Matthew 4 – Dealing with the Devil

I feel like Matthew 4 is mostly setting the stage for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus retreats to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, begins preaching and healing, and calls the fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Most of the narrative here paints Jesus’ activity with a broad brush, and even when it gives us the specific scene of the fishermen’s calling, it’s a quick-and-dirty details-light account that’s over before you know it.
But something in Jesus’ wilderness temptation caught my attention: some quality of specificity that’s absent from the rest of the chapter. Matthew is setting the stage here, as in the rest of the chapter. But with the temptation, he’s not breezing past it, summarizing, or glossing over. Satan is making a play here, and Matthew thinks it’s important to get into the details of it. Perhaps he thought Mark’s account was too sparse? And where did he get his information concerning Jesus’ forty days alone in the wilderness? From Luke, from one of the other disciples such as Peter, maybe even a first-hand account from Jesus himself? I could speculate, but one thing’s for sure: Matthew wants us to know about Jesus’ dialogue-duel in the desert with the devil.

Malachi 3 – Defrauding God

I try not to miss the forest for one very specific tree in these posts. I try to at least hit an overview of the passage of the day, and today’s passage continues God’s charges against his people, with an accusation that Israel is straight-up robbing God as the centerpiece. But one verse caught my eye: a quick-and-dirty litany of indictments early in the chapter. If God were to put this list to music and then sing it, he might end with the line, “These are a few of my least favorite things.” If it were a Buzzfeed article, they might title it “Six Things God Will Be a Swift Witness Against, Drawing Near to You for Judgment.” But it is not an article, and God–as far as I know–has not performed it as if right out of the Sound of Music. It’s a list.

Haggai 2 – The Humility to Learn and the Courage to Speak

When you’re a prophet of the Lord, the word of the Lord comes to you. It’s what you do. Well, it’s not so much what you do as what happens to you. But then you go to the people and tell them the word of the Lord. Unless you’re Jonah, in which case you have to get caught in a storm at sea and swallowed by a fish before you’ll get up and do your job. But Haggai isn’t Jonah.

Nahum 1 – Reverse Joel Osteen, AKA Professor Nahum

You’ve probably heard countless pastors, speakers, authors, and other theologizers tell you, in one form or another, “Start with God,” and that’s exactly what Nahum does. Right off the bat, he paints us a prophetic picture of God: his character, his actions, and how he engages with his creation. But this isn’t a warm-and-fuzzy Joel-Osteen-style God. His primary aim is not your happiness, and insofar as he wants you to live your best life, that best life involves judgment, trial by fire, and grave consequences for any sins you may have committed. This God might conceivably be your friend–but he’s certainly not your buddy.

Micah 7 – The God Micah Knows

Today Micah signs off. In his parting words, he’s got hope for a better Israel and a better world. He’s not optimistic that God will bring it to fruition in his lifetime, but he does expect vindication against his enemies. When it comes, it won’t come on the basis of his own goodness, but God’s. Micah also signs off with a confession.

Micah 1 – Iconoclasm

Hoo boy. No sooner had I hit verse two of Micah than I was saying, “I can’t handle any more of this.” It feels like the minor prophets are just judgment after judgment, a divine lament of Israel’s protracted moral degradation and a statement of the inevitable consequences. And they’re not even told as narrative: it’s like if an entire book took the form of the protagonist’s impassioned speech at the climax. The book of Micah isn’t the story of Micah and God and Israel. It’s what God had to say to Israel through Micah. And it doesn’t open on an especially rough note, but the constant truth and consequences of the prophets can wear on a guy.

Jonah 1 – Jonah, the Very Worst Prophet

If there’s one minor prophet you’re already familiar with, it’s probably Jonah. While the bulk of the minor prophets comprises divine messages of judgment, mercy, and calls to repentance, Jonah is largely historical narrative. When you add that it requires very little background knowledge to understand, you’ve got a prime candidate for a children’s Bible story lesson. Plus, it’s got a big ol’ miracle fish.

Amos 4 – Repetition and Repetition, Revisited

Amos certainly likes his patterns. We started off with the “For three transgressions and for four I will not revoke” of the first two chapters, then we had the torrent of God’s rhetorical questions welcoming us to chapter three, and now in chapter four, we’ve got the mantra “Yet you have not returned to me.” The latter half of the chapter comprises a litany of disciplinary judgments intended to bring Israel back to their Creator, each punctuated by God’s observation that it didn’t work.

Amos 2 – Burden of a Straying Nation

I’m pretty sure the only reason Amos 1 and 2 aren’t a single chapter is to keep the chapters short enough to read in under two minutes. Remember the formula from the first chapter? “For three transgressions of Nation X and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they did Terrible Thing Y, so I will send fire upon the wall of Nation X and it will consume her citadels, garnish as necessary with additional judgments?” In this chapter it continues. However, it only runs through one foreign nation (Moab) before turning to Israel and Judah. Yes, that’s right. For all the attention God gives the heathens abroad for the abuse they’ve heaped on his people, now he’s turning his attention to his people’s own biggest abusers: themselves.