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?