Ark of the Covenant
Click here to view photos, maps and text that accompany this week’s video. You will learn about the City of Arad, the temple, the bloodpath, the tablets, the sacrifice, and God’s dwelling place today.
God sealed his commitment to Abraham and his descendants by walking the blood path of the covenant, and that commitment was reinforced every time the Israelites sacrificed animals to God. Israel’s sacrifices laid claim to the covenant God had made with Abraham to forgive their sins. However even though God chose to live among his people on the Ark of the Covenant in the temple in Jerusalem, God’s people broke their covenant with him over and over again.
In response, God finally removed his presence from his people until he revealed it again through Jesus, his beloved son. In Jesus, God reaffirmed his dedication to the covenant he had established with his servant Abraham. Jesus, the lamb of God, gave his life – he sacrificed his blood when he died on the cross – to atone for the sins of everyone who had broken the covenant with God. Without exception, the writers of the New Testament believed that the Old Testament sacrifices of the covenant pointed to, and were fulfilled by, Jesus Christ.
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- Hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth to live among us, what did the prophet Isaiah say that the Messiah would do? (See Isaiah 53:4-6).
- In light of the covenant between God and Abraham, what greater understanding do you have of the guilt offering mentioned in Isaiah 53:10?
- How do we know that people who lived during the time of Jesus knew of the need for sacrifice in order to restore the covenant with God and recognized that Jesus had come to be that sacrifice? ( see John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 9:13-15)
- The prophet Micah anticipated the end of the blood sacrifice and asked what sacrifices would be enough to please the Lord. He concluded that God has already revealed what he requires: “To do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This paves the way for Romans 12:1, which urges believers to do what? What does “living sacrifice” mean and how eager are you to walk with God to that extent?
Suggested memory verse: Matthew 26:28
“… for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Some scholars believe that the practice of young shepherds (often girls) tending sheep under the watchful eyes of adults is the basis for the biblical picture of God – the Chief Shepherd – appointing undershepherds to care for his flock. The undershepherds are accountable to God for how they lead his flock.
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- God often spoke of King David as having a heart like his own. What early experiences in David’s life may have nurtured such a heart? (See I Samuel 16:10-13).
- In what way was Moses exhibiting the heart of the Chief Shepherd when he helped the young shepherds who cared for their father’s flock in Midian? (See Exodus 2:16-17).
- Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a powerful portrayal of God’s heart as the Chief Shepherd of Israel. What does God want his undershepherds to do for his flock? For what did God condemn his undershepherds and why?
- What did God promise to do to the shepherds who had failed in their God-given responsibilities to care for the sheep he had entrusted to them? What did God promise to do for his sheep that had suffered under their care? (Continue reading in Ezekiel 34:11-16; see also Jeremiah 23:1-4).What must those of us who are undershepherds (pastors, lay leaders, parents, teachers, older brothers and sisters, disciplers, sports coaches) learn from these passages about the importance of doing our work faithfully?
- What was it about Peter that led Jesus to give him the responsibility to care for his sheep? (See John 21:15-17). What does this tell you about the expectations God has for those who are undershepherds, responsible to care for the flock?
- What imagery did Paul use when speaking to the Ephesian elders about their responsibilities for the church, and what did he tell them to do (See Acts 20:28-31)?
- What guidelines did God, through Peter’s writing, give to the undershepherds who cared for his people? What did God promise would happen when Jesus – the “Chief Shepherd” – appears? (See I Peter 5:2-4).
Suggested memory verse: John 10:14-15
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (ESV)
Remains of ancient Lachish
More often than not, God’s chosen people ignored His command to worship Him exclusively. Again and again they rebuffed his prophets, disregarded his warnings, and pursued the evil ways and worship practices of their neighbors. Finally God’s judgment fell on Judah and Jerusalem.
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- Read Deuteronomy 6:3-5. Read it in your translation of the Bible then read from The Message, as follows: “Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!“ Think of a typical week. List as many ways you can think of that you love God in that week, even in the mundane things of life.
- The events of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, are recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:11-20. He reigned from approximately 597 – 586 BC. King Zedekiah refused to accept the counsel of Jeremiah the prophet, who gave him messages of the Lord. He rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, even though he had taken an oath of loyalty.
a. What kind of a king was Zedekiah at the beginning of his reign, and how did he change as time went on?
b. In what ways did the people, leaders, and priests also change during Zedekizah’s reign?
c. In what ways did God respond to the sins of his people and why? How did his response change as time passed?
- As is often the case with God, the end of the story isn’t quite the end of the story. Notice how 2 Chronicles ends (2 Chronicles 36:21-23). Why would God do this and what does it communicate to you?
- Considering how much God loves his people and that his temple in Jerusalem was his chosen dwelling place on earth, what do you think it means that God was willing to destroy it because of the evil of sin?
What do you think this says about how seriously God views the sins of our culture – including any indulgence of sin by those of us who call ourselves Christians?
Suggested memory verse: Psalm 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (ESV)
Week 2 questions were skipped and insead this video was viewed before questions could be prepared. A general discussion followed the viewing of the video.
Most people in our culture don’t worship man-made idols or have altars to various gods in their homes, and it would be difficult to find a neighborhood Asherah pole in any of our suburbs.
Satan is very good, however, at enticing us to worship other gods. Take a few minutes to explore what the Bible reveals about these attractive and seductive gods; then consider ways in which these gods are evident today.
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As you read the following passages, write down what you discover about the “gods” that can lead us away from worshiping and obeying God with all your heart, soul and strength. For each one, identify the God(s) then describe God’s response.
- What makes our pursuit of the gods our culture so insidious? Which of the gods mentioned above are you most easily enticed to pursue?
- What desires did David express in Psalm 51:10-12 and Psalm 139:23-24 How would similar desires help you resist the lure of the gods of this world?
- Read Psalm 1:1-3 and Psalm 119:9-20, which highlight a number of practical ways to obey and honor God, and list the ways to keep one’s heart pure before God. Then, describe how you would do these things in your life.
- Prayer is essential for anyone who desires to follow God and resist Satan. What attitude did David have toward God when he prayed, and what did he pray about? (See Psalm 5:1-8 and Psalm 25:4-5) In what way is your prayer life similar to, or different from, David’s?
- How committed was David to obeying God, and what did he do to keep his relationship with God vibrant? (See Psalm 26:2-3 and Psalm 32:1-5)
Suggested memory verse: Luke 4:8
And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’” (ESV)
Life in the ancient Near East was not easy. In order to survive, multiply, and prosper, people needed physical safety, water, food, and resources such as fertile land, fertile flocks, and families. Before they ever set foot in the Promised Land, God assured his people that he would provide these essentials – and give them abundantly – if they would be faithful to worship and obey him always (Deuteronomy 11). But the people came from another source: Baal and his mistress, Asherah. The ensuing clash of beliefs and values between the Canaanites and the Israelites was not only a battle for survival in their environments; it was a battle with far reaching spiritual implications: a battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of God’s people.
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- What did King Solomon do at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer? (See I Kings 9:15-17)Why was it important for Solomon to build walls around the three main cities along the Via Maris in Israel?
Discuss the possible political, financial, cultural, and spiritual impact of these improvements.
- What measures did the people of Megiddo take to ensure their water supply? (See Follow the Rabbi “Water Systems”.) What benefits did a secure water supply provide for the people?
Discuss ways in which a secure water supply might have influenced the beliefs and values of the people.
- Ancient people tended to think of their gods in terms of a specific place or a specific aspect of life. That’s why people who were fishermen tended to worship gods of the sea, people who lived near a volcano tended to worship gods of fire, and people who raised crops tended worship gods of fertility or rain. So it is not surprising that the Canaanites attributed the fertility of their crops to their god, Baal. Discuss how the common perceptions ancient people had about their deities might have influenced or challenged how the Israelites thought about God when they began living in the Promised Land. What questions might they have had about their security and future when they worshiped a God who had faithfully fed, watered, and led them through the desert wilderness, but now found themselves living among people who settled in cities and depended more on their crops than on their flocks for survival?
Suggested memory verse: Micah 6:8
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” (ESV)
Oasis of En Gedi
When God’s ancient people experienced life’s painful, difficult deserts, they needed the hope of his presence and provision. During those times, as expressed in the figurative language of the Bible, God became their “rock”, “shade”, “shelter”, “shepherd”, “bread” – and “water”.
The water of God is “living water”, fresh, flowing, invigorating water that he causes to flow out of even the hardest rock in the scorching desert.
By drinking in his healing presence, symbolized by living water, his thirsty people find strength to continue walking the path he has chosen for them. It is no different for us. We also experience painful, difficult deserts for which we need the healing presence of God’s living water.
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- What is associated with God’s presence in each of the following passages, and what does it provide for people in the desert? Genesis 2:8-10; Jeremiah 2:13; Revelation 22:1-2. Since water is essential for sustaining physical life in the desert, what might be the consequence of turning away from the presence of God when we face desert experiences?
- Which images did Isaiah use to describe the overflowing abundance of God’s presence in the desert and what would result from it? (See Isaiah 35:4-7).
- When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well what did he say about the thirst we experience in this broken world, and how does it differ from the living water he offers? (see John 4:10-14) As you think about your relationship with Jesus, how would you define the water that he offers, and how does a person “drink” it in?
- During the Feast of Sukkot, during the time the prayers for water were offered, who did Jesus invite to come to him and why? (Jeremiah 17:13; John 7:37-39)
- When we experience great thirst in life’s deserts and come to Jesus to drink in his living water – his words, his love, and his presence – what do we become in relationship to other people? (Isaiah 32:2)
Suggested memory verse: John 4:14
“but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (ESV)
What do you picture when you think of the biblical metaphor of God as shepherd and his people as sheep? Many of us think immediately of the protection, comfort, and contentment God provides for those who follow him. An image of a relaxing vacation at a pristine lake surrounded by green, grassy meadows may come to mind. Although God can (and does) provide abundantly for his people, we tend to overlook the fact that often he provides for us when we’re facing difficult circumstances in the desert. The sun is still hot, our path is still steep, but God gives us just enough to keep us going.
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- During biblical times, in what kinds of locations did shepherds typically tend their sheep? (See Genesis 13:1-6; I Samuel 25:1-2; Jeremiah 23:10)
In what ways do you think the nature of these lands would tend to shape the relationship between sheep and shepherd, and what might you expect that relationship to look like?
- What do Isaiah 49:8-10 & Isaiah 49:13reveal about how passionately God desires to care and provide for his people?
Where would God’s people be if they needed this kind of care?
In what ways does this passage describe the way a shepherd cares for a flock?
How descriptive is this passage of the kind of care people today need in their “deserts”?
- In 2010, the eruption of a volcano in Iceland destroyed pasture where sheep formerly grazed. They did not know where to go but did not want to willingly leave what they were used to. The shepherds, like the one in the image below, needed to act quickly. Do you see any characteristics of Jesus as our shepherd when you look at this image? How about characteristics of us, when compared to the sheep? Read Psalm 23 together, just before you pray for each other.
Suggested memory verse: Psalm 23 (in whatever version you prefer)
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
– NIV 1984
Many times the Bible mentions ordinary paths – the routes a person walked in order to travel from one place to another – as a metaphor to describe the human experience and God’s intentions for his people. To walk on a path, both literally and figuratively, involves choosing it and remaining on it until the individual arrives at the intended destination. So the paths on which we choose to “walk” (or “live”, in our English usage) reveal our focus and portray the character of our lives. We either walk on God’s path and choose to obey and trust him faithfully, or we take another path and make different choices. Let’s explore the two main paths emphasized in the Bible – God’s path (the way of the righteous) and the path (way) of the righteous.
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- Read each verse below. Write down your observations about the paths one may choose in life so that you build a picture or profile of each.
- When the Israelites were at last ready to enter the Promised Land, they were well trained in walking God’s path. Yet Moses was still concerned about the path they might choose in the future. In his final plea to them to keep walking on God’s path, how did he describe the difference between walking on the two paths? (See Deuteronomy 30:15-19)
Suggested memory verse: Psalm 119:103-105
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.
A desert flood canyon, called by its Arabic name, wadi (nahal in Hebrew, often translated “brook” or stream” in English) is normally dry and may be used as a road. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem, for example, passes through the Judean wilderness alongside a deep wadi. However, wadis can flood suddenly, even when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. From some trails in these narrow riverbeds it is impossible to see more than a few hundred feet ahead or behind, so travel through a wadi can be dangerous.
In fact, even today, as was true centuries ago, the greatest cause of death in Middle Eastern deserts is not the heat or thirst but floods in the wadis. This added to the challenges faced by the Hebrews as they traveled into unknown desert territory. Sometimes we see desert experiences build slowly to a crisis. At other times they come upon us with startling speed and overwhelming power – like a flood in a desert wadi. Read about the danger posed by wadis in the following articles:
A Wadi in the Negev
Quiet Waters in the Wilderness
“When Your Heart Cries Out”
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- What kind of experience did David compare to a raging flood in Psalm 124:1-8?
What does this Psalm add to your understanding of David’s life experiences and his trust in God’s help?
Why do you think God allows us to experience “close calls” where we are at risk of being swept away or destroyed before He delivers us?
- In what ways is David’s description of his trouble in Psalm 69:1-3 like a wadi flood, and how serious was the trouble he faced?
What do you notice as you continue reading David’s plea for help in Psalm 69:13-17? To what extent does he seem frantic or confident about his cry for help and why do you think that is?
What did David believe was the reason God would help him? Is it still the reason God helps people? If so what do you expect God would do if you could not avoid a desperate situation and you cry out to him for help?
- David composed Psalm 18 after being delivered from his enemies who wanted to kill him. Read verses 1-6, 16-19, 46-50.With which desert images does God describe his desperate situation and God?
How does what you have seen of the desert help you to better understand these images, particularly David’s life experiences with God and the reality of the trouble he faced?
What evidence do you see that David had a deep, intimate relationship with God before calamity struck, and how did it help him in the time of crisis?
- Which image from the wadis did David use in Psalm 40:1-3 Even though David was apparently at risk as if he were stuck in the muck of a wadi, why do you think he “waited patiently” for the Lord to find him?
How might David’s experience as a shepherd have taught him to wait on God, his Shepherd?
Suggested memory verse: Psalm 40:1-3
1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.