Return, Songs, Silence

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 9 – The Prophets and Writings

Return

[Bible references: 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1, 2; 6; 7; 9-10; Nehemiah 1-2; Haggai; Zechariah 8; Malachi 1:6-14; 2:10-16; 3:6-9; 4:6]

Assyria scattered the Northern Kingdom then the Babylonians overran Assyria, captured Jerusalem, and took the prominent citizens into exile. After the 70 years in captivity prescribed by God had passed, the Persians overran Babylonia and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. The first batch of returnees went back with Zerubbabel to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. A second batch would go back to Jerusalem with Ezra who confronted the Jews about their failure to keep separate from the nations around them. A while later, Nehemiah would go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. And yet, with all the returnees, the majority of the Jews chose to remain in Babylonia – and even today, most Jews live outside the Promised Land.[1]

In another reminder of God’s provision, in all the returns to Jerusalem, the rulers of the Persian empire strongly supported the returns of the Jews who were given what they needed. God even provided prophets to encourage the Jews.

In a reminder of the times when contributions were needed to build the tabernacle, those who did choose to return to the Promised Land with Zerubbabel willingly contributed from the provisions given to them by the Persians to the rebuilding of the temple.

In a reminder of their own abilities to follow Yahweh, when the Jews first returned to the Promised Land they ended up once more intermarrying with the non-Jews and practicing their idol worship. So, when Ezra came to Jerusalem, he had to lead the Jews to repentance and to put away their foreign wives.

Then, in the end, God would send one last prophet, Malachi, who had words of condemnation of Israel for all the sins committed and of the promise to restore everything because that is what he promised. After the prophet Malachi, God did not raise up another prophet for Israel until Jesus came. That prophetic silence would last four hundred years.

Songs and reflections of the heart 

[Bible references: Psalm 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 32]

As creatures made in the image of the Creator, it is self-evident that we cannot avoid creating. We are also creatures that are born to worship, as even our popular culture makes very evident. When we put those together, we get a work like the Psalms,[2] a book of poetry which was set to music. The psalms are a collection of praise songs written by various people. They are songs that reflect the thoughts of those people experiencing life with all its emotions in a broken world.

In addition to musical notations, several psalms have notations indicating the events which inspired the writing of those psalms. Some of the psalms have notations indicating the kind of occasion that the psalms are used for. As poetry, the psalms use various poetic devices such as parallelism, acrostics, and figures of speech.[3]

The Psalms express various themes such as the character of God, the experience of people, the worship of God, lament, petitions for help, confession of sin, praise and thanksgiving, expressions of wisdom.[4] The emotions expressed in the Psalms are sometimes very raw with feelings of abandonment, questions of God’s provision, hatred, and vengeance. Yet all these expressions are included in that book of praise songs. The inclusion of the full range of human expression is an acknowledgement of the reality of the human experience and an affirmation of being honest with God about our feelings while placing all of that in the context of a just and merciful God who is worthy of praise.

The Psalms are not the only place where poetry can be found in the Old Testament. There is poetry that can also be found in various portions of other books of the Bible. There is even one book of the Bible that is entirely a poem/song, The Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs) which is a positive and passionate expression of marital love.

In addition to the expressions of wisdom that are found in the Psalms, there are other places where expressions of wisdom are found. The pair of books, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, show the benefits of and limits of wisdom. Solomon was the author of Ecclesiastes and was the primary author of Proverbs. In 1 Kings 3-4, Solomon requests and is granted much wisdom to rule the nation of Israel. That wisdom is reflected in Proverbs as a collection of rules to live a good life. On the other hand, Ecclesiastes reflects the limits of wisdom in finding the meaning of life.

Silence and waiting

[Bible references: Genesis 45:7; 2 Kings 19:30; Psalm 62:1]

After the time of Nehemiah and Malachi, there were no more explicit words of prophecy from Yahweh until the coming of Jesus. And in this time of silence from God, there was much turmoil.

  • The Greek Empire would overtake the Persian Empire and therefore Israel.
  • When the Greeks desecrated the temple, there was a revolt led by a Jewish family, the Hasmoneans, who successfully overthrew the Greeks. Hanukah is a celebration of the miracle that took place in the temple.[5]
  • The Roman Empire would overtake the Greek Empire and the Hasmonean kingdom in Israel. Despite the Romans taking over, the Greek language and culture became part of the infrastructure of the Roman Empire.
  • The exact origins are unknown, but some of the Jews would adopt the Greek culture, becoming Hellenized. The aristocratic leaders of these Hellenized Jews would become the Sadducees. In opposition to the corruption of Judaism brought in by the Sadducees, a group known as the Pharisees arose. These two groups were still active when Jesus broke into history.[6]

In the midst of God’s apparent silence, all this activity indicates that God is still working. Several times in the Old Testament, God pointed out that, despite everything else going on, there was still a remnant of people with which he was still working. No matter what the situation is, no matter how good or how bad things seem to be, God is always working on his plans, and he is always preparing, however quietly and behind the scenes, for the next step.


[1] Jewish Virtual Library “Vital Statistics: Jewish Population of the World (1882 – Present)” d

[2] The Hebrew name of the book is Tehillim, which means praise songs.

[3] Cole, Steven J. “Psalms An Overview: God’s Inspired Hymnbook;” Nally, Joseph R. “Overview of the Book of Psalms”

[4] Postoff, Matt. “Categorizing the Psalms” f

[5] Ross, Lesli Koppelman, “The Hasmonean Dynasty”

[6] Dixon, Austin. “History of Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees”

Return

Reflect

Despite the discipline of God, after the nation of Israel was allowed to return to the homeland, it still would have problems with unfaithfulness and God would stop speaking to them for 400 years. How does God speak to us today?

Observe

Read Malachi 4:1-6. This is the last passage written by the last prophet before Jesus would come. Even now at Passover celebrations, a place is set at the table for “Elijah.” In the Christian understanding, who is the “Elijah” that was prophesied to come?

Songs and reflections of the heart 

Reflect

In this day, we create songs and books of wisdom. We may not be writing scripture itself, but we are expressing ourselves in worship in the way that God has designed us. How do you express yourself to God?

Observe

Read Psalms 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 32. These Psalms represent the some of the major types of Psalms. How would you categorize them?

Silence and waiting

Reflect

Do you see signs of God at work today?

Observe

Read 2 Kings 19:29-31; Genesis 45:4-7; Ezra 9:7-9; Isaiah 10:20-22; 11:1-10; 53. The Assyrians had already conquered the Northern Kingdom and were now surrounding the capital of the southern kingdom, Jerusalem, threatening to overwhelm it. Looking back, we now know that two hundred years later the Babylonians would succeed where the Assyrians would not. What is Yahweh’s hint of his plan?

Diaspora

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 9 – The Prophets and Writings

Intro

The term “diaspora” is usually reserved to refer to a group of people that has been scattered from a single location. In this case, the term is used to refer to the scattering of Jews from the Promised land. But this particular diaspora is only a part of God’s larger plans for His people.

Our God is a God of overflowing love. His love caused Him to create us so that His love could overflow from Himself to us. He wanted His image-bearers to carry out His mission of overflowing love and overflow from Eden to fill the entire earth. When we rebelled against His overflowing desire so that we could make a name for ourselves instead, He confused our language at Babel so that we would continue to flow out over the earth. When God wanted to prepare His Holy Nation for His mission, He scattered them to Egypt. When Israel rebelled against His mission of overflowing love, He scattered them from the Promised Land. The Son of God came in overflowing love to offer Himself in sacrifice in order to restore us to Himself. When the scattered Jews from many nations gathered for Pentecost, God reversed the action of Babel, and His message of overflowing love was shared in many languages so that the message of overflowing love would be carried to the Jews in many nations. To continue the overflow, God worked with Peter and Paul so that His love could flow out to the Gentiles as well. God further ensured the flowing out by using the Romans to scatter both Jews and Christians from Jerusalem. To this day, when our focus is more on building our Christian institutions, becoming too ingrown, God continues to scatter His people so that His message of overflowing love will reach more people in more places across the earth.

This program of overflowing creates a Dynamic Tension between our scattering and our unity. It would be well if our scattering was motivated by love so that we would continue to stay unified as we scatter. Sadly though, our scattering is often due to divisiveness rather than love, countermanding the intent that the world will recognize that we are disciples of Jesus because of our love.

Judgement Unfolds

[Bible references: I Kings 6:12; 2 Kings 17, 25; 2 Chronicles 36:15-16]

The covenant God made with Israel had the proviso “if you follow my commands.” Israel continually demonstrated its inability to do that[1] and God’s judgement followed. The nation of Israel would suffer the consequences. The first sign of the consequences manifested itself in the splitting of Israel into two kingdoms.

After that, the northern kingdom of Israel was the first to collapse in 535BC with the invasion of the Assyrians whose policy was to scatter the captured inhabitants throughout their empire and replace them with Assyrians. These northern tribes seem to have been totally assimilated into the Assyrian empire and would not be heard from again in history.

In 722BC, the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. The best and the brightest of Judah were taken as captives to the capital of Babylonia for “retraining” so that they could contribute to the Babylonian society. It was at this point that the nation of Israel would now be referred to Jews. It was from this point on that, despite the return of some of the Jews to their homeland, most Jews would now be living outside their homeland.

Worship in exile

[Bible references: Jeremiah 29:1-23; Daniel; Esther; Ezekiel]

During this exile, the Jews as they would now be called, had to become more deliberate if they were going to preserve their culture. It was during this time that the Jews would begin to collect all their writings in order to begin to determine what would be their scripture. They had the writings of Moses, but they had to determine what else should be included.[2]

During this time, they focused more seriously on worshipping Yahweh. Before this time, the biblical and archeological records indicate that Israel had a habit of adopting the worship of any idols of the culture they were in contact with.[3] But now they had to preserve their culture while living amid a dominant foreign culture. Although the origins are a little obscure, as temple worship was no longer available, synagogues as a permanent institution developed during the exile.[4]

The books of Daniel, Esther and Ezekiel give examples of how the Jews were able to thrive, even while experiencing opposition, while the nation was in exile: Daniel as an exceptional administrator, Esther as queen to the emperor and Ezekiel as a prophet.

From this time forward, most Jews have remained outside their homeland with no access to the one temple in Jerusalem. It was during this time that local synagogues were created, with worship now being focused either in the home or at the synagogue.


[1] Margalit, Ruth. “In Search of David’s Lost Empire;”Syace, A.H. “Polytheism in Primitive Israel;” Zevit, Ziony. Review of “The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Parallactic Approach” by Hess. Richard Israel’s susceptibility to idol worship was so extensive, that archeological evidence indicates continuous polytheism  

[2] Waltke, Bruce. “How We Got Our Old Testament;” Hirsch, Emil G. Blau L, Kohler, Kaufmann. Schmidt, Nathaniel “Bible Canon:”

[3] Gayle, Damien. “How idolatry continued in the Kingdom of Judah: Israeli dig uncovers temple and icons dating back to Old Testament era”

[4] Bacher, Wilhelm and Dembitz, Lewis N. “Synagogue”

Intro

Reflect

Biological life flourishes because of its diversity. Different types of plants and animals allow life to exist and even thrive in extremely different types of environments. How do different types of personalities allow groups of people to thrive?

Observe

Read John 13:35. How is our love strengthened by our learning to love people different from ourselves?

Judgement unfolds

Reflect

From the beginning of humanity we have resisted other people having authority over us. What can help us trust other authority?

Observe

Read Jeremiah 25:11-12. It seemed hopeless. The unfaithful nation of Israel was no more. But promises were made by a faithful God who would eventually restore them. What are God’s promises to us?

Worship in exile

Reflect

Synagogues were an innovation not even hinted at by Moses. Later on, Jesus gave no suggestion that He had a problem with synagogues. What does that suggest about innovations in the worship style of different congregations?

Observe

Read Jeremiah 29:1-23. What did Jeremiah say that the exiles were to do while they were in exile?

The Strange Story of the Ark and the Tabernacle

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

The Ark in the Promised Land

[Bible references: Joshua 4-5; 18:1; 1 Samuel 4-6; 6:19; 21-22; 1 Kings 8:27; 1 Chronicles 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:13; 1 Samuel 4:1-11; 2 Samuel 6:5-7; 12-13]

After Israel entered the Promised Land, the tabernacle and all its furnishings were originally placed in Gilgal.[1] After the land was settled the tabernacle was then set up in Shiloh where it stayed for two hundred years. During the time of Samuel, Samuel’s sons, without consulting God, removed the ark from the tabernacle to take it into battle with the Philistines who not only won the battle but took the ark with them. The Philistines found that although Yahweh did not see fit to help Israel win the battle, Yahweh did create issues with the Philistines. The Philistines responded by moving the ark a couple of times, but the problems did not disappear and so the ark was sent back to Israel.

The ark initially ended up in Beth Shemesh, but after 70 people died when they tried to look in the ark, the people of Beth Shemesh sent the ark to Kiriath Jearim where it stayed for 20 years. The Bible is not explicit about when it happened, but sometime during the reign of King Saul, the tabernacle, sans the ark, was moved to Nob and then to Gibeon.

After David established the capital in Jerusalem, King David set up his own tabernacle and then moved the ark there. In moving the ark, David had to learn a lesson. He first tried to have the ark carried in a cart, but when the ark started to slip out of the cart, the people died who touched the ark to prevent it from slipping out. So, the ark ended up in Obed-Edom’s house for a while. Hophni and Phineas learned the hard way that you don’t necessarily take the presence of God when you take the ark, but David learned the hard way that you can’t ignore the presence of God when you take the ark. David was successful in moving the ark to Jerusalem after he had the ark moved according to the instructions God had given Moses.

The Tabernacle and the Temple.

[Bible references: I Kings 6-8; 7:13-51; 1 Chronicles 6:31-32; 2 Chronicles 6:18; Amos 9:11-15; Acts 15:1-21]

During the time of Solomon, the temple was built to replace the tabernacle. All the furnishings except the ark itself were built by a foreigner from Tyre named Hiram. The original furnishings of the tabernacle were probably put into storage in the temple. Although the temple was much more grandiose than the tabernacle, Solomon recognized that it still could not hold God. Solomon’s temple was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians.[2]

The interesting thing with this history is that during the time of King David all the rituals of Moses were carried out at the tabernacle in Gibeon where there was no ark and no presence of God, while the ark itself, with the presence of God, was in Jerusalem where there was a service of joy, dancing and singing instead of the ritual sacrifices. Also, the ark was no longer concealed in the Holy of Holies where there was limited access, it was now in a place where everyone could access it.

This brings us to the prophet Amos who prophesied that God was going to destroy most of Israel, except for a remnant, and that David’s tabernacle will be restored – not the one at Gibeon, not the temple Solomon built, but David’s tabernacle. This scripture passage in the Old Testament was quoted in Acts 15 where it was determined that Amos was referring to Gentiles now being accepted into the kingdom of God. The tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon were restricted to the nation of Israel, but God was now going to make himself available to the whole world, Jews, and Gentiles alike.


[1] Joshua 4-5 – Although the tabernacle is not specifically mentioned, Gilgal seems to be the place where Israel settled until the land was divided and is where Passover was celebrated. In Joshua 9, Gilgal is where the Gibeonites come to make a treaty with Israel.

[2] Jewish Bible Quarterly “Reconstructing the Destruction of the Tabernacle at Shiloh”

The ark in the Promised Land

Reflect

Some people use objects or rituals as “good luck charms.” How does the story of the ark relate to that? Have you used a “charm” instead seeking the will of God?

Observe

Read 1 Samuel 4:1-11; 2 Samuel 6:1-7. What do these passages tell you about the presence of God?

The tabernacle and temple

Reflect

What does the story of the “Tabernacle of David” mean for today’s worship services?

Observe

Read Amos 9:11-15; Acts 15:1-21. How was Amos’ prophecy used by the apostles to allow Gentiles into the church without needing to submit to Jewish practices?

Messengers of a Greater Power

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 9 – The Prophets and Writings

[Bible references: 1 Samuel 9-10; 13:8-14; 2 Samuel 12; Jeremiah 2:28]

During the entire time when Israel had kings, it also had prophets. Some prophets like and Elijah and Elisha did not leave any writings, although sixteen prophets did.[1] The prophets focused more on “forth-telling” (telling about changes that the kings and/or the people needed to make immediately) than “fore-telling” (telling about some future events) and were a constant reminder that God was acting in ways that transcended the earthly kingdom. Sometimes the prophets were there to encourage and sometimes to challenge the kings: The prophet Samuel was used to anoint Saul as king, then later had to let Saul know that God had rejected him. Samuel was also used to anoint David as king. Later, the prophet Nathan was used to let David know that God was aware of David’s sin with Bathsheba.

When we look at Jesus’ life and ministry, we see that he is uncompromisingly prophetic in a whole host of ways:

  • He is the revelation of the Father: he perfectly shows us what God is like.
  • He is the Word of God in flesh.
  • He is the mediator of the New Covenant between God and people.
  • He confronts evil and breaks the power of sin.
  • He calls people to return to God and live righteously.
  • He speaks truth to power (both religious and secular).
  • He only does what he sees the Father doing.
  • He is led by the Spirit and ministers in the power of the Spirit.
  • He prioritizes prayer and worship.
  • He speaks prophetically of the future.
  • He discerns the hearts and minds of people.
  • He challenges injustice and unrighteousness.

Jesus is the perfect expression of the prophet and so gives us the blueprint for a mature, holistic, multi-faceted way of being the prophetic church. We need to be prophetic in the way that Jesus was prophetic. Not just as individuals but as a Body with a collective prophetic consciousness.[2]

The Prophets of the Old Testament were precursors of the prophetic ministry of Jesus. And now the Church, as the Body of Christ, has the privilege of carrying on that ministry.

Challenging Unfaithfulness

[Bible references: Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 2 Chronicles 29:6; Isaiah 1; 56:1; Jeremiah 5:31; 28; Hosea 1:2; Amos 9:1-15; Zechariah 7]

Sometimes the prophet’s warnings would be not just for the kings but for everyone in the kingdom. The messages from the prophets often mixed the foretelling of the consequences for rejecting God with the hope that God will someday make things right. The most common offense cited by the prophets was the people’s lack of justice and the uselessness of their ritual sacrifices if justice was ignored. There were also diatribes against false prophets and against making idols. The most common metaphor used to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and his commands was prostitution, even to the point where one prophet, Hosea, was told to marry an adulterous woman to be a visible reminder for Israel.

Lament and Anger

[Bible references: Lamentations; Genesis 15:12-15; Isaiah 10:5-11; 13:1-22; 15-1622:19; Micah 5:14]

God’s response through the prophets was to lament. There is even one entire book lamenting what happened to Israel. The lamenting would include calls for Israel to repent and turn back to God. The pleas for repentance would then be followed by God’s anger and God’s promise to root out, pull down and destroy Israel or any other nation around Israel that was involved in sin.[3] Sometimes God used other nations to discipline Israel but that was usually followed with threats to those same nations for their own behavior.

Future Hope

[Bible references: Jeremiah 29:11; Jonah]

But in the end was God’s promise to restore his kingdom and bless all those who repent. One prophet was even sent to a Gentile nation to call them to repent or be destroyed. When they did repent, God held back his punishment – although history tells us that they would go back to their old ways, and they would eventually be destroyed.


[1] Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

[2] Accessible Prophecy, “Understanding the Prophetic Function” /

[3] Ex: Prophecy against Assyria (Isaiah 10:5-11), Babylon (Isaiah 13,), Moab (Isaiah 15-16) and others

Messengers of a greater power

Reflect

Based on what we know about the role of prophets, how should today’s churches carry out the prophetic function within our church or within our surrounding culture?

Observe

Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; 2 Corinthians 4:1-12. The Church is the visible representation of the Body of Christ, as such one of the Church’s prophetic functions is to reveal God to the world. How can we do that?

Challenging unfaithfulness

Reflect

Israel’s unfaithfulness to God was often referred to as prostitution. Does this help put your own unfaithfulness to God in perspective?

Observe

Read Zechariah 7. What words of warning are given to the people who were not faithful to God?

Lament and anger

Reflect

How does knowing God’s attitude towards sin affect our attitudes?

Observe

Read Isaiah 10:5-11. Here, God is chastising a “godless” nation, Assyria, which He used to discipline His own chosen nation, Israel, which had also behaving godlessly. Both nations will suffer the anger of God. Both nations are used to carry out His will. What is the warning and hope in that for us?

Future hope

Reflect

Despite Israel’s constant failure, God’s plan was to discipline, not destroy, them. Their discipline would eventually be followed by God’s plan to provide the Messiah, the Savior of the world. What might that mean about God’s plan for you?

Observe

Read Jonah 1-4. Assyria was a fierce nation that was severely violent in its conquering of other nations. Yet, God saw fit to use Jonah to call the city of Nineveh to repentance and then held back his threatened destruction when they responded in repentance.  How do you respond to this act of mercy?

The Divided Kingdom

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 8 – Kings and Kingdoms

[Bible references: I Kings 11:11-13, 26-40; 12:1-24]

Solomon’s divided heart ended up dividing the kingdom. When Solomon’s son Rehoboam succeeded him on the throne, Rehoboam foolishly followed the advice to increase taxes, causing a revolt. Yahweh, who knows all things, had already selected Jeroboam to lead the revolt. The result was that ten tribes (the Northern kingdom, commonly called Israel) followed Jeroboam, leaving only two tribes (the Southern kingdom, commonly called Judah) to follow Rehoboam. With only a few exceptions, most of the kings in the divided kingdom participated in idolatry and the associated practices of the surrounding communities, earning God’s wrath. These two kingdoms were in continual conflict with each other until each came to an ignominious end.

Reflect

God’s discipline of Israel was a slow process as God was at work carrying out his plans for them. Does it comfort you to know that in all circumstances God is carrying out his will for you?

Observe

Read 1 Kings 11:11-13. What does this passage say about the messes we make and God’s plans for our lives?

Solomon

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 8 – Kings and Kingdoms

[Bible references: Deuteronomy 17:14-17; 2 Samuel 7; 1 Kings 3:1-15; 8:27; 11:1-13; 1 Chronicles 22]

Solomon had a great start. David gave him materials with which he could start building the temple. Solomon’s heart was humble enough to ask Yahweh for wisdom above all things, for which God blessed Solomon not only with great wisdom but with great wealth besides. The one weakness in all this provision was that Solomon, like other Oriental kings, accumulated wives, and concubines. The problem was that Solomon loved his wives who came from other cultures more than Yahweh. Because of that, he not only tolerated their idol worship but took part in that idol worship as well. One thing that Solomon ignored despite his great wisdom, was the warning for kings not to accumulate great wealth and many wives. One early sign of his failure may have occurred during his prayer of dedication for the new temple when, despite the use of wealth from donations or taxes and despite the slave labor and labor from other countries, he still said, “the temple I built.”

Reflect

By putting the love of his wives above the love of God, Solomon’s judgement became clouded. This is the problem wealth always brings us. How does this influence what you pray for?

Observe

Read Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 1 Kings 3:4-15; 11:1-6. What did Solomon do or fail to do that caused him to fail?

David

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 8 – Kings and Kingdoms

[Bible references: 1 Samuel 13:14; 26:11; 1 Samuel 24:1-7; 26:1-12; Acts 13:22]

Meanwhile, God had selected David, someone who was described as “a man after God’s own heart,” to be the next king. However, David’s reign did not begin until many years later. This meant there was going to be a long and difficult in-between time of testing:

  • Saul’s heart continued to be tested as he was rejected by God, but it would be a long time before the end of his reign. In the meanwhile, he had his duties to perform.
  • David had been anointed to be the next king, but it would be many years before it happened. In the meanwhile, there would be much conflict in which David had to trust God and do what he thought he needed to do. David didn’t test God by unnecessarily putting himself in harm’s way, rather he looked to God for wisdom and acted accordingly. When David had opportunities to kill King Saul, he refused to do so and instead waited for God to act.

This is the area where we typically fail: Adam and Eve could not wait for God to give them knowledge so they grabbed for it; Abraham and Sarah could not wait for God to give them a son through Sarah and so they used Hagar; Jacob could not wait for his inheritance so he and Rebekah had to trick Isaac; Moses could not wait for God to provide water by just speaking to the rock and so he had to strike it. In contrast, to be obedient, David was willing to wait for God to replace Saul and did not take advantage of the opportunities he had to kill him.

Friendship

[Bible references: 1 Samuel 18-20; Proverbs 17:17]

In this difficult period, David would form with Saul’s son, Jonathan, the best friendship he ever had. Jonathan recognized that his own father, Saul, was rejected as king, but instead of jealously trying to hold onto what he could not have, he accepted David as the heir to the throne.[1] In fact, Jonathan was crucial to David’s survival.

The war King

[Bible references: 2 Samuel 2-5, 11:1]

In time, Saul did die, and David became king, although it would be in phases. Initially there was a civil war as people that were loyal to Saul did not pledge loyalty to David but to another king. As in many conflicts, in addition to the overt conflict, there was much subterfuge and political intrigue as well which would have consequences later. Then, even after uniting the kingdom, David had to lead Israel through constant warfare as he expanded the kingdom. So even though David was called and anointed to be king, that did not mean that there was a clear path to becoming king and it did not mean that there would be no conflicts once he became king. It also did not mean that David would be perfect.

Repentance

[Bible references: 2 Samuel 12:1-14; Psalm 51:1]

There were a couple of instances where David committed sin but, unlike Saul before him, David responded to Yahweh’s rebuke with repentance. The most egregious sin David committed was to have an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers, getting her pregnant. Then when he failed to cover it up, he arranged for that soldier to be killed on the front lines. When the prophet, Nathan, confronted David about the sin, David repented and confessed his sin. The baby born from that affair died shortly after being born, but later David would have another child with Bathsheba, Solomon, setting up the next story line.

Messy family life

[Bible references: Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 2 Samuel 13:1-21; 2 Samuel 13:23-29; 15:7-23]

David did have many wives and concubines, but unlike Solomon, the king who reigned after him, David’s polygamy had not led him to worshiping other gods. The Bible doesn’t condemn David for his polygamy, but it seemed to exasperate a weakness in David. David had many children through his wives and concubines, but he failed to discipline them. His inability to discipline his sons resulted in rape of one of his daughters by one of his sons, who was murdered by another son to avenge the rape, and then attempted to dethrone David. This all meant that the path to succession to David’s throne would not be straightforward, but in the end, David selected his son Solomon to succeed him.


[1] This brings to mind, a quote from a missionary, Jim Elliot. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Saul

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 8 – Kings and Kingdoms

[Bible references: 1 Samuel 9:2; 13:1-14; 15:15; 1 Kings 13:6]

God gave Israel a king in the mold of other kings. In physical appearance, King Saul was a tall, handsome son of a powerful man, but spiritually, Saul would continue the national habit of “doing what was right in his own sight.” In fact, there were times when Saul was talking to Samuel that Saul made references to “Yahweh your God” instead of “Yahweh our God.” (That phrase had also been used by Jacob before his wresting match with God and would be used again by King Jeroboam at a later time.) Saul had ceased to trust in God. There would also be other times when, instead of leaning on God for victory, Saul would also resort to making foolish, rash vows.

Saul barely began his 40-year ministry as king before Samuel had to inform him that God had rejected him as king. Although that rejection happened early in his career, God did not replace Saul until much later. Saul would have to endure the knowledge that God had rejected him for the rest of his career, which was most of his career, as king. That may have been a factor in him becoming more unstable as time went on. Yet despite his rejection by God, he did have some success in conducting war against Israel’s enemies, but Saul’s standing with God did not change.

Reflect

When Israel got what they thought they wanted, “a king like everyone else,” they – and Saul – had to endure the consequences of that decision. How do we avoid that mistake?

Observe

Read 1 Samuel 13:1-14; 15:15. Why do you think that Saul could not wait for Samuel to come to offer sacrifices? Compare that to Adam and Eve’s sin.

Rejecting God as King

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 8 – Kings and Kingdoms

[Bible references: Judges 21:25; 2:10-23; 1 Samuel 8:1-22; Psalm 81:8-16]

Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, we have had a problem of thinking that we know better than God. After Israel started to settle into the Promised Land, that same problem appeared again with the diagnoses, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It was that problem that caused the cycle of God disciplining Israel by allowing them to be dominated by one of the nations, which then caused the people to cry for help, after which God raised up a leader who overcame the dominating nation, then once Israel is freed up, they turned from Yahweh and the cycle repeated.

Eventually, Israel figured that they thought they knew what the problem was … that they needed a king … like everyone else. When the prophet, Samuel, was old and people became uncomfortable with Samuel’s sons leading the nation (Note: It seemed that Samuel had the same kind of problem with his sons as Eli had with his), the people rebelled against God and asked the prophet Samuel to ask God to give them a king. Samuel was troubled because he knew that their diagnosis was wrong. Yahweh confirmed that when he told Samuel that the real problem was not that they rejected Samuel, but rather they’ve rejected Yahweh as king. Unexpectedly, Yahweh said that he would grant their wish anyway. They will get a king (!!!) … like everyone else!!!. One of the lessons from this event is that we need to be careful; in our rebellion, God may condemn us to what we want.

Reflect

What kind of results are we expecting when we elect someone just because we don’t like the alternative?

Observe

Read 1 Samuel 8. Knowing that God may discipline us by giving us what we want instead of what we need, how should we then pray?

The Tabernacle and the Law – Part 3

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

A set-apart people

[Bible references: Exodus 23; Leviticus 11, 17; Deuteronomy 14; Hebrews 4:1-13; 10:24-25]

What does it mean to be created in the image of a holy God? What do we mean when we say, “God is holy?” We first encounter the term in Genesis 2:3 when God indicates that the seventh day will be made holy, the seventh day was to be set apart from the other days. When Moses encountered God’s presence in a burning bush, Moses was told to remove his sandals because the ground was holy. It was also God’s intention to make Israel a holy nation, set apart from other nations and through which all the nations on earth would be blessed.

There were a couple of ways in which the nation of Israel would be distinguished from the nations around them, the food, and the calendar. There were some restrictions of the food they could eat such as certain meats, fish, birds, and insects, but the calendar provides the most distinguishing difference. While some cultures had recognized a 7-day calendar, it was the Israelites who set aside the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath on which no work was supposed be done. But that is not the only distinguishing characteristic of the calendar.

In the present day we have a universal calendar, and we have a priority for journalistic chronology. That is, we remember historical events on the particular day that the events happened according to our calendar. It is important for us to track events in the chronological order in which they happened. However, there are a few exceptions that we should note. Sometimes we set our remembrance day according to our convenience – for instance, we always celebrate days such as Martin Luther King’s birthday, not on his actual birth date, but always on a Monday because of our priority for extended weekends.

For the Israelite calendar, the priority was not chronology but liturgy. The remembrance days for events were not set according to the actual historical date on which they occurred but were set according to the liturgical calendar. This practice become clear when you trace out the timing of events in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and compare them to the remembrance dates. It was more important to have events in the context of God’s activity rather than the contexts of the events themselves.

This concept provides the background for celebration of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was such an important concept for the Jews, that the account of creation in Genesis 1 was used to present the concept of Sabbath.[1] When we think about God’s creating activities, God did not need six days to carry out creation, nor did he need to rest. So why do set up the remembrance of God’s creation in a 7-day timeframe? Once again, the important point is not the chronology but the liturgy.

The important point about the creation event was not the event itself, but what it was for. The purpose of creation was to create a “temple,” a place where God could “rest,” that is, “be” with his people. That’s the main point. There are tasks to be done of course as we join God in his creative work in the universe, but the point of the tasks is to be with God. When you look at Genesis 1-2, you will notice that the first six days have a defined beginning and end, an evening, and a morning. The seventh day does not have a defined closing – that implies that we are in the seventh day. This day we are in, the age we are in, is the “day” that we “rest” with God. It was intended at the beginning that all our activities done with, at rest with, God.

This brings us to a second distinguishing characteristic of the Jewish Biblical calendar: the first month was during the spring equinox, harvesting time, whereas in the surrounding cultures the first month of the calendar was set in the fall equinox, crop planting time. The difference in meaning was that since Israel’s year started with God’s work, the year begins God’s provision of the harvest which fed the nation and provided seed for the fall. This contrasted to the surrounding cultures which began their calendar with their work, so their year began with their work that provided for the next harvest.[2]

What can be confusing is that in current practice, Jews do not use the biblical (or liturgical) calendar but the civil calendar which places the first month in the fall instead of the spring. Christians do have an equivalent practice: our civil calendar begins in January, which was set by the Roman government and coincided with Roman elections whereas some in the Christian community observe a liturgical calendar which begins in the fall with the season of Advent.

The liturgical focus of the calendar with its de-emphasis of the chronology of historical events helps explain some interesting discontinuities and apparent conflicts in the Biblical text. If we allow the events described in Exodus to be interpreted liturgically instead of chronologically, we can make better sense of the flow of Exodus.

One of the “apparent conflicts” occurs in Exodus 19, as the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai. At the beginning of the chapter, Yahweh made a covenant similar to the one with Abraham and declared that they were to be a “kingdom of priests,” and that they were to prepare to go up the mountain after the sounding of the ram’s horn. And yet, at the end of the same chapter, Yahweh told Moses to not let the people, even the(people designated to be) priests, to go up the mountain. By noticing such apparent conflicts, we can better chronologically rearrange the events in Exodus so that they make better sense to chronologically minded folks such as we are.

A possible chronological arrangement of events looks like:[3]

  • The initial, Abrahamic-like covenant was given (including building earthen altars) followed by the Decalogue (10 Commandments)
  • The golden calf incident occurred
  • There was a covenant renewal
  • The code for priests was given along with instructions for building a tabernacle
  • Another incident with idols, this time goats, was documented
  • A Holiness code was given to the people
  • The covenant is renewed again

While the rearrangement may help us who are chronologically minded make better sense of the text, in the end we are left with Israel now being a nation with priests and the community centering its worship around a large tent called the Tabernacle. The liturgical intent of the text as it is written, is to focus on the final outcome, that Israel will be a nation with priests serving a holy God who may reside among them but who is not directly accessible.

Worship at the tabernacle was a community event. No one could do this by themselves. Different people were assigned to different tasks, which not only included direct involvement in worship but also in the care of the tabernacle and its furnishings. Even one’s individual sins required the use of priest to handle the sacrifice. Before the tabernacle, offerings could be made by anyone, but with the tabernacle, only designated priests could perform the sacrificial offerings.

This arrangement continues the pattern of representing the holiness of God in creation. God’s image-bearing creatures are set aside from all other creatures; Sinful humans are separated from the Garden of Eden; Noah and his family are set aside in the ark from all other people; Abraham is set aside from all other people to usher in the blessing of all people; Moses is set apart from the other Israelites to see God face-to-face; the Levites are the tribe set apart from the other tribes to manage the care of the tabernacle; the priests are set apart from the other Levites to carry out the rituals in the tabernacle; the Sabbath from all the other days as a reminder of God’s provision, in particular his provision for rest – and the list goes on.


[1] LeFebvre, Michael. “The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context”

[2] LeFebvre, Michael. “The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context”

[3] Sailhammer, John. “Introduction to Old Testament Theology” (Appendix b)

The Tabernacle and the Law – Part 2

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

Sacrifice and death

[Bible references: Genesis 4:4; 8:20; 36-39; Leviticus 1-7; Hebrews 7:27-28]

God also gave detailed instructions about how and when to conduct the rituals surrounding the tabernacle. Burnt offerings[1] had been offered before the tabernacle was built but now there were additional offerings to be made.[2] In the case of all the offerings, something had to die. The cost of sin was death, and it takes death to restore one’s relation with God. Moreover, the animals presented for sacrifice for the burnt offerings needed to be pure and without blemish or defect.

These “perfect” sacrifices were pointing to our ultimate need for a truly perfect sacrifice made on our behalf. The sacrifice would have to more than an animal with no visible blemishes. The sacrifice would have to be made by a perfect human whose identity would gradually prophetically be revealed … by a new “Adam” who would succeed where the first Adam failed.

Sacrificial death, though, can take a different form than we expect. In Psalm 51, David declares,

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17 ESV)

and Micah declares.

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8, ESV)

and later, the apostle Paul declares,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2, ESV)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

These passages indicate a sacrifice of dying to oneself, of laying one’s own interests aside for the sake of another … for the sake of Christ. A sacrifice not to “make things right” with God but because things are right.


[1] Hal, Doulos. The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Burnt Offering” Impact Bible.org blogs 4 Apr 2020 blogs.bible.org/the-five-fire-sacrifices-and-offerings-of-israel-the-burnt-offering. Burnt offerings are sometimes called whole offerings (because none of the offering is put aside for eating) or ascent offerings.

[2] Tam, Stephen, “The Five Offerings in the Old Testament” “The Five Offerings in the Old Testament” Moses Tabernacle 2003-2018 www3.telus.net/public/kstam/en/tabernacle/details/offerings.htm; Bible.org “The Law of Burnt Offerings” bible.org/seriespage/2-law-burnt-offerings-leviticus-11-17

Reflect

How many people are willing to die for the sake of others?

Observe

Read Psalm 51; Romans 12:1-2. We do not have a temple to make animal sacrifices. What we do have is the opportunity to offer ourselves as a daily sacrifice. What is meant by a broken spirit?

The Tabernacle and the Law – Part 1

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

The Tabernacle, shadow of something greater

[Bible references: Exodus 25-27; Numbers 2; Hebrews 8:5-6; 10:1-18]

During the time in the wilderness, the Israelites were instructed to build a tabernacle that would serve as the point of presence for Yahweh in the community. God would be seen both as an unapproachable and transcendent God[1] and as a personal, immanent God living among his people.[2] The tabernacle would serve to display the shadow of a deeper reality.

Art and artists

[Bible references: Exodus 20:4-6; 31:2-3; 35:4-9,32-35; 36:1-7]

The instructions are quite detailed. The materials used to build the tabernacle were gifts given to the Israelites as they left Egypt. Those materials were then freely shared to be used as materials used to construct the tabernacle. God dedicated the workmen for building the various parts of the tabernacle, filling them with his Spirit and then giving the skills and abilities they needed. God gave everything needed for the construction of the tabernacle. Between the detailed instructions, the materials provided by the Egyptians and the skills of the craftsmen, the tabernacle would be a beautiful work of art. Although the Israelites were told not to make graven images to worship as idols, that obviously did not mean that they couldn’t create works of art, in this case works that would be used to enable worship.

Law and Love

[Bible references: Exodus 20:1-17; Leviticus 1-7; 19:18, 34; Deuteronomy 4:27-31; 6:1-6; John 13:35; 1 Timothy 1:5]

The amount of killing carried out in the tabernacle to fulfill the necessary sacrifices would be a constant, grisly reminder of the cost of our sin. There were sacrifices to be made for many types of occasions: burnt (or ascension) offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings and others. There was much bloodletting from the many animals sacrificed on the altar, a constant reminder of the cost of our sins.

In addition to the rules of the tabernacle, God also gave other rules that covered other areas of life. Most of us are familiar with the moral code we know as the ten Commandments, but there were many other laws that covered other situations as well. Of the 613 rules (mitzvot) that can be found,[3] they can all be summarized in the commands: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; Love your neighbor as yourself. Whether in the ten commandments or in the 613 mitzvot, all the rules are predicated on love, thankfulness and pleasing one another. All the instructions point to practical ways for us to love God and one another.[4]


[1] The Holy of Holies could only be accessed once a year and only by the high priest.

[2] The presence of God was indicated by the pillar of fire by night and smoke by day where the people could see it. Also, Moses was able to have face-to-face contact with God.

[3] Judaism 101, “List of the 613 Commandments” Judaism 101 http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm

[4] Isaacs, Ronald H. “Rabbinic Reasons for the Mitzvot;” Messianic Jewish Bible Society “Love and the Hebrew language” myjewishlearning.com http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/rabbinic-reasons-for-the-mitzvot/; Levinson, John D. “The Shema and the Commandment to Love God in its ancient context” The Torah http://www.thetorah.com/article/the-shema-and-the-commandment-to-love-god-in-its-ancient-contexts

Reflect

For the nation of Israel, the tabernacle and its rituals provided a visible reminder of that the presence of God was among them, but God was still not accessible except once a year by the high priest. Does God seem like that to you?

Observe

Read Hebrews 8:5-6; 10:1-18, 1 Peter 2:9. The Tabernacle was designed to represent a greater reality. Our relationships among people also represent a greater reality. What is it?

Reflect

Arts and crafts, as long as they enhance and don’t distract from the worship of God, are useful in the worship experience. What are some ways can you express the worship of God?

Observe

Read Exodus 20:4-6; 31:2-3; 35:4-9,32-35; 36:1-7. What kinds of arts and crafts went into the construction of the tabernacle?

Reflect

If you had to live through the experience of seeing many animals slaughtered as sacrifices for the sake your sins and others’ sins, how would that affect your thinking?

Observe

Read Matthew 22:37-40. The Great Commandment is about loving God and neighbor. Keeping that commandment, is just as difficult as following the 613 other commands that can be found in the Old Testament. What do you think your life would look like if you fully lived into the Great Commandment?

Exodus

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

Fullness of time

[Bible references: Genesis 15:16; Exodus 2-4; 7-11; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:1-14]

The emerging story of the chosen people of God becoming a nation started slowly with Abraham, with one child of the promise, Isaac, who had two children, only one through whom the promise would come, Jacob. Finally, Jacob had thirteen children. But it would take time for that family to grow into a size that could be called a nation – and that took a couple hundred more years – in which time the “sin of the Amorites would reach their full measure.”

Although the Bible does not specifically mention it, there may have been other things that God was waiting to happen such as the development of the Israelite community and the consequent interaction of the Israelite community with the Egyptian community during the Israelite captivity. God allowed events to gradually unfold until “the fullness of time” came for God to orchestrate a dramatic release of the Israelite community. This event would serve as a foreshadowing of another event, the spiritual release of all peoples from slavery to sin.

So it was, that in the fullness of time, when the sin of the Amorites reached its full measure,[1] Yahweh called Moses to release the enslaved Israelites from Egypt to bring Israel back to the Promised Land.

Discipline, Miracles, and Death

[Bible references: Genesis 15:13-14. Exodus 7-11; 12:31-36; 13:17-22; 16; 17:1-7; 20; 32; Numbers 13-14]

Miracles abounded.

There were the ten plagues that God brought upon the Egyptian captors to show the Pharoah that Yahweh was not just a local God in Canaan but that His power extended over all creation, even in the land of the Egyptian gods. In the process, the Pharoah’s own heart continued to harden against Yahweh to the point where God would seal the Pharoah’s fate and further harden the Pharoah’s heart. In the end, it took the killing of the firstborn of Egyptian families, including the family of the Pharoah to not only convince the Pharaoh to let people of Israel go, but the people of Egypt also supplied the people of Israel with great wealth as they left, with some Egyptians joining the people of Israel in their flight.

Then there was the miracles of the pillars of cloud and fire, which would continue until the nation entered the Promised Land, and the miracle which let Israel cross the Red Sea on dry land followed by the drowning of the Egyptian army. The pattern of punishing a nation that was used to discipline the people of Israel would be repeated throughout Biblical history.[2]

Once on their way, the Israelites experienced more miracles, the mountain enshrouded in a cloud where Yahweh talked with Moses and delivered the Commandments and other rules, manna and quail falling from the sky, springs of water in the desert. Despite seeing all those miracles, Israel wasn’t ready to have Yahweh lead them into the Promised Land to face the obstacles there and so God had them encamp in the wilderness for 40 years until all the adults who refused to trust Yahweh died. So many deaths must have happened, but scripture barely mentions them. Here we will see, not for the last time, which seeing miracles not only did not change hearts but that all our hearts seem predisposed to turn away from God.


[1] cp. Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10; see also White, James Emery. “Is God a Moral Monster? The Slaughter of the Canaanites” Church&Culture 22 Oct 2020 http://www.churchandculture.org/blog/2020/10/22/is-god-a-moral-monster

[2] Ex: Egypt (Genesis 15:13-14). Babylon (Isaiah 13, 21,23), Assyria (Isaiah 10, 14; Zephaniah 2)

Reflect

Often, when we are younger, we think we know everything. But most of the time, we discover over time that we need maturing – to grow in wisdom – a process that takes time and experience. What things have you learned through time and experience?

Observe

Read Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:3-14. We do not have God’s perspective. We don’t know why God waited so long after the time of Adam and Eve before Messiah came – the first time. We don’t know why God is waiting to return. Not with all the pain and suffering we see around us. What hints do these passages provide for us?

Reflect

We discover in the Exodus narrative, that being able to see and to live in the midst of miracles, was not sufficient to change the hearts of the people. What does that say about us?

Observe

Read Exodus 8-10. In the narrative of the 10 plagues, several times we are told that Pharoah hardened his heart, but then there came a time when Yahweh reinforced that trajectory and Yahweh hardened the Pharoah’s heart. What kind of warning might that be?

Strange interlude: captivity

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

Process is important

[Bible references: Genesis 15:12-21; Exodus 1:1-22]

After Joseph and the Pharaoh who knew him died, the growing nation of Israel became enslaved in the land of Egypt just as it had been foretold to Abraham. There are various questions that surrounded the captivity of Israel in Egypt:

  • When there was a drought, why didn’t Yahweh provide for the Israelites in Canaan instead of having them go to Egypt?
  • If they needed to be in Egypt, why did they need to be enslaved instead of just living there as guests?

We know that Yahweh told Abraham that a great nation would come from him and that they would be given the land of Canaan to live in. But why the side-trip into Egypt and why the slavery? The only reason given to Abraham was that “the sin of the Amorites was not yet reached its full measure.” 

The reason given to Abraham for being in Egypt follows a general pattern. Although God occasionally supernaturally intervenes in the course of events, it seems that God most often allows natural, normal processes to take place, whether they be physical, psychological, sociological etc. We see that process in living things – plants, and animals – as they grow through specific physical processes[1]. Regarding, the great flood in Noah’s time, that only occurred after evil gradually, through normal psychological and sociological processes, eventually reached a particular threshold.


[1] Natural, physical processes are so well fixed and so well understood that they have become known as scientific laws.

Reflect

Joseph’s discipline involved finding God in the midst of difficult circumstances and discovering how God could use him there. Are there any difficult circumstances you struggle with? Have you found God at work in your life in those circumstances?

Observe

Read Genesis 15:12-21; Exodus 1:1-22. We often don’t know the reasons for the difficult circumstances in life. How might Abram’s dream explain why God originally provided hospitality and refuge in Egypt but then allowed Israel to be enslaved?

Joseph

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 5 – Patriarchs

Discipline and character development

[Bible references: Genesis 37:1-11, 28-36; 39:1-20: 50:20]

Of Jacob’s 12 sons, Joseph was the most notable. Between being treated as Israel’s favorite son and then having a sense of self-importance, he created a sense of jealousy among his brothers. So, on one occasion while out tending flocks on one opportune occasion his jealous brothers sold him off to merchants traveling to Egypt. In Egypt, he was sold to a captain of the Pharaoh’s guard as a slave. While he was a slave to the captain, Yahweh caused Joseph to prosper in whatever he took care of, inspiring the captain to trust everything to Joseph. However, an unjust charge by the captain’s wife caused Joseph to be imprisoned.

Bloom where you are

[Bible references: Genesis 39:21-23; 40; 41]

While Joseph was in prison, Yahweh continued to cause Joseph to prosper, inspiring the warden to entrust many things to Joseph. A couple of the prisoners had dreams to which Yahweh gave Joseph the interpretations. The predictions Joseph revealed to the prisoners did come true. Sometime later, when the Pharaoh had dreams that he wanted to have interpreted, he was informed about Joseph. Through the help of Yahweh, Joseph was able to interpret those dreams. This led to Joseph being put in second-in-command to the Pharaoh through which he was able to oversee the harvesting and storage of grain in preparation of a coming 7-year drought.

Dreams come true

[Bible references: Genesis 15:12-14; 15:12-21; 42-46; 50:15-21] The drought extended up to the Promised Land, Canaan, where Israel was living. This gave the opportunity for Joseph to invite Israel and all the rest of the family to come to Egypt where Joseph could see they were supported. Joseph was able to see that while his brothers had intended to harm him, Yahweh was able to use for the good. In fact, this provided the setting that Yahweh had revealed to Abraham in a troubling dream, that “your descendants will be strangers in a land not their own.” For a moment, Egypt seemed to be promising, but it wasn’t the final destination. It particularly wasn’t the promised land. More than that, God warned that dark times lay ahead before they would arrive there.

Reflect

In academic disciplines, we train our minds in order to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. These disciplines are usually evaluated by written tests and practicums. What are some spiritual disciplines and how do we evaluate our progress?

Observe

Read Genesis 37, 41, 40. Joseph’s discipline involved finding God in the midst of difficult circumstances and discovering how God could use him there. Are there any difficult circumstances you struggle with? (NOTE: One goal in the Benedictine order is stability. The idea is that God is everywhere and if you can’t find him where you are then you won’t find him anywhere. deWaal, Esther. “Seeking God”)

Reflect

Complaint is the usual response to unjust treatment. But although Joseph was enslaved, he took his stewardship responsibilities and then when imprisoned he was open to God’s interpretation of dreams. What do you think Joseph learned?

Observe

Read Genesis 37; 39-41. Because Joseph was the oldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Jacob made Joseph his favorite son – and spoiled him. It didn’t help when Joseph flaunted some dreams in front of his brothers who then found an opportunity to sell him as a slave. How did the hardship of slavery mold Joseph’s character?

Reflect

What are your visions of what the future will look like?

Observe

Read Genesis 50:15-21. Back in Canaan, Joseph used his dreams to put down his brothers, who responded by selling him into slavery. But when it came time for the dreams to be re-enacted in real life, he had a different attitude about those dreams. How does Joseph’s experience affect the way you view the events of life?

Jacob

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 5 – Patriarchs

Deceit instead of faith

[Bible references: Genesis 25:29-34; 25:23; 27:1-40]

The biblical descriptions of Jacob and his twin brother Esau are not flattering. Esau is the older twin brother, but for a pot of porridge Esau was willing to give up his birthright. To seal the deal, Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, would conspire to deceive Isaac: They would take advantage of Isaac’s blindness by deceiving Isaac and setting it up for Jacob instead of Esau to receive the primary blessing from Isaac. This deceit happened even though when Rebekah was pregnant with the twins that Yahweh had told her that “the older would serve the younger,” so it is curious that Isaac still insisted on giving the primary blessing to Esau instead of Jacob and that Rebekah saw fit to use deceit to help Jacob receive that important blessing.

A higher order

[Bible references: 1 Samuel 3-4, 15-16]

The case of Jacob and Esau is not the only example where Yahweh would choose to upset the common order of things. In this case, it was side-stepping the normal primogeniture and instead have the older sibling serving the other sibling. In other times it would be stronger serving the weaker, the sons being displaced by someone outside the family. This pattern of displacing the normal order of primogeniture and inheritance is repeated later in Samuel following Eli instead of his sons Hophni and Phineas and in David replacing Saul instead of Saul’s son Jonathan. And in all these cases, we see God preparing someone new to lead while he arranges to end another’s leadership.

Nation of wrestlers

[Bible references: Genesis 31:25-45; 28:3-4; 27:42-45; 28:10-22; 32:22-32; 35:22-26; 30:21; 32:1-5]

After the deception of Isaac, Jacob’s would continue his pattern of deception. Yet, despite that character flaw, God would continue to bless Jacob with success just as he had blessed Abraham and Isaac. Jacob’s deceit with Isaac and Esau forced him to leave home and visit his uncle Laban, in Haran for many years. On the journey to Laban, Yahweh shared with Jacob the promise he made with Abraham and with Isaac, that “all the people on earth would be blessed through you.”

While staying with Laban, Jacob would continue his deceit to take advantage of Laban. Then years later, when Jacob left Laban to return to the promised land, God saw fit to engage with Jacob on both the journey to and from home. On the journey home, Jacob now has two wives and two concubines, thirteen children and a great wealth in flocks, herds, and servants. On that trip home, Jacob finds himself in a wrestling match with a man that Jacob learns was God.[1] During that struggle, Jacob was forced to confess his character by admitting that his name means “deceiver,” but then was given a new name, Israel (which means “wrestles with God”). Wrestling with God would become a hallmark of Israel’s descendants (that is, the nation of Israel) and is evident throughout the Old Testament.[2]


[1] Sproul, RC “A Wrestling People” ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/wrestling-people.

[2] Although there are many examples of people questioning God, the Psalms contain many examples.

Reflect

What things in our life do we tend to “help God with” rather than figure out what his ways are?

Observe

Read Genesis 25:21-34; 27:1-40. The family dynamics in Isaac’s family were typically messy and complicated as many real families are and yet God will carry out his purposes. How can we use the example of Isaac and his family to give us confidence that God is able to carry out his purpose for us?

Reflect

Sometimes what looks like chaos to us is actually a pattern that we haven’t figured out. One example is encoded messages – we can’t read them without knowing the underlying order. What patterns from God confuse you?

Observe

Read 1 Samuel 3-4; 1 Samuel 15-16. These passages illustrate how God continues to carry out his will despite the messiness of our lives. How does that affect how you pray?

Reflect

God is able to fulfill his purposes as we wrestle with him. Do you feel compelled to wrestle with God about anything?

Observe

Read Genesis 32:22-28. God would rename Jacob to Israel, which means “wrestles with God,” which would eventually become the name of the nation descended from Jacob, and the nation through which the Messiah would come. Can we be strong in our faith in God, if we have not wrestled with God?

Isaac

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 5 – Patriarchs

Ordinary believers

[Bible references: Gen 17:17; 21:5; 21:1-7; 25:21; 26:1-11; 27:1-29]

Meanwhile, the Biblical record for life of Isaac is unremarkable. God had blessed Isaac with wealth, however, the most notable events in his life were 1) failing just as his father Abraham had done in fearing that king Abimelech might kill him to get his wife, so he claimed that his wife was his sister and 2) when he was preparing to die, he got fooled by Jacob into giving Jacob the primary blessing instead of his older twin brother, Esau. Blessed, fallible, unremarkable, yet still used by Yahweh to accomplish Yahweh’s will.

Reflect

What is our prayer when we know that our time in this life is limited and most of us will not accomplish anything spectacular, and yet, God may use our life to achieve a greater impact than we realize?

Observe

Read Genesis 24-25. We can never know how God will use the ordinary things in our lives to fulfill his purposes. How does that knowledge help you look at your own life?

Abraham

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 5 – Patriarchs

Walk of faith

[Bible references: Genesis 12:1-20; 15:1-6; 16:1-5; 17:1-14; 20:1-13; 22:1-18; 24:7; 28:16: 50:24; Romans 4:9; Hebrews 11:17]

Sometime after the scattering of nations, from the line of Shem and Noah, God called a man named Abram to leave his country in the Euphrates River Valley and go to a land “I will show you.” As Abram left his home country, at the age of seventy-five, God promised not only to bless Abram and his descendants but to bless the entire world though Abram. Despite his occasional failures, Abram (later named Abraham) is noted for his faith because he believed God and showed this by being obedient in following God’s instructions even when they didn’t make sense.

When God called Abram to journey to another land, we don’t know what earlier experience Abram or his family or any other citizens of Ur or Haran may have had with God. Was there any experience at all? If not, then with what confidence did Abram have that he was following God when he took that journey to the Promised Land?[1] Then after Abram arrived in the Promised Land, what further questions may Abram have had when he experienced a deep drought in that same land, such that he needed to take a brief trip to Egypt?

After Yahweh told Abram, that he would make a great nation from him, Abram initially expressed his faith by his obedience when he took that journey to the Promised land. Again, when Yahweh showed him the stars and told him that his descendants would be as numerous as those stars, Abram believed, and Yahweh credited that to him as righteousness. Then Yahweh reiterated the promise again when Abram was 99 years old and changed Abram’s name (which meant exalted Father) to Abraham (Father of many nations).

God told Abraham that a great nation would come out of him and Sarah. Yet, this did not look promising when the only son born to Abraham and Sarah was Isaac who was not even born until Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety. No wonder that Isaac was given a name that means “laughter.”

Hospitality

[Bible references: Gen 18:1-8; Hebrew 13:1-2]

One day, while Abraham was sitting in the entrance to his tent, he saw three visitors approaching and offered them water to wash their feet and then went to much effort to offer them something to eat and drink. As we read this description of Abraham’s greeting his visitors, it may sound extravagant to us, but would have been normal for the culture of the time. The normal custom was to regard visitors as those who have been sent by God.[2]

Pleading to God

[Bible references: Gen 18:16-33]

We don’t know the moment that Abraham recognized that one of the visitors was Yahweh, but it apparently happened by the time the visitors talked about Sodom and Gomorrah, which they were going to destroy. Concerned about his nephew Lot, who was living down there, Abraham made a plea to save the city if there were righteous people living in the city. At first, Abraham asked what if there were fifty righteous people living there, would they still destroy everyone there. When Yahweh said no, then Abraham asked, what about if there were 45 or 30 or 20 righteous people there.[3] Each time, Yahweh said that he would not wipe out everybody if there were only that many righteous people there. As it turned out, both Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed after Lot and his daughters were given the chance to escape.

Faith and obedience

[Bible references: Gen 22:1-19]

In one of the most controversial events, God called Abraham to take Isaac and go to a mountain, build an altar, and then offer Isaac as a sacrificial offering. Abraham must have severely tested, but Abraham did as he was told and went through the whole process to the point where he was about slay Isaac when God provided a substitute, a ram. Isaac would indeed be the next link in the genealogical chain connecting Abraham ultimately to the birth of the Messiah 2000 years later.

Slow and steady

[Bible references: Genesis 17:5; 21:4-5; 26:34; 2 Peter 3:8]

The man who Yahweh would say would be the “father of many nations” had only one son born very late in his life and that son, Isaac, would have only twins. Even then, Esau and Jacob were born late in Isaac’s life, so the “father of many nations” would die only seeing two grandchildren.


[1] Although the term “promised land” is not used directly as the place of where Abram and his descendants were called to settle down in, there are several references to the “land that is promised you.”

[2] Wight, Fred H. Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Kindle Locations 863). 1953. Kindle Edition.

[3] De Young, Kevin. “Passionately Pleading with God is a Good Thing”

Reflect

Making long-term commitments is always an act of faith, because we never know what all the circumstances will be in the future. What long-term commitments have you made and held to even when you encountered circumstances you never planned on?

Observe

Read Genesis 12:1-20. This renowned Patriarch of faith, Abram, believed Yahweh, and left his homeland to some destination that Yahweh would show to him. When Abram arrived at the place Yahweh led him to, he built an altar and set up his tent. Good start at a life of faith. Sometime afterwards, Abraham winds up in Egypt where he is now afraid for his life and asks his beautiful wife Sarah to say that she’s his sister instead of his wife, so that they people won’t kill him to get her. This does lead to complications we won’t discuss here but just to point out that we, never mind Abram, are subject to a wavering faith. Do you have incidents in your life where your faith wavered?

Reflect

What kind of hospitality have you received that made you feel special?

Observe

Read Genesis 18:1-8; Hebrews 13:1-2. In the nomadic culture, hospitality was readily shown to any visitors as they were regarded as visitors from God. What keeps us from exhibiting the same attitude?

Reflect

What passionate concerns do you want to bring to God?

Observe

Read Genesis 18:16-33; 1 Samuel 7:1-9; 2 Chronicles 30:1-20; Nehemiah 1:1-2:10; Philippians 1:3-10. How are we encouraged to plead to God?

Reflect

The Hebrew word, “shema,” means not just “listen” but “listen and obey.” How often do we listen intently to a friend or loved one such that we are ready to provide for any need implied within the conversation?

Observe

Read Genesis 22:1-19; 1 Corinthians 10:13. Theologians have wrestled with this passage in Genesis as we cannot fathom how God could command a human sacrifice, even if He knew how He would intervene before it would happen. How confident are you that God will provide for you in the midst of difficult decisions?

Reflect

God answers prayers on his timeline, not ours. He will fulfill his purpose for us – also on his timeline. Does that make you frustrated or assured?

Observe

Read Genesis 17:5; 21:4-5; 25:19-26; 2 Peter 3:8. God renamed Abram to “Father of many nations.” Abraham. Abraham had one “child of the promise,” Isaac whose only children were twin born when Abraham was 160 years old.  How do you make sense of that in light of 2 Peter 3:8?

Turning from shalom

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 4 – Deforming the intended direction for creation

[Bible references: Psalm 53:1-3]

Although we try to cling to the hope of God and our final restoration, we, in our sin, face a world that is broken by sin. While waiting for the restoration of creation, we find ourselves continually turning from God and rather towards bringing further destruction into God’s good creation. We seem to be constantly bent on turning from shalom and towards a substitute that gives us pain and despair. The history of the world is filled with the flourishing of evil and injustice. The consequence of choosing to go our own way has put us on a path where we continue to separate ourselves from the source of goodness and shalom. Indeed, we find ourselves on a path of destruction despite God’s continual provision for us as he continuously and unrelenting pursues us and pours out his limitless grace. And so it is, that we find ourselves in a world where both good and evil abound, where the good things God created are corrupted continuing to turn us away from God.[1]

Rampant evil

[Bible references: Genesis 6, 9]

So that we can know what terrible direction we are headed without that intervening grace, God initially allowed his image-bearers to live long lifespans. The long lifespans seemed to postpone the penalty for sin such a long time by delaying the penalty of physical death, that the image-bearers behaved as if there were no consequences for their God-defiant behavior. The result was rampant unrestrained evil that infected nearly everyone, causing God to destroy all but one family. Sadly, even with that severe penalty, it would not be long before our God-defiant behavior would threaten to be our undoing again, but God would continue intervening with grace as He would gradually work out His plan to restore us to Himself beginning with the rainbow as a sign of hope.

Tower of Babel

[Bible references: Genesis 11:1-8; Genesis 12:1-3]

Despite the catastrophic destruction that destroyed all people except Noah and his family, the image-bearers’ defiance would emerge again when, thinking themselves to be wiser than God, they refused to spread out over the earth as God had commanded and then proceeded to build a tower as a monument to themselves. God’s response was very measured. By causing them to speak different languages so that they could no longer communicate with each other, the image-bearers would no longer be able to come together to complete the tower, rather they were now forced to divide into seventy different groups and spread out across the earth as God had intended. This breakup would lead to the creation of different nations – and eventually lead to God’s working out His solution to our predicament by the calling out from one of the nations, one man through whom God would begin His work of restoration.


[1] Brister, Tim. “6 Destructive Ways We Minimize Our Own Sin”

Reflect

Think about some things that should be inherently good but are used for evil purposes.

Observe

Read Gen 3:1. We often know in our mind what God’s instruction is when we are tempted to do our own thing apart from God’s instruction. We somehow find a way to justify our actions by questioning God’s authority. Does this give us a strategy for dealing with temptation?

Reflect

If there were no consequences for bad behavior, what do you think the world would be like?

Observe

Read Genesis 6 and 9. God sent a flood to deal with the rampant sin in the world but it wasnot long after the flood that signs of human rebellion sprung up again in Noah’s family. What kind of trajectory did this indicate for humanity?

Reflect

Even within a family, different experiences cause people to think differently causing conflict. They all use the same words but have different thoughts about what is right. Larger problems occur when people grow up in entirely different environments. When people use different languages, those different languages amplify the differences in how people think. In your own situation, what different cultures do you interact with and how do you process conflicts with people in those cultures?

Observe

Read Genesis 11:4. The construction of the tower at Babel was not a positive development, but God’s plans won’t be thwarted. What confidence does that give us about the difficult situations we see around us today?

Hope in the brokenness

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 4 – Deforming the intended direction for creation

[Bible references: Genesis 2:16-17; 3:14-15, 23; Psalm 4; Hebrews 1:1-4]

Everything was broken and separated from God. Spiritual death, the impaired relation between God and His image-bearers was immediate and would be mirrored by the physical death caused by separation of the people who would no longer have access to the Tree of Life. This was a great tragedy that could not be undone, not by the image bearers. But as we look around us, we can see that, despite the tragedy around us, things aren’t totally bad. Even though evil is very evident around us, goodness is also evident. It is in that observation that we can glimpse the possibility of hope.

God had ordained the penalty of death, spiritual and physical, to be the consequence of turning away from him. Spiritual death, the separation God’s image-bearers from God happened immediately, but physical death, the separation of soul and body, did not happen right away. What God did, was to apply discipline to his image-bearers. He also gave a hint of the solution to the problem created by sin, the first of many other hints that were to come.

There was also evidence for hope in the continued creation by God, as he continued to sustain the universe he created, and within that universe He continued to create new living things, plants, and animals alike. Related to that hope, was that the mandate given to the image-bearers was still in force, although there would now be suffering involved in the fulfillment of the mandate.

There was also hope hidden in God’s very name. The name given to us, which was given to Moses and first revealed in Genesis 2, is “Yahweh” (Hebrew, יהוה). In the ancient Hebrew, the characters would have looked a little different and each character would represent an object or action.[1] In Hebrew, the characters are read from right to left. The first character (י) represents a hand or arm and could also represent work or worship. The character (ה) represents a man with arms raised and could also represent displaying or revealing something. The (ו) character represents a nail or tent peg and could also represent fastening something together. So, embedded in the name יהוה is the message “hand revealed nail revealed” – a foretelling of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

The sacrifice of Jesus followed a life in which Jesus successfully waited to receive those things that His Father intended to give, resisting the temptation to grab those things for himself. In his life and death, Jesus successfully accomplished what Adam and all those who came after Adam had not.

In the beginning, we were eager to grasp for ourselves wisdom and the knowledge of good and evil on our own terms. What we didn’t plan on the consequences that would follow. Sometimes God gives us what we think we want even though it would bring us the suffering that God was trying to steer us from. It’s a continuing pattern we see from the beginning until now, that it is not always a good thing when we get what we think we want.


[1] Benner, Jeff A. “Hebrew Alphabet Chart”

Reflect

It’s not hard to see signs of brokenness around us. Are there any signs of hope that can be seen?

Observe

Read Galatians 3:13-14; Ephesians 1:11-12; Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 1:26; Matthew 17:11; Acts 3:18-26. Throughout the Bible, God has chosen to share his future plans in pieces at a time. Because of that, what exactly those plans are, have been the subject of much debate within the church. What is your understanding of God’s plans for the future?