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In Case You Missed It -- Ezra 7-8, Psalm 78

“The hand of God” is upon Ezra and his companions who returned from exile (Ezra 7:28, 8:31).  God’s favor is stressed twice in today’s reading by the imagery of God’s guiding hand. Since God’s provision, however, is often a major theme in our readings, today I simply note and appreciate some of the cultural distance we experience from many of the Biblical writers by looking at Ezra’s genealogy.

Consider how many prior generations are mentioned in Ezra’s lineage (Ezra 7:1-7). Seventeen generations are traced all the way back to Aaron, Moses’ brother. How many of us could easily access the info on our family from five generations back? If you are reading this and know thenames of two of your great-great-great grandparents, I dare say your familial knowledge is exceptional.

What is the point? In addition to the fact that God inspired our scriptures, our Bible is recorded by authors reared in the ancient Jewish culture, uniquely skilled at making written records that we still read and trust today. We have good reason to trust the Biblical writers and the stories they tell.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ezra 5-6, Psalm 77

God, working through King Cyrus of Persia, brings many Jews back to Jerusalem to build the temple, but that doesn’t mean finishing the work is a foregone conclusion. Yesterday and today we read of ongoing opposition by Persian leaders that slander Judah’s returned exiles. These opponents deceive Artaxerxes, the new king, by persuading him that the continual rebuilding of the temple means God’s people will then refuse to pay taxes. Of course, this is untrue, but Artaxerxes initially responds with alarm and calls Judah’s leaders to stop working on the temple; their work stops until Darius takes over for Artaxerxes.

Early in Darius’ reign these Hebrews begin working again, and they send word through Tattenai, a governor, that in fact Cyrus had commissioned this work. Thankfully truth is on the side of God’s people. After enquiring for and discovering Cyrus’s decree, Darius encourages the ongoing building of the temple. When God intends to accomplish some work, it is God who ensures its completion from beginning to end.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ezra 3-4, Psalm 76

Explaining someone else’s emotional response is difficult enough. Trying to venture a guess at why someone in the Bible wept thousands of years ago is a fool’s errand. Even so, many have guessed at why these elders and spiritual leaders of Judah weep upon seeing the foundations of the new temple (Ezra 3:10). It could be because the new temple’s foundation seemed small in comparison to the old one, or perhaps there is sorrow for what has been lost. I tend to think it is a little of both. Either way, amid a time of reason for gladness, Judah has still fallen so far from former glories that a celebration is obviously tinged with a great measure of sadness.

I cannot overstate how much the Babylonian exile shapes Israel’s self-understanding moving forward. Similarly, we recently remembered as a nation the events of 9/11, just sixteen years ago, and we will recognize the events at Pearl Harbor in a few months; certainly, we can empathize with the way the life-altering exile could profoundly shape a people’s self-understanding. Most importantly, the exile and return will form the backdrop for Israel’s future hopes for God’s kingdom and His Messiah.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ezra 1-2, Psalm 75

2 Chronicles ends with a description of Babylon ransacking Jerusalem, and we know that they destroyed Solomon’s temple in 570 BC. Not too many years later, in 539 BC, the Persians would defeat the Babylonians, and the very Cyrus we read about today is the victorious Persian king. When we begin with Cyrus’ desire to build a new temple in Jerusalem, we can historically locate Ezra’s narrative very easily: in 538 BC Cyrus freed many Hebrews to return to Zion. Those that were in their 20’s and 30’s when the Babylonian captivity occurred are now in their 50’s and 60’s. God is graciously working in the heart of a foreign king to show kindness to the chosen people.

Ezra is a book about God’s continuing favor on His people even after all seems lost. Still, there are many obstacles internally and externally for Israel to overcome in the days after the exile. Those post-exilic obstacles will be the major focus of the next three books we read, including Ezra.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 35-26, Psalm 72

Jeremiah writes lamentations over Josiah’s death (2 Chronicles 35:25). These are not the lamentations that make up an entire book of the Bible; those lamentations, which we will read in the future, are written in response to the events described in 2 Chronicles 36. After Josiah passes, Judah’s kings grow evil again and lose their power until they are eventually exiled by Babylon. Judah has seemingly lost the throne that God promised to David and his descendants forever. Israel as a whole has been ransacked. They will never again return to the power they once knew as a nation.

In addition to Lamentations, much of what remains in the Old Testament references these events through prophetic warnings about the Babylonian captivity or insight into Israel’s experiences with their judgement. Even the Old Testament’s post-exilic events indicate how much Israel as a whole, north and south, have been altered by these events.

God’s curses have come upon Israel and they will move forward trying to understand how to be a people that have seemingly lost much of what God promised them. Most importantly, Israel will be waiting for a King to sit on David’s throne…

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 33-34, Psalm 71

Josiah embraces the law as the unique commands and covenants from the God of the universe. Upon hearing the law read and tearing his robes, Josiah feared the consequences due to generations rejecting God’s laws. Josiah enquires of God’s prophets about Judah’s fate. Unfortunately, Judah, like Israel, has sealed their fate long before Josiah’s time. Josiah will be spared the destruction due Judah, but ultimately, they will face the promised curses for spiritual adultery. Even Josiah’s repentance and what is likely a more widespread returning to God cannot allay Judah’s fate.

This does not, however, negate God’s favor towards Josiah. God tells Josiah the truth through the prophet Huldah. Still, Josiah is so upright, even with bad news from God, he refuses to dishonor His Creator. May we have a similar posture, that we would love and obey God even when we know this will not change God’s mind to act in ways for our preferences. Such is the way the righteous live.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 31-32, Psalm 70

I have been redundant in underlining how the Chronicles emphasize their main theme. These books intend to convey through Israel’s history the principle that obedience to God leads to national blessings and that disobedience leads to curses. 2 Chronicles 31 effectively illustrates the positive side of this principle. Consider the words of the priest about the great blessings Israel enjoys and thus offers: “Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the Lord has blessed His people, and this great amount is left over” (2 Chronicles 31:9).

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 29-30, Psalm 69

If you have any Jewish friends, chances are that they celebrate their holidays. Passover is still a big deal to even non-religious Jews. Today as we read about Hezekiah’s many reforms, he majorly emphasizes Israel’s call to celebrate Passover as one people. They have gone years without observing one of their central celebrations due to lack of emphasis, and one can infer from the passage that a lack of priestly leadership played a role (see rationale for delaying Passover one month in 2 Chronicles 30:3).

Hezekiah recognizes the importance of Passover observance not just to obey, but also to turn hearts back to God, and the king throws a massive celebration in God’s honor. Christians, when we gather to celebrate God’s goodness, we do so in obedience (see Hebrews 10:25), but also to be formed as a people.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 27-28, Psalm 68

Sometimes it is good when others say little about us. 2 Chronicles 27 has few words to offer on the life of Jotham, King of Judah. 2 Chronicles 27:6 gives a fit summary of his life: “Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God.” After these words, we are not told about his moral failures, rejecting God’s prophets, or worshiping gods of the foreign nations. May we live such simple and God-honoring lives that very little else needs to be said about us when we have passed than “she loved God and neighbor, proclaimed the Gospel, and died.”

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 25-26, Psalm 67

At Agapé Chicago we often talk about how idolatry is not simply about worshiping figures made of sticks and stones. No, idolatry means replacing worship of God with ultimate love or allegiance for anything else. Take note then of these words from a prophet to Amaziah, “Why do you consult this people’s gods, which could not save their own people from your hand?” (2 Chronicles 26:15). To translate this question, we might say something like, “Why do you trust in money to bring you happiness when so many have failed to find joy this way?” or, “Why do you seek a romantic relationship to bring you completion, when so many report a lingering incompletion?” No other god but God can save us from ultimate misery, utter defeat, and destruction. So why trust in other things that cannot deliver?

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 23-24, Psalm 66

Yesterday’s reading made a big deal out of Ahaziah and Joash surviving enemies from both outside of Judah and inside of the royal family. Today we see some of the resolution of those narratives.

God has providentially preserved David’s lineage. In sparing David’s line and giving the throne to Joash, God raises up through Joash’s leadership short-term spiritual vitality in Israel. Unfortunately, after Joash returns Judah to proper worship in his youth, he yet again turns from God in his latter days, honoring idols and persecuting God’s prophet Zechariah. The cycle of Judah’s growth and declines goes on and on.

This leads me to ask a few questions: “What does it take to for God’s people to turn as one to God with heart, soul, and mind?” “When God’s people finally return to God in holy worship, how can this posture be maintained for generations?” These questions do not find easy resolutions in the scriptures. As we live with the tension of wanting to honor God, see others love Jesus, and to pass our love onto future generations, let’s pray for God’s grace to sustain His church in Chicago.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 21-22, Psalm 65

No one wants to hear the words, “I wish you were dead”, but these words likely reflect Judah’s thoughts towards Jehoram during much of his reign. We know that no one was sad to see Jehoram die, and he was not honored like the kings of Judah’s past (2 Chronicles 21:19-20). In fact, it seems when Jehoram passed, people were happy. This shows that in addition to Jehoram’s idolatry, injustice characterized his rule. Idolatry and injustice always go together, and in Jehoram’s case, his evil practices made him not only an enemy of God but also despised by those he ruled. Given how much those in authority can cause either grief or gladness for those they lead, let us remember to pray for our leaders in the days ahead.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 19-20, Psalm 64

When the Moabites and Ammonites come to attack Jehoshaphat and Judah, the king calls his people to fast and seek God’s face. Israel, at its best, knew that fasting from food as recognition of their dependence upon God was their wisest course in hard times.

Do we have such wisdom? Jesus taught His disciples both then and now how to avoid hypocrisy while fasting (Matthew 6:16-17) and that we ought fast between His ascension and return (Mark 2:19-20). When was the last time you fasted from food to seek God’s face? I encourage you that when practiced in scripture, this discipline is met with favor for those fasting. Most importantly, when we fast, we feel in our body how much we need God and also how lost we would be without His provision. Church, avail yourselves of the gift of fasting that you might feast on Jesus’ love.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 17-18, Psalm 63

I used to read statements like, “Some Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and silver as tribute, and the Arabs brought him flocks” (2 Chronicles 17:11) as incidental to the Biblical story. However, through careful attention to the promises of God, lines like this prove instrumental in grasping the implications of Israel’s moral progression or regression.

Ideally, Israel’s obedience and faithfulness would reflect God’s worth to the surrounding nations. Often enough, like in today’s reading, when Israel reflects God’s greatness, and so blesses the nations, they return the favor by blessing Israel. Israel is unique because of God’s work, and when God’s work meets with faith, everyone benefits, especially Israel. Unfortunately, Israel often rejects God’s plans for them and fails to bless the nations, while the nations repay the favor through war and conquest.

Life is not always so simple as “do good and blessings will flow,” or “do bad and curses will come,” but in many ways Israel’s ultimate fate, role, and outcomes were decreed to be this straightforward. God has only one plan (what theologians call God’s “secret” or “hidden” will), but the plan he has given Israel for their flourishing is one Israel often rejects (what is called God’s “revealed” will). Though we cannot know all God’s “hidden will” for us as individuals, as a church, or as a nation, God’s “revealed” will is plain. Like Israel, we do a disservice to ourselves and everyone around us when we reject God’s revealed will for us.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 14-16, Psalm 62

For many of us, finishing strong will be the most important part of the legacy we leave behind. Asa’s faithfulness to God in his youth gave way to distrust in God’s power at the end of his life. After calling Judah and even some of Israel back to God (see 2 Chronicles 15:9), Asa in fear of defeat makes an unholy alliance with the King of Aram. God is displeased because Asa witnessed God’s ability to defeat great enemies in the past (2 Chronicles 16:7-8) and yet would rather trust the strength of men over the strength of God. Add to this, after Hanani the seer confronts Asa on his failure to trust God, instead of repenting, Asa punishes Hanani.

What a shame Asa chose this route. We witness another king of Judah end his life with a major stain on his record because of a poor ending. God help us all to live in ways that will help us to finish well.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 13, Psalm 61

The scope of 500,000 casualties is hard for us to fathom, but that is how many Israelites died in a war against their fellow Hebrews from Judah. Now, it is important to remember that ancient Near Easterners rounded their numbers and that no one in the original audience would have read this as a dishonest reporting of casualties if, say, 498,532 people actually had died. It is important to remember our doctrine of inerrancy claims that scripture is without error in what the original writers intended to claim, and the writer of Chronicles is not claiming an exact number.

Now that we have some understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy, let me just conclude by reflecting on how tragic this event is in Israel’s history. In essentially one to two generations, Israel has endured a mighty fall from their heights during Solomon’s reign. Imagine one out of every six people in Chicago killed, and we gain a sense of the tragedy contained in 2 Chronicles 13. Brother slays brother, all because one part of Israel has rejected God and His purposes for them in the line of David. Israel’s story continues to often prove tragic.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 10-12, Psalm 60

Solomon’s death isn’t even described in 2 Chronicles. In fact, we aren’t even told how Israel came into the leadership mess of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. The reason is the Chronicles are telling a story not of characters but of the importance of character. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam are lacking in this regard.

Rehoboam is introduced to us as ignoring the wisdom of his elders and former confidantes of wise king Solomon, joining the folly of his fathers by having many wives and concubines. As bad as Rehoboam is, Jeroboam and his idolatrous ways are presented as more troublesome. Not only does Jeroboam erect high places for the worship of false gods, but his rule also represents the rejection of David’s family by many of Israel’s tribes (2 Chronicles 10:18-19). Considering the covenant made to David about his throne and his family, this is a signal that Israel has lost touch with God’s promises and also with obedience. As you might expect, this will spell disaster.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 9, Psalm 59

Today’s reading continues to paint the picture of Solomon’s vast wealth and power at the height of his reign. Additionally, foreign leaders seek to understand Solomon’s secrets to greatness. Besides the queen of Sheba (from modern-day Ethiopia), “all the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God put in his heart” (2 Chronicles 9:23). Not only is God fulfilling HIs promises to bless Israel when they walk in obedience, God is also fulfilling His promises to Abraham to bless the nations through his offspring (Genesis 22:18).

God is keeping His promises, but the promise of blessing the nations through the seed of Abraham still will be fulfilled in even more profound ways in Jesus than in Solomon (Galatians 3:16). Since that is further down the road, let’s take today and pause to see God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Moses, David, and other servants to accomplish what had been promised years in advance. God is faithful!

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 8, Psalm 58

Do you remember when Solomon prayed for wisdom instead of great riches or might? Today we see that God, in addition to wisdom, has entrusted Solomon with the wealth and strength he did not pray for. 2 Chronicles 8 relates that Solomon conscripted servants of other nations (8:7) and that Israel had enough people to rebuild fortified cities that could house horses and chariots (8:5-6). Solomon has enough wealth to build a home for his wife, Pharaoh’s daughter, so that the ark of God is respected. Solomon has even mustered people to sail with foreign nations and bring back wealth from afar (2 Chronicles 8:17).

Solomon has gained incredible riches, and his reign marks a high point in Israel’s military power and comparative wealth. Here God is showing how much he is able to bless those who honor YHWH. May all readers take note of what God can do, and also what he willed to do for Israel in their times of obedience.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- 2 Chronicles 7, Psalm 57

In the 19th & 20th centuries, non-believing academics, or even those with secular, miracle-denying worldviews, rejected God’s authorship of the scriptures. Accordingly, they hypothesized various possible sources from which we might have derived the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) and the theology of later Old Testament scriptures. One famous theory suggested that much of the Pentateuch had four different sources of authorship. To be brief, one of these four was called “Deuteronomistic,” supposed to have been responsible for any teaching that included Israel's receipt of blessings for obedience or curses for disobedience.

Certainly the theology of 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 would be considered full of “deuteronomistic theology,” developed by people in Josiah’s day to rationalize Israel’s experiences in exile. The problem is, when we approach the scriptures with suspicion, we have to come up with theories that inadequately explain the nuanced stories, not to mention theological teachings, found therein. A straightforward and receptive reading makes better sense of the parts. I do not see any reason to believe that Israel would invent a collection of stories that cast them in such horrible light, as people who have been consistently given great promises for obedience only to choose the curses of God. I rather think it much more likely that these stories are the truth about God’s historical dealings with Israel, and today’s reading is simply God reiterating his covenant promises to Solomon. My prayer is that you will also, with spiritual eyes, see that God is the author of the story we are reading daily.

Jeremiah Vaught