1-2 Chronicles

The book of Chronicles (1 and 2 Chronicles are one book) may be one of the least read books in the Bible, but its story is critical for the storyline of the Bible and a source of encouragement for discouraged believers of all ages. God speaks to us today from this ancient book. Reading the book of Chronicles profitably requires a basic understanding of the historical context. The kingdom of David and Solomon was divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom Judah. After the fall of the northern kingdom in BC 722 the southern kingdom existed until its fall due to idolatry in BC 586. The Persians defeated the Babylonians in BC 539 and the first group of exiles were allowed to return in 538 to begin rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The Jewish people could also now begin to rebuild their social and religious lives as the people of God fulfilling the plan of God. 

The book of Chronicles was written during this Persian period and has parts of Ezra-Nehemiah embedded in the text. Chronicles is a retelling of the story of Samuel and Kings, though it does trace the genealogy back to Adam. Chronicles has its own unique perspective and purpose. Since the historical context of the writing of the book is in the Persian period, the Babylon Captivity is a distant but still painful memory. Some of the people have come back to the land under Persian rule, but the sense of purpose and destiny in the plan of God is muted by their circumstances. There is no Davidic king on the throne. They are under foreign lordship and seem so insignificant in the scope of world history. All the promises of the prophets of kingdom restoration and dominance as well as Messianic rulership of the nations undoubtedly looked impossible in the eyes of most of the people. Many were discouraged and needed a word from the lord. 

The writer of Chronicles frames his story of the people of God, Israel, to offer hope for those in his community who have little hope. There is a future. God is in control. God’s people must live by faith. The book of Chronicles can be divided into three large sections: first, the genealogy of the tribes of Israel (1 Chronicles 1-9), second, the kingdom of David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 10-2 Chronicles 9), and third, the kingdom of Judah to the exile (2 Chronicles 10-36). Let’s focus on each of these three sections and see what God has to say to us.

Genealogy of the Tribes of Israel: (1 Chronicles 1-9)

Chronicles begins with lists of names that most people don’t know and can’t pronounce. It would be easy to skip over this section and it is not necessary to read each of the names, but this first section is very important. It is important to notice the pattern. These genealogies begin with Adam, tracing the Hebrew people back to the beginning of humankind. It grounds the beleaguered people of God in the historical flow of God’s plan. It gives them a sense of purpose and belonging. These records serve the purpose of connecting the present generation, to whom the writer of Chronicles is addressing, with the great people and work of God in the past. They may not feel like much, but they are the people of God, inheritors of the covenants of God. And the Lord is still at work to bring about the fulfillment of all his promises.

The genealogy traces the people from Adam through Noah and his sons to Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob). Then, the sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes and descendants are given with a focus on Judah. From Judah we move to David and his sons to the kings of Judah who are all in the line of David. The genealogy of the Tribes of Israel concludes with the people who return to Jerusalem from the exile, thus the connection is made to the writer’s audience.  The final genealogy is that of Saul, the first king of Israel. This makes way for David in the next section, the central focus of the book.

  1. Genealogy from Adam through Abraham to Esau (1:1-54)
  2. Genealogy of the Sons of Israel through Judah to David (2:1-4:23)
  3. Genealogy of Simeon, Reuben, Gad & Half-Manasseh (4:24-5:26)
  4. Genealogy of the Priestly Tribe of Levi (6:1-81)
  5. Genealogy of Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Half-Manasseh, Ephraim & Asher (7:1-40)
  6. Genealogy of the Tribe of Benjamin to King Saul (8:1-40)
  7. Genealogy of the Exiles who Returned (9:1-34)
  8. Genealogy of Saul (9:35-44) Sets up for the Focus on David

Kingdom of David and Solomon: (1 Chronicles 10 – 2 Chronicles 9)

Chronicles gives a summary story of the reign of David, emphasizing the positive events in his life and leaving out the negative. The writer is not trying to distort the picture but zero in on the Davidic covenant as the development of the covenants of God to Israel. The Davidic covenant takes its place with the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants as the Lord’s call to Israel to be his unique people fulfilling his purposes.

Much of what one finds in this section is also found in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, but new stories are added to highlight the work of God in the life of his people. In Chronicles alone we find David’s extensive preparations for the Temple and his organization of the priests and Levites. David also gives detailed instructions to Solomon on the construction of the Temple and on his wholehearted devotion to the Lord.

After David’s death, his son Solomon becomes king and carries on the work of God in the Davidic covenant. He spares no expense or labor in constructing the Temple as David had charged him. As with David, the positive events of Solomon’s reign are given. The writer’s purpose is to show all that God has been doing for his people from the beginning. They can expect the Lord to act on their behalf. Their lives have meaning in the plan of God even if it seems otherwise.

Kingdom of Judah to the Exile: (2 Chronicles 10-36)

The final section catalogues the kings of Judah that follow Solomon. The northern kingdom of Israel and its kings are never mentioned. The good kings of Judah are highlighted while the bad kings are revealed to have forsaken the Lord. The good kings were blessed and the bad kings were judged as the Torah (Law of Moses) had promised. There are nineteen kings and one queen. They can be structured in four groups. The first group is comprised of the first four kings of Rehoboam to Jehoshaphat who is given extended treatment. In the second group we find seven kings and one evil queen. The third group begins with the extended treatment of good king Hezekiah and evil king Manasseh ending with the evil king Amon. The final group again begins with an extended treatment of the good king Josiah followed by the final four evil kings who are Josiah’s sons and grandson. This section ends with the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile and the decree of Cyrus the Persian allowing the exiles to return to Judah.  

The writer of Chronicles does not overlook the Judgment of the Lord on Judah and Jerusalem. He lays the blame on those who turned from the Lord and did not heed the warnings of the prophets. The Lord sends the Babylonians to defeat the Israelites and carry them into exile. But the Persians later defeated the Babylonians and Cyrus gave a proclamation that the people of Judah were free to return to the land. The edict in the final verses of Chronicles is taken from the first chapter of Ezra. But the writer of Chronicles does not give the full quote. The book ends incomplete. The last book of the Old Testament is incomplete. All the promises are not fulfilled. Their fulfillment waits on the New Testament and the Messiah, Jesus.

Major Themes in Chronicles:

Davidic Covenant: The central theme of Chronicles is the covenant that the Lord made with David. God promised David that he would build David a house, an eternal kingdom. A descendant of David will sit on his throne forever. But what about the covenant now that the people are back in the land but no Davidic king sits on the throne? The Lord had not forgotten his covenant or revoked it because the people had turned from him. Chronicles’ purpose is to demonstrate that the covenant is still in force and will be fulfilled in due time. The Davidic covenant is the extension of all that the Lord has been doing through his people from the beginning. There is no need to get discouraged or loose hope. The Lord will carry out his plan in his time. The Davidic covenant will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the son of David who restores the kingdom and sits on the throne of David forever. Where they are now will lead, by the Lord’s sovereign will, to that glorious moment. They can take hope that they are a link in the chain of the work of God through the ages. 

Kingdom and Temple: The focus on the covenant is seen in the focus in Chronicles on the Davidic monarchy and the Davidic temple. These two go hand in hand towards the out working of the covenant to David. The promise to David was that his throne would be established to his son forever. That son was Solomon and the line of his descendants that sat on the throne. At the time of the writing of Chronicles there was no son of David on the throne. What had happened to the covenant to David? It would find its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah, the greater son of David. The temple was the other feature of the Davidic covenant emphasized in Chronicles. The temple in Jerusalem, the city of David, was the place chosen by the Lord for worship and atonement. The temple connected the Davidic covenant to the Mosaic covenant. At the time of the writing of Chronicles the temple had been rebuilt and sacrifices were being offered. The work of the Lord continued. He had not forsaken his people.

Scripture: In the book of Chronicles the written Word of God takes on a special significance. The three parts of Old Testament scripture, the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms were taking shape in the time of Chronicles. The writer of Chronicles appeals to scripture as authoritative. He considers it to be the Word of God as much as a prophetic oracle. There is a wonderful story in 2 Chronicles 17 during the reign of Jehoshaphat of the priests and Levites sent to the towns of Judah with the Book of the Law to teach the people.

Seek or Forsake the Lord: Seeking or forsaking the Lord is an important distinction in the spiritual life of God’s people in the book of Chronicles. Those who seek the Lord are part of his work and are blessed. Those who forsake the Lord abandon the work of the Lord and suffer his judgment. This theme necessitates the need to turn to the Lord in repentance. Devotion to him and his word are paramount.

Conclusion: The book of Chronicles plays an important role in the storyline of the Bible. It summarizes God’s redemptive work throughout old covenant history pointing the way towards its fulfillment in Jesus and the new covenant. The people of God in every generation have a part to play. Reading the book provides the believer with important principles for faithful living in the plan of God.

Radical Discipleship

Purpose is a powerful thing. We all want to think out lives have purpose. The best way to have a sense of purpose is to have a sense of mission. Jesus had a mission, he was sent by the Father to rescue a fallen, sinful world. The ultimate consummation of his mission was his death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection from the dead. But Jesus initially came as a teacher with a message. His message was the kingdom of God. He said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Everything Jesus said and did was designed to bring the kingdom of God. The most fundamental way Jesus sought to bring the kingdom was that he called people to follow him in discipleship, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Jesus called people to follow him as the way to enter the kingdom, live in the kingdom and join him in his kingdom mission.

Jesus’ call to discipleship was radical. He demanded total commitment and surrender to himself as Savior and Lord. His disciples are to love him and follow him with such joy and delight that they are willing to lay down their lives for the kingdom of God. Those not willing to make such a commitment cannot enter the kingdom or be a disciple (Matthew 10:37-39; Mark 8:31-38; Luke 14:25-27). The basic demand for this radical discipleship is seen in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The call to radical discipleship is not a call to the bold and committed Christian, while other less committed Christians are saved but not serious. The call to radical discipleship is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus called those who would go make disciples. He loved and discipled them with that view in mind. Discipleship was Jesus’ master plan to redeem and transform the world.

Jesus still calls people to radical discipleship. He still loves and disciples them for his mission. Every disciple/believer has a unique and strategic role to play in the mission of Jesus. Our purpose is clear, we must be totally surrendered to know Jesus, grow in Jesus, and make Jesus known. Are you a radical disciple?

The Book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is unique among New Testament (NT) books in the way it interacts with the Old Testament (OT). All NT books interact with the OT in some way. The NT is the fulfillment of the promises of Messiah and salvation from the OT. But no NT book interacts as much with the OT as does the book of Hebrews. Hebrews explains the purposes and limitations of the Mosaic covenant law revealed in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Mosaic law provided the shadows and types that pointed to Jesus and the salvation he brought. They were not the reality, but a limited expression of the reality.

The book of Hebrews is a letter written primarily to Jews who had professed faith in Jesus as Christ, but because of persecution were in danger of turning away from him. The book was written to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the old covenant promises and prophecies, and that the new covenant through Jesus is therefore better. Because Jesus is superior to angels, Moses, the priesthood of Aaron and the animal sacrifices, the writer of Hebrews gives five warnings not to turn from Jesus as Christ and go back to the old covenant: (1) Do not neglect this great salvation (2:1-4); (2) Do not fail to enter the rest of God through Jesus (3:7-4:13); (3) Do not fall away from the faith by a shallow understanding of Christ and his work (5:11-6:12); (4) Do no turn away from Jesus as a sacrifice for your sins (10:19-39); (5) Do not refuse God speaking to you through Jesus (12:18-29). Within these passages the writer of Hebrews not only warns his readers, but he encourages them to continue strong in the faith of Jesus Christ. He uses the exhortation, “let us” fourteen times in the letter (4:1, 11, 14, 16; 6:1; 10:22, 23, 24; 12:1 (twice); 12:28 (twice); 13:13, 15).

The writer of the book of Hebrews makes his case that the new covenant through Jesus is superior to the old covenant by demonstrating his point five ways: (1) Jesus is superior to angels (ch. 1-2); (2) Jesus is superior to Moses (ch. 3-4); (3) Jesus’ high priesthood is superior to Aaron’s (ch. 5-7); (4) New covenant sacrifice of Jesus for sin is superior to old covenant sacrifices (ch. 8-10); (5) Live by faith: New covenant fulfills the old covenant (ch.11-13).

The message of the book of Hebrews for us today is that Jesus is the only way of salvation. No religious system, ideology, philosophy or way of life will be sufficient to bring us to heaven. God’s love and grace has provided all we need for salvation in Jesus. Before Jesus came God gave prophecies, promises and pictures of Jesus and his work of redemption in the OT. God now calls us to enter a relationship with him through faith in Jesus and live by that faith every day in spite of the hardships and persecutions life may bring. God’s plan of salvation will be fulfilled and we can part of it.

Joyful Obedience

Recently I’ve had an abundance of circumstances that had the high potential to rob me of my joy. We all face these kinds of circumstances, but when they come in droves it’s almost too much to bear. For years when this kind of thing happened I would claim the promises of God to regain my joy. Now that’s a good thing to do, I highly recommend it. But I now do something different. I intentionally and consciously obey the command of God to be joyful. It’s true! God does command us to be joyful. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

When God gives a command he wants us to obey it. But this command is hard to obey when you’re sad or mad or worried or anxious or a thousand other emotions. So how do you obey the command to be joyful. You intentionally and consciously tell yourself and God that you’re obeying his command. Doing that may not immediately cause you to go from sad to glad or from anxious to peaceful. You must continue to tell yourself and God until the clouds part and sun shines through. This is not the power of positive thinking or some mental trick; it is a choice to obey God. Every act of obedience is an act of choice.

Every command God gives us is for our good. We can especially see this in the command of joy. We all want to be joyful, but life happens and many things come into our hearts that can steal our joy. When that happens we rarely think about obeying the command to be joyful. Like every other command we have to choose to obey it in real time. This intentional and conscious effort to choose joy may seem odd at first, but how else can you move from a negative emotion you hate and God does not want in your life to joy? The truth is that the more you practice it the easier it will become. The extended amount of joy you will have in your life will be an amazing blessing.

If these negative emotions keep coming up, it just may be that there is a deeper issue that needs resolving. Recurring anger, depression or anxiety can be symptomatic of other problems. But we still need to choose to obey the command to be joyful. We may also need to go deep into the word and prayer and even pastoral counsel to resolve the other issues. We all have our struggles and God can help us with them. We are broken. Spiritual growth is the process of becoming whole.

As you consistently choose to obey the command of God to be joyful you’ll find that the presence of God will be nearer and sweeter to you (Psalm 16:11). You’ll also find that you’re thinking less about yourself and more about others and their needs and how you might meet them (John 15:7-11; Philippians 2:1-4). You want to be joyful. God wants you to be joyful. All that’s left is obedience. God will help you. He loves you.

The Riches of Grace

Grace is a beautiful word, especially for those touched by it. I suppose there is a word for grace in most every language, but grace is the language of God. It is his heartbeat. Grace is an expression of his love. It is an attribute of his character. God is grace!

When we try to get a handle on exactly what grace is we can say from the Bible that grace is undeserved blessing freely given to people from God. We sometimes see the acronym, G.R.A.C.E. – which stands for God’s riches at Christ expense. This kind of grace shows up in a couple of ways in the Bible. First, there’s what’s called common grace. That means that this kind of grace is common to everybody. Everyone gets it regardless. Jesus expresses this in Matthew 5:45, “That you may be the son’s of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” The second kind of grace is often called special grace. This grace is not given to all but only to those who are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). This is the grace of salvation. The New Testament is filled with beautiful and powerful statements about this grace. One I especially like is 2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Paul begins this articulation of grace with the statement that they know this grace. He is referring to the fact that they don’t merely know about grace, but that they have experienced it for themselves. This first hand experience of grace comes from Jesus Christ. That makes it real rather than just theoretical. Then Paul does something really wonderful. He explains the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ using a metaphor of wealth and poverty. The metaphor goes something like this: Jesus is spiritually rich being the divine Son of God, but he becomes poor for the sake of the truly poor. He does this by taking on our humanity and being obedient to the plan of the Father by bearing our sins in his body on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8; 1 Peter 2:24). What those who are spiritually poor (sinners) get are the riches (righteousness) of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the complete essence of grace. The undeserving are freely given what they desperately need by the only one who can give it. Salvation comes as the gift of God to all who will receive it.

This passage in 2 Corinthians 8 is in the context of Paul encouraging the Corinthian church to follow through on their promise to be generous in giving to the collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem. He is saying that they were once poor spiritually but are now rich through the grace of Jesus Christ. This life changing experience of grace should motivate them to offer grace to others in need of it. Grace that is truly in our hearts will change our hearts. Grace received will cause us to be givers of grace. There is a world out there that is in dire need of grace. God saw your need for grace and was moved by his loving kindness to meet that need. Who in your life needs some grace today?

Before the Face of God

When facing adversity people often ask the question, “Where is God in all this?” It’s a natural question but one, I think, that is not usually asked to get an answer, but to express frustration and fear. The truth of the matter is that God is always near in all the circumstances of life. The Protestant reformers of the 16th century has a Latin phrase, Coram Deo, that means before the face of God. This phrase means that we live all our lives in the presence of God, whether we face good times or bad times. How we respond to those times is also before the face of God.

Psalm 139 is a Davidic psalm and is familiar to many believers. People use it for various reasons, but the essence of the psalm is to communicate the comfort and the consternation that the presence of God can evoke in the heart. The presence of God can be a beautiful and reassuring reality to a struggling believer, but it can also be a very fearful thing to one who has something to hide. Do we really want God looking deeply into our hearts? We do if we want to be open, honest and vulnerable so that we can experience real change. Lasting change, though, is painful, we may wish to avoid it.

Psalm 139 is composed of three strophes that reveal what the presence of God means. In these strophes we find both the comfort and the consternation. The final strophe gives us three responses we should make to the presence of God.

God Perfectly Knows Us (1-6)

Perfect knowledge is hard to wrap our minds around. It can be disconcerting to think that someone knows every detail, thought and motive of our lives. But that someone is God, and we know intuitively that God know all and sees all. We may rather just choose not to think about it much. But it pays to think about it though. God knows all and understands all. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, God is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31). The purpose of his infinite knowledge is to lead us to know him, love him and live for him. This is a place of blessing for us. It is wise , as David did, to meditate on God’s presence in his infinite knowledge of our lives. We can think about what that knowledge means in practical ways and how it can bring us closer to him.

God is Always With Us (7-12)

The fact that God is always with us first sends David to flight. He desires to flee from the presence of God. But he soon realizes that there is no place he can go that God is not already there. Places one can hide form people do not provide cover from God. But why does David want to run from God? We see others in the Bible, like Jonah, flee form God too. We just do not like the constant gaze of the Holy One upon us. It’s intimidating! We have to come to a place in our lives where we want to be open and transparent before God. That’s not an easy place to get to. We can fake it, but God sees through all that. We have to believe and trust that God is with us for our good, even when his hand upon us is painful. The other side of the valley of the shadow of death is the banquet hall of anointed heads and overflowing cups.

God is Powerfully Working in Us (13-16)

God’s presence with us begins even before we are born. It begins at conception. David meditates on God’s work in him in his mother’s womb. It is a wonderful thought that causes David to praise God. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (139:14). We can see movement, growth in David’s attitude towards God’s pervasive presence in his life. He moves from fearful fleeing to the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, from panic to praise. God’s work in David does not end in his mother’s womb. Every day of God’s work in David was written in God’s book before there was even one of them. This is hard to grapple with, yet it is the truth of God’s word. God is always at work in us for our good and his glory.

Three Responses to God’s Presence (17-24)

The first response to the presence of God is humble awe (17-18). God’s thoughts are precious to David. They are vast and uncountable. We are small; God is great. God is always with us for our good. The contemplation of God’s awesome greatness humbles us.

The second response to the presence of God is total commitment (19-22). These verse trouble most people. They seem so different from the teaching of Jesus. We must understand the context of David’s life. Many people were trying to kill him. Their aim was murder. They were enemies of God. David expresses his total commitment to God by opposing them. We express our total commitment to God by opposing the enemies of God which are the world, the flesh and the devil. We are involved in spiritual conflict every day. We must put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). God’s presence in our lives requires a total commitment to him.

The third response to the presence of God is open scrutiny (23-24). We ask God to search our hearts. God is with us; are we with God? Do our lives reflect his holiness? If they do not we ask God to show us and lead us in the way everlasting. We ask him to change our hearts and so change our lives. This is the hardest part. We must walk with God moment by moment as he walks with us.

Deeper Bible Reading

It is no secret that I am a big advocate of Bible reading. If you believe, really believe that the Bible is the word of God, then you want to engage the Bible as much as possible. Hearing the Bible taught and preached is very important, but you need more. You need to read the Bible. Many people have a Bible reading plan, but not everybody sticks to it consistently. Each person needs to find a personal Bible reading plan that is right for them, one that will help them stick with their reading and not give up. But even if we do all that, there’s something else we need. I think it’s a proper goal not only to read the Bible more, but read it better. How do we read our Bibles better? One way is to follow some guidelines that we may already be doing intuitively and partially, but need to do intentionally and fully.

The first guideline is to discover the biblical writer’s intended meaning. God moved every biblical writer to write what they wrote to the people they wrote it to for a specific purpose. The book they wrote has a message and every part of the book has a purpose that works to communicate that message. It often takes some mental work to grasp the writer’s meaning. Discovering the writer’s meaning is to discover God’s meaning. If we desire to hear from God in the Bible, it is imperative that we grapple with the writer’s meaning within the scope of the whole Bible. Discovering the Bible’s meaning is a lifelong process as we grow in our understanding of specific passages and the Bible as a whole.

The second guideline is that texts must be understood by their common meaning, which includes literary devices like metaphor and symbolism. The Bible is beautifully written and is replete with figurative language. Figurative language is usually, but not always obvious. So, we understand the Bible according to the literary devices used. That being said, we must resist spiritualizing or moralizing a passage beyond its basic literal meaning. We do not want to read into the text what is not there, but read out of the text what is actually there. We must always grapple with how to best understand the meaning of every passage.

The third guideline is that context is critical to discovering a text’s meaning. There are three kinds of context: literary, historical and cultural. While all three are important, the literary context is most important. You can find the historical and cultural context in study Bibles or Bible dictionaries. The literary context is the sentences, paragraphs and sections surrounding the passage you’re reading. If you are reading straight through a book, you already have a sense of the context. Failing to consider the context is one of the biggest reasons people misunderstand and therefore miss apply the Bible.

The fourth guideline is that texts must be interpreted according to their literary genre or type. All literature, whether in the Bible or outside the Bible are written according to the conventions of a specific literary genre or type. We cannot interpret law, history, poetry and prophecy exactly the same. Each kind of literature has its own way of communicating its message. Understanding what kind of passage we’re reading goes a long way towards a good understanding that passage. A good study Bible will help you sort out and understand what kind of passage you’re reading.

The fifth guideline is that the progress of revelation is important to keep in mind. God reveals his plan of redemption progressively throughout the Bible. We cannot give a text an interpretation that has not yet been revealed in the flow of redemptive-history. As we seek to understand the unfolding plan of God in Scripture, we must discover who the passage we’re reading is addressed to and how that impacts the meaning. If a passage is written to the Children of Israel, it may have a different application to the Church.

The sixth guideline is that our interpretation must be Christ-centered without forcing Christ into passages in a way he is not being revealed. Jesus himself said that all the Bible is about him and the salvation he brings (Luke 24:25-32; John 5:37-40). Understanding how God is revealing Christ in any given passage throughout the Bible takes careful work. We want our Bible reading to be meaningful but also truthful.

We can be confident in the insight, wisdom and encouragement we find from Bible reading as we read thoughtfully according to these guidelines. As we engage the Bible in a deeper way we will inevitably come across passages that challenge our preconceived notions about what the Bible says. We always go with the Bible. In this way we can be assured that God is speaking to us and that we are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

What Is God Like?

One often hears that the God of the Old Testament is angry and cruel, while the God of the New Testament is loving and kind. But a through rather than a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that both testaments present the same God, one who is loving, merciful and gracious, as well as holy, righteous and just. The seminal passage on the character of God in the Old Testament (OT) is Exodus 34:6-7:

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.'”

The first thing we notice about the character of God here is that he is merciful and gracious. These two words are often found together in the OT. The mercy of God means that he is compassionate and has pity on people for the terrible mess in which they often find themselves. God is also gracious, meaning he freely gives what a person needs without pay back or merit on the part of the one receiving his grace.

We then see two very important attributes of God’s character, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. These two attributes are also often found together (Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:7; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). God is slow to anger, he does not have a short fuse. God is patient when people act against his will. What this much repeated phrase means is that anger is not an attribute of God’s character. God becomes angry when people refuse to repent of their sins. The fact that God is slow to become angry is his way of calling people to repent and turn to him (Romans 2:1-5). Those who wake up to the patience and kindness of God and repent, find God’s forgiveness and love in abundance.

God’s forgiveness and love flow to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. God’s righteous and just attitude towards sin is judgment. God’s love, on the other hand, motivates him to send Jesus to rescue us through the cross. It is not as though the justice and love of God work against each other, but his love and justice work together to provide us salvation. When we repent and trust in Jesus the floodgates of God’s steadfast love flows into our souls and lives. We are changed by the encounter with God. We have a new direction.

For believers in Jesus Christ the fact that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love is precious indeed! It is the ground of our salvation in God’s very character. It also can give believers peace and joy as they daily battle sin in their lives. Sin is very serious, but God is not angry at us. His steadfast love flows to us in abundance because of the cross of Christ. We are forgiven. We are his children. This grace is not a license to sin, God knows how to deal with his wayward children, but the liberty to know him more and experience his presence in a greater way.

Defeating the Dragon of Anxiety

In the C. S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia book, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” the naughty boy Eustace took on the form of a dragon. The dragon form expressed his inner nature of selfishness. Try as he may, he could not extract the dragon skin from his body. It was only with the help of Aslan (the massive lion Christ-Figure) that he was able to painfully free himself from the dragon. We all suffer from dragons in our own lives and we need the help of Christ to be free of them. One such dragon many suffer with is anxiety. Anxiety in all its forms can control a person’s life. We’ve all been under its control, at least temporarily, and for many it is an ongoing struggle. Jesus offers help in his word for those who suffer. It involves a three step process I call, relax – release – rejoice.

Relax

When anxiety gets a grip on a person’s heart it creates a stormy sea of tension, desire and nervousness. It can seem uncontrollable, which fuels the flames of greater anxiety. What we need is calm and peace. We need to relax. But growing anxiety creates an environment that makes relaxing almost impossible. We can find the calm we need by claiming certain promises of God. We can use Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Jesus can calm the stormy sea of our hearts as we claim this promise. When we meditate on the reality that God is God, and all he is doing in the world and our lives is for his glory, we can find the peace we need.

Another promise to add to this is Romans 8:31-32, “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Paul asks a series of questions. He doesn’t answer them because the answer comes in the asking of these questions. We know that God is for us because he gave Jesus to save us. If he did the greatest thing for us by meeting our greatest need, he will certainly meed any other great but lesser need. He will calm our anxiety as we trust him.

Release

Once we begin to relax, we can release this anxiety to God or it will quickly return. Once again we need promises from God’s word to help us. Here we can claim 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” God is at work in our lives no matter what happens. He cares for us. We can release our anxiety to him. The picture here is that we have this huge burden on our backs; we are buckling under the weight and about to fall when we roll the burden onto the back of Jesus. He is strong enough to easily take it if we turn it loose, if we release it. We do that by prayer (Philippians 4:6-7), “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Rejoice

As we find the calm and release we need we can rejoice in God’s power and love. Rejoicing itself helps dissipate anxiety. Paul commands us in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” We are to rejoice in the Lord. We rejoice in who he is and all he’s done for us. He is the object of our joy. We can rejoice in the Lord even if the anxiety is not lifting as much or as rapidly as we desire. We read in James 1: 2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full work, that you may be mature and complete lacking nothing.”

Conclusion

Anxiety can cripple our lives and make us miserable. It can render us ineffective in the work of God. God has help for us though. We claim his promises by praying them. I encourage you to commit to memory the promises I have given to you. Claim and pray the promises of God to relax, release and rejoice. As you make your way through this process it make take time for the anxiety to lift, but if you stick with it, the Lord will come to you in your need.

The Bible as Story

The Bible is filled with so many stories. Most of us are familiar with many of the stories, but maybe we’re a little confused about the main message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is communicated through the overarching story of the whole Bible. It may come as a surprise to some that the Bible is one large mega-story, but it is. The overarching message of the Bible is seen so clearly through its overarching story. The burden of this blog is to unpack the story of the Bible in such a way that it becomes clear to the Bible reader. 

Since the Bible is a story, it has a story line. Almost half the Bible is comprised of narrative stories. These stories are not independent units, but work together to present a unified story, a metanarrative, with a central message. Each book in the Bible communicates its particular story that fits into the storyline of the whole Bible. If one fails to see the bigger picture of the overarching story, then one will more than likely misunderstand the smaller stories. The individual stories are only properly understood in the larger context of the central story of the Bible.  

The story is about God’s beautiful creation that is ruined by the first people he creates. The sons and daughters of the first couple are corrupted as well as all their descendants. Things go from bad to worse until God intervenes by calling a pagan man from a pagan land to enter a relationship with him. God makes promises to this man. Through many struggles of faith the man begins to see the promises of God materialize in embryonic form. God’s relationship with the man becomes a relationship with his family, then the twelve tribes of his family. The tribes become a nation. The relationship is strained many times throughout the years by the rebellion of God’s people. God disciplines his unruly people, but never totally forsakes them. Finally, the nation is focused again on one man through whom all the promises to God’s people are fulfilled. This man is faithful where many others were unfaithful, and expands the promises to the whole world. This epic story becomes everybody’s story. That is, anybody who will enter the story by faith. The story is a true story that is rich and complex. But we can begin to understand the story by seeing the basic storyline in the Bible. It helps to understand that the basic storyline of the Bible consists of four main parts that are easy to remember.

The story begins with creation in Genesis chapters one and two. God creates the world good, but it doesn’t remain so long. The second part of the Bible storyline is the fall in Genesis chapter three. God creates the first man and woman good with the capacity to obey or disobey his one command. They disobey the command of God when they are tempted by an intruder and deceiver. Their sin plunges the world into ruin and corruption. The world is sinful, fallen and broken. It has no capacity to fix itself. This is clearly and painfully seen in Genesis chapter four through eleven. The world spirals down into chaos. It looks like God is impotent to change things.

The third part of the story is God’s plan of redemption. This is the largest part and the central part of the story. It runs from Genesis four through Revelation twenty. This redemption part of the Bible story unfolds through four redemptive covenants, or relationships God make with people. The four redemptive covenants are: (1) The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12-50). (2) The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus through Ruth). (3) The Davidic Covenant (1 Samuel through Malachi). (4) The New Covenant (Matthew through Revelation 20). The New Covenant is the fulfillment of all the previous covenants in Jesus Christ. He is the central message and story of the Bible. If you miss him you miss the whole story.

The fourth part of the Bible story is restoration (Revelation 21-22). This is the reality to which the whole Bible is moving. God restores his creation to a better place. A new heaven and a new earth, a place of goodness, righteousness, love and truth. A place of no more sorrow, no more pain, no more sin and no more death. A place where God lives with his people.

Knowing the storyline of the Bible helps us read the Bible with greater understanding. We can better grasp its message and apply its truths to our lives. The Bible is a story. We must enter that story as we read it so that the story can enter us and be our story too.