Bible studies on Romans

Malachi 3v6 – 4v6
"I, the Lord, do not change" (3v6).

The prophesy of Malachi is about the unreliable nature of God's people. God's much-loved Israel sank into religious works, but their hearts were far from Him. Their broken faith in relationships among themselves stood in contrast to the Lord's unchanging compassion and desire to bless them.

Tithes and offerings were vital to sustaining the priests and Levites. Without food supplies in the storehouse they would not perform their service at the temple. Failing to give "tithes" was "robbing" the Lord in the worship of His people (3v8). God promises to pour out abundant blessings on those who give towards His work. "Test me in this", says the Lord Almighty(3v10)

Yet Israel perceived God as harsh and exacting. They concluded that serving God was wearisome and futile. They were never more wrong.

Some folk responded to Malachi's anointed ministry. They made a commitment of faith. To the Lord, they were His "treasured possession" (3v17).

The rest could continue for the moment in their evil ways, but "surely the day is coming…. and will set them on fire" says the Lord Almighty (4v1).

Horrendous judgment awaits the unrepentant, but "for those who revere My Name the Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall" (4v2).

What a vivid description of heaven!

As the book of Malachi ends, so does the Old Testament. The final words prophesy the coming of John the Baptist, whose ministry prepared the way for Israel's Saviour and ours.

Malachi 3 v 1-5
Malachi means in Hebrew "my messenger". It was probably not his real name. In verse 1 the messenger foretells of another messenger (John the Baptist) who will come to prepare the way for the greatest Messenger of all, the Messenger of the Covenant.

"The day of His coming" would be a joy for many, but a time of refining for the Levites (Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus' day). Yet in a sense Jesus is a refiner of all His born again people (His royal priesthood). By His atoning sacrifice we do not fear His second coming but eagerly await it. Likewise we are able to offer acceptable sacrifices of our praise and ourselves. (Romans 12v1,2). What a joy to know we are righteous in Jesus!

We talked a lot about the judgement of the wicked at our Thursday bible study (v5). The finality of death, and then the judgment spoken of throughout scripture stands in contrast to human thoughts and feelings about it. God is rich in love and mercy and calls all men everywhere to repent and turn to Him whilst they have breath. Thank God for Jesus!

Malachi 2
Through his messenger, Malachi, the Lord delivered a strong admonition to the Levites. He reminded them of their high calling and privileged family line, and how he wanted to continue to use them to teach and minister to His people.

"You have wearied the Lord with your words"(v17) "How have we wearied Him?" you ask. By saying "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord".

The Lord was tired of religion and rhetoric that were a front for a heart that had left Him. He hated it when men married women from false religions, daughters of idol worshippers. He hated it when men broke faith with the wives of their youth. "I hate divorce," says the Lord God. (v16).

"Guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith" (v16).

Admonition from the Lord was purposed to bring repentance to His people. His mercy is endless and love beyond finding out. Praise God for His Word always seeking to bring us back to Him.

Malachi 1
Our studies of the last Old Testament prophet complete the picture for us of the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is widely believed that Malachi prophesied to Israel in Nehemiah's time, as he addressed similar issues.

Malachi means ‘my messenger', which may or may not have been his real name. Most importantly he was the bearer of God's Word to His people.

"I have loved you" says the Lord"(v2) cuts straight to the chase. God speaks to people who were straying from Him in their hearts. They were going through the motions of religious ritual and not meaning it.

"How have you loved us?" Their outrageous answer speaks volumes about their true heart attitude. People today brashly challenge the existence of a God who loves them, yet are unwilling to humbly seek him and repent.

"I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated"(v2). These words have been misunderstood to mean that God has favourites and rejects others. In context, Jacob refers to the nation of Israel, and Esau to the nation of Edom (whose father he was). We have the record of God's patience and kindness to the rebellious Edomites. Judah was little better, but God set his love on Jacob. He is a covenant keeping God, who promised love and blessing to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This foreshadows to us the new covenant of love that is found in Christ for all who believe. We are no better than our neighbours. Thank God we can run to Jesus and be under his life-changing covenant of love.

The priests of Malachi's time offered diseased and maimed animals on God's altar ""Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?" says the Lord Almighty"(v8). The governor is a visible human being, but God is no less real. He is invisible but loves, hates, cares, and appreciates just the same. We worship Him by faith, not by sight.

"You say, "What a burden!" and you sniff contemptuously"(v13). Worship and church going are perceived by some as boring and burdensome. Do we go to be entertained and to ‘enjoy the ride'? Rather we go to offer our sacrifice of praise, to minister to God. Praise the Lord; worship is our highest joy as we bring our love to Him with hearts washed clean by His blood. Hallelujah!

Nehemiah 12 & 13
Like Ezra, Nehemiah was keen to record names. Generations to come would be able to see how their own family was part of God's kingdom and the events of history, leading eventually to Christ's coming. We are given the names of 22 heads of families of priests, who returned from exile in 536BC under Jeshua the high priest. This was just short of the list of 24 ‘houses' established in king David's time to serve at the temple on a rotation basis.

Other descendants of Levi had important roles too. They were singers, players of musical instruments, gatekeepers and storeroom guards.

The completion of Jerusalem's city walls was cause for celebration. Two large choirs walked on top of the walls, going in the opposite directions, nearly the full circuit, singing their hearts out in praise to God. . The sound of voices and trumpets carried far. The worship leader was a direct descendant of Asaph, who was key to leading singing in David's time. He too wrote psalms, although not as many as David himself. David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had instituted a wonderful tradition of worship and praise to the Lord. The psalms still inspire our songs today. Unlike Old Testament saints, we do not have to make sacrifices of animals. Jesus Christ was our sacrifice, having offered Himself once for all sin, for all time. We too have plenty to sing and shout about!

The tribe of Levi represented about one sixth of the peoples who returned to Israel with Zerrubabel and Jeshua. They were completely dependent on the other two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, for food and support. Levi had no land of it's own. Chapter 13 describes the breakdown in the system (laid down by the Lord through Moses) when the people failed to bring their tithe into the storehouses, the grain, oil and new wine. Under these circumstances the priests and Levites had no choice but to neglect the temple service, and rent fields to grow food for themselves and their families. It was this state of affairs that Nehemiah found when he returned from a period back in Persia. One storeroom was even full of household goods belonging to Tobiah, the Ammonite, one of Israel's old enemies. The high priest Eliashib was his friend!

The promises signed by so many, so enthusiastically, a few years before (chapter 10) were now being broken, at least by some. Nehemiah found Sabbath day trading in Jerusalem and some men had taken foreign wives. These women could lead their husbands and children into the worship of idols. It was this apostasy that had caused the exile nearly two centuries earlier.

Nehemiah 10 & 11
In response to hearing the reading of God's law, and realising how far short of it they had fallen, the people of Israel made an agreement to change their ways. Anybody who was anybody in Israel (along with rest) bound themselves to be faithful to the Lord. They bound themselves with an oath and a curse.

Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ – he became a curse for us on the cross. So for us, who believe in him, no more curses ever, ever! Jesus was quite clear that oaths were to be a thing of the past "Let your ‘yes' be ‘yes' and your ‘no' be ‘no'" he said.

So should we sing "O Jesus I have promised to serve you to the end" or " I surrender all"? Can we sincerely say such things knowing the fickle nature of our hearts and the weakness of our flesh? Only in Christ, by his Spirit can we "offer ourselves a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship".

In chapter 11 people are chosen by lot, recommended or volunteered to be the new residents of the newly secured Jerusalem. The majority had forbears who had also been residents of the holy city. To live in Jerusalem presented privileges and obligations. For them to serve the Lord as gatekeepers, priests, temple servants and singers was bound up with their personal love and worship of the Lord. The rest of the population honoured them and supplied their needs.

Not every Christian is called to fulltime Christian work. For those who are, it is a high calling and great joy. So too for Christians in secular employment to supply their needs.

Israel was getting back on her feet socially, morally and spiritually. 400 years or so later there was a nation that Jesus Christ was born into as their Messiah and King.

Nehemiah 9
The feast of tabernacles was a time of great rejoicing, (chapter 8) but the people of Israel knew that they needed to get right with God. The public reading of the book of the law had exposed the sin of generations, and the people responded with a time of confession.

The prayer of chapter 9 is very beautiful, and is worship for the most part. It recalls God's goodness and faithfulness to his people from Abraham onwards, in contrast to the waywardness of Israel.

V33 "In all that has happened to us, you have been just, you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong."

The prayer is full of praise to "our God, the great, mighty and awesome God" and a small portion of confession and petition. A model for our prayer life.

Nehemiah 7 & 8
Having successfully rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days, Nehemiah appointed gatekeepers, singers and Levites to control the gates and keep Jerusalem secure. Now this fairly uninhabited city could be repopulated and houses rebuilt.

At the beginning of New Year all the people came together in the open square by the Water Gate. They asked Ezra to read the Book of the Law. Standing for hours, they listened with full attention. Conviction brought weeping, as they understood God's Word. The Lord did not want them to stay weeping.

Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to the Lord". Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength".

Unlike anytime before, the Israelites did celebrate with great joy. The Lord is pleased when his people rejoice in His strength and enjoy being with each other, celebrating His salvation, taking their eyes off themselves and looking to Him.

Nehemiah 5 & 6
To rebuild the walls of Jerusalem against external opposition is one thing, but to withstand strife within is another. The poor people struggled with high Persian taxation, meagre crops due to famine and mortgage payments on fields and vineyards.

Nehemiah was angry when he heard that even in desperate circumstances the rich were lending money to starving people at interest.

"Shouldn't you walk in the fear of God?" he said to the nobles. They were lost for an answer, guilty as charged. Under oath they promised to give back money.

Nehemiah proved to be a strong man of faith. He did not give in when Sanballat tried repeatedly to lure him into a trap. He asked God to strengthen his hands in difficult times. Yet another tempted him to run and hide from supposed danger. Nehemiah recognised the attempt at intimidation for what it was.

The walls were completed in just 52 days. Enemies were shamed and forced to admit that the "gracious hand of God" was behind the amazing courage of Nehemiah and the hard work of the people he governed.

Nehemiah 3 & 4
A simple city plan of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's time (from the internet!) helped us picture chapter 3. We followed the wall around the city full circle, anticlockwise from the sheep gate and back to it. Ten gates are named, 45 sections of wall repaired by 40 key men and their families. We marvelled at how carefully the details of the work were recorded and how each named person had a specific task. God was honoured in their determination and unity of purpose in making Jerusalem secure, the beloved city of the Great King.

Isaiah said, "You will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise". Jesus Christ is our secure wall, our strong tower. Without Him we are not saved.

God's work was not without opposition. Sanballat and Tobiah were the Jew's two archenemies. (chapter 4). Insults, threats, words of discouragement and intimidation were all tools used by the evil one to put a stop to the rebuilding. Nehemiah was a wise and prayerful leader who would not succumb to fear. The people pressed on with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. He urged the people on with words "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome". (v14) "Our God will fight for us".

Trust in God coupled with diligent organisation and Nehemiah's anointed leadership brought about success and "job done" in just 52 days. In the beginning the work looked impossible and the opposition too great, but with God all things are possible!

Nehemiah 1 & 2
Having studied how Ezra handled wayward Jews who had intermarried with other nations, (last week Ezra 9,10) this week we looked at how Nehemiah faced a similar situation 25 years later (Nehemiah 13).

Then we went back to Nehemiah 1 & 2. We were impressed with how God moved the heart of Nehemiah to pray for his people 900 miles away and a city called Jerusalem, which he had never seen. Knowing that God's gracious hand was upon him, he patiently waited four months until an opportunity came with king Artaxerxes. Miraculously this Persian monarch took pity on his cupbearer, and reversed his own prior command to stop all work on the walls of Jerusalem. He allowed Nehemiah to go with armed guard and official letters, to help his demoralised brethren in Jerusalem.

Once in Jerusalem, Nehemiah took a tour of the city walls. He went alone by night to see for himself the damage and the enormity of the task ahead. At the right time he proposed to the leaders that they restart the rebuilding of the walls. He was met with an enthusiastic response.

Nehemiah was a man of faith and trust in God. He was the right man at the right time to fulfil God's purposes in Israel.

Ezra 9 & 10
Soon after his arrival in Jerusalem Ezra is made aware of the fact that many men (112 to be exact) had taken foreign wives, and quite a number of them were leaders and Levites.

Ezra was shocked and appalled. How could they so soon depart from the Lord and become entangled with idol worship? He wept and tore his robes, making a public display of his grief. He prayed to the Lord confessing the sin of his people, and saying again how good and faithful God had been to them.

Hearts were moved and the people realised how far they had drifted from their relationship with their Lord. Leaders decreed a public meeting for all, and a decision was made that foreign wives and their children must be sent back to where they came from. Tough stuff, yet repentance from the heart will do any thing to obey the One loved. He is worth it!

Ezra 7 & 8
Fifty-eight years after the completion of the temple at Jerusalem, Ezra introduces himself in chapter seven as a skilled teacher in the Law of Moses. He is a fellow who is always very aware of "the gracious hand of God upon him". Favour with King Artaxerxes of Persia supplied him with a letter of permission, authority to govern, and generous material provision to make the 900-mile journey to Jerusalem. He was accompanied with over 1000 other like-minded men and their families.

He was acutely aware of the dangers involved in such a journey and prepares with prayer and fasting. Trust and dependence on God are the hallmark of Ezra.

Some four months later they arrive safely in the Promised Land and give thanks and praise to God in their sacrifices and offerings at the temple.

Unlike the Old Testament saints, our praise and worship focuses on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, once for all, for all sin, for all time. Christ called himself God's temple, as on earth he was. Now we, his people, are his real temple here, God's dwelling place. With confidence we too say, "the gracious hand of our God is upon us". Unearned, unmerited favour is ours through Jesus our saviour: what joy!

Ezra 5 & 6
With the encouragement of God's word through Zechariah and Haggai ringing in their ears, the returned remnant of Israel continued the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. In spite of some questioning by Persian officials, they were not to be stopped. King Darius of Persia searched the national archives to see if permission had indeed been granted to rebuild the temple as the Jews had claimed. The decree of King Cyrus was duly found and Darius responded by commanding financial and material assistance for the Jews in their task. After 4½ years the temple was completed and dedicated with great joy and thankfulness to God.

Haggai 1 & 2. Zechariah 1 & 2
Discouragement and fear had caused God's people to stop the rebuilding of the temple for 16 years. (Ezra 4v24) During that time they had turned to building luxury houses for themselves in the land of Israel while God's house remained a ruin. Blight and disease on the crops and animals should have made them think. God had promised them supernatural and abundant provision as returned exiles. Something was wrong.

The word of God came to them through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. He spoke specifically to Zerubbabel, the governor, and Jeshua, the high priest. They responded wholeheartedly. His words to them were as Christ's to us:

"Do not fear"

"I am with you"

"Be strong"

"I have chosen you"

Zerubbabel appears in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew chapter 1. He was not a king because Darius, king of Persia, ruled Israel. God encouraged him to see his task as vital to the purposes and future that he had for the whole earth.

Jeshua, as high priest, represented the people. Zechariah 3 describes a vision of God's forgiveness and cleansing, a foreshadowing of Christ's redeeming work on the cross.

Zech3v9 "I will remove the sin of this land in a single day" brings Good Friday to mind!

Zerubbabel and Jeshua are like two olive trees.

Zech 4v3: "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord' "

Zech 4v10: "Who despises the day of small things?"

The people were encouraged to complete the seemingly insignificant work God had given them, because it would have much bigger worldwide future purposes.

They could not have known, as we do, that Christ, the light of the world, would come 500 years later (as king and high priest) to die for the sins of the world and establish his worldwide kingdom.

Ezra 3 & 4
Within no time at all, the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from Persia set to work to rebuild the altar which stood before the temple entrance. This was their top priority so that sacrifices could once again be offered according to the Law of Moses. This reminds us that before we worship God we recognise Christ's death for us. We worship as people cleansed by his blood, not by our own worthiness.

Next they laid the temple foundation. This was cause for a special time of praise and thanksgiving. It was loud. Trumpets, shouts and cries could all be heard miles away! Over and over they sang the familiar lines, "He is good, his love to Israel endures forever".

Persistent and deceitful opposition eventually called a halt to the rebuilding of the temple. Nothing happened for 16 years. Sad to say, we too can give in to fear in our efforts to serve God. God sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to encourage the leaders. Zerubbabel, the governor of Israel, and Jeshua the high priest responded to God's gracious word to them and the build restarted.

Chapter 4 relates a similar time of opposition 90 years later, when the people at that time were rebuilding the city walls. The people of Samaria persuaded Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to issue a decree. This time the Jews were physically forced to stop. God moved the heart of Nehemiah to pray, and miraculously Artaxerxes changed his decree. Nehemiah went to Jerusalem with his blessing and work began again quite quickly.

God's work will be opposed. Seeking God's solution through prayer is the way forward. We too can find courage to trust God and ignore our fears. Praise God, he says he will never leave us or forsake us!

Ezra 1 & 2
After 70 years of exile in Babylon, the Jews had become settled and prosperous. Cyrus king of Persia took over the Babylonian kingdom in 539BC and decreed that any Jews that had it in their hearts to go back to the land of Israel, were free to do so.

Why go back? Why rebuild Jerusalem and the temple? Why face a long journey, hardship and danger? The Lord loved Jerusalem even more than his exiled people did. The temple in Old Testament times was his dwelling place among his people.

In the end only 5% of the 1000000 exiles chose to return. They went with God's good promises in their hearts.

"I know the plans I have for you" declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future". (Jeremiah 29v11).

Under the New Covenant we Christians are ourselves temples of God, the Holy Spirit! We look to a heavenly Jerusalem described for us in Revelation 21. This is a city needing no temple because the Lord himself is its temple.

Earlier studies..
We have recently begun a new series on the "Restoration of Israel" to their land (6th century BC). Thus far we reviewed how God had to punish his people with defeat and exile for their vile sins and idol worship. Although 70 years in Babylon were inevitable, God loved his people and his heart ached for them. He suffered as they suffered. In a similar way Christ bore our punishment and shame when he died on the cross for us. He likewise calls us into a "return" into his joy and blessing.

In another study we looked at just a few of the Old Testament prophesies that foretold of this return of the remnant of God's people. Some even before the exile happened!