Links & Quotes

The seed your weakened hand is sowing
May ripen to a harvest broad,
Which yet may help, without your knowing,
To fill the granaries of God! —Margaret J. Prescott

My friend and podcast partner Greg Heeres talked about growing and learning through change. You can check out the rest of this episode of The Craig And Greg Show here.

Sometimes the prophetic language in the Bible can be a bit confusing. Like the phrase: “A time, times, and half a time.” Here is how Dr. Henry Halley unpacks this—

“It denotes the duration of the other horn of the fourth beast (Daniel 7:25). It denotes the period from Daniel to the time of the end (Daniel 12:6–7). It is used in Revelation 12:14 as identical to 42 months and to 1260 days (Revelation 11:2–3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), the period of time the Holy City was trampled, the two witnesses prophesied, the woman was in the wilderness, and the revived beast was on the throne. 

“The word ‘time,’ in the phrase ‘a time, times, and half a time’ is generally taken to mean year; the phrase thus means three and a half years, which is 42 months, or 1260 days. 

“By some, this is taken to refer to a literal three and a half years. Others, on the year-day interpretation (Numbers 14:34; Ezra 4:6), take it to be a period of 1260 years. Still others look upon the figures, not as defining time limits or periods, but as being symbolic: 7 Is the symbol of completeness, while three and a half, which is half of 7, represents incompleteness—that is, the reign of evil will be only temporary.” —Halley’s Study Bible (check out all of the biblical references in this quote by clicking here)

“Ambivalence toward the Law of God is troubling. Theologians discard the Law, and pastors either reject or neglect it. Jesus said that keeping and teaching the Law of God was a mark of Kingdom greatness (Matthew 5:17-19). Apparently that’s not a goal many of us aspire to. He also said that when the Law of God is neglected, love grows cold (Matthew 12:24). The ubiquitous lack of love in our world today is undoubtedly related to our failure to teach and live according to the Law of God. … 

“Pastors have three main resources for the work and business of ministry: The Word of God, prayer, and their personal example (Acts 6:4; 1 Peter 5:1-3). If any of these fails, their ministry will as well. Especially must pastors be seen to be men zealous for the Law of God, to obey all the counsel of the Lord in His Word and to resist the devil and overcome every temptation. Jesus did. Paul did. John said this is the way love flourishes (1 John 5:1-3). Throughout this generation, failures of obedience on the part of highly visible pastors have contributed to the Church’s becoming an object of scorn by many unbelievers, while believers have been largely silent about their failings. We must be diligent in obeying Christ if we would teach others to do so and thus fulfill our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God.” —T.M. Moore

New wide-angle X-ray scattering (WAXS) analysis dates the Shroud of Turin to the first century.

Not all viruses need to be eliminated. A study has discovered 5500 new RNA viruses on the ocean, finding “an entire phylum, the Taraviricota . . . found all over the oceans, which suggests they’re ecologically important.” The Creator knew what He was doing!

God’s Precision

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I love how often archeological discoveries absolutely verify biblical accounts. Haggai is a great example of this: He so precisely dates his prophecies, which are then corroborated by extra-biblical records from the Medes and Persians.  

For instance, check out these specific dates:

  • 538 BC—Cyrus issues a decree allowing the Jews to return to Israel (Isaiah 45:1-3) 
  • 537 BC—exiles return and in 536 BC they lay the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:8)
  • 536 BC—opposition arises and the work stops (Ezra 4:1-6) 
  • 520 BC—Haggai and Zechariah arrive and begin ministering (Ezra 5:1-2; Haggai 1:1-15) 
  • 520 BC—opposition arises again and Haggai speaks a word of encouragement (Ezra 5:3-5; Haggai 2:1-9)
  • 516 BC—after receiving a favorable reply from King Darius, the temple is completed (Ezra 6:13-15)

(You can check out all of the above referenced verses by clicking here.) 

The reason these dates are so important is that they precisely align with the prophecy spoken by Jeremiah BEFORE the Israelites were even taken into exile. God said that they would return to worship in Jerusalem 70 years after their exile (Jeremiah 29:10-14; Daniel 9:1-2). Which is exactly what happened: They were taken into captivity in 586 BC, and the temple was completed in 516 BC! 

Haggai’s final prophecy (Haggai 2:20-23) has an unusual ending. It’s unusual in that it doesn’t sound like “The End” that usually ends a book of the Bible. That is precisely because it’s not the end. 

God tells Zerubbabel that he is God’s “signet ring,” a mark of God’s supreme authority. Zerubbabel was not the signet ring, but he was a forerunner—a type—of Jesus. 

So when we trace the genealogies of Jesus in the New Testament, we see that Zerubbabel appears in the family line of both Joseph and Mary—both the family line from Abraham who received God’s covenant, and the family line of Adam who heard God promise that a human offspring would crush satan’s head. 

These genealogies are as precise and exacting as the dates for the return of the exiles. God does everything exactly according to plan. He speaks His promises to us, and we can stand on those promises. Jesus is THE Signet Ring that stamps His “Amen” to every promise of God on which we stand.  

God is not vague; He is precise. He has a plan for all of history—which is His story—and He has a precise plan for your life too!  

So in building on our list from last week, let’s add one more item: 

  1. Hear the Word of God
  2. Consider the Word of God
  3. Obey the Word of God
  4. Stand assured, encouraged, and unmovable on the Word of God.

What God says He will do, He will do! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Which Hand Is On You?

…the hand of God … the hand of foreign kings… (Ezra 7-9 and Nehemiah 1-2).

The picturesque language of someone’s hand being on another person signifies who is in control and to whom one is giving their allegiance. Ezra and Nehemiah boil it down to God’s hand or the hand of foreign leaders.

God’s hand brings:

  • favor with foreign kings
  • safety
  • courage 
  • coworkers
  • protection from bandits 

A foreign king’s hand brings:

  • a sword
  • captivity
  • pillage
  • humiliation 

Ezra explains, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to Him, but His great anger is against all who forsake Him” (8:22). So God’s hand prevents the hand of a foreign king from doing anything outside of God’s will. 

Here are two irrefutable and unchangeable principles: (1) I can only have one hand on my life at a time, and (2) I get to choose which hand it will be: God’s or a foreign leader. 

Why We Pray For Government Leaders

…the Lord filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:22).

King Darius didn’t just allow the Israelites to worship God at the temple, he assisted them in reestablishing worship at the temple! He did this because God changed his attitude. 

Nearly 60 years later, King Artaxerxes did the same thing for Ezra: “the king had granted him everything he asked for, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (7:6). Artaxerxes gave Ezra and the returning Israelite exiles…

  • … authority 
  • … provisions 
  • … tax exemptions (vv. 14, 20-22, 24) 

Ezra says again that this was all due to God putting this in Artaxerxes’ heart: Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem this way (vv. 27-28).

Daniel declares that all of the world leaders are in that position of leadership because God placed them there. The apostle Paul teaches us that government officials are God’s servants and that we are to pray for them (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

God can change the attitude of even the most hard-hearted, godless leader. Not just change their attitude, but give God’s people favor with that leader. 

Don’t become frustrated—pray. 

Don’t get discouraged—pray. 

Pray, pray, pray for all of God’s servants who are in leadership over us. God has a plan. All of history is His story, and He will change attitudes so that His servants fulfill His plan. 

King And Commoner

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus… (Ezra 1:1). 

Ezra begins as 2 Chronicles ends: with the proclamation of Cyrus allowing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. 

The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians, who were then defeated by the Medes, who were themselves defeated by the Persians under Cyrus II. This was a powerful man who claimed “all the kingdoms of the earth” as his possession. (v. 2). 

Yet this conquering king who was called Cyrus the Great had his heart directed by God. 

Among the Israelite exiles that returned to Jerusalem were princes, priests, Levites, servants, and common people of every stripe. These exiles were rulers of nothing. 

Yet these people also had their hearts moved by God (v. 5)—42,360 of them, to be precise. 

The same God who moved the heart of the most powerful king on earth also moved the hearts of common people. God had a plan to fulfill and He knew exactly which hearts to move at the precise time to bring about His purpose. God is sovereignly in control. All of history—including all the people in history—is His story. 

The king is not too powerful and the common citizen is not too small to be used by God. 

Let me make that statement more personal: All of the “great” people on earth today are not too powerful to be used by God, nor are you too small to be used by Him. 

Will you say “yes” when He moves your heart to action?

A Minor Introduction

The minor prophets in the Bible are pretty cool! But we have to be careful with man-made titles. For example, the “old” in Old Testament doesn’t mean outdated; nor does the “new” in New Testament mean something updated to modern times. 

In the same way, the minor prophets are only called “minor” because of the volume of their writing, not the quality of their message. In fact, their messages are actually quite major! 

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760 BC (Amos) to 450 BC (Malachi). You can check out this side-by-side chart to see where these prophets fit in the history of Judah and Israel. 

Here are some interesting tidbits about the minor prophets:

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these books are referred to simply as “The Twelve.” 
  • All of these prophets identify themselves in the first verse of their writing except Jonah, but he is identified in 2 Kings 14:23-25. 
  • The only others of the Twelve that are mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament are Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah (see Jeremiah 26:16-19; 2 Kings 25:18-21; Ezra 5:1). 
  • The prophets consistently give us some historical context in their writings to help us place when, where, and to whom their ministry took place. 

The Twelve also show up quite liberally in the New Testament. Every one of them has either direct quotations or has their writings implicitly referred to throughout the New Testament. Here’s just a small sampling… 

  • Micah 5:2 tells us where Jesus would be born (Matthew 2:6)
  • Hosea 11:1 says Jesus would spend time in Egypt (Matthew 2:15)
  • Malachi 4:5 says an “Elijah” would precede Jesus (Matthew 17:10-11)
  • Zechariah 9:9 foretells Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10)
  • Jonah 1:17 was used by Jesus to predict His own resurrection (Matthew 12:39-42)
  • Joel 2:28-32 was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21)
  • Amos 9:11-12 foretold all peoples coming to Jesus (Acts 15:16-17)
  • Hosea 13:14 was quoted by Paul to show how death was defeated (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)
  • Habakkuk 2:4 was also quoted by Paul to tell how righteous people live (Galatians 3:11)
  • Haggai 2:6 foretells the end times (Hebrews 12:26-29)

I look forward to diving deep into the major lessons in the minor prophets over the next several weeks, but in preparation for that let me give you 3 overarching lessons for all Bible studies:

  1. Christianity is rooted in history. The Bible is a historical record of real people, saying and doing real things in real places in the world. It’s not a collection of fables, myths, or legends. 
  2. We need to study the whole counsel of God’s Word. All of Scripture is interdependent on all the other parts of Scripture, and every part reinforces and amplifies every other part. Don’t limit your Bible reading to just one or two parts.
  3. Looking back in wonder and gratitude builds faith for today and hope for tomorrow. When we see what God has done in the past, and we realize that He is still the same God today, it builds our faith for today. And when our faith today is strengthened, it gives us a bright hope for tomorrow. 

I look forward to having you join me on this journey of discovery through the minor prophets! 

Four Kings Of Kings

When C.S. Lewis first introduces us to the land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, we discover that the White Witch has Narnia seemingly under her iron fist, and has made it so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. 

“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling. … Didn’t I tell you, that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!” 

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge set a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. … Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” 

I think the Israelites waiting for their Messiah must have felt a little like the Narnians: always winter, but never Christmas; trapped under the iron-fisted rule of Babylon, and Persia, and Rome. 

But as they approached what we now call the year 1 AD, winter is about to end and the Advent of CHRISTmas is about to occur at long last! 

You might think that the birth of Jesus brought us the King of Kings. But actually, there were three other “king of kings” that preceded Jesus, who all helped to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. 

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. God called him “My servant” and also gave him the title king of kings (Jeremiah 27:6; Ezekiel 26:7). It was he who defeated Judah and took captives with him to Babylon. Among those captives was a young man named Daniel. 

God gave Daniel the ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which foretold of three other kingdoms which would follow Babylon, with the fourth kingdom being called a kingdom of iron. History shows us that Babylon was defeated by the Medes, who were in turn defeated by the Persians, who were themselves defeated by the Greco-Romans. 

Artaxerxes was king of the Persians, and he called himself king of kings (Ezra 7:12). He helps to facilitate the Jews’ return back to Jerusalem, and even helped fund their efforts to rebuild the temple of Solomon and reestablish worship there. 

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Eventually, Octavius quelled a 20-year-long civil war and established himself as the unquestioned ruler of the Roman Empire. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, which means the exalted one. But all throughout the Mediterranean world archeologists have discovered numerous other titles for Caesar Augustus—Divine, Son of God, God Incarnate, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World, and King of Kings. 

Historian Luke records these words, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree” (Luke 2:1). This decree called everyone to return to his hometown to be registered in Rome’s census. This decree meant that Joseph was obligated to return to Bethlehem. He took his pregnant wife with him to arrive just in time for Jesus to be born. 

JesusTHE eternal and ultimate King of Kings—was born in Bethlehem just as had been prophesied 700 years earlier in the winter of Israel’s captivity: 

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah; yet out of you shall One come forth for Me Who is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from ancient days (eternity). (Micah 5:2) 

The coming of THE King of Kings is proof that God sees you too. God brought the king of kings named Nebuchadnezzar, and Artaxerxes, and Caesar Augustus to power just to move two “average Joes” 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that THE King of Kings could be born there to fulfill the prophesy. 

God has a plan for your life. His plan for you was in place before you were even conceived in your mother’s womb. And—even this very moment—He is watching over world events to make sure that every detail of His plan is fulfilled (see Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 1:12)! 

If you ever feel like you are in a “winter” season of your life—always winter and never Christmas—just remember that God sees you, He has a plan for you, and He will bring an end to your winter just in time to bring you CHRISTmas!

The Joy Of Understanding

Then Ezra read from the Book of the Law in the open square… (Nehemiah 8).

I love the simplicity of this! No sermon; just a straightforward reading of God’s Word. And look at how everyone responded…

  • “The ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law”
  • There was a respect for the Word of God and the God of the Word—“When he opened it all the people stood up…[then] they bowed their heads and worship the Lord with their faces to the ground”
  • The religious leaders “helped the people to understand the Law”
  • “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them understand the reading”

The result—“And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions [to those in need] and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.

A mark of a godly leader is one who helps people make sense of God’s Word.

And when the people understand the Word, they are more likely to joyfully put it into practice.

This is Part 10 in my series on godly leadership. To read my other posts, please click here.

Godly Leaders Must Do Hard Things

“Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it” (Ezra 10:4).

Leaders have to do hard things. The responsibility is theirs, and the team is imploring their leader to take the responsibility to lead!

Ezra had to deal with a difficult issue. The issue was intermarriage between the Israelites and pagan nations. To complicate matters, Ezra discovered that “the hand of the leaders and rulers had been foremost in this trespass” (Ezra 9:2). I would guess these leaders had committed the sin of commission (intermarrying themselves or allowing their children to do so), and of omission (not speaking out against trespassers).

But those “who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” were greatly grieved at this national sin (v. 4).

Ezra’s first response was a good one: he fasted and prayed, confessing the sins of the people and identifying himself with them (notice the use of “we” in his prayer). Ezra knew there was a window of opportunity for revival that was about to close, so he must act quickly (vv. 5-15).

Prayer is a great start, but after prayer there must be action: “Arise … and do it”!

I am sure looking transgressors in the eye—especially those who were leading men and women in the community—and calling out their sin wasn’t an easy thing nor a pleasant thing for Ezra to do, but it had to be done.

A mark of a godly leader is one who does the hard good things that must be done.

Ezra doing the hard good thing opened the door for God’s blessing to fall on the people. This is still true for godly leaders today.

My prayer—Lord, strengthen me to “arise and do it” when the hard good things must be done.

This is Part 2 in my series on godly leadership. To read my other posts, please click here.

Godly Leaders Raise Up Godly Leaders

“…as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me…I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me” (Ezra 7:28).

A mark of a godly leader is one who raises up other godly leaders. He doesn’t want to walk alone; he doesn’t want to keep God’s blessings to himself. He knows that there can never be too many God-fearing leaders.

How did Ezra raise up more godly leaders?

  1. Ezra made sure his team had everyone it needed to be successful. When he discovered his team had no Levites to oversee functions in the temple, he made an appeal for a Levite to join his team. “Then, by the good hand of our God upon us” God sent Ezra nearly 250 Levites (Ezra 8:18-20)!
  2. Ezra made sure his team would be adequately cared for. He prayed and fasted as he asked for God’s direction and protection for his team (vv. 21-23).
  3. Ezra trusted his teammates. He entrusted them with precious, irreplaceable treasures (vv. 24-34).

What Ezra did became contagious. The leading men that came to follow Ezra all brought other potential leaders with them as well.

Godly leaders are never content arriving at their destination alone—they want as many other godly leaders alongside them as possible.

My prayer—God, place Your good hand on me to empower me to raise up godly leaders.

This is the first part of my series on godly leadership. To check out all of the posts, please click here.

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