Did God make a mistake by asking people to follow the law? If we’re not supposed to follow it now, why were people intended to follow it way back when? Today’s Galatians reading explains that the law was good, and though people were not able to follow it completely, it kept them within parameters until God sent Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment of the law.
- 1-12 – This prophecy tells of a time when God’s people will be brought back together. He will redeem them and squash the other nations who are harming and oppressing them.
- 7-15 – Here, the Israelites recognize the benefits of following the Lord. They begin to seek out the Lord and recognize things like God making their paths straight.
- 1-13 – God is clearly going to restore the Israelites, even those lost in battles and exile. He has plans to save them despite how bleak it looks during their punishments of exile.
- 10-14 – Paul is explaining that it is impossible for humans to obey the law fully and the law, by its nature, requires us to obey it fully. Thus, if we attempt to be justified through the law, we are doomed to fail.
- 21-22 – Paul explains that God didn’t give the law to the people in order to doom them. It was designed for them to follow but since they were unable, he gave them Jesus.
- 1-4 – A key theme of David’s psalms is that he trusts in the Lord for protection. He has clearly experienced this to be true and believes that God will continue to protect him.
- 17 – We often do envy sinners. Life seems easier for folks who actively engage in sin and it sometimes seems like they have all the fun. We are to look to something greater and longer term.
Do you remember as a kid when your parents gave you rules you didn’t like? Didn’t you always think either they were just being mean or that it was to make things easier on them? The truth is, for the most part, rules are for the good of the child. This is similar to Paul’s message today in 2 Corinthians. He is asking them to remain faithful for their good, not for his own.
- 2 – The second half of this verse is repeated two other times in Scripture: Exodus 15:2 and Psalm 118:14. It is a powerful thought that God acts first as our strength and this leads him into the roll of our salvation.
- 13 – This begins a 10 chapter series of prophecies against various nations.
- 1-22 – This section is aimed at Babylon. In later years, Babylon would destroy Jerusalem and complete the exile of all of the Israelites out of their promised land. This hasn’t happened yet though.
- 3-23 – This prophecy is a bit of taunting toward the Babylonian king.
2 Corinthians 13:1-14:
- 1-3 – Clearly the Corinthians were questioning the validity of Paul’s message and it was showing in their actions.
- 5-10 – Paul is doing everything he can to ensure the Corinthians return to faithfulness. He assures them that he is not asking this of them for his own sake, but for theirs. He hopes to not have to come down on them when he visits.
- David writes this psalm as his life is in peril. He remains faithful through it and puts his trust in God. He even promises to tell others about these great things God has done.
- 10-11 – Moving a landmark amounted to stealing it. Entering the fields of the fatherless would be to wrong someone who is powerless. These wrongs would be avenged.
Isaiah is one of the most recognizable prophets. It is the most quoted Old Testament book and is one of the longest books in the Bible. Despite all that, it can be a challenge to follow. Isaiah sometimes uses confusing language and he repeats things a lot. So, here’s a little synopsis to keep you on track: in the first half, look for prophecies of destruction against the Israelites; in the second half, look for prophecies of restoration; sprinkled throughout, look for prophecies that foretell a coming Messiah.
- The book of Isaiah is told from the perspective of Isaiah the prophet about a vision he has had. Sometimes he will quote God, but he will identify it when he is. It is set before the Babylonian exile.
- 2-17 – This is a vision God has given Isaiah explaining that the Israelites are sinful and that God is tired of receiving meaningless sacrifices from people who go on sinning. They are no longer pleasing to him.
- 18 – There seems to be a plan in place for how God will restore the Israelites to himself.
- 1-4 – This is a vision for future peace and perfection.
- 5-22 – Though the majority of Isaiah addresses Judah, this vision calls upon the house of Jacob, which is most likely the Northern Kingdom of Israel, to repent.
2 Corinthians 10:1-18:
- 2-6 – Paul is hoping he doesn’t have a major spiritual battle to fight when he is with the Corinthians. He is not shy to do so, but he’s hoping there’s not a need there.
- 11 – Paul doesn’t just ask others to live faithfully, he does so himself.
- 17-18 – Our only boasts should be in what the Lord has done in the world and in us.
- This Psalm is from David’s perspective and contrasts his faithfulness and connection to God with someone else who delights in evil.
- This advises against making promises you can’t keep.
Chocolate. Money. Cell Phones. These things are all enjoyable and not bad in and of themselves. But any can easily become a god to us if we allow it to. Our proverb, today, reminds us what role our stuff should have in our lives.
- 27-43 – This was a large celebration, led by the Levites, to give thanks for the restoration of Jerusalem.
- 6 – Remember that Nehemiah has asked for leave in order to restore the walls of Jerusalem. At this point, he returns to the king.
- 15-18 – Working on the Sabbath disobeyed one of the 10 Commandments. Nehemiah reminds the people of this and explains that they are engaging in the same kinds of sinful acts that their fathers did which eventually sent them to exile.
- 23-27 – The children not being able to speak the language of Judah is just an example of how intermarrying caused the Israelites to lose their national purity.
1 Corinthians 11:3-16:
- 6 – Apparently short or shaved hair was a disgrace for women at the time. Paul is relating to the present culture to make his point.
- 11-12 – God brought man and woman’s dependence on one another full circle by having woman be created from man in the beginning, but now men come from women in birth.
- 1-6 – David seeks God’s help in his fight against his enemies. David is quick to trust God for help throughout the psalms.
- 17 – It is not bad to love pleasurable things, but it is bad to let them rule us.
How do you help someone follow Jesus? Paul makes it really clear in our 1 Corinthians reading. If I’m following Christ, I can simply invite them to follow me. There is obviously a big “if” involved though. I first have to make sure I’m following Christ in order to ask a perspective disciple to follow me.
- 3-19 – This is the list of people who settled back into Jerusalem.
- 1-26 – These are lists of the various priests and Levites post exile.
1 Corinthians 10:14-11:2:
- 14-22 – Paul urges the Israelites not to participate in the sacrifices offered to idols, but to remember that participating in communion makes us connected to all believers.
- 23-30 – Based on how hard Paul is hammering this point home, clearly the Corinthians were struggling with what was good and lawful to eat. His point is that nothing starts out unclean any longer. However, anything already sacrificed to idols is off limits.
- 1 – The perfect model of discipleship. I can feel confident in asking you to follow me if I am confident that I am following Christ.
- 18 – A good reminder when we or someone we love is heartbroken.
Our psalm today reminds us that our hope should remain in the Lord because he is the only one worthy of putting our hope in. This VBS song from last year reaffirms it:
- 61-65 – While yesterday’s reading was a list of Israelites who returned from exile in Babylon, these verses explain people who returned but could not prove that they were pure Israelites.
- 1-3 – There would have been a huge sense of restoration to the Israelites who were returning to the land given to them by God long before. They wanted to restore their culture as well. Ezra the priest reads the book of Moses’ law to them for hours and they’re all entranced by it.
- 9-12 – The Israelites were mourning for the many years when they were in exile and probably also for the ways they had not obeyed God’s law previously. Nehemiah and Ezra instruct them to, instead, rejoice because they have returned and God has restored them.
- 14-18 – The Feast of Booths was a time when the Israelites were to return to Jerusalem and stay in small booth-like structures to remember the Exodus.
1 Corinthians 9:1-18:
- Paul had been criticized that he was taking money from other believers. He is defending that apostles too have to eat. He did not, however, take a salary so he couldn’t be accused of only preaching for the money.
- 12-19 – We put our hope in all kinds of things that are not the Lord. He is the only one who is worth putting our trust in and yet we are so hesitant to do so.
- Because we are prideful, we often hate instruction or punishment. We rarely recognize that it is for our ultimate good and we need it to grow.
Today’s reading in Nehemiah reminds us how easy it is to get distracted from God’s purposes and plans for us. These days, we have far more avenues for distraction than the post-exilic Israelites. What do you do to keep yourself focused on God’s purposes for your life?
- 1-14 – It is easy to get distracted from the work God has set out for us to do, but Nehemiah was faithful in refusing to be distracted from finishing the restoration of Jerusalem’s wall.
- 6-60 – This is a listing of the people who returned to Israel from exile in Babylon.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13:
- Much of Paul’s instruction in this first letter to the Corinthians regards caring for those who aren’t as far along in their faith development. Though our faith may be strong enough to withstand certain temptations, others’ may not be. We are called to cater to their needs in those situations.
- We are to offer our praises to God because he is able to do great things and he does great things.
There are a number of passages, like the one in today’s 1 Corinthians reading, which have been misinterpreted as condoning practices we don’t generally think God would condone. Here it is marrying a non-believer. In other areas of Scripture it’s divorce or owning slaves. These passages should not be read as God condoning the behavior, rather as guidelines for people who are already engaging in these practices. I.e. If you’ve already married a non-believer, don’t divorce them. Instead, act like this for a chance to bless them.
- Nehemiah was originally combined with Ezra as one book.
- 3 – The walls of Jerusalem were broken down from when the temple was destroyed and the Israelites were taken into exile.
- 8-11 – Nehemiah reminds God of his promise that he would always allow people to return to him even if they had strayed. This is a good reminder for many of us.
- 11 – The cupbearer was a very important position. This person made sure the king’s drink was not poisoned or tampered with in any way. This person had to be very trustworthy. In Genesis, Joseph makes friends with the kings cupbearer who is imprisoned because the king thought he was trying to harm him.
- 1-8 – These were big asks. Even being sad in a king’s presence could get you in major trouble, but then also asking to be gone and for him to write special letters for you. The king, here, is being kinder than he had to be, but it says that’s because the hand of the Lord was on Nehemiah.
1 Corinthians 7:1-24:
- 1-5 – This may seem like an odd section of Scripture, but it is encouraging us to have regular sex with our spouses. Withholding sex can lead to all kinds of sins and temptations for both partners.
- 12-16 – This is not encouragement to marry an unbeliever, but instruction that if you are already married to an unbeliever to stick with them because you could be the conduit through which they come to faith.
- 22-24 – Here David makes an interesting point. He explains that in a panicked situation he assumed God was not with him, but recognized that God did, in fact, hear his cries. With this he encourages others to wait on the Lord.
- We always have reason to be humble because we are not God.
It’s finally time for the Israelites to return home from Babylonian exile. They’re city and everything they’d worked to establish is destroyed. They’re still under the watchful eye of their captors, and well, what will their relationship with God be like? Check out these powerful books that you may have overlooked in the past.
The exile was one of the most significant events in the history of the Israelites. It’s hard for us to understand, but the Israelites might have felt a little like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz felt. They were plucked from everything they knew and plopped down in a land where they didn’t know the culture and had no freedom or ability to live their normal lives. To make it worse, they had lost what made them special, their unique connection with God.
In our current Old Testament book, Ezra, and the one following, Nehemiah, we get to read about the Israelites’ return from exile. If you imagine that it would be a rocky transition, you’d be right. If you imagine that the former captors would have trouble giving up control. You’d be right.
Take the time to read these less familiar books and try to put yourself in the position of the Israelites though it’s something very difficult for us to imagine.