September 23 Esther 6-10
September 24 Malachi 1-4; Psalm 50
September 25 Ezra 7-10
September 26 Nehemiah 1-4
September 27 Nehemiah 5-7
September 28 Nehemiah 8-10
We started the week by finishing Esther. What a wonderful story. Can you imagine how Haman must have felt when he was required to pay homage to Mordecai? How Esther must have felt to be able to play such a pivotal role in the history of the Jewish people? God can take any situation and turn it to good. It’s an important thing to remember when we wonder why God allows bad things to happen to good people.
The prophet Malachi was given a difficult task. He had to tell the people they were sinning and call them back to repentance and a wholehearted walk with God. The sins Malachi mentioned then are the same sins that afflict us today: lack of love for God, dishonoring His Name, ignoring His covenants, questioning His justice, robbing His storehouse, hating His service.
LACK OF LOVE FOR GOD. Do we love God wholeheartedly? Jesus didn’t think so. John records letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, and the first sin mentioned is lack of love. Could that be because lack of love is the source of all other sins against God?
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Rev 2:4 (ESV)
Do you still love God? We want our relationship to grow deeper, but can you honestly say that you love God now as much as the day you were saved? Or, like most people, have you become complacent in your love for Him? What do you need to change to come back to your first love?
DISHONORING HIS NAME. Do you swear? Use God’s Name in vain? That’s not what God is talking about here. Back then, the priests were offering defiled sacrifices (imperfect, animals with blemishes). The sacrifice had to be perfect, which pointed to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. Instead, the priests were slaughtering substandard animals. It was not a true sacrifice. Don’t we do that today when we give from the end of our paycheck rather than the beginning? When we donate stuff to Christian charities that we don’t want – because it’s in such pathetic shape? Remember God’s words:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mark 12:28-33 (ESV)
Do you give your best to God, or do you give him substandard service? When you don’t wholeheartedly give to God (not just money but service), you are dishonoring Him. Your job as a servant to God is serious. Whether you’re a pastor or a janitor or something in between, your service must be the best you can give.
IGNORING HIS COVENANTS. The Jews had a covenant to keep. We have a new covenant with God. Back then, the Jews were divorcing the Jewish (covenant) wives to marry pagan women. That profaned God’s commandment for marriage: between one man and one woman. After they divorced their wives, they came to His altar asking for blessing and forgiveness. They had broken His law and were not truly repentant – they just wanted God to bless their improper union. Divorce grieves God.
QUESTIONING HIS JUSTICE. The people were living in blatant sin. They were offering improper sacrifices. But they still wanted to know why God wasn’t good to them. We’ve all been at that place where we’ve done and done and done and done and still it seems that “justice” isn’t coming our way. Job struggled with the same issues. Malachi didn’t try to appease them. He just reminded them that their problem wasn’t with an unjust God, it was with their personal uncleanliness.
ROBBING HIS STOREHOUSE. We have no command from Jesus to bring a tithe like the Jews had. But we still rob His storehouse when we don’t give sacrificially. We aren’t given a dollar amount of our tithe, or a percentage to give, but we are told:
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 1 Cor 16:1-2 (ESV)
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 2 Cor 8:1-2 (ESV)
2 Corinthians chapter 8-9 have further instructions for giving.
Why do we rob God? When we do, we lose spiritual blessings, and really…does that extra money do more good in your pocket or in God’s? I know how hard it can be to not give. When we don’t follow God’s commands we are really telling God that we don’t trust Him with that area of our lives. Is that the message you want to send to God?
HATING HIS SERVICE. The people thought serving God was drudgery – another task to add to their overloaded and busy schedules. When you serve, whether it’s changing toilet paper rolls or singing a magnificent hymn on Sunday, are you doing it for the love of God, or is it for the paycheck or because it’s just … what you do?
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalms 100:1-5 (ESV)
We finished Ezra this week and saw God’s hand in the letters that Ezra received. He was to take all the willing men (there were about 50,000), silver and gold from Babylonia, and freewill offerings. There were to be no taxes placed on the servants of the temple.
I saw two important points in this reading:
1. Ezra studied the Word, put it into practice and taught others (Ezra 7:10; James 1:22-25).
2. Ezra dealt with sin. He didn’t try to whitewash it or hide it.
I loved reading Nehemiah this week. I was particularly taken by his prayer. It’s short (we don’t have to belabor stuff with God) and shows us that praying isn’t about quantity of time you spend talking – it’s about the quality of your conversation with God. We know that Jesus spent whole days communing with His father, so we know that prayers can take a long time. It’s also nice to know that God looks at our hearts when we pray and listens to the prayers of righteous men and women, no matter how long they are.
As Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the walls and the gates, I was struck by the fact that each family/group was assigned a specific portion of the work. That reminds me that we are all part of the body of Christ and we are each assigned a specific function. Don’t worry about whether your part is big or small, seen or unseen. Every act of service you do for Christ matters.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Cor 12:12-27 (ESV)
Remember the short prayer at the beginning of Nehemiah? That all changed after the treachery of Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem. The wall was completed and what did the Jews do? They repented.
Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God. Neh 9:1-3 (ESV)
How would you like it if your pastor announced on Sunday that the service would be twelve hours long? The first six hours would be reading/expounding from the Word, and the second six hours would be a prayer meeting/revival/worship service? Oh, one more thing… you have to STAND!
That’s just what Israel did. They finally got it and decided to reject their ways. They turned back to God and made a firm covenant with Him. They promised to separate themselves and walk in the law. And they also promised…
We will not neglect the house of our God. Neh 10:39 (ESV)
Through all our readings this week we see the theme of God providing just what was needed in the most unexpected ways. How has God provided for you unexpectedly this week? Did you receive that extra couple dollars to pay a bill? Maybe someone noticed the work you are doing at church and said “thank you”. Or you may have seen a beautiful flower and been blessed by thinking of how God created that flower just for you. Whether God does something spectacular for you this week, or even if His work is unseen by anyone, know that if you are His child, He is moving mountains for you!
Every time I read the Bible through, something new pops out at me. This reading really reinforced that God planned for Jesus to come and die for each human being from before the foundations of the world. Every word, every covenant, every law was put in place to point to Jesus Christ. Every act of love took us one step closer to Jesus’ birth. God used prostitutes, warriors, thieves, liars, murderers, and the unrepentant – as well as faithful saints who tried to follow God with every breath, word, and gesture. God never said “you’re not good enough for My kingdom” or “you can’t help me”. He used everyone who was willing! Are you willing to be used by Him?
We have one more day of Old Testament reading, plus a couple Psalms. Have you ever read the entire Old Testament? If you have not, what did you think? What stories most touched your heart? What was the most confusing, or boring, or difficult part of the Old Testament? Email me or send me a comment!