Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nehemiah 12:27-47

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the musicians had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.
31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 as well as some priests with trumpets, and also Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zakkur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his associates—Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani—with musical instruments [prescribed by] David the man of God. Ezra the teacher of the Law led the procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the site of David's palace to the Water Gate on the east.
38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped.
40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets— 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

Questions to consider
  • What emotion characterizes the dedication of Jerusalem’s wall?
  • How is this feeling accounted for?
  • Who is involved?
  • What preparations do the priests and Levites makes for the special occasion?
  • Describe the major corporate demonstration of joy that day.

Possibilities for prayer:

It seems important to note that immediately following the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem, a celebration is arranged--but not to celebrate the hard work of the people who built the wall, but God’s provision in allowing the wall to be built at all! This can be taken as a useful lesson for us in thinking about the way in which we respond in gratitude to the things in our own lives. We should, above all else, give thanks and praise to God who makes the good things in our lives possible. Today, let’s take some time to celebrate--whatever that might look like...maybe singing some songs of praise?--the good things God has done for us.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nehemiah 12:1-26

1 These were the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and with Joshua:
Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,
2 Amariah, Malluk, Hattush,
3 Shekaniah, Rehum, Meremoth,
4 Iddo, Ginnethon, Abijah,
5 Mijamin, Moadiah, Bilgah,
6 Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah,
7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah. 
 These were the leaders of the priests and their associates in the days of Joshua.
8 The Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and also Mattaniah, who, together with his associates, was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. 9 Bakbukiah and Unni, their associates, stood opposite them in the services.
10 Joshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, 11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.
12 In the days of Joiakim, these were the heads of the priestly families: 
 of Seraiah's family, Meraiah; 
 of Jeremiah's, Hananiah;
13 of Ezra's, Meshullam; 
 of Amariah's, Jehohanan;
14 of Malluk's, Jonathan; 
 of Shekaniah's, Joseph;
15 of Harim's, Adna; 
 of Meremoth's, Helkai;
16 of Iddo's, Zechariah; 
 of Ginnethon's, Meshullam;
17 of Abijah's, Zikri; 
 of Miniamin's and of Moadiah's, Piltai;
18 of Bilgah's, Shammua; 
 of Shemaiah's, Jehonathan;
19 of Joiarib's, Mattenai; 
 of Jedaiah's, Uzzi;
20 of Sallu's, Kallai; 
 of Amok's, Eber;
21 of Hilkiah's, Hashabiah; 
 of Jedaiah's, Nethanel.
22 The family heads of the Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua, as well as those of the priests, were recorded in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The family heads among the descendants of Levi up to the time of Johanan son of Eliashib were recorded in the book of the annals. 24 And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.
25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub were gatekeepers who guarded the storerooms at the gates. 26 They served in the days of Joiakim son of Joshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law.

Questions to consider:

  • How does where you live affect your opportunities for service and witness?
  • Who comes to dwell in Jerusalem?
  • What villages are occupied?
  • Who are considered chiefs among the Israelites now?
Possibilities for prayer:

It can get a bit overwhelming to read through all of these names that most of us have a difficult time even figuring out how to pronounce! But it’s kind of cool that Nehemiah takes the time to acknowledge each of these people for their roles and contributions to the city. God has a role for each of us in our city as well. Today, let’s ask God to reveal to us the roles that we have in our city, and the contributions that we can make to its functioning.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nehemiah 11

1 Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. 2 The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
3 These are the provincial leaders who settled in Jerusalem (now some Israelites, priests, Levites, temple servants and descendants of Solomon's servants lived in the towns of Judah, each of them on their own property in the various towns, 4 while other people from both Judah and Benjamin lived in Jerusalem): 
 From the descendants of Judah: 
 Athaiah son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, a descendant of Perez; 5 and Maaseiah son of Baruch, the son of Kol-Hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, a descendant of Shelah. 6 The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 men of standing.
7 From the descendants of Benjamin:
Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, 8 and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men. 9 Joel son of Zikri was their chief officer, and Judah son of Hassenuah was over the New Quarter of the city.
10 From the priests:
Jedaiah; the son of Joiarib; Jakin; 11 Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the official in charge of the house of God, 12 and their associates, who carried on work for the temple—822 men; Adaiah son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malkijah, 13 and his associates, who were heads of families—242 men; Amashsai son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, 14 and his [a] associates, who were men of standing—128. Their chief officer was Zabdiel son of Haggedolim.
15 From the Levites:
Shemaiah son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; 16 Shabbethai and Jozabad, two of the heads of the Levites, who had charge of the outside work of the house of God; 17 Mattaniah son of Mika, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer; Bakbukiah, second among his associates; and Abda son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. 18 The Levites in the holy city totaled 284.
19 The gatekeepers: 
 Akkub, Talmon and their associates, who kept watch at the gates—172 men.
20 The rest of the Israelites, with the priests and Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, each of them on their ancestral property.
21 The temple servants lived on the hill of Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of them.
22 The chief officer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mika. Uzzi was one of Asaph's descendants, who were the musicians responsible for the service of the house of God. 23 The musicians were under the king's orders, which regulated their daily activity.
24 Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, one of the descendants of Zerah son of Judah, was the king's agent in all affairs relating to the people.
25 As for the villages with their fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kiriath Arba and its surrounding settlements, in Dibon and its settlements, in Jekabzeel and its villages, 26 in Jeshua, in Moladah, in Beth Pelet, 27 in Hazar Shual, in Beersheba and its settlements, 28 in Ziklag, in Mekonah and its settlements, 29 in En Rimmon, in Zorah, in Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam and their villages, in Lachish and its fields, and in Azekah and its settlements. So they were living all the way from Beersheba to the Valley of Hinnom.
31 The descendants of the Benjamites from Geba lived in Mikmash, Aija, Bethel and its settlements, 32 in Anathoth, Nob and Ananiah, 33 in Hazor, Ramah and Gittaim, 34 in Hadid, Zeboim and Neballat, 35 in Lod and Ono, and in Ge Harashim.
36 Some of the divisions of the Levites of Judah settled in Benjamin.

Questions to consider:

  • What plan is adopted to populate the city of Jerusalem?
  • What is its condition?
  • Do the Israelites regard it as a desirable place to live?
  • Why is the habitation of Jerusalem necessary?
  • Why are cities considered undesirable today? (so relevant to our current teaching series!)
  • What is your rationale for your living place?

Possibilities for prayer:

At Sunday Gatherings, we’ve been moving through a teaching series on following Jesus in the city, and in this passage we see glimpses of living in “the city” was a difficult thing even in Nehemiah’s day. We are told that those who volunteered to live in the city were “commended” by everyone. This suggests to me that living in Jerusalem was no easy task...much like living in a modern-day city presents many challenges. This past Sunday we were challenged to “seek the peace of the city”-- let’s respond to that challenge. Today, let’s pray for the people and organizations in our city that are working to bring about good things, to bring about change, that they might be strengthened and encouraged in the work they are doing. Let’s also ask God to show us ways in which we can partner with those people and organizations to continue that good work, or that God would give us vision for a need that is not being met but that we can respond to. Let’s ask God to show us what it really means to seek the peace in this city we call home.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nehemiah 10

1 Those who sealed it were:
Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hakaliah.
Zedekiah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah,
3 Pashhur, Amariah, Malkijah,
4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluk,
5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah,
6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch,
7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin,
8 Maaziah, Bilgai and Shemaiah. 
 These were the priests.
9 The Levites: 
 Jeshua son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel,
10 and their associates: Shebaniah, 
 Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan,
11 Mika, Rehob, Hashabiah,
12 Zakkur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah,
13 Hodiah, Bani and Beninu.
14 The leaders of the people: 
 Parosh, Pahath-Moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani,
15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai,
16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin,
17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur,
18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai,
19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai,
20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,
21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua,
22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah,
23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub,
24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek,
25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah,
26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan,
27 Malluk, Harim and Baanah.
28 "The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
30 "We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.
31 "When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
32 "We assume the responsibility for carrying out the commands to give a third of a shekel each year for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the bread set out on the table; for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, at the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals; for the holy offerings; for sin offerings to make atonement for Israel; and for all the duties of the house of our God.
34 "We—the priests, the Levites and the people—have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the Law.
35 "We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the LORD each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.
36 "As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there.
37 "Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our [grain] offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. 38 A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. 39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and olive oil to the storerooms, where the articles for the sanctuary and for the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the musicians are also kept. 

"We will not neglect the house of our God."

Questions to consider:

  • What characterizes those who sign the covenant?
  • What is the content of the oath? What areas of life are included?
  • How much of God’s law do they swear to heed?
  • What do the people determine regarding the house of God?
  • If you were to write a covenant to God, what would it look like?
  • Try writing that covenant.

Possibilities for prayer:

In reading through this covenant, it’s easy to feel a little bit intimidated. If you take promises seriously, then making all of these promises to God might seem like a lot. One of the questions for today’s passage was to think about writing your own covenant to God, and what it might look like. Today, take some time to think and pray through that, and even write it down. Pray about the particular areas of your life that you need to give to God, or recommit to God. How can you best do that? Are you ready to do that? In thinking about the commitments you want to make to God, it might be helpful to find a friend who can be an accountability partner with you, or even just someone to pray with you through the commitments you’re making.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nehemiah 9:16-38

16 "But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. 17 They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, 18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, 'This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,' or when they committed awful blasphemies.
19 "Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.
22 "You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan. 23 You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 Their sons went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you handed the Canaanites over to them, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased. 25 They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.
26 "But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. 27 So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.
28 "But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.
29 "You warned them to return to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, by which a man will live if he obeys them. Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. 30 For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples. 31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
32 "Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes—the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings and leaders, upon our priests and prophets, upon our fathers and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today. 33 In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong. 34 Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the warnings you gave them. 35 Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.
36 "But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. 37 Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.
38 "In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it."

Questions to consider:
  • Determine the pattern which historically categorizes the relationship between God and the Israelites.
  • How does this pattern correspond with the relationship you have with God?
  • What qualities of God are revealed?
  • What does God use to bring His people back to himself?
  • What has God used in your life? How have you responded?
  • Do the Israelites do anything which God cannot forgive?

Possibilities for prayer:

Ezra continues to explain the positive attributes of God through stories of the way in which God has responded to the people, even in times of disobedience. We, like the Israelites, all have times of disobedience. But God does not ever stop loving us, or calling us back to Him. Today, let’s seek forgiveness for our disobedience and for our stubbornness; for the ways in which we thought we could do things better. Let’s praise and thank God for his compassion and grace, and, like the Israelites, make a commitment to live lives that are more closely aligned with God’s will and plans.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nehemiah 9:1-15

1 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God. 4 Standing on the stairs were the Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani—who called with loud voices to the LORD their God. 5 And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: "Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting."

"Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
7 "You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.
9 "You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea. 10 You sent miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.
13 "You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

Questions to consider:

  • Why are the Israelites assembled? What is the order of activity for the day?
  • How do you order your daily time apart with the Lord? On what basis?
  • What aspects of God’s character does Ezra emphasize in his prayer?
  • Why doesn’t God forsake you when you sin?

Possibilities for prayer:

The beginning of Ezra’s prayer strikes me as particularly beautiful. He acknowledges God as almighty creator and the only Lord. He also expounds on the goodness of God’s character through examples of the great things He has done for the Israelites. Today, try saying a prayer that is simply about worshiping God for who He and what He’s done in your life. Try to keep out any personal requests for this prayer--just praise God; tell Him of His goodness, grace, mercy, love, compassion, and power--just to name a few attributes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nehemiah 8:13-18

13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. 14 They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month 15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: "Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths"-as it is written.
16 So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.
Questions to consider:
  • Describe the scene of this, the second day.
  • What do they do during the feast?
  • What is the result of the people’s understanding of the law?
  • To what extent are you obedient to the things of God’s word that you understand?
  • What is the result of the obedience of the Israelites?

Possibilities for prayer:

This is a pretty cool example of obedience to what God has commanded. It seems especially appropriate in response to the fact that God has provided so much to allow the wall to be rebuilt without serious incident. The Israelites were obviously grateful for God’s provision, and offered up prayers of thanksgiving (see yesterday’s passage), but they do more than just say thank you. I think is relevant for us as well. God likes it when we acknowledge His provision and offer our own prayers of thanksgiving, but one way that we can truly show God our gratefulness is to be obedient. Today, let’s ask God to transform our hearts to be more obedient to Him. Let’s ask God to show us ways where we have not been as obedient as we could be, and make an effort to change those behaviors, thoughts and/or actions.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nehemiah 7:73b-8:12

73bWhen the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns,

1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
4 Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve."
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

Questions to consider:

  • Describe the scene in the square. What is the request?
  • What prefaces the reading of God’s law?
  • How do you acknowledge the author of the Bible when you read it?
  • What is the special work of the Levites and those who stand with Ezra?
  • How does God recognize the desire of the Israelites to understand his Word?

Possibilities for prayer:

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

I know that I have heard this statement throughout my time in various church communities, and maybe you have too. But let’s think for a minute about what it actually means. The joy of the Lord must be a pretty powerful thing if it can (and should) be the strength one needs in times of crisis and grief. When life is difficult, it’s easy to get up in the grieving process and mourn and cry excessively. There’s definitely a time for grief (Jesus himself wept after all), but we should not get caught up in that grief or mourning. We have real joy, the kind of joy that can only be found in the Lord, to sustain us. So today, let’s ask for God to give us that real, intense, sustaining joy, so that we can rely on Him in times of trial.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nehemiah 7:1-73a

1 After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed. 2 I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. 3 I said to them, "The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses."
4 Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. 5 So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there:
6 These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, 7 in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah): 
 The list of the men of Israel:
8 the descendants of Parosh 2,172
9 of Shephatiah 372
10 of Arah 652
11 of Pahath-Moab (through the line of Jeshua and Joab) 2,818
12 of Elam 1,254
13 of Zattu 845
14 of Zaccai 760
15 of Binnui 648
16 of Bebai 628
17 of Azgad 2,322
18 of Adonikam 667
19 of Bigvai 2,067
20 of Adin 655
21 of Ater (through Hezekiah) 98
22 of Hashum 328
23 of Bezai 324
24 of Hariph 112
25 of Gibeon 95
26 the men of Bethlehem and Netophah 188
27 of Anathoth 128
28 of Beth Azmaveth 42
29 of Kiriath Jearim, Kephirah and Beeroth 743
30 of Ramah and Geba 621
31 of Micmash 122
32 of Bethel and Ai 123
33 of the other Nebo 52
34 of the other Elam 1,254
35 of Harim 320
36 of Jericho 345
37 of Lod, Hadid and Ono 721
38 of Senaah 3,930
39 The priests: 
 the descendants of Jedaiah (through the family of Jeshua) 973
40 of Immer 1,052
41 of Pashhur 1,247
42 of Harim 1,017
43 The Levites: 
 the descendants of Jeshua (through Kadmiel through the line of Hodaviah) 74
44 The singers: 
 the descendants of Asaph 148
45 The gatekeepers: 
 the descendants of 
 Shallum, Ater, Talmon, Akkub, Hatita and Shobai 138
46 The temple servants: 
 the descendants of 
 Ziha, Hasupha, Tabbaoth,
47 Keros, Sia, Padon,
48 Lebana, Hagaba, Shalmai,
49 Hanan, Giddel, Gahar,
50 Reaiah, Rezin, Nekoda,
51 Gazzam, Uzza, Paseah,
52 Besai, Meunim, Nephussim,
53 Bakbuk, Hakupha, Harhur,
54 Bazluth, Mehida, Harsha,
55 Barkos, Sisera, Temah,
56 Neziah and Hatipha
57 The descendants of the servants of Solomon: 
 the descendants of 
 Sotai, Sophereth, Perida,
58 Jaala, Darkon, Giddel,
59 Shephatiah, Hattil, 
 Pokereth-Hazzebaim and Amon
60 The temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon 392
61 The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel:
62 the descendants of 
 Delaiah, Tobiah and Nekoda 642
63 And from among the priests: 
 the descendants of 
 Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai (a man who had married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name).
64 These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 65 The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there should be a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim.
66 The whole company numbered 42,360, 67 besides their 7,337 menservants and maidservants; and they also had 245 men and women singers. 68 There were 736 horses, 245 mules, 69 435 camels and 6,720 donkeys.
70 Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 drachmas of gold, 50 bowls and 530 garments for priests. 71 Some of the heads of the families gave to the treasury for the work 20,000 drachmas of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. 72 The total given by the rest of the people was 20,000 drachmas of gold, 2,000 minas of silver and 67 garments for priests.
73 The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns.

Questions to consider:

  • After the “finishing touches” to the wall are completed, what does Nehemiah do?
  • Why does he appoint Hananiah as co-keeper of the city?
  • Why does Nehemiah enroll the people by geneaology? What is discovered?

Possibilities for prayer:

The rebuilding of the wall was a serious undertaking. Not only did it require massive amounts of manpower, but also large sums of money. We see here the way in which the community came together and gave of what they had to make sure that the rebuilding could occur and be successful. Today, let’s pray for our community. Let’s ask that we might become a community that is able to rally around a cause and give generously to see it completed well. Let’s ask to become a group of people known for their generosity of spirit, and of financial means.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nehemiah 6:10-19

10 One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, "Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you."
11 But I said, "Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!" 12 I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.
14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.
15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
17 Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. 18 For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.

Questions to consider:
  • How do the enemies react to the word that the Jerusalem wall is finished? Why?
  • Does the completion of the wall assure that all is well in Jerusalem?
  • How does Nehemiah discern the intentions of the enemy?

Possibilities for prayer:

In the midst of trial and oppression, Nehemiah pushes through with the rest of the workers to see that the wall is completed. I think that what we have seen so far attests to the way in which the things that God calls us to are not always easy (in fact, sometimes they’re quite difficult), but if we’re responding to God’s call, He always manages to make a way. Today, let’s ask for the confidence and peace to believe that God will make a way in the midst of situations that seem insurmountable. Let’s also ask for God to give us wisdom to recognize when we are in His will, and a desire to follow that path.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nehemiah 6:1-9

1 When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates- 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: "Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono."
But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?" 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written: 
 "It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king 7 and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: 'There is a king in Judah!' Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us confer together."
8 I sent him this reply: "Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head."
9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed." 

But I prayed, "Now strengthen my hands."

Questions to consider:
  • Compare the plans of Sanballat to undermine the Israelites’ defense and Nehemiah’s response.
  • What human emotions does the enemy play on?
  • What is the effect of fear on your ability to complete responsibilities God gives you? How do you combat fear?

Possibilities for prayer:

Nehemiah’s enemies are pretty persistent. When they are unable to get him alone into a position in which he can be harmed, they attempt to get all the Jewish people in a tight spot by spreading lies about what is happening in Jerusalem. Sometimes it seems like the hard things in our lives don’t go away very easily either. Just when we think we have overcome something, it crops back up again. It’s easy to get discouraged in such situations. But what is Nehemiah’s response when everyone seems “out to get him”? He prays. As always, Nehemiah stands as a great example of what our response should be in times of trial and tribulation. Instead of letting ourselves get scared or frustrated, we should calmly and boldly hand it over to God. Let’s try to do just that. Today, hand over something in your life to God, big or small, and ask Him to “strengthen your hands” to do His work.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nehemiah 5

1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. 2 Some were saying, "We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain."
3 Others were saying, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine."
4 Still others were saying, "We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as the rest of our people and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others."
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are charging your own people interest!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
9 So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil."
12 "We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say."
Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, "In this way may God shake out of their houses and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!" 
 At this the whole assembly said, "Amen," and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
19 Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.

Questions to consider:
  • What triggers the outcry of the people? Who is the object of this disturbance?
  • How does Nehemiah take all of this?
  • What is the charge against those responsible for the situation?
  • What promises have you made to God regarding your social obligations?
  • Why does Nehemiah forego his governor’s allowance?
  • What ethical standards do you maintain?

Possibilities for prayer:

Nehemiah has an eye for justice. When people cry out that they are suffering and in great need, Nehemiah goes to the people who have a lot to give and are taking advantage of the situations and charges them to stop doing so. He is also careful to adhere to his own challenges--he does not tell the nobles to stop charging interest, but continue to do so himself. He is also aware of the burden upon the people and makes the decision to give up an extra allotment of food and drink that is rightfully his, in order to see greater justice in his community. Today, let’s think about ways in which we can bring about more justice in our communities. Let’s not just be advocates of justice in the lives of others, but live lives that reflect that justice as well. Let’s ask God to show us ways that we can be more proactive about justice in both practical and philosophical ways.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nehemiah 4:10-23

10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, "The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall."
11 Also our enemies said, "Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work."
12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, "Wherever you turn, they will attack us."
13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes."
15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.
16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.
19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, "The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!"
21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, "Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day." 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.

Questions to consider:

  • What problem(s) within the Israelites compounds the crisis of impending attack?
  • Which situation receives Nehemiah’s first attention?
  • On whom does Nehemiah focus the people’s attention? How does God directly intervene to deal with the external threats against the rebuilding?
  • What defenses do you maintain against Satan and his threats to your efforts to do God’s will?
Possibilities for prayer:

Nehemiah has great confidence in God’s ability to keep the rebuilding from falling apart. Imagine yourself in Nehemiah’s situation--it must have been incredibly intimidating and frightening to be in charge of so many people for such a large project, with the added stress of people being overworked and enemies ready to attack. But Nehemiah remains strong and faithful and calls other people into that strength and faith as well. Today, let’s think about situations that seem frustrating or intimidating within our church community. Like Nehemiah, let’s remain not only strong and faithful ourselves, but let’s call others into the same strength and faith. And let’s ask God for the wisdom and courage to do that well.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nehemiah 4:1-9

1When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?"
3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, "What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!"
4 Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

Questions to consider:

  • What are Sanballat and Tobiah’s estimations of what the Jews are building?
  • What is Nehemiah’s prayer for these men?
  • How do you pray when you are taunted, mocked, or looked down upon?
  • What point does Sanballat’s anger reach? What is the plot he and other devise?
  • What defense do the Israelites employ to counter this plot?

Possibilities for prayer:

Have you noticed the common theme that has come up in our readings over the course of this week? In this situation, when Nehemiah and his compatriots are challenged and threatened, Nehemiah’s immediate response is to pray. Here, we can see a lot of Nehemiah’s humanity--the way in which he appears angry and frustrated and wants God to visit justice upon the people causing problems.

In addition to seeking God’s help, Nehemiah takes practical action to protect himself and his workers. I think that this can be a reminder to us that we are not supposed to sit idly by and wait for God to all the work. Today, let’s not only ask for God’s assistance, but ask for wisdom about how we can be proactive about the situations ourselves.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nehemiah 3

1 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zakkur son of Imri built next to them.
3 The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. 4 Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. 5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.
6 The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. 7 Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah—Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. 8 Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. 10 Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. 11 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.
13 The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah. They rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. They also repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Dung Gate.
14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Rekab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place.
15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallun son of Kol-Hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah. He rebuilt it, roofing it over and putting its doors and bolts and bars in place. He also repaired the wall of the Pool of Siloam, by the King's Garden, as far as the steps going down from the City of David. 16 Beyond him, Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of a half-district of Beth Zur, made repairs up to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool and the House of the Heroes.
17 Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district. 18 Next to him, the repairs were made by their neighbors under Binnui son of Henadad, ruler of the other half-district of Keilah. 19 Next to him, Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section, from a point facing the ascent to the armory as far as the angle of the wall. 20 Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 Next to him, Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired another section, from the entrance of Eliashib's house to the end of it.
22 The repairs next to him were made by the priests from the surrounding region. 23 Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. 24 Next to him, Binnui son of Henadad repaired another section, from Azariah's house to the angle and the corner, 25 and Palal son of Uzai worked opposite the angle and the tower projecting from the upper palace near the court of the guard. Next to him, Pedaiah son of Parosh 26 and the temple servants living on the hill of Ophel made repairs up to a point opposite the Water Gate toward the east and the projecting tower. 27 Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel.
28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. Next to him, Shemaiah son of Shekaniah, the guard at the East Gate, made repairs. 30 Next to him, Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. Next to them, Meshullam son of Berekiah made repairs opposite his living quarters. 31 Next to him, Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and the merchants, opposite the Inspection Gate, and as far as the room above the corner; 32 and between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and merchants made repairs.

Questions to consider:

Who begins the rebuilding? What characterizes the beginning effort?
What class of people work on the walls and gates?
What parts of the country are represented? What are the exceptions?
To what extent are you willing to get involved in the work of the Lord?

Possibilities for prayer:

One of the questions above forms a good starting point for prayer: To what extent are we willing to get involved in the work of the Lord? The people who are named in this chapter were willing to work long, hard hours to see the walls of the city rebuilt. We don’t have the physical walls of the city to rebuild, but there is definitely work in this city that needs to be done, that God is calling us into. Today, let’s ask for God to transform our hearts into ones that seek after God’s desires for our city.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nehemiah 2:11-20

11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
17 Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. 
 They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. "What is this you are doing?" they asked. "Are you rebelling against the king?"
20 I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it."

Questions to consider:

  • How does Nehemiah account for the amazing favor of the king in granting his requests?
  • What is the first step of Nehemiah’s reconstruction project? Who is the author of the master plan?
  • How do you respond to mockery of expression of your faith in Jesus? Why?
  • What is your heart to do for your people? For your city? For your neighborhood?

Possibilities for prayer:

Again we see the way in which Nehemiah does everything by acknowledging God. As he discusses plans to rebuild the city he does not forget to mention the way in which God has granted him immense amounts of favor in even being able to be with them. Do we always recognize the way that God has His hands on our own lives? Probably not. But today, let’s take some time to acknowledge the way in which God has clearly had His hands on our lives, and be thankful for that.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nehemiah 2:1-10

1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart."
I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"
4 The king said to me, "What is it you want?"
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it."
6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, "How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?" It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
7 I also said to him, "If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?" And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king's letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

Questions to consider:

  • How does God answer Nehemiah’s request for mercy in the king’s presence?
  • What do you pray when a decision must be made quickly?
  • What has preceded Nehemiah’s on the spot prayer?
  • How do Sanballat and Tobiah feel about Nehemiah’s arrival in the province?

Possibilities for prayer:

Did you catch a really important moment at the end of verse 4? Nehemiah prayed to God before he spoke. So often, when we’re in the midst of potentially costly situations (Nehemiah could have lost his life if his request was not received favorably by the king) we think it’s more important to think quickly than to seek GOD in such situations. Today, let’s make an effort to seek God in the midst of difficult situations, and to actually physically pray in response to stress instead of trying to only use our brains to solve the problem. As Nehemiah experienced, God’s favor can go a long way in things working out well!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Nehemiah 1

1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
"LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my ancestral family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 "Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.'
10 "They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man." 

I was cupbearer to the king.

Questions to consider:

  • What does Nehemiah hear about the Jews in Jerusalem? about the city? What does he do?
  • With whom does God maintain his covenant and love?
  • To what extent to you claim God’s promises when you pray for other Christians?
  • What does Nehemiah pray specifically for himself?
  • In whose presence does he want God’s mercy?
  • What requests do you make of God for yourself?

Possibilities for prayer:

“LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.”

I really admire the humility that Nehemiah expresses in this prayer to God. He’s conscious of acknowledging who God is before doing anything else--before confessing sins, making petitions, or anything. I think that Nehemiah’s prayer is an excellent model of a way in which we can pray to God as well, being careful to acknowledge God for all of the good things that He is and does. Today, let’s try praying like Nehemiah. Before asking for ourselves or for others, let’s take time to praise and worship God through our prayers.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Proverbs 31

1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an oracle his mother taught him:

2 "O my son, O son of my womb, 

O son of my vows,

3 do not spend your strength on women, 

your vigor on those who ruin kings.

4 "It is not for kings, O Lemuel— 

not for kings to drink wine, 

not for rulers to crave beer,

5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, 

and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.

6 Give beer to those who are perishing, 

wine to those who are in anguish;

7 let them drink and forget their poverty 

and remember their misery no more.

8 "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, 

for the rights of all who are destitute.

9 Speak up and judge fairly; 

defend the rights of the poor and needy." 

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

10 A wife of noble character who can find? 

She is worth far more than rubies.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her 

and lacks nothing of value.

12 She brings him good, not harm, 

all the days of her life.

13 She selects wool and flax 

and works with eager hands.

14 She is like the merchant ships, 

bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still dark; 

she provides food for her family 

and portions for her servant girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it; 

out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17 She sets about her work vigorously; 

her arms are strong for her tasks.

18 She sees that her trading is profitable, 

and her lamp does not go out at night.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff 

and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor 

and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; 

for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes coverings for her bed; 

she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, 

where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them, 

and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; 

she can laugh at the days to come.

26 She speaks with wisdom, 

and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household 

and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed; 

her husband also, and he praises her:

29 "Many women do noble things, 

but you surpass them all."

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; 

but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

31 Give her the reward she has earned, 

and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Questions to consider:

  • Characterize a “good wife.”
  • How has the study of Proverbs helped you experience wisdom in daily living?
  • To what extent has your conduct been affected? In what specific areas?
  • What specific areas do you see more room to grow and improve?

Possibilities for prayer:

A large portion of this chapter is dedicated to the description of a wife “of noble character.” Of course, we can use these verses to think about our spouses, but I kind of like using these verses to think about our relationship as a church with God. Many of the qualities that are used to describe a good wife can be used to describe the way in which we, as a church community, can and should be going about life. Today, let’s ask God to give us vision to live life in community in much the way this noble woman’s life is described, that the positive characteristics ascribed to her (wisdom, diligence, generosity, and the like) would be ascribed to our community as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Proverbs 30

1 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle :
This man declared to Ithiel,
to Ithiel and to Ucal:

2 "I am the most ignorant of men; 

I do not have a man's understanding.

3 I have not learned wisdom, 

nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.

4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down? 

Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? 

Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? 

Who has established all the ends of the earth? 

What is his name, and the name of his son? 

Tell me if you know!

5 "Every word of God is flawless; 

he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

6 Do not add to his words, 

or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

7 "Two things I ask of you, O LORD; 

do not refuse me before I die:

8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; 

give me neither poverty nor riches, 

but give me only my daily bread.

9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you 

and say, 'Who is the LORD ?' 

Or I may become poor and steal, 

and so dishonor the name of my God.

10 "Do not slander a servant to his master, 

or he will curse you, and you will pay for it.

11 "There are those who curse their fathers 

and do not bless their mothers;

12 those who are pure in their own eyes 

and yet are not cleansed of their filth;

13 those whose eyes are ever so haughty, 

whose glances are so disdainful;

14 those whose teeth are swords 

and whose jaws are set with knives 

to devour the poor from the earth, 

the needy from among mankind.

15 "The leech has two daughters. 

'Give! Give!' they cry. 

"There are three things that are never satisfied, 

four that never say, 'Enough!':

16 the grave, the barren womb, 

land, which is never satisfied with water, 

and fire, which never says, 'Enough!'

17 "The eye that mocks a father, 

that scorns obedience to a mother, 

will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, 

will be eaten by the vultures.

18 "There are three things that are too amazing for me, 

four that I do not understand:

19 the way of an eagle in the sky, 

the way of a snake on a rock, 

the way of a ship on the high seas, 

and the way of a man with a maiden.

20 "This is the way of an adulteress: 

She eats and wipes her mouth 

and says, 'I've done nothing wrong.'

21 "Under three things the earth trembles, 

under four it cannot bear up:

22 a servant who becomes king, 

a fool who is full of food,

23 an unloved woman who is married, 

and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.

24 "Four things on earth are small, 

yet they are extremely wise:

25 Ants are creatures of little strength, 

yet they store up their food in the summer;

26 coneys are creatures of little power, 

yet they make their home in the crags;

27 locusts have no king, 

yet they advance together in ranks;

28 a lizard can be caught with the hand, 

yet it is found in kings' palaces.

29 "There are three things that are stately in their stride, 

four that move with stately bearing:

30 a lion, mighty among beasts, 

who retreats before nothing;

31 a strutting rooster, a he-goat, 

and a king with his army around him.

32 "If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, 

or if you have planned evil, 

clap your hand over your mouth!

33 For as churning the milk produces butter, 

and as twisting the nose produces blood, 

so stirring up anger produces strife."

Questions to consider:

  • What is the tone of the author in verses 1-4?
  • Describe the types of people cited here.
  • In what areas of your life have you been “foolish?”
  • How can you become “wise” in these areas?

Possibilities for prayer:

“Every word of God is flawless; 

he is a shield to those who take refuge in him”

When you really stop to think about the first statement in this verse, it’s a bit overwhelming, isn’t it? To describe the word of God as flawless is a pretty intense statement. Particularly when there are times when I read the Bible and am confused or uncertain about what I am reading. So today let’s ask God to grant us greater insight as we continue to read and study His word, and that we would gladly accept Him as our shield, as one in whom we can take refuge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Proverbs 29

1 A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes 

will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

2 When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; 

when the wicked rule, the people groan.

3 A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, 

but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.

4 By justice a king gives a country stability, 

but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.

5 Whoever flatters his neighbor 

is spreading a net for his feet.

6 An evil man is snared by his own sin, 

but a righteous one can sing and be glad.

7 The righteous care about justice for the poor, 

but the wicked have no such concern.

8 Mockers stir up a city, 

but wise men turn away anger.

9 If a wise man goes to court with a fool, 

the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.

10 Bloodthirsty men hate a man of integrity 

and seek to kill the upright.

11 A fool gives full vent to his anger, 

but a wise man keeps himself under control.

12 If a ruler listens to lies, 

all his officials become wicked.

13 The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: 

The LORD gives sight to the eyes of both.

14 If a king judges the poor with fairness, 

his throne will always be secure.

15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom, 

but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.

16 When the wicked thrive, so does sin, 

but the righteous will see their downfall.

17 Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; 

he will bring delight to your soul.

18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; 

but blessed is he who keeps the law.

19 A servant cannot be corrected by mere words; 

though he understands, he will not respond.

20 Do you see a man who speaks in haste? 

There is more hope for a fool than for him.

21 If a man pampers his servant from youth, 

he will bring grief in the end.

22 An angry man stirs up dissension, 

and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.

23 A man's pride brings him low, 

but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.

24 The accomplice of a thief is his own enemy; 

he is put under oath and dare not testify.

25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, 

but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

26 Many seek an audience with a ruler, 

but it is from the LORD that man gets justice.

27 The righteous detest the dishonest; 

the wicked detest the upright.

Questions to consider:

  • Contrast the righteous and wicked as to their (a) temperament and (b) ultimate end.
  • Explain verse 18. How does this verse relate to the section on discipline?
  • What negative qualities observed here do you need to get rid of in your own life?
  • What is the paradox in verse 23?

Possibilities for prayer:

Have you ever, in anger, said or done something that you regretted, maybe even immediately afterward? I know I have! Verse 11 describes such an action as foolish--and having experienced that kind of action, I would definitely agree with the author on that point. Today, let’s ask God for an increase in self-control. Let’s ask that we would learn how to control our anger, and to speak and act wisely rather than foolishly.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Proverbs 28:15-28

15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear 

is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people.

16 A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment, 

but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life.

17 A man tormented by the guilt of murder 

will be a fugitive till death;

 let no one support him.

18 He whose walk is blameless is kept safe, 

but he whose ways are perverse will suddenly fall.

19 He who works his land will have abundant food, 

but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.

20 A faithful man will be richly blessed, 

but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

21 To show partiality is not good— 

yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread.

22 A stingy man is eager to get rich 

and is unaware that poverty awaits him.

23 He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor 

than he who has a flattering tongue.

24 He who robs his father or mother 

and says, "It's not wrong"—

he is partner to him who destroys.

25 A greedy man stirs up dissension, 

but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.

26 He who trusts in himself is a fool, 

but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.

27 He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, 

but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

28 When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; 

but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.

Questions to consider:
  • In which part of these proverbs (and those from yesterday’s passage) do you see divine justice revealed?
  • Find the metaphors. What do they mean?
  • Memorize a proverb?

Possibilities for prayer:

Verse 19 seems to suggest that practicality is not a bad thing in our lives. In fact, if given the choice between pursuing “fantasies” and making practical life decisions, this verse makes pretty clear what the end results of our labors will be. It’s true that dreaming can be a lot more fun than “working the fields” or doing the more practical things in life, but fun is not always better. Let’s ask God for the diligence and perseverance to do the right thing, the wise thing, and for a greater understanding of what that might mean in our lives.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Proverbs 28:1-14

1 The wicked man flees though no one pursues, 

but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

2 When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, 

but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.

3 A ruler who oppresses the poor 

is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, 

but those who keep the law resist them.

5 Evil men do not understand justice, 

but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.

6 Better a poor man whose walk is blameless 

than a rich man whose ways are perverse.

7 He who keeps the law is a discerning son, 

but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.

8 He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest 

amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, 

even his prayers are detestable.

10 He who leads the upright along an evil path 

will fall into his own trap, 

but the blameless will receive a good inheritance.

11 A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, 

but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.

12 When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; 

but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.

13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, 

but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

14 Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, 

but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.

Questions to consider:
  • How do a nation’s sins affect its rulers? What about vice versa?
  • What qualities of character and action are commended? Which are condemned?
  • What is the prerequisite for knowledge? For mercy?

Possibilities for prayer:

One of the things that we’ve seen over the course of our study of Proverbs is God’s heart for justice. Verse 5 makes pretty clear that to really understand what justice is and means, we need to seek the Lord. Over the past couple weeks at ECV, one of the things the prayer ministry team has felt is that there are people seeking to know God more deeply and that God wants to respond to that seeking. Today, let’s seek the Lord and His justice, the ability to understand justice fully.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Proverbs 27:15-27

15 A quarrelsome wife is like 

a constant dripping on a rainy day;

16 restraining her is like restraining the wind 

or grasping oil with the hand.

17 As iron sharpens iron, 

so one man sharpens another.

18 He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, 

and he who looks after his master will be honored.

19 As water reflects a face, 

so a man's heart reflects the man.

20 Death and Destruction are never satisfied, 

and neither are the eyes of man.

21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, 

but man is tested by the praise he receives.

22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar, 

grinding him like grain with a pestle, 

you will not remove his folly from him.

23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, 

give careful attention to your herds;

24 for riches do not endure forever, 

and a crown is not secure for all generations.

25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears 

and the grass from the hills is gathered in,

26 the lambs will provide you with clothing, 

and the goats with the price of a field.

27 You will have plenty of goats' milk 

to feed you and your family 

and to nourish your servant girls.

Questions to consider:
  • Relate verses 2 and 21.
  • Relate the comments of verses 23-27 with Israel’s situation during Solomon’s time1.
  • Why, do you think, are these remarks necessary?

Possibilities for prayer:

It consistently strikes me how relevant and poignant these proverbs are for our lives today. I really like verse 19--because the metaphor is both true and beautiful. Our hearts reflect who we really are, much in the same way the surface of water can reflect our outward appearance. Today, let’s ask that God would be working on the condition of our hearts, that what they reflect would be the good things of God--wisdom, patience, justice, humility--and less and less of the things of ourselves.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Proverbs 27:1-14

1 Do not boast about tomorrow, 

for you do not know what a day may bring forth.

2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; 

someone else, and not your own lips.

3 Stone is heavy and sand a burden, 

but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.

4 Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, 

but who can stand before jealousy?

5 Better is open rebuke 

than hidden love.

6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, 

but an enemy multiplies kisses.

7 He who is full loathes honey, 

but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.

8 Like a bird that strays from its nest 

is a man who strays from his home.

9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, 

and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.

10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, 

and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you— 

better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.

11 Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; 

then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.

12 The prudent see danger and take refuge, 

but the simple keep going and suffer for it.

13 Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; 

hold it in pledge if he does it for a wayward woman.

14 If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, 

it will be taken as a curse.

Questions to consider:

  • What relationships are cited here?
  • What are the positive and negative manifestations of these relationships?
  • To whom are you positively and negatively related now?
  • Why?
  • What can you do today to have right relationships with others?

Possibilities for prayer:

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

There are MANY excellent proverbs in this passage but I like this one for today. Have you ever been in a situation when a friend has said something that was hurtful or wounding, even if that person meant in a helpful or wounding way? It’s counter-intuitive to think that “wounds” (from a friend) are better than “kisses,” but sometimes friends have to have difficult conversations that are uncomfortable and can cause wounds. Funny how these words written so many years ago are still incredibly applicable in our lives, right? Today, let’s first thank God for the friends that we have in our lives. Then let’s ask for discernment in determining when our friends are doing and saying things out of love, even if they’re hard to receive.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Proverbs 26:15-28

15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; 

he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.

16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes 

than seven men who answer discreetly.

17 Like one who seizes a dog by the ears 

is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

18 Like a madman shooting 

firebrands or deadly arrows

19 is a man who deceives his neighbor 

and says, "I was only joking!"

20 Without wood a fire goes out; 

without gossip a quarrel dies down.

21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, 

so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

22 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; 

they go down to a man's inmost parts.

23 Like a coating of glaze over earthenware 

are fervent lips with an evil heart.

24 A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, 

but in his heart he harbors deceit.

25 Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, 

for seven abominations fill his heart.

26 His malice may be concealed by deception, 

but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

27 If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it; 

if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him.

28 A lying tongue hates those it hurts, 

and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Questions to consider:

  • Contrast the sluggard with:
(a) a quarrelsome person
(b) the practical joker
(c) the gossip
(d) the hypocrite
  • In what ways are the metaphors apt?
  • Which traits do you need to remove from your life?

Possibilities for prayer:

“A lying tongue hates those it hurts,

 and a flattering mouth works ruin.”

I think we are sometimes oblivious to the power of our words. Little kids have that saying-- “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”--but it’s only when we get older that we are able to realize how untrue that chant can be! It seems that we’ve all been hurt (probably more than once) by words that were carelessly (or even carefully) used. Let’s give God control over our tongues and our mouths today. Let’s ask God to help us control the words that we choose to use and speak in love and truth instead of hatred and lies.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Proverbs 26:1-14

1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, 

honor is not fitting for a fool.

2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, 

an undeserved curse does not come to rest.

3 A whip for the horse, a halter for the donkey, 

and a rod for the backs of fools!

4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, 

or you will be like him yourself.

5 Answer a fool according to his folly, 

or he will be wise in his own eyes.

6 Like cutting off one's feet or drinking violence 

is the sending of a message by the hand of a fool.

7 Like a lame man's legs that hang limp 

is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.

8 Like tying a stone in a sling 

is the giving of honor to a fool.

9 Like a thornbush in a drunkard's hand 

is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.

10 Like an archer who wounds at random 

is he who hires a fool or any passer-by.

11 As a dog returns to its vomit, 

so a fool repeats his folly.

12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? 

There is more hope for a fool than for him.

13 The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road, 

a fierce lion roaming the streets!"

14 As a door turns on its hinges, 

so a sluggard turns on his bed.

Questions to consider:
  • Characterize a fool.
  • What should be your response to a fool?
  • How can you distinguish fools and wise men?
  • Compare a conceited man with a fool.

Possibilities for prayer:

Verse 12 is pretty intense! We need to be careful to not think too highly of ourselves. After reading all about fools in the previous verses of this passage, suggesting that someone who is “wise in his own eyes” has less hope than a fool seems like a pretty serious comparison! Today, let’s ask God to give us humble hearts--that we would never think ourselves better than we are, or better than others around us. Let’s ask to be focused on the good things of God rather than the good things of ourselves.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Proverbs 25:15-28

15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,

and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

16 If you find honey, eat just enough—
too much of it, and you will vomit.

17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house—
too much of you, and he will hate you.

18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.

19 Like a bad tooth or a lame foot
is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.

20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on soda,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

23 As a north wind brings rain,
so a sly tongue brings angry looks.

24 Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

25 Like cold water to a weary soul
is good news from a distant land.

26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted well
is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked.

27 It is not good to eat too much honey,
nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor.

28 Like a city whose walls are broken down
is a man who lacks self-control.

Questions to consider:

  • What should be your attitudes and actions toward your (a) neighbor and (b) enemy?
  • To what extent are verse 19 and 26 a part of your experience? Why?
  • How can you experience self control in the various areas of your life today?
  • Memorize a proverb!

Possibilities for prayer:

I think that verse 16 speaks into our culture in a big way. The United States is a very consumption based culture, and we have a tendency to eat/take/buy as much as we possibly can instead of just enough. The proverb in verse 16 speaks to the negative outcomes that can arise from being too greedy, or consuming too much. Jesus was not about “getting while the getting is good” and in the same way, our lives should not reflect that principle. Today, let’s pray that we would begin to implement a more simplistic way of living into our lives. Let’s ask God for insight into the places in our lives where we consume too much and could do with less. And when we find those places, let’s ask for the desire to change them.