Week 38: Daniel, Hosea, Joel, and Amos

Prepare these questions for Sunday, December 15, 2013.

The book of Daniel details the life and visions of Daniel, a young Israelite captured and deported to Babylon during the Babylonian invasion of Judah. Against great odds, in the midst of his literal enemies, Daniel maintained his faith in God and God was miraculously faithful in return.

1. Throughout this book, Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are faithful to what God has called them to do. They do not eat the royal wine and food and yet they are healthier than the other captives (Chapter 1). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do not serve Babylon's god or worship the king's golden statue and are thrown into a furnace for it; yet they survive (Chapter 3). Daniel continues to pray to God against a written decree by King Darius and is thrown into a lion's den, survives, and encourages a change of heart in the king (Chapter 6). When these men were faithful, God was able to use them to influence the world around them. What is God calling you to do that could change your world, but may have uncomfortable or unwanted consequences? (although being eaten by lions is probably not a concern)

2. This book has several visions and dream interpretations (including the one that sparked the phrase, "the writing on the wall"-chapter 5). The ultimate point of all of these messages is that God is in control and that He will remain faithful to His people. Is this a truth you hold in your own life? How might you behave differently if you truly believed that God would never leave you, no matter how difficult your circumstances?

Hosea was a prophet who spoke to the northern kingdom of Israel for several years around 750 B.C. or so. Israel had blended their religion with that of the local peoples and depended far more on their institutions and rituals than they did on God and His law. Hosea used the imagery of an unfaithful woman to describe Israel during these turbulent years and encouraged the people to allow God to redeem and forgive them.

3.   Hosea's private life reflected God's love for Israel. Hosea married a woman known for being promiscuous (v. 1:2-3) , forgave her when she was unfaithful, and promised his own fidelity to her (v 3:1-3). If Hosea, with God's help, could forgive Gomer and God could forgive Israel, what sins could you possibly have that keep you separated from God? What purpose did Hosea's story serve for the Israelites and for us today?

Joel was a minor prophet who spoke about one specific event: a famine caused by a swarm of locusts. It is uncertain when this book was written or even when the famine happened since it doesn't reference any specific kings or battles as clues. Joel's main purpose was to encourage the Israelites to turn toward God in this time of crisis and not away from Him.

4. Read verses 2:12-13. What does God want from the Israelites? What does He want them to know about Him?

Amos was a different kind of prophet in Judah (the Southern kingdom). In fact, he is identified as a shepherd in the opening verses instead of as a prophet. His basic message is that God is angry at the injustice, corruption, greed, and selfishness of the people. The poor were oppressed, the justice system was corrupt, and the wealthy kept this process going. For his efforts, Amos was exiled, but his words were recorded for future generations.

5. Read verses 5:18-27. What is God's message in this passage? What does this passage say about the heart of God and His priorities? (Interestingly, verse 5:24 became a rallying point for the American Civil Rights Movement and is carved on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. That's free information right there.)

Week 37: Ezekiel 25-48

Prepare these questions for Sunday, December 8, 2013.

This portion of Ezekiel includes messages against other nations (like Tyre and Egypt) and then hopeful messages about Israel's restoration. Chapters 38 and 39 include a message about "Magog" and "Gog" which may refer to Babylon and it's leader, but since these names are also referred to in the book of Revelation (20:7-8) they most likely also symbolize all the enemies of God. Chapters 40 through 48 describe the design and glory of the rebuilt temple and city. This last message was to emphasize the disobedience of the Israelites during Ezekiel's time while also pointing to a future time when all people will acknowledge the authority of God.

1. Chapters 25 through 32 detail terrible fates for the nations surrounding Israel and its people. The messages give various reasons for God's anger with these nations, but every passage includes the phrase "then they will know that I am the Lord." Ezekiel was saying that God would use the circumstances of these nations to get their attention and prove His authority. What circumstances in your own life has God used to get your attention?

2. Ezekiel has several visions that prophesy the restoration of Israel in various ways-the valley of the dry bones in chapter 37 is one of the most famous. How would the use of such vivid imagery be helpful to the Israelites at that time and still to us today?

3. The prophesy against Gog and Magog is detailed and pretty gross (lots of eating of flesh and drinking of blood). Why would this vision include scenes of such complete destruction?What does it mean in verse 39:29 that God will "pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel"?

4. The last several chapters describe the design for the rebuilt temple and it's surrounding lands. Why would this be relevant to the Israelites of that time? What significance does the name of the city (v. 48:35) have?

Week 36: Ezekiel 1-24

Prepare these questions for Sunday, December 1.

The book of Ezekiel is a collections of the visions and prophesies of the prophet Ezekiel who lived during the time of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem (around 600 B.C.). This first half of the book includes Ezekiel's call to prophesy and his messages of judgement against Israel. The book was probably written by Ezekiel himself sometime before his death in around 570 B.C.

1. The first three chapters of Ezekiel detail his vision that called him to be a prophet. To be honest, Ezekiel saw some crazy stuff, took his vision to heart, and changed his life because of it. How might you have reacted if you experienced a similar call to do God's work? Would you obey what you thought God was telling you? Would you ignore the crazy vision and hope it went away?

2. Ezekiel was sent "not..to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the house of Israel." (v. 3:5) How might it make his mission easier because he was sent to his own people? How might the same circumstances make sharing his message more difficult?

3. Throughout these chapters, Ezekiel used a variety of ways to speak to the people. He used symbolic actions (examples in chapters 4 and 12) where he used a sort of acting out of the events to explain God's message to the people. He also described visions he had (chapters 8 and 10 are good examples) and wrote poetry to share with the Israelites (chapters 18 and 19 have examples). Why would Ezekiel have used these varying ways of sharing God's message? How can you apply that concept to your life?

4. Ezekiel compares Jerusalem to a "useless vine" (chapter 15), an "adulterous wife" (chapter 16), and a prostitute (chapter 23). Why would these particular comparisons be made? What might the people of Jerusalem think about these comparisons?

5. The Israelites are described as rebellious and hard-hearted toward God in this book. Is there an area in your life where you feel hardened toward what you know God wants you to be doing?

Week 35: 2 Chronicles

Prepare these questions for Sunday, November 24, 2013.

2 Chronicles continues the retelling of the history of Israel/Judah for the newly-returned-from-exile
Jewish people. It begins with Solomon's reign over Israel and goes all the way through the edict by the Persian King Cyrus that allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem.

1. What does the detail of the building of the temple by Solomon tell you about how the Israelites valued the temple itself? Why would all of those details be included in this retelling of their history?

2. The phrase "he is good, his love endures forever" is used several times in this book when priests are speaking of God. How might this phrase have been an encouragement to the Jewish people after their return to Jerusalem?

3. Most of the book after Solomon details the kings of Judah (the post-split northern kingdom of Israel is mostly ignored in this book). If a king was good (like Hezekiah) and tried to lead the people according to God's will, he was talked about more. What message is this author trying to give the Jewish people living under Persian rule and trying to rebuild their sense of self and community?

4. Why would the author end the book with the reminder of the exile and the proclamation of King Cyrus in verses 36:15-23? Is there anything in your own life that you would want to be reminded of or to keep a record of for your future decisions?

Week 34: 1 Chronicles

Prepare these questions for Sunday, November 17, 2013.

After the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem (586 BC or so) the Jewish people were scattered. The nation of Israel had broken into two pieces (Israel and Judah-we read about it in 1 Kings) and Israel had already been scattered among foreigners, but Judah (and the city of Jerusalem) was still Jewish. With the defeat by the Babylonians, there was no longer a center of Jewish culture, religion, or politics. They Babylonians eventually got beat up by the Persians and the Persians allowed conquered people to return to their homelands because it made them less likely to rebel. SO, the Jews went back to Jerusalem, but they felt really bad about themselves. Chronicles (1 and 2 together) seems to be an attempt to remind the Jewish people of their culture and history and to reconnect them to their faith. It retells their history so many of the stories will be familiar from your earlier reading.

1. Chapters 1-9 give a detailed genealogy of the tribes and leaders of the Israelites. Why would that be important to retell at this moment in Jewish history, after the exile and subsequent return to Jerusalem?

2. Chapter 10 very bluntly tells the end of King Saul's life. Why does the author say Saul died and why do you think the writer included that statement in his retelling of the story?

3. Most of the chapters from 11 on tell of King David's life and accomplishments. This time, however, the story focuses on David's military prowess and success. Why would this version of David's life be so focused on his kingship and not on the other details of his life that are so famous? (friendship with Jonathon, relationship with Bathsheba, etc.)

4. David wanted to build a new temple for God, but he passed the job on to his son, Solomon. What was the reasoning for this decision and what does that tell you about how the Israelites viewed the temple?

Week 33: Lamentations

Prepare these questions for November 10, 2013.

Like Jeremiah predicted, Jerusalem fell to Babylon and the people were pretty bummed out. So, they lamented (which means they cried out in pain). The book of Lamentations is five poems about the destruction of Jerusalem and the regret and anguish the people felt during that time. Some traditions have that Jeremiah himself wrote the poems, but that is not definite. Each of the five chapters is one poem and each poem contains 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which probably made it easier to memorize and pass down to others).

1. Who does the author (or authors) blame for the woes of the city of Jerusalem?

2. In Hebrew poetry, the center of the poem or collection was the most important thought or idea. Read Chapter 3 and identify what you think was the most relevant idea that the writer wanted people to remember.

3. Choose images of suffering from these poems that stand out to you (i.e., "her eyes fail from weeping" or "she groans and turns away"). Why is the city personified in these phrases? Have you ever felt pain or sorrow that made you unable to see through your tears or forced to turn away from the pain?

4. Read verses 5:19-22. Do you ever want to ask God any of these questions? Try to write your own poem/prayer that admits your sins and asks God the hard questions you have for Him. You might want to start each line with a letter from our alphabet to give you guidelines and structure.

Week 32: Jeremiah 37-52

Prepare these questions for November 3, 2013.

1. In Chapter 38 Jeremiah warns that the people who stay in the city will die either through starvation or in battle, but that if they surrender to the Babylonians now, they will have a chance to live. The leaders wanted to kill Jeremiah for destroying morale and depressing the soldiers. (they didn't kill him, but he did spend the rest of the time in jail until the Babylonian king freed him) Have you ever had to tell someone an uncomfortable truth that you did not want to have to say? What did you do and how did you deal with it?

2. Jeremiah was frequently on his own in his ministry. What was his driving reason for continuing to prophesy and warn the people even though they didn't want to listen to him?

3. Jerusalem did fall and the Babylonians took over. How could the people of Jerusalem have made their lives easier and avoided such a huge catastrophe?

4. It is easy to judge the people of the Old Testament for their poor decisions, but we often do the same thing they did. Where are you making the same kinds of poor decisions over and over in your life right now?

Week 31: Jeremiah 1-36

Prepare these questions for October 27, 2013.

The book of Jeremiah contains the prophesies and some historical accounts of the life of Jeremiah. It is a combination of poetry and prose and is not in chronological order, which makes it a little difficult to follow sometimes. The major theme is that if the people do not stop their destructive ways, they will be destroyed. Which is what happened, so they really should have listened better.

1. Read Jeremiah 1:5 and 29:11. How would you live your life differently if  you could really hold these words that God spoke to Jeremiah in your own heart?

2. Throughout this book the people are constantly warned of the consequences of their actions yet they still chose to do wrong. Why did they do that and why do you/we make similar choices today?

3. In Chapter 12 Jeremiah complains that bad people have good lives and he demands an explanation for this from God. Do you ever struggle with the fact that some people with poor behavior have seemingly "better" lives than you do?

4. Jeremiah told the truth regarding the fall of Jerusalem but he was threatened and mocked for his words. Have you ever been mocked for your obedience to God? How did you deal with that situation?

Week 30: Isaiah 40-66

Prepare these questions for Sunday, October 20th.

1. What "comforts" for God's people does the author speak of in Chapter 40?

2. What happened to Babylon (who had conquered the Israelites) and it's gods in Chapters 46 and 47?

3. Several verses reference the "servant" and these are some of the most famous portions of Isaiah. The servant could be Isaiah himself, a description of God's people as a whole, or even a prophesy of Jesus. Look at the following passages and describe the qualities of the servant.
Isaiah 42: 1-4
Isaiah 49: 1-6
Isaiah 50: 4-9

4. Perhaps the most beautiful portion of this entire book is Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This section is sometimes referred to as "The Song of the Suffering Servant" and is thought by many scholars to be a prophesy of Jesus. What words or phrases seem to reference the future story of Jesus and his ministry?

5. Religious scholars in Jesus's time would have memorized these verses. What impact might this have had on Jesus and his experiences with religious leaders?

Week 29: Isaiah 1-39

Prepare these questions for Sunday, October 13, 2013.

The book of Isaiah is named after the prophet Isaiah who gave wisdom and warnings to God's people during the rule of kings in Judah and Israel. The authorship is unknown since some of the text was written during Isaiah's lifetime and some of the book's events occurred after his death. This book is written in a combination of both poetry and prose so it reads a bit differently than the more historical books (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles) of the Old Testament.

1. Read Chapter 1 about the Rebellious Nation.  How is Judah described?

2. Many verses begin with "woe to" in these chapters. Choose 2-3 of these "woes" and use them to explain what qualities God found offensive in these people. Selfishness? Dishonesty? Arrogance?

3. Read Chapter 35. What future could Jerusalem have had if they chose to trust in God instead of in their own political maneuverings?

4. What happened to King Hezekiah in Chapter 38? What questions or answers does this story give you about the role of prayer?

5. The basic story of these chapters is that the people were selfish and practiced a hollow religion and that their lack of trust in God would destroy them. (not very upbeat, is it?) What examples of this attitude do you see in our modern culture?

Week 28: 2 Kings

Prepare these questions for Sunday, October 6.  We will have two weeks worth of questions to discuss this week.

2Kings is the conclusion of the history of the monarchy of Israel (and Judah after the split). It is primarily a recounting of the reigns of kings, but there are a few noteworthy people and events that help us understand more about our relationship with God.

1. What happened to the prophet Elijah in Chapter 2? What do you think this story means?

2. Who was Elisha (different guy than Elijah) and what was his role?

3. Describe the story of Naaman. What can you learn from Naaman's actions?

4. What happened to Jerusalem in Chapter 25 and why was this significant?

5. These histories (1Samuel through 2Kings) show a group of people who repeatedly become obsessed with the politics and details of their lives (which were important things) and forget the role of God in those very same areas. In what ways do you allow important things to overshadow God's role in your own life?

Week 27: 1 Kings

Prepare these questions for Sunday, October 6.  We will not meet on September 29 because there is no Inside Out that week.

1Kings is the continuation of the narrative begun in 1 and 2 Samuel. The first half is about King Solomon (David's son with Bathsheba) and the second half if about several other kings after Solomon's death.

1. Transition from David to Solomon was not particularly smooth. What happened and how did Solomon become king? What challenges might that have made for Solomon?

2. Solomon was and is known for being a wise king. What verses or passages reveal his wisdom in these chapters?

3. What kind of king was Solomon, really? Faithful? Honest? Selfish? Arrogant? Wise? Foolish? What qualities do you see in chapters 3 through 11?

4. After Solomon's death there was a rebellion and Israel split into two parts-Israel in the North and Judah in the South. The rest of 1Kings details the leaders of these two kingdoms and the highlights of their reigns. What does the rebellion and subsequent turnover of rulers tell you about the attitudes and faithfulness of the Israelites during this time?

Week 26: 2 Samuel

Prepare these questions for Sunday, September 22, 2013.  We will have two weeks worth of questions to discuss this week.

2Samuel details the life of David as king while it continues the narrative begun in 1Samuel.

1. How did David become king and secure his role as leader?

2. What is the story of Bathsheba and what does it reveal about David's character?

3. What happened with Absalom and how did David react to the outcome?

4. David was an amazing warrior and king while, at the same time, a very flawed and selfish man. What conflicts do you find in your own heart that might limit your ability to fulfill what you were meant to do with your life?

5. What was David's legacy? (There are several possible answers to this question so just go with what you think.)

Week 25: 1 Samuel

Prepare these questions for Sunday, September 22, 2013.  We will not meet on September 15 due to Vertical Reality.

1Samuel is the first half of the story of how Israel went from having judges who ruled to having a monarchy. It starts with the prophet/judge Samuel and then moves into the transition to Israel's first kings, Saul and David. It is unclear who actually wrote down the stories, but it is certain that this book (along with 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings) is meant to record the history of the monarchy of Israel.

1. Who was Samuel and how did he become a prophet/judge of Israel?

2. Who was Saul and how did he become the first king of Israel?

3. How did David enter the story and what was his relationship to Saul?

4. What are the highlights of the following events in David's life?
-battle with Goliath
-Saul tried to kill David
-friendship with Jonathon
-spared Saul's life in the cave

5. Why was it disobedient for Israel to demand a king? Where have you willfully demanded something you knew was disobedient in your life and what were the consequences?

Week 24: Ruth and Song of Songs

Prepare these questions for Sunday, September 8, 2013. We will have two weeks of questions to discuss this day since we did not meet on Labor Day.

The book of Ruth tells a particular story that happened during the time period of the rule of judges. Eventually life events would result in Ruth becoming the great-grandmother of the legendary King David.

1. How are Naomi and Ruth related and what troubles did they face?

2. What happened to these two women and how is God's hand seen in their story?

Song of Songs
This book is a love poem between a man and a woman. They direct their thoughts to each other, but also friends who respond during the poem. The piece may have been used in actual marriage ceremonies, but may also have been just an example of love poetry from the time period. "King" and "Queen" probably refer to the Bride and Groom, however, if King Solomon was the author, he may have meant that literally.

3. Although the language is far from modern (my husband does not compliment my body parts by comparing them to animals, for instance), a lot of the sentiment stands the test of time. What emotions or thoughts do you see that reflect the feelings and desires of lovers today?

4. What qualities do the lovers admire in one another? Would you look for these qualities in your spouse?

5. These two books (Ruth and Song of Songs) are very personal, not the sweeping stories of Israel and massive miracles. What role do they have in the narrative of the Bible?

Week 23: Judges

Prepare these questions for Sunday, September 8.  We will not meet on Sunday, September 1 due to Labor Day.

The book of Judges describes the time after Joshua no longer led Israel but before their government became a monarchy. There is no author listed and several different judges are described. For the most part, Judges is a cycle of failures and faithless decisions by the Israelites followed by a time of success when a good judge rose up to lead. The main lesson is that God's plans succeed in spite of human participation and faithfulness.

1. Although you probably don't erect altars to foreign gods in your room like the Israelites did, we all turn toward ungodly things from time to time. What people or things do you turn to on occasion instead of God?

2. Chapters 4 and 5 contain the stories of two rather formidable women, Deborah and Jael. Who were they and what stands out to you about their stories?

3. Chapters 6-8 tell the story of Gideon. Describe his defeat of the Midianites and identify 2-3 characteristics that allowed him to be used by God?

4. Samson (Chapters 12-16) has quite a memorable story. What was Samson's downfall and how did he avenge himself in the end?

5. Over and over again this book shows failure and chaos returning to Israel. Why would such detail of Israel's faithlessness be in the Bible?

Week 22: Joshua

Prepare these questions for Sunday, August 25, 2013.

The Book of Joshua is about, you know, Joshua. After wandering in the desert as punishment for their disobedience, the Israelites were finally on the cusp of invading and conquering the Promised Land (Canaan). Moses chose Joshua as his successor to lead the entire nation across the Jordan River and into the region that they had been promised by God. This book tells the story of that journey and concludes with the death of Joshua.  It was probably complied after Joshua's death (at least the death part was, obviously), although some portions may have been recorded by Joshua himself.

1. In Chapter 1 God commands Joshua to take the Israelites into Canaan. What advice or instructions does He give Joshua? What might have been the purpose of these words or phrases?

2. Describe the story of Rahab. Why would this detail be part of the larger story of the Israelites' taking of Canaan?

3. What happened at Jericho? Why might God give Joshua these instructions for taking the city?

4. Most of this book involves the conquering of the various peoples and cities in Canaan. Why would God require such strenuous fighting on the part of the Israelites to claim this land? What does it say that so many of the cities were destroyed?

5. In the last chapters of the book, Israel renews its covenant with God (that they will follow God and He will not leave them). Why would Israel need to keep renewing their covenant? In what ways do you relate to their lack of focus in their faith?

Week 21: Ecclesiastes

Prepare these questions for Sunday, August 18, 2013.

The name Ecclesiastes is generally thought to mean "teacher" or "preacher" and this book is written as though a teacher is giving advice.  The author may have been King Solomon, but that is not certain and it could just be a collection of teachings from several people.  This small book is not a story or history, but rather advice about how to pursue meaning in a broken world.

1. Chapter 1 includes two famous lines that are often quoted even in non-religious settings. Read verse 2 ("meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless) and verse 9 (there is nothing new under the sun). What do these verses mean and why would they resonate with so many people?

2. Chapter 3 begins with a beautiful poem (which also happens to be a song released by the band The Byrds in 1965). How could this "circle of life" concept be comforting? What other reactions or feelings does it inspire in you?

3. Read Chapter 5: 8-20. What is the main idea of this passage? How can you apply this advice to your own pursuits and desires for your life?

4. Ecclesiastes can be a depressing read (there is a lot of "meaningless" talk), but it can also be encouraging. It presents an uncertain world where hard work does not guarantee success or wealth, but where relationships (with friends or in marriage) are a source of real joy. How might the world be different if loving your friends and fearing God were the most valued priorities instead of the pursuit of wealth, power, or fame? How might your life be different if you focus on those priorities?

Week 20: Proverbs 10-31

Prepare these questions for Sunday, August 11, 2013.

1. Chapters 10-24 are advice from King Solomon and are often short, two-halved statements.  What recurring themes do you see in these proverbs? (ex., fear/knowledge of God, guarding your tongue)

2. Choose 1-2 proverbs to memorize that you could use to guide your own actions this week.  For instance, if you struggle with arguing with your family, Proverbs 12:16 might be useful for you.

3. The term "fool" is used often in this collection of wisdom.  Based on these verses, what makes a person foolish?

4. Proverbs 31 includes a poem known as "The Wife of Noble Character." After reading this passage, what words or characteristics do you think the author would use to describe a modern wife of noble character?

Week 19: Proverbs 1-9

Prepare these questions for Sunday, August 4, 2013.

The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom and advice that was meant to be passed down through the generations of the Israelites.  Many of the proverbs are attributed to Solomon, but there are also other authors and the book was not written in one sitting or even during one lifetime. It is often quoted and generally considered to be practical even in today's world.

1. Chapter 1 states the purpose of this book. In your own words, why was Proverbs compiled and written down?

2. These chapters usually begin with "my son" or "my sons." Why would the author use this address and how might that affect how they were heard or read in ancient Israel?

3. There are several major themes in these chapters-pursuing wisdom, fleeing adultery, warnings against folly. What pieces of advice stood out to you? Why?

4. These first 9 chapters are rather poetic. For instance, wisdom has a voice and a gender (it's a woman) and speaks directly to the reader. What might be the purpose of using such writing devices?  Do you think it is an effective way to communicate the message of the first chapters of Proverbs?

Week 18: Deuteronomy 20-34

Prepare these questions for Sunday, July 28, 2013.

1.  Several of the laws spoken about in chapters 20-24 deal with physical cleanliness around camp and the temple.  Why would this be important for the Israelites?  What spiritual significance could these rules and regulations have had?

2.  Chapter 26 details the giving of tithes (a tenth). To whom should this offering be given (v.12)? What lessons can you take from these instructions that you could apply to your life?

3. Chapters 27-28 involve a lot of "curses" for bad behavior.  What do these curses tell you about what was important to the Israelites?

4. This book ends with the death of Moses and the people poised to enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. What do you think was the greatest legacy left by Moses? Do you think he (Moses) was pleased with his impact on Israel or not? 

Week 17: Deuteronomy 1-19

Prepare these questions for Sunday, July 21, 2013.

Deuteronomy finds us back with the Israelites on their never-ending journey to the Promised Land (Canaan). In this book, Moses gives a long speech reminding the people of all God has done for them and the law that has been given to them.  In the end, Moses dies (without entering Canaan) and the people claim the land that they waited on for an entire generation.

1.  Chapters 1-5 remind the Israelites of the events they have been through since leaving Egypt. Why would Moses begin his speech this way? What benefit is there in recounting what God has done for you in your life?

2.  Moses was not allowed to cross the Jordan river and enter the Promised Land. Why was this true (see Numbers 20:1-12)? What does that tell you about God and how can we learn from Moses's mistake?

3. In chapters 7 (v. 7) and 9 (v. 4-6), Moses tells Israel why they were chosen by God and allowed to take Canaan. What reasons does Moses give?

4. In chapters 10-19, Moses recounts several of the laws and structures for society that were established in previous books like Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus. What benefit could there be for Moses to do this?

5.  What instructions does Moses give concerning the Israelites' interactions with the other people groups they will encounter in Canaan?  What is the purpose of those instructions?

Week 16: Psalms 96-150

Prepare these questions for Sunday, July 7, 2013.

1. This last set of Psalms includes many words of praise and worship.  Choose two to three phrases that encourage or uplift you and write down the psalms in which they are found.  Some suggestions include, "sing to the Lord," "the Lord reigns," "praise the Lord, oh my soul," and "His love endures forever."

2. The first words read to each of my children, within an hour or so of their births, were from Psalm 96. Years before their births, years before my marriage, I chose this Psalm to be the very first instructions that my future husband and I would give to any children we might have.  How can you use the Book of Psalms as instructions for your own life?

3.  The very last lines of the book of Psalms are "let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord."  These words represent the entire message of this collection of songs-we are to praise the Lord in good times and bad, when we are victorious and when we are lost, no matter what.  God does not need our praise; rather, our hearts need to praise Him. Our praise brings us hope. Choose one psalm from anywhere in this book to memorize and carry with you for life.  Let it speak to you of hope in the Lord who will never leave you nor forsake you.

Week 15: Psalms 56-95

Prepare these questions for Sunday, June 16.

1.  Some of these Psalms list actual tunes to be used when singing them (69, 75, and 80 for instance).  How would a known tune help the people to remember these words?

2.  Many Psalms have repeating words, phrases, or concepts since they were intended to be songs.  Why might that be useful? How could knowing the music or hearing these words sung to new music possibly change a Psalm's meaning or beauty?

3.  Psalm 56 tells of King David's fears and pleas for mercy when he was captured by an enemy army.  Compare his fears and feelings to your own struggles.  How can you use David's reaction to deal with your personal times of pain and uncertainty?

4.  Read Psalm 67. What does the Psalmist say about God in these verses?  What does he ask for from God?  How might your heart and attitude be different if you used this Psalm as a daily prayer?

Week 14: Psalms 18-55

Prepare these questions for Sunday, June 9, 2013.

1.  Skim through Psalms 18-22.  What words are used to describe God and how He cared for David and his people?

2.  The 23rd Psalm is one of the most famous passages of the Bible and has been commonly used at funerals.  Read it carefully-why do these particular phrases (the Lord is with me, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, my cup runs over) resonate with people?

3. What messages are there for the "wicked" in these Psalms?  Give verses for ones you find.

4.  Many words and phrases from the Psalms are used in hymns and other songs.  Do you see any that stood out to you or sounded familiar?

Week 13: Psalms 1-17

Prepare these questions for Sunday, June 2, 2013.  We will not meet on May 26 due to Memorial Day.

The book of Psalms is very different from most of the books we have been reading so far.  A Psalm is a song written to be used in worship and set to music.  We don't know the tunes anymore and the wording is sometimes awkward because these songs have been translated over and over from the ancient Hebrew (the language in which they are thought to have been written). Having said that, the Psalms are still beautiful poetry with powerful imagery and often comforting concepts. Some Psalms list the author (most are attributed to King David) or give a brief explanation about when/why they were written, but many stand alone as poems to God.

1.  What topics are covered in these first Psalms?

2.  Read Psalm 8 carefully.  What does this Psalm say about God and how He feels/acts toward mankind?

3.  Read Psalm 15.  Use your own words to describe the kind of person who "will not be shaken" (some translations read "will not be moved").  How do you compare to these qualities at this point in your life?

4.  What do you like (or dislike) about this collection of poetry as opposed to the law and history books we have been reading so far?

Week 12: Numbers 22-36

Prepare these questions for Sunday, May 19, 2013.

The second half of Numbers has just as many details as the first and is also rather violent.  Try to imagine what it would have been like to be part of this mass of millions of people and how organization and record keeping could have improved life for the people.

1.  Who was Balaam and what unusual events happened to him?

2.  A lot of these chapters detail conflicts between the Israelites and those they encounter (Moab and the Midianites, for example).  There are also very specific stages of their journey chronicled in Chapter 33.  What use could these records have for future generations of Israelites?

3.  How did the Israelites divide up Canaan among themselves when they finally reached that land?  What problems or benefits might this have caused?

4.  Why was the accuracy of the census so important to the Israelites in these chapters?

Week 11: Numbers 1-21

Prepare these questions for Sunday, May 19, 2013.
We will not meet May 12 due to Mother's Day.

The book of Numbers is named after the detailed accounting figures from a couple of censuses that are recorded in its pages.  Some of it is rather tedious to read, but there are also some pretty interesting stories about the Israelites' time in the desert.  In these chapters we are still following Moses and company in an attempt to reach Canaan, the land God promised the Israelites way back in Genesis.

1.  Why does the Bible include all the really specific census data recorded in Numbers?

2.  What is the purpose and/or moral of the description of the Lord providing quail in chapter 11?

3.  In chapters 13 and 14 the Israelites near Canaan and send scouts to report back to Moses and the rest of the nation.  What is their report? How do the people react?  What is God's response to their reactions?

4.  What miraculous events happen in chapters 20 and 21?  What do these events say about the attitudes and general feelings of the Israelites at this time?

Week 10: Leviticus 16-27

Prepare these questions for Sunday, May 19, 2013.
We will not meet on May 5 due to Service Sunday or May 12 due to Mother's Day.

1.  Chapter 16 is about the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  What is the scapegoat and what was its purpose?

2.  Eating blood is forbidden in Chapter 17 (how disappointing, right?).  What reasons are given for this rule?  Any guesses why that would matter to God?

3.  Throughout Chapters 18-26 the phrase "I am the Lord" is repeated (sometimes "I, the Lord your God, am holy").  What does this tell you about the purpose for so many rules and regulations for the Israelites?

4.  Some of these regulations seem clear or obvious (do no have sexual relations with close relatives), some are kind of confusing (do not wear cloth woven with two kinds of material--does that mean cotton-poly blends are out?), and some are controversial (homosexuality, tattoos, and mediums are all mentioned here).  Why do you think there is such a wide range of topics in these verses?  How do they apply to today's world?

Week 9: Leviticus 1-15

Prepare these questions for Sunday, April 28, 2013.

Leviticus is named for the tribe/descendants of Levi (they taught the law and served the temple) and it concerns the rules regarding sacrifices and purity.  The book of Leviticus is also usually about where people give up on reading the Bible.  It is somewhat tedious, hard to relate to from a modern perspective, and kind of gross (there's a lot of smearing/scattering blood).  It is generally thought to have been written by Moses, but (as always happens with the Bible) people argue about that. Try to imagine living in a culture that attempted to abide by the rules and regulations discussed in this book.

1.  Chapters 1 through 7 list and describe 5 different kinds of sacrifices or offerings.  What are they and when are they used?

2.  Who is anointed and installed as priests over Israel in Chapters 8 through 10?

3.  Chapters 11 through 15 have some pretty specific (and gross) rules about diets and health.  Which ones stand out to you as surprising or unusual?

4.  What value did all of these sacrifices, rules, and regulations have for the Israelites?  How is their worship of God different from Christian worship today? Are there ways in which it is similar?

Week 8: Exodus 32-40

Prepare these questions for Sunday, April 21, 2013.

In this part of Exodus the Israelites seem to forget God's presence and rebel against Moses, yet still come together to create the tabernacle.  Think about what circumstances might have encouraged their rebellion as you read.

1.  What was the Golden Calf and how did Moses react when he learned about it?  What was God's reaction to these events?

2.  What was unusual about Moses and his face after he met with God?  What does this reveal about God?

3.  Why is the description of the tabernacle so very detailed?  What can those details tell us about these people and their community?

4.  How did the Israelites determine when to stay and when to go during their time in the desert?  What impact could this have on how the Israelites viewed God?

Week 7: Exodus 13-31

Prepare these questions for Sunday, April 14, 2013.

These chapters occur as the Israelites are fleeing Egypt and moving through the desert with Moses as their leader.  Think about what it would be like to travel with around 2 million people or so while camping in the desert as you read this section.

1.  What miracles allowed the Israelites to escape Egypt and survive in the desert?

2.  What are the Ten Commandments and how did they come to be?

3.  What other kinds of laws are stated in these chapters?  Why would these laws be given to Moses at this point in the Israelites' story?

4.  What is the Ark of the Covenant discussed in Chapter 25?  What did the Israelites do with it and why is it significant?

5.  The Israelites experienced inspiring acts of miraculous love from God, but still needed to establish laws and the rule of judges to function as a society.  What does that say about their characters?  Do you relate to any of their behaviors or reactions to these experiences?

Week 6: Exodus 1-12

Prepare the following questions for Sunday, April 7, 2013.

In Exodus we return to the story of the now-called Israelites (the family of Jacob that settled in Egypt to avoid famine).  Things don't go so well for them and they have to leave (which is what Exodus means) under the guidance of Moses, who is generally thought to have written down the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.)

1.  Who was Moses and what are the highlights of what happened to him in these chapters?

2.  What might Moses have been thinking during the rather dramatic events of his life (raised in palace, on the run for murder, burning bush, speaking to Pharaoh)?  How could those thoughts affect how he viewed God?

3.  List the plagues discussed in these chapters.  Were the plagues effective in getting Pharaoh to release the Israelites? Why?

4.  How does the story of Passover (Chapter 12) relate to what you know of the story of Jesus from the New Testament?  (Luke 22:1-20 might help with ideas)

Week 5: Job 25-42

Prepare these questions for Sunday, April 7, 2013.
We will not be meeting on Easter (March 31) so we will discuss weeks 5 and 6 on April 7.

The second half of Job's story involves a new friend who speaks to Job (Elihu) and a response from God that comes "out of the storm."  Try to imagine what that seemed like to Job as you read.

1.  Why did Elihu wait so long to speak up?  What are your thoughts on his reasoning?

2.  What does the fact that these men debate the will of God tell you about the nature of both faith and human beings? What can you learn from their examples (good or bad)?

3.  What are God's eventual responses to Job's questions?  Do these answers satisfy you? Why?

4.  What does Job conclude after God speaks?  Do you think the later events of his life affected his view of God's words from the storm?

Week 4: Job 1-24

Prepare these questions for Sunday, March 24, 2013.

Although we will read the entire Old Testament before we move on to the New Testament, we are jumping around a bit in the process.  You may have to look up where Job is since it isn't all that close to Genesis.  Most of the book of Job is made up of poetic discussions Job has with some men in his community about what is happening in his life. That can get kind of confusing to follow for those of us who don't communicate with our friends through poetry so you may want to read any summaries your Bible has to help you out with these verses.

1.  Who was Job and what happened to him?

2.  What are your thoughts on Job's misfortune and why God allowed it to happen?

3.  What role did Satan play in this story? Does that confuse or upset you?  What questions would you like to ask God about this topic?

4.  In your own words, what did Job's friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) say to him?

5.  Job questions why these terrible events happened to him.  Why would these verses that seem to question God be included in the Bible? What do you read in these verses?

Week 3: Genesis 26-50

Prepare these questions for Sunday, March 17, 2013.

This is a large section of scripture covering the lives of Isaac and Rebekah, their children Jacob and Esau, and their grandchildren.  Take note of both the recurring mistakes and the extreme acts of faith this family makes.

1. For each group or pair below, understand how they're related and at least one notable characteristic of their relationship.
Isaac and Rebekah
Jacob and Esau
Jacob and Laban
Jacob, Leah, and Rachel
Dinah, Simeon, and Levi
Jacob, Rachel, and Joseph

2. These chapters have some pretty impressive examples of family dysfunction.  Which of these instances stood out to you?  Why?  You might consider the favoritism of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob's taking of Esau's birthright and blessing, Laban's dealings with Jacob, Joseph's relationship with his brothers...

3.  What happened to Joseph after his brothers sold him to slave traders?

4.  Do any of the people in these chapters make you feel sympathetic toward their circumstances?  Who and why?

5.  When and why do the members of this family call on or interact with God?  Can you relate to those moments in your own life?

Week 2: Genesis 12-25

Prepare these questions for Sunday, March 10, 2013.

These chapters are about the lives of Abraham and Sarah. They're called Abram and Sarai until God changes their names so don't be confused about that.  Think about why Abraham is sometimes called "Father Abraham" as you read.

1.  What are the major events of Abram/Abraham's life?

2.  There are some shocking events in these passages.  What surprised or shocked you?

3. What does it say about God that He used such flawed people in His plans?  What does that mean for us?

4.  What is unusual about how Abraham chose a wife for his son Isaac?

5.  What one question would you ask God about these passages?

Week 1: Genesis 1-11

Prepare these questions for Sunday, March 3, 2013.

These are the first 11 chapters of the Bible.  They deal with some pretty famous stories of the old testament and some of the most talked about events of all time.  As you read, consider these questions.

1.  What major topics are included in these chapters? (creation, the first sin, Noah's Ark, etc.)

2. A lot of these verses include events that are hard to understand.  What questions do you have after reading these passages?  (Did creating the world take 7 literal days? How did all those animals get on that boat? What's up with talking snakes?)

3. What characteristics do you see in God after reading these verses?  Is he loving, angry, faithful, or just simply too hard to understand in your eyes?

4.  What one passage or verse stood out as your favorite?