Grace and Hope IN THE BIBLe
THE MAJOR Prophets: Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Ezekiel Daniel Anne Oâ€™BrieN Bible Studies on Grace and Hope in The Book of Acts
Grace and Hope in the Major Prophets
THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
During the reign of Solomon, Israel experienced a generation of peace and prosperity with God at the centre – it was a time of great blessing and national stability. Sadly, over the next few hundred years people fell away from God, and the kingdom of Israel split into two factions (the ten tribes of the north – still called Israel, and two tribes of the south – usually referred to as Judah.) Because the people had stopped putting God first, they were not very successful in war, and not wise in their decisions. The prophets (including Isaiah) warned that first of all, the northern tribes would fall to Assyria; and later, that the two southern tribes would fall to Babylon. But … Because the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah, God promised that the people would only be exiled in Babylon for 70 years, after which time they would return and rebuild The Temple and the City walls. Isaiah lived around 700BC. He prophesied the fall of Israel and Judah but, offset this divine judgment with amazing prophecies of Messianic hope and redemption through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that The Lord Jesus began his public ministry at Nazareth by reading from Isaiah 61 and applying its prophetic words to himself, is significant to the importance of this book. And so, in the sixth century BC it looked to most people as if Israel was finished – overrun by their enemies; the beautiful Temple demolished, the city raised to the ground and the city walls non-existent. If ever Israel needed the grace of God, it was at that point. They had brought the problems on themselves; they didn’t deserve God’s promises of restoration. But God gave them – and us - hope and He promised more than they could have bargained for, in his amazing GRACE. A reminder: MERCY: God not giving us what we deserve. GRACE: God giving us what we don’t deserve. Isaiah is a long book – at 3 chapters a day, it still took me 22 days to read! So, I am focussing on the Messianic prophesies, focussing on chapters 61, 62 and 55 – because Israel’s hope and salvation was to be found in Jesus Christ the Messiah, as is ours.
The coming of the Messiah Chapter 61 – A New Era (Entitled “The Day of the Lord’s Grace”) Read verses 1-3: In Luke 4v21 Jesus said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, speaking of himself as the Messiah. Jesus ushered in the Day of the Lord’s grace. He showed us what grace is like – what he is like, what he offers to all who turn to him in repentance. List the things that are promised in these verses. Q. If we are meant to be like Jesus, how are these verses a challenge to us? How do we show grace to others? Read verse 10: A New Start. This is salvation’s song – the song sung by all the redeemed of the Lord, all who have trusted him for salvation. But not just salvation – but righteousness also. Jesus was the only truly righteous person to have lived, but when we know his salvation, he puts on to us the robes of his righteousness and covers all our sin and shame. He shares with us all that is his. He paid the price, he bought our forgiveness and righteousness and freedom from guilt and shame. What grace! Chapter 62 – A New Name Read verses 2-5 and v12. In Old Testament times, a given name was reflective of your standing, your personality and your potential. So that, people could actually be given names like (in Hebrew of course) Deserted, Laughter, Desolate, Strong One, Unloved, Not wanted, Rejected etc. – sometimes good, sometimes bad. In verse 4 God says he will change Israel’s name – and ours - from ‘Deserted’ to ‘My delight’, and from Desolate to ‘My own’. Why? Because he rejoices over us (v5). Page 2
Again in verse 12, he promises that we are to be called Holy people, Redeemed and Sought After. (These terms are picked up by Jesus and the New Testament writers and apply to us as well as to the Jewish believers.) Q. What name do you feel was or is written over your life? What name would you like to be written over your life? Chapter 55 – A New Joy Read verses 12&13: In Luke 9v40 Jesus says: “Even if the people keep quiet, the stones will cry out (in praise).” Revelation 5v13 describes how that all creation praises the Lord. And here in Isaiah the joy of salvation is expressed through the mountains and trees on the hillsides as God makes everything new – such is his grace. Q. Do you believe there are limits to God’s grace? (In your life, Israel’s life, the life of others) If so, where does God draw the line? Our sin is ugly, but God’s grace is always greater. When Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61, he omitted the second half of verse 2. Why do you think that is? Lord, Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen _____________________________________________________________________
THE BOOKS OF JEREMIAH and LAMENTATIONS
Jeremiah – When? Dates: between 600-700 BC. These books were written during very dark days of Israel’s history. Jeremiah’s theme (similar to Isaiah’s before him) was the backsliding of the Jews, their exile in Babylon and their eventual restoration. Jeremiah was from the tribe of Benjamin, one of the two remaining tribes of Israel (Judah and Benjamin) after the Assyrian overthrow of Israel’s ten northern tribes. Jeremiah – Who? Jeremiah was the son of a priest (Ch. 1v1), and was thought to be about 17 when he heard God’s call (Ch. 1v410). His call from God came at the end of good King Josiah’s reign in approx. 609BC. His commission was to go to where God sent him and say the words God gave him (Ch. 1v7). He dictated his prophecies to Baruch the Scribe. Jeremiah – His circumstances Jeremiah faced much opposition, not least from King Josiah’s successor who tried to do away with him. He was also put in the stocks (Ch.20v2) and in a muddy dungeon. He was rejected by his neighbours (Ch. 11v1921), his own family (Ch.12v6), the other priests and prophets (Ch. 20v1&2), his friends (Ch.20v10), and all the people (Ch.26v8). The burden of fulfilling God’s will weighed heavy on him, so that he was sad and depressed (Ch.20v7-10 and 14-18), and was given the title of ‘the weeping prophet’. So its not surprising that Jeremiah complained! Arising from this the Book of lamentations was written – very cleverly in the complicated poetic form of a funeral dirge – in itself a prophecy of Israel’s doom. Jeremiah – fulfilment of prophecies Judah was eventually captured by the Babylonians when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 605BC. By the year 597BC, most of the people including King Jehoiachin had been exiled to Babylon, leaving merely a handful of unskilled people behind. Jeremiah was given the choice of leaving or staying. He chose to stay with the common people. The Grace of God in Jeremiah’s life Read Jeremiah 20v7-10: Poor Jeremiah. He didn’t draw the crowds of followers like Billy Graham. Nobody liked him or wanted to accept his words of judgment from the Lord. He felt ridiculed and alone and weary. And yet he couldn’t not speak God’s words. Q. How do we feel if we need to say something that people will not want to hear? Do we risk feeling unaccepted, or do we speak God’s words even though we risk being unpopular and unheard? Jeremiah said he was constrained to speak the words that God had given him (v9). Read Ch. 20v11-13: In Jeremiah’s weakness he knew God’s power and grace. So that, even in his distress, he is able to proclaim that God is mighty, and worthy of praise. Read Ch. 9 v7,23&23: Jeremiah’s message was that the exile was God’s way of refining Israel, and God went on to say that it was because he wanted the best for them – what was just, kind and righteous. Q. How do we explain these sentiments to someone who is suffering? How can they find God’s grace? Page 3
The Grace of God in the Life of Judah God showed his grace by giving the people a promise which he duly brought about. They would indeed spend time in exile, but there would be a definite time limit of 70 years. Read the following verses: Chapter 29v10 Chapter 30v18 Chapter 31v3&4 ‘’ 31v7-10 ‘’ 31v23-25 ‘’ 33v6 God’s Grace to Us Read Ch.17v7&8; 32v17; 32v26; 33v11 For each verse discuss how God’s word brings encouragement and hope as his grace is revealed. Q. Have any of these verses helped you in the past? God’s grace through The Messiah Read ch.23v5&6 and 30v8&9 The kings of Israel and Judah were responsible for the judgment of the nation. But God would send a new King – a Saviour who would rule in righteousness and bring God’s grace to all people. He would make a New Covenant (31v31-33) and he would be a mediator for the people – a New Covenant priest (33v16-18). God’s grace in Lamentations Read Lamentations 3v22-26 and 55-58. Here we have perhaps two of the greatest promises of hope and grace in the Bible, right in the middle of this funeral lament. Note: We should never confuse chastisement with a lack of love on God’s part. It is never, ever, too late to find God’s grace and mercy. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can stop God from loving us. _____________________________________________________________________
THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL Where written: In Babylon during the 70 year exile from Judah. When: Approximately 595-575 BC Why: To encourage the Israelites with God’s promise of restoration Style: This is a book which contains a lot of imagery, making some of it difficult to understand (it has some similarities to Revelation). Ezekiel: The Man and the Call At the age of 30, as an exile in Babylon, Ezekiel received God’s call. He was the son of Buzi, a priest. (Ch.1v1-3) He saw the heavens open and saw visions of God, at which time God filled him with His Spirit (Ch.2v1&2) before commissioning him to speak His words to the complaining and rebellious Jewish exiles. All of God’s words (even the hard ones) were like honey to Ezekiel (Ch.3v3) depicted in the imagery of him eating the scroll. His task was to be a spiritual guardian and watchman to the exiles (Ch.3v17). The Book of Ezekiel contains words of judgment for the surrounding nations, but more importantly, words of encouragement, grace, hope and renewal for the Jewish people. How God shows his grace · The Good Shepherd – Read 34v11-16 The following verses describe how Israel’s shepherds had failed. So, here we read that God himself would search out his people and call them to repentance. He promises to bring them from exile, back to their own land (v13). Just like the good shepherd doesn’t punish the lamb who goes astray, God will show his grace and love to those who do not resist his offer. As is often the way with Old Testament prophecy, we who know the Saviour, can see glimpses of Jesus – our good shepherd. And, living in the 21st Century, we also see that this prophecy is still a current prophecy about when the Jews will return to their homeland and usher in the End Times (a process which has already begun). Q. How do the words of this chapter tie in with those of Jesus in John 10v11 and Page 4
v14-16? What does it mean to you? · Revival and renewal – Read 37v1-6 For Ezekiel this was a spiritual experience (v1) which was very real to him. The dry bones represent Israel’s dried-up, and virtually dead relationship with their Lord. At the very lowest period of their experience and history (Israel was not much more than a desert, and the people had rebelled) God promised new life. Bit by bit, he would rebuild the people and the nation. He would rebuild them and breath his spirit into their life, giving them new life and new hope. The next verses (Read v11-13) show us how this amazing spectacle panned out. God would revive them and bring them back. Once again, we see that this prophecy was not just for the Israelites then. · Jesus the King of Peace - Read verses 24-28. Who is “my servant David”? Of course, it is Jesus Christ. So, once again we are taken forward to the work of Jesus, this time not as shepherd but as King. The passage talks about a new everlasting covenant (v26). So that, as the Jews find their Messiah and the gentiles find a Saviour, Jesus will rule (and already does rule) over all; his sanctuary or presence (v28) being with us at all times. Q. One day we will worship God in his Sanctuary (heaven) with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and yet we do not mix with them now, as did the early church. Does that seem wrong in any way? Should we be praying for them? · A New Sanctuary – Chapters 40-42 Ezekiel’s Temple may be a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem, which was rebuilt by Herod, but it is more generally accepted that it is the heavenly Temple, as there are many similarities with John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. These include the square plan, the twelve gates and the abiding presence of God. Read 43v10&11 When the people saw the perfection of the Temple and the presence of God they had a choice – they could repent (be ashamed of their own unworthiness) and accept God’s offer. It is the same for us when we are confronted with the perfection of Jesus and his presence. We all have to make a choice. · A New Priesthood Although not dealt with in Ezekiel, we need to bear in mind that the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is now the High Great Priest for all men, and those who truly believe also function as priests under the New Covenant. Read 1 Peter 2v9&10. · Jesus, the Fountain of Life - Read chapter 47v1-6, v12 There would be life-giving waters issuing from the sanctuary of the New Temple, again referring to the Age of Grace and to the End Times. This life-giving River represents Jesus. 1. Because the river passes by the altar, the way of sacrifice 2. It exits from the east side of the Temple and this gate is reserved for God only. 3. The river flows from God’s dwelling place in the Temple. 4. It flows into the Dead Sea (dry bones, hard hearts etc) and brings new life. The leaves of the trees represent us. 1. The trees are fed by the river. 2. They bring God’s healing to the nations. 3. The river refreshes them to do God’s work. Read the last phrase of the last chapter of Ezekiel To all who are a part of this new Covenant (which includes the new Shepherd, the new King and the New High Priest) God says JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH – THE LORD IS THERE What an amazing promise for the book to finish with!! God is with us, by his Spirit. He dwells with us, just as he dwelt with Moses and the Israelites in the Sanctuary of the Tabernacle – only more so. He is now not restrained to time or place, to Jew or Gentile. HE IS THERE. He dwells in the hearts of all who trust in Jesus. What amazing grace is that!! Page 5
THE BOOK OF DANIEL Daniel: Daniel was taken as an exile to live in Babylon for 60 years. He is also sometimes referred to by his given name as Belteshazzar (10v1). Like Joseph, he knew God’s grace in captivity, being promoted to high office and serving the King. Main theme: God works out his purposes, however great the problem or opposition – and wherever we are. Daniel lived through the reigns of the last Kings of Babylon: and the first kings of Persia after the capture of Babylon. Style: This book contains imagery and prophecy pertaining to Babylon, Persia, the remnant of Jewish people, and looks forward to the Age of Grace. Time: Circa 600 BC
Examples of God’s Grace in the Book of Daniel A.
During the reigns of the Babylonian Kings, Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. · God kept Daniel healthy. Daniel was chosen to serve the king and to learn the language of the day. He was to be given food from the kings table (which would not have been kosher). Read chapter 1v8-16. Everyone was afraid of the king, but God caused the official to show grace/favour to Daniel. So that Daniel was fed vegetables, his faith was not compromised, and he was healthier than ever. Q. Have you ever been in that kind of position? Has God shown his grace to you through the actions of others? Do we always recognise when God is working in our situation? What else did God do for Daniel and his friends (v17)? · King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. Fed up with his magicians only saying what they thought he wanted to hear, he made life very difficult for them. They were to tell him the dream as well as the meaning (which, of course, was impossible for them). If they were not able to do this they would all be killed – and he included Daniel in this as well (ch.2v13)!! Hearing this, Daniel asked for time to pray and wait on the Lord, and afterwards he approached the king. Read chapter 2v31-43. Daniel is given the dream and interpretation from God. The meaning of the dream: The Head: GOLD = Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon Empire – Limited The Chest: SILVER = The Persian Kingdom The Belly and Thighs: BRONZE = The Greek Kingdom The Legs: IRON = The Roman Kingdom The Feet: IRON AND CLAY = The remnants of Rome (Roman Catholic Church?), other great kingdoms (Islam, Communism etc?) and The Kingdom of God. The Boulder: Struck the statue and filled the whole earth. The bolder represents JESUS who will establish his kingdom. Read ch.2v44&45 After this Nebuchadnezzar elevated Daniel to a High Position (verse 48). In God’s grace, Daniel was not punished but promoted. Q. What is promised to us in verses 44&45? Would you agree that it is only by God’s grace that these writings have survived for us to see? · Nebuchdnezzar/Idolatry It seems Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which portrayed himself as the head of gold, went to his own head!! He decided to build a golden image of himself to which everyone should bow or be slain. It was noted by the officials that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo refused to bow to the statue – as Jews they were forbidden to worship idols. Read ch.3v13-18. Even though the king got his way and they were thrown into the furnace, they were not harmed. Why? Because God was present with them! Read verses 24-26 and 28-30. Like Daniel, these three men were also promoted – because God’s favour/grace was upon them. · The Writing on the Wall. Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar was now on the throne. He was so Page 6
full of himself that he didn’t know what was happening outside the Palace walls. During a party (more like a drunken orgy!) Belshazzar is petrified by a human finger writing on the wall. And the magicians are unable to give the meaning of the words. But, the queen enters the room and advises her husband to call for Daniel. Read ch.5v22-31 Belshazzar knew all about God from his Father, but he rebelled and did not honour God. This was to bring the fall of his kingdom. The writing explained that Belshazzar had been weighed and found wanting. His end was nearer that he would have anticipated. Because, while he had been partying, the Persian Army under Darius, had invaded the city surrounding the palace, and captured the kingdom. This was the end of the Babylonian kingdom in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 2. Note: Although Daniel delivered bad news, yet he was still honoured (v29). Is this God’s grace again? Surely, we would expect him to have been killed!
During the reigns of Darius and Cyrus
· The Lion’s Den. Darius was king, but his chief ministers did not like Daniel, the Jew, or the fact that he held such high position. So, they hatched a plan and persuaded the king to stop Daniel praying to God (they obviously realised that God was the source of his wisdom and respect). We know the story well. The king passed a law. Daniel was accused of praying and had to be thrown into the lions’ den. The king was awake all night fasting and hoping that Daniel’s God would save him – and we know he did in a miraculous way. Read ch.6v25-28. Incidentally, Darius appears to be the son of Xerxes (ch.9v1) who we read about in the story of Esther and who ultimately protected the Jews against Haman’s hatred. Q. Are we always aware of God’s grace working in our circumstances? · Daniel prays for grace and mercy for the exiles. Nearing the end of the seventy years exile prophesied by Jeremiah, Daniel prays for God to make a way for the people to return. He depends on God’s grace. So, in repentance he prays for God’s grace and forgiveness to be upon his people. Read 9v9,v17&18 While Daniel is praying, and some time later, he has a most amazing vision where God imparts timings to him; where he sees a man who we recognise from Revelation as Jesus; and where he gets a response to his prayer. Read ch.10v12. We also see in the following verses something of the heavenly battle that takes place when we pray. (Michael is the Archangel of God, the Prince of Persia is very likely the Archangel of Satan.) Q. James (16b) tells us, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. Do we fully realise the powers above (God himself, the Holy Spirit, the angels) that are spurred into action on our behalf when we pray? · King Cyrus. King Cyrus is introduced in chapter 10v1. This is the King who wrote the famous “Cyrus Cylinder” (which even today can still be seen in the British Museum in London). The inscription in clay allows all exiles in Persia to return to their homeland, including the Jews. Thus, through Cyrus, at the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s predicted 70 years, and through the prayer of Daniel, the Jews began their return to their homeland; to rebuild the Temple, the city walls and the country again. God was, and always is, faithful to his word and his promises. He showed his unending grace to his people through his faithful servants. He preserved the Scriptures, he preserved all the Temple furniture and gold utensils which were also returned to Jerusalem. The Jews had not deserved any of this, but God cannot be anything other than a God of grace and mercy to those who belong to him. By his grace he also gives us glimpses of the future (chapters 10-12) and we know that these prophesies will all come to pass because all the previous ones have done so. Read chapter 12v13. Daniel is promised a place in heaven when the predicted times are fulfilled. PRAISE GOD FOR HIS AMAZING GRACE. ____________________________________________________________________
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Bible Study on Grace and Hope in the Bible - The Major Prophets