Thouhts on Bible Study Part 4

Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series. I want to end with some thoughts on dealing with our personal least favorite parts of Scripture. Admit it–you likely have parts of Scripture that you prefer to avoid as you migrate toward books that encourage you. For me, the major and minor prophets represent the portion of Scripture I naturally tend to put off reading. I love the gospels and Pauline epistles, find comfort in the Psalms and wisdom in the Proverbs. But the prophets?! They can be a real downer.

Last year, I was given the opportunity to teach a lesson on Jesus in the Prophets at church. Nobody forced the topic on me, but at the same time, it wasn’t one I was seeking for myself either. I actually did it because I knew I needed to wrestle through the topic. What the heck do the prophets have to contribute to our understanding of Jesus, the gospel, and His kingdom? Personally, I saw the prophets as only helpful if you wanted to understand the past or the future, but not particularly relevant to the present work of God. I was also wary of them after watching them abused by obsessive-compulsive fans of the Left Behind series.

In contrast to the stereotypical view of the prophets by some, I found my study of the prophets deep and rich in meditations on the gospel. I was confronted with my own idolatry and reminded that I serve a God whose purposes transcend my small view of reality. God’s plan was put in motion before time began and will continue into eternity. One pastor put it this way: I didn’t invite God into my story; He’s called me to be a part of His. And wrestling with the prophets really challenged me on how I think about this.

I’ll use Habakkuk as a succinct illustration of the themes throughout the prophets at large. In these 3 little chapters, we see Habakkuk wrestling with God, literally complaining to the sovereign Lord of the Universe. As best I can tell from my studies, Habakkuk is a righteous man who believes God. But God’s word to Habakkuk is that He is using the wicked Chaldeans, a people who worship their own might (Hab. 1:11), to bring judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah. Habakkuk is aware that God had promised that the “scepter will not depart out of Judah” (Gen. 49:10), indicating that God would preserve the line of kings and ultimately the Messiah through the tribe of Judah. But to Habakkuk’s eyes, it looks like the scepter is most definitely about to depart out of Judah. And Judah does end up as captives forced in exile. What in the world is God doing?! From the glory years of David and Solomon to this point in Israel’s history, it looks like it’s all gone to pot.

But right in the middle of this complaint to God, God gives Habakkuk the phrase on which the Apostle Paul builds his gospel presentation in Romans and Galatians, “the righteous will live by their faith.” (Hab. 2:4; see also Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). Not by their sight, but by their faith. It’s like He’s saying, “Habakkuk, I know what the immediate circumstances surrounding you look like, but I am calling you to follow me by faith in the larger picture.” Do you hear the depth of what God is saying here? And do you see it’s great relevance to where you and I stand today in God’s story? The righteous will live by their faith! And if you really want to understand faith, you need to study the New Testament commentary on the subject in Hebrews 11. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT SEEN.” (Heb. 11:1)

I have had many times in my life when I got caught up in Christian excitement—there was positive peer pressure to follow Christ and a fun social group to support me. But in those times, I am often just a bandwagon Christian—everyone is doing it, it seems fun, and I’ll be bored and lonely if I don’t. I’m not totally knocking the value of a positive social group who points you to Christ and the Word. But our faith is sifted and tested during the times when the bandwagon breaks down, when we can no longer see exactly what God is doing, and we don’t get enthusiastic support to be faithful. Sometimes, it seems God’s allowing everything good we thought He was doing to fall apart around our feet. What’s God waiting for? What’s He going to do when He’s done waiting? And what do I do when all I can answer is, “I don’t know”?! In these moments, I find Habakkuk’s final response back to God an anchor for my soul.

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

The righteous shall live by their faith. Not by their sight. By their faith. I am learning that sometimes the toughest parts of Scripture hold the deepest treasure, and they are worth the effort and journey to understand what God reveals of Himself in them.

3 Responses to Thouhts on Bible Study Part 4

  1. Reagan November 5, 2008 at 11:20 pm #

    Thank you so much for this series. I feel like God sent me here to let you encourage me to get my booty in gear. I was once so diligent in my studies and since becoming a mom I have REALLY started slacking. I have made excuses for too long and no matter how difficult it is to make time….I am ready and willing. I know that this time in my life (being a parent) is THE most important time to be a model of spiritual strength! Thanks again!

  2. Wenatchee the Hatchet November 6, 2008 at 5:30 am #

    I think there are several reasons prophets get neglected in much preaching and teaching. One is simply that to even broach a prophetic book you have to engage a level of historical study most pastors and Christians are either afraid to do or are too lazy to do. It can be hard to know what research is accurate, what research comes from which liberal or conservative scholar. Add to this a tendency to see prophetic books as either predicting Christ’s first or second coming and there is a propensity to ONLY touch on biblical passages that deal with one of those two issues?Why is that? Well, I can understand that with the problems inherent in dispensationalism many Christians fear looking at prophets except to see the first or second coming. But another reason I think pastors may avoid the prophets as books that apply to our time is because in the prophetic corpus the “religious” and the “political” are often intertwined with denouncing or encouraging kings. There is a temptation for Christians both right and left to attempt to apply that to kingdoms that the Lord wasn’t really addressing. There may also be a temptation to avoid the prophetic books because those who do attempt to apply aspects of prophetic literature to anything that could be considered a “plea for social justice” would be tarred as liberal (unless the cause were protesting abortion). A thorough study of the prophets reveals trenchant criticisms that don’t cut easily along the left or right dichotomies American Christians want to impose on biblical texts to reinforce their own preconceived cultural and social agendas. When the prophets speak against lending money at interest how do Western Christians reconcile that with an entire region built out of fractional banking and lending on interest? But some of the books I was told were most discouraging can be the most encouraging. Jeremiah includes the promise of covenant renewal and a new covenant that first gets mentioned all the way back in Deutoronomy. Jonah reveals that God’s mercy extends toward those we would refuse to extend mercy to. Ezekiel reveals that even after God has sent His people into exile and has destroyed the earthly kingdom of Israel so that it is a shell of its former self that God is not a territorial God like the others but can speak to His people anywhere. The prophets remind us that we break our fellowship with God and yet God reaches out to us.

  3. Wendy November 6, 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    Just fyi–I mainly just used my Reformation Study Bible in my survey of the prophets. I found their introductions to each one really helpful.