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Winter 2023 Faith That Pleases God Unit 1: Profiles in Faith
This quarter’s lessons examine how individuals from Scripture lived faithful lives that pleased God. Their stories reveal how we can honor God through our lives of faith. Without faith, our attempts to please God will fall short (see Hebrews 11:6)
Travel woes have always beset people. Though we have many innovations today that make travel easier than ever before, travelers still face abundant frustrations. Bad weather, canceled flights, mechanical problems, poor roads, closed gas stations—any number of factors make travel more interesting than we would prefer. Our modern problems pale in comparison to the difficulty and danger of travel in the ancient world. We can broadly consider travel before the Roman Empire (times recorded in the Old Testament) and then in the time of the Empire (times recorded in the New Testament). The influence of Greek culture and Roman ingenuity changed travel. Comparing the two can help us better understand the preparation and effort people had to make even to complete a short trip.
Profiles in Faith
This quarter begins by exploring the faith of various people from Scripture. One person who demonstrated unwavering faith is Ruth the Moabite. Because of her faith, she had confidence that the Lord would be with her and her mother-in-law, even in desperate circumstances (see Ruth 1:16–17, lesson 1).
Demonstrating faith is not easy; sometimes faith requires that people stand alone. The young shepherd David faced this reality as he confronted the Philistine (see 1 Samuel 17:45, lesson 2). In doing so, David went against the expectations of his people and his king (see 17:31–33).
Likewise, it was not easy for Mary, a young, unwed pregnant woman in the first century AD. After receiving a word from God, she joined her pregnant relative Elizabeth. Together, the women expressed faith in God’s plan and his promises (see Luke 1:39–45, lesson 4). Similarly, certain Magi faced threats to their lives as they followed God’s directives (see Matthew 2:1–12, lesson 5). Living with faith requires boldness to act and a trust that God will sustain.
Lesson 1 The Faith of Ruth Ruth 1:6–18, 22
The setting of the events within Ruth are comparatively much better defined as occurring during the time of the judges (Ruth 1:1), that is, sometime between 1373 and 1043 BC. The conquest of Canaan was completed with the Israelite tribes settled in the land (Joshua 23). But the Israelites experienced oppression from outside nations, Moab occasionally being one of them (example: Judges 3:12–31). The Moabites were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:33–37). Conflict with Moab was already ancient by the time the time of the judges in Israel (Numbers 22–25). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the Moabites were banned from entering the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 2:26–30; 23:3–6), though marriage to Moabites was not banned specifically (contrast 7:1–3).
Despite these deep antipathies, a persistent famine in Israel motivated a certain Naomi’s Israelite family to leave Bethlehem and settle in Moab (Ruth 1:1; see commentary on 1:6, 22, below). Ten years are covered quickly in the text, apparently beginning with the death of Naomi’s husband, Elimelek, and ending with the death of her sons (1:3, 5). In the meantime, these two sons had married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, before leaving them childless with their untimely deaths. Widowhood was an especially precarious state for women. In the ancient Near East, including both Moab and Israel, men had far more economic power than women. A woman left without male relatives to care for her could be reduced to abject poverty, and prostitution might result. Fathers or sons were the best lines of defense to protect widows; in the case of younger widows, this protection lasted until new husbands could be found (compare Genesis 38:11; Leviticus 22:13). God had given Israel specific instructions for caring for widows, both within the family and the larger community (examples: Deuteronomy 14:28–29; 24:17; see commentary on Ruth 1:11, below).
Lesson 2 The Faith of David 1 Samuel 17:31–37, 45, 48–50
The events of today’s text occur sometime before 1010 BC, the year that Israel’s kingship transitioned from Saul to David. Prior to the events of this lesson’s text, the prophet Samuel had anointed David to be Saul’s successor as king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1–13). Having been rejected by the Lord, Saul’s days as king were numbered (see 1 Samuel 15). Even so, Saul looked on David with favor and employed him in personal service (16:14–23)—at least for a time.
David entered the army encampment in 1 Samuel 17 as part of an episode of an Israelite war with the Philistines. David was a late arrival due to the fact that he had been left to tend sheep while his older brothers went off to war (1 Samuel 17:13–14). After several weeks, the war degenerated into something of a stalemate. But the Israelite army seemed ready to break due to low morale (17:11, 24). The reason was the relentless taunts of a Philistine named Goliath, who stood about 9′9″ tall (17:4–10). As our text begins, David had heard the taunt (17:23) as well as the promise of reward for defeating Goliath (17:25–27). David had also just borne the criticism of his oldest brother for an apparent neglect of duty to attend to sheep left in David’s care (17:28).
Lesson 3 The Family of Faith Matthew 1:1–17
Biblical genealogies are not necessarily lists of ancestors in exhaustive detail. Differences within two accounts of the same family tree are born not out of error but instead of the writer’s intention. We need only consider that Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23–38) contains 56 generations between Abraham and Jesus compared to Matthew’s 42 generations (see Matthew 1:2–17, below) to understand that something other than precise family history is intended in these lists.
The chronology of the two (in reverse order of one another) further affirms that each writer had priorities beyond mere recitation of family facts. Differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus could be explored. But we will remain focused on Matthew’s genealogy, keeping in mind that Matthew had valid reasons for organizing Jesus’ genealogy as he did.
Considering who is included in Matthew’s genealogy prepares the careful reader for important themes that recur throughout that Gospel (see commentary on Matthew 1:1–2, 6, below). The curious inclusion of four women (plus Mary; see 1:3, 5–6, 16, below) introduces two other themes that will be found in Matthew’s Gospel (examples: 9:18–25; 15:21–28; 28:16–20). Furthermore, the episodes associated with these women (and others) highlight God’s continued willingness to work through sinful people and imperfect circumstances (examples: 4:18–22; 16:13–23; 26:69–75; 28:16–20).
Lesson 4 Expectant Mothers’ Faith Luke 1:36–45, 56
Early church tradition unanimously identified Luke, a physician and traveling companion of Paul, as the writer of the third Gospel and the book of Acts (Colossians 4:11–14). While the evidence is slim, there is a chance that Luke was the only Gentile author in the New Testament. Some scholars put the date of writing at around AD 60. This most likely occurred while Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea Maritima (as recorded in Acts 23:33; 24:27), which would have freed up Luke to interview the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 1:1–3). The accuracy of the resulting research puts Luke in the company of the very best ancient Greek historians.
One of the eyewitnesses that Luke could have interviewed was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Such an interview would not be surprising, for the Gospel of Luke has more material regarding women than either of the other synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark. One example of this material unique to Luke’s Gospel is Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38–42. Another example is today’s text. As the text opens, the birth of the person who came to be known as John the Baptist has been foretold (Luke 1:5–25), as has been the birth of Jesus (1:26–35)—both by angelic visitation.
Lesson 5 The Faith of the Wise Men Matthew 2:1–12
Our text for study involves a mysterious star. This invites a consideration of the distinction between astronomy and astrology. In modern times, we make a clear-cut distinction between those two areas of inquiry. But the two were blended together in the ancient world. Astronomy is the scientific study of the sun, moon, stars, planets, etc.; astrology combines that study with the belief that the so-called gods orchestrate the appearance, positions, and movements of heavenly phenomena and, therefore, reveal information about divine plans for the future (omens). Astrology is practiced today in the form of horoscopes associated with the zodiac.
In the Old Testament, astrologers are mentioned most notably in the book of Daniel (Daniel 2:2, 10; 4:7; 5:7, 11; see also Isaiah 47:13). The people of Israel were warned about pagan occult practices; astrology, being a type of divination, was one of those (Deuteronomy 18:10–11; Jeremiah 10:2). And moving from consulting the stars to worshipping the stars was an all-too-easy step to take (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:2–5; Jeremiah 8:2).
The ancient Greek translation of the book of Daniel designates such men as magoi, from which we derive our modern word magician. But words change meaning over time, and how ancient people viewed magoi is not to be equated with the contemporary role of a magician who uses sleight of hand to entertain audiences. Instead, this word describes men of wisdom; we surmise they were astrologer-scholars. This same Greek word magoi is behind the English transliteration “Magi” in Matthew 2:1, 7, 16. Magoi occurs also in Acts 13:6, 8, translated there as “sorcerer.”
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Bible Study Series beginning November 29, 2023
Jesus had about three years to mold a dozen fearful, faithless men into the pillars of a worldwide movement.
Despite this brief window, time in Jesus’ presence had a transforming effect on each of them, and they would be changed by Jesus’ power.
While Andrew, James, Philip, and Nathanael are some of the lesser known of the 12 apostles, we can’t overlook the fact that they were a part of the men who sacrificed everything to follow Jesus.
These regular, Jewish men did great things for God. They followed Christ and formed the foundation of the Christian church. Their sacrifice and love of the Kingdom of God led to a movement that spread across Israel, Rome, and the rest of the world.
This four session Bible Study of Jesus’ first followers will transform you too.
What is spiritual warfare?
How can I recognize it?
In what ways does it affect me?
The Bible has much to say about the temptations and struggles you face day by day. This nine session Bible Study will deepen your understanding of spiritual warfare and direct you to God-given sources of power, assurance and hope.
Spiritual Warfare Bible Study begins September 20, 2023
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Lesson 6: Defeating the Destroyer (Mark 5:1-20) Lesson 6 Replay