after King Cyrus of Persia decreed that they could go back in 538 B.C.28 The initial group returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel; the second group came with Ezra, the priest, in 458 B.C.; and Nehemiah led the third return in 444 B.C.
This week we will read portions of the three Minor Prophets who prophesied in Jerusalem after the Jews returned to the land: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The first of the three is Haggai, whose prophecies date to 520 B.C. (Compare with the dates above.) His is a message of priorities. Days Two and Three will be spent reading selected sections of Zechariah; on Day Four you will turn to Malachi. I have included extra stories this week because they were all so good! I hope you take the time to read them all and complete all of your work because I know that it will richly bless your life.
As background for the message of Haggai, we need to read excerpts from the book of Ezra. The first six chapters of Ezra relate what had already occurred in Jerusalem in the eighty years before Ezra arrived there.
Read Ezra 1:1-4.
1. Write down the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of this story, or write a “newspaper article” about it.
Diamonds in the Word: Read Ezra 1--6, noting the events and the dates given.
Read Ezra 3:1-8. Note that v. 1-6 occurred during the first year that the first group of returnees was back in Jerusalem under Zerubbabel. Then, there was a two-year break before they began building the temple.
Ezra 4:1-16 tells us that the enemies of the Jews did not want them to finish rebuilding the city and its temple. They used tactics of discouragement and accusation.
Finally, the people stopped work on the temple entirely in 535 B.C. Fifteen years later, in 520 B.C., God spoke to His people in Jerusalem through His prophet Haggai.
Read Haggai 1:1-15.
2. What was wrong with the priorities of the people, and how had God responded to those misplaced priorities?
Before we move on today with Haggai and his message, read these two stories about women who learned that prioritizing God and His kingdom brings blessing!
In the early spring of 1991, my husband, Terry, came to me and said he believed the Lord was leading us to move to Russia with Campus Crusade for Christ. For the previous two years, he had been traveling in and out of the Soviet Union working with the underground church. Politically, things were rapidly changing and it became apparent that soon Christians would be able to live and work openly.
The week after Terry's announcement, I spent concentrated time with the Lord. He graciously confirmed to me that moving to Moscow was indeed His will for our family.
The six months before we moved were incredibly busy. We sold most of our furniture, our cars and even some of our clothes. As our home slowly emptied out, I began to panic. We had an eight-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. Not only were Terry and I giving up the comforts of the U.S., but so were our children.
The Soviet Union was still intact when we moved to Moscow in October of 1991. We lived in a cramped, drab Russian apartment. There were days we had no electricity and no hot water. Sometimes we had no water at all. We stood in line in snow and ice to buy bread. Occasionally, we would get close to the front of the line only to have the store close because it had run out of bread. We had no car and for almost a year were completely dependent on public transportation. Our first several months in Moscow I struggled with all we lacked and had given up. We had no car, no conveniences, and sometimes limited food choices. Not only had I had given up most of the things I was so accustomed to, but I also found I had lost most of my personality because I could not communicate. I mostly came across to my Russian neighbors as a mute American woman who could only stare blankly at them as they spoke to me. I felt like the Lord had led me into a material and personal wasteland.
What was the result? Christ blessed our family with four of the most wonderful years we have ever had. We grew closer to each other in ways that would not have been possible in the U.S. As a family, we saw the Lord's hand of blessing and provision over and over again. As time went on, we all slowly learned Russian and became accustomed to life in Moscow. Terry and I were blessed with a fulfilling ministry working alongside godly men and women.
I realized that all the things I had given up by moving to Russia were more than replaced by the Lord. They weren't necessarily replaced by other material things but by spiritual and relational blessings far more valuable.
My favorite thing to do is “nest.” Fixing up my home and making it warm and inviting brings me great joy. In 26 years of marriage, we have lived in 8 cities. Moving meant new decorating! Let the fun begin!
With each move, I would become consumed with getting the house “done.” I would wake up thinking about it, and after getting the kids off to school the car seemed to go straight to the shops. Yes, I had quiet times, attended Bible study, and went to church on Wednesday nights, and Sundays, but the thing that brought me the greatest satisfaction was decorating.
In 1990, we made a move from Nashville to Baltimore. This was one move I did not want to make, but God put it on my heart to trust Him, and to move, looking for ways to serve Him in Baltimore.
Shortly after moving in, the phone rang. The wife of the president of my husband’s company explained that God had put it on her heart to gather a group of women together weekly in her home for prayer and study, and to seek the Lord about starting a city-wide Bible study class for women and their children in Baltimore. I said I’d come, but with hesitation. I had a house to fix up, and kids to get settled, new neighbors to meet.
About ten of us met for several months in prayer. The Lord raised up small group leaders, a teacher, and a church. No one was stepping up to be the Children’s Director. It was surely not to be me because I had three children, ages three, six and nine. I had things to do. But of course, God kept urging me, telling me this was my ministry to women. This was the way I was going to serve Him in this new town.
My three-year-old was in Mother’s Day Out Tuesdays and Thursdays, the only time to “run errands.” Those times were spent, instead, preparing for the upcoming Bible study. The summer was then spent recruiting teachers and gathering supplies for the nursery and preschool children’s classes, putting together arts and crafts projects, and planning little teaching sessions for the older kids. I even attended a leaders’ retreat to learn my role as the children’s director, using my “decorating money” to pay for a baby sitter.
A great number of women and children had signed up for the class, which would start in September. In late August I was getting weary and selfish, tired of planning and preparing. One day I was driving from the host church, after having dropped off a carload of supplies, and I started complaining. “Lord, I don’t want to be doing this! Why did I sign up for this? Two days every week for the next nine months will be consumed with this. I will have to get there early and stay late! Poor, pitiful me!” And very clearly and silently, the Lord impressed on my heart, “My child, on what better thing could you be spending your time?”
And I knew then that I would choose God over things. I knew there was not one single thing that would be better than serving these little children, teaching them about Jesus, singing praise songs with them, presiding over their selfless teachers, serving them crackers and juice, and letting their mothers have precious needed time in Bible study and fellowship with other women.
The first year of this study God provided for every need. I don’t think I ever missed a day. If one of my own children got sick, I don’t remember, they must have been taken care of somehow. I made a multitude of new friends in the faith. I served on a leadership team of older wiser women who impacted my life forever, as I observed their Christ-centered lives. I soaked up Truth as we met as a leaders group. These were some of the benefits to me from choosing God over things.
Young mothers got to be refreshed while being with other women, sharing God’s Word, and hopefully having transformed lives. Perhaps these women, who were served, are serving others today. Perhaps these little children are now shining examples of Christ-centered youth. I will never know the full impact of making this one decision to put God before things. God showed me that life is not about me, but about Him.
Years have come and gone since then and we have moved a few times more. God has continued to provide our family with a perfectly satisfactory nest in which to “fluff up,” and live and share with others. These days, however, my favorite words are becoming “down-size, de-clutter, clean out and throw away!”
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
3. Sharing question: Consider your priorities. How do you measure them—in time, in effort, in money? How do misplaced priorities keep you from anchoring your soul in God? Is God showing you that any of yours are out of order through the prophet Haggai?
Read Haggai 2:1-9.
4. What promises did God give those who built the new temple? Why would these promises have been an encouragement to them?
5. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem committing to God as first in your life. If He showed you today that you need to confess any wrong priorities, do so, knowing that God forgives but asks you to repent. Once you confess, it is time to act. What do you need to do? Do you need to write a check for God’s work, go next door and spend time with your neighbor, take your place in ministry, streamline your life, or commit to get up early for time with God?
Today we will turn our attention to the prophecies of Zechariah, the second of the three post-exilic prophets in Israel. According to Zech. 1:1, God first spoke to the prophet two months after Haggai gave his first prophecy. Ezra 5:1 tells us that it was the words of Haggai and Zechariah that resulted in the resumption of work on the temple!
Dr. Eugene Merrill says this about the message of Zechariah:
“The prophet is concerned to comfort his discouraged and pessimistic compatriots, who are in the process of rebuilding their Temple and restructuring their community but who view their efforts as making little difference in the present and offering no hope for the future .... He challenges members of the restored remnant to go to work with the full understanding that what they do, feeble as it appears, will be crowned with success when YHWH, true to His covenant word, will bring to pass the fulfillment of His ancient promises to the fathers.”29
Diamonds in the Word: Spend time today and tomorrow reading and charting the book of Zechariah as best you can in a limited time.
Read Zechariah 1:1-11.
6. How did Zechariah rebuke those who returned to the land?
Read Zechariah 7:1-14. This is dated 22 months after the previous visions.
The people asked the priests whether they should continue fasting during the fifth month (7:2-3). This yearly fast was a reminder of and time of lament over the destruction of the temple on August 14, 586 B.C.30 The fast in the seventh month (7:5) “apparently refers to the anniversary of the assassination of Gedaliah, governor of Judah (Jer. 40:13-14; 41:1) in approximately 581 B. C.”31
7. What do these verses teach you about fasting that is done truly for God?
Read Zechariah 8:1-23.
8. How do these verses relate to the original question in 7:2-3?
9. Sharing question: Share your experiences with fasting. What did you do and how did it affect you?
10. Responding to God: God’s rebuke of the people over their fasting is another example of wrong priorities. They followed religious ritual but ignored issues of the heart. Spend time listening to God. Write down what He tells you about your religious ritual—yes, even in an evangelical church! What do you need to do about it?
Read Zechariah 12:1-14. The promises concerning Jerusalem have not yet been fulfilled in this way; yet, God is faithful; He anchors His promises in His own faithful character.
11. Compare Zechariah 12:10-14 with John 19:35-37 (note the context) and Rev. 1:7. What do you learn about these prophecies in Zechariah?
We understand some of these verses to be yet future. The day has not come when God has fulfilled all of these promises.
Read Zechariah 13:1, our memory verse.
12. Compare this verse with Hebrews 10:10-18. Write down your insights.
13. Sharing question: What does it mean to you that your sins are totally washed away?
Read also Zechariah 14:2-9.
14. Let’s compare Zechariah’s words with some other verses. Write down any parallels with Zech. 12:1-14; 14:2-8:
a. Revelation 19:11-16, 20-21
b. Revelation 20:7-9
15. Responding to God: Spend time drawing a picture of the coming King in all of His glory. Meditate upon that day and all that it means. Express before God how much you long to see Jesus.
Today we will read from the book of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets. Although his book is difficult to date, Malachi likely prophesied between 480-470 B.C.32 Dr. Boice says, “The book of Malachi is located at a point of transition, too. It comes at the end of the Old Testament, but it anticipates the New Testament.”33
Read Malachi 1:6-14.
16. What religious hypocrisy and wrong priorities did Malachi rebuke?
17. Sharing question: Malachi seems to be rehashing problems that we have seen over and over throughout the prophets’ messages. What sins do you fall into over and over? Where are your weaknesses? Use your small group to make yourself accountable to others. What one thing can you implement in your life to help prevent this recurring sin?
Diamonds in the Word: Read the book of Malachi today and tomorrow, noting God’s comments to the priests, the questions they give in reply, and God’s answers.
Dr. Merrill says that for the people to whom Malachi spoke
“theirs was not the problem of rebuilding the Temple and holy city, for that had long been done by Malachi’s day; rather, it was the issue of holy living and holy service in the aftermath of all the external accomplishments. Malachi, though dead, yet speaks to the modern world about the need to bring performance into line with profession. His message, therefore, is current, especially in light of the coming of the One of whom the prophet so eloquently spoke.”34
Read Malachi 2:13-3:5.
18. Why did God refuse to honor the offerings of the people and why had He grown tired of their words? How did their profession not line up with their performance?
Two of my friends have shared the difficult stories of their divorces. I so appreciate their willingness to relive that hard part of their lives so that we can see real life examples of why God hates divorce and why He wants us to marry strong believers. God in His grace has brought blessing despite poor choices.
I married young – against my parents’ wishes. Without seeking God’s will. It was all me. It was what I wanted.
For 13 years my husband and I did not miss a Sunday in church. I served in various ministries and participated in all the activities. We were faithful in our giving. By all outside appearances we were a “lovely family.” A precious little girl and then God gave us a darling little boy. We were perfect. All was complete, but, Satan was working, gleeful and deceitful. Little by little the years of hurt and pretense began to erode our false façade. My husband became even more controlling and abusive, both physically and emotionally, to me and to the children. I feared for our safety. Finally, I knew that I could not stand by one more day and let anything else happen to the children; after much counseling I filed for divorce.
It was unbelievably hard and during the process I began to turn my anger toward God. After all, if He truly loved me after I had been so faithful to Him how could He let this happen–never mind the fact that I had made a rebellious choice when I married in the first place, not honoring my parents and not honoring God’s presence in my life. For a full year I was so angry with God that I would deliberately take a different street so I wouldn’t drive by my church. It was all His fault, I reasoned–He had let me down. It was all about me. I didn’t go to church and I didn’t teach my children about God.
And then one day God lifted the veil from my eyes and from my heart–praise the Lord. I was watching my children play and like a bolt of lightning, I realized how I was depriving them of loving the Lord–the same Lord who had guided me from the cradle in my precious Christian home and family. A flood of emotion followed and I asked our precious Father for His forgiveness and restoration. And, He has blessed me beyond measure since that day. He has allowed me to see my children accept Him as their Lord and Savior. Praise!
Our Lord God has given us all the tools and He has made us to fit those tools. It’s so simple–all we have to do is acknowledge Him as our Lord and Savior and love Him back the way He loves us. I almost deprived my children of their inheritance from their Heavenly Father and I praise the Lord every day that He had a different plan for them and for me.
He has blessed me with a wonderful godly husband of 22 years and each and every day I thank Him for remembering me when I ignored Him. Praise the Lord!
Right after college graduation, I married my high school sweetheart. It was wonderful. We were madly in love and convinced that only “death would us part.” He was the football hero and voted most handsome and most likely to succeed. I was the senior class president and a majorette for the band. We were the perfect couple. We were both believers and went to church every week. After a few months of marriage, we both began graduate school. I taught school and went to school at night. My husband went to school full time.
Somewhere along the line we began living separate lives. We never argued or had unkind words. We simply never talked about anything except what to get at the grocery store and what clothes needed to go to the dry cleaners. I became resentful but never expressed my feelings. My husband worked hard at making wonderful grades, and soon both of us graduated.
He was offered a job a long way from home and we excitedly packed up and moved. I found a job and soon we were both working and making new friends. We both became homesick for family, so after a year we moved back home. Again, both of us got jobs and appeared to be the perfect couple. We never shared our deepest feelings and/or fears. We just rocked along. Then, I broke the marriage vows and started having an affair. Right away I told my husband what I was doing. He divorced me practically on the spot. We didn’t go to marriage counseling; we didn’t discuss why I was doing what I was doing. The marriage was over. Within three months of our divorce, my ex had remarried and they are still married today.
God is gracious, and within five years I was planning another marriage. During this time, I had done a lot of soul searching and Christian counseling. I learned that I was a baby Christian and that God hated divorce. I began growing spiritually and started attending a Bible-based church. I had such guilt and wished I could talk with my ex and apologize for the pain I had caused both of us.
Today I am happily married with children. I have been forgiven much, but my divorce still haunts me. I wish I didn’t have to explain that part of my life to our children. I pray they will not go through divorce. I am a different person now. I understand a lot better now that what I did years ago was a symptom of a bigger problem, but divorce does carry life-long consequences. I wouldn’t recommend it.
19. Sharing question: These two women experienced the terrible ordeal of divorce, as a consequence of their own choices. Although the children of Israel experienced the ordeal of captivity and of returning to a land that they no longer ruled because of their choice to ignore God, He continued to give them hope for the future because of His loyal love and faithfulness to His promises of old. How does that encourage you today?
Read Malachi 3:6-15.
20. What do you learn about the character of God in 3:6 that gives you hope and anchors you when you find yourself far from God?
21. Describe the attitudes of the people. How are they similar to those you see in people today?
Read Malachi 3:16-4:6. Malachi’s words did impact some of the people.
22. Responding to God: Ask God to use His word to continue to speak to you, just as He used it in Malachi’s day.
It may be hard to believe, but today is your last day of study! I pray that God has used His Word to anchor your soul more firmly in Him. You may face mighty storms but your anchor will hold you tightly and keep you close to the One who loves you more than you can even imagine!
Read Psalm 50.
23. Compare the message in this psalm with what you read in these three prophets this week.
24. Sharing question: What line of this psalm speaks to you today? Why?
25. Sharing question: How have the words of the various prophets that we have studied for the past seven weeks impacted you?
26. Sharing question: You have read the stories of women throughout this study. Think of what God has done for you while you have studied with your small group this semester. Write out your own story of God’s work in your life during this time period. Write it in detail and be ready to read it to your group. If you would, send it to me so that I have it to share with future groups of women as well! (Your name can be totally confidential. Only I will know who you really are. I often change the names of women who give me these stories. Some of the names in this study are not the real names, but the stories are!)
27. Responding to God: Write a prayer thanking God for all He has taught you this semester, for your small group, and for the coming King!
I hope that you have been blessed by the study of these prophets and psalms. May you continue to hunger and thirst for the things of God!
Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets, 2 vol. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.
Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.
Merrill, Eugene H. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary. Biblical Studies Press, 2003.
NET Bible: New English Translation. Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 2003.
Radmacher, Earl, Ronald B. Allen, H. Wayne House, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
Spurgeon, Charles H. The Treasury of David: Spurgeon’s Classic Word on the Psalms Abridged in One Volume, Abridged by David O. Fuller. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976.
28 Eugene H. Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary (Biblical Studies Press, 2003), 12.
29 Merrill, 82.
30 Note #5 in the NET Bible, 1671.
31 Note #6 in the NET Bible, 1671.
32 Merrill, 329.
33 Boice, 572.
34 Merrill, 321.
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