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Amos 8-9, Psalm 106

Like other prophets, Amos mostly writes about Israel’s evil, and God’s requisite wrath. Amos, also spends a few words writing about Israel’s hope of returning to their land after exile. The truth is, though Amos ends his book with promises from God for Israel’s restoration, the majority of the book isn’t so gladenning. Such was the world before Jesus. There were hundreds of reasons to be dour and few reasons to be optimistic for the future. God’s revelation, at least as understood in time and space, was that Israel through covenant faithfulness with YHWH should have reflected the glory of the God of the universe. This plan seemed to be a tragic failure. Still, in audacity, these prophets could name all of Israel’s problems, and still confidently proclaim God’s desire to restore Israel. As we finish Amos, we can learn what God loathes far removed from the punishment for such crimes and also appreciate that we are heirs of the promises of God. We are also heirs of the lessons Israel learned, and the warnings given by God through faithful servants like Amos. Praise be to God.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Amos 7, Psalm 105

Amos’ words, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14) have become famous words used by many claiming authority comes not from birth nor station in life, but our calling by and knowledge about God. Amos, after speaking about God’s plumb line of judgement is denounced by Israel’s wicked king Jeroboam as being a nobody. Amos doesn’t deny it. Instead, he claims his authority has nothing to do with the fact he isn’t a prophet and was only a lowly shepherd. Rather God gives authority to Amos by speaking through Him. Whatever authority we have comes only because we stand on and are formed by God’s words. When we stand on this authority, we can bring the great news that scripture offers. But as Amos shows, we also have the authority to declare God’s judgement, so long as it is God’s judgement. So, this week, it doesn’t matter if you are a prophet or the son of a prophet, you can still declare God’s counsel with authority, for true power is conveyed by God alone.

 

Jeremiah Vaught
Amos 5-6, Psalm 104

Rampant evil in Israel is described this way: “There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.” (Amos 5:12) Those in power are dangerous, and the righteous are vulnerable. In this situation we are given a description about how to live in such days. The scripture says, “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” (Amos 5:12) In one sense, this is absolutely true, whenever evil reigns, it is better for decent people to stay off the grid when possible, to avoid harmful quarrells or difficulties. Prudence directs one thing, while courage demands yet  another. For there are better things than to avoid an unfair fight, as we are told, “Seek good, not evil, that you may live.” (Amos 5:13) Prudence avoids being brought into unnecessary controversies with wicked people, but to enjoy life, we must pursue and do what is good. This tension is felt especially in days that are evil. What fights do we fight and which fights do we avoid? In our wicked days where so many are wrongfully mistreated, let’s pray that God will help us to know when to be prudent and when to be courageous.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Amos 3-4, Psalm 102

If rap battles existed in the days of Amos, he would have easily had a “drop the mic” moment in Amos 4:1. Calling wealthy Samaritan women by the name of the local well-fed cattle communicated God’s disdain for their indulgence. We assume God also had wrath for their complicit husbands, for they grew fat and filled their pockets at the expense of their poor Hebrew brothers and sisters, whose best interests were protected by God’s law. As noted before, but worth repeating, God’s anger against Israel’s sins could be broken down into two main accusations: idolatry and injustice. Of course those two are the inverse of the commands to the love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is the insistence of scripture these sins go together, for one would never do what these Samaritans did to their neighbors (injustice) if they had love for the God of Israel (idolatry). In fact, this passage goes one step further. These “cows of bashan” are growing thick at the expense of others, that are presumably working hard yet mired in destitution. Justice isn’t simply about laws, but asking how has God called us to serve and seek the best interests of our neighbors, rather than solely satisfying ourselves. May our lives be mindful, for we would not want a prophet in the vein of Amos to stand on the word of God and “drop the mic” about our evil indulgences while so many around us suffer.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Amos 1-2, Psalm 103

Amos, though a minor prophet like Joel, is unlike Joel in that he is clear about the era when he writes, sometime between 790 B.C. and 739 B.C.. The biggest event in Israel’s history in that century is the Assyrian captivity that happens right around 722 B.C. While warning about Assyria’s imminent victories over and humiliation of the northern kingdom are in view, Amos wants to clarify to Israel that it is in fact God judging this people. In fact, God begins to speak through Amos, a shepherd and unlikely mouthpiece,the Lord’s impending  judgement against Israel’s neighbors. God judges Israel’s neighbor nations, as one commentator wisely puts it (see ESV study Bible notes), for breaking laws that would have been widely understood, whereas God punishes Israel for breaking Torah. For example, it is common understanding that tearing open the wombs of pregnant women is worthy of terrible punishment (Amos 1:13). Right and wrong, good and bad, and ultimately God’s justice and judgement isn’t just for a select group of people alone. In fact God has shown us what is right and wrong, even apart from special revelation (Romans 1:32). God’s judgement isn’t arbitrary or capricious, but based on revelation, specific and general. Therefore we can say, that righteousness and justice are the foundations of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14) forever and ever.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Joel 3, Psalm 100

The general experience for a person in the United States is to have moderate levels of abundance, at least when we consider human history and our entire globe. Most of us don’t worry whether we can buy groceries this week, albeit for various reasons. Thus it is hard for us to get as excited about promises for mountains to drip with wine, and having hills flow with milk (Joel 3:18). After all, our grocery stores flow with these things. The message of Joel, to a people that could be devastated by a bad crop, was that after their time of devastation due Israel’s wickedness, those days of scarcity would be a distant memory. We can relate to this hope, as we still worry about paying the bills, and whether our job will  be available next year, or whether we will enough retirement saving. Joel promises all such concerns will be far removed from the conscious of those that have been faithful to the Lord. Though the final day of the Lord comes first, our hope is steadfastly fixed on the day where milk and wine will flow on God’s mountain
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Joel 1&2, Psalm 99

Joel 1&2, Psalm 99

Joel, out of the prophets, is very difficult to date accurately, for he doesn’t obviously refer to particular events. However, many see negative references to Edom as evidence that this work was written some time in the mid-500’s B.C. reflecting the Edomite mistreatment to Judeans during the Babylonian captivity. In today’s reading, Joel refers to God’s judgement over Israel. This is not a novel topic in our recent readings. However, note how when Joel speaks of the day of the Lord, which often has connotations of negative judgement, there is a promise of God performing gracious miraculous deeds, mostly due the Spirit being poured out on people, leading to prophecies and dreams. Of course Peter, hundreds of years later in Acts 2, saw the day of Pentecost as fulfilling this prophecy from Joel. The evidence that Peter is correct is shown when Peter preached that same day and 3000 people came to faith in Jesus, thus fulfilling the promise that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Joel 2:32). Let’s recognize that in Joel the promise of God’s dramatic work is closely associated with the day of the Lord, and also note the reality that Pentecost was impossible apart from the crucifixion and resurrection. This is significant, for that world changing two-part event prior to Pentecost is a signpost of the final day of the Lord, as it shows us what God values most on the final day of Judgement. This event also shows us out how anyone can have hope in the final day of the Lord. God values the name of Jesus, and anyone who calls on that name, the name of Jesus, will be saved.

 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 14, Psalm 96

Twice in the first two verses, Israel is told to return to the Lord. This returning is the same as what we call repentance, that is turning away from idolatry and evil, while moving back towards God. As one writer has pointed out, faith and repentance are flip sides of the same coin. To turn towards God, we must turn away from what the Lord says is evil. Just as someone traveling to downtown Chicago called to visit their friend in Evanston must turn away from going downtown to go back to Evanston, so the two actions of faith and repentance are one. Today, may faith and repentance mark our lives.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 11:12-13:16, Psalm 95

God will bring disaster on Ephraim (a tribe in the Northern Kingdom) and Judah. That much is certain. Hosea, like other prophets, has thrown in an outlier of hope or two so far in his book. None of them are as surprising as what he states in the midst of promised judgement, ““I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;  I will redeem them from death.

Where, O death, are your plagues?  Where, O grave, is your destruction?” (Hosea 13:14) This statement would be quoted in part by the apostle Paul years later (1 Corinthians 15:55), but the place where God makes this promise to Hosea makes these words feel abrupt. God goes from guaranteeing judgement to promising a rescue from a surprising enemy. Now this is the third time in three books (see Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12) we have clear promises of God’s desire to give life after the grave. Here we are told this is true even to those worthy of judgement. As consistently as Hosea claims God is so ready to punish Israel for their many sins, we should be more astounded that God is willing to mock even death and promise of His imminent victory over the great enemy we all deserve. What a mighty God we serve.

 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 94

God declares love for Israel expressed in founding her as a nation and calling her out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). We know that God called Israel as a people through Isaac and Abraham to fulfill a vocation to make God known and thus be a blessing to the nations. Yet Israel failed in this calling just like Adam and Eve before the fall of creation. Hosea 11:2-11 highlights Israel’s many evils, intentionally contrasting their deeds to God having called them out of Egypt by great works. The particulars of Hosea 11:1-11 are important to remember when we read in the Gospel of Matthew the direct quote from Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I Called my son” (Matthew 2:15) In Matthew, Joseph took Mary and Jesus as a child to Egypt to avoid Herod until Herod’s death. So when Matthew claims that scripture is fulfilled in Jesus going down to Egypt we need to understand something of what it means for Jesus to fulfill scripture. In Hosea, Israel is the son God takes out of Egypt prior to set aside for the work of making God’s glory manifest. So in Matthew, Jesus is being intentionally portrayed as doing and being what Israel refused to do and be. God called Jesus out of Egypt just like Israel, but Jesus would not fail to bring the light of God to the nations. Praise be the Lord.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 9:10-10:15, Psalm 93

Hosea 10:1 tells of that Israel was fruitful and prosperous, which led to them using their prosperity for idolatry and wickedness. In a few words we are presented with a revelation that has been proved over and over in human history. We don’t handle prosperity very well. Though many of us assume while we are in our struggles, like financial hardships, or difficult workplaces that if God would just put us in a better spot, we would do more to honor the Lord. The truth is, as Israel shows, it takes great grace to handle times of plenty and remain true to our God. Sure, poverty doesn’t necessarily do us any favors either (Proverbs 30:8). But to stay on point, we must abolish from our mind any idea that good circumstances leads to greater faith. On the contrary, our tendency in times of success is to give ourselves credit for what God has done. Since it is true that prosperity doesn’t lead to stronger faith and vital obedience, let us pursue God, or rather receive God’s pursuit with joy no matter how much is in our piggy banks or how well we like our neighborhood.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 8:1-9:9, Psalm 92

The Biblical statement you reap what you sow is made more terrifying with the words, “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7) God is making plain that Israel has sown idolatry and wickedness, thus evil and destruction is imminent for them. This reaping and sowing principle is absolutely true. If you spend your life smoking cigarettes, lung cancer is likely. If you neglect your children, chances are they will neglect you or disrespect you when older. The Bible teaches this principle, and everywhere assumes its reality in the fabric of creation. That doesn’t diminish that we don’t reap all that we sow, nor does all that we sow lead to the whirlwinds we deserve. God ultimately trumps the reaping and sowing principle with grace. Though our sins were scarlet, God will make us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). As we read about the sowing principle, we delight in the obviousness of its truth, while still marveling that often and in the most important ways God intervenes to circumvent this principle, most definitively on the cross. Though we sowed the wind, Christ endured the whirlwind of human evil that we might be rescued, to the praise of our glorious God and Father. Amen.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 5:8-7:16, Psalm 91

If you stopped midway through Hosea 6:1 you would read, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces.” Not the best argument. However, we know that there is more to be said as Hosea continues, “but he will heal us; he has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds.” Though hope is embedded in this plea, lets notice that Hosea doesn’t have a simplistic view of God that states, “God would never do us harm.” Hosea recognizes that the judgement that falls upon Israel, leads them to exile, and culminates in shame and ruin has all been done by the Lord’s hand. Still, if God is responsible for their calamity, there is only one hope for safety and bona fide protection. Like Israel, we only have one refuge where we can turn in trouble and heartache. So whatever God has done in your life, let us turn to the Lord, for our King alone has healed us “by His wounds.” (Isaiah 53:5)
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 3:1-5:7, Psalm 90

Infidelity is the theme of our reading today. Rather, infidelity in light of painstaking fidelity is the main focus. Hosea’s call from God to take Gomer back at cost to himself from out of prostitution sets the stage for God’s descriptions of Israel’s infidelity and the patience the Lord will show. Many are offended at the depiction of disloyalty and comparing it to prostitution, but the Old Testament writers do not hesitate to draw this parrallel. Even today, in our sexually promiscuous culture, the idea of a woman who has sufficient finances prostituting herself while married to an honorable and good man with whom she has children would still be considered by many a great evil. It always been seen this way, by the grace of God. Also by the grace of God, the Lord communicates how great our evil is through this imagery, that we might see the grace of our King. Like Hosea brings Gomer back, so God will bring those called by His name into right relationship with Him.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Hosea 1-2, Psalm 89

God has asked prophets in past reading to take dramatic action to demonstrate the Lord’s work and character before the eyes of Israel. Jeremiah carried his yoke, and Ezekiel laid in the same area for an extended period of time. God hasn’t asked anyone to do what YHWH asks Hosea to do. God calls Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman, someone who is unreliable and unfaithful. So Hosea married Gomer, and together they had children. Then God calls Hosea to give names to his three children that would be a sign to Israel of how YHWH relates to them. But what it would it be like to go to school and be called “not loved” and “not my people”? Through Hosea’s family and the particulars of these dramatic actions, God is showing Israel who have they have been (unfaithful) and how God should relate to them (without love and rejecting them as a people). But like Hosea could name a child “not loved” and still show her love, so God will show Israel love even though she doesnt deserve it. Wrapped in God’s harsh words, are words of tenderness and provision for the future. Though none of us would like to be called to do what Hosea does, he does get a unique perspective on the radical love of God.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Daniel 12:5-13, Psalm 86

Daniel wonders after seeing many visions, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled.” (Daniel 12:6) The man clothed in linen responded with a message Daniel didn’t understand about “a time, times and a half time” which prompted one last question about the outcome of these visions. This conversation concludes with directions to Daniel to go about his business, for these events will certainly transpire, even if he can’t understand their meaning in entirety. The question Daniel first asked about a length of time is a question we have been asking as a church since Jesus first ascended to the right hand of the Father. We, with the Psalmist cry out, “How long oh Lord” (Psalm 13:1), and with the martyrs of Revelation that say, “How long, Sovereign LORD, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Revelation 6:10) Like Daniel, we see the upheaval God guarantees in scripture and the ending of all wars and we long for the days of judgement to come and go so we can be fully restored. In the meantime, let's go about our business of walking in fidelity with God.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Daniel 10-12:4, Psalm 85

From Daniel’s vantage point, all that was prophesied in chapters 10-11 would happen in the future. Many writers will have lengthy disagreements in identifying the particular kingdoms of those chapters. No matter those disagreements, everyone believes Daniel 12:1-4 looks towards what still lies in our future today, towards the final resurrection. What Ezekiel 37 spelled out through describing dry bones taking on flesh, so Daniel here describes a day when God will raise all the dead for judgement, and some will enjoy everlasting life while others will experience everlasting condemnation. To reiterate what I said in Ezekiel 37, this is one of the first times in scripture that God clearly reveals what happens after death. That doesn’t mean God changed his plan, or people didn’t have questions about death, but rather that God chose to reveal certain aspects of redemption in steps. This is called by theologians “progressive revelation.” This concept has its pitfalls, but understood properly accurately conveys that the Bible tells us a story, and like any good book, doesn’t give away everything at first. Certainly, because of Daniel 12:1-4 and Ezekiel 37 many faithful Jews came to believe in what is called “the resurrection”, that is God’s day of ultimate judgement. In fact the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day had lengthy arguments about whether this event would take place. Early Christians were in the Pharisees’ camp on this matter. Now, after Jesus’ rising from the dead, we actually believe this event predicted in Daniel has already in a sense begun. Jesus is the first to rise from the dead, proving God’s judges Him righteous, and now all those that place their faith in Him will enjoy that same judgement. Jesus is always the end (goal) of the story.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Daniel 7-9, Psalm 84

Daniel’s visions in chapters 7-9 are the stuff of end times conferences, eschatological musings, and prophecy study Bibles. Parsing the details of all the particulars in Daniel is worth the effort, but all conclusions about what particular kingdoms Daniel’s visions refer to must remain tentative, unless we are specifically told in the text (like with the Media-Persian empire). However, what is certain from our reading is that identity of the figure like a son of man in Daniel 613-14 who would reign over the nations became the source of major theological discussion in second Temple Judaism. Of course, many believed that this character would be the messiah, but others wondered why this figure is called “one like a son of man”, for doesn’t that imply that this person simply appears to be human? Into the sorts of questions Jewish leaders had about the son of man approaching the Ancient of days, Jesus in his fateful mock hearing before the Jewish leaders on the night he was betrayed answered the question if he was the messiah with a rattling response. Jesus said, “ “I am….And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62) Like Daniel’s vision of the ancient of Days is a guarantee that the nations will bow to the true King one day, Jesus is warning those trying Him for blasphemy that they will see God’s vindication of Jesus, the Son of man the nations will worship. Years before Jesus, Daniel’s dreams disturbed him as he could not make sense of it all. Today, we are better positioned to put the pieces together, and when we all see the son of man coming on the clouds, we will finally know the meanings of all these visions. Until then, the big point stands, God reigns over all, and God has handed the nations over to this Son of man to rule, so let us worship the one that will come on the clouds.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Daniel 6, Psalm 83

When Daniel is in the den of lions, God sends his angel to protect Daniel. Now if you will recall, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a furnace, there was a fourth person in the fire with them. It serves to reason that Daniel’s angel would have been the same person, and very likely the “angel of the Lord”. Of course, if that is the identity of the one in the fire, then that seems to exclude the possibility that a pre-incarnate visitation of God the Son occurred in Daniel 3. We must not move too fast. If you will recall, when we read earlier in the scriptures about the angel of the Lord, we noted that some speculate even this angel is actually a pre-incarnate visitation of the second person of the Trinity. The word angel simply means a messenger of God, and of course could refer to one among the spiritual beings, angels. Elsewhere, though, angel can refer to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10) and church messengers (see Revelation 1-3). Why make mention of all this? Because I think it is interesting, and even speculation, so long as we acknowledge it is speculation, helps us make some sense of the pieces of the Bible. No matter how we piece together the angel of the Lord and the figure(s?) that appear with the exilic Jewish leaders, we can note that God is with His people “in the fiercest trial and storm.” Even if we disagree on some details, the story of scriptures main drive is to send us back into the Father’s embrace through the blood shed on Calvary. Let us heed the word then, and enjoy that God is with us, even in the fire and even in the den of lions.
 

Jeremiah Vaught
Daniel 5, Psalm 82

If you have ever wondered about the origin of the phrase “The writing is on the wall”, then look no further than today’s reading from Daniel. Of course this phrase now refers to any ominous signs that misfortune awaits someone. In Daniel 5, the writing on the wall was present before there was any writing on the wall. We see that Nebuchadnezzar's son is drinking wine at a large party from the goblets God allowed Babylon to ransack from Israel’s temple. Before the king sees this hand writing words of warning Daniel will soon interpret, the reader knows this is a terrible mistake. Though God is using Babylon as a means to judge Israel and teach the chosen people problems that comes with dishonoring God, that doesn’t give them impunity to act as they please. Such desecration of God’s sacred objects is not tolerated, and even after Belshazzar responds with deference to Daniel’s interpretation of the writing on the wall, his days, actually his minutes are numbered. He dies that very night. No matter one’s lofty position, or even how God intends to use a particular people, no one can ignore God’s holiness without grave consequences. Praise God that this warning serves as writing on the wall to call us away from evil and to reverence of God’s holy name.
 

Jeremiah Vaught