Week 21 – Rebuilding the Walls

Scripture Reading – Ezra 7; Nehemiah 1-2, 4, 6-8; Malachi 1-4

Significant Moments in The Story

The priest Ezra comes to Jerusalem to teach the Law – Ezra 7

Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem to help rebuild the wall – Nehemiah 2

The rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem is completed – Nehemiah 6

Ezra reads the law to all the people – Nehemiah 8

The following comes from The Story Small Group Discussion Guide

Chapter Summary

It’s no surprise that the Hebrew people were homesick after 70 years of foreign captivity. At this point, it had been 80 years since King Cyrus first gave the green light for the exiles to return to their beloved Jerusalem. Zerubbabel was among the first to go. Fifty thousand former slaves packed their bags and joined him on the trek back to the holy city in 537 B.C. But many remained beyond the borders of God’s promise.

Ezra had earned the favor of Persia’s King Artaxerxes during his time in Babylon. The king authorized Ezra to take a second contingent of Israelites back home. Ezra was a faithful scribe and teacher, and he was given permission not only to teach God’s law but also a mandate to appoint judges and a bottomless expense account to finance his journey.

Nehemiah remained in the palace of Susa as the favored cupbearer of the Persian king. He was dismayed to hear that the walls of Jerusalem remained in disrepair, for without walls, no city would be secure. The king gave Nehemiah a leave-of-absence so he could lead 42,000 exiles back to Jerusalem. His first order of business was to assess the condition of the walls and the people. He quickly rallied the city leaders to rebuild.

Sanballat and Tobiah were none too pleased. As leaders of nearby nations, they were threatened by the prospect of Jerusalem’s comeback. They retaliated with intimidation and made repeated attempts to out-maneuver Nehemiah and his rebuilding project, but Nehemiah was undeterred. He encouraged his leaders and armed his people. Some worked while others stood guard. Some carried supplies with one hand and a weapon in the other, but the threats continued. Even when Israel’s enemies enlisted an Israelite as a false prophet to undermine the progress, Nehemiah was not shaken. He refused to entertain empty lies, and the wall was rebuilt in record time—only 52 days!

As Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, Ezra set out to rebuild God’s people. He began by teaching them the Scriptures for the next 13 years. The people gathered to hear Ezra read and other priests joined in to teach as well. At last, they got it! They grasped the reality of God’s great story and celebrated the Feasts of Booths as Moses had written of so long before. The people and the priests hungered to worship God and God’s people were restored in the Land of Promise.

Yet old habits die hard and the people’s fervor soon dwindled. The priests and the people became apathetic, so God commissioned the prophet, Malachi, to speak His words of divine warning. The priests had begun to dishonor God with sacrifices that were less than the best. They treated their wives poorly and wondered why God was not pleased with their worship. They withheld their offerings and the whole community began to again turn away from God.

Malachi prophesied the return of the prophet Elijah as sign of things to come. God had restored His people and protected His faithful remnant. He had protected Judah’s royal line in keeping with His promise to David. He spoke His final words of warning and promise through Malachi and then God was silent. God’s people would not hear from Him again until the promised Elijah would step forth as God’s new messenger. God’s redemptive story, for now, was quietly marching toward history’s climactic event.

Icebreaker Question: What’s the most extensive remodeling or construction project you have been involved in?

  1. List the three things to which Ezra devoted himself (Ezra 7, p. 292). What is significant about this order that also applies to the successful Christian life of every believer?
  2. Why is it important for teachers like to be like Ezra – “well versed” and “learned” (Ezra 7, p. 291) in God’s word? Share with your group who has been your most influential Bible teacher and why.
  3. Compare the “first exodus,” Exodus 11:1-3 and 12:35-36, with this second exodus. How can you tell that this was clearly God’s response to Ezra’s prayer (Ezra 7, p. 294)?
  4. Why do you suppose Nehemiah did not reveal to anyone the plan that God had put in his heart (Nehemiah 2, p. 295-296)?
  5. Nehemiah prayed for protection, but he also posted guards. Does this show a lack of faith on Nehemiah’s part? How should we “follow-up” after we pray for something?
  6. Nehemiah’s enemies tried to use the false prophet Shemaiah to distract him from the rebuilding project. How do you determine if a message from God or another source?
  7. What can you learn from Nehemiah about leadership?
  8. What does Nehemiah teach us about prayer? Do you notice any patterns in his prayer life?
  9. Years after the walls had been rebuilt, the prophet Malachi was sent to correct the priests and the people (Malachi 1-4, p. 302). What were they doing that dishonored God?
  10. According to the prophet Malachi, what is the correlation between one’s relationship with God and one’s treatment of their spouse?

Key Themes

What defines a Jew?

Up until this point, the Jewish people have been primarily defined by their nationality/tribal identity or by their connection with the territory of Judah/Israel.  During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, a shift will begin to take place.  Identification with the Jewish community will no longer be an issue of nationality or location but adherence to the Law.  Central to this week’s readings are Ezra’s calling to return to Jerusalem to teach the Law and the reading of the Law in Nehemiah 8.

This focus on the question of identity will also be key to one of the more controversial parts of the part of the Bible.  In Ezra 10, when it is discovered that a number of Jewish men have married non-Jewish women, Ezra orders that all who have married non-Jewish women should divorce their wives and send them away with their children.  This passage is troubling on several levels, and there are some who believe that stories such as Ruth may have been included in the Scripture, in part, as a counter-argument to this move.  In any case, it should be understood that the primary concern for Ezra was not so much idolatry as identity.  Ezra, and later Nehemiah in his concern for rebuilding the wall, intended to establish boundaries in which a clear Jewish identity could be maintained.

God is faithful

Once again, the theme of God’s faithfulness to His covenant and His people echoes throughout these passages.  The story of the provision of resources for the rebuilding of the wall, the royal permission given to Ezra to teach the Law, and the success of rebuilding the wall in the face of threats from surrounding peoples is all understood as the fruit of God’s work to bring restoration to His people.  Through every disaster and through ever moment of Israel’s rebellion against God, God has not given up on his promise to sustain his chosen people.  In light of God’s enduring faithfulness, His people are invited to turn to Him and renew a right relationship with God based on faithfulness to His covenant and commitment to relate only to Him.

Background Information

What happens between the time of Ezra & Nehemiah and the Gospels?

In October of 333 BC, Alexander the Great defeats the king of the Persian empire, establishing Alexander and the Greeks as the dominant power in the known world.  Ten years later, when Alexander dies, a great struggle for control of his expansive empire begins.  During this struggle, Judah is invaded numerous times by competing factions seeking to gain control of as much of Alexander’s realm as possible.  Eventually, the chaos will subside, and more positive aspects of the Greek empire – language, culture, philosophy – will begin to seep into the lands under Greek control, including Judah.  Many Jews will begin to focus on becoming citizens of a larger world, while others will find such efforts a threat to their identity as God’s people.  Judaism will enter into a time of struggle with forces without and within.  On one side, there will be those who argue that Judaism should adapt to a Hellenized world, while those on the other side will argue for rejecting such a world.  Those on this side of the argument will shift their focus to the Temple as a symbol of remaining distinct from the rest of the world.

In the 2nd century BC, the Hasmonean family will gain political and religious control of Judah, thanks in part to an alliance with the growing power that was Rome.  While the Hasmoneans will gain Judah independence from Greek political control, the substance of Greek influence will remain in place.  This will lead to the formation of three important groups in Judah that will become significant as we turn to the Gospels.

The first group was the Sadducees.  This group was made up of members of the priestly and wealthy class.  They supported the Hasmoneans and a more Hellenized culture.  At the same time, they were committed to the ancient symbols of the king and the Temple.  They compared the Hasmoneans to King David, and they looked to the Scriptures to root their new Greek experience.

The second group that formed during this time was the Essenes.  They were so horrified by the Hasmoneans and their Hellenistic influence that they withdrew completely from culture as a “new exodus.”  Living in their own communities like Qumram, the Essenes devoted themselves to the Scripture, looking forward to the renewal of a proper priestly order and the day when God would redeem Jerusalem and the Temple.

The third group that formed during this time was the Pharisees.  Like the Essenes, they devoted themselves to the Torah and to the strictest observance of the commandments.  The Pharisees were convinced that the Hasmoneans were bad and asked the Roman governor Pompey to remove the Hasmoneans from power.  They were certain that Judah was better off under the control of a foreign power than “bad Jews”.

In 63 BC, Pompey and the Romans entered Jerusalem and removed the last of the Hasmoneans from power.  Pompey and his troops entered the Temple, to the Holy of Holies.  However, they did not destroy or maim it in any way.  In 42 BC, after Augustus and Antony take control of the Roman empire, they place Herod in control of Judah.  Herod will undertake many building projects, including a complete renovation of the Temple.  It is this structure, far grander than the one Zerubbabel rebuilt in the book of Ezra, that we will encounter in the Gospels.


Week 20 – The Queen of Beauty and Courage

Scripture Reading:  Esther 1-9

Key Moments in The Story:

Esther chosen by King Ahasuerus to be the new queen – Esther 2

Haman hatches a plan to kill all the Jews – Esther 3

Mordecai warns Esther of Haman’s plan – Esther 4

Esther reveals Haman’s plot to the king – Esther 7

Inauguration of the Feast of Purim – Esther 9

Key Themes:

Providence (?)

Esther is unusual in the Bible because the name of God appears nowhere in the entire book.  As a matter of fact, there is little dealing directly with religion and faith in the entire book.  However, the entire story is centered around the theme that circumstances align to insure that the right people are in the right places at the right time to insure the well-being of the Jewish people.  One could argue that, though God is absent on the surface, the story details the working out of God’s covenant of blessing upon Israel in the face of a tremendous threat.

At the same time, though, we can also perhaps hear in the book of Esther a warning against reading the hand of God into every act.  Chapters 8-9 detail an almost farcical situation.  Even though Haman, the originator of the plot against the Jews, has been killed, the king’s order to all the cities in his kingdom to kill all the Jews is still out there.  However, a king’s edict cannot be revoked.  The solution?  The king allows Mordecai to issue an edict in the king’s name permitting the Jews in every city to take up arms and kill any who try to kill them, including their wives and children, and to plunder all of their goods.  Esther 9:16 says that the Jews killed 75,000 people on that day.

We return to the first statement in this section:  nowhere in this book does the name of God appear.  The question we are left to ask is:  is this really the only response that was available?  What does it say that an all-powerful king can’t change his own order?  Again, nowhere in the book is God given any credit for any of what takes place.  Perhaps, the story of Esther is a story of warning:  to believe in a God who can do anything does not mean that God does everything.  Perhaps we should be hesitant about reading God’s will and God’s action into every moment and event.

The Feast of Purim

There are many who believe that the story of Esther was originally told to explain the origins of the Feast of Purim, a Jewish festival which, though still celebrated today, has no root in the Mosaic law as the other feasts and celebrations do.  The festival, even as it is described in Esther 9, has no overt connection to the action or purposes of God.  Instead, it was intended to be a festival celebrating the Jews deliverance from Haman’s plot by the actions of Esther and Mordecai.  The term Purim comes from a Babylonian root word meaning “lot”, as in the lot of chance that Haman cast to determine what day would be the day when all the Jews would be slaughtered.  As in several cases in the book of Esther, there is an irony here – the day of the Jews’ destruction becomes the day of the Jews’ victory and deliverance.

Jews and Gentiles

The story of Esther is a very interesting story to read in light of the history of the Jewish people and the anti-Semitism that they would face throughout their history, even until today.  Though we most often think of the Holocaust in relation to anti-Semitism, history tells us that the Jewish people have been targeted for violence and persecution throughout the centuries. Esther’s story points to an ongoing historical reality, even though many believe that the story of Esther is more legendary than historical fact.  The question that Esther’s story raises is what relationship the Jews should have with Gentiles and, perhaps, a word of warning about future persecution by Gentiles.  Interestingly, the Apocrypha preserves a later Greek translation of the book of Esther which contains 107 additional verses.  In these additional texts, there is a very strong sentiment which some take to be a sense that God has chosen for Israel and against the nations.  The belief is that these later additions may represent a response to a particular time of persecution by neighboring Gentiles.  In any case, the story of Esther invites us to consider the often dark history of Jewish-Gentile relations and ask where we need to address misunderstandings and stereotypes that can lead to violence and hatred.

Irony and contrast

The book of Esther is ripe with all kinds of ironic and contrasting ideas.  For example, the king dismisses Queen Vashti as a warning that “every man should be master in his own house.”  However, the story of Esther is about the king gives in to the wishes of Haman, then Esther and Mordecai.  Vashti was to be an example of a woman’s “rightful place”, yet it is Haman’s wife who tells Haman to hang Mordecai from the gallows and it is Esther who is the lone spokesperson for her people.  Other such notable ironies will be pointed out in other places in this post.

Background Information

Ahasuerus – Esther 1:1

This is another name for King Xerxes I, who ruled a portion of the Persian Empire spanning from India to Ethiopia beginning in 485 B.C. until 464 B.C.

Susa – Esther 1:2

Susa was not the capital of Xerxes empire.  Instead, Susa was the king’s winter home, located about 200 miles northeast of Babylon.

Mordecai the Benjaminite and Haman the Agagite – Esther 2-3

It is not trivial information that we are told the tribal associations of Mordecai and Haman.  The term “Agagite” was probably a reference to King Agag, the Amalekite king that King Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, defeats in 1 Samuel 14:7-9.  The fact that Saul does not kill Agag after Samuel has told Saul that he must utterly destroy all of the Amalekites is one of the reasons why Saul ultimately loses the throne.  So perhaps the text is giving some justification why Mordecai will not honor Haman when he comes by.

Fasting – Esther 4:16

Fasting is the only seemingly religious activity mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, though it was certainly not exclusive to the Jewish people.  In the story, the call to fasting provides an ironic counterpoint to the elaborate feasts of the Persians, who in some cases got drunk to make decisions because they believed drunkeness allowed them to connect with a higher spiritual state.  The call to fast also stands in contrast to Mordecai’s call to feast in Esther 9 when the pogrom, or program of persecution against the Jews, has been put down.  In the Old Testament, fasting is often associated with prayer, though no such obvious connection is made in this situation.

Some Questions That Might Come Up

Why could Esther be killed for going to see the king without being invited?

The answer is relatively simple:  security.  If someone came to see the king without being invited by the king, it was assumed they represented a risk to the king and intended to do him harm.

Additional Resources



“One Night with the King” – the movie based on the story of Esther

Week 19 – The Return Home

Scripture Reading: Ezra 1-6; Haggai 1-2; Zechariah 1,8

Significant Moments in The Story
King Cyrus of Persia decrees Israelites can return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple – Ezra 1
The altar and Temple foundations are rebuilt – Ezra 3
The rebuilding of the Temple ceases in face of opposition – Ezra 4
The rebuilding process is resumed and completed – Ezra 6

Key Themes

Living in a new reality

The end of the exile in Babylon and the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem was a moment of joy and celebration to be sure, one that some perhaps believed they would never see.  However, those who returned are faced with the harsh reality that life in Israel will not be easy.  There will be rivalries with those peoples that now live in the surrounding region.  They are charged with not only rebuilding buildings but a nation and all that entails.  In addition, they have to rebuild the religious life of Israel, which during the exile has taken on a different appearance from before the exile.  This is perhaps marked best by the account of the laying of the foundations of the new Temple in Ezra 3.  The new Temple will be a smaller and less ornate structure from the one Solomon built.  This is a combination of factors, including fewer resources and a greater emphasis on the Temple as a house of prayer.  Some would see the beginning of the rebuilding of the Temple as a reason to celebrate, but some would see the outlines of what was to come as cause to lament what had been lost and what was different.  These accounts challenge us to consider how we confront theologically and faithfully those moments in life when we are forced to live by new realities that are not necessarily of our making or choosing.

Finish what you start

In Ezra 4, we are told that the rebuilding process of the Temple stops for a time due to pressure exerted on the Persian emperor by the neighboring peoples.  In response, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah rise up to encourage the people to take up the task of rebuilding the Temple.  Their messages shed light on another reality:  the struggle to run with perseverance the race that is before us until we reach its finish.  Challenges externally and internally rise up to pull the Israelites away from the task of rebuilding the Temple, just as we often are distracted from our work by external pressures and internal fears or desires.  The prophets encourage the people see to completion the work they had begun in God’s name.


Background Information

“… in order that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished …” – Ezra 1:1

In Jeremiah 29:10, as part of his letter to those who are already in exile in Babylon, Jeremiah says, “For thus says the LORD:  Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”

Cyrus orders the Temple to be rebuilt – Ezra 1:2-4

Cyrus was known to be interested in restoring local temples.  It should be noted that his understanding of God is that he is the God of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:3).

“Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do …” – Ezra 4:2

After the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel and carried the people off into exile, they resettled the land with peoples from other conquered nations.  Eventually, these peoples began to worship Yahweh, but they also worshiped other gods that they brought with them.  This synthesis of religious beliefs and the mixing of other nations into the land of the north would lead those who had returned from exile in Babylon to identify themselves as the only true Israel.  They refuse the offer of help, believing that permission to rebuild the Temple was given exclusively to them by King Cyrus.  In response, the “people of the land” would seek to stop both the rebuilding of the Temple and the wall around Jerusalem to keep the returned exiles vulnerable.

This history is the root of the Jewish-Samaritan animosity that will be evident during the time of Jesus.


The prophet Haggai’s career was relatively short, spanning from August to December of the year 520 B.C.  Haggai’s primary focus was to call the people to finish the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Haggai 2:10-19 is believed to be a speech that Haggai made on the day that the cornerstone of the foundation was laid.  In this speech, Haggai marks the importance of beginning the work of rebuilding the Temple.  Haggai explains that the beginning of the work marks a turn of Israel away from guilt and abandonment of God to a time of blessing and restored relationship.

As part of that time of blessing, Haggai envisions a restored monarchy with Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah who led the rebuilding effort, as God’s chosen one to be king (Haggai 2:20-23).  This passage reminds us that the returned exiles not only were struggling with rebuilding buildings but trying to determine what would be the best order of rule and governing themselves.  Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai, will have a slightly different idea.


Zechariah’s prophetic ministry seems to have spanned about 2 years.  Like Haggai, Zechariah portrays the effort of rebuilding the Temple as a turn in Israel’s relationship with God (Zechariah 8:9-13).  However, though there is much that Zechariah and Haggai share in unison, Zechariah’s message does take a unique shape.

For one, Zechariah envisions that, in the new day of God’s blessing, the high priest will be the king of the people, specifically Joshua (Zechariah 6:9-13).  There seems to be some indication of two rulers sharing power (Zechariah 6:13), leading some to wonder if originally Zechariah envisioned Zerubbabel crowned king, sharing power with the high priest Joshua.  Whatever the case, Zechariah’s description of governance in the new day of blessing is different from the one described by Haggai.

Zechariah’s message also includes an atmosphere of welcoming of other nations (Zechariah 8:20-23).  This will present an interesting contrast to the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah that we will look at next week.


Week 18 – Daniel in Exile

Scripture Readings:  Jeremiah 29-31; Daniel 1-3, 6

Significant Moments in “The Story”

God promises both that the exile will be lengthy but that Israel will return – Jeremiah 29

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – Daniel 3

Daniel in the lion’s den – Daniel 6

Key Themes

How to live in exile

In Jeremiah 29, God tells the people of Judah to build homes and raise families in Babylon because their stay there will be lengthy.  It seems that there were some prophets who were telling those who had been carried into exile that their stay in Babylon would be brief.  Jeremiah, still in Jerusalem at the time, sends those already a Babylon a letter assuring them that several generations will pass before the exile ends.  Now, separated both from the land that God had given to them and from the Temple where they worshiped and where they understood God’s presence to be centered, the exiles are faced with a challenging question:  can we still be God’s people when everything we have associated with that identity has been taken away?  The prophetic message of Jeremiah and the stories of Daniel paint a picture of what it would now mean to be God’s chosen people in exile.


Both Jeremiah and Daniel (Jeremiah 30-31, Daniel 2) see a time when the kingdom that has taken Israel captive will be no more.  The people of Israel needed to know that, though their sin had led to these dire events, God had not forsaken them.  The day would come when He would take them out of this foreign land and return them to their homes.  Israel would not disappear from the earth.  Their messages also served to put the reign of the Babylonians in perspective.  Though they were a dominating force now, they would not remain so.  The “big baddies” were not as big and invulnerable as they would be tempted to think.

Background Information

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce” – Jeremiah 29:5

Though it might be tempting to equate the exile with life in Egypt prior to the Exodus, the picture that we see in Scripture of exilic life would defy such comparisons.  The Biblical witness and historical evidence indicates that those who lived in exile in Babylon were given quite a bit of freedom, which included the freedom to build homes, make a living, and to continue to worship the God of Israel.  The understanding remained, however, that the people now belonged to the Babylonian Empire and were not independent.  However, we see several incidents of Israelites given responsibility and power within the Babylonian empire, including King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27-30) and Daniel (Daniel 2, 6).  The primary struggle of the exile was thus not necessarily forced labor or harsh punishment by taskmasters.  Instead, the primary concern of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel would focus on how to maintain their unique identity as God’s people in a foreign land surrounded by an alien culture where the temptation to assimilate would be great.

“Because you have said, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon’…” – Jeremiah 29:15

The exile to Babylon took place in at least 2, if not 3, stages.  The first stage took place in 597 BC, and it seems that the prophet Jeremiah was among those left behind in Judah.  Word seems to have gotten to him that there were prophets in Babylon who were telling the exiles there that their stay in Babylon would be short.  Jeremiah 29 contains a letter that Jeremiah sends to the exiles in Babylon to let them know that these prophets are not speaking the word of God.

A new covenant – Jeremiah 31:31-34

Our Christian Bibles are divided into two sections that we have come to call the Old Testament and the New Testament.  These identifications came in part out of the interpretation of this passage from Jeremiah by Paul and other Christian authors (2 Corinthians 3, Hebrews 8).  An interesting question to ask here, though, is to look at Jeremiah’s words on their own and ask the question what is “new”?  As we have already seen, the concepts of grace and forgiveness have certainly been central to the relationship of God with Israel to this point.  And there have been several references in the prophets to Israel’s need to understand that a right relationship with God is about more than ritual and obedience.  It would seem that Jeremiah is pointing to a work of God to transform our hearts and wills to make us more obedient and receptive to God’s love, issues that we have seen as great struggles in the story of Scripture so far.  What does this mean, how is this accomplished (especially as we consider the story of Christ), and how does this impact our understanding of “the old covenant”?


“The book of Daniel is arguably the most unusual book of the Hebrew Bible” (Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 7, p. 19).

To understand why this statement is true, we must first understand that there is a great amount of discussion over how to read Daniel in the first place.  Is it actual history or is it a reinterpreting of other stories and events in a different time period?

The actual authorship of the book of Daniel is dated to some time around the 2nd century BC, some 400 years after the Babylonian exile.  As far as the person of Daniel, Ezekiel contains two references to a Daniel or Danel (Ezekiel 14:14, 28:3).  Some believe, based on these references, that Daniel was a pre-exilic figure, perhaps even dating back to before Israel’s entry into the Promised Land after the Exodus, who was known for his righteousness and wisdom.  This theory speculates that the stories of this early Daniel were translated into the context of the Babylonian exile for the purpose of offering hope to later generations.

But which generations was this book to offer hope to?  Though it is set in the time period of the Babylonian exile, its authorship is dated several centuries later.  The book of Daniel may have been written not to a community in exile in Babylon, but instead to a Jewish community that was facing persecution under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, a successor to Alexander the Great’s rule.  After Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, he began a movement to “Hellenize” the cultures of the lands he conquered, imposing Greek culture and language on the peoples, including the Jewish peoples.  In the years after Alexander’s death, his empire would be divided, and the Jews in Jerusalem would face various levels of pressure to accommodate to Greek culture.  Most significantly, Antiochus Epiphanes, between 167 and 164, would take drastic measures to force Greek ways onto the Jewish people.  These methods included forbidding Jewish religious practices, mandating the Jews to offer pagan sacrifices,  and erecting an altar to Zeus in the Temple.  The stories that we read of Daniel and his friends would strike a strong chord among the Jewish people during these events.

The book of Daniel is identified as apocalyptic literature, the only such literature of its kind in the Old Testament.  While we hear a term like “apocalyptic” and assume that it means the end of the world, this is not a fair understanding of apocalyptic literature.  It is better to describe apocalyptic literature as writing that is intended to give hope to a community during troubled times.  Using symbols and signs, apocalyptic literature is actually more concerned with interpreting current history than necessarily predicting future events, though a key component of apocalyptic literature is a message about the future as a time when the community’s tribulations and sorrows give way to victory and peace.  The book of Revelation in the New Testament is another example of apocalyptic literature.

When one reads the book of Daniel, there are two very clear divisions in the book.  Chapters 1-6 contain stories of Daniel and his friends, righteous and wise, remaining faithful under pressure to assimilate to the ways of Babylon.  These stories paint a clear picture of the value of faithfulness.  Chapters 7-12 contain a series of 4 visions in which the present and future are interpreted to assure the community that their time of struggle will not last and that God will ultimately be victorious over those who would seek to defy Him.

Though the book of Daniel may not have been written during the exile or written for an exilic community, it’s setting during the Babylonian exile is intentional and helps us to understand that the greatest threat that the exilic community faced was not necessarily bondage or persecution but the threat of losing their unique identity as a nation and as the people of God.  This threat would remain for Israel long after they had returned from Babylon.

Darius the Mede – Daniel 6

Though history tells us that there were several who claimed the name of King Darius, these kings were Persian kings, not Median kings.  The first foreign king to rule over the Babylonian empire was Cyrus, who allowed the Jewish people to return home.  Thus, it is difficult to place the exact identity of Darius the Mede or his place in the timeline of rulers of Babylon.


Additional Resources

Week 17 – The Kingdoms’ Fall

Scripture Reading:  2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 33; 2 Kings 23-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 1-2, 4-5, 13, 21; Lamentations 1-3, 5; Ezekiel 1-2, 6-7, 36-37

Significant Moments in The Story

The reign of Manasseh – 2 Kings 21, 2 Chronicles 33

Josiah’s reforms – 2 Kings 22-23

The fall of Jerusalem and the first deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 24

Jerusalem utterly destroyed and the final deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36

Key Themes

Worse than the Canaanites

The 55 year reign of King Manasseh in Judah is viewed as perhaps the darkest moment in Judah’s history.  According to 2 Chronicles 33:9, under Manasseh the Israelites “… did more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the people of Israel.”  In Joshua, God had said that part of the reason He was giving the Promised Land to the Israelites was because of the wickedness of the people who had lived in the land up until that point.  Now, Israel has become even more wicked than those they took the land over for.  The Biblical narrative paints a very dark picture of how deep Israel’s sin is, so deep that not even the righteous reforms of Josiah can make a difference in the long term.  The destruction of Jerusalem and Judah is thus portrayed as a punishment consistent with that which God had handed down on the peoples who inhabited the land before the Israelites.

Exile, a time of lament and a time of hope

The Babylonian exile was as transformative a moment in Israel’s history as the Exodus.  However, whereas the Exodus was a moment of celebration and victory, exile would be a moment of great pain and suffering.  That pain would be physical (great loss of life and destruction of poverty), emotional (great sorrow among all the people), and spiritual (a feeling of being cut off from God).  The words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the two primary prophets associated with this period, contain both messages of the harshness of Israel’s plight and the hope that did remain even in the face of great suffering.  In many ways, the exile takes place within the shadow of the Exodus – God will not allow His people to remain in captivity to this foreign nation.

Background Information

Josiah’s reform – 2 Kings 22-23

Josiah was the grandson of King Manasseh, the worst of the kings to sit on the throne of Judah according to Scripture.  In 2 Kings 22, we are told that a rebuilding and restoration of the Temple is under way under King Josiah’s reign.  During the work, “the book of the law” is found, probably a copy of the book of Deuteronomy.  This is brought before King Josiah and read.  According to 2 Kings 22, Josiah’s weeps as the book is read, which calls for curses to be upon Israel if they are unwilling to follow all the commands of God.  This instigates the reforms that Josiah carries out in 2 Kings 23.  Interestingly enough, the “reward” for Josiah’s repentance and his efforts to restore obedience in righteousness is that he will not be alive when the curses that are coming take place.

The exile to Babylon

The fall of Jerusalem and Judah took place in stages.  We believe that the date of the events of 2 Kings 24 take place around 597 BC.  At this time, much of the wealth within the Temple was carried off and most of the royal officers and military leaders were carried into exile.  Those that remained in Judah were ruled over by Zedekiah, the uncle of King Jehoiachin who was appointed to rule as a governor of the King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Eventually Zedekiah revolted against the Babylonians, bringing a follow up attack on Judah in 587 BC, which resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the remaining inhabitants carried off into exile.


General Introduction to Each Book

 The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel deal with roughly the same time period, namely the time before and after the fall of Jerusalem. While Jeremiah remains in Jerusalem until the final fall of Jerusalem in 587/6, Ezekiel seems to have gone into exile after the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 597.


1) Jeremiah


  • Literature of Trauma
    • The structure of the book is disjointed and difficult to discern
      • One scholar has suggested that this reflects the fracturing of memory that results from trauma
    • Lots of emotions! Jeremiah laments and complains, as do God and the people
    • The book does not offer one clear explanation of why the exile happened but instead tries out several explanations
  • Form of Jeremiah
    • The book of Jeremiah developed over time; it has been added to by different people and communities as an ongoing reflection on the exile
  • The prophetic persona
    • The book of Jeremiah is unusual for its amount of attention to Jeremiah himself. The book includes biographical prose sections as well as autobiographical laments and poetry.


2) Ezekiel


  • In contrast to Jeremiah, Ezekiel has a clear literary structure (1-24, 25-32 and 33-48) and seems to have been created as a unified book
  • Ezekiel is a very different prophet than Jeremiah; whereas Jeremiah shows lots of emotions, Ezekiel shows next to none
  • The book includes a lot of sign acts and fantastical visions
    • Sign acts (which also appear in Jeremiah) are times when God commands the prophet to do something, then explains the meaning of the action (for example, Ezekiel paints Jerusalem on the side of a brick, then destroys the brick)
    • Visions: Ezekiel’s visions include wheels with eyes, living creatures with many faces, and lots of lightening. Though strange to us, Ezekiel uses visions to interpret history in light of God’s glory
    • Ezekiel also has a long vision that focuses on the restoration of the temple that should put you in mind of the description of the tabernacle in Exodus




Questions to consider for study of Jeremiah 18:


Who are the characters?

What is the setting?

Who says what?

Are there clear units in the writing? How would you break it up?

Can you see any repeated words or themes?

Does this passage call to mind other parts of the Book of Jeremiah?

What questions do you have about the passage?


Jeremiah 18:1-12


  1. The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2. “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3. So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
  2. Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6. Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LO RD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8. but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10. but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. 12. But they say, “It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”

Week 15 – God’s Messengers

Scripture Reading:  1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 2, 4, 6; Amos 1, 3-5, 9; Hosea 4-5, 8-9, 14

Significant Moments in The Story

Elijah challenges Baal and his prophets on Mt. Carmel – 1 Kings 18:17-40

God reveals Himself to Elijah on Mt. Horeb – 1 Kings 19

Elijah carried up by the chariot of fire – 2 Kings 2

Elisha saves Israel from attack from Aram – 2 Kings 6

Key Themes

A chain of bad kings in Israel

After Solomon’s death and the split of the nation of Israel into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Biblical narrative becomes an interweaving of stories of the reigns of the kings in the two kingdoms.  Each king is judged within the Scripture based on their own faithfulness to God and how they lead the people to worship the one God.  The kings of the northern kingdom of Israel are judged most harshly, beginning with Jeroboam, who built golden calves for his people to worship so that they would not travel to Judah and Jerusalem to worship.  After Jeroboam came Nadab (1 Kings 15:25-31), Baasha (1 Kings 15:32-16:6), Elah (1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20), Omri (1 Kings 16:21-28), and Ahab, who is prominent in the stories of Elijah.  Under each king, Israel grows more and more distant from God, causing God to call out individuals to bring messages of conviction and warning to the kings and to the people.

The prophets

Though we have seen other individuals (such as Samuel and Nathan) who have been identified as prophets, Elijah is the first of what might be considered the prophetic movement that makes up such a large part of the Old Testament.  Whereas earlier prophets seemed to have strong connections with the king and his court, Elijah and those prophets that follow after him often stand outside of the royal palace with a message not only for the king but for all of the people.  We often associate the message of the prophets with predictions of the future.  However, the main theme of the prophets was to point out Israel’s sins, to express God’s anger at Israel’s unfaithfulness, and to call Israel back to a right relationship with God before their choices led to horrible consequences.  As opposed to the former prophets who were often welcomed into the king’s presence, many of the prophets like Elijah and those who followed after him would be rejected and even hunted by the kings who sat on the throne.


Background Information


Very little is known about Elijah prior to his abrupt introduction in 1 Kings 17:1.  We know that he was from Gilead in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  How he came to be called as a prophet is unknown.  His prophetic work took place during the reigns of King Ahab and his son Ahaziah.

Elijah’s prophetic ministry centered on combating the worship of Baal in Israel.  This particular Baal worship, according to 1 Kings, had been introduced into Israel by Ahab’s wife Jezebel, who was from Tyre.  According to 2 Kings 10:18, Ahab offered Baal “small service”, perhaps indicating that he did not completely abandon the worship of Yahweh.  The Anchor Bible Dictionary points out that all 3 of Ahab’s sons’ names contained a form of the divine name of Yahweh.  However, he clearly allowed and participated in the worship of other gods besides Yahweh, a direct breaking of the covenant.  In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah asks the people, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?”  Elijah’s prophetic message was centered on proclaiming that Yahweh was the one and only God.  Perhaps the best summary of his teaching comes in the prayer he prays on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:36:  “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest.  A famine has existed over the land for some time as punishment for Israel’s lack of complete devotion to God.  Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to meet him on top of Mt. Carmel to see whose god can bring fire down upon on altar for a sacrifice.  The challenge is intended to not only reveal God’s superiority but to reveal the foolishness of any other god.  Indeed, the portrayal of the prophets of Baal is comical, and Elijah himself mocks them and Baal.  In short, Elijah is trying to reveal the idiocy of following any god other than Yahweh, the God of Israel.

In 2 Kings 2:11, we are told that Elijah is carried into heaven by a whirlwind.  Because Elijah did not die, over time an expectation grew that Elijah would someday return.  The prophet Malachi would give voice to this expectation in Malachi 4:5-6, when he announced that God would send Elijah before the day of the LORD.  When Elijah came, Malachi said, he would cause the people to repent and turn back to God.  This expectation of Elijah’s return would become an integral part of the gospel accounts of Jesus, as Elijah is seen on the mount of Transfiguration and John the Baptist is identified with Elijah.



In 1 Kings 19, a depressed Elijah meets with God on top of Mt. Horeb.  There God gives Elijah instructions, which includes anointing Elisha as his successor.  It is Elisha who will ultimately carry out the instructions that God gives to Elijah.

Elisha seems to have come from wealth, based on what we read in 1 Kings 19:19-21.  The fact that he had twelve oxen and that he throws a lavish feast for the people of his town before he leaves with Elijah indicates that he was from a family of means in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Elisha’s prophetic work begins at the end of the reign of King Ahab and spans the reigns of Ahaziah, Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash.  All of these kings except for Jehu are remembered as evil for failing to turn to the worship of the one God.  Jehu is praised for wiping out the worship of Baal from Israel.  However, he failed to tear down the golden calves that King Jeroboam had built.

Though we see Elijah perform several miracles, the Biblical account of Elisha focuses heavily on the miracles that he performs.  Many of the miracles are miracles of provision or healing, revealing God as caring about the needs of people – providing for the family of the Shunammite woman, removing the poison from a pot of stew, feeding a town facing famine, curing an Aramean general, even recovering an ax head lost in the river.  Elisha’s miracles make all the more heartbreaking the overall turning from God that we see taking place under each of the kings of Israel.  While God’s heart is open to his people, their hearts are becoming more closed to God and to His prophet Elisha.

As a prophet, Elisha also instigates the revolution that would ultimately take down the family of Ahab.  In 2 Kings 9, Elisha sends a young prophet to anoint Jehu, a commander in the army, as the new king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Following this event, Jehu leads a revolt that kills King Joram (son of Ahab) of Israel, King Ahaziah of Judah, and Jezebel.  As Samuel and Nathan before him and as Isaiah and Jeremiah after him, Elisha stands as a prophet whose message is not just a spoken word but taking an active part in shaping Israel’s history according to the will of God.



Jeroboam II would follow Joash to the throne of Israel.  His reign in Israel would be long and peaceful, and Israel would know expansion and prosperity that it would never know again in its history under Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-27).  Many within Israel seem to have interpreted this peace and prosperity as a sign of God’s favor, perhaps because they have given extravagant support to the official worship of Yahweh.

Amos was a shepherd from the small Judean village of Tekoa who God calls to come to the Northern Kingdom with a message of denunciation.  The two primary themes of Amos’ message are justice and righteousness – “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  When Amos speaks of righteousness, he is speaking of the willingness to act with benevolence towards another person. Justice is, therefore, the willingness of a society to treat all people with righteousness, not just a few.  According to Amos, righteousness and justice are lacking in Israel, a sign that they are failing to live up to the expectations of a people in a covenant relationship with God (Amos 3:1-2).  Amos lays a harsh blame upon the priests of Israel, believing that the worship life of Israel is calling the people to complacency rather than righteousness and justice (Amos 4:1-5).

Amos mentions specifically Bethel and Gilgal as the root of Israel’s sins (Amos 4:4, 5:5).  Bethel and Gilgal had special significance for Israel’s covenant relationship with God.  Bethel was where God appeared to Jacob in a dream and promised to give him the land on which he slept (the vision of the heavenly stairway, Genesis 28:13).  Gilgal was where Joshua and the children of Israel established a monument of 12 stones to remind later generations that God had dried up the waters of the Jordan River so that Israel could cross into the Promised Land (Joshua 4:20-24).  These two places had become centers for the worship for God, yet it seems that the worship that is taking place there is not worship that calls the people to be God’s people.  The issue for Amos is not so much the worship of other gods as worship that does not provoke the justice and righteousness that should be expected of God’s people.



Though Hosea’s ministry probably took place simultaneous to or soon after the prophetic ministry of Amos, the circumstances of his ministry and message are very different.  Unlike Amos, Hosea was from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Little is known about Hosea’s personal life other than the details of his marriage and children that are a part of his prophetic message.  While he addresses Israel’s worship life as Amos did, his concern is much more for the rituals of worship.

Hosea’s message is filled with language of sexuality, prostitution, and adultery.  This is very intentional, as Hosea is proclaiming that Israel, in how it worships, is betraying God (Hosea 4:1).  The problem may not be the worship of gods other than Yahweh; instead, it seems that Israel is trying to worship God with rituals taken from the worship of Baal, including temple prostitution and drunken orgies (Hosea 4:10-14).

Though the promise of grace and restoration is not unique to Hosea, it is perhaps most eloquently stated by Hosea.  The language of betrayal and adultery conveys both the depth of God’s anger (Hosea 11:1-7, 13:1-16) and the power when that anger relents because of God’s love (Hosea 11:8-11, 14:1-9).  Hosea’s message is that mankind’s sin does not wipe away God’s eternal love.


Some Questions That Might Come Up

What is it exactly that is taking place on Mt. Horeb in 1 Kings 19?

Elijah is fleeing for his life from Jezebel, who has sworn to kill him after he slaughters the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).  Elijah is praying and asking God to kill him.  Instead, God gives him something to eat and drink and tells him to go to Mt. Horeb to meet with Him.

On the mountain, Elijah is told that the LORD is going to appear to him.  Soon after, there is a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but the Scripture says the LORD was not present in any of these events.  This is significant because these occurrences were often signs of God’s presence. In Genesis 1:2, we are told that a “wind from God” moved over the face of the waters.  In Exodus 3, the burning bush is a sign of God’s presence before Moses.  In Exodus 19:18, Mt. Sinai shakes and trembles as God appears to Israel on the mountain.  That none of these indicates the presence of God is defying of expectation and a cue that we need to keep alert for God’s presence to show up in new and unexpected ways.

Depending on what translation you are reading, Elijah next hears either “a still small voice” or “the sound of sheer silence”.  The second translation is the more accurate translation of the Hebrew; however, the text would indicate to us that Elijah hears something.  It could be that it was a gentle whisper or perhaps the text is indicating that what Elijah hears is what we could describe as “the calm after the storm”.  In any case, the text is contrasting the roar and loudness of the wind, earthquake and fire with the stillness that now follows and is the indicator of God’s presence.

This text refuses to lock us in to only looking for God in certain ways and actions.  God can work and appear in the grand, majestic and loud or in the still, hushed and quiet.


Additional Resources

http://www.vtaide.com/gleanings/Kings-of-Israel/kings.html – a listing of the kings of Israel and Judah

Week 14 – A Kingdom Torn in Two

Scripture Readings:  1 Kings 12-16

Major Themes


Right Worship

Tearing down of “high places”

Idolatry (Golden Calves, Asherim)


Political Struggle

Jeroboam v Rehoboam

Israel v Judah


Obedience to/Fulfillment of God’s Word


Man of God


Man of God


          Who is this man of God? (13:1)

          “Alter, Alter!” – Why does he prophecy against the alter, and not against Jeroboam? (v2)

Where does he go wrong? (v21)


Jeroboam’s Downfall/Israel’s Downfall


  • Jeroboam as fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy (1 Samuel 8:10-22) – representative of the failure of the kings to bring lasting peace
  • Jeroboam’s parallels with Saul and David
    • Loss God’s favor (11:31, 14:7f)
    • Loss of child (14:17)

Week 13 – The King Who Had It All

Scripture Reading:  1 Kings 1-8, 10-11; 2 Chronicles 5-7; Proverbs 1-3, 6, 20-21

Significant Moments in The Story

Solomon anointed as King David’s successor – 1 Kings 1

The death of King David – 1 Kings 2

The wisdom of Solomon – 1 Kings 3

Solomon’s building programs – 1 Kings 5-7, 2 Chronicles 5-7

The dedication of the Temple – 1 Kings 8

Solomon’s failures – 1 Kings 11

Key Themes

Sacred space

The building and dedication of the Temple is the defining achievement of Solomon’s reign as king.  We are given tremendous details about the ornateness and grandeur of the Temple structure.  However, we cannot forget that the importance of the Temple was understood not in the building materials but in the belief that the Temple was where God lived and ruled.  The space of the Temple captured the idea that God intends to dwell among His people.  As we move forward, we will see that there will be times where the space itself or the rituals that take place in it will seem to become more important than the understanding of the presence of God.  Today, we can struggle with making our church buildings or our church programs more important than communion with the living God.  In his words of dedication, Solomon reminded the people that the Temple was for those who had sinned, those who are sinned against, those who have experienced loss, those who are experiencing trials, those who are strangers, and those who find themselves embattled.  It is for them not because of the building itself but because it provides an opportunity for individuals and the community to come and pour their hearts out to God.  It is space to worship and praise the Creator of the universe for His sake, not for the sake of the building.


Solomon is still remembered today as wise.  However, what is meant by “the wisdom of Solomon”?  There are various understandings of wisdom that we see in Solomon’s story.  On the one hand, we see Solomon display wisdom in terms of his ability to consolidate his power as a king and form important alliances.  Solomon shows shrewdness, cunning, and the ability to build relationships that bring fortune and glory to Israel.  He also seems to be a good administrator, overseeing a tremendous building campaign that results in the Temple, a royal home, as well as several other structures.  In addition, he efficiently organizes a kingdom larger than any ruler in Israel has ever known and proves to be a good adjudicator of legal cases.

A second understanding of wisdom emerges from the Proverbs, traditionally associated with Solomon.  In short, wisdom here is defined as the ability to seek out God and His work in everyday life and apply the truths of God and His word so that one lives in faithfulness and righteousness.  One could argue that Solomon’s excellence in the first area of wisdom ultimately compromised his wisdom in this second area.

“Except that…”

1 Kings 3:3 says, “Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.”  Solomon’s life is a reminder that faithfulness is not a goal where our objective should be anything less than 100% success.  God’s righteousness is not defined by being good and holy most of the time.  Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:19, 48).


Background Information

Adonijah’s claim to the throne – 1 Kings 1:5-2:25

It would seem, by age, that Adonijah is the presumptive heir to the throne.  Adonijah was born to David during that time when Saul was seeking to kill David.  Adonijah was the fourth son born to David during this time.  The oldest son, Amnon, was killed by Absalom because of his rape of Tamar.  We know nothing of David’s second son other than the mention of his birth in 2 Samuel 3:3 and 1 Chronicles 3:1.  Some suggest he may have died in childhood.  The third son, Absalom, was killed by Joab after he rose in revolt against David.

It is interesting that, unlike David and Saul, Solomon is raised up to the throne seemingly less by divine decree or prophetic act and more by political intrigue and manipulation.  There seems to have been some uncertainty as to who exactly was the rightful heir, and Adonijah decides to start acting like the king so as to remove any rival claimants to the throne.  However, Nathan and Bathsheba act quickly to have the people proclaim Solomon the king.

In response to Nathan and Bathsheba’s plotting, Adonijah seeks to claim the throne in a more roundabout way.  Using Bathsheba as his go-between, Adonijah asks that Abishag the Shunammite, a nurse and concubine to David, be given to him as his wife.  Solomon sees through the request, though, as an attempt by Adonijah to identify himself as the successor to David in marriage and thus on the throne.

The high places – 1 Kings 3:2

The high places were local shrines or altars.  In the Old Testament, the high places will be associated with the worship of other gods, though at this point we should not necessarily assume such a connection.  It is possible that some of these local shrines were being used to worship Israel’s God but were shrines left over from the Canaanite peoples who inhabited the land before Israel and who worshiped other gods.  In 1 Kings 11:7-8, we are told that Solomon built “high places”, or altars, to the foreign gods that were worshiped by his wives.

Solomon’s governors – 1 Kings 4:7-19

Up until now, the indication is that the tribal leaders served as local governors in the different regions of Israel.  However, Solomon relies on his own appointed governors to manage the regions of the country, and these governors did not necessarily have any tribal connections to the regions to which they were appointed.  Each region was required to provide food for the king and his household for one month out of the year.  It was the governor’s responsibility to insure that each region provided what was expected.  There is some speculation that this organization and taxation may have contributed to the civil unrest at the end of Solomon’s reign.  Another contributing factor may have been the forced labor that Solomon used for his grand building programs (1 Kings 5:13)

How long did it take? – 1 Kings 6:38-7:1

It is interesting to note that Solomon took 7 years to build the Temple and thirteen to build his palace.  The Temple was built so close to the palace that there is some speculation that Solomon was attempting to make the Temple an annex of the palace, symbolizing that the religious life of Israel was under the control of the king.

Solomon’s wives – 1 Kings 11:1-3

Solomon is perhaps as known for his numerous wives as he is his wisdom.  700 wives?  300 concubines?  It should be noted that royal marriages in ancient times were often as much about politics as anything else.  It was not unusual for a king to give his daughter in marriage to another king as a sign of peace and agreement between the two countries.  Thus, Solomon’s large number of wives may say more about his ability as a head of state than anything else.  However, the Deuteronomic author of 1 Kings clearly believes that the reason for the troubles at the end of Solomon’s reign are to be found in his intermarriage with foreign women and his providing for the worship of foreign gods within Israel.


The book of Proverbs has traditionally been attributed to Solomon based on 1 Kings 4:32 as well as references within the book of Proverbs itself.  While it is certainly likely that many of these proverbs came from the time of Solomon, not necessarily all of the contents of the book are to be attributed to Solomon and some clearly came from later times, perhaps even after the Babylonian exile.

The book of Proverbs is part of what is often called the Wisdom tradition, which focuses on coping with daily experiences.  Other books associated with the Wisdom tradition include Job and Ecclesiastes.  In the case of Proverbs, the emphasis is on understanding through observation and learning how faith is made manifest in day to day life.  The Proverbs echo in many ways a Deuteronomic mindset:  righteousness leads to happiness, evil leads to suffering.  However, the proverbs are designed specifically to be teaching tools used by older parents/teachers to instruct young people.


Week 12 – The Trials of a King

Scripture Reading:  2 Samuel 11-12, 18-19; 1 Chronicles 22, 29; Psalms 23, 32, 51

Significant Moments in The Story:

David’s affair with Bathsheba – 2 Samuel 11

The prophet Nathan confronts David about his affair with Bathsheba – 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Psalm 51

The birth of Solomon – 2 Samuel 12:24-25

The rape of David’s daughter Tamar by David’s son Amnon – 2 Samuel 13:1-22

David’s son Absalom kills Amnon and flees – 2 Samuel 13:23-36

Absalom leads a revolt against David and usurps the throne – 2 Samuel 15

Absalom’s revolt is put down and Absalom is killed – 2 Samuel 18

The death of David – 1 Kings 2, 1 Chronicles 29

Key Themes:

God knows our sins

David thought he had the perfect plan to cover up his affair with Bathsheba.  However, his plans and schemes could not hide his sin from God.  The prophet Samuel had said that God looks upon the heart.  That means that God not only sees our character, our faith, and our righteousness.  He also sees that sin which we have sought to hide and bury away, hoping nobody will ever find out about it.  When we read Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, we are reminded that God would rather we confess our sins to Him so that we can receive fully his forgiveness.  Unfortunately, we are too often like David, trying to hide our sin and thus running away from the very grace God wants to offer.

Forgiveness and consequences

In 2 Samuel 12:13-14, David repents of his sin and Nathan assures him that God has forgiven him.  However, God’s forgiveness does not protect David and his family from the consequences of David’s sin.  This theme will recur in the story of Absalom.  Absalom’s revolt is, in part, portrayed as a punishment of David’s affair with Bathsheba.  However, we could say that the revolt is perhaps even better understood as a consequence of another of David’s sins:  his unwillingness to punish his son Amnon for raping his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13).  Because David was unwilling to act and unwilling to protect his own daughter, Absalom’s own anger is allowed to grow until it results in murder and revolution.  This tragic family history is a solemn reminder that forgiveness may remove the guilt and eternal hold of sin from our lives but it does not necessarily mean that sin’s consequences are removed.

The joy of giving

1 Chronicles 29 tells us how David and other leaders gave willingly and freely of what they had to provide for the building of the Temple.  So many times, we think of our tithes and offerings as obligations and necessities.  1 Chronicles 29, though, describes the joy when we see giving not as what we have to do but what we have the blessing and opportunity to do.  Rather than thinking in terms of percentages and tax relief, our gifts and offerings that we bring each Sunday should be exuberant expressions of our love for God and our desire to see His glory revealed.

Background Information

“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle …” – 2 Samuel 11:1

It was typical for most military campaigns in the ancient Near East to take place before the harvest had arrived.  The place of a king was to be leading his armies into battle.  However, the story of David’s affair with Bathsheba begins with a problem:  David is not where he is supposed to be.  Rather than being on the battlefield, he is in Jerusalem.  He has sent his generals out into the field in his place.

Later in the story, we see one of the many problems with David not being where he is supposed to be.  In 2 Samuel 12:26-31, Joab sends word back to David that he is about to conquer the Ammonite capital of Rabbah.  Joab tells David that if he does not come out onto the battlefield with the rest of his armies, that Joab will go ahead and conquer the city and claim the victory as his own.   For David, who was on the good side of the crowds singing about Saul killing his thousands and David his ten thousands, this prospect opened a possibility of the people changing their allegiance to Joab away from him.  As we will see in the case of Absalom, allegiance to David as king was not absolute.

Uriah the Hittite

The Hittites were not Israelites but settlers from the north.  By the time of David, there were not many Hittites in the land, and those that remained took Hebrew names.

“… he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun” – 2 Samuel 12:11

When David’s son Absalom leads a revolution against David and claims the throne, Absalom takes David’s concubines up to the roof of David’s house and has sex with them in public (2 Samuel 16:20-23).  Absalom’s act is not only intended to be an insult to his father but also his way of laying claim to David’s throne by claiming the concubines as his own.  Here, in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan foretells this event and frames it as a part of the punishment of David’s affair with Bathsheba and his plan to cover it up.  David had tried to hide his disgrace, and so his punishment will be that his disgrace will be put before all the eyes of the people to see.

Shimei, Ziba, and Mephibosheth – 2 Samuel 19:16-30

These three men played interesting roles in David’s escape from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolution.

Shimei was a member of Saul’s family who followed David along the road during his escape from Absalom.  While he followed David, we are told he hurled stones and curses at David (2 Samuel 16:5-14).  When some of David’s troops offer to go kill him, David stops them, saying that he deserves what he is getting.  Later on, when David addresses Solomon before Solomon takes the throne, David instructs Solomon to see to it that Shimei is killed.

Mephibosheth was a son of Jonathan who was crippled.  Ziba was his servant.  After David took the throne, he wanted to be able to show some kind of kindness to Jonathan’s family.  When he found out about Mephibosheth, David gave him all of the land that had belonged to Saul and invited Mephibosheth to sit and dine at his table as one of David’s own sons (2 Samuel 9).  During Absalom’s revolt, Ziba meets David with food and wine.  When David asks Ziba where Mephibosheth is, Ziba claims that Mephibosheth has stayed behind in Jerusalem, celebrating David’s defeat and looking for an opportunity to reclaim his family’s throne.  David hastily announces that all that he had given to Mephibosheth now belongs to Ziba (2 Samuel 16:1-4).  As we read here, Mephibosheth claims upon David’s return that his intention had been to ride out to meet David himself but that Ziba had left him behind as a trick to undermine Mephibosheth in David’s eyes and claim Mephibosheth’s property as his own.

David’s preparations for the Temple – 1 Chronicles 22

Remember that David had intended to build a temple for God himself.  God, however, spoke through the prophet Nathan to tell David that his son would build the Temple, not David (1 Chronicles 17).  Though David is not allowed to build the Temple himself, he does take steps to insure that Solomon will have the materials, manpower, and leadership to get the task done.

Some Questions that May Come Up

Why do get the stories of David in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles?

Though the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles make up 6 total books of the Old Testament, they are probably best understood as only 2 different writings.  Samuel and Kings make up a continuous narrative of the period of the kings of Israel.  These books are written from a perspective that tends to be very critical of kingship and is heavily influenced by the Deuteronomic idea that faithfulness to God will lead to blessing while disobedience of God will result in curses upon the nation, the people, and the land.  The Chronicles seem to draw on material from Samuel and Kings as well as other sources to give a history of Israel from creation through the return from exile in Babylon.  However, the view of kingship, especially the portrayal of David and his dynasty, are much more positive.  In the Chronicles, David’s kingdom and the establishment of the Temple symbolizes the bond between God and Israel.  It should be noted that incidents like David’s affair with Bathsheba is described in 2 Samuel but appears nowhere in the book of Chronicles.

Why are Judah and Israel arguing in 2 Samuel 19?

After Absalom’s revolt is quashed and Absalom is dead, there is a period of uncertainty for David and for the people of his nation.  Is David the king again?  Do the people really want him back at all?  David wants to be asked back, to be welcomed by his people.  However, there are some, it seems, within the northern tribes of Israel (interestingly, where Saul was from) who seem uncertain whether David can lead them.  David asks the people of his own southern region of Judah to invite him back into the land and into power.  When they do, the people of the northern tribes of Israel cry that they are being slighted by being left out of the welcoming of David to power.

This story, though confusing, is setting up what will become the defining narrative of The Story following the reign of Solomon:  the split of the united kingdom of Israel into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  The split will take place in part because of rival claims to the throne and rival claims to the appropriate center of the worship of God.  However, we see this rivalry in its early stages in 2 Samuel 19.  David had been very wise in how he had managed and unified the various tribes of Israel into one kingdom.  For example, his selection of Jerusalem as the capital of the nation and the home for the ark of the covenant was inspired.  Jerusalem had not previously been inhabited by any Israelites, but by the foreign nation of the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5).  Thus, when David conquered the city and made it his capital, it had no affiliation with any one tribe or region.  It’s central location only contributed to an understanding that there was no favoritism in the choice of the capital and that David cared and ruled equally over all Israel.  Here, in 2 Samuel 19, we see that unity beginning to fray.

Week 11 – From Shepherd to King

Scripture Reading:  1 Samuel 16-18, 24, 31; 2 Samuel 6, 22; 1 Chronicles 17; Psalm 59

Significant Moments in The Story

David anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel – 1 Samuel 16

David battles the Philistine warrior, Goliath – 1 Samuel 17

David spares the life of King Saul – 1 Samuel 24

The death of King Saul & Jonathan – 1 Samuel 31

David brings the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem – 2 Samuel 6

God promises to establish a lineage for David – 1 Chronicles 17

Key Themes

The will of God

Throughout this section of The Story, we see that God does not see and do things the way that man sees and does things.  Samuel was ready to anoint the first and oldest of Jesse’s sons as the new king; however, God says he has the youngest in mind instead.  The Israelites were fearful of facing Goliath because of his size and his armaments, which were the best one could possess.  However, David understood that human armaments were no match for the power of God conveyed in a slingshot and 1 stone.  As king, David determined he would build a house for God, as grand as the house that David lived in.  God sends Nathan to tell David that God doesn’t want or need a house; instead, he wants to be in the midst of His people. So often we assume that God thinks and acts the way that we would.  We forget that Scripture teaches us that God’s ways are not our ways.  God has a unique plan and purposes, which is why a relationship with Him is so important.  We invest our very lives in understanding and discerning the unique will of a unique God.

God our Deliverer

1 Samuel 17, 2 Samuel 22, and Psalm 59 are all expressions of God’s ability to deliver Israel and David from harm.  These stories serve as reminders that God’s will is not to oppose His people but to fight for His people.  Often times, when are in crisis or in a time of struggle, we assume that God is our enemy and our opponent.  It is not always easy to cry out that God is is “my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer” when the enemy seemingly is perched on our doorstep.  However, these stories remind us that God greatest desire is to be with us, and He will go to the greatest lengths to make that relationship possible.

The power of art

David has been associated with music and poetry through the Psalms for centuries.  We see him playing the lyre for King Saul to soothe him.  It reminds of something I heard this past weekend while attending the North Carolina Middle School State Honors Chorus concert.  The choir director asked the students to write 4 sentences about why they thought music was important.  The director shared that one student wrote, “Music is power.  The world is full of destructive power; music is power that does not destroy, but builds up and moves us.”

Background Information

Saul’s “evil” spirit – 1 Samuel 16:14

There are some who believe that the word here is better translated as a “troubling” spirit as opposed to an “evil” spirit. Many believe that this was the ancient way of describing one who suffered from mental illness.  Others wonder if this is just the biblical way of detailing Saul’s wrestling with the reality that the throne has been taken away from him even though he is still the king.

Jonathan and David – 1 Samuel 18:1-4

When we read that Jonathan gave David his robe and his armor and his weapons, we should see more than just a generous act of friendship.  Jonathan was the heir apparent to the throne of Saul.  However, remember that Samuel referenced the tearing of a robe as symbolic of the kingdom being torn from the hands of Saul and given into the hands of “his neighbor” (1 Samuel 15:28).  In this case, the giving of the robe may be symbolic of Jonathan willingly giving over his claim to the throne to David.

The recovery of Saul’s body – 1 Samuel 31:11-13

In 1 Samuel 11, the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead were being persecuted by Nahash the Ammonite, who agreed to make a peace treaty with them only he could gouge out the right eye of every citizen.  It was Saul who came to the defense of the citizens and defeated the Ammonites.  Now, the citizens of Jabesh-gilead repay Saul’s loyalty to them by refusing the allow his body and the bodies of his sons to be desecrated and humiliated by the Philistines.

Jerusalem – 2 Samuel 5 & 6

After he is named king by the Israelites, we are told that David captures the city of Jerusalem, which had been occupied by the Jebusites.  The indication of the text is that David took the city not with the armies of Israel but with his personal army that had formed around him as he ran from King Saul.  This explains how the city could come to be called “the city of David”, because he truly took possession of it himself.  The decision to make Jerusalem his capital was wise.  Since it had been previously occupied by the Jebusites, it had no connection to any particular region or tribe of Israel, making it a good neutral city.  In addition, the city relatively centrally located and easy to defend since it sat upon a hill.

The ark of the covenant – 2 Samuel 6

1 Samuel 4-7 describes how the ark of the covenant was captured in battle by the Philistines.  However, while they possessed the ark, the Philistines encountered many hardships, and so they voluntarily returned the ark to the Israelites.  For 20 years, the ark had been kept in a town called Kiriath-jearim (or Baale-judah).  The decision to move the ark to Jerusalem was important for several reasons.  First, it established Jerusalem as the political and religious center of Israel.  Second, it was a statement that the kingship could serve Israel’s faith and not oppose it, as Samuel had suggested when Israel first asked for a king.  Third, it established this newly established kingdom of Israel as the successor to the Israel of the wilderness and the Israel of Joshua and Judges.  In essence, it was now understood that the king was responsible for protecting the sacred institutions of the past.  Finally, it was another way of distancing David from Saul.  Whereas Saul kept the ark (and, therefore, the presence of God) at a distance, David brings the ark into the heart of his kingdom and reign.

Psalm 59

Often times, we read the psalms without considering their context.  In this case, this Psalm is associated with the period when David was being hunted down by King Saul.  From that standpoint, it should be read between reading 1 Samuel 18 and 1 Samuel 24.

There is some question as to whether or not all of the Psalms attributed to David were actually written by David.  However, what is more significant is that this psalm is intended to convey David’s feelings and faith in the circumstances which he encountered in life.  Therefore, it is appropriate to read it in that context as well as reading it in the context of a general prayer for God’s help in the face of overwhelming odds.

Some Questions That Might Come Up

How come King Saul has no idea who David is in 1 Samuel 17:55-58?  

The story of David and Goliath is one of the stories that is so well-known, yet upon reading it we are struck by some unusual circumstances in the text.  For one thing, 2 Samuel 21:19 tells us that Goliath of Gath was slain at a later time by one of David’s warriors, Elhanan.  1 Chronicles 20:5 says that Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother.  These three passages, when put together, raise the question of whether David himself killed Goliath or whether he killed another Philistine champion who was later mistakenly identified as Goliath of Gath.

A second oddity of the text is how Saul suddenly has no idea who David is at the end of the story.  In chapter 16, we were told that David played the lyre for Saul and became his armor bearer.  In 1 Samuel 17:15, we are told that David traveled back and forth between Saul and his father’s sheep.  And yet, in 1 Samuel 17:55-58, Saul has no idea who David is.

These textual oddities have caused many to wonder if the story of David and Goliath is actually a combination of several different stories about David’s rise to prominence that were combined together to make this one narrative.

Additional Resources