The Exile and The Return

 
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God's Prophets Speak Comfort
Isaiah 40-66, Ezekiel 34, 36-48

God Has Not Forgotten You

Isaiah 40-66 is often called the “Book of Comfort.” It contains some of the most well-known and memorable passages in all of Scripture. Big chunks of Handel’s Messiah come from this part of Isaiah. And big chunks of our understanding of who the Messiah is comes from this section as well.

 

Ezekiel also has chapters of comfort. He gives a great deal of information on a Davidic king who will shepherd the people. And in this war-torn land he sees a battlefield where the dry bones of slain soldiers rise up, become enfleshed, and live again. 

 

Ezekiel 38-39 are more End Time prophecies about the Lord showing up to defend Israel from attack. And the book ends with a very detailed vision of a brand new Temple and a redivision of the tribal lands.

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How Could God Do This?
Job

The book of Job raises the question "Why do bad things happen to good people?" 

From the bizarre opening scene through the various answers given rather emphatically by Job's friends and then finally to God's voice in the whirlwind, people have combed through this book to find the answer.

 

And I have to be honest, most of their responses would not comfort me at all if I were in Job's situation. 

As you might expect, we'll take a different tack in this class. We'll apply our backpack tools to see if we can make sense of this story.
 

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The Fiery Furnace And The Mentally Ill King
Dan 3 & 4

The book of Daniel is full of striking, extravagant stories, and we look at two of them this week. The first is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace and the second is King Nebuchadnezzar’s rather bizarre mental illness. 

 

We see world power begin to shift as Babylon shrinks and the Medes and Persians gain strength. 

 

In our breakout session we pause to reflect on the bizarre details in these stories, on the various parts left out or added by Jews, Catholics, and Protestants. And we’ll wonder--where do you draw the line?

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The Clash of Empires
Dan 7 & 8

A Glimpse of the Future

Daniel has some pretty intense dreams and visions: a winged lion, a bear with ribs in its teeth, a leopard with four heads, and a great crushing, trampling beast with ten horns.

 

He sees a similar vision a couple of years later, but this time it is a ram with two horns who conquers the world. It in turn is overcome by a goat with a large single horn that is broken off and replaced by four horns. 

 

In both sets of visions, a final boastful and cruel horn arises--one that persecutes the holy people.

 

And yet, it is not all death and destruction, for Daniel also sees the Ancient of Days and is present when the holy one enters and is given kingship over all nations and peoples and languages. Justice is meted out and time arrives for the kingdom to belong to God’s people forever.

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The Writing on the Wall
Dan 5 & 6

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Uparsin

So-called King Belshazzar is full of himself. He has no respect whatsoever for God. But when he dares to drink from the vessels stolen from the Temple, a disembodied hand inscribes mysterious words on the wall. He does not know it yet, but these words spell the end of his kingdom.

 

Daniel survives the change of regime. He’s elderly now, but he quickly becomes an invaluable advisor to the new Median/Persian government. This, of course, makes him some bitter enemies who cause Daniel to be sentenced to immediate execution.

 

We get our first glimpse of the Apocrypha as we compare the Sunday School standard version of Daniel in the Lions’ Den with the Apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon.

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The 70 Sevens
Dan 9

The 70 Sevens and the End of the Exile

Jeremiah prophesied that the exile would last 70 years, and in the first year of King Cyrus of Persia Daniel realizes the 70 years is up. He prays for God to remember his promise, and immediately, God sends the angel Gabriel with news of great blessings that will occur during a set of “70 Sevens.”

 

The news isn’t exactly what Daniel is expecting, but it is great news nevertheless. Gabriel ends his news with some rather alarming predictions about the Messiah and the end times.

 

We’ll take a look at the “70 Sevens” and see how we might make sense of them. 

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Prophecy or History?
Ezra 1, Neh 7, Daniel 10-11a

Daniel's Last Angel

In a surprise move, Cyrus the Great decrees that any exiles who wish to may return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. He orders exiles staying behind to contribute gifts towards the effort, and Cyrus himself sends gold and silver from the treasury.

 

Meanwhile, in Babylon, Daniel is visited by an angel who gives him a detailed account of the future. The prophecy is so detailed that we can match it up exactly to historical events until about 165 BCE, then the wheels fall off the wagon. 

 

Did Daniel’s prophecy morph to the more distant future at that point? Was his original prophecy overwritten with historical detail and recorded around 165 BCE, leaving the rest of the prophecy untouched? 

 

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Daniel's Grand Finale
Daniel 11b-12

The Time of the End

After the set-up of the timeline in the “70 Sevens,” the angel goes on to explain to Daniel a series of wars and intrigue between a King of the North and a King of the South. 

 

All of the details fit perfectly with what happens historically between Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Egypt--until the time Antiochus dies. Then the events no longer match up to history.

 

Even before that, the wording in Daniel begins to wobble between the time of these kings and the End Times. There are several clear End Time markers in the text, including prophecy about resurrection and judgment and the afterlife.

 

In our breakout groups, we take a look at how beliefs regarding the afterlife morphed over the biblical period and we think about these influences on God’s people.

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Laying the Foundation of the New Temple
Ezra 2-4:5, Haggai, Zecharaih 1-4

The Day of Small Things

The newly returned exiles start off by building an altar for their future Temple and beginning sacrifices and feast days. But they and their leaders, Joshua and Zerubbabel, run into stiff resistance laying the foundation of the new Temple in Jerusalem. The opposition delays them for years. 

 

When they do lay the foundation, they have a huge celebration, but the size of the new Temple’s footprint is so small and pathetic the elders actually weep in sorrow. Joshua and Zerubbabel are clearly discouraged. But the Lord sends the prophet Zechariah with magnificent words of encouragement that have reverberated through the ages.

 

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Zerubbabel's Temple is Finished
Zechariah 5-14, Ezra 5-6

Things Get Tough for Joshua and Zerubbabel

Zechariah has three more visions (including one of a huge flying scroll) and then the Lord tells him to make some crowns. He’s to put one of them on the High Priest Joshua. 

 

Zechariah’s encouragement helps Zerubbabel and Joshua press on. The last bastion of resistance falls, and the Temple is finally completed. What a celebration they have!

 

We finish Zechariah--diving into his important End Time prophecies, looking for themes and searching out the heart of the Lord.

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Heroes, Sheroes, and Villains
Esther

The story of Esther has been a smash hit for millenia. And for good reason--what’s not to love about an orphan girl raised to be queen who is hiding a deadly secret and when threatened by the most dastardly villain is able to vanquish him with her cunning and shrewdness?

There’s more to the story than this, of course. There are reasons this story is in the Bible. There are reasons it has stood the test of time.

We uncover hidden meanings and use our backpack tools to break open the overarching chiasm that reveals the central message of the book.

 

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Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem
Ezra 7-10, 4:7ff, Nehemiah 1-12

Ezra and Nehemiah -  Two Very Different Leaders

The Israelites have run amok in the 60 years since the Temple was rebuilt. King Artaxerxes sends Ezra, a renowned scholar, priest, and gifted teacher, to Judah and Jerusalem to teach all the people the Law of Moses. 

 

Ezra is horrified when he finds the Israelites have intermarried with the local people and have fallen back into idolatry. His teaching and prayers ignite a revival among the Israelites, and the foreign wives are sent away.

 

It only takes another 10 years or so, however, for the Israelites to fall away again. And in all this time they’ve not even started rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah, the king’s wine taster, begs King Artaxerxes to send him back with the financial support and authority he needs to rebuild the walls. And the king agrees!

 

Despite intense local opposition, the walls are rebuilt and Ezra again inspires the people to renew their vows to the Lord. Sacrifices, feasts, and tithes are all renewed, and we leave the story as Nehemiah is recalled by King Artaxerxes

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The End of the Hebrew Bible
Malachi, Nehemiah 13

Looking Forward, Looking Back

While Nehemiah is away at the court of King Artaxerxes, things fall apart. Levites and other temple workers don’t get paid, the people work on the Sabbath, and they marry foreign wives--again. 

 

The prophet Malachi calls them all to task, reminding them that their actions matter and that YHWH is very, very real. The Lord speaks words of warning but also of tenderness: “Test me in this. Bring me your firstfruits and see if I do not open the storehouses of heaven to you!”

 

Nehemiah returns to find everything in shambles. He sets everything right and does it all, not with an eye to the approval of Israel, but with an eye to finding favor with God.