Category: The Story Guides

The Story: Chapters 18 and 19 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 18 and 19

Introduction

This week, we look at Chapters 18 and 19 in The Story, which cover both the exile as seen through Daniel’s eyes and the return to Judah seventy years later.

Once again, these stories are also found in the Bible, but in lots of different places. If you don’t have The Story book, you can read Daniel 1-3, and 6; Jeremiah 29-31; Ezra 1-6; Haggai 1-2; and Zechariah 1 and 8. 

Summary of Chapters 18 and 19 – Daniel in Exile and The Return Home

When Nebuchadnezzar’s armies conquered Judah, many of Jerusalem’s elite were captured and taken to Babylon. The book of Daniel recites stories of Daniel and his trio of friends included in that group taken to Babylon. Although they were taught all about the Babylonian culture, they graciously resisted anything that was inconsistent with their Jewish heritage. (For example, they asked for vegetarian meals so they could stay faithful to Jewish dietary laws. While some were worried that this dies might leave them weakened, God so blessed their endeavors that even King Nebuchadnezzar took notice. )

And when the king had a dream one night, Daniel was able to interpret it. In response, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to ruler over Babylon and made his three friends high-level officials.  Nebuchadnezzar even paid homage to Daniel’s God.

Nebuchadnezzar later made a gold statue in his own honor and commanded everyone to worship it. Daniel’s three friends refused, and were thrown into a fiery furnace. The astonished king watched as a fourth figure, looking like a god, appeared in the furnace to protect the other three. The king praised the Jewish God for delivering Daniel’s three friends who refused to worship anyone else.           

Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by Belshazzar, who ignored Daniel and dishonored God. His reign was ended when the Persian army conquered Babylon. Later, Daniel’s enemies deceived the Persian king into signing an irrevocable decree forbidding prayer to anyone except the king. Daniel responded by doing as he had always done; he knelt and prayed to God, and the king was forced to throw his trusted servant to the lions. However, Daniel was not harmed and the King of Persia worshipped Daniel’s God.

Persian rulers were far more benevolent than their Babylonian and Assyrian predecessors. The Persians were sympathetic to the religious needs of the people they ruled. So Persia’s King Cyrus issued a decree to repatriate all aliens to their homelands while allowing them some degree of self-rule. And thus the people of Israel began their journey home in 539.

Under the guidance of the Hebrew leader, Zerubbabel, nearly 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem. They were intent on rebuilding, and the temple was the first priority.  They rebuilt the altar and prepared sacrifices in accordance with the Law of Moses. However, the locals didn’t welcome the repatriated Judeans. They intimidated the Jews and construction halted.

Sixteen years later the prophet, Haggai, spoke on God’s behalf, and encouraged the people to return to rebuilding the temple. They did and in 516 B.C., the second temple was completed. Although the new temple would not have the splendor of the old one, God promised to shower Jerusalem and Judah with His goodness and make Israel a blessing to the world.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Jerusalem and God’s Temple were in ruins, and most of the Jews were living in exile during the time of Daniel. It is easy to see how one could lose faith. What helped them hold on to faith? What helps you hold on to faith when you experience difficulties?
  1. Daniel’s integrity was so consistent and above reproach that even his enemies could find no grounds to accuse him (The Story, pp. 257-258). Think about your own life. Do any inconsistencies exist between your public life and your private life? Between what you say you believe and how you act?
    Daniel and his friends had a pretty amazing prayer life. What does your prayer life look like right now? Are there things you could learn from Daniel’s witness? What might you commit to trying in the week ahead to increase your habit of prayer? Have you ever experienced at a time you joined with others to pray through a difficult situation. How did having group prayer support help?
  1. Compare the story of Daniel with the story of Joseph
(in Chapter 3 of The Story). Do you view difficulties the way they did? Why or why not? When have your grown stronger in faith during a time of trial?
  1. When permission to return was given by the Persian king, many of the Israelite exiles chose to stay in Babylon instead of returning home to the Promised Land? If you had been an Israelite exile in Babylon when King Cyrus permitted your return, would you have returned to the Promised Land or would you have remained in Babylon? Why?
  1. What did Israel’s enemies do to undermine their efforts to rebuild their temple (The Story, p. 265)? Have you ever experienced a similar situation, in which someone tried to undermine something important to you? How did you respond?
  1. Haggai, the prophet, encouraged the people to get back to work on the temple building project that had stalled for
16 years (The Story, p. 266). Are there areas of your spiritual growth that have stalled out? Is there someone you could partner with to hold yourself accountable in this area?
  1. When the temple reconstruction was completed, some Israelites were overjoyed and some were heartbroken because the new temple was no match to the glory of Solomon’s temple. According
to Haggai’s second message (The Story, p. 267-68), how can we miss God’s call in the present when we linger on the past? Have you ever seen this happen in your life or in the life of someone you know? What helped to move forward? 


 

Recap:

This week, think about the places you spend most of your time.  Then consider what it would mean for you to actually “inhabit” those places (like Daniel and his friends inhabited Babylon); in other words, what it would mean for you to actually know and love your neighbors in the various places of your life.  For God has placed you somewhere particular to fulfill his hopes for your life. 

 

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The Story: Chapter 17 Guide

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The Story – Chapter 17: The Kingdoms’ Fall

Introduction

This week, we look at Chapter 17 in The Story and see the end of the kingdom of Judah as the people there are exiled into Babylon. However, even then God provides hope for the people in the words of two prophets – Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Once again, these stories are also found in the Bible, but in lots of different places. If you don’t have The Story book, you can read 2 Kings 21, 23-25; 2 Chronicles 33, 36; Jeremiah 1-2, 4-5, 13 and 21; Lamentations 1-3, 5; and Ezekiel 1-2, 6-7 and 36-37. (Clearly, this week, it’s much easier to read it or listen to it in The Story.) 

Summary of Chapter 17 – The Kingdoms’ Fall

Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings, led his people back to God for 29 years.  The Bible says he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  Hezekiah trusted God, kept his commands, and followed Him.  Because of this, God was with him. When Jerusalem was under threat of attack, God sent Isaiah to encourage him to continue to trust the Lord.

Upon his death, Manasseh, his son, reigned for 55 years.  Unfortunately, he was not at all like his father.  In fact, the Bible says he did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  He led the people astray so that they actually did more evil than the nations that were in the land before God gave it to His people.

This yo-yo effect of following God and falling from God continued through another bad king, Amon, the son of Manasseh.  Fortunately, his reign was only two years long.  His son, Josiah followed him and he was a good king.With the help of some godly advisors, he helped restore God’s place within the kingdom of Judah.

Following Josiah, four more bad kings reigned over the final twenty years of Judah.  To the very end, God sent His messengers, the prophets, to call His people to repent and turn to Him.  But when all was said and done, God’s people refused to listen.

So God let God’s people deal with the consequences of their actions. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar laid three sieges against Judah and Jerusalem. The first came against King Jehoiakim and the second against King Jehoiachin. Nearly 10,000 Judeans were captured and taken away to Babylon. The king and the prophet Ezekiel were among their prisoners.

Finally, in 586 after an 18-month blockade, the Babylonian army broke through the walls of Jerusalem. They demolished the city, looted the temple, and led most of the remaining people away to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah was among the few who were left behind. He grieved the loss of his beloved city and mourned the sin of God’s people. But even then, he trusted that God would have compassion on the remnant who remained in Jerusalem. 

It had been eight centuries since God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. Now they were exiles in Babylon. Hope vanished. But God told Ezekiel that all was not lost. He reminded His people that God would one day restore them. He assured their return to the homeland. And He promised that He would be their God.

To illustrate His point, God showed Ezekiel a valley of dry bones and asked, “Can these bones live?” When Ezekiel spoke God’s message to the bones, they came to life and stood like a vast army. This astonishing demonstration confirmed that even exile in Babylon would not hinder God’s redemptive plan. Life would return to Israel’s dried up bones. God would make them a nation again. He would bring them back to their land. Only God could.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Who do you think is most culpable for the sins of Judah—the people or their king? How can we today avoid being led astray by our leaders?
  1. God told Ezekiel (see The Story at p. 236), “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious,”. Have you ever been fearful to speak the truth, but felt compelled to do so? Did you follow through? What were the results?
  1. During the exile, God gave Ezekiel the mission of sharing his word with the Jews living in a foreign land. Does the Christian mission today resemble this situation in any way? How is it similar? How is it different?
  1. After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah grieved for his beloved city (pages 243-245). What did Jeremiah believe was God’s saving plan for humans in the midst of all of the devastation? What can you learn from seeing Jeremiah’s lament and praise all mixed together in the midst of troubling circumstances? Can you think of a time in your life when praise and lament were mixed together?
  1. What did God promise He would do for Israel in spite of their great sin, their Babylonian exile, and their stone hearts (check out pages. 245-246 in The Story)? What does this teach you about God’s heart for His chosen nation? What does it tell us about God’s heart for us?
  2. Just as Jeremiah wept with his people (Lamentations 1:1–2), so the New Testament (in Romans) tells us to “mourn with those who mourn.” Do you think it is important to acknowledge pain and sorrow before offering advice? Why or why not? Can we learn anything from Jeremiah about loving those who have mistreated us? 

 

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The Story: Chapter 16 Guide

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The Story – Chapter 16: The Beginning of the End

Introduction

This week, we look at Chapter 16 in The Story and finally see what it looks like to have a king who relies on God is times of potential disaster. While the Northern Kingdom literally disappears, Judah in the South renews its devotion to God . . . at least for awhile.

Once again, because of all the different characters, these can be some difficult chapters to follow. These stories are also found in the Bible, . If you don’t have The Story book, you can read 2 Kings 17-19, and Isaiah 3, 6, 13-14, 49 and 53. 

Summary of Chapters 14 and 15 – A Kingdom Divided and God’s Messengers

To Israel’s north, the Assyrian empire grew powerful and threatening. Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, even set up a puppet government for the northern tribes of Israel and appointed Hoshea as king. Later, Hoshea stopped paying tribute and as a result, the Assyrian army destroyed the capital city of Samaria and captured Hoshea. In 722, the king and many of his fellow Israelites were deported by Shalmeneser’s successor, Sargon II. All those deported were resettled elsewhere in the Assyrian Empire, and gradually assimilated with the other inhabitants. They are now often referred to as the ten lost tribes of Israel.

Meanwhile, just to the south in the kingdom of Judah, King Hezekiah, who was one of the few “good” kings, was nervously watching these events on his northern border. Hezekiah stands out from all of the other kings of Judah for his efforts to remove every vestige of idolatry in the land. In 705, he rebelled against the new Assyrian king Sennacherib, and in response, Assyrian armies conquered many of the other cities in Judah. The Assyrians then sent messengers to tell Hezekiah that it would be wiser to surrender now than to endure the consequences of a continued rebellion. They spoke to the king and appealed directly to everyone living in Jerusalem. Their reasoning was faultless: What other nation had been able to stand against the Assyrian might? Judah could not count on God to protect them.

However, King Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and prayed for deliverance. The prophet Isaiah promised that God would deliver them. What faith it must have taken to trust the prophet’s prediction! The Bible tells us that, much like back in Egypt many years earlier, one night the angel of the Lord swept through the Assyrian army as they slept. The next morning Sennacherib’s camp was littered with 185,000 dead Assyrian soldiers. The army retreated and Judah was saved.

Isaiah had been called to be a prophet during the reign of one of Judah’s earlier kings. In a majestic vision of the LORD, he was commissioned to speak for God to turn the people of Judah away from sin and toward their God. He warned that Judah was walking in her sister Israel’s footsteps and therefore would reap similar judgment. Unfortunately, he seldom found a listening audience. 

The Book of Isaiah later recounts the prophet’s promises of restoration. When Israel perceived herself as forsaken and forgotten, her compassionate God would fully restore her. The whole world would know that the LORD is their Savior and Redeemer.

In one of his most memorable passages, Isaiah described a Suffering Servant, who was “pierced for our transgressions.” Christians later understood these passages as describing Jesus, who redeemed all humanity.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. The end begins when the northern tribes (referred to as Israel) are taken into captivity by Assyria around 722 BC. The southern part of the kingdom, called Judah, would not face God’s judgment for about 150 years. How does the decisive and complete judgment of Israel square with the goodness of God? How does it challenge your views about God?
  1. The reigns of kings Hoshea and Hezekiah overlapped for about six years. Which king trusted God to be provider and protector for him and his people? Which king was stuck in the ways of this world? How do you know? What was the result? 

  1. King Sennacherib of Assyria sent his envoy to Jerusalem to persuade King Hezekiah to surrender peacefully, claiming he came on the LORD’s orders. Isaiah’s message to Hezekiah said otherwise. How do you evaluate people who claim to have a word from the LORD?
  1. The Assyrians also tried to convince the people of Judah not to trust God. Whose “voice” is most likely to cause you to doubt God? To whom do you listen when you feel surrounded by stress or fear? 
Can you think of a time someone tried to discourage you or a loved one from trusting God? What happened?
  1. What do these stories of kings and their people teach you about leadership?
  1. Isaiah thinks he is unworthy to be God’s messenger because he is a sinner, but that doesn’t stop God from using him. Can you think of a time God broke through your feelings of unworthiness to use you? What happened?
  1. God used Isaiah to warn Judah of an imminent judgment. God also provided the promise of restoration through Isaiah. What specific promises might bring you comfort when you need it?
  2. What questions came up for you while you were reading these chapters?

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The Story: Chapters 14 and 15 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 14 and 15: A Kingdom Divided and God’s Messengers

Introduction

This week, we look at two chapters of The Story and discover how after Solomon’s death, things go downhill pretty quickly for God’s chosen people. Although Israel experienced unprecedented achievement and prosperity during most of Solomon’s reign, at the end, his oppression of his people through taxes and conscripted work, and his worship of foreign gods, led to a divided kingdom after his death.

There’s a lot to cover in these two chapters. If you don’t have The Story book, you can read 1 Kings 12-19, 2 Kings 2, 4, and 6; Hosea 4-5, 8-9 and 14; and Amos 1, 3-5 and 9. 

Summary of Chapters 14 and 15 – A Kingdom Divided and God’s Messengers

Solomon’s worship of foreign gods near the end of his life  and his oppression of his people had catastrophic consequences for God’s chosen people. Upon his death, his son Rehoboam refused to provide any relief from Solomon’s heavy taxation, resulting in a divided nation. Only Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Rehoboam. The other 10 tribes to the north seceded, took the name of Israel and made Jeroboam their king. However, Jeroboam, like Aaron centuries before, set up idols of counterfeit worship, leading Israel into idolatry. Prophets predicted the end of Jeroboam’s reign, which occurred soon thereafter.

In Judah, Rehoboam allowed God’s people to fall into the same idolatry as in the North.  The years of peace under Solomon ended when Shishak, king of Egypt attacked Judah and carried off the gold and silver treasures. Rehoboam replaced them with bronze, but the decline in moral and spiritual values was even sharper than the drop in value from gold to bronze.  

The series of idolatrous kings continue, as both Judah and Israel were led further and further away from God. Abijah son of Rehoboam became the next king of Judah. His tenure was short and sinful like his father’s. No good kings reigned in Israel after the split of the kingdom. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Israel sank deeper into idolatry under Ahab and Jezebel.

But God did not sit idly by. Instead, God called prophets to speak on His behalf and demonstrate that there is no God  but YHWH. The prophet Elijah warned King Ahab that Israel would experience a 3-year drought because of their worship of the pagan god, Baal. Then, atop Mount Carmel, Elijah challenged the idolaters to the ultimate faceoff—YHWH vs. Baal. Baal failed to show up but the LORD made a dramatic statement when He consumed the water-logged sacrifice with fire. However, Ahab’s wife Jezebel, responded with threats to kill Elijah, so he fled into the desert. God revealed Himself to Elijah at Mount Horeb, much like He had done nearly 600 years earlier to Moses at Sinai. He told Elijah that he had kings and prophets to anoint – one of whom was his successor, Elisha.

While the two prophets were traveling together, a whirlwind took Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Elisha, who succeeded Elijah, performed many miraculous feats for the benefit of the faithful remnant in Israel. However, even with the powerful ministries of Elijah and Elisha, the deeply embedded idolaters remained powerful, numerous, and unrepentant in Israel.

God sent Amos to warn Israel that her prosperity, injustice, and sinful ways would soon be judged. He promised them that if Israel did not repent, they would be taken captive. God also sent Hosea to Israel as a living object lesson of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness. However, Israel continued to ignore God’s pleas to return to Him. 

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Solomon’s son Rehoboam sought counsel from the elders who had served his father first and then to the young men who had served him. He received very different advice and ultimately chose to follow the advice of his contemporaries To whom do you turn when you need advice in making difficult decisions? Why? Who else would you like to include in this circle? 
Whose advice are you most likely to follow? Why?
  1. Chapters 14 and 15 are full of stories of conflict. Do you tend to avoid conflict, provoke it or address it head on? What lessons about conflict and conflict resolution can you learn from the stories in this chapter? 

  1. Even in the midst of these stories of conflict and idolatrous kings, God’s upper story still reveals how God relentlessly pursues his people. How do you see God pursuing you when conflict and chaos seem to be a part of your life?
  1. Elijah experienced a great miracle – defeating the prophets of Baal – but then he began to fear for his life. Why do you think this miracle was not enough for him? 
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where God has come through big-time, but you still have trouble relying on him. What happened? And then, after a dramatic series of events, God revealed himself to Elijah in a very undramatic way. Why do you think God might choose to dwell in a whisper? When have you experienced God’s whisper in your life?
  1. The kings in Israel and Judah were supposed to be servants of God who implemented justice and led people to follow God so all nations would know God. But most didn’t embrace that role. Do you think servant leadership is important? As a leader, how do you embody servant leadership?
  1. The split of Israel and Judah led to continual warfare for hundreds of years. What issues divide God’s people today? What practical ways can you think of to promote unity within your church? What about unity with other Christians?
  1. Amos and Hosea had some pretty tough words for the people of God in their day. What do you think they would say to Christians in this country today? What would they say to the people in your congregation? If you think that Amos’ and Hosea’s messages are still meaningful today, what can you do to be that prophetic voice?
  1. What questions came up for you while you were reading these chapters?

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The Story: Chapter 13 Guide: Solomon

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The Story – Chapter 13: The King Who Had It All (Solomon)

Introduction

David’s son Solomon becomes king after David dies. Solomon is known for building the glorious temple in Jerusalem and for his wisdom, a gift from God. Just as many of the psalms are attributed to David,  the biblical books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are attributed to Solomon. If you don’t have The Story book, you can read 1 Kings 1-8, 10-11; 2 Chronicles 5-7; and Proverbs 1-3, 6, 20-21 

Summary of Chapter 12 – The King Who Had It All

God used King David’s skills as a mighty warrior to lead Israel successfully against her enemies.  For forty years David led the nation and established her firmly in the Promised Land.  Upon the death of David, his son Solomon succeeds him as king. 

Solomon’s reign began with a series of defining events. He married the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and ironically, the nation that had once enslaved Israel now sought the good graces of God’s people. Then God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered to grant his heart’s desire. Solomon asked for wisdom to lead, and God was pleased to grant this request and gave him wealth and honor as well. Solomon’s keen wisdom became the hallmark of his reign, and people from around the world sought him out.  Solomon demonstrated that the cornerstone of all wisdom is a holy fear of God.

During Solomon’s reign, peace prevailed in the Promised Land. The time had come to build a temple for God. The construction project was massive and followed the pattern of the tabernacle that had been used since the days of Moses. The end result was as majestic as one could imagine. Solomon humbly realized that even a magnificent temple could not sufficiently contain God; however, the temple would become the enduring focal point of worship and life for God’s people.

King Solomon experienced phenomenal success. His wealth and wisdom were legendary. His reign was marked by peace and prosperity. But Solomon also married hundreds of women, many of them foreigners, and we are told that his foreign wives “turned his heart after other gods.”

Solomon’s story began with great promise, incomparable wisdom and magnificent achievement. However, his closing chapter reveals that the kingdom would be torn in two, and Solomon spent his last days fighting off enemies and rebels. His splendor and his legacy were tarnished by disobedience and idolatry.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. God gave Solomon an incredible opportunity to ask for anything he wished. (See 1 Kings 3:5 where God says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”) What would you ask for if God gave you such an opportunity? Why?
  1. Solomon asked God to give him a wise, discerning, understanding heart. (The Story, page 177) What does this mean? What would a heart like this look like in your life?  How would it impact you with your family and friends?  How about at work?  What would it have to do with the way you spend your money or your time?
  1. God not only gave Solomon what he did ask for, he also gave him what he didn’t ask for. Why do you think this was so? What does this say about the nature of God as a giver? Has God ever given anything to you that you didn’t ask for? Why do you think this happened?
  1. Proverbs often explain the benefits of living God’s way and the hazards of not doing so. Pages 179-183 include excerpts from the biblical book of Proverbs, attributed to Solomon. As you read these wisdom sayings, what sayings stand out or really resonate with you? Why? How can you put these into practice in your life? Are there any you disagree with? Why?
  1. Certainly God is bigger than any building could ever contain. Solomon recognized this, yet the temple Solomon constructed would become a special place where God’s people could meet with Him. Do you have a special place that you meet with God? Why is this special place important to you?
  1. Although Scripture is not specific, one has to wonder — exactly where did it all go wrong for Solomon? What was that crucial moment when Solomon started down the wrong path? Could Solomon have done anything to avoid it? Have you run into one of those crucial moments in your own life when it appears that a decision could have long-term consequences for your relationship with God? What happened?
  1. God had been and still is searching for people whose hearts would be fully His. Solomon was loyal for a long time, near the end of this life he wandered from God. We are all tempted to wander. What is it that causes your heart to wander from God? What has the potential of pulling you away from following God? What can you do to keep that from happening?
  1. What questions came up for you while you were reading this chapter?

 

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The Story: Chapter 12 Guide: The Trials of a King

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The Story – Chapter 12: David – The Trials of a King

Introduction

This week we look at the latter part of King David’s reign, and our focus is primarily on David’s fall and the subsequent challenges within his own family.  If you don’t have The Story book, you can read 2 Samuel 11-12, 18-19; 1 Chronicles22, 29; and Psalms 23, 32, 51.

Summary of Chapter 12 – The Trials of a King

David was the least likely among his brothers to be anointed king. He was the last person on the battlefront you’d pick to play the hero’s part against the giant Goliath, but David was the underdog who overcame. And he was the man after God’s own heart who became the king of Israel.

But David’s eyes wandered and so did his heart. He summoned the very lovely and very married Bathsheba to his bed. And then, making matters much worse, when David found out that Bathsheba was pregnant, he concocted a murderous plot which resulted in the death of her husband Uriah.

However, his actions were not hidden from God, who sent the prophet Nathan to visit David. (Guilty kings never fare well when prophets arrive for a visit—it happened with Samuel and Saul, and now with David.) Nathan told a parable and pointed the finger of blame squarely in David’s face. Although David repented of his sin, and God forgave him, after that, things were never the same. David and Bathsheba’s first son died, but they had a second son named Solomon (who later became king after his father).

Sadly, David was a better king than father. One of his sons, Absalom attempted to overthrow his father and usurp the throne, resulting in a rebellion. David instructed his troops to be gentle with his son, but when Absalom was found hanging from a tree limb, Joab, the leader of David’s army, seized the moment and killed the conspirator. King David mourned his son’s death when he heard the news.

The end of this chapter turns to David’s preparation for the building of God’s temple. David knew that his son, Solomon, would build a house for God, so he did all he could to prepare the way, giving generously himself and urging others to do the same. King David’s story draws to a close with poetic psalms of praise, reminders of faithfulness to Solomon, and his sights set on living “in the house of the LORD forever.”  (Psalm 23)

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. What did David ask Joab, the commander of the army, to do about Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14–15)? Have you ever been asked by a boss to do something you knew was wrong? If so, how did the request affect your opinion of and trust for the person. What is a good way to respond when someone in leadership asks you to do something you believe is wrong?
  1. God used Nathan to confront David about his sin. Has anyone ever confronted you about a sin in your life? Who has permission to be your “Nathan”? Compare David’s confrontation with Nathan to Saul’s confrontation with Samuel (p.162-163 and p. 141-143.) What does David seem to understand that Saul does not?
  1. What was David’s reaction when Nathan told him of the rich man stealing the poor man’s precious sheep (2 Samuel 12:5–6)? On whom had David actually pronounced judgment (12:7)? We tend to find fault in others, but often don’t see those same faults in ourselves. Can you think of a time when you realized that the fault you were criticizing in someone else was something you also shared? What did you do?
  1. On page 165 we read that “the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.” This is a hard one. Why do you think God took the life of the child when it was his father who sinned? How do you feel about God’s decision? Does God’s punishment of David (and all his family) fit the crime if God truly forgave him?
  1. David was excited to give his time, money and effort to building a temple he would not even live to see. Why do you think he felt this way? Is giving easy or hard for you? Why?
  1. Psalm 23 is the most well known of all the psalms. It is attributed to King David, and is one of the many ways David spoke with and about God. What in David’s background or experience might have contributed to the images that he used in this psalm? Can you think of reasons why this psalm brings such comfort to people still today?

7. What questions came up for you while you were reading this chapter?

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The Story: Chapter 11 Guide (David – From Shepherd to King)

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The Story – Chapter 11: David – From Shepherd to King

Introduction

This week we get back into The Story with a look at Israel’s second king, King David. We’ll start with the time after David was anointed king, but before he actually became king. If you don’t have The Story book, you can read First Samuel 16-18, 24 and 31; Second Samuel 6 and 22; First Chronicles 17; and Psalm 59. (We’re looking at lots of different biblical books this week.) 

Summary of Chapter 11 – From Shepherd to King

Saul was a man’s man. He was tall, handsome, and impressive…a likely choice for a king. He was just what Israel wanted. But it turned out that Saul was not God’s man. Saul often ignored God’s commands, so God found Israel’s future king in the unlikeliest of places – in the house of Jesse in a small village called Bethlehem.

Although the prophet Samuel expected to anoint as king one of Jesse’s older sons, it was the youngest brother, David, out herding the family’s sheep, who God had chosen. David was anointed by Samuel to replace King Saul.

However, even though David had been anointed as Israel’s future king, Saul was still the acting king. We next see David as he goes to supply his brothers on the frontlines of a battle against the Philistine army. When he arrived, David saw what everyone else did not: an opportunity for God’s power to be displayed. Armed with a slingshot, five pebbles, and an extraordinary faith, David faced the giant Goliath…and won.

Saul noticed how God was with David, so he brought David into his court. David was well liked and successful in everything he did, eventually marrying Saul’s daughter and becoming best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. But David’s popularity and success planted a seed of jealousy in Saul, to the point where he repeatedly tried to murder David.

David fled for his life and hid in the wilderness while Saul’s fear and irrational behavior grew. Saul’s thirst for David’s blood quickly turned to obsession, and that obsession blinded him to the fact that the Philistine armies were once again on the attack. They prevailed and Saul and his sons were killed.

However, it was another seven years before David was recognized as king over all Israel. As king, David became the military, civil, and spiritual leader. He conquered the city of Jerusalem, made it his capital city, and then brought the Ark of the Covenant there with great fanfare.

David was home at last. His first desire was to build a house, a temple, for God. Instead, God told David, “The LORD will build a house for you” (p. 159). God made a covenant with David and promised him a house (an eternal dynasty), a throne (royal authority), and a kingdom (rule on earth). David responded with worship and gratitude, knowing that distant generations of his own family would welcome the King whose reign would never end.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. When Saul disobeyed God at the end of chapter ten (p. 143), Samuel told Saul that the LORD had sought out a man after God’s own heart and appointed him as the ruler for His people. What do you think it means to be a person after God’s own heart based on David’s example? How are you a person after God’s own heart?  
  1. When Samuel goes to anoint Israel’s next king, what does God tell Samuel not to consider (see 1 Samuel 16:7)? How do we tend to look at others? How does it differ from how God sees people? How would you say you are seen in the world’s eyes? How does God see you? 

  1. David’s amazing faith gave him the courage to face Goliath when everyone else was afraid. Who or what are the giants in your life that need to be faced with courage? How can God equip you to do this?
  1. Even after David was anointed king, he had to wait a long time for it to actually happen. What does David’s story teach us about the importance of not only knowing what God wants, but also how God would have us bring it about?
  1. When the Ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem, David celebrated by dancing with everything he had. How does David’s exuberant worship challenge the “temperature” of your worship? Of your congregation’s worship?
  1. When David wanted to build God a temple, God redirected him, just as God sometimes constrains our best intentions because He wants us to serve Him in other ways. Can you think of times in your life when God has redirected you? Looking back, was this initially disappointing? What ultimately happened?
  1. Instead of having David build God a house, God promised to build David’s house (see 2 Samuel 7). Looking back through the lens of Jesus Christ, how do you read God’s promise to build David’s household? How do you think David understood this promise?
  1. What questions came up for you while you were reading this chapter?

 

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The Story: Week 9 Guide (Ch. 10)

General Resources:

Week 9 Resources:

The Story – Chapter 10

Introduction

This week we look at the first half of the First Samuel, as the Israelites are lead by their last judge and then their first king. The nation gets the king it wants, but as we all know, getting what you want doesn’t necessarily mean that things will go smoothly. If you don’t have The Story book, you can read Chapters 1-4, 8-13 and 15 of First Samuel.

 Chapter 10 – Standing Tall, Falling Hard

Even as Israel’s disobedience increased and “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25) at the end of the book of Judges, some people remembered God and his promises. One was a woman named Hannah, who had long endured the grief of childlessness and prayed to the Lord for a son, vowing that if God gave her a son, she would dedicate her son to the LORD. God did give Hannah a son and she kept her word. She named the boy Samuel and took him to serve in the tabernacle under the High Priest, Eli.

God spoke to Samuel one night and told him  told Samuel that Eli and his sons would be judged and his priestly line would soon end. And as it always does, God’s word came true – this time in a battle with the Philistine army in which the ark of covenant was captured, Eli’s sons were killed, and the Israelite army defeated. Eli had grown old and blind, and the devastating news of Israel’s defeat, the death of his sons and the loss of the ark left Eli dead on the spot.

Samuel took Eli’s place, but Israel was dissatisfied and asked for a king. Samuel expressed his opposition, but Israel knew only that they wanted to be like their pagan neighbors (the very people they were not to emulate). God warned that their demand for a king would be costly, but the people insisted on having an earthly king to fight their battles. Saul was anointed by Samuel and began well. He was affirmed by miraculous signs from God, and gave God credit for military victories, but  . . .

Saul’s honeymoon as king was short-lived. During another battle with the Philistines, Saul got nervous because Samuel was late. So Saul took matters into his own hands by making an offering himself and violating the role God had reserved for the priests. Samuel confronted Saul; Saul backpedaled, made excuses, and tried to justify his sin, but wound up losing a dynasty. Saul’s path of half-hearted obedience and fear-based leadership grew worse over the years.

By the end of Chapter 10, God has rejected Saul as king. Saul’s reign was Israel’s opportunity to see that monarchy is no better than anarchy when a man after God’s own heart is not on the throne. God had already chosen such a man, an unlikely shepherd boy who would one day become Saul’s successor. His throne would endure and would point God’s people again to the Shepherd King who was yet to come.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Hannah wanted a child so badly she promised God that she would give the child over to him. And when God gave her a child, she kept her promise, bringing Samuel to live with Eli when he was about three. Have you ever been in a situation where you made a bargain with God? What happened?
  2. How did Eli help Samuel know when he was hearing the voice of God? How can you tell when God is speaking to you? Who has helped you to be more faithful in listening to God? How did they help? 

  3. 
Samuel was probably just a boy when God called him to be a prophet to Eli and all of Israel. He was required to speak the truth in love to his mentor and friend. Have you ever had to speak truth in love to a friend? What did you do and how did God show up in that situation?
  4. If you had been on the call committee for the first king of Israel, what characteristics would you be looking for in a “perfect” candidate? What were Saul’s actual qualifications? What are the characteristics that you would look for in a good leader today?
  5. One of Saul’s primary issues was constantly taking matters into his own hands and ignoring God’s word. If you had a friend like Saul, what advice would you give him?.
  6. Why do you think it was hard for Saul to admit to Samuel when he had disobeyed? (p. 142-143) Rate yourself from 1-10 on your ability to own up to your mistakes. What in your life is keeping you from admitting your mistakes and asking for forgiveness?
  7.  What questions came up for you while you were reading this chapter?

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The Story: Week 8 Guide (Ch. 9)

General Resources:

Week 8 Resources:

The Story – Chapter 9

Introduction

This week we look at the biblical book of Ruth, a wonderful story of sacrificial love and redemption. And once, again, loyalty and love are epitomized by the actions of a foreign woman (which is why the chapter title is The Faith of a Foreign Woman; however, I call this story The Things We Do for Love). If you don’t have The Story book, you can read the book of Ruth. (It’s only 4 chapters long.)

 Chapter 9: The Things We Do For Love

The story of Ruth is a literary and redemptive gem that glimmers against a backdrop of bleakness. Set in the time period of the Judges, we first read about Naomi’s family leaving Bethlehem to escape a famine. They settle in Moab, where Naomi’s husband dies and her two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Within ten years, both sons die as well, and all that is left are three widows, no children, and no prospects. Things are not looking good.

Naomi hears that the famine is over and decides to return to Bethlehem. She urges her daughters-in-law to go back to their homes where they might find new husbands. Orpah leaves but Ruth refuses to leave her. Her poetic declaration of loyalty and commitment offers the first sign of hope: “Where you go, I will go; your people will be my people and your God my God” (p. 122).

The duo of widows make the journey back to the Land of Promise where their only hope is mere survival. Once there, Ruth exercises a widow’s right to gather extra grain from the fields. Her field of choice just happens to be the farmstead of a man named Boaz, who also happens to be a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. (As such, Boaz is a family guardian who could act to carry on the heritage of Naomi’s deceased husband and sons.) He notices Ruth from the start and admires the way she works to provide for her aging mother-in-law. Boaz offers his help and protection. (Ruth notices him too.)

Jewish law requires a family guardian to redeem both a widow and her land to preserve the family line. So, as is the custom, Naomi tells Ruth to offer herself in marriage to Boaz. He is delighted but also knew of a closer relative who has the right of first refusal. That other man chooses against redeeming the land, since it would also mean he would have to marry Ruth, which might threaten the inheritance he would pass along to his own children. Neither Boaz nor Ruth are disappointed by his choice since his refusal paves the way for Boaz to fulfill his role as a family guardian or “kinsman redeemer.” Boaz gladly marries Ruth and redeems the family’s land. Boaz and Ruth become the father of Obed who is the grandfather of King David, an ancestor of Jesus.

Boaz’s love for Ruth is a mirror image of the heart of God. Boaz steps in as a willing kinsmen redeemer and foreshadows Jesus who will step in as the Redeemer for all people.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Meanings of Biblical names are always significant. Elimelek’s name meant “my God is King.” Naomi’s name meant “pleasant,” but she later asked to be called Mara, meaning “bitterness.” Ruth’s name meant “friendship.” Boaz’s name meant “swift strength.” Who best lives up to their names and who does not?
  1. The story of Ruth describes some of the laws that God gave Israel to take care of marginalized people (see, for example, Leviticus 19:9-10). What do these laws and customs reveal about the heart of God for the poor, the widow and the orphan? What practical things can we do to care for people who are struggling today, so that we can reflect the heart of God?
  1. Ruth, Naomi and Boaz end up forming a somewhat unorthodox family. Neither Ruth nor Naomi had any reason to welcome each other as family. Social acceptability said that Naomi had no business having a Moabite daughter in law, and Ruth had no business staying with Naomi. And arguably Boaz had no legal obligation to redeem Naomi’s land or marry Ruth since he is not the closest relative. But yet, by the end of the story, they all find themselves family. When have you found yourself allied with people who may not be your blood relatives, but act as family to you? How has God worked in those relationships?
  1. When you think of how Naomi’s life went from Mara (bitter) to Naomi (pleasant), what are some of the ways that God extended grace to this faithful woman? Can you think of someone who needs you to come and remind them that they are loved (or pleasant)? What is something you can take to extend grace to such person?
  1. As you read chapter 9, what are some of the losses that Naomi and Ruth faced? How did each of them respond to these painful experiences? Do you think their perspective on things changed over time? Has your perspective on some of your difficult life experiences changed over time? Have some of these experiences led you closer to God?
  1. The word for redeem is used many times in this story, making it a key theme. What does it mean to be redeemed? How does Boaz’s redeeming of Ruth compare to our redemption found in Christ?
  1. What questions came up for you while you were reading this chapter?

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The Story: Week 7 Guide (Ch. 8)

General Resources:

Week 7 Resources:

The Story – Chapter 8

Introduction

This week we look at the book of Judges, which describes how Israel, now in the promised land, enters into multiple cycles of behavior in which they chose their own paths over God’s path, face the consequences of their decisions, and finally repent and turn back to God who steps in to save them. However, when things get good again, they forget God’s actions, and the cycle begins again. Also in this chapter God uses some amazingly flawed people to further God’s purposes. If you don’t have The Story book, you can read Judges chapters 2-4, 6- 8, and 13-16.

 Chapter 8 – A Few Good Men  . . . and Women

The nation of Israel has finally settled in the Promised Land, just as God had promised to Abraham so many years before. However, the original inhabitants of the land also remained and Israel had a hard time not copying their behaviors.

After the death of Joshua, a destructive cycle emerged: 

  • Israel turned again and again to the worship of pagan gods.
  • Israel experienced the negative consequences of its choices.
  • Israel cried out for God’s help.
  • God raised up a leader (called a “judge”) to save them.

We first hear the story of Deborah, a prophet, judge, and strong leader who delivered her people from the Canaanite king, Jabin and his powerful armies.

Then later, Israel was oppressed by the Midianites, and God called Gideon out of nowhere to deliver His people. Gideon was extremely reluctant to believe God was calling him and needed lots of encouragement before he acted. But God demonstrated his power by whittling Gideon’s army to just 300 men before it routed the Midianites, enabling God’s people to enjoy freedom…for a while. 

The cycle continued and the Philistines soon dominated Israel. This time God used Samson, a man who God gifted with amazing strength, but who also exhibited huge character flaws. Indeed, Samson’s own life embodied the destructive pattern reflected by the entire Israelite nation during the roughly 300-400 year period described in the book of Judges.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. In the days after Joshua, “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (see Judges 17:6 and 21:25) instead of following God’s desires for them. Can you think of a time when you ignored God’s desires for your life? What happened? How were you and others affected? What did you do? What did God do in your life?
  2. Deborah’s military leader was named Barak. Deborah trusted that God would go before the Israelites and fight, but Barak was fearful. Can you describe a time when fear held you back from trusting in God? What about a time when you were more like Deborah? How is her story reflected in the church’s views of women in leadership?
  3. The angel of the Lord greeted Gideon as a mighty warrior even though he was from the weakest clan and the least in his family (The Story at pp.107-8). God was patient with Gideon’s insecurities, and ultimately demonstrated abundant victory through Gideon and a stripped down army. Can you remember a time when God provided for you through overwhelming odds, when everything seems to be against you? Do you tend to define yourself by your weaknesses or by the potential God sees in you?
  4. Samson tended to rely on his own strength instead of acknowledging God as the source. Are there strengths or resources that you tend to rely on, instead of entrusting your life into God’s care? How is that working for you?
  5. The Israelites turned to God when they were afflicted and oppressed, but left God when life was good. What does this suggest about the type of relationship they desired to have with God? What about you – do you find yourself spending more time with God when you want or need something from God? What would you think about a friend who treated you well only when he or she wanted something from you?
  6. Many of the judges were seriously flawed. (And I do mean seriously flawed!) What do we learn about God in the fact that he still used these people? What does it say about God’s willingness to work with us today?
  7. What questions came up for you while you were reading this chapter?

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