Jeremiah 29:11 ranks high on the list of favorite Old Testament scriptures. As much as we love it, do we really understand how much it promises? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)
“Prosper” translates the Hebrew word shalom, a word (a noun, by the way) so rich it has no good English equivalent. It usually appears in English translations as “peace.” In fact, many English translations of Jeremiah 29:11 say, “plans for peace” or something similar.
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has been a favorite American hymn for about 200 years. The second verse notoriously starts, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” I say notoriously, because it has been generations since large numbers of church goers have understood the meaning of “Ebenezer.” It’s a stone of remembrance, set up by the judge and prophet Samuel on an occasion well worth remembering.
When Samuel was a child, two worthless priests under judgment from God decided to take the ark of the covenant into battle with the Philistines. Since they had no relationship with God and no regard for him, they must have regarded the ark as some kind of magic box that would turn the tide of battle.… Read the rest
The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.
These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)
I just led a Sunday School class on the eighth chapter of Daniel. It got me thinking about Bible prophecy and what it means when prophecies are fulfilled. Just what are we supposed to learn from goats and rams with weird-looking horns that turn out to mean something that even Daniel could make no sense of? This chapter seems to have been entirely fulfilled by the reign of Syrian king Antiochus IV in the second century B.C. Or was it? Does it also refer to the final Antichrist? Can we find clues of what is still ahead for the world?
Twenty-five years ago, when I watched a lot of Christian television, I caught two consecutive shows on Bible prophecy.… Read the rest
God will conquer the world and drive sin out of it, but as the four Servant Songs in Isaiah make clear, he will not act like an ordinary human conqueror. He has appointed a gentle servant to accomplish the task. The first (Isaiah 42:1-4), while not a typical Advent scripture, is very appropriate for this time of year.
Isaiah has already identified Israel as his servant (Isaiah 41:8-10), but, as it turns out, a thoroughly incompetent one (Isaiah 42:18-22). In the Servant Songs, God reveals another Servant, none other than the chosen Messiah, Jesus. God has put his Spirit on this Servant to bring justice to the Gentiles.… Read the rest
In one of the best-known passages of an otherwise obscure book, Ezekiel described his vision of a valley of dry bones coming to life. Actually, it was more than a vision; he had to prophesy to the bones before anything happened.
Ezekiel recognized that the bones represented the whole lineage of Jacob. Both kingdoms that represented that lineage had been destroyed, their people exiled and scattered. In their shattered hope, the survivors felt as dead and dried up as the bones.
At Ezekiel’s first word of prophecy, the bones formed together as complete skeletons, and then the flesh returned. Now instead of a valley of dry bones, it was a valley of corpses.… Read the rest
Because it refused to turn away from its sins and rebellions, God destroyed the Kingdom of Judah and sent the people to exile in Babylon. According to an overriding biblical principle, God is never finished with a situation after he has executed judgment on sin. The next step is always grace and restoration.
Through the prophet Ezekiel, he promised not only to gather up the exiles and return them to Jerusalem. He also promised to give them a new heart and a new spirit.
They would remove all of the abominations and detestable things from the land; no more would Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside see the idol worship that had led to judgment in the first place.… Read the rest
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’” — John 21:15 (NIV)
Shane Stanford, whose The Seven Next Words of Christ (Abingdon Press, 2006) provided the framework for this series of devotions, considered the entire 21st chapter of John as a single word. There is a certain symmetry to seven last words balanced by seven next words. Besides, according to the number symbolism in biblical times, seven is the number of completion. Still, I think Jesus’ interview with Peter is too important to combine it with anything else.… Read the rest
“Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: ‘For God has made me forget all my toil and all of my father’s house.’” — Genesis 41:51(NKJV)
By the time Joseph had any sons to name, he had led rough life and suffered much injustice. It didn’t start out that way, of course. As the eldest son of his father’s favorite wife, Joseph became his father Jacob’s favorite son. He enjoyed such favor that his older brothers despised him. Then came the dreams, which earned a rebuke even from Jacob.
Why did Joseph stay home when Jacob sent the older sons out to take care of the cattle?… Read the rest
I’m sure we’ve all wondered what heaven will be like. It’s odd, though, how often people talk about heaven without mentioning God. Maybe that’s why there are so many glimpses of heaven in the Bible—to remind us of whose idea it was in the first place.
Most of us can only imagine a place much like earth, but with no troubles. Even inspired writers had trouble envisioning much more than that. Isaiah’s vision contemplates people having children, planting fields, building houses, and living as long as trees. He tells us heaven will be a new creation. That means it doesn’t exist yet, but what will it be like?… Read the rest