We're so glad you decided to join us today!
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns together. Take some time to think over your past week. What prayer requests do you have? If you feel comfortable, you can share your requests in the comments below. When you ready, you can get started with this prayer (source), which should somewhat go along with our lesson.
Forgive me, God, for being so busy being busy that I don't intentionally take time to be refreshed in your rest. Teach me gently, Father, that I need this weekly rest in your presence and with my family to be all that you want me to be, and all that I can be. Restore my soul, O God, and fill me with your restful joy. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
This week's lesson is on Exodus 23:1-12.
Today's passage is part of a larger piece (Exodus 21-23) often called the Covenant Code. It gives foundational rules for ancient Israel's corporate life. The laws explained how people were to conduct themselves in typical, everyday situations. It is the basis of longer discussions in Leviticus 17-27 and Deuteronomy 12-26.
The Covenant Code comes immediately after the Ten Commandments. The longer list of the Covenant Code repeats itself and arranges topics more by association, as in today's lesson. The sequence of the laws influences meaning. Readers should not think of them as sound bites but as a web of required behaviors that collectively reflect the character of those practicing them.
The reading for today concentrates on issues of justice. The two major sections seem to be about different topics. However, they use the same sort of lock-and-key organizational technique common in Israelite legal texts and in the book of Proverbs. That is, several statements on obviously related themes follow each other. Then the topic seems to change, and then it returns to the original subject. This pattern challenges the reader to see previously unconsidered dimensions of both the main idea on the ends of the list and a seemingly different idea wedged into the middle.
Justice in Court and Home (verses 1-8)
The first verse in our lesson seems to say the same thing twice. However, they are a little different. The first sentence offers a general command against lying because it harms another person. The second sentence specifically forbids conspiring with another person to lie in court. Our book says that cooperating with others to harm a third party undermines any justice system and leads to societal conflict and violence. When a legal system is corrupt, everyone eventually suffers.
The passage continues by telling the ancient Israelites not to determine correct behavior by what everyone else was doing. It may also be read as forbidding mob action. It seems that not much has really changed with people. We still struggle with following the crowd.
The law forbids bending the legal system, even when it seems to even the playing field. Favoritism should not be shown to anyone. Judges must decide cases solely on the evidence.
The next section seems to completely change direction into dealings with enemies. This makes the law practical. Even when a person is hated, Israelites were not to hate and be vindictive in return. Further, the Israelites were to help their enemies, like with the fallen donkey.
The passage then returns to the courts. Anyone involved in a dispute, especially a witness or a judge, must decide fairly without regard to external factors such as the socioeconomic status of the person involved. Further, there can be no lying. Think of how often we have heard (and voiced) half-truths or quotes of others out of context. But the command here broadly required an Israelite to stay far away from deception. God will not cheapen his gift of redemption by turning a blind eye on wickedness.
Our book says the word translated bribe appears 26 times across 24 verses in the Old Testament that results in injustice against an innocent party. Bribery can be thought of as purchasing a certain outcome in court. It could even go as far as ensuring the slaying of an innocent person. Thus these bribery texts imply the threat that this corrupt practice posed to the entire social structure of ancient Israel. The reason for avoiding bribery is that such an action corrupts the very character of the ones involved. A system that tolerates such behavior sooner or later decays into conflict as distrust builds.
The last part of our passage deals with justice in economic matters. It opens with treatment of foreigners. The migrant or foreigner is often living away from a support system of family and friends. The foreigner in Israel would not have had a support system. Therefore, laws were needed to protect that person. The Israelites had been through this when they were in Egypt. So, they needed to show empathy toward similarly vulnerable people, honoring their divinely given rights. Further, Exodus 22:21-24 links foreigners with widows and orphans as vulnerable people lacking family ties and, therefore, social protection.
The end of our lesson deals with the sabbath. There was to be a sabbath year. Our book says that it is unclear whether this law required all land to lie fallow in the seventh year, or if a rotation of crops should occur. Leviticus also discusses this, and expressly forbade sowing any seed during the seventh year. In order to survive, the people had to trust in God's care for them.
The sabbath day is also discussed. This version of the sabbath law names those members of the household most vulnerable to self-centered action on the part of the family head. So, the slave born in your household as well as the foreigner living with the family ad the right to rest just as much as did the citizens of Israel.
One of the most powerful treatments of the nature of God appears in Exodus. It contains a richly layered set of stories exploring the question "What sort of God do we have in our midst?" This story lies behind all of Israel's laws. Rather than creating a long philosophical discussion on God, the scroll of Exodus weaves together stories about divine actions and conversations around them. As it reveals a God who practices a radical commitment to mercy, Exodus does not avoid the challenges that belief in a redeemer God poses.
The 600-plus laws in the Old Testament do not address every imaginable circumstance. Even so, they lay out enough specific examples to allow thinking people to figure out how to act in situations not explicitly named. The Law of Moses invites reflection. Those following it ask questions that will shape commitments and attitudes for a lifetime.
A remarkable feature of today's church in much of the Western world is its distance from the poorest among us. American Christians, in particular, often seem to live in a bubble. Wealth is taken as proof of God's blessing, which can lead us to blame others for their alleged failures if they do not obtain it. We are slow to acknowledge how decision of past generations still affect people's lives. And those most vulnerable pay the price for that self-deception.
The Law of Moses, while aimed at the people of Israel, offers guiding principles for the church as well. Life together requires practical actions that show love for difficult people. In this way, we can fulfill the law: to love our God, and to love both neighbors and enemies, wherever they are found.
Questions for Discussion
What can you do better to resist temptation to go along with the crowd?
Our lesson talks about oppression. What are some examples of cases in which doing nothing was actually a form of oppression?
What steps can you take to achieve a better balance between work and rest?
Father, continue to teach us to be generous to our enemies, loyal to our friends, honest in all of our dealings, and compassionate toward all in need. Make us people who always treat the poor with respect and care. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
This week's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 17:8-13.
We're so happy you decided to join us today!
When we meet in person, we share what joys and concerns we have together. As you think over your past week, consider any prayer requests you might have. If you have anything you would like to share, you can include it as a comment to this post. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started.
as I see Your great wisdom reflected in Your wonderful creation, I want to praise You with my whole being. Thank you for the creative Word-of-God, WHO not only spoke the worlds into being from nothing but died for me, so that I could live – so that I could have life - everlasting life and life more abundantly. Open the eyes of foolish men who arrogantly refuse to recognise the truth and acknowledge Jesus as their Creator God and gracious Saviour, and thank You for all Your never-failing goodness, long-suffering mercy, and amazing grace towards ME. This I pray in Jesus' name, AMEN.
Today's lesson is on Genesis 21:8-20.
Today’s lesson teaches us that only God can hear, speak and act to save. He hears the cries of his people and heeds the pleas of the oppressed. In today’s passage, he hears and offers true hope. Today we focus on his promise to Abraham. Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation. Sarah interferes, she has decided to help God and offers her personal slave to conceive a child, a common practice at the time. The logic is: “If my slave produces a chid, that child will be mine, just like his mother. Hagar, becomes the mother of Ishmael (“God hears”) Abraham’s first born son. Sarah becomes the mother of Isaac (God’s planned inheritance will be his.) The situation between Sarah and Hagar became so intense. God keeps his promise and both sons are blessed with 12 sons and both sons become heads of nations. Even though Hagar’s child was Sarah’s own idea, she demands that both of them be exiled. God hears their cries for mercy.
Hagar had a difficult life. But as Ishmael’s name reminds us, God hears! Abraham’s God who loved both Isaac and Ishmael, is the Lord of all creation. He cares for all people, and he keeps his promises. He hears all cries of injustice, and he responds with a message of hope. That message must be preached, taught, and lived by his people before the watching world, which is desperate for a better story than the divisions that so often define our lives. When we hear, the world might begin to believe that God also hears.
God who hears, we raise our voices to you. Strengthen our hope so the world may have hope in you through our faithful witness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Thought to Remember:
Call out to the God
This week's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson is on Exodus 23:1-12.
We're so glad you decided to join us for the first Sunday of the new year!
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns together. Take some time to consider your last week. What are you thankful for? What are you worried about? If you have anything you would like to share, you can include it in the comments so that we can all pray. When you are ready, use this prayer for the new year (source) to get started.
God of all time, help us enter the New Year quietly,
thoughtful of who we are to ourselves and to others,
mindful that our steps make an impact
and our words carry power.
May we walk gently.
May we speak only after we have listened well.
Creator of all life,
help us enter the New Year reverently,
aware that you have endowed
every creature and plant, every person and habitat
with beauty and purpose.
May we regard the world with tenderness.
May we honor rather than destroy.
Lover of all souls,
help us enter the New Year joyfully,
willing to laugh and dance and dream,
remembering our many gifts with thanks
and looking forward to blessings yet to come.
May we welcome your lavish love.
In this new year, may the grace and peace of Christ bless us now and in the days ahead.
Today's lesson is on Genesis 4:1-15.
For this week, please read the article "5 Life Lessons from Cain and Abel," by Moses Pierre-Paul. Clicking on the title will open the article in a new tab.
The one thing I would like to add is this was this was the first time a parent grieved a death of a child. In fact Adam and Eve lost two sons that day. One because Cain killed his brother Abel and because Cain was sent to wander the wilderness because of his murderous act.
Merciful and just God, teach us to trust in your justice and in your timing. Give us faith to extend mercy, which you lavishly poured on us, to a wicked world that needs it neither more than less than we do. In Jesus name we pray. Amen
What can we do to stop envying people?
What if we instead of envying we are glad that they are doing so well.
What does it mean to you about being your brother’s keeper.
What are some ways to resist Satan’s pull against the Lord’s correction?
What principal from today’s text will you have the most problem integrating into your life?
The hymn below is sung in Latin, but the English translation can be read onscreen. It dates from the late 1500's.
Today's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Genesis 21:8-20.
We're so glad you decided to join us on this Sunday morning!
When we meet together in person, we share our joys and concerns before we focus on our Sunday school lesson. Think about your needs and concerns right now, and if you like, you can share them in the comments.
Today’s lesson is from the Old Testament prophecy of Nahum. It is about God’s judgment on the nation of Assryia and its capital city of Nineveh after Assyria wielded its power over God’s people and other nations. By extension, it is about how God sometimes punishes God’s people because God loves them but how that punishment does not last forever.
The following prayer was written by Matt Erikson and posted on his blog, “Renovate”. It can be found at here.
LORD God, King of the earth,
You have created all peoples
and reign over all the nations
that inhabit this earth.
When the nations rage
and put themselves forward as mighty,
You still have the final word,
promising to put all the prideful in their place.
Although tempted to trust in our own strength,
we turn to You, even as the psalmist says,
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God’ (Psalm 20:7).
Teach us to live with trust
in light of the prophet Nahum’s words,
“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).
All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be all honor and glory, now and forever.
This week's lesson is on Nahum 1:1-3, 6-8, 12-13, 15.
The historical meeting of the book of Nahum is of utmost importance to understanding its message of hope for Judah. Even so, only one historical event is cited in the book’s three chapters — the destruction of Thebes (Nahum 3:8-10)
Ashurbanipal of Assyria (reigned 669 to 633 BC) sacked that Egyptian city in 663. This indicates that the book of Nahum was written sometime after the fall of Thebes but before the predicted fall of Nineveh, a major city of the Assyrian Empire. That fall became reality in 612 BC. Therefore, a date during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, who ruled from 641 to 609, makes the most sense. A date between 625 and 612 is most likely since judgment is predicted for Judah’s enemies, not for Judah itself.
The Assyrians certainly played a role in God’s disciplining of Judah. The Lord allowed its evil King Manasseh, who reigned from 697 to 643 BC, to be exiled by the Assyrians. The Assyrians were renowned for their cruelty. They had a practice of torturing the leaders of captive cities or nations as a warning not to rebel. In Manasseh’s case, the Assyrians put a hook in his nose, bound him with chains, and led him away. While in prison Manasseh turned to God. When he returned to Jerusalem, he led a spiritual revival.
Such a revival did not occur in the northern kingdom of Israel. Neither kings nor people there repented of their evil, so the Lord used the Assyrians’ violence as a tool of punishment. Whereas Judah suffered threats of violence and periodic incursions, Samaria, northern Israel’s capital city, was captured after a three-year siege, in 722 BC. Sargon II’s boast that he led captive over 27,000 people was preserved in Assyrian cuneiform test. This is when Israel as a nation disappeared from he world stage.
Nineveh hit its peak in power as Ashurbanipal’s capital in the mid-seventh century BC, just before its destruction. Following Ashurbanipal’s death, kingdoms that had come under Assyrian control rebelled. Among these were the Babylonians and the Medes. Their armies came together to sack Nineveh in 612 BC. Following this, Babylon displaced Assyria as the major power in the region.
I. Prophecy (1:1)
The scripture begins with a Hebrew word that can be translated as “burden” or as “inspired utterance.” The word is not uncommon in biblical prophecy and often signals a prophecy of impending judgment. That is the case here, and the prophecy does, indeed, refer to a weighty matter concerning Nineveh.
Nahum means “repentings” or “compassion.” This prophet is the only person in the Old Testament with the name Nahum, and he is not the same Nahum that is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament. The only thing we know about this prophet is that he was from the town of Elkosh, whose location is debated, although most scholars think it was near Jerusalem in Judah.
Jonah and Nahum are the two prophets who focused on the coming judgment of Nineveh. Unlike Jonah, Nahum was not told to go to Nineveh but to preach in Judah about Nineveh. Also unlike Jonah, Nahum’s prophecy was fulfilled. In Jonah’s case, God chose mercy over judgment when the people repented. Zephaniah, who was a contemporary of Nahum, also named Nineveh in the context of judgment coming to all of Assyria.
II. Portrayals (1:2-3, 6-8, 12a)
Unlike human jealousy, God’s jealousy indicates a profound sense of caring and commitment. Sometimes, in fact, the Hebrew word that is translated “jealousy” is translated as “zeal” in other passages. In verse 2, God’s jealousy is more closely linked to God’s protection of God’s people from violence and oppression that often results when hostile nations worship violent and oppressive false gods.
Sennacherib, an Assyrian king who reigned during the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah, learned this the hard way in 701 BC. Sennecharib had captured many cities in Judah, so the Lord struck the Assyrian army, and 185,000 soldiers died in one night (2 Kings 18:13-37; 19:34-36; and Isaiah 36-37).
Have you ever wondered why the Bible describes the Lord as a jealous God? He is protective and passionate. God doesn’t sit passively by. Sin rouses God’s righteous indignation, but not because God hates us. It is because God loves us too much to sit idly by when wickedness threatens our relationship with God.
God is slow to anger, which is why God did not do something earlier to the Assyrians. God waits patiently because God wants everyone to repent; God does not wish for any to perish. But even God’s patience has its limits.
Verse 3 describes God more as a righteous warrior than as a judge. God has all of nature as weapons. God has the whirlwind, the storm, the clouds and plagues to do God’s bidding.
No one can withstand God’s indication and God’s fierce anger — no person, no nation, no power. Not even the strongest or the strongest-willed can resist God. God’s wrath, in Nahum’s description, is like a volcano, spewing fire and breaking apart rocks.
However, all of that is tempered by the fact that God is good. Those who trust God experience God’s goodness in protection from harm.
The Sunday school author points out that Nahum, like other prophets, often uses poetic imagery to describe God’s judgment, but in this case Nahum’s words were literally fulfilled. During the Babylonian siege on Nineveh, an overwhelming flood occurred that damaged the walls of the city and helped to bring about the end of Nineveh. After that, a figurative flood of Babylonians and Medes took the city.
Many ancient cites were captured and destroyed, with new cities being built on top of the ruins. Hoever, Nineveh was never rebuilt. The people of Nineveh foolishly believed that they were secure because of their military strength and political alliances, but that proved to be no match for God’s anger and strength.
III. Promises (1:12b-13, 15)
In the second part of verse 12, God switches from addressing Niveveh and Assyria to addressing Judah. God had used the Assryians to punish Judah for its sin, but God promises an end to that punishment. God would break the yoke of oppression that the Assyrians had placed on Judah.
God’s words of deliverance in verse 15 are similar to those of Isaiah 52:7. For Nahum and for Judah, however, the good news here is that Assyria would fall. That would bring peace to the people.
Nahum commands the people to celebrate their festivals, the ones that had been prescribed in the Law. The implication is that some type of restriction had been placed on them that had hindered the free exercise of worship or, perhaps, that the people had become lax and had abandoned their celebrations on their own. With the destruction of the wicked, however, the people would be free once again to choose devotion to God and the blessings that come with it.
The destruction of Nineveh fulfilled Nahum’s prophecy. The city’s destruction was complete, and so too was the end of Assyria’s dominance. The pending doom of Nineveh was the greatest part of Nahum’s prophecy, but closely related was the word of deliverance for Judah. This comforted a people who had been oppressed by Assyria for decades.
Injustice still exists, and God still intends to act to bring justice and deliver his people. But God sees the global picture, so God’s timetable differs from what we might desire. In his treatment of Assyria, God did not act in haste. At the right time, the nation of Assyria came to an end. It had fulfilled its purpose. God’s justice prevailed. God’s timing is always perfect.
For this reason, we share the love of Jesus, not only at Christmastime but also year-round. The gospel truth about Jesus is the reason we have hope of eternal life. What better news could there be than a future with the Lord in heaven?
God in heaven, help us to shape our lives to show that we truly believe that you are holy, just and loving. Today we especially thank you for giving us your Son. In his name we pray. Amen.
Our benediction this week is from the New Century Version.
Next week's lesson is on Genesis 4:1-15.
We're glad you've decided to read our Sunday School lesson for the fourth Sunday of Advent.
We are not meeting in person for a Sunday School lesson this morning. Instead, we're having a special Christmas program.
“Special Sunday School Hour for Christmas!"
On the Sunday before Christmas (December 19) we’ll have a special time together! We’ll
gather at 10:00 in the sanctuary and we will have a Christmas Carol Hymn Sing with a reading
of the Christmas Story from the Bible! A relaxed fun time for all as we prepare for morning
worship and the final week of Advent. Everyone is welcome!
When meeting in person, we share our joys and concerns together. Take some time to consider your last week, and any prayer requests you have. If you would like, you can share with a comment on this post. When you are ready, you can use the prayer below (source) to get started.
Prince of Peace, we seek you.
In far off lands, your children
flee their homes pursued by violence.
In our community, we know
not all our neighbors are safe from brutality.
Prince of Peace, we seek you.
You sent your son, Jesus, to bring
your peace and comfort to the world.
In this season of Advent, renew and strengthen us
in a commitment to your peace that surpasses all understanding.
Prince of Peace, we seek you.
May your peace fill our hearts
and grace our lips so that we might
be agents of your peace in the world.
Today's lesson is on Isaiah 9:2-7.
We're so glad you've joined us for the third Sunday of Advent!
As we meet in person, we share together our joys and concerns. Take some time to consider the past week, and what prayer requests you might have to share. If you would like, you can add them in the comments so that we can all pray for them. When you are ready, use this prayer (source) to get started:
God of hope,
you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression
to the freedom of justice,
the balm of healing,
and the joy of sharing.
Make us strong to join you in your holy work,
as friends of strangers and victims,
companions of those whom others shun,
and as the happiness of those whose hearts are broken.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This week's lesson is on 2 Samuel 9:1-7, 9-12.
We're so glad you're joining us today
on the Second Sunday of Advent.
We are meeting together in person, and sharing our joys and concerns. If you are still reading from home and have prayer requests, you can add them as a comment so we can all prayer. When you are ready to get started, use the prayer below from the Revised Common Lectionary:
God of timeless grace,
you fill us with joyful expectation.
Make us ready for the message that prepares the way,
that with uprightness of heart and holy joy
we may eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.
This week's lesson is on Deuteronomy 5:1-3; 10:12-13; 27:1-10.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.