Acts, chapters 27 & 28

“After [Paul] said this, he took bread, gave thanks to God before them all, broke it, and started eating.”
~Acts 27:35

Paul was in Caesarea, on the northwest coast of modern day Israel, when he appealed his case to be heard before Caesar.
He was escorted to Rome under the care of army officer Julius, who treated him fairly. (Acts 25:11; 27:1,3,42,43)
Despite his suggestion that the ship and all aboard stay in Fair Havens for the winter, the journey continued.
Fair Havens was located on the south coast of the island of Crete, and they were trying to reach the nearby port city of Phoenix, about seventy-five kilometers (47 mi) northwest of there.
But shortly after departing, a violent wind drove them southwest past the tiny island of Cauda. (Acts 27:14-16)
They managed not to capsize for around the next 1000 km (620 mi) until they neared the island of Malta.
The crew had started to lighten the load on the second day of the journey, and on the fourteenth day, Paul said: “Today is the 14th day you have been waiting anxiously, and you have gone without taking any food at all.” (Acts 27:18,33)
Paul could have become bitter and self-centered in those circumstances.
He could have focused on the unfairness of his situation.
The account says the storm was battering them and their hope had started to fade. (Acts 27:20)
Still, Paul encouraged others to eat and even thanked God for the provision of bread. (Acts 27:34,35)
How much more productive it is to approach life’s afflictions with faith and a gracious spirit. (Prov. 15:13,15; Eph. 5:20)

Luke, chapters 23 & 24

“[…] There was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, who was a good and righteous man. (This man had not voted in support of their scheme and action.) He was from Arimathea, […] and was waiting for the Kingdom of God.”
~Luke 23:50,51

Joseph had previously put faith in Jesus but had kept it private because he was a member of the Jewish high court. (John 9:22; 12:42)
He did not vote in favor of Jesus’ execution.
Upon witnessing it, he was moved to openly promote his faith by facing the Roman governor and requesting responsibility for Jesus’ body. (Mark 15:43,44)
Many of Jesus’ disciples had expected Jesus to own his kingship and overthrow Roman imperialism. (John 12:13)
This false hope became a stumbling block to some of those who did not understand why he had to die.
But in the above passage, even after Jesus’ death, Joseph “was waiting for the kingdom of God.”
Opposite of stumbling, Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice served to solidify Joseph’s faith in God’s son.
Furthermore, by preparing Jesus’ body for burial, he risked becoming ceremonially unclean during the Passover celebrations. (Num. 19:11; John 19:38-40)
By ‘taking courage’ and overcoming his fear of man, Joseph not only provided a burial place for the Christ, but the site of the greatest miracle recorded in the Bible. (Luke 24:1-7)

Matthew, chapters 1-3

“But after (Joseph) had thought these things over, look! Jehovah’s angel appeared to him in a dream […].”

~Matthew 1:20

How excited Joseph must have been to see his fiance Mary after her three-month trip away from home.
But when Mary told him she was four months pregnant, he must have felt heartbroken and confused. (Matt. 1:18,19; Luke 1:56)

Still, Joseph lovingly considered Mary’s dire circumstances before his feelings.
Thus, he came to the conclusion that he should dissolve their pending marriage in secret.
Otherwise he would have exposed Mary to the fatal punishment dictated by Mosaic Law for adulterers. (De. 5:18; 22:23,24)

When life doesn’t turn out the way we planned it, we do well to follow Joseph’s example and think things through, instead of acting impulsively.
Jehovah God watches over us, ready to guide the meek in the right direction. (Isa. 57:15)

Jonah, chapters 1-4

“And I said, ‘I have been driven away from your sight!
How will I gaze again upon your holy temple?’”

~Jonah 2:4

As Jonah sank to the depths of the ocean within the belly of the fish, his main concern was not the loss of his own life, his reputation nor material things.
He was not overcome by anxiety to the point of losing his mind or his priorities.
Jonah was deeply grieved because he would no longer be able to gaze upon Jehovah’s temple, the center for true worship.
When we are under great emotional stress, do we value our spiritual privileges above all else? (Ps. 84:10)
We may wonder if our presence before God makes any difference in the vast sea of humanity, but Jonah’s story demonstrates God cares about every one of us at the individual level. (Jon. 4:11)
No one can take any other person’s place before God to render another’s worship. (Matt. 22:37)
In that sense, we are each valuable and irreplaceable. (Jon. 2:9)

Song of Songs 

“Hurry, my dear one,
And be swift like a gazelle
Or a young stag
Upon the mountains of spices.”
~Song of Songs 8:14

The Song of Songs is a love story written by an unrequited king infatuated with an engaged country girl.
It was obviously intended to be performed.
This is my conclusion due to the complexity of reading the verses straight from the page.
It is a true story involving several people.
Here I will relate the story in simplest of terms in chronological order:
The country girl from Shunem meets a handsome shepherd boy.
He visits her at home and calls at her through the lattices, inviting her to come explore the spring valley with him.
Her brothers have asked her to guard the vineyards and she has been negligent.
They worry about her chastity and whether she will become a woman who is marriage material.
Now she is not given permission to go with the shepherd boy, but sent to scatter foxes
(Ca. 1:6; 2:9-15; 8:8,9)
This evidently throws her into the proximity of King Solomon’s camp.
At the time, he has 60 queens, 80 concubines and many young women.
The Shulammite girl is beautiful and is involuntarily taken into his camp.
She tells the other women there that she wishes to run away to her shepherd.
They tell her to follow his tracks.
The King promises to give her fine jewelry, but the Shulammite girl keeps the shepherd boy close to her heart. (Ca. 1:13)
The shepherd boy sneaks into the camp and showers her in compliments.
The girl confesses she’d rather be lying down in the forest with him. (Ca. Chapter 1)
She tells the other women what their courtship is like, that she is lovesick, and insists they not push her to like King Solomon. (Ca. 2:5,7)
Meanwhile, the shepherd boy is working “among the lilies.”
She wishes he would quickly return to her at day’s end. (Ca. Chapter 2).
At night, she dreams that she is roaming the city looking for him.
She finds him and takes him into her mother’s bedroom.
The next day, the women of Jerusalem see the Shulammite girl being brought into Jerusalem with the King’s procession. (Ca. Chapter 3)
The shepherd boy has followed the procession into the city.
He finds her and again flatters her.
The Shulammite asks him to take her back to her mountain in the evening, when it has grown breezy and shadows cannot follow them. (Ca. 4:6)
He tells her he will take her to several beautiful mountains.
At this point, he calls her his bride and compares her to a locked garden.
He beckons the wind as if to hurry the night on.
She consents to his proposal by inviting him into her “garden.” (Ca. 4:12,16).
The couple engages in public displays of affection which are witnessed by some of the women in Jerusalem.
Back in the rooms by the King’s palace, she tells the girls about her nightmares.
She dreams she looks for the shepherd boy on the streets and is struck by the guards.
They ask her how he is any better than other guys.
She replies: “His mouth is sweetness itself, And everything about him is desirable.” (Ca. Chapter 5)
The girls say they’ll help her find him, but she says he is out shepherding.
The king tries to hit on her again and says that she is the favorite (in Hebrew, literally “the pure one”) of her mother and that she is as pure as sunlight. (Ca. 6:9,10)
Instead of procuring the king during the day, she wanders down to one of his gardens and before she knows it, starts leaving the premises.
The king orders her to return.
She asks what he sees in her.
He seizes the opportunity to hit on her again, this time more explicitly. (Ca. 7:8)
The Shulammite girl, who has developed into a woman, can only think of her shepherd.
She imagines herself with him in a garden, pleasure just at their doors.
In her mind, she tells him, “The new as well as the old […] I have kept in store for you.” (Ca. 7:13).
She tells the girls in the king’s court that if the shepherd were like her brother, she could be seen with him publicly or bring him into her mother’s bedroom, like in her first dream.
Again, she insists they not try to arouse feelings in her toward King Solomon. (Ca. 8:1-4).
Finally, the king releases her,
She is seen by her brothers walking back into town, as she leans on her beloved.
Talking to him, she makes reference to having met him under an apple tree and she poetically describes her conclusions on the enduring love she has for him.
She assures her brothers that she is chaste and at peace. (Ca. 8:10)
Unswayed, she has flat out rejected King Solomon’s monetary gifts and will content herself with her own vineyard.
The song ends by alluding to a prior scene in which the shepherd sought to hear the girl’s voice in the garden.
Except this time, instead of asking him to wait til nightfall, she urges him to hurry to her.
The Song teaches us to reflect on the value of enduring love between a man and a woman, as well as the qualities that make a person merit such love.

“For love is as strong as death is, And exclusive devotion is as unyielding as the Grave. Its flames are a blazing fire, the flame of Jah. Surging waters cannot extinguish love, Nor can rivers wash it away. If a man would offer all the wealth of his house for love, It would be utterly despised.”
~Ca. 8:6,7

Job 38-42

“After Job had prayed for his companions, Jehovah removed Job’s tribulation and restored his prosperity.”
~Job 42:10

Job had to forgive those who had misjudged him before he could receive God’s blessing.
God Himself had been quick to forgive Job for some of the things he had said in error (Job 42:6).
God’s willingness to forgive Job promptly gives testament to how He constantly searches out the good in people instead of concentrating on our negative traits.
“For the eyes of Jehovah are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him,” (2 Chron. 16:9).
When we make a genuine effort to forgive, forget and have a positive attitude, we can then trust God will treat us with that same compassion (Matt. 6:12; Col. 3:13).

Job, chapters 1-5

“Let the day perish on which I was born, […]
Let that day be darkness.”

~Job 3:3,4

After losing his life’s work, his livelihood, his family and his health, Job had more than plenty reasons to be depressed (Job 1:13-19; 2:7,9).
His false friend, Eliphaz, wrongfully attributed Job’s depression to a lack of faith.
“Does your reverence for God not give you confidence?” he asked accusingly (Job 4:6).
But Job’s depression did not stem from an unfulfilled spiritual need (Job 2:3,6,9,10).
His trials were beyond what any man can emotionally bear while still holding on to a certain sense of sanity.
This is why he sat mourning on ashes, unrecognizable (Job 2:8,12).
It is normal for serious problems to affect our emotional health and attitude, whatever their nature may be.
When a friend confides in us that they are depressed, it is important not to make it an issue of faith, because we may end up sounding like Eliphaz giving wrong counsel to Job.
If we are not careful with our choice of words and assumptions, we may make a bad situation much, much worse.
It is important, therefore, to imitate Jehovah’s kindness and really take the time to listen and observe before applying any type of counsel to those who are brokenhearted (Ps.34:18; Jas.1:19).

Esther, chapters 1-5

“And who knows whether it is for a time like this that you have attained to your royal status?”
~Esther 4:14

Queen Esther’s adoptive father, Mordecai, asked her to risk her life by presenting the plight of her people before the king without her first being summoned (Es. 4:7,8).
Haman, a prince who had been appointed at the top of the king’s court, had conspired to annihilate all the Jews in the Persian kingdom, financing the extermination himself (Es. 3:8,9).
King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), who badly needed the money offered by Haman to finance his war against the Greeks, did not know his favorite wife and only queen would be a direct victim of the genocide.
He had a strict policy regarding being approached at his throne; not even the queen would be exempt from punishment, and she had not been called for in 30 days (Es. 4:11).
When the king originally decided to select a new virgin as queen, over one year earlier, the list of confidants the king was closest to does not even mention Haman (Es. 1:14).
Still, Jehovah insured, through the loving care of Mordecai, that Esther came to the throne and eventually saved her people from their death sentence (Es. 2:7, 19, 20; 7:3-6).
God is always two steps ahead of whatever evil his enemies are planning.
It is impossible to thwart God’s purpose.

Nehemiah, chapters 1-4

“As soon as I heard these words, I sat down and began to weep and mourn for days, and I kept fasting and praying before the God of the heavens.”
~Nehemiah 1:4

What were the words that caused the Persian king’s cup-bearer, Nehemiah, so much distress?
“The walls of Jerusalem are broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire,” (Neh. 1:3).
The Jews who had returned to the Holy City to rebuild it were not committing to their mission.
Nehemiah received this sad news in the Jewish month of Chislev (mid-November to mid-December) in what would have been the year 456 b.C.E.
He did not request leave from the king to go to Jerusalem and give fresh impulse to the reconstruction until four months later (Neh. 2:1).
Despite his worries, he “had never been gloomy” in the king’s presence.
From this we can learn two things:
Firstly, if our present circumstances do not allow us to serve Jehovah our God to the extent we desire, we can pray to Him for guidance and ask him to bless our efforts to make better use of our time.
Secondly, until we are able to fix our work or personal circumstances to permit greater service, we can face each day with cheer, knowing that we “do all things for God’s glory,” (1 Cor. 10:31).

1 Chronicles, chapters 21-25

[…] Ornan said to David: “Take [the site of the threshing floor] as your own, and let my lord the king do what seems good to him. Here, I am providing the cattle for burnt offerings and the threshing sledge for the wood and the wheat as a grain offering. I give all of it.”
~1 Chronicles 21:23

When Jehovah’s angel told King David to build an altar at the site of Ornan’s threshing floor, which Ornan was in the middle of using, Ornan did not ask, “Why me?” (1 Chron. 21:20).
On the contrary, he selflessly and with the utmost generosity offered his belongings up as a contribution toward true worship.
King David proceeded to formalize the acquisition by monetarily reimbursing Ornan, for he did not want to half-heartedly fulfill God’s commandment (1 Chron. 21:24,25).
This site became the place around which the entire temple was eventually built by David’s son (2 Chron. 3:1).
Today, the floor may very well still exist under the Muslim Dome of the Rock (“Araunah.” Watchtower Online Library, Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, June 2015. Web 16 Nov. 2015).

We have many opportunities to demonstrate a sincere, generous attitude toward those in the congregation who dedicate all their time and effort to God’s service.
For example, when we enjoy our overseers biannual visits, we are encouraged to invite them to eat or sometimes even share our home with them.
Other times we are invited to donate resources toward expanding construction projects.
If we take advantage of these opportunities, no doubt we will be pleasing Jehovah.