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Lesson 4: Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament: Part 2 *

Introduction: When you think about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, do you focus mostly on the New Testament? Can you refine that even more, by saying that an emphasis on the Holy Spirit starts with the book of Acts? This week we discover a spotlight on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament! Imagine that. Let's dive into an Old Testament examination of what the Holy Spirit has to do with justice and mercy in our lives!

  1. Bones

    1. Read Ezekiel 37:1. Let's picture this in our mind. God takes Ezekiel on a virtual flight through the air and lands him in a valley that is full of bones. What would you say to God if He did that to you? (Could we have landed somewhere else? This looks like a killing place.)

    2. Read Ezekiel 37:2-3. What do you think about Ezekiel's answer to God? (Great answer!)

    3. Read Ezekiel 37:4-6. Is this a trick question? Is God teasing Ezekiel? (No. God is teaching Ezekiel something.)

      1. Let's see if we can figure out God's lesson. What are the bones? (People who are not alive.)

      2. What begins the revival of these bones? (First Ezekiel speaks prophetic words from God. This is followed by the bones hearing the word of God.)

      3. What causes the bones to actually come alive again? (God breathing in them.)

    4. Read Ezekiel 37:7-10. All of the steps are necessary, but what does God focus on as the most important step? (God's breath entering the bones.)

    5. How would you apply this today? What lessons do you learn from this for church members (perhaps whole churches) who are "dried bones?" (First, there has to be an intentional effort (prophesy) to present the word of God so that they can hear. Second, God breathes into our efforts to bring life.)

      1. What do you think is "God's breath?" (The Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit is most often represented as fire, in Acts 2:2-3 the Holy Spirit is represented as fire and wind. This is consistent with the idea of God breathing His Spirit into these bones.)

      2. If we are going to have an exact parallel for today, what is most important to bring dried up church members and dried up churches to life? (The Holy Spirit!)

    6. Read Ezekiel 37:11-14. What was the lesson for the people of Ezekiel's time? (That God would revive His people. This specifically says "I will put my Spirit in you and you will live." Notice that something tangible is then accomplished - the people settle in their own land.)

    7. How is your life? How is the life of your church? Do you have that "dried bones" feeling? Or, do you feel the Holy Spirit in your life and in your church?

      1. What does any of this have to do with justice and mercy? (Ezekiel's bones came to life and settled in their land; meaning they did something. When the Holy Spirit fills us we, too, can do the things God has for us.)

  2. Salt Water

    1. Read Ezekiel 47:1-6. How is this picture different than the bones picture? (This is a problem with moisture and water, not dryness.)

      1. From where does all of this water originate? (The temple of God.)

    2. Read Ezekiel 47:7-9 and Ezekiel 47:12. What does this water bring? (Life. Salt water kills some things, fresh water brings life.)

    3. Consider the vision of the dry bones and this vision of the water. Is God telling His people the same thing in two different ways? Or, do you see a practical difference in the two visions? (The goal of the Holy Spirit is to make the dry bones "wet." What we got at the end of the bones vision was "a vast army." This makes it appear that the "wet" coming from the temple is God's people. They are fresh water and they push back the salt water that kills the plants and animals. The "wet" sounds like the Spirit-inspired church in action.)

      1. Why do you think the water in Ezekiel's vision started out as a small leak and ended as a vast river? (God wants us to know that He work is progressive. We might start small, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, God's people will become a mighty force.)

  3. Holy Spirit Practical Action

    1. Read Isaiah 61:1. With the background of the bones and the water, how do you understand this text? (The Holy Spirit empowers us to bring the gospel to those who are not doing well because they do not know about God. These are the "brokenhearted," "captives" and "prisoners" of the darkness of Satan. We "dry bones" become empowered by the Spirit to do the "wet" work of sharing the gospel and changing lives of these people!)

    2. Read Isaiah 61:2. Do we have a mixed message? (Favor and vengeance are opposites.)

      1. How do favor and vengeance bring comfort to those who mourn?

    3. Let's consider this for a few moments. Recall that the brokenhearted, the captives and prisoners are being helped. How were they originally injured? (The implication is that they were harmed by Satan and those who follow him.)

      1. How will vengeance bring comfort? (God's good news is that He brings justice to wrong-doers and freedom and comfort to those wronged. The wronged believe that justice is being done.)

    4. Read Isaiah 61:5-6. What is the goal for God's people? (Aliens and foreigners will do the low-class work (shepherding) and the hard manual work (farming). God's people, in contrast, will be involved in religious leadership and getting rich from the work of other nations.)

      1. Wow! Did you know the Bible said that?

    5. Re-read Isaiah 61:1. How do you make any sense of this? We start out with good news to the "poor," and that news is that they will be freed, healed, and established so that aliens and foreigners can work for them! Does that make sense? Remember we are discussing how the Holy Spirit will enliven us to engage in acts of justice and mercy.

      1. Are acts of justice and mercy for the poor not a universal requirement?

      2. What did you learn in last week's lesson about God's provision for the poor? (In almost all cases they had to work for their food. The church widows given regular help had to have a track record of doing good things. You might consider that the thread of logic running through all of this is that God is not looking to help all the poor, He is looking to help the righteous poor. That would explain Isaiah 61:1 which singles out certain poor to help.)

    6. Read Luke 10:27-29. What question is the expert in the law asking Jesus? (The same question we are discussing - who is my poor neighbor that I should help? Is this just good people?)

    7. Read Luke 10:30-37. Did the Samaritan test the merit or righteousness of the beaten fellow? (No.)

      1. Is Jesus' counsel to the expert in the law at odds with the counsel of the Old Testament when it comes to acts of mercy and justice? (No. I see a significant difference in the Good Samaritan story. This is an emergency situation. We should help all when it comes to emergencies and temporary difficulties. But, when it comes to long-term situations, we are directed to use our money and time to advance the Kingdom of God in the life of the person needing help.)

    8. Read Luke 15:17-20. This is the story of the Prodigal Son. When he was suffering, what did a lack of help do for this young man? (It caused him to come to his senses. This illustrates the kind of judgment God wants from us. We should help the righteous poor. With regard to the unrighteous poor, our aid needs to promote the dignity and blessings of work. We need to consider the best use of our funds. We need to help the unrighteous come to their senses.)

    9. Friend, if you are a "dried bone," when it comes to justice and mercy, will you ask the Holy Spirit to enliven you to help others in a way consistent with Biblical wisdom, and not merely random acts of kindness?

  4. Next week: Jesus on Community Outreach.
* Copr. 2016, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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