Saturday, February 25, 2012

Elijah – against Evil

Elijah has refused to fit into 2 weeks. A third visit next week, with special guest Elisha.

Some passages are paraphrased to tell the story in the time allotted. They have the verses in (parentheses) instead of the 2verse numbers in the 3text.

1 Kings 18:41-46, 19:1-9
41Then Elijah told Ahab, “Get up, eat, and drink. It sounds like a heavy rain is coming.” 42Ahab got up to eat and drink. Elijah went to the top of Carmel and bowed down on the ground to pray. 43He said to his servant, “Please go back to Mount Carmel, and look toward the sea.” He went up, looked, came back, and said, “There’s nothing.” Seven times Elijah told him, “Go back.” 44After the seventh time the servant said, “A little cloud like a man’s hand is coming from the sea.” Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and leave before the rain delays you.’ ” 45Gradually, the sky grew darker with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. Ahab got into his chariot to go back to Jezreel. 46The Lord’s power was on Elijah. He hiked up his robe and ran ahead of Ahab until they came to Jezreel.

1Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done, including how he had executed all the prophets. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah. She said, “May the gods strike me dead if by this time tomorrow I don’t take your life the way you took the lives of Baal’s prophets.”  3Frightened, Elijah fled to save his life. He came to Beersheba in Judah and left his servant there. 4Then he traveled through the wilderness for a day. He sat down under a broom plant and wanted to die. “I’ve had enough now, Lord,” he said. “Take my life! I’m no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down and slept under the broom plant.
Elijah fed by an angel

An angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6When he looked, he saw near his head some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water. So he ate, drank, and went to sleep again.  7The angel of the Lord came back and woke him up again. The angel said, “Get up and eat, or your journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, ate, and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled for 40 days and nights until he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 9There he went into a cave and spent the night.

1)    Does it make sense for Elijah to be afraid? He just smote 450 or 850 enemy priests and ran like a superhero…

2)    Horeb is (probably) another name for Sinai, where Moses received the 10 commandments, spending 40 days in a cloud with the Lord. What’s the significance of that?

3)    Why was Elijah ready to die? Have you ever felt really down not too long after a great experience?

1 Kings 19:9-18
Then the Lord spoke his word to Elijah. He asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “Lord God of Armies, I have eagerly served you. The Israelites have abandoned your promises, torn down your altars, and executed your prophets. I’m the only one left, and they’re trying to take my life.” 11God said, “Go out and stand in front of the Lord on the mountain.”  
As the Lord was passing by, a fierce wind tore mountains and shattered rocks ahead of the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. And after the fire there was a quiet, whispering voice. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat, went out, and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Then the voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “Lord God of Armies, I have eagerly served you. The Israelites have abandoned your promises, torn down your altars, and executed your prophets. I’m the only one left, and they’re trying to take my life.” 15The Lord told him, “Go back to the wilderness near Damascus, the same way you came.”
(15-18) Then the Lord gave specific instructions as to whom Elijah should anoint as king, told him Elisha was to follow him as prophet, and assured him that there were still “7,000 people in Israel whose knees have not knelt to worship Baal.”

4) People LOVE this story. Why do you think?

3 Dramatic Stories. Split the students up into groups to perform them dramatically.
1 Kings 21:1-29
as imagined by Thomas Hawk @Flickr
(1-14) Ahab told his neighbor, “give me your vineyard.”  He said he’d pay for it or get him another, but he wanted it for a vegetable garden. The neighbor said that God told him not to give him the vineyard of his ancestors, and Ahab got very resentful. Jezebel noticed and asked why, and said not to worry, she’d get it for him. Jezebel wrote letter in Ahab’s name and told the leaders of Naboth’s city to pretend to honor Naboth and then accuse him of cursing God and king. These men in Naboth’s city did what Jezebel asked them to do and wrote her that “Naboth has been stoned to death.” 15Jezebel received the message and said to Ahab, “Get up! Confiscate the vineyard which Naboth from Jezreel refused to sell you. He’s dead now.” 16When he heard about Naboth’s death, Ahab went to confiscate the vineyard.
17Then the Lord spoke his word to Elijah from Tishbe: 18“Go, meet King Ahab of Israel, who lives in Samaria. He went to confiscate Naboth’s vineyard. 19Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord asks: Have you murdered someone just to confiscate a vineyard?’ Then tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: At the place where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, the dogs will lick up your blood.’ ” 20Ahab asked Elijah, “So you’ve found me, my enemy?”  Elijah answered, “I found you. Because you sold yourself to do what the Lord considers evil. 21So I am going to bring evil on you. I will destroy your descendants. I will destroy every male[a] in Ahab’s house, whether slave or freeman in Israel. … You led Israel to sin.” 23Then the Lord also spoke through Elijah about Jezebel: “The dogs will eat Jezebel inside the walls of Jezreel. 24If anyone from Ahab’s house dies in the city, dogs will eat him. If anyone dies in the country, birds will eat him.” …
27When Ahab heard these things, he tore his clothes in distress and dressed in sackcloth. He fasted, lay in sackcloth, and walked around depressed. 28Then the Lord spoke his word to Elijah from Tishbe: 29“Do you see how Ahab is humbling himself in my presence? Because he’s humbling himself in my presence, I will not let any evil happen to his family while he is alive. I will bring evil on it during his son’s lifetime.”

2 Kings 1:1-16
1After Ahab died, Moab rebelled against Israel. 2During the rebellion King Ahaziah fell through a window lattice in his upstairs room in Samaria and injured himself.
(3-9) So Ahaziah sent messengers to ask Baalzebub whether he would get better. Elijah met the messengers and told them to go back to the king and tell him he was going to die where he lay. The king recognized Elijah from their description, and Ahaziah sent an officer with 50 soldiers to fetch Elijah. The officer commanded Elijah to come. 10Elijah answered the officer, “If I’m a man of God, fire will come from heaven and burn up you and your 50 men.” Then fire came from heaven and burned up the officer and his 50 men.

(11-16) The king sent another 50 and this happened again. The king sent another 50 and this commander asked Elijah for mercy. God told Elijah to go with him, and then Elijah told the king directly 16“You sent messengers to seek advice from Baalzebub, the god of Ekron. Is this because you think there is no God in Israel whose word you can seek? You will not get up from the bed you are lying on. Instead, you will die there.”  Joram, Ahab’s grandson, was the next king

But what happened to Jezebel?
2 Kings 9:30-36 (After Elisha anoints Jehu king of Israel, and God commands him to kill Ahab’s grandson Joram.)
30When Jehu arrived in Jezreel, Jezebel heard about it. She put on eye shadow, fixed her hair, and looked out of a second-story window. 31When Jehu entered the gateway, she asked, “Is everything alright, Zimri, murderer of your master?”

32Looking up at the window, he asked, “Is anyone on my side? Anyone?” Then two or three eunuchs looked out at him.  33He said, “Throw her down.” They threw her down, and some of her blood splattered on the wall and the horses. The horses trampled her.

34He went inside, ate, and drank. Then he said, “Take care of this woman who had a curse on her. After all, she was a king’s daughter.” 35But when they went out to bury her, they couldn’t find any of her body except her skull, feet, and hands. 36They came back and told him.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Elijah – Fire and Rain

(This study looks at the rather spectacular life of Elijah. Part 2 next week. The goal is for the students to practice some question posing. I'll add their questions afterward. I'd love it if you left your questions in the comments.)

Starter question: Jesus appears in glory at the Empire State Building. With him are two great figures from the Old Testament. Whom do you think?

Mark 9:2-8
After six days Jesus took only Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s put up three tents—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Peter didn’t know how to respond. He and the others were terrified.) Then a cloud overshadowed them. A voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, as they looked around, they saw no one with them but Jesus.

So who is this mystery man? What do you know about him already?

Towards the end of the last prophecy of the Old Testament, there is this…
Malachi 4:2-5
“The Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings for you people who fear my name. You will go out and leap like calves let out of a stall. 3You will trample on wicked people, because on the day I act they will be ashes under the soles of your feet,” says the Lord of Armies.
“Remember the teachings of my servant Moses, the rules and regulations that I gave to him at Horeb for all Israel.  “I’m going to send you the prophet Elijah before that very terrifying day of the Lord comes. 6He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children and children’s attitudes toward their parents. If not, I will come and reclaim my land by destroying you.”

800 years before Jesus, after Israel had separated into the kingdoms of Israel (north) and Judah (south), was the time of Elijah.  When we first hear of Elijah, Ahab is king , married to Jezebel. He is a Baal worshipper and described as more evil than all the kings before him.  Jezebel became a word used to describe a wicked woman.

1 Kings 17
1Elijah, who was from Tishbe but had settled in Gilead, said to Ahab, “I solemnly swear, as the Lord God of Israel whom I serve lives, there will be no dew or rain during the next few years unless I say so.”
(2-10) The Lord then sends Elijah to live in the wilderness by a river east of the Jordan. Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and the evening. When the stream dried up, the Lord sent him to a widow at Zarepath. When he got there, he met her while she gathered wood.

10He called to her, “Please bring me a drink of water.” 11As she was going to get it, he called to her again, “Please bring me a piece of bread too.” 12She said, “I solemnly swear, as the Lord your God lives, I didn’t bake any bread. I have one handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I’m gathering wood. I’m going to prepare something for myself and my son so that we can eat it and then die.” 13Then Elijah told her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home, and do as you’ve said. But first make a small loaf and bring it to me. Then prepare something for yourself and your son. 14This is what the Lord God of Israel says: Until the Lord sends rain on the land, the jar of flour will never be empty and the jug will always contain oil.” 15She did what Elijah had told her. So she, Elijah, and her family had food for a long time. 16The jar of flour never became empty, and the jug always contained olive oil, as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

17Afterwards, the son of the woman who owned the house got sick. He got so sick that finally no life was left in him. 18The woman asked Elijah, “What do you and I have in common, man of God?[a] Did you come here to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” 19He said to her, “Give me your son.” Elijah took him from her arms, carried him to the upstairs room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. 20Then he called to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought misery on the widow I’m staying with by killing her son?” 21Then Elijah stretched himself over the boy three times and called to the Lord, “Lord my God, please make this child’s life return to him.” 22The Lord heard Elijah’s request, and the child’s life returned to him. He was alive again. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upstairs room of the house, and gave him to his mother. He said, “Look! Your son is alive.” 24The woman said to Elijah, “Now I’m convinced that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is true.”

What bible study questions would you write for this?

(1 Kings 18:1-16) In the third year of the drought, the Lord sends Elijah back to Ahab. In turns out that Ahab has been scouring the country for Elijah, but was unable to find him.
17When he saw Elijah, Ahab said, “Is that you, you troublemaker of Israel?” 18Elijah answered, “I haven’t troubled Israel. You and your father’s family have done it by disobeying the Lord’s commands and following the various Baal gods. 19Order all Israel to gather around me on Mount Carmel. And bring the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20Ahab sent word to all the Israelites and brought the prophets together on Mount Carmel. 21Elijah stood up in front of all the people and asked them, “How long will you try to have it both ways? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal is God, follow him.” The people didn’t say a word. 22So Elijah told the people, “I’m the only surviving prophet of the Lord, but there are 450 prophets of Baal. 23Give us two bulls. Let the prophets of Baal choose one for themselves, cut it into pieces, lay it on the wood, but not set it on fire. I’ll do the same with the other bull. 24You call on the name of your gods, but I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire is the real God.” All the people answered, “That’s fine.”

25Elijah told the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull for yourselves. Prepare yours first, because there are more of you. Call on the name of your god, but don’t set the wood on fire.” 26They took the bull he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon. They said, “Baal, answer us!” But there wasn’t a sound or an answer. So they danced around the altar they had made. 27At noon Elijah started to make fun of them. “Shout louder, since he is a god. Maybe he’s thinking, relieving himself, or traveling! Maybe he’s sleeping, and you have to wake him!” 28So they shouted louder. They also cut themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed. (This is what their ritual called for.) 29In the afternoon they continued to rant and rave until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no sound, no answer, no attention given to them.

(30-33) So then Elijah called the people to him. He built an altar with 12 stones, 1 for each son of Jacob. He arranged the wood, cut up the bull and put the meat on the altar.

34He said, “Fill four jars with water. Pour the water on the offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it again. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35The water flowed around the altar, and even the trench was filled with water. 36When it was time to offer the sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward. He said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make known today that you are God in Israel and that I’m your servant and have done all these things by your instructions. 37Answer me, Lord! Answer me! Then these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you are winning back their hearts.” 38So a fire from the Lord fell down and consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dirt. The fire even dried up the water that was in the trench. 39All the people saw it and immediately bowed down to the ground. “The Lord is God!” they said. “The Lord is God!” 40Elijah told them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let any of them escape.” The people seized them, and Elijah took them to the Kishon River and slaughtered them there.

What bible study questions would you write for this?

EDIT: as promised, the youth-generated questions.
  • How long had the drought been going on when Elijah met the widow? Was she suffereing from the drought or just poor? 
  • What's the chances that a dusty man asking for food is a prophet that is going to give you a magic jar of flour and oil?
  • How old was the son?
  • Why did the widow not have faith in Elijah after the magic jars?
  • Why didn't Elijah/God heal the boy when he was just sick?
  • Is this the first resurrection story in the bible?
  • Why aren't the prophets of Asherah involved in the fire competition?
  • Why have a god who makes you cut yourself?
  • Where did Elijah get the water for this stunt after 3 years of drought?
  • Did God really want all those priests killed? Why take them to the river to kill them? Were they going to die anyway? How were they actually killed?
  • What about the people who turn back to Yahweh here? Are they sincere or just backing a winner?
  • Is the Old Testament God merciful?

We closed by singing the awesome Robin Mark song:

Image credit: kerolic, hoyasmeg @ Flickr

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Men's Study. This study is more just trying to make sense of and apply this scripture than some of my other studies. It was work, but the group did a great job.

Always helps me to try to put this period straight in a historical context.

Drawing heavily on Bev Van Kampen’s Bible Notes, let’s look at the tiny book of Haggai.  His name means ‘festive,’ appropriate for the first prophet to post-exile Jews.  Haggai is contemporary to Zechariah, and both are mentioned twice in the book of Ezra (ch.s 5 and 6).  The context is people complaining back to the king of Persia… do these people really have permission to rebuild their temple?

When Babylon was conquered, King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the people could return to their land and rebuild the temple. 50,000 Jews returned and they began the reconstruction. But for 15 years after Cyrus’ death, and because of their own selfishness, temple construction stopped.

Then God called Haggai to his ministry of building.

Message to the leaders (1:1-2), challenge to the people (1:3-11), response of the people (1:12-15).
Word of encouragement (2:1-9), promise of blessing (2:10-19), prediction to Zerubbabel (2:20-23).

Major Themes
Read Haggai 1:1-11

Why does God want the temple rebuilt?

Many people feel like this refers to modern nations as well as the Israelites of the time.  Does it apply to us?

Read Haggai 1:12-15. Bev notes: There are two factors in the communication of God’s message: God inspires both the speaker and the hearer. How do you get that from this passage? Is there an implication for us today?

Haggai 2:3-5, after about a month of work, has “3Ask them, ‘Is there anyone among the faithful few who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it seem like nothing to you?’  4“But now, Zerubbabel, be strong,” declares the Lord. “Chief Priest Joshua (son of Jehozadak), be strong. Everyone in the land, be strong,” declares the Lord. “Work, because I am with you,” declares the Lord of Armies. 5“This is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains with you. Don’t be afraid.”

Some connect Haggai 2:3-5 with Voltaire’s quote: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Do you see a connection?

Does that idea apply to our church life or faith walk today?

Read Haggai 2:6-9.  Some say this is more than a prophecy for the day, which it is as told in Ezra 6, but also a prophecy of Christ’s reign.  Do you agree or disagree?

Read Haggai 2:10-14. What is the warning here? How would you update it to today’s language?

Read Haggai 2:15-19.  Is the idea that God is not acting quickly because the people are unclean? Does it still apply?

From TheRevSteve @ Flickr
Read Haggai 2:20-23. There is considerable agreement among bible scholars that this is a prophecy concerning the Messiah.  Does it seem that way to you? (Helpful information that I didn't know or recall: Zerubbabel is in Jesus' lineage from Matthew 1.)

How is the coming Messiah related to the rebuilding of the temple?

The Jews are successful. Ezra 6:14-15: “14So the Jewish leaders continued to make progress because of the message from the prophet Haggai and Zechariah, the grandson of Iddo. They finished building as the God of Israel had ordered and as Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes (the kings of Persia) had ordered. 15This temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar in the sixth year of King Darius’ reign.”

Is there any comfort or pleasure in your life that tempts you away from doing God’s work?

Old Testament timeline
Beverly Van Kampen's bible teaching notes. (Her current website and blog.)
Read this Haggai study from Spreading Light, with some interesting info.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jonah's Job

Part II.
Jonah 1:17 The Lord sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Whale Chow
The belly of the fish is the opposite of what Jonah set out for.  Instead of adventure in a new and exotic land, he got a the darkest, stinkiest jail cell imaginable.  Just what he needed.  Peterson uses the greek work askesis for this, which is the root of the word ascetic.  When we think of monks who give up everything, sometimes theya re described as ascetics. One way to take it is to mean a discipline and training program.

•    Have you ever had an askesis that helped bring you back to basics, back to what was really important?

•    What is your askesis now, or what could it be?

•    Jonah’s askesis centered on prayer.  Do you plan prayer times or pray regularly?

Read Jonah 3.
1Then the Lord spoke his word to Jonah a second time. He said, 2“Leave at once for the important city, Nineveh. Announce to the people the message I have given you.” 3Jonah immediately went to Nineveh as the Lord told him. Nineveh was a very large city. It took three days to walk through it. 4Jonah entered the city and walked for about a day. Then he said, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed.”

5The people of Nineveh believed God. They decided to fast, and everyone, from the most important to the least important, dressed in sackcloth. 6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he made this announcement and sent it throughout the city:  “This is an order from the king and his nobles: No one is to eat or drink anything. This includes all people, animals, cattle, and sheep. 8Every person and animal must put on sackcloth. Cry loudly to God for help. Turn from your wicked ways and your acts of violence. 9Who knows? God may reconsider his plans and turn from his burning anger so that we won’t die.”

10God saw what they did. He saw that they turned from their wicked ways. So God reconsidered his threat to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.

In Nineveh, Jonah discovers (or rediscovers) his true vocation.  His work wasn’t theoretical or fancy, but simple and directly with the people.
•    What’s your experience with vocation? Work or a job or a task that you’re called to do.

Te people of Nineveh respond because Jonah is preaching with urgency.  Their days are numbered, literally.  Forty of them.
•    Is there a sense of urgency in your life?  What creates it?  If not, what would it take?

Read Jonah 4.
1Jonah was very upset about this, and he became angry. 2So he prayed to the Lord, “Lord, isn’t this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? That’s why I tried to run to Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, patient, and always ready to forgive and to reconsider your threats of destruction. 3So now, Lord, take my life. I’d rather be dead than alive.”

4The Lord asked, “What right do you have to be angry?” 5Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made himself a shelter there. He sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6The Lord God made a plant grow up beside Jonah to give him shade and make him more comfortable. Jonah was very happy with the plant. 7At dawn the next day, God sent a worm to attack the plant so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God made a hot east wind blow. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he was about to faint. He wanted to die. So he said, “I’d rather be dead than alive.”

9Then God asked Jonah, “What right do you have to be angry over this plant?” Jonah answered, “I have every right to be angry—so angry that I want to die.” 10The Lord replied, “This plant grew up overnight and died overnight. You didn’t plant it or make it grow. Yet, you feel sorry for this plant. 11Shouldn’t I feel sorry for this important city, Nineveh? It has more than 120,000 people in it as well as many animals. These people couldn’t tell their right hand from their left.”

Jonah gets mad.  (Six “angry”s in this short chapter.) He quarrels with God.  Jonah knew all about God, yet still could not anticipate His ways.  Read 4:2 again.
•    Why was Jonah so taken aback by God’s grace?

Amazingly, Jonah is worse in his obedience than he was in his disobedience.  In my life that happens when I am all caught up in the job and not why I am doing the job.  The same goes for my work at church – I can only imagine how hard that is for the staff of the church.
•    How do you avoid the trap of wrong-headed obedience?

Anne Lamott, an author with a great sense of humor, wrote: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Let’s pray Jonah’s prayer together.  One interesting thing Peterson points out is that it is entirely unoriginal, and cobbled together from many psalms.  Yet it is a great prayer. (From The Message)

“In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to GOD.  He answered me.
From the belly of the grave I cried, “Help!” You heard my cry.
You threw me into ocean's depths, into a watery grave, with ocean waves, ocean breakers crashing over me.
I said, “I've been thrown away, thrown out, out of your sight. I'll never again lay eyes on your Holy Temple.”
Ocean gripped me by the throat.  The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight.
My head was all tangled in seaweed at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root.
I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever--
Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O GOD, my God!
When my life was slipping away, I remembered GOD,
and my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your Holy Temple.
Those who worship hollow gods, fake gods, walk away from their only true love.
But I'm worshiping you, GOD, calling out in thanksgiving!
And I'll do what I promised I'd do! Salvation belongs to GOD!”

Homework: compare Jonah's experience to Paul's shipwreck experience in Acts 27.

Image credit: karen horton @ Flickr. Love how the Israeli stamp is focused on Jonah at Nineveh, while we always focus on the whale.

Bonus video:

Our family's favorite Jonah song.