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Nehemiah


Rev. David Appold joins Rev. Grills and Rev. Heide to discuss the major themes and background of the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, in his zeal for rebuilding Jerusalem, seeks to build up two walls: the physical walls of the city and the wall of the Law. This has important applications for Christians today, especially regarding hearing the Word, the observance of the Fourth Commandment, and marriage.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 2

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Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 28:10-17

Jacob is in a difficult spot. Since the beginning of his section in Genesis 25:19, Jacob has strove with his brother to obtain what belonged to Esau. In the previous chapter, Jacob, with the help of his mother Rebekah, steals the blessing from his father Isaac (Genesis 27). When Esau learned what happened, he cries out: “Is he not rightly named Jacob [that is, Deceiver or Grabber]? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing” (Genesis 27:36). Esau unsurprisingly wants to kill his brother because of what he has done. His parents therefore both tell Jacob to flee to Rebekah’s brother Laban to the north in Haran (Genesis 27:41-28:5).

Beersheba, the place where Abraham made an oath with Abimelech regarding the well (Genesis 21:25-34), is in the south (which is why the expression “from Dan to Beersheba” in passages like Judges 20:1 or 1 Kings 4:25 means basically “from north to south” or “from top to bottom”). Haran is in the far north, beyond the river Euphrates. Abraham had settled there with his father Terah before receiving the call to go to Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Since Terah died in Haran, some of Abraham’s kinsmen still lived there, which is why Jacob is told to go there. He flees along a major road northward, hoping to make good time.

Jacob is obviously travelling alone and with great haste, since he stops at a “certain place” and uses a rock for a pillow (Genesis 28:11). As he is sleeping, the Lord sends a great vision in a dream. Such dreams occur throughout the Scriptures, such as with his son Joseph (Genesis 37), Pharaoh (Genesis 41), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2), and Joseph the husband of Mary (Matthew 1:20). God uses these dreams, therefore, as a special means of revelation, both to believer and unbeliever alike, and often at critical moments in salvation history.

In this vision, Jacob sees a “ladder.” This word, however, only occurs here in the Old Testament. The Septuagint renders it with a word which primarily means “ladder,” which is perhaps why this is the most common translation. The word, however, is related to other words, like “siege mound” in 2 Samuel 20:15 or “highway” in Numbers 20:19. Therefore, the basic sense is something like an inclined ramp, which by no means excludes steps or even rungs. However, the raised incline is the key, since it begins on the earth and extends into heaven.

Jesus identifies Himself as this ladder or ramp in John 1:51, where He calls Nathanael and proclaims His own divinity. Because the Lord gives the promise which He made to Abraham (Genesis 13:14-16) and to Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5) now to Jacob, Christ seems to say that He too is the conduit of such blessings to His people. “For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). Since Jacob calls that place “the house of God” and the “gate of heaven,” it points toward the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who is the Son of God (John 14:6)! Further, Christ is also proclaiming both His own divinity, since He is a part of this vision to Jacob, and that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who made this promise to His people so long ago that night.

The Lord also consoles Jacob: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15). Jacob doubtlessly was afraid of Esau his brother, and a red-eyed flight northwards to escape being murdered also made him wonder about his future. But the Lord was with Jacob even in the midst of this exile or sojourning, so that he would become Israel and the father of the Lord’s people. The Lord will not break His promises, even when it seems like they are so far from being able to be fulfilled.

Jacob awakes and makes a curious statement: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). On the one hand, Jacob like his fathers is a stranger and a wanderer in a land which did not belong to him, even though it was promised to his offspring. Jacob in his terror may have thought that he was being driven away from the Lord as well, since his relatives were not necessarily God-fearing (Laban his uncle, for example, was an obvious idolator in Genesis 31:19). On the other hand, since he saw “in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) even more so than we (Matthew 13:17; Hebrews 11:13), it may be that he thought that the Lord remained behind him as he fled to the north. Imagine his surprise, then, to discover what his offspring David says in Psalm 139:7-8: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

Jacob in the morning sets up the stone and unsurprisingly calls the place Bethel, literally “house of God” (Genesis 28:19). It would not become a city for many years, but it would play an important role in the history of Israel. Bethel sits on the road north of Jerusalem, but when the kingdom divided, it became a part of the Northern Kingdom. Being so close to the border between the kingdoms, it was essentially the southern point in the same way Beersheba was for the whole kingdom. Jeroboam, therefore, set up one of his golden calves at Bethel (1 Kings 12:29). The place where God had appeared to Jacob therefore became a sin and a snare to Israel. Physical locations where the Lord performs His miracles, however important they may be for salvation history, too often serve as a snare to faith in the same way. “You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred” (Matthew 23:17)? But Elijah and Elisha set up one of their schools in Bethel and the true worship of God continued even in the midst of idolatry (2 Kings 2:2-3).

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity: Proverbs 25:6-14

Unlike the two previous readings from Proverbs, the Old Testament reading for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity comes from the main section of the book and not from the introduction. As I have said in previous studies, Proverbs resists easy outlining. The beginning of this chapter from Proverbs 25 proves this: “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” In other words, Proverbs is a collection of sayings, and their compilers seem to have put them into one book for the sake of having them all together.

That being said, there are sometimes correlations between the smaller subsections of the chapters. Proverbs 25 is a good example of this, since it seems that Proverbs 25:1-14 can be subdivided into three smaller parts. I have included Proverbs 25:1-5 in this consideration, because verses 6 and 7 are part of the first section and form its concluding thought.

The first subsection focuses on the righteousness of kings and is further divided into four points. God conceals, but kings search out. The righteous king therefore seeks out that which God has concealed, and wisdom consists in pursuing the things of God. Even so, as the heavens above and the earth beneath are beyond our ability to know fully, so also the heart of kings. David on several occasions is compared to the “angel of God,” who is full of discernment (2 Samuel 14:17), wisdom (2 Samuel 14:20), judgment (2 Samuel 19:27), and blameless (1 Samuel 29:9). Since the king is in this way similar to God, there is a close comparison between them, which is much of the point of this section.

Moving to the next point, silver free of dross is the same as a king free of the wicked in his presence. Solomon referenced this idea earlier in Proverbs 16:12-13. Wise kings, in this way, pursue righteousness and have no part in the way of wickedness (Psalm 2:10-12). As the Lord cannot abide wickedness in His presence, so also the righteous king.

Finally, Solomon closes this subsection with the only major point of contact with the Gospel reading of Luke 14:1-11. Setting yourself forward in the presence of the king is self-exaltation. Such a man will be set lower in disgrace. It is better to be told “Come up here,” for “let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). But the key here is the close connection between the king and God. As such presumption before a king is shameful, how much more before God? The exalted will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted. The righteous king, therefore, is in the place of the righteous God, not as a replacement, but as God, so the king.

The second subsection focuses on the second great Commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40). Specifically, it is an exposition of “you shall not bear false witness.” A man who seeks to rush to be vindicated in court or elsewhere may very likely be operating with partial information. Better to be fully informed before doing what is right, or even better, to rebuke in private (Matthew 18:15-20).

The third subsection—from which the name of this site comes—praises wisdom. A word fitly spoken, that is, a wise word, is like gold framed in silver. The commandments of the Lord are more valuable “than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

This fit word, however, is especially the word of a sent messenger. If the rich man in torment imagined a great comfort in even a drop of water (Luke 16:24), how much greater will an actual comfort of the Word be (Isaiah 40:1-2)! A wise and faithful messenger, however, conforms in holiness to the Lord and His Word and has “no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “The one who hears you hears me,” but this promise is for those who abide in His Word (Luke 10:16). “If you utter what is precious and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jeremiah 15:19). But the faithless messenger are “waterless clouds, swept along by winds” (Jude 12). Such will be recognized “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20), “for when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

Tenth Sunday after Trinity: Jeremiah 7:1-11

The Old Testament pericope for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity ends too soon.  Because Jeremiah 7:1-11 is the beginning of a longer passage, cutting it off there can lend itself to misunderstanding.  Pericopes, of course, are not meant to be long, but the books of the Bible are books and not collections of unrelated passages.  It would be better to extend the reading at least as far as verse 20, because then a larger portion of the thought of this section is presented rather than just its beginning.

The Lord commands Jeremiah to “stand in the gate of the Lord’s house” (Jeremiah 7:2).  In that position, men entering the temple grounds would not be able to avoid him.  Jeremiah is not preaching to irreligious men, but to those who continue to perform everything which the Lord commands outwardly.  They are coming to the temple because they seek to follow a law of works rather than a law of faith (Romans 3:27).  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him” (James 2:14)?

Therefore, the call to “amend your ways and your deeds” is not a cry to those who have never known God.  This is one of the dangers of shortening this reading.  Rather, there is a disparity between the profession and the reality.  They claim to be Abraham’s sons, but in reality are far from the Lord (Romans 2:28; Matthew 15:7-9).  This is, of course, a common theme in the prophets (Hosea 6:6, for example).  Carnal unbelievers want to make grace a pretext for sin (Romans 6:1).  One way to translate Jeremiah 7:10 shows this clearly:  “‘We are delivered’, in order to do all these abominations.”  Christians also struggle with sin (Romans 7:22-23), but Jeremiah rebukes those who have ceased to follow the Lord except outwardly.

The threefold repetition of “the temple of the Lord” only emphasizes the problem.  Jeremiah does repeat himself in this way in other places (Jeremiah 22:29), but the carnal men who say this are using it in a magical way.  It is an incantation of sorts, because it takes the real promises of God and perverts them into something other than their actual meaning.  Instead of walking in the ways of the Lord who redeemed them, they cover their lawlessness with His promises.  God will not send us away, because He made a promise to us!  God will not destroy us, because we are baptized!  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21; see also Matthew 3:9; Micah 2:6).

Jeremiah 7:12-15 should not be overlooked.  Shiloh was the first location of the tent of meeting once Israel entered Canaan (Joshua 18:1).  Even down to the birth of Samuel, this was the location where God made His name to dwell (1 Samuel 1:3).  But Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, brought down judgment through their sin and their abuse of the ark (1 Samuel 4:3-11).  Therefore, the Lord rejected Shiloh (Psalm 78:60-61).  If He rejected the dwelling place of His tabernacle because of sin, why would the temple be any different?  The Lord was not any less present at Shiloh than at Jerusalem, yet the sin of His people brought down judgment.

Jeremiah 7:16-20 brings a major thought of this section to a close.  The Lord rejected Shiloh because of sin, and the Lord will reject His temple for the same reason.  Jeremiah must not intercede for this people, because they persist in their guilt to their own shame.  Nor is this a case of a few individuals who leaven the whole lump:  “The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger” (Jeremiah 7:18).  The whole mass of Israel stand guilty of idolatry, even in something as seemingly innocuous as gathering sticks.  Degrees of guilt may exist among them, but all stand accused, even down to those not directly participating in false worship.  Sin is never so neatly subdivided.  All men are sinners, after all, because of the transgression of one man (Romans 5:12).

Therefore, Jeremiah is not moralizing here.  The call to do what is right is meant to show the wickedness of being double-minded, limping between two ways.  Nor is it a generic rebuke of sin.  Rather, it is specifically against those who cover the blood on their hands with a false piety.  Jeremiah speaks against those who turn God’s grace into license, justification of the sinner into justification for sin, whitewashing tombs.  If the Lord destroyed the temple twice, do you think that He will overlook the unrepentant sins of those who claim to be in Christ?

Ninth Sunday after Trinity: 2 Samuel 22:26-34

2 Samuel 22 is something of an excursion in the book.  While the previous chapter described battles with the Philistines, Saul took his own life in 1 Samuel 31.  Therefore, 2 Samuel 22:1 does not describe a particular point in time, since it speaks about “all [David’s] enemies” and Saul together.  Further, 2 Samuel 23 records the “last words” of David, even though he dies in 1 Kings 2:10-12.  The point, then, is that the wars of David are “over” in terms of the book, and the author felt it appropriate to include the last of the information which he had before him.  1 and 2 Kings are more explicit about referring to these other books, but the author refers to the now-lost book of Jashar in 2 Samuel 1:18.  A final proof that this section is not strictly chronological is the reference to Uriah the Hittite in 2 Samuel 23:39, whom David murdered for the sake of Bathsheba near the beginning of the book.

2 Samuel 22 is also found in the Psalter as Psalm 18, though the two are not identical word-for-word.  This is not unusual, since the Lord’s Prayer is found in two places, though not in identical wording (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4).  The Holy Spirit is not bound to our exacting standards, as shown by the numerous quotations Old Testament in the New which cite the idea more than the wording.  It is, however, worth noting here that 2 Samuel 22:1 is nearly identical with the “title” of Psalm 18.  These titles, which are often relegated to superscriptions in English Bibles (and on rare occasions excluded!), are actually part of the Psalm, and therefore part of God’s Word.  They should not be ignored!

The psalm itself is martial in character, especially since the king speaks of his own accomplishments through it (note especially 2 Samuel 22:35-43).  However, David makes it abundantly clear throughout the psalm that he would not have been able to do any of it had God not been with him through all of it.  It is God who makes him excel in war, and it is God who wins the victory through him.

There may be six sections within the psalm:  introductory praise (2 Samuel 22:2-4); plea (2 Samuel 22:5-7); theophany (2 Samuel 22:8-16, literally “appearance of God”); God’s mercy and goodness (2 Samuel 22:17-31); the unique God and his servant the king (2 Samuel 22:32-46); and concluding praise (2 Samuel 22:47-51).  Such a division is, of course, debatable, but it helps to see the thought progression throughout the psalm.  Recognizing the outline also helps in sermon preparation.

The psalm opens with praise to the Lord, “who is worthy to be praised” (2 Samuel 22:4).  David does not boast of his own works in the sense that they mean anything apart from God.  Only because God has acted first can he then say anything about what he has accomplished, because he is the instrument of God.  The emphasis in the beginning here on stability and safety in the Lord is important to remember for the next section.

“Waves of death” and its related expressions can be understood in a general sense.  However, in the context of the psalm, especially with its emphasis below on warfare, it seems more likely that this is not an existential crisis in the face of death, but rather the risk of death in battle.  2 Samuel 22:18 says that “he rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me.”  The previous verse in 2 Samuel 22:17 finds a parallel in Psalm 144:7, where “waters” is set in parallel with “foreigners.”  Paul, of course, speaks in terms of spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-6, for example), and therefore the psalm also applies to all Christians and not merely David.  But this distress is not a fear of dying, but distress in the face of so many enemies.

But the Lord who hears is also the Fear of Israel.  David describes his awesome power as a way of showing that the Lord can and will deliver him from his enemies.  2 Samuel 22:8-16 is a fearful image of God, but a comforting one, because if such a fearful and awesome God is on our side, who can be against us?  “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me” (Psalm 118:6)?  “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).  “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken” (Obadiah 18).

The Lord therefore delivers David from his enemies “because He delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:20).  David says that “I have kept the ways of the Lord and have not wickedly departed from my God” (2 Samuel 22:22).  He is not boasting of his own works making him righteous before God.  After all, he makes clear again and again throughout the psalm that the Lord is the one who does all these things!  Rather, there are two things at work here.  The first is that one can be blameless with respect to the Law insofar as he has not flagrantly sinned against it.  Paul’s claim that he was blameless under the law is not an empty or a false statement (Philippians 3:6).  Rather, being “above reproach” as in 1 Timothy 3:2 means that there are no public faults.  Second, God deals with His people differently from the rest of mankind.  “You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down” (2 Samuel 22:28), because God exalts those who are His own and brings down those who are not.  His desire is to save, of course, and humbling a man is meant to bring him back to God.  However, God also will bring vengeance upon the enemies of His Church (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30).  “With the merciful you show youself merciful” is therefore a recognition that God deals with His people differently than with the “crooked.”

Therefore, because the Lord is David’s God, the one who is merciful and a refuge, David is able to pursue his enemies and destroy them.  The Lord “trains my hands for war” (2 Samuel 22:35) and “equipped me with strength for the battle” (2 Samuel 22:40).  “You made my enemies turn their backs to me, those who hated me, and I destroyed them. They looked, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as the dust of the earth; I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets” (2 Samuel 22:41-43).  The enemies of the Church will be crushed underfoot.  As Paul says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

Second Sunday of Easter: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Following the account of his call in chapters 1-3, Ezekiel preaches against Israel in chapters 4 through 24. Like many of the other prophets, Ezekiel condemns Israel for her sins and proclaims that the judgment is coming swiftly. Ezekiel’s ministry begins close to the end of the kingdom and continues into the exile. However, he turns his attention against the enemies of Israel in chapters 25 through 32, which is good news for Israel. God has not forgotten His people, even as He punishes them for their sins. Ezekiel then returns to Israel, bringing both more words of reproof as well as words of comfort. The reading for the Second Sunday of Easter falls into the latter.

By the time of this passage, Jerusalem has been captured and the kingdom has come to an end. The exiles have begun to despair: “Our bones have dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11). Everything seems to be lost, and all of God’s promises seem to have failed. They are in a foreign land because of their sins, and they are wondering when, or even if, it will end.

Ezekiel 37:1 demonstrates that the valley of dry bones is a vision given to the prophet. Ezekiel says that the “hand of the Lord” was upon him, a key phrase for such visions throughout the book (Ezekiel 3:14, 22; 8:1; 40:1). He is also brought “in the Spirit” into the valley (Revelation 4:2; 17:3). While the Holy Spirit can physically move someone from place to place (such as Philip in Acts 8:39-40), the passage is presented in the language of a prophetic vision. Ezekiel is commanded to go into “the valley” in 3:22, which suggests a physical location, but it is not specified, and he sees a vision both times. If they are the same valley, he does not record the presence of the bones the first time.

Ezekiel 37:2 emphasizes just how many bones there are in this valley, since the prophet is led among them, and it also emphasizes that there is no earthly hope for them. Dry bones have been out in the open for a long time. But the Lord asks him, “Son of Adam, can these bones live” (Ezekiel 37:3)? A rhetorical question, as the Lord already knows what He wants to do (John 6:6; Rev 7:13-14; John 21:15-17). However, Ezekiel recognizes that he should not impose his own thoughts here, but rather answers “Lord God, You know” (compare 2 Peter 1:20).

The Lord commands him to “prophesy” or to speak as he commanded to speak. Ezekiel, in fact, has no choice but to speak in this way, suggesting that for him in particular “the hand of the Lord” is something like a prophetic fit (Ezekiel 3:26-27). It is true that the Lord had loosed his mouth when Jerusalem fell (Ezekiel 33:22), but he still speaks as he is commanded here. It is certainly appropriate to connect this to verses about the Lord being with the mouth of the preacher (such as Jeremiah 15:19 or Luke 10:16), as Ezekiel helps to clarify just how important it is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20-21). But the prophet does so involuntarily or at least does so through most of his ministry.

Nevertheless, it is in the proclamation of the Word of the Lord that all of the things the Lord promises happens to the bones. The bones are commanded to “hear,” which only emphasizes that the Word alone will do what the Lord promises to do (Romans 10:17; Luke 11:28; John 6:63; Psalm 119:25, 117; John 11:43-44). The coming of the Spirit points also to the first creation of man, since the Lord breathed into Adam the “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). The Lord alone gives physical life, and the Lord alone gives spiritual life (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 5:18: Hosea 6:1).

Finally, the Lord does nothing without a purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). He sends this vision to Ezekiel to comfort Israel in the midst of their distress. The beautiful ending of this passage regarding the opening of the graves seems to serve two purposes. First, Israel will be raised from the grave of exile, so to speak, and set back in their own land. Because the major prophets have said this again and again to Israel, even in the face of the coming disaster, “I will bring you into the land” (Ezekiel 37:12, 14) must also carry with it this immediate promise. However, the language is too plain to say that it must only refer to the return from exile. Rather, as Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26; see also 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 20:13; et al).

Easter Sunday: Job 19:23-27

It is difficult to say when and where exactly Job lived. Ezekiel mentions Job as part of a prophecy against Jerusalem just before the exile (Ezekiel 14:14, 20). This clarifies two points about him: that he existed and is not poetic, and that he must have lived prior to the Babylonian exile. Further, the book of Job opens with a note that he lived “in the land of Uz” (Job 1:1). The land of Uz is mentioned specifically in two other places: Jeremiah 25:20, where it seems to be distinguished from several other regions, and Lamentations 4:21, where the “daughter of Edom” dwells, suggesting that it was toward the south of Israel. The mention of the Sabeans, that is, Sheba, who lived even further south attacking the flocks in Job 1:15, suggests that he may have lived before the days of Solomon, since the queen of Sheba visits him in 1 Kings 10. If Uz was indeed somewhere in the vicinity or in the land of Edom, this would suggest (but only suggest) that he lived sometime between the days of Esau and the days of Solomon, a period of several hundred years.

Attempting to determine when Job lived is important because it emphasizes his words in the reading for today. Easter, of course, is primarily and rightly concerned with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Having conquered sin and death, Christ has redeemed His people and reigns triumphant forever as the One who died and now lives. Job, whenever he lived, testifies to Christ whom he knew only at a distance and yet longed to see His day.

The book of Job is divided into several parts: the introduction, where Job suffers several calamities (Job 1:1-2:13); the discourses with his three friends (Job 3:1-31:40); the rebuke of Elihu (Job 31:1-37:24); the rebuke of the Lord (Job 38:1-41:34); and Job’s repentance and restoration (Job 42). Within the discourses, Job repeatedly and correctly makes the claim that the Lord is chastising him when he has done nothing wrong. This is an important consideration, because his three friends continually assert that he must have sinned in order to bring on such disasters (such as Job 18:5, just before the pericope, where Bildad says that God punishes the wicked). It is only when Job demands that the Lord be answerable to him, as if the Almighty had to explain His ways, that Job earns the rebuke of Elihu and the Lord (Job 31). This explains why the Lord says of him that he is a righteous man (Job 1:8 and 2:3) and also rebukes his three friends after his repentance for not speaking truthfully “as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Therefore, in chapter 19, Job is in the right and correctly rebukes his less-than-helpful friends. The evils Job is experiencing have come for unexplained reasons, which he recognizes. His friends do not believe him, and so he cries out for vindication. This, then, explains his words in Job 19:23-24. Job is appealing to the future as a way of showing that what he says is right. He wants his discourse “recorded in a book” so that he will be vindicated in the future. But even a book might perish, so he wants them chiseled into the rock and filled in with lead, a far more permanent way.

But what makes this passage so important for a day like Easter is that he appeals to God. He says that “I know that my Redeemer lives” and that He will bring him justice. “At the last he will stand upon the earth,” both in the days when Christ came to die on the cross and also at the Last Day. “After my skin has been thus destroyed,” that is to say, long after his own death and suffering the curse of death, “yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Here is a clear and very early witness to the resurrection of all flesh. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting” (1 Corinthians 15:52-55). Job knew this, though he did not know the day, and he knew that he would be comforted long after his flesh had crumbled away. Job lives, because Jesus Christ lives, and Job will see God with his own eyes, because Jesus stands as the living Lord.

Haggai and the Nature of Worship

“A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God” (Isaiah 10:21).  Though Israel had gone into captivity, the Lord promised that He would bring a remnant back to the land.  Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would be the Lord’s instrument (Isaiah 44:28).  God was indeed faithful, and a remnant of Israel returned, just as He had promised (Ezra 1).  In 538 B.C., the exiles returned to Jerusalem and began the work of rebuilding.  In the second year of their return, they began the great undertaking of rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 3:8-13).  Who could be anything except thankful for what the Lord had done for His people?

But zeal for this work flagged.  What must have been a fire for the Lord had reduced to barely smoldering ashes.  The Samaritans opposed the work after Zerubbabel rejected their offer (Ezra 4:1-5).  Those who returned began to intermarry with the people of the land, Samaritans and others (Ezra 9:1-2).  It seemed like a lot of work that would take a long time to complete.  Perhaps things were better this way.  Perhaps they would get around to finishing what they started, but they needed to settle in first.  Work on the temple ceased for many years.

This was the situation Haggai faced.  “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” (Haggai 1:2).  They were complacent and more interested in secular affairs.  Business needed to be done.  Families needed to be cared for.  The temple could wait.  But the Lord declared:  “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins” (Haggai 1:4)?  You are concerned for the welfare of your own houses, while the welfare of the house of God goes to ruin.  Good intentions for the temple weren’t enough.

There is an important warning from Haggai for the Church in the present, especially in the United States.  This is an age of materialism, an age which has brought forth a level of prosperity which finds virtually no parallel in history.  The great temptation is to be concerned for the things of this world, for the bread which perishes.  Wealth has a way of drawing attention to itself.

But Haggai’s warning isn’t simply one of where funding needs to be directed.  Money is one consideration, to be sure, but the material welfare of the Temple is not the main point in this passage.  After all, David desired to build the first Temple for the Lord, recognizing a disparity between his cedar house and the tent of the Tabernacle (2 Samuel 7:1-3).  But the Lord did not command him to do it.  “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar’” (2 Samuel 7:7)?

Rather, Haggai speaks against the smoldering zeal of Israel, the mindset which is more interested in the things of the world than in the things of God.  Neglect of God’s house is one way in which this mindset shows itself.  By becoming so focused on worldly things, God is pushed out of the picture.  Woe to those who forget the Lord who gave them houses and cisterns and vineyards (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)!

But neglect is not the only way this mindset appears, as it happened in the days of Haggai.  Christians can also become worldly minded while seeming to serve the Lord.  Do we not observe Your feasts, O Lord, and give what we have to Your sanctuary?  Have we not raised a mighty house to Your name and sing Your praises with a beautiful worship service?  “Did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name” (Matthew 7:22)?

In the same way that Paul speaks about the value of circumcision in Romans 3:1, a beautiful church has much to commend it.  But a beautiful sanctuary can be devoid of the Word.  Elaborate vestments can be distracting.  Some of the most magnificent liturgies in the world proclaim blatant lies.  Nor does a lack of these things mean that our worship is automatically more acceptable to God.  As Amos says, ““I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Rather, the Lord is worshiped in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  Blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and keeps it (Luke 11:28).  As Jesus said to Judas, the son of James, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).  A living faith, given and sustained by the Holy Spirit, makes our sacrifice pleasing in God’s sight (Hebrews 11:4).  Such a faith will not neglect the things of God’s house, nor will it be pleased with merely the externals in themselves.  Certainly, the beauty of the Temple and of our churches is of value in every way.  It is not by nature bad or useless.  But a Christian is one who worships inwardly and not only outwardly.

Who Can But Prophesy?

Unbelievers are not the only ones prone to sinful security.  Sin certainly hardens the heart of the unbeliever into believing that there is always more time (Luke 2:16-21).  But abused mercy has a way of hardening the heart in a way that unbelief cannot.  The one who sins believing that he has God’s favor is in a more dangerous position than the one who does not believe (Luke 12:47-48).

“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O sons of Israel, against all the clans that I brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying:  ‘You only have I known out of all the clans of the earth’” (Amos 3:1-2).  The Lord directed this prophecy, which came through the shepherd Amos, against the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel in the days of the second Jeroboam.  For hundreds of years Israel had walked in the footsteps of the first Jeroboam, who had led Israel into sin (1 Kings 12:25-33).  But they did not imagine themselves to be apostate or idolatrous.  After all, they still offered burnt offerings to the Lord and peace offerings, didn’t they (Amos 5:21-22)?  Didn’t they at least observe the Sabbath, even if they had things to do after the requirement was over (Amos 8:4-6)?  Idolatry is always papered over, serving the Lord in one’s own mind in ways that he has not commanded, or claiming to fear God and yet going after other gods (Zechariah 1:4-6; 1 Kings 18:21; 2 Kings 17:39-41).

This is why it is so easy for sin to blind the one who has received mercy and turn again toward sin as a result.  “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Matthew 3:9).  “A Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29).  “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13).  The prophets fought against this hardness, for the people had convinced themselves that the Lord would not bring disaster upon His people.  He has made all of these wonderful promises to our fathers!  Why would He now bring judgment?

But the judgment of God rests heavier upon those who have known His mercy and yet rejected it.  This is why He reminds them of His former mercy in bringing them up out of Egypt.  They have known His grace and His love for them and for their fathers.  The Lord did not choose them because they were unique in any way, but because He loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).  Yet they should not lull themselves to sleep because God is long-suffering.  The patience of God does not mean He is unaware or does not care.

“Do two walk together unless they have agreed to meet?”  No.  “Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?”  No.  “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?”  No.  “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”  No!  These things do not just happen, as if the forces of nature were mindless and independent, the way we so often view them.  Disasters are a call to repentance.  Amos makes this abundantly clear later:  the Lord sends famine, drought, blight, locusts, pestilence, and war as a call to forsake evil and turn toward him, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6-11).

It is true that in Jesus Christ, Christians know the mercy of the Father.  Jesus is our forgiveness and our life.  In Him, the work of our salvation is finished.  But will we look to our Baptism and say that I may do as I please, because I have been baptized into Christ?  Will we receive the Lord’s Supper while holding a grudge in our hearts?  “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1)?  Will we imagine that only the Jews were prone to carnal security?  “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1)!

But disasters are not a blind call to repentance.  It is all too easy to see “acts of God” and attribute them to natural forces.  The Lord has not, however, left us with only a mute witness in the world.  “For the Lord does nothing without revealing His secret to his servants the prophets.  The lion has roared; who will not fear?  The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy” (Amos 3:7-8)?  In His holy Word, the Lord calls us to repentance.  In the Scriptures, we have more than ample warning.

And through His servants, the prophets and also the apostles, the Lord has declared this Word to us.  Through the living voice of those whom He has called to proclaim His message, the Lord declares this Word.  Who can but prophesy?  The living Word proclaimed by the Holy Spirit is a fire in the bones, incapable of being restrained (Jeremiah 20:9).  We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).  “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16)!  The watchman of the house of Israel cannot but speak what he has heard, lest he endanger his own soul also (Ezekiel 3:17-18).