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).
The proud will be humbled. Obadiah prophecies against Edom calling the nation proud, yet deceived (Obadiah 3). Blinded by pride, Edom (the descendents of Esau ) will be betrayed by his closest allies (7), just as the he betrayed his 'brother' Judah (the descendents of Jacob) (10). Obadiah announces that on the Day of the Lord the tables will turn on Edom and he will receive retribution for his actions (15-20), because Edom took advantage of God's people and abused them during their sufferings (12-14). Obadiah concludes that in the end Edom will belong to the Lord (21). “Pride comes before the fall” is still a cliché for individuals, religions, and nations (Proverbs 16:18). Anyone who takes pride in their body or their work will watch it fade away, or like Edom watch it turn against them. In this world or the next, the New Atheists who arrogantly proclaim science has killed God will be silenced by Truth. Entire nations may fall due to their pride, just as Judah did because of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39). Even superpowers need to ensure that patriotism doesn't turn to pride since the Day of the Lord will include all nations (Obadiah 15).
Trust is the basis of servanthood. Countless individuals are called to trust God in the 66 chapters of Isaiah's prophecies. Isaiah himself nearly comes undone in God's throne room except for his trust in God (Isaiah 6). King Ahaz is contrasted as failing when he trusts in Assyria to deliver him and not God by denying the sign of Immanuel (ch.7). Woe oracles are then given to the nations and Judah due to their lack of trust in God (ch.13-23). Later, King Hezekiah's trust delivers Judah from Assyrian domination (ch.37). Finally, Isaiah foretells of the servant Jesus who would display perfect trust (ch.42). Today, trust in God is rarely more than a slogan printed on money. Sadly many only “trust” in God when they feel blessed, and then question instead of rejoicing when sufferings come (1Peter 4:13), even though a true servant is measured by their trust in God during hardships (Acts 14:23). Whether we face the loss of a job, a treasure, or a loved one, or whether we commit a grievous error, drop the ball, or omit a task, we must continue to trust in God, since it may be that He is refining his servant in the fire (Malachi 3:2).
Don't forsake the forgotten. Micah lamented over the rampant injustices within Judah (Micah 1:8). People defrauded one another and plotted to deprive fellow citizens of their livelihood and their lands (2:1-2). Judah's appointed leaders' oppression of the poor rivaled cannibalism (3:1-3) as they judged favorably for bribes (v11). Even Judah's prophets created positive messages for supporters and negative messages for those who couldn't (v5). Judah's assurance in God had turned to self-deception as they assumed immunity to all wrong (v6-7). Today Christians run the same risk of using their assurance in Christ as a rubber stamp for their misdeeds (Romans 6). Many declare that their blessings at the expense of others are from God, writing loans people can't afford, fleecing patrons for higher margins, and suppressing wages for bonuses. We too shamelessly buy and lobby leaders for selfish interests. Like Judah's false prophets we happily skip Christ's countless messages on helping the poor (Matt.19:21) and avoiding riches (6:24). Narcissism in the name of God doesn't fit a “Christian” nation.
Moral right & wrong transcends culture. Amos was an equal-opportunity prophet of judgement, foretelling the fall of eight nations for disrespecting human life and thus the image of God in mankind (Amos 1+2). Syria, Edom, and Ammon were guilty of merciless slaughter (1:3+11), even against pregnant women (v13). Philistia and Tyre (1:6+9) were guilty of slavery. Moab was guilty of desecrating corpses (2:1). As God's chosen people, Judah and Israel were held to a higher standard and therefore guilty of idolatry (2:4) and ingratitude (v12) on top of others. Amos reveals that every nation and culture is in rebellion to God since his moral law is written on all our hearts. Moral pluralists fail to explain how injustice (v6), sexual sins (v7), dishonest gain (v8), and other crimes against humanity transcend culture. As Christians we must remember that like Judah and Israel, we are called to a higher standard still. Amos warns us never to silence the word of God by denouncing other denominations or demanding our personal theology. Also, we're called to remember all that God has done on behalf with thanksgiving.
Love God as you would your spouse. God scandalously called his prophet Hosea to wed an unfaithful wife to illustrate his love for unfaithful Israel (Hosea 1:2). Hosea's spouse (Gomer) cheats on him so often that the father of two of their children is in doubt (1:6+8). Gomer's wild adultery results in destitution and slavery, but again God calls Hosea to buy her back to illustrate how he will redeem Israel and woo her back (3:1-2). Just as Hosea expects Gomer to save herself for him alone, so God expects us, his bride, to love him alone (3:3+2:23). When we ask Jesus Christ to be our Lord and savior we enter into a sacred relationship. Like a spouse, God desires genuine devotion and obedience to his word, not simply “going through the motions” or empty tradition (6:4-7:16). Since love is not lip service, God sees empty “Christian” behavior, like a ritual church visit or meal prayer, as hypocrisy, or worse, a sham. The idols in our hearts are an act of unfaithfulness and a breech of our marriage covenant with God (4:1-19). Many self-proclaimed Christians would receive a certificate of divorce if God were truly their spouse.
Love people more than you love things. Jonah is probably the only preacher in history who scorned the idea of certain revival. After Nineveh responded to his words (Jonah 3:5) Jonah reveals his reason for running: God is so loving that he wouldn't eviscerate the reprobate if they repented (4:2). Hoping God would change his mind and decimate the state, Jonah built a front row seat outside the city (4:5). God provided a vine to shield him from the sun, but then to Jonah's rage killed it as an object lesson (v6-7). How could Jonah care more for a single plant than 120,000 human lives, even if they were his enemy (v10-11)? People today fool themselves into thinking they love others when how they spend their time and money say otherwise. We ask “how are you?,” but don't make time to hear the response. We're not prejudiced, but there are people we'd never associate with. Christians share a greater responsibility. The messengers of Christ's love are too busy “doing church” to share the gospel, or prefer bigger TVs to helping a missionary. Many love a country more than the lost souls attacking it. We need to love like God.
Never run from God. Everyone has heard the tale of Jonah, a prophet who'd rather flee to “Timbuktu” than face his calling (Jonah 1:3). When he didn't like what he heard God saying he responded with his feet that he knew better than the creator of the earth and the seas. God hurled a storm at the ship to persuade him (1:4), but Jonah decided it was better to drown than answer God (1:12). However, God can not be thwarted and Jonah found himself preaching in Nineveh (3:1) after a three day hell in a fish belly (2:1). As a prophet of God, Jonah of all people should have known that fleeing from God's presence is futile. Yet people still follow Jonah's example today. Believers ignore the call to witness (Matt. 28:18) in favor of comfort and complacency (2 Tim. 4:3). Non-believers hope to escape God through denial (Psalm 14:1). Similar to Jonah both think freedom will result from fleeing God. So they judge his omniscient plan for them and crown themselves as ruler of their life. However, whether a medical crisis, the words of a friend, a lost loved one, or a hotel bible, they will find that God, the hound of heaven, pursues us all.
Never judge God to vindicate yourself. Job was a righteous man and God richly blessed him for his faithfulness (Job 1:1-3). However, Job had everything taken from him in a test of his loyalty (Job 1&2). After Job's friends comforted him, they tried persuading hm to repent of his sin so that God's punishment might be removed, because they believe the popular thought that pain is a direct result of wrongdoing. Job testifies repeatedly of his innocence, calling their literal theology of retribution bunk; however, out of ignorance Job questions God's goodness to defend his own. Today when science rules, truth is relative, and morality is seasonal, we blame God when things don't go our way. When natural disasters devastate nations, people call God evil for allowing it to happen. When God's holy standards infringe upon people's desires, they condemn them. When Jesus taught on hell and eternal suffering, they call him unloving. Each time we indirectly state that we define good, that we know whats holy and pure, and that we are more loving than God. When facing pain, we need to look inward instead of judging God.
Never stop reading God's Word. After Cyrus the King of Persia decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem, they began to journey home, including the priest and scholar Ezra. (Ezra 1&7). Once the material city was rebuilt, Ezra saw the necessity to rebuild the city spiritually by reading the Law to the people (Nehemiah 8:1). Ezra then publicly read the holy scriptures while priests explained it from daybreak until noon, and the people listened intently (8:3-8). The people were convicted and had Ezra read God's Word “day after day,” leading to a revival in the land. Too often we either neglect God's Word or take it for granted. Pastors and priests should not be relied upon as the sole source for spiritual nourishment. Christ followers need to commit to reading God's Word regularly, if not daily, to nourish themselves with God's word. We need to recognize that truth and morality only become relative when people forget or ignore the absolutes revealed in God's Word. We need to respond to the world's cry of “where is God?,” with God's self-revelation through scripture, by being immersed in it ourselves.
Sometimes coincidences are divine. The actions of Persia's queen set off a chain of events that led to the Jewish girl Esther becoming queen (Esther 1&2). Coincidence allowed Esther's uncle Mordecai to overhear and prevent a plot on the king's life (2:19-23). Coincidence allowed the Persian king's wife to be a Jew who would intervene when Haman sought revenge on the Jews (3:8-9). Coincidence allowed the king to reward Mordecai (6:10) and hang Haman on the gallows he had built for Mordecai (7:10). Coincidence after coincidence spared the Jewish people from genocide during their exile, and revealed the hidden hand of God. Often times we are too slow to recognize God's divine works behind humble circumstances in our life. Pastors may find that a surprise financial gift coincidentally match a church expense. A Christ follower may find that a plane delay coincidentally leads them to a spiritually hungry seat mate. We may find that God uses our simple actions to coincidentally answer the prayers of another. In the end, we should learn to thank God for his sovereignty regardless of a coincidence's nature.
God's call requires our undivided attention. During the exile, Nehemiah received permission to return to Jerusalem from the Persian King Artaxerxes (Neh. 2). Upon his return he led the people in rebuilding the city's walls which lay in ruins. Despite constant interruptions due to social concerns (Neh. 5), political bullying (Neh. 4), and even attempted sabotage (Neh. 6), Nehemiah refused to turn from God's call. In response he gave a curt reply to reveal his priorities, that he was doing a great work and could not come down (Neh 6:3). Whether caused by the devil or the common tasks of the world, distractions too often force us to leave God's work. The pastor can come down from sermon preparation and vision casting to attend to the tyranny of the urgent. The Christ follower can come down from sharing the gospel to avoid upsetting family and friends. The parent can come down from raising Godly children to seek after a promotion at work. We need to recognize, as Nehemiah did, that the work God has called us to is our number one priority, and trust God to handle the distractions of the world.
Revivals require radicals. A radical leads people away from worldly desires and back to what is right in God's eyes, and Judah only had four during the reigns of twenty king. King Asa so responded to God's prophet by removing idols that Israelites settled in Judah (2 Chron. 15:8-9). King Jehoshaphat appointed teachers to instruct the people in the book of the law and the fear of the Lord fell on their enemies (2 Chron. 17:7-9). King Hezekiah purified the temple and held the first passover in centuries that inspired the people to destroy their idols (2 Chron. 30). King Josiah demolished the high places of Israel (2 Kings 23) and also held a momentous passover. The other good kings lacked the boldness to take a radical stand for God, and this lack of boldness remains with Christians today. Radical pastors preach what the bible teaches, even the unpopular parts. Radical Christ followers forsake worldly trappings to fulfill the Great Commission. Radical leaders become servants to all, setting aside pride and power to help the poor and the needy. As radicals rise up to return to what is right, revival is sure to follow.
God rewards obedience. Of the twelve spies Moses sent into the promised land, Caleb and Joshua were the only two who faithfully and obediently reported that with God's blessing they could acquire their inheritance immediately (Num. 13:30). As a result of their faith, Caleb and Joshua were the only ones out of their entire generation allowed to enter the promised land after the other ten spies instilled unbelief in the Israelites (Num. 14:30). In addition, God gave Caleb and Joshua their top choice of the land for remaining faithful for over 45 years (Joshua 14:6-14). God desires to scandalously reward sacrificial obedience a hundredfold (Matt. 19:29), but rewards are often not Earthly rewards like Caleb's and Joshua's. We must avoid erroneously declaring that The Lord's will is for every man to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous in this life when oftentimes those rewards are Heavenly rewards where moth and rust do not destroy (Matt. 6:20). However, we will do well to remember that even the smallest act of obedience, such as a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, will be eternally rewarded (Matt. 10:42).
A noble character is earned. In a great tragedy, Naomi returns to Israel after loosing both her husband and two sons while sojourning in foreign Moab. Fortunately for Naomi, her foreign daughter-in-law Ruth loyally stays and supports her by gleaning (scavenging) behind harvesters. Ruth's unswerving loyalty and work ethic are not only noticed (Ruth 2:6-7), but also reported among the entire town (Ruth 3:11). When Ruth makes her daring marriage request of Boaz, he confirms his intent, largely influenced by her “noble character.” Reputation and family names are still worth their weight in gold (Proverbs 22:1), since they have a way of uplifting or haunting us our entire lives. Strongly tied to obedience, the difficulty of earning favor and a good name with both God and man hinges on our following God's teachings and commands. (Proverbs 3:4). To further confirm the difficulty of earning such a reputation Proverbs congratulates the man who finds a wife of noble character (Proverbs 31:10). Once earned, we must defend our noble character by following God's wisdom in complete love and faithfulness.
Always inquire of The Lord. As Joshua led the conquest in cleansing the promised land, local leaders of Gibeon tricked the Israelites into signing a treaty by pretending to be from a distant nation. Even though Joshua frequently inquired of The Lord, and had even been directed not to bargain with any of the Canaanites (Deut. 7:2), he did not do so before ratifying the agreement (Joshua 9:14). Once the Israelites realized the Gibeonites lived in the promised land, it was too late to revoke their oath, and the unconquered people led the Israelites away from The Lord. Major decisions in life still necessitate that we inquire of The Lord or seek his guidance through prayer (James 5:13), just as king David inquired of the Lord before all his battles (2 Samuel 5:17). Besides foxhole prayers in times of trouble, Jesus tells us to ask, seek and knock, of the Father as a regular and repeated process (Matt.7:7). To take it even further, the monk Brother Lawrence invites us to “practice the presence” of God, or to pray without ceasing, just as Paul admonishes us to pray continually in a perpetual inquiring of The Lord (1 Thess. 5:17).