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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Meehan » James Meehan - Difficult Parts of the Bible - Part 3

James Meehan - Difficult Parts of the Bible - Part 3

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    James Meehan - Difficult Parts of the Bible - Part 3
TOPICS: Culture Makers

James Meehan: Welcome to this week's episode of Switch Uncut, where we are walking through a little bit of a mini series where we're exploring the difficult parts of the Bible in response to your questions. This week, we're going to explore one of the more confusing aspects of the Bible that is pretty prominent throughout the Old Testament. Because again, many of you are asking questions about why is the Bible so confusing. Shouldn't it be easier for us to understand? If these are the words of God, why isn't it more clear? Which are all really, really great questions that, hopefully, as we continue on this little mini series, you can gain some more insight and wisdom on how to think better about those questions and be more equipped to study the Bible on your own so that you can experience the beauty that comes from encountering God through His word. So with that being said, I'm one of your hosts, James, and then with me is our other host, Caitlin, who's going to introduce us to the specific question for this week.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: Here we go, so we've been walking through difficult parts of the Bible, starting with page one. How old is the Earth? Who created God? Where did all this stuff come from? Then we moved into some of the more violent parts of the Old Testament. We looked at Noah and the flood. We looked at the taking of the Promised Land and explored why does it seem like it's so violent. Is God condoning genocide here? What's really going on? And we walked through that. And now we've come up against a part of the Biblical story through the chronology, where we keep running into all these prophets. And that's what we're going to look at today. The prophets can be some of the most confusing books of the Bible because they use all of this figurative language that can be so hard to wrap our minds around what they're actually trying to say. Is it applicable to us? Are they predicting the end of the world? So we're going to start exploring some of the prophets. What do you have to say?

James Meehan: I think that the reason why this is so challenging for many of us today is because when we hear the word prophet, what we think about are sort of like fortune tellers or future predictors. And so when we hear about the prophets and the writings of them throughout the Old Testament, what we're automatically thinking by default is these are a bunch of predictions of the future. And then we dive into it and we're like, okay, but what do I do with any of this stuff, especially because it's often written in very evocative, visceral, poetic, image-heavy language that just seems totally unrelated to the world that we live in today. And so this is why, when it comes to the prophets, we first have to understand what does that word mean in Biblical terms. Because Biblically speaking, the prophets were not seen as fortune tellers or future predictors, they were seen as messengers of God, because that's what a prophet is. It is someone who was chosen by God to deliver a specific message to the people of God. And every single one of the different prophets we read about, beginning with Moses, who's kind of like the first real prophet, all the way to Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Hosea, and Haggai, and Malachi, and Amos, and all of them, all of them are individuals who had a specific calling from God to deliver a message, or a series of messages, to the people of God. And this is where we've got to begin, is with the reminder that the Bible is God's Word for us, but it wasn't originally written to us. And so when we read the writings of the prophets, we have to start with, as the question, okay, who is this prophet. Who's the author? Who is the audience? And what did the author want the audience to know? And through asking those questions, we can put ourselves into the right position to begin to wrap our minds around what it was the prophets were saying to the original audience and how those words are actually really applicable to our lives today. Because yes the Bible is written to, was originally written, to a group of people a long, long time ago, but it's inspired by the Spirit of God and still has power for us today. So we've got to first start with, what does it mean to be a prophet, not a fortune teller or a future predictor, but someone who has been charged by God to deliver a message to God's people.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: That's good. So that's who prophets are. They're messengers of God, not fortune tellers. So then what do prophets do?

James Meehan: So typically, these messages that the prophets are giving to the people of God are reminding the people of God about the covenant that they made with God and calling them to be faithful to that covenant.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: That's good.

James Meehan: And so more often than not, these prophets are called by God at a time when the people of God have rejected the calling they were given. Instead of being people of love, of mercy, of justice, they have become people that are actually taking advantage of the least, the last, and the lost. Instead of looking out for the good of others, they're just looking out for the good of themselves. Instead of being this counter-cultural example of what life looks like when God is in charge, they begin to do things the same way the other nations, and kingdoms, and cultures of this world do things. What we have to remember is that when God delivered the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, he was forming them into a kingdom that would be holy, that would be set apart, that would be unique, and look very different than the kingdoms of this world. So from the beginning, what God wanted to do was form a people that were totally different than the nations of Egypt, or Babylon, or Assyria, or Rome, or even many of the nations that we look to today, the superpowers of America, or China, or Russia. The reality is is that while there are good things about these modern nations, there are also aspects of these nations that do not line up with God's vision for what life in His kingdom is supposed to look like. And so when we look back to the prophets and what they are speaking to, oftentimes what they're doing is calling out the people of God for engaging in idolatry or committing injustice. What is idolatry? Idolatry is the worship of false gods. It's the worship of these false gods that have been worshiped by these other nations that the people of Israel think, well, if that nation has a big army, and they're worshiping this god, it must be because that god is blessing them, and if we want a big army, we need to worship that god. But when God was forming this people, when He was building the nation of Israel, He gave them a set of instructions that we call the Law. And this set of instructions were the guidelines they were meant to follow to make sure that they did not fall into the same traps and temptations of the rest of the world. And one of the first commands that God gives is, hey, you shall have no other gods besides me because I am your God and you are my people. And what's so important for us to wrap our minds around is that what we worship shapes who we become, that how we view God determines who we think we are supposed to be. And this is really apparent when you look at the different way people view God within Christianity and outside of Christianity. So for example, if you grew up in a Christian home where God was kind of this angry old man in the sky who was just waiting for you to step out of line so he could punish you, then you're going to walk around, hesitant, fearful, and probably a little bit legalistic and judgmental of other people, because that's how you view God. But if your view of God is as this fun uncle who doesn't really care what you do, as long as you don't hurt anybody else, then maybe you're going to be kind and gracious to other people, but you're not going to really value holiness, or justice, or making sure you're actually living in obedience to the commands of God. But if the way you see God is shaped by the person of Jesus, who is truth and grace in human form, mercy and justice fully realized, then the way that you live is going to be with this immense value on living a life that is set apart and different from the rest of the world, while still offering mercy and compassion for those who live differently than you do. And so this is what's important for us to understand, is that as the people of God were worshiping these idols, they were starting to become like these false gods. They were starting to value status, wealth, power, sex, money, fame, more than serving God and serving others. And so this idolatry eventually led them to commit injustices against the very people that God had called them to care for. And so what the prophets were doing were delivering these messages from God to call out the wrongs of the people of God, to remind them of what faithfulness to God really looks like and bring them back to God.

That's amazing, sounds like a tough job. Sounds like a pretty lonely position. It makes me think of different verses in the New Testament where it's like, y'all killed all the prophets, and Jesus is calling out the religious leaders and their ancestors for rejecting the prophets, and then subsequently rejecting Jesus. And hearing that that was their job, to just be the divine caller outers of the people of God, it makes sense that that was, they were so rejected.

Right, well, so here's what's super important to recognize too, is that the prophets weren't just calling out the random people down the street that were doing the wrong things. The prophets were primarily being sent by God to those who were in positions of authority. The prophets were primarily speaking to the priests, those who were leading the religious system at the time, and the kings of Israel. So this is the thing that I think is important for us to understand is that the fact that prophets play such a big role in the Old Testament does not mean that we, as followers of Jesus today, should just go calling out people every time they do something wrong, okay.


That's not the takeaway from understanding the prophets. Because when we do call things out that are wrong, which has to take place at some point, we wanna make sure that we do it with love, with grace, and with truth. But the prophets were primarily sent by God to call out the leaders of Israel. There's this specific example where Nathan is called by God to call out David the king for the crimes David the king had committed by stealing somebody else's spouse and having that dude murdered to cover up David's adultery and infidelity. And so you've got the king of this nation who is being confronted by this prophet, called by God to say, hey, you as the king, I know you're the most powerful person here, and that at the snap of your fingers, you could have me thrown in prison, or you could have me executed, but I need to tell you that God is not okay with what you've been doing, that your actions will have consequences unless you repent and turn back to God. Like the boldness, the courage to be a prophet, to take these words of rebuke and bring them to people who, at the snap of their fingers, could have you imprisoned or executed is ridiculous. And what's so important for us to understand is that all throughout the history of our faith, God has called and chosen people to call out our hypocrisy. And this is what blows my mind is how so many of us have been caught up in feeling like we have to present this perfect version of what it means to be Christian, to the point where we're not exactly honest about where we fall short. And that's what happened over and over again throughout Israel, where the people of God were pretending like they were doing it right, but in the background, they were oppressing God's people. And so God called prophets. He elevated them, He mobilized them, He commissioned them to show the people of Israel that, hey, what you're doing is not okay, it's not who I called you to be, and it's not what I want you to do, and so at what I'm doing is I'm inviting you to return to me, to return to faithfulness, to return to a better way of doing things. And then this next part is really important because this is what the prophets would also do. They would announce the consequences of what was going to happen if the people did not repent. If the people continued to engage in idolatry and commit injustices, then these prophets would tell them there will be consequences for your actions, that if you continue to commit these acts of injustice, God will bring justice. But if you repent, then you will receive mercy. Ultimately, the choice is yours. This was the role of the prophet. And it happens over and over again throughout the Biblical story. As the people of God lose sight of who they're supposed to be, God calls these prophets and sends them to these people to remind them of their faithful calling to be God's people.

Two things come to mind. I see that as like an extension of what we were talking about last week, of God's patience with us. Like these prophets are an extension of God's patience.


In the way that He's not just like, immediately, oh, here they go again, and that justice comes immediately. No, God is sending messengers. He's giving every opportunity for his people to return to their calling to be holy.


But justice will come. And then to continue to expound on the point of who was getting called out by the prophets, it was, again, it was the leaders and these people who had that calling, who had the knowledge of God and the people that they were meant to be. I was just doing some research, and there's only three prophets in the entire Old Testament who actually were told to go deliver a message to Gentiles...


...and that's Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah.


Only three of them out of all of the prophets were sent to Gentile, AKA non-Jewish, non-Israelite people, to give them some sort of message or warning like that. So again, the ratio is just starkly in the camp of God was concerned about the people who had knowledge of Him and who were meant to represent Him to the rest of the world, that's who was getting called out.

That's so fascinating.

And then you see these three examples of these other nations that get a specific message. And like, they were nations doing atrocious stuff. Like Jonah, we're probably familiar with that story, and we get to see his journey a little bit, but Nineveh was like the capital of the Assyrian empire, and they were known for just the horrific acts of war that they did when they went and took over other nations, just completely insane stuff. And the message was, hey, destruction's coming, this is not okay.

And I think the thing that's interesting to think about is as we begin to look at the prophets, we've got to start with the question, who's this prophet, who's their audience, and what did that prophet want the audience to know? Because, like Caitlin mentioned, each of the prophets was given a message for a specific group of people, and that specific group of people was usually the nation of Israel or Judah when the kingdom was divided. And depending on when that prophet was active, that shapes what their message was about, because there are prophets who came before the exile who were basically all about warning the people of Israel that, hey, you're going down a path that if you continue on, will lead to exile, that if you keep trying to be like Assyria and Babylon, then God's going to give you what you want by allowing the Assyrians and the Babylonians to take you into their nations. Or there were the prophets who spoke during the actual exile while the people of Israel were in exile, in Assyria, in Babylon, and they were saying, hey, now that you are in exile, here's what faithfulness to God looks like. And then there's prophets like Malachi, who show up after the Israelites return to the Promised Land where the exile, physically, has ended, but they realize that they're still in exile spiritually. And Malachi is speaking to them saying, hey, even though you're back in the land, you cannot go back to your old way of doing things. Now you have to choose to live in partnership with God because what He's asking you to do is be a kingdom of priests, a kingdom that represents Him to the rest of the world. Now, even though things seem off now, just you wait, because eventually the day is coming when God will bring the Messiah, the chosen king, and He will begin the process of putting all the broken things back together. And so these prophets are primarily speaking to their original audience, but they're also looking ahead to the coming day of the Lord, the day when the Messiah arrives, when God's justice is enacted. And so this is why, when we move forward to the gospels, we see these different references to the Old Testament where the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are quoting from the Old Testament, quoting from the prophets, and showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies. And you've even got Jesus, who is repeatedly quoting from the prophets, He quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah a whole lot, to show how in Him, the fulfillment of some of these promises is taking place. And so with the prophets, yes, there is some looking ahead to the future, but before we get carried away there, we've got to start with who was the author, who's the audience, and what was the point that the author wanted the audience to know. And that helps us read the prophets in a way that is so much more helpful and enlightening, because then we start to see how these words of the prophets for the original audience can speak to us as the people of God when we find ourselves in places where we have put something in our lives ahead of God. Because we live in a world today where the temptation to pursue status, wealth, and power is always in front of us to try to chase after celebrity, or fame, or fortune is a really big temptation because we live in a world that celebrates fame, and individualism, and consumerism. And what Jesus is calling us to do is to live lives that are radically different than the rest of the world, to live lives not shaped by the values of our modern culture, but shaped by the values of God's kingdom. And so, even though the prophets were originally speaking to a different group of people than us, there is still so much wisdom and power contained within their words that can help us be aware of maybe when we've gotten off course and the need that maybe we have to repent, to return to God, and to have hope that, yes, in Jesus, the day of the Lord has arrived, but Jesus isn't done yet because we know that He's going to return someday to finish what He started, and until then, He has given us His Spirit to be His hands and feet in the world to bring justice, to bring mercy, to bring love to those people who are maybe struggling, who are lost, and who are just hoping for something to change. We have been called by God to be a part of bringing that here and now as we await Jesus's eventual return.

It's good, it kind of sounds like the prophets are meant to be much less like a glass ball, and much more like a litmus test.

Interesting, yeah, yeah.

Like us, free, now in our context, can continually run our hearts through and examine is there any root of idolatry in my heart, run it through. Is there any bit of injustice that I am allowing to be perpetrated through my life, run it through. So instead of looking at it, is it predicting my future, no, it's testing my heart.

Ooh, that's good. And I think that's the lens that we're kind of talking about for reading some of those Old Testament prophets that can be, honestly, super confusing. And so we mentioned the principle at the beginning for reading the Bible wisely of remembering that it is, it is God's Word for us, but it wasn't originally written to us. I think another principle that could probably be helpful in this conversation is understanding that the Bible is meant to be read literately and not just literally.

Come on.

And I think in the prophets, we see a lot of opportunities for this kind of Bible reading because they use such figurative language, they use similes and metaphors, and relay visions and things like that. So can you speak to a good way to continue to think through that mindset and understand some of those more figurative passages?

Yeah, I mean, I think just exactly that principle is the mindset, it's to recognize that many of the times, what the prophets are doing is using really extreme language to provoke their listeners. Because the reality is, is you can say to someone, hey, like be careful, that thing is bad, and depending on the person, maybe that'll be enough, but for a lot of people, it takes a little bit more than that to get through to them. It's like, for example, almost all of us know that it's important to drink enough water, get good sleep, exercise regularly, eat healthy, but for a lot of us, it's just something that we know. But until it's made real to us, until we maybe see the fact that, oh gosh, like I just had this really significant health issue that came up, that if I would have been taking care of my body sooner, maybe I wouldn't be dealing with. This is something that a lot of people, when they get older, and they kind of come to that middle part of their life, they go to a doctor one day, and their doctor says, hey, here's the deal, you're unfortunately dealing with the consequences of 40 years of bad habits, and if things don't change, you're at a high risk for a heart attack. And then all of a sudden, boom, when they hear that, it sort of opens their eyes to the reality of I need to make a change. And so it's a similar idea where what the prophets are doing is they're trying to figure out how do I wake up these people to the reality of the harm that they are committing. Because the truth is, is that for many of us here in the world that we live in today, if you live in the United States, you may not realize that some of the products you purchase, that just seem like a cool pair of shoes, are being put together in factories on the other side of the world that are taking advantage of people in impoverished societies where these kids are being forced to work in terrible conditions for very, very low wages so that you can get a cool pair of shoes for real cheap. And I think that's the thing where, if all I said to you was, hey, like, do you know where those shoes come from, the truth is, most people don't really care about it. But until you're confronted with that reality, sometimes our minds don't really connect the dots. And so this is what the prophets are doing, is they're using poetry, they're using metaphor, they're using imagery, oftentimes on a cosmic scale, to help their people understand that when you take advantage of the poor, you're not just taking advantage of that one person, but you are actually acting in rebellion against God. Because everything we do works on a physical level, but it also works on a spiritual level because as followers of Jesus, we believe that there is a spiritual realm that is just as real, if not more real, than what we see in front of us. And so what the prophets are trying to do is wake us up to the reality that what we do doesn't just matter on the surface level, but actually on a spiritual level. That when we commit sin, that when we commit idolatry, that when we commit injustice, we are actually destroying our souls, and we are destroying other people. And so these are the reasons why the prophets are doing this to provoke us into the realization that these small, seemingly harmless things actually make a big deal.

I love the language that you used. They're trying to wake us up. And sometimes it takes a, like a dramatic jarring effect to do that. Also the classic saying a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes you just need an image. Okay, so I have a story, and I'm going to out myself super hard in this story. So I was a camp counselor one year for freshmen girls. It was a blast and a half. It was summer camp. In the first few days, you know, classic, no one was sleeping at night. They were just up, all the energy, just running around like being crazy, goofing off all night long. By like day three or four, dude, I'm just dead beat tired. I'm so, I can't keep pace anymore. I'm like we have got to sleep. What can I do to make the, to tell these girls to sleep? Because just saying, okay, go to bed, not going to work. There had to be a prophetic moment. And so here's what I did. I was like, "Listen guys, if we do not go to sleep right now, y'all are all going to get diabetes". Is that probably the most extreme thing that I could have said in that scenario? Yes. Listen, is it, has it been proven that prolonged sleep deprivation leads to the kind of eating patterns and physical changes in your body that eventually could lead to diabetes? Yes, it's true, but I used the most extreme, hyperbolic example slash language that I could in that moment to wake them up to the fact that yo, we haven't slept in like 48 hours, we need to sleep. And guess what, they all freaked out, turned the lights off, and went to bed. So what am I saying? I am probably divinely called to be a prophet. Just kidding.

Listen, that is, may be a tiny bit like what the prophets do, except remember the prophets are messengers of God. They have been chosen by God and given a message from God to the people of God, for the purposes of God. And so to be clear, we are not saying that if you need to get people to do something that you come up with the most dramatic imagery possible to manipulate them into doing that. I'm glad that you are now confessing this to us.

I'm confessing.

Because in confession, there's healing, there's mercy, there's grace. But I think that's like a really silly example though of what it's the prophets are trying to do. They're trying to do the same thing the rest of the Bible is trying to do, to tell us, to invite us into this story that's meant to lead us to Jesus and help us become like Jesus, because the Bible is not written just to inform us, but to transform us. And like what Caitlin said earlier, the role of the prophets was not to be a crystal ball predicting the future, but they were meant to hold up a mirror, showing the people of God how far they have fallen short of their calling to be His partners. And so when we read the prophets, what we're doing is we are stepping into this lens of looking at the world, but even more so looking at ourselves, and asking the question is the way that I'm living, bringing about hope, and healing, and goodness, and justice, and peace in the lives of others. And if it's not, then why not? What areas have I put maybe the things that I desire over the things of God? What areas have I maybe put my needs before the good of others? And how can I change those things so that I can be more of who God's called me to be, a person who represents Him to the rest of the world? Because in the same way that these prophets were messengers of God, every single one of us, as disciples of Jesus, have been entrusted with the message of the gospel, and we have been called to share that with the rest of the world. And yes, that comes through the words that we say, but even more than that, it comes through the life that we live. And so to close all of this out, here's the question that I would ask you to wrestle with as you're listening to this. How does your life look when compared to the life of Jesus? Because ultimately this is what the prophets are trying to get us to do, to see who it is that God has called us to be, and to reflect on the ways that maybe the way we're currently living doesn't line up with that picture. Because the prophets are not fortune tellers or future predictors, the prophets are messengers of God, calling out the idolatry and injustice that we commit as the people of God, and reminding us of who we really are, as God's sons and daughters, as disciples of Jesus, who have been entrusted with the greatest mission in the planet, to partner with God to bring about His good and perfect plan, to take all the people who are far from Him and help them find their way back home.

Yup. Let's reflect on the image that we are reflecting this week. And thank you guys so much for conversing with us, for sending in your questions as we walk through the story of the Bible and just hash out how we can understand it better and allow it to transform us into people who live and love like Jesus. We're excited to continue the conversation, so keep sending in your questions, and we'll see you next time.

See y'all.
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