Ash Wednesday: Love Feast

Ash Wednesday begins the season Christians have long termed Lent.

In the first centuries of the church, Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of a time of grief over sin by donning sackcloth, being sprinkled with ashes, and standing removed from the Christian community as a kind of exile in repentance and penance. On Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, the penitent believer was reconciled to the community.

Oxh973 / Public domain

Round about a thousand years ago, this rigorous observance of Ash Wednesday began to soften into the more symbolic placing of ashes on the heads of the whole church family (often in the form of a cross on the forehead), as a reminder of our mortality, and our need for reconciliation with God.

Some churches will use the ashes from burning the palms waved on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and will nail that year’s Christmas tree, now shed of its needles and branches, into the form of a cross for the Lenten season.

The word “Lent” comes from the old English “lencten,” meaning “spring,” the season preceding the remembrance of Jesus’ death and the celebration of His rising from the dead.

Keeping Lent is to fast and pray for forty days, in imitation of Jesus’ fasting and prayer in the wilderness before He began His ministry, “The Kingdom of God is at Hand,” which in turn was a fulfillment of the Israelites’ time of wandering in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land. This may be one of the oldest traditions among believers, beginning as early as the 1st century, although it did not become a formal observance until the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

In the earliest days, Lent was a time of preparation for the those who desired baptism as well as a time of repentance and penance for believers, which included severe fasting and the giving of alms.

In modern times, many people who observe Lent will still select something to fast from—in recent centuries that ‘something’ was traditionally red meat, and fish became the dish for Friday supper. In ancient times fasting was much more strictly adhered to: one vegan meal a day, eaten in the evening. Today, Lenten observers may fast from a kind of food, an activity, an indulgence or luxury of some kind, or certain behaviors.

This time of contemplation, prayer, fasting, repentance, and penance culminates in both remembering Jesus’ death and the death of every believer’s old life with Him, nailed to the cross…

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:4 (NIV)

…and rejoicing in the joyful celebration of Easter, the rising up from the dead of our Lord and Savior, and us with Him into new life.

The deep significance of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are found in the Passover.

I wanted our children to understand that deep significance, to experience something of what the Passover meant, and to understand Who Jesus was as the Lamb Who would take away the sins of the world. Thus began a nearly 30-year time of study, research, discovery, and tinkering with the many Passover services now celebrated in both Jewish, and Messianic Jewish, households today. I discovered there is evidence in the book of Acts that the 1st century church enjoyed a modified version of the Passover Seder in their weekly gatherings, often calling it a “Love Feast.”

Love Feast,” the fruit of all those years of study and celebration, follows the First Passover to the Last Supper, into the Love Feast Jesus has for us all. I put together a haggadah (according to the dictionary, a haggadah is “the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover, including a narrative of the Exodus”) which incorporates the gospel accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples, as well as explanations for some key elements in the Passover itself, as it is observed today.

The traditional Passover goes long into the night. This haggadah has been modified so that families with children of all ages (like mine) can take part, lasting about an hour and a half (including dinner and dancing). “Love Feast” includes everything you will need to hold your own Passover Seder—order and flow of the worship service, songs, a menu, a list of items you will need, and speaking parts. It concludes with some thoughts on the First Passover, the Last Supper, and our legacy in the Love Feasts of the Bible.
In remembering the last supper Jesus would have with His disciples, John wrote,

“Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Jesus, as quoted in John 13:1 (NIV)

The three most intimate activities people do together are to eat together, talk together, and touch each other. For Christians, I would add worship together. These are what Jesus longed for most as the hour of His death drew near.
When Jesus began giving His final words of encouragement, teaching, and prophetic exhortation, He told His beloved followers,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Jesus, as quoted in John 13:34 (NIV)

The early church took the Lord’s words to heart.
At its birth, the church was a group of 120 Jewish people receiving the Holy Spirit in a cataclysmic event, the compression waves of which would reverberate across the whole earth. Then, on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 faithful Jews who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks—thanksgiving for the first harvest—now became the Holy Spirit’s First Harvest of many to come.
In those first days, Luke recorded,

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Acts 2:42 (NIV)

They called these meals “Love Feasts,” in honor of Jesus Who loved them, and Who told them everyone would know they were His disciples by their own love for Him and each other.
May we continue what the early church began!

Love Feast is available in both paperback and Kindle version, the Kindle preview is below.

Love Feast is available in both paperback and Kindle version, the Kindle preview is below.

[Dry Palm Leaf | John Ragai, flickr, CC BY 2.0]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 18, Corinth

Corinth was the commercial capital of the ancient world, a seaport and very cosmopolitan.

Corinth was also corrupt, with a burgeoning sex industry tied in with the worship of Aphrodite.

Paul’s morale seemed very low at this point, all alone, concerned about the converts he had left behind, out of money, and rejected by his own people the Jews, who continued to resist and oppose the gospel. In fact, Paul later described his state of mind at that time in one of his later letters to the churches in Corinth, saying,I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.”

God encouraged Paul in six ways:

Partners in ministry

[At Corinth] he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Acts 18:2‑3 (NIV)

Priscilla and Aquila had emigrated to Corinth because the emperor Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.

After Caligula was assassinated in 41 A.D., about seven years after Jesus’ resurrection, Claudius, Caligula’s uncle, became emperor. Ever since Claudius had been a little boy, people thought he was dimwitted. Apparently he drooled, stammered, and limped. Both his mother and grandmother thought he was “a monster, a man whom Mother Nature had begun work upon but then flung aside.” They couldn’t stand him.

Later in life, Claudius explained his feeblemindedness was an act to fool Caligula and he owed both his life and the throne to it. He actually ended up being a pretty good emperor, in some ways. He

  • Brought relative peace to Rome with the restoration of the rule of law.
  • Built a new harbor and reclaimed land in its center by draining a lake.
  • Established an imperial civil service.
  • Brought about agrarian reform.
  • Imported corn to feed the people when food riots broke out in the streets during a prolonged drought.
  • Abolished the treason trials Caligula had instigated.
  • Expanded the empire further into the Middle East and the Balkans, and conquered Britain.

But he could also be merciless, paranoid, quick to anger, and did not hesitate to put supposed enemies to death—hundreds of them, even including one of his wives. When he had problems with Rome’s Jews, to avoid further rioting he had them all expelled from the city.

Priscilla and Aquila would become lifelong intimate friends, coworkers, and in this moment of great need, benefactors by giving Paul a job and a place to stay. Later, Paul would write about them, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.”


When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.

Acts 18:5 (NIV)

When Silas and Timothy arrived, they had brought some money with them from the Philippian church—who consistently supported and financed Paul’s ministry—allowing Paul to concentrate full‑time on preaching again. Later, Paul would explain this to the churches in Corinth, how the Macedonian churches had supported him at great personal sacrifice in order to further the gospel among them.


But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.

Acts 18:6-7 (NIV)

Just when he needed it, a new friend, Titius Justus, opened his home right next door to the synagogue for Paul to teach in. Because of his wealth and standing, Titius Justus would have ranked well above Paul in the complex stratification of ancient Roman society. His influence and patronage would go far in both protecting Paul and the new church, but also of even promoting both Paul and the gospel.


Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.

Acts 18:8 (NIV)

Another vote of support came when the ruler of the synagogue and the many others who followed him from the synagogue to the lecture hall. Having such prominent supports in both Titius Justus and Crispus gave Paul platform with the rest of the inhabitants in Corinth.

Personal reassurance

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision:

“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

Acts 18:9-10 (NIV)

It seems Paul had been so afraid he was tempted to stop speaking about the good news of salvation through Jesus. He had felt utterly alone, fearing he would be attacked and harmed.


Finally, Luke recorded the hair-raising account of the opposition trying to have Paul arrested on the grounds that he was preaching an illegal religion.

Their plot rebounded on them.

The proconsul Gallio said it was no business of Roman courts to adjudicate theological disputes – he dismissed the case and had the Jews ejected from the court. Consequently, the precedent was set and Christians were protected for a time from religious persecution.

Enraged, the angry crowd turned on the Jews and beat up their new synagogue ruler, instead!

God gives encouragement to His own in ways that are personal to them

I had to think about that after I wrote it down.

There is no question answering God’s call comes at a cost. Ask anyone who has taken that leap of faith and said yes to the Lord. They will tell you! And maybe you’re one of those people yourself. Maybe you said yes to the Lord, you said, “Here I am, Lord! Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.”

Where are you looking for the encouragement God is seeking to give you?

Think of the ways the Lord encouraged Paul. Could be God will speak straight into your heart, in person, through His word here in the Bible, and through prayer. Support may come from an unexpected source, the arrival of new friends, or a breakthrough. God may even now be engineering events to direct your way.

How would this perspective, understanding the encouragement as well as the cost of answering God’s call on your life, affect how you are experiencing your current situation?

[Paul staying at the home of Priscilla and Aquila | Jan Sadeler / CC BY (

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 17, Athens

Athens was in a period of decline during Paul’s day, but it was still recognized in the ancient world as a center for culture and education.


While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.

Acts 17:17-18 (NIV)

It’s intriguing that Paul had attracted the attention of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the two leading schools of philosophy in that day. Both philosophies were basically atheist.

Portrait of Stoic Philosopher Chrysippos 1st century CE Roman copy of 3rd century BCE Greek original from Albano, Italy
Mary Harrsch | Flickr

The Epicurean motto, “Enjoy Life.” 

The Stoic motto, “Endure Life.”

Nevertheless, it seems Paul was able to identify common ground to make the message of Christ relevant to their way of thinking and way of life.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.

So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Acts 17:22-23

If you have a Bible open, you can follow along Paul’s argument with me:

God has given all people life and breath and everything else: The first thing Paul pointed out was that God had created the world. In his letter to the Colossians Paul was more specific: all things were created by Jesus, and for Jesus. Therefore—and Paul must have swept his hands up to take in all the temples and idols—God cannot be contained by all this.

As Father, God is the creator and sustainer of all things; He is the source, giver of life, and has put the stamp of His image on every person.

God brought forth all the nations Paul quoted their own Greek poets in explaining that God upholds the universe by the word of His power, Jesus. Jesus actively holds all things together, and all people belong to God. God has a right, therefore, to command all people everywhere to repent.

The Father has a purpose for every person and  appoints all history, overseeing exactly where everyone will live and for how long. God the Father perfectly provides for us, His children, in every situation.

We are God’s offspring. Paul wanted the Athenians to understand that God was about to judge the entire world. Not just one people or one nation or one political system, but all people equally without partiality were under God’s rule.

God is our Father. And as Father, it is God’s right to rule His universe with His law, to judge wrong and to bring justice. 

Yet it is also the Father’s joy to forgive and restore. God’s intention, Paul explained, was for people to seek Him, to reach out to Him and find Him, because He is not far from any person. Nevertheless, there was still an urgency to repent, right now. The Father had raised His Son from the dead as proof of His ability to rescue them from the coming judgment.

The one they were to put their faith in to rescue them was the very one Who would one day come to judge, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Because of Jesus’ humility in obedience God has exalted Him, giving Him authority over every authority. Jesus now remains the unique God‑man forever—fully God and fully man. Jesus is actively ruling with God, as Lord over all.

In all that Paul said, you could interchange the word ‘God’ with the word ‘Jesus.’ The Father and the Son are equal in being, yet in the plan of redemption the Son subordinated Himself to the Father, a willing subordination that in no way implies inferiority. At a specific moment in earth’s history, God the Son took on human form, becoming the man we know as Jesus Christ.

As God, Jesus is eternal, He always existed. Before there was anything, Jesus was with God, a distinct person in the Godhead, and also God. In the introduction to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is portrayed as “the radiance of the glory of God.”  Not just an image or a reflection of God, He is “the exact imprint of God’s nature,” “He is the image of the invisible God,” Jesus is the absolutely authentic representation of God’s being. God says that all of His fullness – the totality of God’s powers and attributes – rests in Jesus.

Jesus has a true human nature that is perfectly united with His divine nature. Jesus’ human nature had the limitations of normal humanity, except He was completely without sin. As a human being He humbled Himself by becoming perfectly obedient to the Father, even to the point of death on the cross for the sake of our salvation, then rising from the dead.

The resurrection is the crowning moment of Jesus’ glory and the foundational fact upon which Christianity rests.

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

Acts 17:31-32 (NIV)

The resurrection was the one thing many of these philosophers refused to accept. They believed in immortality but would not entertain the possibility of physical resurrection. For Paul, who had been so persecuted in Thessalonica and Berea, yet also so encouraged, this came as an important life lesson.

Initial success may give way to strong opposition, even in the form of disinterest.

Paul had stood firm in the face of fierce opposition, but it was this apathy that seemed to really get to him.

At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Acts 17:33-34 (NIV)

Paul didn’t try anymore, he didn’t argue, he didn’t attempt to reason with them, he didn’t quote anymore of their philosophers, or try to move them with brilliant rhetoric. He simply left. Yet, even in the face of apathy and intellectual arrogance, God will always accomplish what He has set out to do through us.

Athens: standing on the Areopagus, looking at the Acropolis
George E. Koronaios / CC BY-SA (

As Luke noted, God added believers even here in Athens that day, including the notable Dionysius. The Areopagus “Ares’ Hill” in Greek was located on a slope near Athens’ Acropolis and is the earliest known ruling council in that ancient city, its origins dating to around 650 BC. In Paul’s time, the Areopagus retained considerable power in administrative oversight, religious functions, and educational responsibilities. Only members of the aristocracy who had served as magistrates of their city-state could join the Areopagus, making Dionysius an important patron, supporter, and ally of Paul and his team.

[Paul preaching to the philosophers gathered on the Areopagus | Raphael / Public domain]

Minor Prophets: Gomer Leaves Hosea

By chapter 2, years had gone by.

Gomer had taken on her other lovers, she was faithless and promiscuous. Hosea was in an agony of grief, and betrayal, just as God was in grief and betrayal over Israel.

First, God blocked Israel’s path with a thorn bush, not to make her miserable, but to keep her from the evil that she so desired. Yet, Israel’s story was being played out in Gomer’s story.

Yet, when Gomer left Hosea—and her children—it was after a process. Maybe it started with a growing restlessness with having settled into domestic life, having and raising children, the mundaneness of chores, cooking, laundry, the deadening every-dayness of it all. Maybe Gomer began to go on outings with her girlfriends, back to those shaded incense altars.

By verse 5, it is revealed that Gomer’s children were most likely not Hosea’s children. She had already been entertaining lovers for a while, and she had already been accepting gifts from them.  

The hedge God finally put around Israel, and consequently Gomer, was to keep her from the evil that she so wanted. You and I have an opportunity to be close to God as we dig deep into His word, apply His word and way to our lives, do His work, bear His fruit. Are you feeling frustrated, or thankful, for the ways it feels like God is hedging you in right now? How possible is it that God’s aim is to protect your heart from straying?

Gomer said she would go back to her husband, since the way to her lovers was blocked, but she didn’t go back, just as Israel, later in this story, pretended to repent … but it wasn’t real.

She has not acknowledged that I was the one

who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,

who lavished on her the silver and gold—

  which they used for Baal.

Hosea 2:8 (NIV)

Hosea had continued to take care of Gomer, making sure she had food and clothes, a roof over her head and even lavish gifts, all given quietly to her lovers to provide for her. Yet she did nothing to acknowledge Hosea’s care.

It’s so easy to forget from Whom every good gift comes. Physical gifts such as a shelter, food, clothing, health, education, opportunity…and then there are the inner gifts of intelligence, talent, character, joy, and most importantly love. Who do you and I acknowledge for these good things?  Maybe our genetics, maybe our own street smarts, or know-how, or can-do.

Yet, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He pointed to God as the giver of even our daily bread, as our protector from evil. Time and again, Jesus pointed to God as a good Father who gives good gifts, a generous Father Who is eager to bless, a kind Father Who gives to the earth and all people purely out of His love and grace, and not based in the least on merit or deservingness. How easy it is to forget.

Just as Hosea finally let Gomer go completely, so God was going to let Israel go.

God would now withhold His good gifts. Israel would find itself stripped of everything, alone, in a harsh environment.

Therefore I am now going to allure her;

I will lead her into the wilderness

and speak tenderly to her.

There I will give her back her vineyards,

and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

There she will respond as in the days of her youth,

    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

Hosea 2:14-15 (NIV)

In this way God would allure Israel in the desert of exile. In the harsh and foreign place of Assyria, Israel would finally listen to God’s tender voice, and respond so deeply to God’s wooing that after 70 years, when they at last returned home to the Promised Land, they would never, ever again worship idols.

In preparing to write this post, I thought about the times of dryness I’ve gone through, times when I’ve felt alone, unseen, unloved, isolated, with little hope. Times of lostness, without a clear way forward, not knowing what my purpose is, why am I even here.

Image courtesy Pexels

Literally constrained in a dark prison cell, St. John of the Cross wrote a poem called Dark Night of the Soul, expressing his heartache and longing, offering hope to all of us who find ourselves there.

Maybe God has taken from you what you have grown in affection for, your health, friends, children, intimate relationships, promise for the future, opportunities, maybe even your joy. I wonder if God is alluring you into a desert place, keeping you close to Him for a while, where He has said He will wait for you.

For Gomer this felt like total deprivation, and yet it was the very best thing for her, as Hosea wooed her back to himself. Allowing God to allure me, when I sense I am in the wilderness, letting Him speak tenderly to me, allowing this time alone with God to be enough makes these wilderness times turning points in my life.

When I look back, even now as I type these words, I can recognize how, in due time God returned fruitfulness to my life, turned my trouble into hope, and I was able to sing for real, experience joy, rather than just the hope for the hope of joy, in faith.

Just as Gomer was betrothed to Hosea, so you and I discover that to be betrothed in faithfulness to God is a permanent change that will help us weather the worst of crises.

Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

Found on Poet Seers

[St. John of the Cross | Francisco de Zurbarán / Public domain]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 17, Berea

Paul and Silas’ next stop was Berea, and though the account is short, it represented a needed time of encouragement for Paul.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Acts 17:11-12 (NIV)

This is the only documented group of people in the Bible who went back to the scriptures to verify what Paul and his team were claiming.

Notice where they did not go.

  • They did not go to their rabbis and synagogue leaders. Though we are thankful to our spiritual leaders for their tireless (and often thankless) work in shepherding us, teaching us, guiding us, watching over us, and carrying the burden for our spiritual growth, they do not have the last say on what is true.

    Yes, they aim to be trustworthy. However, those among them who truly serve the risen Christ would not hesitate in agreeing that searching the scriptures is the best course.
  • They did not just talk about it with each other. Though it is a good idea to talk with those whom we value and respect as mature in the Lord, and their counsel, their opinions, hold weight, if they truly are wise in the things of God, they themselves will bring you right back to the scriptures to examine them together.
  • They did not open their commentaries and books by favorite authors. They surely recognized that good teaching is important, foundational even, to a strong life of faith. But in order to ascertain if a new teaching is from the Lord, if it has the gravity of God’s voice, the only way to really tell is to compare it to what we know the Lord has already spoken.

If Sola Scriptura means anything, it means final authority lies in the Word of God. That is to say, in the written words of God as they have been preserved and carried down to us today in the Bible, and in the living Word of God Who has given us His Spirit whereby He shares His mind with ours, and illuminates the written words of God for us to understand.

The Great Isaiah Scroll
Israel Museum / Public domain

Speaking of which, let us now go back to the Bible ourselves to see something very interesting developing in Luke’s account.

There is a particularly noteworthy phrase in this story that Luke included several times throughout this second missions trip: “and quite a few prominent women.” Listen to how often,

In Pisidian Antioch: But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. (Acts 13:50)

In Philippi: On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. [one of whom was the wealthy and influential Lydia] (Acts 16:13)

In Thessalonica: Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. (Acts 17:4)

And here in Berea: As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Growing evidence, revealed in the book “Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity,” portrays women in the 1st through 3rd centuries’ church as persons of authority and influence. Recently unearthed, or reexamined funerary inscriptions, tomb art, and burial artifacts display a vivid depiction of women teaching, pastoring, and leading—in fact, the evidence seems to indicate there were more women leaders and teachers than men by perhaps as much as 70%.

Not coincidentally, when Emperor Constantine chose Christianity as the new imperial religion of Rome, and generated the first church councils to solidify and codify Christianity’s doctrines, the beginning of the end of women in church leadership for the next 1,300 years drew near. It was not until the Reformation that church doctrine and practice concerning fully half of the Lord’s “nation of priests” would be systematically reassessed.

Tragically, those who had opposed Paul in Thessalonica were bent on stopping Paul.

But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.

Acts 17:13 (NIV)

So, Silas and Timothy stayed with the Bereans, to minister to them, teach them, and establish them in the gospel. In the meantime, Paul was escorted by the Berean believers to Athens where they promised Paul they would send Silas and Timothy on to him as soon as they had returned to Berea.

[Berea | Nathan Gibbs on Flickr,]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 17, Thessalonica

Following the famous Egnatian Way, Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica, a predominantly Greek city and the capitol city of Macedonia, best known as an important commercial city with a port.

The Romans were superb road builders. Major routes were graded and paved, making travel and commerce easier than ever before. The road’s purpose was to enable Rome to move its armies in a more timely fashion. The bonus was that it also provided a way for everyone else to do so as well.

The Via Egnatia was built by a Roman senator named Gnaeus Egnatius, who served as praetor with the powers of proconsul in the newly conquered province of Macedonia in the late 140s BC.

The Egnatian Way was the main land route across northern Greece and extended from the Adriatic Sea on the western shore of Greece to the straits at Byzantium (later called Constantinople or Istanbul) to the east. The road was a major link between Italy and Asia.

Via Egnatia near Philippi
Carole Raddato, Flickr

Once in Macedonia, Paul had followed this road from Neapolis to Philippi and now to Thessalonica:

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. 

“This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 

Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

Acts 17:1-4 (NIV)

There are four words to take special note of:

Reason – Paul dialogued with them, question and answer style.

Explain – He opened the scriptures and showed how God’s word spoke of Jesus.

Prove – Paul gave irrefutable evidence by his own experience, and the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ miracles, teaching, death and resurrection.

Proclaim – He gave the clear presentation of the gospel.

God added the power of His Holy Spirit to Paul’s words, opening the hearts of many to receive what Paul said.

But most of the Jews were vehemently opposed to Paul’s message, considering it sacrilege to pose Jesus as God’s Son, blasphemy to suggest God had raised Jesus to eternal life as God, and heresy to call Gentiles into the faith as full members of the family of God.

They became jealous of his success in the city, in particular because so many God-fearing Greeks were turning to the Lord in saving faith, thereby leaving the synagogue to form to the church. To the Jews, this was salt in the wound, after their careful proselytizing of these prominent members of the city. They raised up a riot looking for Paul and Silas, went to Jason’s house, hauled Jason out instead, and accused Paul of turning the world upside down and defying Caesar. Jason posted a peace bond, which earned his release and that night Paul and Silas slipped away.

Knowing their story adds depth to the reading of Paul’s letters to the believers in Thessalonica:

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-6 (NIV)


We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

The believers in Thessalonica held a special place in Paul’s affections

  1. Paul’s love for them was so deep he felt orphaned when separated. (1 Thessalonians 2:17)
  2. He longed intensely to be with them, and made every effort to do so. (1 Thessalonians 2:17)
  3. He saw them as his glory and his joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:20)
  4. Paul sent his beloved Timothy to them, at great cost to himself, to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
  5. Paul also felt great concern for them because of the extremity of their persecution, and Satan’s temptations. (1 Thessalonians 3:5)
  6. Paul was greatly encouraged by Timothy’s report of their faithfulness. (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7)

Determined to do all he could to care for this young church, Paul

  • Strengthened and encouraged them by sending them Timothy. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
  • Wrote them at least two letters.
  • Lived with them for a time to teach them, empower them, and build them up in the faith.

In writing about the Thessalonian believers, perhaps Luke was reminded of Jesus’ words recorded in his gospel.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 

Jesus, as quoted in Luke 9:23

Jesus made several points about the cross for a believer:

The cross is necessary, not optional, for every believer.

Yet no one is compelled to take up the cross. A person must take up their cross willingly, because of a love for Jesus and a desire to share in His life. That is what Jesus’ followers were prepared to do as they received Him in faith.

The cross is personal. No one can pick it up and carry it for you.

The cross is meant to kill all selfish desires or ambition. You and I must die to self here on earth if we want to bear eternal fruit. The cross is choosing God’s will even if it will mean suffering. And the suffering that may come will be a direct result of following God’s will, just as Paul and his team were run out of town, just as the Thessalonian believers immediately began experiencing intense persecution from those who had previously claimed to love them.

Jesus also said The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves Him. That doesn’t necessarily mean earthly honor and rewards, even though sometimes it does. For the Thessalonian believers, a long and protracted time of suffering lay before them, but God would first honor those who had already died under this siege of opposition, and the rest would rise up to meet their Lord and Savior, “in the clouds,” in great victory and glory.

[Catacomb sanctuary in Thessaloniki| Image courtesy Pixabay]

Minor Prophets: Hosea Marries Gomer

Overview of Hosea
The Bible Project

Hosea son of Beeri was a teen at the end of Amos’ time in Israel. Amos had prophesied during Jeroboam II’s long and stable reign, during the wealthiest time in all of Israel’s history since the days of Solomon. There were ivory palaces, the land – and the people – were fat and flourishing, flowing bowls of wine, heavy clusters of olives and grapes, they never had it so good as this. Except that they were also corrupt.

Hosea picked up right where Amos left off, at the end of Jeroboam’s reign. Over the course of about 40 years Israel totally changed from a stable government to bloody intrigue. Four kings were assassinated in succession, each by their replacement. Their last king was captured in battle and thrown into the horror of an Assyrian prison. Israelite wealth was siphoned off into tribute to Assyria, and Israel itself “fluttered like a frightened dove,” first to Egypt, then to Assyria for help against their growing list of enemies.

There was anarchy and distress – think about all the purging and murdering that happened every time a new king came to the throne.

Theirs was a degenerate age, a calumnious culture filled with cursing, lying and bloodshed, stealing and adultery. They broke all bounds of law and decency, the environment was becoming polluted and corrupt. Prophets stumbled along with the people, priests fed on the sins of the people, relishing their wickedness.

You’ve heard of gang violence. In Hosea’s day the gangs were made up of -clergy- who butchered people on the road and committed crimes so shameful Hosea couldn’t bring himself to name them.

Houses got broken into and robbed on a routine basis, thieving and mugging in the streets happened every day, people could never trust the merchants and businesses because defrauding the consumer was common practice. Political leaders were filled with a hot lust for wickedness, deceitful practices and violence. Over all was a constant state of blanket terror that Assyria would one day overrun their country, brutalize them, destroy their fertile fields and lush cities and sell whoever was left into grinding slavery.

And then there was the idolatry.

It had now become so rampant, there were incense altars and prostitutes under every shady tree. Nearly every family had burned at least one child alive in the arms of Ba’al. They were so given over to fornication of every variety that whole families joined in, daughters, wives and mothers, little boys and girls all did their turns as temple prostitutes.

Husbands, sons, fathers and brothers came to fornicate with them. Somehow they thought this would fertilize the land and make it rich for planting and harvest. In this way God’s gifts of wealth and abundance were attributed to their own licentious behavior in acts of despicable worship to idols their own hands had fashioned from wood.

It is against the backdrop of this kind of society that the story of Hosea and Gomer took place.

Imagine Hosea, conservative, thoughtful, he loved to worship at the synagogue, to pray and talk about the Lord.

Maybe Gomer was popular, pretty, flirtatious, bright and sunshiny. She loved a party! She went to synagogue, too, because everybody did, everybody was religious. But she also went with her family to the high places, where all the festivals and New Moon rituals were celebrated. She hadn’t been a temple prostitute yet, but all her girlfriends were talking about it.

Hosea wrote his story retrospectively. As a young man, Hosea might have prayed and asked God for a wife, if he wasn’t already promised from boyhood to the daughter of a family friend. It was the usual way for fathers to arrange these things

Imagine Hosea’s surprise when he received God’s specific direction to marry Gomer, the beautiful yet morally censurable daughter of Diblaim.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him,

Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

So Hosea married Gomer daughter of Diblaim.

Hosea 1:2-3 (NIV)

Can you imagine Hosea’s conversation with his parents? They undoubtedly had always hoped their son would marry a virtuous and godly young woman who would love him faithfully, worship the Lord together with him, support him in his every endeavor, and raise a beautiful family with him.

Surely they were horrified, knowing exactly the kind of family Gomer had been raised in, and indeed her own openly licentious and idolatrous behavior spoke volumes on what life would be like with her.

Really, father, I distinctly heard the voice of the Lord speaking to me. Almighty God has commanded me to marry Gomer. I swear it!

But how can you say that, son, his mother might have cried. This is entirely against all we know of the Lord’s commands, and of His law. Would the Lord speak to you against His own written commands?

Certainly they would have pled with him, showed him scripture after scripture from the King’s Proverbs they felt would dissuade their noble, spiritually intense son, knowing his great love for the Lord, and his longing to obey God in all things.

Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
    from the wayward woman with her seductive words


For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as gall,
    sharp as a double-edged sword.

They had many, many more.

Finally, perhaps, in a desperate move to save their son, Hosea’s father might have thundered, “The mouth of an adulterous woman is a deep pit; a man who is under the Lord’s wrath falls into it. Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, my son,” then reaching for his staff, “but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.”

Who knows. Maybe Hosea did have to endure the strikes and lashes of his father’s staff as he obdurately refused to change his mind, or his story.

God has commanded this of me, and I must do it.   

Hosea realized that what God was asking of him was to

  • Marry someone who would cause him terrible, life‑long pain, a woman God knew would break his heart.
  • Suffer his reputation to be smeared by his wife.
  • Raise the children this woman would give birth to, even when he couldn’t be sure they were his.
  • Allow their children to be shunned by their peers.
  • Leave their children in the care of a woman who abandoned them regularly in order to be with her lovers.
  • Finally force him to raise their children single‑handedly when she left him.

Hosea understood he was to portray the Lord God Almighty, Who had taken to Himself, out of pure love, Israel who had become unfaithful to Him. God called Hosea to love Gomer even though she would shame and disgrace him. To be faithful to her no matter what. Hosea’s marriage would become a picture of how God loved Israel.

They had three children:

Jezreel, whose name meant God would scatter His people in judgement (but one day God would plant His people again),

Lo Ruhamah, because God would not longer cover His justice with pity (but one day God would restore His loved ones),

Lo Ammi, because God would stop regarding Israel (but one day His people would be called sons of the Living God).

What a heavy burden this young man, perhaps only 18 or 19, had to face as he drank to the dregs the marriage cup with Gomer, under their wedding canopy that night. His life would soon become a crushing despair to him.

[the Prophet Hosea | Moretto [Public domain]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 16, Demons and Jail

Paul, Silas, TImothy, and Luke entering Philippi
“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

Paul’s work in Philippi had only just begun. The next person God intended to receive the gospel was a jailor and his family, so this is how the Lord arranged for Paul and his team to get into the jail:

“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

An enslaved girl, suffering from demon‑possession, was following Paul around, sort of giving him and his companions free advertising. But Paul knew her prophecies came from a demon, she was possessed by an evil spirit – and evil is incompatible with God. Jesus never allowed demons to proclaim His name, He always silenced them, then cast them out.

The evil spirit was also hostile to the presence of Jesus, and could at any time start making false statements which no one would know better than to believe.

The young fortune-telling slave
“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

By the power and authority of the Lord Jesus, Paul liberated the enslaved girl of the evil spirit, but the businessmen who claimed ownership of her were furious that she had been rendered useless to them, so they hauled Paul and Silas into court. It is important to know it was strictly against the law to beat a Roman citizen without a trial, and Paul was a Roman citizen. In addition, Paul had not committed a crime.

“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

But the magistrate was facing a growing crowd of angry people. To him this looked like a small band of wandering Jews making trouble for some leading businessmen in the city. Without giving Paul and Silas a chance to defend themselves, the magistrate had them flogged and thrown in jail.

Now stop and think for a minute.

If -you- were in this situation, would you have guessed this was within God’s will?

  • Out of obedience to God’s leading they ended up in Philippi.
  • Continuing their call, they spread the gospel.
  • In keeping with Jesus’ own example and word, they rebuked an evil spirit.

Yet their “reward” was being falsely accused, the verdict was unjust, and the punishment was cruel.

All Paul and Silas had, in that moment, to make any sense of what was happening to them, was faith in God’s character. They had to believe that God was still in control, that everything was working out right, that God still loved them, they were within His will, that there was a purpose for all this.

So, Paul and Silas bided their time and didn’t complain. Instead, they prayed and sang hymns all night, beaten to a pulp, with their feet in stocks. Crazily, they had real joy, rejoicing in their sufferings, feeling sure it would bring glory to God. Paul and Silas’ extremity of circumstances was God’s opportunity to reveal His sacrificial love to the jailer. Our extremity is also God’s opportunity.

“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

The earthquake at midnight was a terrifying display of God’s awesome power and none of the prisoners dared to escape. Paul and Silas might have thought this was God opening a door for them to walk through. Their chains had fallen off. But in reality, it was the -jailer- God intended to set free, and both Paul and Silas must have known it.

“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

By God’s grace, Paul was ready to rescue the jailer with the gospel. God inspired the jailer to believe and the jailer and his household were saved to eternal life with God

It seems out of keeping with Paul’s humble nature for him to have insisted upon public fanfare and an official apology for his release. But, by doing so, the magistrate and his officials were forced to publicly admit their mistake in front of the jailer,

Paul leads the Jailor’s household to Christ in Philippi
“To the Ends of the Earth” Project
  • Protecting the jailer and his family from possible repercussions resulting from all those jail cell doors flying open.
  • And, preventing the harassment of the other converts in Philippi, at least for the time being.

God’s way of leading is step by step, often with unexpected twists and turns

God sometimes allows something to happen in order to put us in position to be ready for the next step. Paul’s willingness to trust and accept even the really hard steps God took him through led to the church at Philippi being established—the only church Paul would later consistently receive help from, throughout his career.

God also made sure the east, where the Lord had prevented Paul from reaching, received the gospel. Eventually, the Lord sent Peter to Bythinia with Mark, and Paul did later get to evangelize Ephesus, where he would meet Priscilla and Aquilla, only just arrived themselves from fleeing the persecution of Jews in Rome.

[Paul and the Jailor | Howson, J. S. (John Saul), 1816-1885 [No restrictions]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 16, Lydia

Have you ever wondered what your destiny is?

Sometimes it seems like people really know – like the missionary who has “a heart” for a certain people group ever since she could remember, or the person born with a great talent, and a great passion to go with it. But what about the rest of us?  Why are we here? What did God have in mind when He created you and me?

What gives life meaning, anyway? I hear people talk about “paying it forward,” and I resonate with that. Everybody, across the board, longs to be known and loved, and longs to contribute something lasting and significant in life. So, is life really only all about self-fulfillment, and following your bliss? Are we content with the life rule of basically simply being a good person?

I mean, these are open ended questions people have been weighing in on for thousands of years, so, clearly, there’s no short and easy answer, no formula that wraps it all up.

But one thing we can know, is that whatever else our destinies may hold for us, being made in God’s image makes us personal, moral and spiritual beings, and God’s purpose for people is going to be all about love, and glory, and relationship. We have significance and worth already, because we were made in love, and made for love.

Honestly, destiny is gravy, when you think about it!

But, I think we get to have a destiny, too. God has something particular and unique that He’s given every person to contribute to the  earth, and to the world, and no matter what happens, you and I are not going to get robbed of that…even though we may not know what it is till we look back at the end of life and view our sojourn on earth from God’s vantage.

Still, you and I are probably not going to get a heavenly missive wafting down from heaven to us on the wings of a dove, with the whole plan outlined for us. Much more likely, God will lead you to your destiny one step at a time.

The process will shape you and make you ready for your destiny, as God molds you into the kind of person you need to be to fulfill what He has planned for you.

That’s what God was doing with Lydia in ancient Thyatira. In her day women did not usually wonder what their destiny would be. Depending on their station in life, they would become someone’s wife, and the mother of their husband’s children, or they might be sold into slavery. Very few women were able to pull off what Lydia did, joining a guild, becoming a master in a trade, and establishing her own household.

Lydia was the exception.

Thyatirian Purple

Lydia was most likely born into a Greek nobleman’s home, and raised in the wealth and bustle of Thyatira, a Turkish city world-renowned for its dyes and textiles trade. In fact, Thyatira was home to more artisans and guilds than any other city of its day, including the dyes guild, of which Lydia undoubtedly later became a member.

An outlier in her time, Lydia made a name for herself in the dye trade, establishing her own business and household, and enjoying a level of independence only a small minority of women were able to experience.

Murex Shells necessary to make the expensive purple dyes

It’s possible Lydia thought she was pursuing her destiny as a successful merchant and business woman when she branched out from her home in Thyatira and moved to the wealthy retirement community of Philippi. Here she would enjoy the fruits of her labors, with less competition from the bustling artisan and guild trade she had left behind.

Meanwhile, somewhere along the line, Lydia must have come in contact with some of the many Jews who lived in Thyatira, for a longing developed in Lydia to know the one true and living God. When she moved to Thyatira, she may have looked for a place to worship Him in Philippi, knowing that as few as ten Jewish men and women could start a synagogue.

It’s my guess that when Lydia found no synagogue in her new hometown she was the one who eventually urged and encouraged the Jewish women she met to form a prayer group by the river. God had worked into Lydia the kind of bold courage and ‘can-do’ spirit which had made her an outlier, and which the godly women of Philippi needed, to do the unusual by coming together to worship without any men at all.

What do you think God is working into your character?  What do you have that others may not even realize they need?

Lydia may have thought she had everything she had ever dreamed of.

  • She was wealthy, a successful businesswoman, and skilled at her trade.
  • She owned her own home and ran a large household of slaves and servants.
  • In her day, as a wealthy and influential person, she would have been sought after for her patronage.
  • She would have had a seat on the city council, her advice would have carried a certain amount of weight, and her ability to protect and sponsor those who sought her favor would have been significant.
Lydia with Paul
“To the Ends of the Earth” Propject

Lydia would have had a dense constellation around her of connections, tradespeople, businesses, wealthy private clients, noble families, vendors, the list goes on. Because of her wealth and status, this network of people would have asked her to confer with them on such matters as legal representation in court, loans of money, influencing business deals or marriages, and supporting a client’s candidacy for political office or a priesthood. In return, the clients were expected to offer their services to their patron as needed.

But the destiny God had in mind for Lydia included so much more than even these matters of consequence. God had eternity in mind for Lydia.

This is how God works in our lives, one step at a time. God intended for Lydia to receive the gospel. Little did she know that God had been working on her behalf by sending the apostle Paul a dream that would draw him to her very city.

Meanwhile, Paul had been praying for guidance from God. He knew the Holy Spirit was preventing him from heading east, though he longed to go in that direction. But, Paul also knew with confident faith that

Lydia receives the Lord Jesus
“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” 

1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NIV)

The very night Paul asked for God’s guidance he had a vivid dream holding the impact of a vision. The next morning he had no doubts he and his team were to head west.

God’s goal was to bring the gospel to Lydia, to save this woman whom He had made in His image, because of His tender, personal love for her. The destiny God had planned for Lydia was to receive the gospel, become the first believer in Europe, open her home to these missionaries, and use her wealth and influence to establish Europe’s first church in her spacious home.

As an outlier, Lydia was the perfect person to begin this church. She knew what it took to think outside the box, to push boundaries, and to accept unusual people.

Mature faith accepts God’s crossing up of normal conventions.

Lydia’s story gives me courage to lean into my own destiny, whatever that is. Sometimes it feels safer to just do the things we know, don’t make waves, stay within the cultural norms, let someone else do the pioneering.

But Lydia rose to challenges.

Paul must have just loved her strength, her courage, her perseverance, and yes, her patronage.

Paul and Lydia
“To the Ends of the Earth” Project

One thing I am getting to learn about Paul, he loved powerful women, and he included them whenever he could in God’s great work.

[Paul and Lydia | Wikimedia Commons]

The 12 Minor Prophets

This week, I’m starting a new series from the Hebrew Bible (what many refer to as the “Old Testament”). I’ve long been fascinated with the poetry, imagery, and intensity of the prophets, and especially intrigued with the minor prophets–maybe because the only place I ever heard teaching on all twelve books was in the Bible study I used to be a part of.

In doing some background studying, I came across a really wonderful resource on YouTube called “The Bible Project.” I’ll feature on of their overviews each time I introduce a new prophet. This week, The Bible Project gives an overview of how to read and understand the prophets themselves

How to Read the Bible: The Prophets
The Bible Project

There are actually 15 prophets who get their own books in the Bible (all in the Hebrew Bible), as this chart shows, and their books are ordered according to size:

Chart of Israel’s Kings and Prophets

Many of prophets’ careers actually overlapped. For each of the twelve minor prophets, here is a basic résumé:

Hosea was contemporaries with Amos and prophesied in Israel during the reigns of Zechariah and Shallum, between 782-752 BC

Joel was the sole prophet in Judah, during his career throughout the reign of Joash, from 835-796 BC

Amos was older when Hosea started his career. Amos had already been prophesying in Israel during the long reign Jeroboam II, 782-753 BC

Obadiah prophesied alone in Judah, during Jehoram’s reign, 848-841 BC

Jonah came shortly after Amos and Hosea, prophesying in Israel during the reigns of Menahem and Pekahiah, 752-740 BC

Micah followed Jonah, prophesying both together with Isaiah in Judah, during Jotham’s reign, 748-732 BC, and alone to Israel during Pekah’s reign, 752-722 BC. You’ll notice the overlap with Pekahaiah’s reign. For a time, both kings rivalled for Israel’s throne, causing a great deal of strife.

Nahum prophesied after Israel had been hauled off into Assyrian captivity, 722 BC. His actual timing is fuzzy, so…somewhere in that first, say 50 years after the exile

Habakkuk had a lot of contemporaries: Zephaniah, the famous Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. It’s possible Huldah, the woman prophet, who had prophesied during King Josiah’s time, was still living (she is, for unclear reasons, not reflected on the chart above). All of these prophets preached in Judah during Jehoiakim’s and Jehoiachin’s reigns, spanning 608-597 BC

There is a short span of time, Zedekiah’s reign from 597-586, where there must have been overlap between the prophets just above, and the prophets just below.

Haggai also had several contemporaries: Zechariah, Malachi, and Jeremiah. Their most active time of prophesying was after Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity, 586 BC.

Hoseah is first up, next week, following the order given in the Bible,

[Great Deesis with Prophets | Walters Art Museum [Public domain]

These panels reproduce the upper two tiers of the screen (known as the iconostasis) that separates the nave from the altar in Orthodox churches. Such sets, of which this is one of the earliest known, were used by priests for makeshift altars and by lay people for personal prayer.

In the upper row, the Virgin and Child are surrounded by Old Testament prophets who hold scrolls with passages foretelling Christ’s birth:

Habakkuk (?), Micah, Jeremiah, Moses, Daniel, David, Solomon, Jonah, Jacob, Isaiah (?), Gedeon, and Zechariah.

Below, the adult Christ is seated on the throne of judgment, flanked by holy persons who entreat him to forgive our sins. On his right are the Virgin, St. Peter, Metropolitan Peter of Moscow, St. Sergius of Radonezh (a famous Russian hermit), and St. George. On his left stand John the Baptist, St. Paul, Metropolitan Alexis of Moscow, St. Cyril of Belozersk (another renowned Russian monk), and St. Demetrius.

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