Christopher Wright, an Old Testament scholar and author, has written an excellent book studying Jesus as found in the Old Testament. Here an overview will be presented of each chapter in the book:
“And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matt. 2:14-15).
Some commentators have drawn some bizarre applications of the infant Christ's time in Egypt ranging from our personal identification with Christ when our infants are in dire straights to God's justification for leaving the Jews because Egypt entertained Christ when they humiliated him during His infant years (Henry, 11). However, these applications take our focus off Christ and onto ourselves by forcing meanings onto the text that aren't there.
“'She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:21-23).
The famous “Sign of Immanuel” when delivered by the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz of Judah occurred during the Syro-Ephraimite War. Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria was rapidly expanding across the Ancient Near East when the leaders Rezin and Aram of the two small nations Syria and Israel (Ephraim) respectively joined forces to resist Assyrian amalgamation. Since Judah occupied the southern border of these two conspirator nations (and thus a potential 2nd front should Judah side with Assyria), they attempted to force King Ahaz to join their coalition against Tiglath-Pileser III.
Isaiah on 'Theology of Mission' as Man's Purpose
Man has wrestled with the fundamental questions of existence since before thoughts were recorded. Modern man is still seeking answers to “What is the meaning of life?” and ultimately “Why are we here?” Yet nearly 2,700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah was whisked into the throne room of God and received untold revelations directly from the sovereign Creator Himself on such matters. True to his calling the answers were concealed in such a way that people will “be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving” (Isaiah 6:9).
Throughout the collected sixty-six books of Isaiah's prophesies several themes reveal the answer. First, the sinful and wicked nature of both God's chosen people and the nations is clearly evidenced as man's barrier to the presence of God. This evil against themselves, others, and God Himself demands justice, which is manifested as the wrath of God. Then a third theme (which seems irreconcilable at first) of God's mercy for His chosen people and the nations runs parallel to the lengthy passages of judgment. These paradoxical attitudes of God amazingly find harmony through yet another theme, that of a Messiah. Described in detail, while indirectly, The Messiah would take man's place and receive God's judgment of evil as their substitute, so that any, including outsider nations, could now enter into God's presence. Thus the answer to man's questioning fully appears in the final theme: sharing the message of the Messiah's redeeming actions to not only His chosen people, but also all nations, peoples, foreigners, and Gentiles.
The Reforms of Kings Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah
Francesco Hayez, Destruction of the Temple
Entropy was one consequence of the fall, dooming all creation to a slow decay into chaos. Even the loyalty and gratitude of the people the Lord called out of the fray and into his kingdom are not exempt from the effects of entropy. This decay is seen as their faith drifts from God's core tenants through worldly desires of control, convenience, and compromise. To reverse the drift, The Lord periodically raises up radicals who call for reform, to end unorthodox practices and return to a pure relationship of faith. This inevitable cycle is a consistent theme within the history of the church, with clear biblical foundations as seen throughout the Kings of Judah.
During the divided monarchy of Israel, the drift that began gradually during the golden age of King Solomon jumped drastically with the northern kingdom of Israel's political split sanctioning blatant compromise in the name of convenience to retain control of the people. While the southern kingdom of Judah retained the core faith, it suffered severe entropy during the reigns of twelve apostate kings influenced by surrounding nations. Of all twenty kings of Judah, eight are remembered for their obedience to God, and of these only four enacted reforms.
Through the four reigns of kings Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, we can learn what influenced their actions, how they initiated reforms, and what foolish errors they made to interpret the effectiveness of their efforts. By studying their lives we can avoid repeating their mistakes in the cyclical battle against entropy while we fulfill the great commission today.
Grieve for what is lost. Following Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem, Lamentations was composed from raw grief for God's broken people (Lamentations 1:2). The writer mourns seeing that God's character fulfilled His word, just as He said it would happen (2:17). Judah wails, recognizing that God allowed this anguish (3:1-16), yet paradoxically that God is still their hope (3:24-30). The ramifications of sin are described in graphic detail as many deal with the pain of loss (4:14). The people are called to remember this disgrace so that God will restore them (5:21). God calls us to relationship with Him, and as our Father wants us to open our emotions to Him, even when it hurts. When disease strikes you, death strikes your family, or a natural disaster strikes your country, ask God the tough questions, He can take it. God may reveal that trials are allowed to develop perseverance and bring about our maturity (James 1:2-5). Even if we do not receive an answer, we must recognize that God works all things for His good (Genesis 50:19-20). Take comfort that our groaning is only temporary as we await our heavenly dwelling (2Cor. 5:4).
God's ministry may not be “successful.” Jeremiah was from a priestly family, but God called him to prophecy against his own people (Jeremiah 1:1). He denounced the “Big Lie” of Judah's popular ritualistic worship and their confidence in man-made temples and palaces instead of God (7-10:25). Jeremiah warns Judah that God will respond if they don't restore the covenant, but he was beaten, thrown in the stocks (20:1) and later jailed (37). Like Noah (Genesis 6), his preaching had no impact, even though he reached the people, the priests and rulers of Judah (26). God still calls some of his people to unpopular ministries. However, God's definition of success is rarely measured in numbers. The call may be to question the “Big Lies” of our day: is worship ritualistic instead of a heartfelt communion with God? Are we exempt from judgment because we're a “Christian Nation?” Jesus was clear that we are to preach the gospel (Matt 28:18), even the unpopular parts (25:32), to all nations, even those where it won't be popular. God expects simple obedience, so successful ministry in God's eyes may not make man's history books.
All nations are accountable to God. Around the time of King Josiah's reforms (2 Kings 22-23), Zephaniah proclaimed the coming judgment of the Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:14-2:3) to Judah (1:4-13) and the nations (2:4-15). From Judah four woe oracles are addressed to Assyria (north), Ammon & Moab (east), Ethiopia (south), and Philistia (west), representing all nations in all directions who are accountable to God for worshiping false gods when He is the one true God (2:11). Fortunately, Judah and the nations are promised restoration once their rebellion is purged (3:9). Today, we must not assume as Judah did that God's people will escape judgment for errors of omission by drifting away from God (3:2) and errors of commission by misusing pastoral and leadership positions at the expense of congregations and employees (3:4). Most importantly, the nations are still accountable to God today, but they need messengers to bring them the good news of Christ's atoning work on the cross (Romans 10:14-15). Thus, we must reach our local Judah through apologetics and the surrounding nations with evangelism.
Don't despair despite the darkness. In Habakkuk, the prophet revealed his questions and his struggle with God’s apparent absence (Habakkuk 1:2-4). God responded by revealing that He is raising up the Babylonians to judge Judah’s evil, which doesn’t comfort Habakkuk (1:5-11). Since Babylon is even more vile than Judah, the prophet balks at God’s plan (1:12-2:1). Habakkuk is then told to record a vision of the Babylonian’s judgment for their violence, which reveals God’s sovereignty (2:2-20). He then reveres God and prays for mercy and faith (3). We still question God’s plan when it doesn’t fit our plans or expectations. However, everything from financial stewardship questions to life catastrophes may simply be God asking “do you trust me?” In fact, God’s plan may call us to endure trials and sufferings as a missionary for His namesake (Luke 18:29). Yet, despite our inability to see God’s ways, we can stand firm knowing that the creator of the universe not only knows what is best for us, but also reveals Himself to those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29:10). Then we too can live by faith as Habakkuk declares (2:4).
Justice requires judgment. The prophet Nahum declared that the crimes (Nahum 1:11) of Ninevah (the capital of Assyria) against Judah and the nations will be judged (1:3). Ninevah's day of distress is pictured as futile while an enemy conquers the mighty city (2:1-10) and her deeds are repaid (2:11-12). The “city of blood” then receives further woe not only for military cruelty, but also idolatry and occult practices (3:1-4). Nahum concludes by saying that all nations will rejoice when God brings justice by carrying out judgment down to Assyria's king himself (3:19). People today still cry out for justice against new Ninevahs, even atheists who see death as an escape from consequences. Yet, only God can provide true justice, since his justice is both temporal and eternal. Like Assyria's, every temporal evil committed yesterday till the end of the age will be righted by Christ (Revelation 19:11). All evil must be judged or else justice becomes a mockery, like in Universalism where there is no payment for wrongs. Thus, only those who accept Christ's just substitution for their judgment will enter into his presence (Romans 3:25).