Week 25: Isaiah 1-23

“Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken”                                               Isaiah 1:2a

What’s Going On?

This week we begin the last section of the Old Testament, the Prophets. This section will cover 17 books and they will parallel the time periods of the divided kingdom, the exile, and the return. Remember all those kings we read about in 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles? They will play an important part of this next section because they will help up figure out where we are on the timeline. Unfortunately, the books of the Prophets won’t fall in chronological order so we’ll need to use the Kings as references.

God began speaking to His people through messengers, known as the Prophets. He was calling His people to stop turning to the false gods of the nations around them and keep their focus on Him, the One, True God. Unfortunately, the people rarely listened and the prophets rarely lived happily ever after. We begin our reading this week in the book of Isaiah, the first of the books known as the Major Prophets. It will take us nine weeks to get through the first five books, or the Major Prophets, and only two and a half weeks to read through the twelve Minor Prophets.

We first met Isaiah in 2 Kings 19-20 when he reassures the kingdom of Judah that Assyria will fall before destroying Jerusalem. Isaiah’s ministry actually began twenty years earlier, the year that King Uzziah died, which we read about in 2 Kings 15 and 2 Chronicles 26. Our reading this week will parallel this part of the story and will begin with the warning that the Lord’s wrath is imminent. Isaiah speaks of the judgment that is coming because the people of God have rejected Him and broken their sacred covenant with Him. God called both Israel and Judah to repent of their sins. Israel did not heed the warning and fell to the Assyrians, but under King Hezekiah, Judah did in fact turn to the Lord, thanks in part to the ministry of Isaiah.

Throughout the seventeen books of The Prophets, there are going to be three different types of prophecies. The first type will be prophecies that will come about relatively soon after the prophecy is given. For example – the Babylonian captivity. Also, there are prophecies concerning the Messiah that would be fulfilled through Jesus seven hundred years later. But there are also prophecies concerning the end times that are yet to be fulfilled (or are currently being fulfilled – depending on how you see things). There is a repeated reference to the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord”, which most scholars agree, references the return of Christ and the end of this current age. More on that subject later.

When and Where Are We?

The book of Isaiah covers the time period of 740 BC during King Hezekiah’s reign over Judah to approximately 690 BC. During this time, Israel falls to Assyria in 722 BC, leaving Judah to defend for herself as Assyria continues to expand and conquer the lands all around her. During Hezekiah’s reign, Assyria attempted to invade Jerusalem, but thanks to Isaiah and Hezekiah’s prayers, the angel of death fell on the Assyrian army and later, its king, freeing Judah from imminent captivity. Isaiah probably spent most of his life in and around Jerusalem.

Who’s Who?

  • Isaiah, son of Amoz (not the same as Amos). His name means “The Lord Saves”
  • Hezekiah, King of Judah who led great reforms and turned Judah toward the Lord

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great Light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a Light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Weekly Reading Assignment:

  • Monday: Isaiah 1-4
  • Tuesday: Isaiah 5-8
  • Wednesday: Isaiah 9-12
  • Thursday: Isaiah 13-16
  • Friday: Isaiah 17-20
  • Saturday: Isaiah 21-23
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Week 24: Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven”         Ecclesiastes 3:1

What’s Going On?

The two books we’ll be reading this week will finish up the group of books known as The Writings, or the literature books. Like Proverbs, both are attributed to King Solomon. While we can’t say with certainty that Solomon authored any of these books, his wisdom is definitely collected in the passages. You can almost hear old King Solomon reflecting at the end of his life in the book of Ecclesiastes. He had lived a life of wealth, fame, splendor, and had opportunities few others ever would. His father, the Great King David, had left him the throne of Israel and, like his father, he was able to lead the nation with few obstacles for forty years. His wisdom was known the world over and ambassadors from other nations would visit and send gifts that will be the subject of much folklore. But at the end of his life, he recognizes that human pursuit of wisdom is nothing more than chasing after the wind. True wisdom can only belong to the One who is Creator and Author of all things, even life itself. But, while man may not be able to grasp true wisdom, faith teaches him that he is in good hands. Our role, as created beings, is to simply trust the One who watches over us, keep His commands, and live a life that honors and pleases Him. Where Proverbs gave us catchy sayings, Ecclesiastes is the epitome of philosophy and the meaning of life. As far as I can tell, the word Ecclesiastes actually means “philosopher, preacher, speaker, or teacher.”

Song of Solomon or Song of Songs, is also included in the wisdom books but focuses the subject more on love than on wisdom. It is called a song because of its structure and use of recurring refrains. There is a love theme that runs through the whole book that at first sight seems odd that it would be included with the other books of the Bible. But, when you recognize that God IS love, you can see why the love of God can so easily be understood in the comparison to the closest thing we humans can appreciate, the love shared between a man and a woman. Human love, like wisdom, is a gift from God and reflect Him in the sharing of that gift. Some have painted the picture of the love song as the reflection of love between God and man, of God and Israel, of Christ and the church. A case can be made for that. But there is also room to just call it love poetry and leave it at that. Remember, Solomon was the guy with three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. I think his understanding of love might be hard for some of us to appreciate. In fact, in many places, the poetry is written from the woman’s perspective! While it might seem odd for us to find nature so sensuous, this was a pretty common form of poetry back in the day. So, light some candles, open the wine, and enjoy the romantic moment.  

While I can’t say this about all of the books of the Bible, the wisdom books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon just seem to sound better in the King James version. Read them any way you like, but for me, only King James will do.

When and Where Are We?

The era of King Solomon was about 900 BC. Remember, when we started this section of books, we did a time jump backwards to the era of the United Kingdom of Israel. Solomon ruled from the newly constructed Temple in Jerusalem. Although it is likely that the words were likely compiled during the time of the Exile or the Return when all of Israel is reflecting back on a time when Israel was in a much better state and lessons of old were treasured and appreciated in a whole new way.

Who’s Who?

Solomon (the teacher), a bridegroom, and his beloved are the only people named in these two books. Although, a case could be made that both Wisdom and Love take on human characteristics through the use of personification so they could technically be listed here in the Who’s Who section.

 “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it”                                    Song of Solomon 8:7a

Weekly Reading Assignment:

  • Monday: Ecclesiastes 1-3
  • Tuesday: Ecclesiastes 4-6
  • Wednesday: Ecclesiastes 7-10
  • Thursday: Ecclesiastes 11-12
  • Friday: Song of Solomon 1-4
  • Saturday: Song of Solomon 5-8
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Week 23: The Proverbs

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon.” 1 Kings 4:29-34 (NLT)

What’s Going On?

A Proverb is a wise saying. We’ve heard examples all our lives. “A watched pot never boils.” “Actions speak louder than words.” “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But the Proverbs recorded in the Bible are three thousand years old. They still hold up and many are familiar. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” They are Life Truths. I remember learning once that *BIBLE* stands for ‘Basic Instructions Before leaving Earth’ and nowhere in the Bible are there more instructions for daily living than in the book of Proverbs. They are wise sayings that point us toward a life of happiness, justice, wisdom, fear or reverence for the Lord, relationship advice, parenting advice, and simple truths.

We are still in the group of Literature books and this one is mainly attributed to King Solomon. Proverbs 22:17-24:34 are a collection of “Sayings of the Wise” and then chapter 25 continues with more Proverbs of Solomon that were copied down by scribes under King Hezekiah. Chapter 30 includes the sayings of Agur, and 31 is the sayings of King Lemuel, neither of which are mentioned anywhere else in the Bible and probably weren’t even Israelites. So, MOST of the proverbs are the sayings of Solomon, but not all.

Apparently, it was very common to collect “Words of Wisdom.” Similar sayings are found in Egyptian writings. In fact some are almost identical. Both use personification – speaking of wisdom as though she were a woman. Proverbs 22:17-24:22 contain thirty sayings of the wise that are almost word for word the same as The Writings of Amenemope.  If you remember, when Solomon is anointed King of Israel, God tells him he may ask for anything and it would be given to him. He asked for Wisdom and discernment to rule over the nation (1 Kings 3:5-9 and 2 Chron 1:7-10). Apparently, God granted him this wisdom as his reputation brought many to hear him. “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions” 1 Kings 10:1. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart” 1 Kings 10:24. So here we have the grand collection of Solomon’s Wisdom.

When and Where Are We?

King Solomon lived during the era of the United Kingdom, about 1,000 BC. The last few chapters of Proverbs were copied by the scribes of Hezekiah who was King of Judah about 700 BC during the era of the Divided Kingdom. If you remember, King Hezekiah led a spiritual revival so it makes sense that the Wisdom of Solomon would have been studied and copied at that time. So even though Solomon lived years earlier, the words of The Proverbs were likely complied much later.

Who’s Who?

King Solomon – The third King of the United Kingdom of Israel, David’s son


“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7 (KJV)

Weekly Reading Assignment:

  • Monday: Proverbs 1-5
  • Tuesday: Proverbs 6-10
  • Wednesday: Proverbs 11-15
  • Thursday: Proverbs 16-20
  • Friday: Proverbs 21-25
  • Saturday: Proverbs 26-31
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Week 22: The Psalms

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100 (NIV)

What’s Going On?

The Book of the Psalms is the second of the Literature books, or The Writings, and contain some of the most beautiful and familiar passages in the Bible. The book is a collection of 150 “Psalms” or Songs; timeless prayers, devotions, pleas, praises, instructions, laments, celebrations, and expressions of every emotion imaginable. The Psalms are timeless and can be read in any order. Some Psalms express joy, some sorrow. Some are about victory, and others failure. Many of them start out expressing deep fears and sorrow, but throughout the Psalm, you see how the author almost talks himself into praise. This above all else can be our example. In good times and in bad – Praise Him.

There are five sections, each ending with its own doxology. The last psalm in each of the five sections are Psalm 41, 72, 89, 106 and the Grand Doxology 150.

Book I, or section 1, contains mostly personal psalms. Books II and III are mainly National psalms, and Books IV and V are Psalms for public worship.

Some of the Psalms are deeply personal and others were used in corporate, public worship. Many would have been set to music, but not all. You often see notes or titles –‘For the director of music’ and ‘For harp, lyre, and flute.’

The Psalms titled “song of ascent” were likely sung by the Jews as they literally climbed the mountains to get to the Temple Mount.

There are many Messianic prophesies mentioned throughout the Psalms.

Together they are The Psalms – plural. When you are referring to one of them, the singular word Psalm is used. You say Psalm 100, not Psalms 100. Sorry – personal pet peeve.

“Psalms” might be translated as “Praise Songs.” Early Christians called it the “Psalter.” In Hebrew, the word for Psalm is Tehillim which might be pronounced like “Te-hi-leem” or tehleem or Tell Him!

Psalm 118:8 is the very center of the Bible. I can’t think of a more fitting verse: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” (KVJ)

When and Where Are We?

The completed version of the Psalms was probably compiled during the era of The Return and used as a worship guide, a prayer book, a hymnal, and a response book for the Jews at the Temple built by Zerubbabel and later at the Temple of Herod. The early Psalms of David were likely already grouped together in an early collection and then added to later. Psalm 90, a psalm of Moses, would have been written about 1500 BC, the Psalms of David about 1,000 BC, and the psalms written during the era of The Return around 500 BC covering a total of about 1,000 years.

Who’s Who?

Most of the Psalms are attributed to David, but you’ll also see some by others as well. Psalm 90 was written by Moses and is probably the oldest in the collection. Solomon is the author of Psalm 72 and 127. Some are attributed to Asaph, the sons of Korah, Ethan, Hemen, who were probably Temple priests and/or musicians, and many are anonymous.

Selah

(Shhhhh. Be still. Let that sink in. Meditate on it. Find Peace with it. Forever may it be so)

Weekly Reading Assignment:

There are no assigned readings this week! I did not schedule the Psalms into our yearly reading schedule. I believe it is best to read the Psalms slowly so I recommend that if you haven’t already been, start adding a Psalm or two into your weekly schedule so that you can still read them all by the end of the year. You can enjoy taking a week off, use this week to go back and catch up where you may have gotten behind, or use the week to read some of the Psalms.

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Week 21: Job

“Be watchful and control yourself. Your enemy the devil is like a roaming lion. He prowls around looking for someone to swallow up.” 1 Peter 5:8 (NIRV)

What’s Going On?

We turn a huge corner in our reading this week as we begin a new section known as The Writings, or the books of poetry and literature, Job – Song of Solomon. No one knows who the author of Job was, but it’s important to notice that the book is placed in this new section because it is obviously meant to be read as a literary work because of its complex and highly organized structure.

The last few books that we’ve read appear to have been written during the time period of the exile and the return. During the era of the exile, the displaced Jews began to gather together and try to identify their new role in a foreign land. They no longer have the Temple. They no longer have the priests making intercessory sacrifice for them. Synagogues began to appear as places for the Jews to gather, discuss, and study their own history and try to understand how the Law now applies to them.

Many believe that the book of Job was also written during the time of Exile. Job appears to be written by someone who questions ‘What is the relationship between sin and suffering?’ After all, they had just witnessed Israel’s sin bring about great suffering. Although the book was possibly written during this time period, it is written about a man named Job who would have lived long, long before this, probably during the same time period as the book of Genesis. This assumption is based on the fact that there is no mention of Abraham and his decedents and no mention of Moses or the Law, so it is likely that the time period for Job predates them. His story is placed here, however, because it IS a book of poetry, but is serves a double purpose by placing it right after the books of the History and continuing the act of reflection.  

The book of Job can be difficult reading because it deals with the battle between good and evil and appears to show God and Satan playing a high stakes game of winner-takes-all over a wager that a man named Job is only able to worship God because he is blessed. Would he still praise God when he had lost everything? The reader can’t help but question justice, fairness, and the suffering of the innocent. Job’s friends do a pretty good job of offering worldly wisdom and explaining the suffering in the only way that makes sense to them – Job must have sinned. Just when we begin to understand the relationship between God and Man, now we are introduced to the adversary who plays a mean hand of poker and has no qualms playing dirty. The way his story is told is similar to, and very likely predates, great literary masterpieces such as Dante’s Devine Comedy/ The Inferno, Goethe’s Faust, and Milton’s Paradise Lost/Paradise Regainedall of which wrestle with this same idea of good vs evil. Hint – in this one, Good wins! The real moral of the story is that Job trusted God completely.

When and Where Are We?

Likely during the era of the Patriarchs about 2000 B.C. in the Land of Uz, east of the Jordan River

Who’s Who?

  • Job – a righteous man who is tested, loses everything, questions why, and then encounters God personally, prays for his misguided friends and then is blessed abundantly for his unwavering faith.  
  • Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu – the friends who try to reason out the cause of Job’s suffering, but miss the mark by offering religion over relationship, cliché, worldly wisdom, and youthful optimism.

“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:22

Weekly Reading Assignment:

  • Sunday: Job 1-6
  • Monday: Job 7-12
  • Tuesday: Job 13-18
  • Wednesday: Job 19-24
  • Thursday: Job 25-30
  • Friday: Job 31-36
  • Saturday: Job 37-42

NOTE: Next week we will be taking a break. If you are caught up with the reading, enjoy taking a week off! If you are behind, use this week to go back and try to get caught up.

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Week 20: Nehemiah, Esther

“Remember the instruction You gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 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.’” Nehemiah 1:8-9

What’s Going On?

Last week we saw the beginning of the era known at The Return when the Israelites begin to resettle in and around Jerusalem. We saw the first wave return under the leadership of Zerubbabel who will be remembered for rebuilding a much smaller version of The Temple. During the second wave, Ezra the priest led the people to turn their hearts back to God. This week we’ll see a third wave under the leadership of Nehemiah who will take on the project of rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem.

The book of Nehemiah might have been titled ‘Ezra Part Two’ as it continues the story from our reading last week and Ezra himself is central to the storyline. Ezra has already been in Jerusalem for fourteen years when word gets to Nehemiah in Susa, Persia that they are having trouble. Nehemiah asks the Persian King to send him down to help out. When he gets there, Nehemiah inspects the wall and begins the work of rebuilding it by asking each person to repair the area in front of their homes (Facing the Giants is a movie which beautifully uses this illustration). The work is completed in just fifty-two days and then they all gather to hear Ezra read the Book of the Law. The people recommit to the Lord and then Nehemiah returns home leaving Ezra in charge. He makes a second trip to Jerusalem later when he learns that they fall short of keeping this commitment and gets them back on track.

Esther tells us of a young Jewish woman who becomes the wife of the Persian King after winning the position in a beauty contest. Once she is Queen, she uses her influence to stop an edict from killing all Jews within the Persian kingdom led by an official named Haman. One interesting thing about the book of Esther is that it is the only book in the Bible not to mention the Name of God! Also interesting, Esther’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible outside this book.

When and Where Are We?

Nehemiah is living as one of the Jewish exiles in Susa on the far eastern side of the Persian Empire. He will travel about a thousand miles from Susa to Jerusalem (twice). The Persian Empire included what is today known as Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. The time period will be about 500-400 BC.

The book of Esther likely takes place at the same time as, or possibly before, the book of Ezra. It is during this time period that the word “Jew” begins to appear meaning those who came from Judah, even though this generation of Jews had been born into the Babylonian/Persian exile and had never even been to Jerusalem. You’ll also notice the word Israel no longer means the northern kingdom only, but refers to the original Israel including all 12 tribes.  Only the land around Jerusalem will be resettled, however.

Who’s Who?

  • Persian Kings – Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes (Ahaseurus), and Artaxerxes
  • Nehemiah – Persian Kings cupbearer who travels from Susa to Jerusalem to help rebuild the wall
  • Esther/Hadassah – Jewish girl who goes from beauty queen to Queen of Persia, saves Jews
  • Mordecai – Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, Esther’s older cousin and caretaker
  • Haman – an Amalekite who sends out a proclamation to have all the Jews killed

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.”        Esther 4:14

Weekly Reading Schedule:

  • Monday: Nehemiah 1-4
  • Tuesday: Nehemiah 5-8
  • Wednesday: Nehemiah 9-13
  • Thursday: Esther 1-5
  • Friday: Esther 6-10
  • Saturday: (get a jump start on next week and read Job 1-6)
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Week 19: 2 Chronicles 25-35; Ezra 1-10

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5

What’s Going On?

The northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to Assyria and the last ten chapters of 2 Chronicles show us the decline of the nation of Judah and how it eventually was overtaken by the nation of Babylon. What had once been the triumphant Kingdom of Israel has now ceased to exist. We get one final glimpse of the glory days under King Hezekiah, but the nation was too weak to fight off the Babylonians and at the end of 2 Chronicles we see the people of Judah being deported to be resettled in other parts of the Babylonian Kingdom. This is the beginning of the era of EXILE. The very last verses of 2 Chronicles are almost identical to the first verses in Ezra and hint at a time to come when some of the Israelites will be allowed to resettle back in their homeland, a time known as the RETURN, which will not happen all at once, but in waves.

If you remember the “food chain” from middle school science class, you remember the image of a fish being eater by a larger fish, then that fish being eaten by an even larger fish, and so on. We can begin to think of Israel as the smallest fish. The first bigger fish to come along and consume it was Assyria, who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Then a bigger fish came along – the Babylonians – and ate the Assyrian fish plus a larger portion of land, including the southern Kingdom of Judah. This week we’ll see a larger fish, Persia, chomp up all of the Babylonian kingdom.

As each new “fish” controls the land, the people who had been living there are removed and replanted in a different area of that fish’s kingdom and new people are carted in to take over the land they left behind. This repopulation was very effective in creating larger and larger kingdoms, each with their own laws, currency, beliefs, language, etc. With each change, which would be every couple of hundred years, new generations were brought up into the new era of that kingdom. At the end of the Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra, the land becomes part of the Persian Empire. This is actually great news for the displaced Israelites because the Persian King Cyrus wants a peaceful empire and begins to allow people to go back to their homelands and areas of their heritage. Each kingdom gets progressively larger and more powerful. And there are more fish out there just waiting for the opportunity to eat up the Persians, who ate the Babylonians, who ate the Assyrians, who ate Israel.

While we don’t read much about the actual time of the Exile here which lasted about seventy years, we’ll get to read more about that time period when we study the Prophets. Here in the book of Ezra we read about two waves of returning exiles and there is another wave which we’ll read about next week in the book of Nehemiah. The first wave will occur under Persia’s King Cyrus and will be led by Zerubbabel (Sheshbazzar). Zerubbabel is the grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last kings who ruled in Judah before the exile, and is the legitimate heir to the throne. The second wave will happen under Persia’s King Darius and will be led by Ezra the priest who will lead the Israelites in a renewed commitment to their heritage as the People of God.

When and Where Are We?

The Israelites will live in Exile until Cyrus allows the first group to go back and resettle in and around Jerusalem in 538 BC. A second group will join them, including Ezra himself, about 458 BC.

Who’s Who?

  • Amaziah, Azariah/Uzziah, Jotham – Good kings of Judah
  • Ahaz – REALLY bad king who desecrated the Temple and joined forces with Assyria
  • Hezekiah– Great King who rid Judah of the false gods and idols and reinstates Passover celebration
  • Zerubbabel – leader for the first group that returns to Jerusalem, sets up a new Temple
  • Ezra – priest, leader for the second group that returns to Jerusalem

Weekly Reading Assignment:

  • Monday: 2 Chronicles 25-28
  • Tuesday: 2 Chronicles 29-32
  • Wednesday: 2 Chronicles 33-35
  • Thursday: Ezra 1-3
  • Friday: Ezra 4-6
  • Saturday: Ezra 7-10
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