May 1, 2015

Settling into the Word


The boxes of necessities are unpacked.  The furniture is placed. Best of all I’ve found a place to nestle in for morning quiet times and I’m settling back into the Bible reading plan I had suspended during our recent move. I started reading this way, several chapters a day drawn from all throughout the Bible, in 2014.  It has ‘hit the spot’ for me.  I took a little hiatus and stuck with just one little book at a time recently.  That was good, but I have missed the big perspective.  So I am glad to be back to my plan.

I’m reading now in Leviticus, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Mark and Hebrews--just a chapter a day from each. If this were any other book than the Bible this would seem a crazy way to read it! [And even so I wouldn’t recommend this plan to anyone unfamiliar with the various book and genres of Scripture. ] But because it is all inspired by One great Author and centered in one Great Epic of Redemption, I find that reading it in this way really makes that theme stand out.  Each component part, each book and genre, is like one facet of a diamond.  Reading them side by side adds to the collective ‘sparkle’ as one passage reflects and magnifies the truth made clear in the other!

In hopes of encouraging you to try it, let me see if I can give an example using one day’s reading this week.  Notice how the themes in these various readings complement one another…

  • Leviticus is sometimes thought of as a dull book of endless ceremonial rules and the penalties for their violation.  But today’s reading brings its purpose into focus.  I paraphrase from Leviticus 18:   You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt or in Canaan.  The things they do make the land unclean and themselves unclean. Do not do those things because I am the LORD your God.

This was God’s design for HIs people.  He intended for them to reflect His nature and character in the midst of nations who had no idea of God’s design for the human race.  This is still His intention. When His people violated that design bad things happened….

  • As Nehemiah considers the shambles that Jerusalem is in he prays remembering God’s promises to scatter and to gather His people.  When they forgot their God and copied the nations, they were taken captive by them.  God promised that if they returned to Him in repentance He would gather them again to the place where He has chosen His name to dwell, i.e. Jerusalem. 

Nehemiah prays: “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.  O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name…” Neh.1:10,11   And as Nehemiah prays God begins to impress on his heart His plan for the restoration of Jerusalem.

  • Moving on to Psalms we get a picture of this God who is to be feared as King of all the earth,

“Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness…The voice of the Lord is powerful—it thunders, it’s majestic, it breaks cedars, it flashes like fire, it shakes the wilderness…The Lord sits enthroned as King forever. May the LORD give strength to his people!” (Ps.29 excerpts)

This is the God Nehemiah fears.  His day job may be cupbearer to a pagan king, for after all he lives in exile as a result of Israel’s rebellion.  But his heart is to see God’s kingdom restored in Jerusalem. (Neh.2:12) Its walls may be torn down, the returned exiles may be in a sorry state, but God is on the move.  His will will prevail; His kingdom will come.  And Nehemiah will be His agent in this restoration project.  But first he must get a leave of absence from the Babylonian king.  No problem…

  • As our Proverb for the day puts it:
    The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov.21:1) And peeking ahead to tomorrow’s reading in Nehemiah we see this illustrated:

 “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (Neh.2: 8)  Indeed, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.” ( Prov. 21:30)  God has the plan, and Nehemiah is His man for the job.

But where were we…

  • Isaiah chapter twenty-nine describes the siege of Jerusalem that has brought them into that sorry state Nehemiah was reckoning with.  Why did it happen?

“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Is.29:13)

They had lost their fear of God.  They pretended to honor Him but their lives did not reflect His glory.  So He brought foreign nations against them.  He turned His might (remember the description of it in Psalm 29?) toward punishing them so they might turn from their unfaithfulness and be saved.

God’s intent was not to destroy His people but to restore them.  This passage in Isaiah ends with a beautiful prophecy of good things to come:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale. For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.  And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding and those who murmur will accept instruction.” (Is.29:22-24)

This is a prophecy specific to Israel but in it is the pattern of God’s dealings with the people He intends to redeem for His own glory. We were designed to reflect His nature, the beauty of His holiness, and so to bring Him glory.  He is still at work in the world to bring people back to this design.

But HOW?  And that brings us to our New Testament readings.  First,

  • Mark
    John the Baptist appears on the scene in the first chapter of Mark to announce Jesus’ soon arrival. He will come to redeem man to God, to make a way for them to fulfill the design only hinted at in the Old Testament. The Old Testament rules laid out in our first reading, in Leviticuswere insufficient to make men holy.  They illustrated God’s holiness but were powerless to transform men into His likeness.  Now John the Baptist announces Jesus is coming to baptize men with God’s Holy Spirit.  This is something new, something transformative.  This is the Good News Jesus has come to announce. It is how the Kingdom will come to earth: “The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

So by the time we reach the New Testament it becomes evident that restoring the walls of Jerusalem, the city God chose to represent His character to the nations, was only the beginning of His grand scheme.  His desire is that His name should dwell in people, not just in the Jewish nation, but in all those who will repent of their own ways of making life work and believe in Jesus.  The first chapter of Mark suggests that it isn’t enough just to know that Jesus is ‘the Holy One of God’.  Even those rebel angels, the demons, knew who He was (Mk.1:24).  Whether they liked it or not they were subject to Him for He is the King of Kings!  No, it will be those who, like Nehemiah, know the fear of God and willingly bow to His Kingship who will inherit this Kingdom.

  • Hebrews paints the picture beautifully of what it means to be a subject in this kingdom.  Chapter 12 was the perfect round-up of all the day’s readings.
    Leviticus (18)was all about God’s holiness.  Here, ‘He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.’ (10)
    Nehemiah (1)referred to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  Here we find reference to ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’, to which we are invited.(22)
    Psalms (29) emphasized the awesome might of God’s voice. Here in Hebrews we are warned not to refuse Him who is speaking!  “For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens’ “.
    Isaiah (29) spoke of an imitation fear of God.  Here we are called to the real thing!
    And finally, in Mark (1), Jesus came announcing the coming Kingdom of God while here in Hebrews we are admonished to ‘be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,’ and to ‘offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.’

Do you get a glimpse of why I so much love reading the Bible in this way? The God of the New is no different than the God of the Old.  There is no contradiction in His character.  He is beautiful.  He is good.  He is worthy of our worship!


P.S. Are you bogged down in your Bible reading or just in need of a more consistent  plan?  This plan requires only about a half hour per day. Once you’ve committed to carving out the time you’ll be hooked.  Read the details by clicking the “Just Read It” tab at the top of this blog’s web-page. 

(If you’re reading this  post in your email, you’ll need to click on the post title to get to the website of my blog) 

A summary of my plan is here.  It is especially helpful if you’re very familiar with the Scriptures. As you look for related themes , familiar passages will shine in a fresh way!




Michele Morin said...

What a beautiful demonstration of the narrative arc of Scripture. I'm very partial to Nehemiah these days as we have spent twenty-something weeks plowing through the book in my Sunday school class. I love his awareness of history and Scripture and his high view of God. Glad you are getting settled in!

Linda said...

Wish I could have been in your class! I have enjoyed your writing on Nehemiah!