Perhaps the hardest pace to glean a message for yourself is in the prophets, amidst the doom, gloom, and esoteric visions of futures past and to come. But that is what I had this week, with a string that ran from Daniel to Jonah. And it took getting to Jonah to get a clue what God was telling me.
(Note: in case you didn't know or missed it, my current reading plan is 3 chapters a night from each successive book of the Bible. Thus, this week, I was in Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah.)
And what I came up with is, to understand what God was telling me, I had to face off the three elements in the first chapters of Daniel against those of Jonah. And here's what you see:
Daniel is about the consequences of obedience to God. Chapter one shows the blessing Daniel and the gang received from denying themselves sinful pleasures. Chapter 2 Involved the gang facing an impossible task ( the interpreting of Nebuchadnezzar's dream without knowing what it was) through concentrated Prayer. And Chapter three brought us God preserving the boys through their great trial (the fiery furnace).
Unlike Daniel and his posse, Jonah was the story of someone doing God's will while trying to avoid it. Jonah, unlike Daniel, had an attitude set against what God wanted him to do (because God wanted to save Nineveh, which would be the equivalent of sending Anne Frank to save Nazi Germany in modern terms). In the first part of Jonah's story, we see him being disobedient by running- and as a result saving more that he would have by being obedient, because the ship's crew feared God and sacrificed to Him after they saw the storm dissipate when they threw Jonah overboard.
The second stage for Jonah, like with Daniel and co. involved intense Prayer. But while Daniel was doing his praying in his room in beautiful downtown Babylon, Jonah found his situation in the gut of a fish at the bottom of the sea. While both were life-and-death situations, you'd have to say Daniel at least had the more pleasant of hopeless circumstances.
And the third part of Jonah has him thrust into his "fiery furnace"- the City of Nineveh, alone in a city of enemies. And though he also manages a great victory, the saving of Nineveh ( at least for another 140 years), his heart wasn't in it because his goal and God's weren't the same.
Difference being, when Daniel et. al. were obedient, they enjoyed - truly enjoyed- God's blessings from their works. Jonah, who believed but had a disobedient agenda and a heavy heart, didn't enjoy the fruits of his labor. He sat and moped over how things worked out until God used the plant and the worm (in chapter 4) to show him how stupid and petty he was being. Lesson here, you will enjoy blessings from your work and your trial if you go into it with an obedient heart. If you have disobedience in your life, not so much.
So how do the intervening books come in? In Hosea, the theme revolves about us as a people being symbolized by his prostitute wife, Gomer ( and what a lovely name she had!). Despite her cheating ways and fallen offspring, not only did he marry her once, but bought her back for a price. Sound familiar? It should, this is what Jesus did for the prostitute that is you and me.
Lesson: Because of Jesus, our sinfulness does not disqualify us.
Joel talks about the disaster that Israel's disobedience, and that repentance will lead to restoration.
Pretty straightforward there.
Amos has a set of prophecies against Israel's ancient neighbors, but before you scratch your head over what they have to do with you and me, note that every one starts with one phrase: "For three transgressions of (fill in the blank), and for four..." That means that God gave these people every chance in the book- and then another one. Again, our doesn't disqualify us- but God has a limit. And a little farther on, he throws in what, in Israel's case, were the four transgressions (2:6-8). And four us, they become four attitudes we need to check ourselves for:
- Caring about things ahead of people;
- "Perverting the way of the humble"- am I putting block in people's way through my pride;
-Talking one way but acting another;
- living as if God doesn't matter.
Now I put them this way because we are trying here to apply these to those of us who consider ourselves Christians, and I believe these are the approximate corollaries in our lives. They don't eliminate our salvation, but put a dent in our effectiveness, and if we aren't careful, we might lose out on the enjoyment of our blessings if we keep it up.
Now, Obadiah is a one chapter tirade against Edom, because Edom- Esau's descendants- stood by and laughed as Assyria destroyed Israel ( his brother Jacob's descendants). So what does a Christian get from a story of God's vengeance on those who wronged the Jews? Just what Paul said in Romans 12:19 (quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35):
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
So in hopefully more simple words, the intervening chapters add to the concept of obedience blessings vs blessings with strained obedience:
Sin doesn't disqualify us;
However, repentance is necessary for obedience;
God gives us a lot of chances to get it right, but we have to check the attitude we obey in;
And don't worry about what others did/do to you (like Jonah did), God's got it handled.