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Duddingston Kirk, Edinburgh

Sunday services in the Kirk
are suspended at present.

Bible Reading Notes

These notes were compiled by the Reverend Dr James A P Jack. You will find reading the Bible rewarding and encouraging, but reading the Bible is not always easy!

These guidelines may help you.

September 2020

The Book of Exodus

September 1      Exodus 16:13–21

Once again we read of how God provides for his people in their hour of need, and his help can come in unexpected ways. Notice how God provides sufficient for their needs. Some, out of greed, gathered as much as they could, but to no avail. Others, possibly out of fear, gathered only a little, but it was enough.

September 2      Exodus 16:22–30

The Israelites had long lived under slavery where their religious heritage had been systematically destroyed. They had again to be taught some of the fundamentals of their faith. One such fundamental concerned the Sabbath rest. It is part of God’s plan for his people that on the seventh day they rest from their daily labours and concentrate on eternal matters. It is not a day for doing nothing, but a day for being active in contemplation of the mighty acts of God.

September 3      Exodus 17:1–7

In school a teacher will often repeat a question to make sure the class have a firm grasp of the answer. God does the same. At Elim the Israelites had already discovered that God can provide water, but when they thirst again at Rephidim they do not trust in the One who can provide, but resort to the human failing of complaint. Think of the strain there must have been on poor Moses.

September 4      Exodus 17:8–16

The people of God must not resort to violence, yet they often live in a violent society. Ought a Christian to defend themselves in such a situation? That is perhaps one of the hardest questions to answer in modern society. There are times when one must submit, as Christ did himself on the cross; and there are times when defence must be made. It is often difficult to know when to submit and when to defend, but always it must be in accordance with the will of God.

September 5      Exodus 18:1–12

What a comfort it must have been to Moses to receive this visit from another man of God. Jethro was his father-in-law, but it was their spiritual kinship that really mattered. Spiritual kinship is often of greater value than physical. Much had happened since Moses left Midian, and Jethro rejoiced to hear such evidence of God’s guiding hand. So often, when a saint of God is wilting under pressure another saint ‘happens’ to pass by and give courage and hope. Such apparently chance meetings are never mere accidents.

September 6      Exodus 18:13–27

So often an outsider can see what is required more clearly than those deeply involved in the situation. Assistants were appointed to aid Moses in the many responsibilities he had to bear. Each member of the people of God has a responsibility to discharge. Everything must not be left for one man to do. There is a corporate responsibility in the Church of God.

September 7      Exodus 19:1–8

The Israelites had been learning to trust God. Now they must dedicate their lives to God ‘and you will serve me as priests’. We are called that we might serve; the disciple becomes an apostle. It is an important stage in our spiritual pilgrimage when we pass from following to helping.

September 8      Exodus 19:9–15

God is a God of purity, and those called to serve God must be as pure as it is possible for mortal man to be pure. We do not become pure through service, but must be pure that we might serve. The purest man or woman alive can never be pure, as God is pure. That is why there was a boundary on the mountain that they dare not cross. No matter how pure a person is, he is still a sinner at heart, and so separated from God. Reconciliation with God comes only through Christ.

The Book of Nehemiah

Background: Nehemiah covers the same period as Ezra – the return of Jews after their period of exile in Babylon. While Ezra was concerned with building the Temple, Nehemiah saw his main work as the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. In doing so he encountered similar difficulties, but was filled with consuming passion to honour and obey God.

September 9      Nehemiah 1:1–4a

Nehemiah had a reasonably secure position in Babylon even though he was in exile. But his thoughts were constantly of his homeland and the people there. He heard from his brother that those who had returned were in great difficulty, and that the city itself had been reduced to a defenceless ruin. News of another’s misfortune can evoke different reactions; complete indifference, a cynical sense of pleasure or a deep sense of compassion and sympathy.

September 10      Nehemiah 1:4–9

Nehemiah’s depression lasted for several days, and affected his appetite. During this time he did not forget the need to pray. There are times in life when prayer is all that one can do – circumstances may be such that only God can over-rule. It is easy to pray once, but to maintain regular prayer requires both supreme trust in God and considerable self-discipline.

September 11      Nehemiah 1:4–9

Note how his prayer begins with the sense of God’s greatness. Then follows the awareness that he is a faithful God who keeps all promises. There is the recognition that the people of Israel have sinned. The Law of Moses made them aware of the consequences of unfaithfulness to God. But when we turn back to God and are faithful to God then we will know God’s blessing and peace.

September 12      Nehemiah 1:10–11

Nehemiah continues his prayers, but note how he relates his prayers to his daily work. As wine steward, he had daily access to the emperor. He knew that God could provide, through the emperor, what was needed to restore Jerusalem and its people. Very often God’s people can give their greatest service, and provide their greatest witness, through the quality of their daily work and living.

September 13      Nehemiah 2:1–3

Four months later! God always answers prayer. God may not always answer immediately, or as we would wish – but God will answer when God sees it to be best. Very often God answers in unexpected ways! Note how Nehemiah’s concern for his people so ate into his whole being that the emperor could see a change in his appearance. Do we care for the state of the Church, the nation, the unemployed, the sick, the starving, the unsaved with such intensity that our appearance is affected?

September 14      Nehemiah 2:4–6

Nehemiah may have been startled when the emperor asked him what was wrong, but when he asked what he wanted, and when he would return, he was able to give precise answers. During these four months Nehemiah not only prayed, he also planned what was needed and how to go about it. God is never honoured by work that is done in a careless fashion. We must not leave God out of our planning, this is a very common fault; yet neither must we sit back and expect God to do everything. Our praying and our planning must be co-ordinated.

September 15      Nehemiah 2:7–10

The emperor not only gave written authority for the project, together with materials for the rebuilding, but also provided an armed escort for the journey. Sometimes we think we can ignore God and concentrate on the ‘more important matters’. Nothing can ever be more important than our relationship with God. That must come first in our lives, and then the ‘other things’ will also be provided.

September 16      Nehemiah 2:11–15

As he began his work in Jerusalem, Nehemiah acted with great discretion and care. There are times when God’s servants can seek publicity, but there are also times when they must work with the utmost discretion. Before the work of rebuilding could begin the real state of the walls had to be assessed.

September 17      Nehemiah 2:16–20

The time came when Nehemiah had to confide in those who would share the work with him. He told them how God had revealed to him what he must do. Nehemiah met with ready and enthusiastic response from some, but others laughed at the proposals. The whole history of the Church is a record of the conflict between those who respond to God’s revealed guidance, and those of lesser spirituality who rely only on their own human wisdom.

September 18      Nehemiah 3:1–7

So the work of rebuilding the walls began. Note how individuals, or groups of individuals, were made responsible for one section of the wall. What must have seemed an utterly impossible task, because of its size, was made possible when the work was shared out. As might be expected, however, there were snags.

September 19      Nehemiah 3:8–16

The list of workers continues, but with some interesting comments. Note how a goldsmith and a maker of perfumes also assisted in the work. Not only were they willing to work, in contrast to the leading men of Tekoa, but their occupations give an insight into life at the time. In spite of the obvious hardships of that time, there was apparently still a market for gold ornaments and perfumes.

September 20      Nehemiah 3:17–26

Priests and Levites take their share of the work. They were men who were dedicated to God’s work; the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was God’s work! In times of crisis and emergency all normal distinctions of class and status must be abandoned and all co-operate in the work that must be done.

September 21      Nehemiah 3:27–32

The long list ends, but it is interesting to note how many men ‘built the next section, which was in front of his house’. There is something thrilling about going to other lands and serving God there, but not are able to do that. However, each of us is able to work for God, ‘in front of our own houses’. We may witness to God to a next door neighbour. That may be the ministry to which God is calling us.

September 22      Nehemiah 4:1–6

Even today there are those who are incapable of doing anything positive and useful themselves – they can only sneer at and hinder others who are getting on with the work. How sad, and how typical, that while some sneered, others got on with the work.

September 23      Nehemiah 4:7–13

The scoffing and sneering changed to anger and open hostility. Here again we see this double defence – prayer and watchfulness. Often we err by relying on one of these alone – we pray, but do not keep watch; or we defend ourselves, but ignore the help that God can give. God’s people must both pray and use what resources they can to protect themselves from the wiles of the enemy.

September 24      Nehemiah 4:14–23

The strain was beginning to tell on the builders, and so Nehemiah encouraged them by reminding them of God’s power. He also exhorted them to remember their responsibility to their wives and children. The men got on with their work, but they had to have their weapons at constant readiness. So it is in the spiritual battle.

September 25      Nehemiah 5:1–13

The rigours of the work began to take their toll. Because of the unceasing work of building the wall, many of the men were unable to grow crops, which were necessary to support their own families. Many of them were bankrupt, but some of their fellow countrymen were taking advantage of their weakness to increase their own wealth. Human nature never changes. While some are prepared to sacrifice, others seize the opportunity to grow rich. Nehemiah was enraged, and called a public meeting at which these complaints were investigated. Those responsible acknowledged their sin, and peace was restored, but there is an awful lesson for us here.

September 26      Nehemiah 5:14–19

There is a great temptation for men, in a position such as Nehemiah enjoyed, to use that position for their own advantage. Many of his predecessors had done just that, but he was different. He did not claim that to which he was entitled, but he provided far more than might reasonably have been expected from him – and all of this, because he feared God. Once again we see the influence of our spiritual life upon our working, social and public life.

September 27      Nehemiah 6:1–4

Sanballat and his colleagues first tried ridicule in their attempt to halt the work of rebuilding. When that failed they resorted to open hostility. That also failed. Now they attempt a deceit. What their plan was we are not told, but they tried to arrange a meeting with Nehemiah, which he rejected. Four times this ruse was tried and four times it failed. The agents of evil never give up their attempt to frustrate God’s work.

September 28      Nehemiah 6:5–9

We can learn much about the Devil’s tactics from this chapter. The Devil as such may not be mentioned, but those who would do his work do not hesitate to use his methods. Now Sanballat uses an open letter to propagate a downright lie. He accuses Nehemiah of planning a revolt against the emperor. When one weapon fails, the Devil has plenty of others from which to choose.

September 29      Nehemiah 6:10–14

Now another stratagem is attempted. One who claimed to be a friend suggested that he and Nehemiah should hide behind locked doors. This was an attempt to separate Nehemiah from his followers. Perhaps even an assassination attempt was planned, but Nehemiah realised the threat and refused to go.

September 30      Nehemiah 6:15–19

The work of rebuilding is now finished, but the subtle attack continues. The enemies now realise that they have failed in their attempt to oppose the rebuilding. They seek to win public support for their cause by propaganda seeking to uphold the good works of Tobiah – one of the leading opponents of Nehemiah. This is an early example of ‘If you can’t beat them, join them!’ No doubt it was hoped that Tobiah would be elected to some position from which he could play havoc from within. Sometimes apparent offers of friendship and assistance have to be rejected, since they are not sincere.