Prophets of the Bible: the minor prophets

Chapter 13: The Minor prophets (Hosea – Malachi)

Having discussed the four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) we turn to the twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi), and thus complete our trawl through the Old Testament, with the view to pick up every prophet (and others who spoke or acted prophetically) we find along the way. We will cover here each Minor prophet in the order they appear in the Christian Bible and adopt the same structure as with the Major prophets to keep us on track.

  1. The prophet and his prophecy
  2. Background and context
  3. A synopsis of the Book
  4. The message of the Prophet

Like most charts, the one above is a mixed blessing. Here the minor prophets are set in chronological order, although in comes cases, specifically Obadiah and Joel, the dates are disputed by scholars. The author does not have a view other than if it is over a hundred years later, as some argue, it does not much affect our understanding of the message, which as we continually point out is the most important aspect of our study. For the rest, we can be confident the dates are fairly accurate because of historical clues in the text and with prophets like Zechariah, he dated his prophecy by both year and month. Other aspects: meaning of the prophet’s name, intended audience and the king at the time, all help us to further understand the all-important context discussed in Chapter 2.

Many of the basic observations we made with the Major prophets apply also to the Minor prophets, but there is enough in each that is unique and merits study, which by ignoring we will miss out considerably on the important contributions made by these prophets. While most prophets dispensed variations on the theme of judgment and repentance and restoration and hope, each did do according to the circumstances prevailing at the time, the prophet’s specific calling and their particular perspective and gifting. While what each major prophet prophesied was major, the same is true for the minor prophets; they happened to write less. Like the major prophets, the minor prophets also experienced rejection. They were a mixed bag, from different strata of society, with a number from more humble backgrounds and called to minister in rural areas. They were called to different audiences, faithfully passing on the message God had given them. The common factor all major and minor prophets had was they were used by God.

722 BC and 586 BC are two key dates to bear in mind; the first being when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) was taken into Assyrian captivity and the second when the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was taken into Babylonian captivity. Those two significant events overshadowed much of the prophesying of the Minor prophets. 931 BC and 800 BC are two other dates worth keeping in mind; the first is when the kingdom was divided following the death of King Solomon and the second approximates the death of the prophet Elisha. Elijah and Elisha were the two main prophets following the division of the kingdoms, and prophesied to Israel, and all the minor prophets followed then. While the major prophets operated in Judah, nearing the time of the Judean exile, and then Babylon after the exile, the minor prophets operated from before that time, and in both Israel (while around) and Judah, and following the return from exile.

In the Jewish Bible, the twelve minor prophets featured in a single book, “The Book of the Twelve”, where the prophecies of the twelve minor prophets can be read as a single unit, notwithstanding the uniqueness of each. The twelve books in the Book might be considered in three groups: (1) the books that came from the period of Assyrian power (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah), (2) those written about the time of the decline of Assyria (Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah) and (3) those dating after the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Irrespective of how we might be inclined to view the Minor Prophets, what we can learn from their lives and ministries are every bit as important as what we found when we covered the Major Prophets and so we begin with the first …

 

 

Hosea

The prophet and his prophecy

His tragic marriage was the principle medium through which Hosea spoke God’s message to God’s people. We know nothing about Hosea except that he lived at the time of Isaiah prophesying complementary messages into different situations, and his serially unfaithful wife; his marriage reflected the heartache God was having with His beloved people. As with other contemporaries, Amos and Micah, he faithfully discharged their office; these were ordinary people who were often speaking to ordinary people. Hosea spoke for forty years during the last decades of the northern kingdom of Israel – in the reigns of Jereboam II in Israel, and Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah in Judah (Hosea 1:1).

The prophecy of Hosea represented the last chance for Israel to avert from the disaster that would surely befall them if they did not repent of her sin. His complaint was there was a lack of knowledge (Yada) of YHWH in the land. The overriding theme of Hosea’s message was God’s (Chesed) love, which has no exact English translation and is more to do with covenant faithfulness, steadfast love and lovingkindness, which is how God feels regarding often faithless Israel. As with certain other prophets, God used marriage to make a point (Ezekiel was not allowed to mourn his wife’s death and Jeremiah was not allowed to marry). Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and love her and take her back, despite her committing adultery. As if his words were not powerful enough, this symbolic act was a powerful illustration of his key message.

Besides being married, Hosea had three children: a son called Jezreel, a daughter Lo-Ruhamah and another son Lo-Ammi, and it was not certain all were his. All the names are described in the text having symbolic meaning, reflecting the relationship between God and Israel. Jezreel is named after the valley of that name. Lo-Ruhamah is named to denote the ruined condition of the kingdom of Israel and Lo-Ammi is named in token of God’s rejection of his people. Just as God is ever seeking to restore his wife (Israel), Hosea is told to buy Gomer back, who because of her prostitution had been sold into some form of slavery, and he does so for 15 shekels and a quantity of barley.

Background and context

Hosea preached to Israel as did Amos (who we will get to), whose ministries may have overlapped, although Amos began some ten years earlier and who prophesied for a lot shorter period. Some of their message was also to Judah and in Amos case surrounding nations too. Much of the background and context for the two prophets are the same, and since Hosea is first according to the order of the Christian Bible, we will describe some of the common features here and not repeat unnecessarily when we get to Amos. We will see by the time we have studied the two prophets, while they addressed similar grievances as far as God was concerned, their approach was different. Hosea appeared tender to Amos’ tough; Hosea emphasized Gods love; Amos God’s mercy (although both did both). The net outcome was both messages were rejected and the Fall of Israel in 722BC followed by Assyrian captivity, might have been avoided, but wasn’t.

Both prophets began during the reign of King Jereboam II (786 – 746BC) although it is quite likely Hosea was still prophesying come the captivity, in which short time Israel got through six more kings.  Both kingdoms of Israel and Judah were enjoying great prosperity during Jereboam II’s reign and had reached new political and military heights (cf. 2Kings 14:23-15:7; 2Chronicles 26). Israel at the time was politically secure and spiritually smug. About 40 years earlier, at the end of his ministry, Elisha had prophesied the resurgence of Israel’s power (2Kings 13:17–19), and more recently Jonah had prophesied her restoration to a glory not known since the days of Solomon (2Kings 14:25). The nation felt sure, therefore, that she was in God’s good graces. But prosperity increased Israel’s religious and moral corruption. God’s past punishments for unfaithfulness were forgotten, yet His patience was at an end. Idolatry, pride, false prophets, bad and foolish leaders, unwise foreign alliances, child sacrifice, sham religion, intolerance of righteousness, trust in riches, social injustice, judicial corruption, breakdown in law and order, haves and have nots, were all features of national life, although different prophets emphasised different things yet without the hoped for response but with inevitable consequence for their sin. In keeping with revealing God’s heart, Hosea’s message was mainly poetry.

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Superscription (1:1)
  2. The Unfaithful Wife and the Faithful Husband (1:2—3:5)
  • The Children as Signs (1:2—2:1)
  • The Unfaithful Wife (2:2–23)
    • The Lord’s judgment of Israel (2:2–13)
    • The Lord’s restoration of Israel (2:14–23)
  • The Faithful Husband (ch. 3)
  1. The Unfaithful Nation and the Faithful God (chs. 4–14)
  • Israel’s Unfaithfulness (4:1—6:3)
    • The general charge (4:1–3)
    • The cause declared and the results described (4:4–19)
    • A special message to the people and leaders (ch. 5)
    • The people’s sorrowful plea (6:1–3)
  • Israel’s Punishment (6:4—10:15)
    • The case stated (6:4—7:16)
    • The judgment pronounced (chs. 8–9)
    • Summary and appeal (ch. 10)
  • The Lord’s Faithful Love (chs. 11–14)
    • The Lord’s fatherly love (11:1–11)
    • Israel’s punishment for unfaithfulness (11:12—13:16)
    • Israel’s restoration after repentance (ch. 14)

The message of the Prophet

As far as God was concerned, as was related through Hosea, those who He was betrothed to (priests, prophets, princes, profiteers, people) had committed the heinous sin of rejecting Him, worshipping false gods, making unholy alliances with God’s enemies and doing evil: infidelity, independence, intrigue, idolatry, ignorance, immorality, ingratitude. So much of the book of Hosea is about God pleading with His people, warnings of judgment if they did not repent, yet His yearning that they return to him and find healing, blessing and restoration. They were beloved of Him and, while they were faithless, God remained faithful and yet could not overlook their sin, using prophets like Hosea as his mouthpieces. As for the prophet and the prostitute, it was clear that Hosea’s relationship with his wife was a metaphor as to how it was then between YHWH and Israel.

Our attention is drawn to Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and the obvious parallels with God’s marriage to Israel in the first three chapters, culminating with him rescuing her from slavery, Hosea looks to the future: “And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee. For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days” (3:3-5). He then turns to the crux of his message: God’s complaint and the consequences and inevitable outcome if the people of God do not repent from their wicked ways: “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land, By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. Therefore shall the land mourn …” (4:1-3).

Chapters 6 – 7 sees God lamenting over the fact that His people are unrestrained and unrepentant in their sin: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (6:1-4). There are muggings and murders in the countryside (6:9), deceit and burglary in the town (7:1), drunkenness and sexual immorality everywhere (7:4-6). It’s sapping their strength as if they’re growing old before their time (7.8-9). “Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria” (7:11). “And they have not cried unto me with their heart … They return, but not to the most High” (7:14, 16).

Chapters 8 – 10 make it clear there is no hope for Israel on the trajectory they are on. The name of God is on their lips (8:2) – but because of their continuing idolatry and rejection of God’s call to repentance, their end is in sight (10:15). They worshipped idols (8.1-6).  “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (8:7). They run backwards and forwards between Assyria and Egypt instead of turning to God for help (8:9,10), but this to no avail (8:14). The day of reckoning is nigh, UNLESS they change their ways: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men” (10:12-13).

Chapters 11-13 continue in similar vein: God pleading for Israel to return and reminding them of past foolishness. In the last chapter (14), Israel is called to repentance, with God promising healing and fruitfulness. “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon” (14:1-5). The book ends with the people being called to wise up and to no longer rebel: “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein” (14:9).

Joel

The prophet and his prophecy

We know little about Joel the man or the devastating plague of locusts spoken of at the start of his message. This for Joel this was a clarion call for Zion to turn to the Lord. As far as this plague went, this was a current event and yet Joel looks far into the future, linking the Day of the Lord to the time recorded in the New Testament that is to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit and spanning to the end time battle that precedes the ushering in of the restored kingdom of Israel and a time of peace and vindication for the people of God.

Background and context

The book contains no references to datable historical events. Many interpreters date it somewhere between the late seventh and early fifth centuries BC. In any case, its message is not significantly affected by its dating. The book of Joel has linguistic parallels to that used by other prophets and addresses some of their themes, especially around different aspects associated with the Day of the Lord.

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Title (1:1)
  2. Judah Experiences a Foretaste of the Day of the Lord (1:2—2:17)
    • A Call to Mourning and Prayer (1:2–14)
    • The Announcement of the Day of the Lord (1:15—2:11)
    • A Call to Repentance and Prayer (2:12–17)
  3. Judah Is Assured of Salvation in the Day of the Lord (2:18—3:21)
  • The Lord’s Restoration of Judah (2:18–27)
  • The Lord’s Renewal of His People (2:28–32)
  • The Coming of the Day of the Lord (ch. 3)
  • The nations judged (3:1–16)
  • God’s people blessed (3:17–21)

The message of the Prophet

Joel sees the massive locust plague and severe drought devastating Judah as a harbinger of the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” (2:31). Confronted with this crisis, he calls on everyone to take stock on what is happening and repent and pray: old and young (1:2–3), drunkards (1:5), farmers (1:11) and priests (1:13). “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (2:13). While the locusts were likely for real, he describes them as the Lord’s army and sees in their coming a reminder the day of the Lord is near. He describes it as one of punishment of unfaithful Israel as well as the nations. Restoration and blessing will come only after judgment and repentance: “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten … And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed” (2:25, 27).

The verses that follow are referred to by Peter at the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21), ushering in the Day of the Lord and yet 2000 years on we are still to see the complete fulfilment: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: “And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.  The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (2: 28-32).

Then we come to end time battles, referred to in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation (discussed in Chapter 15): “I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land … Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong … Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision … (3:2, 9-10, 14).

After which God Himself secures the final victory, there is a time of blessing for Israel: “The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim … But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion” (14, 16-18, 20-21).

Amos

The prophet and his prophecy

Amos (whose name means burden) was from Tekoa (1:1), a small town in Judah about 6 miles south of Bethlehem and 11 miles from Jerusalem. He was not a man of the court like Isaiah, nor was he a member of a priestly family like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He earned his living from the flock and the sycamore-fig grove (1:1; 7:14–15) and of humble means. Whether he owned the flocks and groves or only worked as a hired hand is not known. His skill with words and the strikingly broad range of his general knowledge of history and the world preclude his being an ignorant peasant. Though his home was in Judah, he was sent to announce God’s judgment on the northern kingdom (Israel).

He ministered for the most part at Bethel (7:10–13), Israel’s main religious sanctuary, where the upper echelons of the northern kingdom, including the priests that opposed him, worshiped. The book brings prophecies together in a carefully organized form intended to be read as a unit. It offers few, if any, clues as to the chronological order of his spoken messages—he may have repeated them on many occasions to reach everyone who came to worship. The book is ultimately addressed to all Israel (hence the references to Judah and Jerusalem).

While Amos is best known as God’s mouthpiece, doing the job God had given him, it was evident he had a relationship with God, such that he could even change God’s mind: “Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. And it came to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.  The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord. Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and, behold, the Lord God called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part. Then said I, O Lord God, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God” (7:1-6).

Background and context

From the outset we are introduced to “the words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake” (1:1). Amos prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah over Judah (792–740 BC) and Jeroboam II over Israel (793–753). The main part of his ministry was probably carried out 760–750 BC. The background and context to Amos’ ministry was as described above (see under his contemporary, Hosea).

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Superscription (1:1)
  2. Introduction to Amos’s Message (1:2)
  3. Oracles against the Nations, including Judah and Israel (1:3—2:16)
  • Judgment on Aram (1:3–5)
  • Judgment on Philistia (1:6–8)
  • Judgment on Phoenicia (1:9–10)
  • Judgment on Edom (1:11–12)
  • Judgment on Ammon (1:13–15)
  • Judgment on Moab (2:1–3)
  • Judgment on Judah (2:4–5)
  • Judgment on Israel (2:6–16)
    • Ruthless oppression of the poor (2:6–7a)
    • Unbridled profanation of religion (2:7b–8)
    • Contrasted position of the Israelites (2:9–12)
    • The oppressive system will perish (2:13–16)
  1. Oracles against Israel (3:1—5:17)
  • Judgment on the Chosen People (ch. 3)
    • God’s punishment announced (3:1–2)
    • The announcement vindicated (3:3–8)
    • The punishment vindicated (3:9–15)
  • Judgment on an Unrepentant People (ch. 4)
    • Judgment on the socialites (4:1–3)
    • Perversion of religious life (4:4–5)
    • Past calamities brought no repentance (4:6–11)
    • No hope for a hardened people (4:12–13)
  • Judgment on an Unjust People (5:1–17)
    • The death dirge (5:1–3)
    • Exhortation to life (5:4–6)
    • Indictment of injustices (5:7–13)
    • Exhortation to life (5:14–15)
    • Prosperity will turn to grief (5:16–17)
  1. Announcements of Exile (5:18—6:14)
  • A Message of Woe against Israel’s Perverted Religion (5:18–27)
  • A Message of Woe against Israel’s Complacent Pride (6:1–7)
  • A Sworn Judgment on the Proud and Unjust Nation (6:8–14)
  1. Visions of Divine Retribution (7:1—9:10)
  • Judgment Relented (7:1–6)
    • A swarm of locusts (7:1–3)
    • A consuming fire (7:4–6)
  • Judgment Unrelented (7:7—9:10)
    • The plumb line (7:7–17)
    • The basket of ripe fruit (ch. 8)
    • The Lord by the altar (9:1–10)
  1. Restored Israel’s Blessed Future (9:11–15)
  • Revival of the House of David (9:11–12)
  • Restoration of Israel to an Edenic Promised Land (9:13–15)

The message of the Prophet

In his prophesying, primarily to Israel and to a lesser extent Judah, it was what God told him to do, for they were particular objects of God’s interest, which was to get his special people to turn back to Him, if need be using natural disasters to shake them up and later (from 722 BC), more drastically, letting them be taken into captivity by a hostile, foreign power (Assyria). While obedience to YHWH and practising justice and righteousness, especially to the poor and weak, may these days be seen as two separate messages, as far as Amos was concerned the two were closely linked. If they truly loved God, they would love their neighbour too. He also prophesied against the nations surrounding Israel (Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab – see map in Chapter 2), which between them did many wicked acts and God would punish them. There was much repetition in Amos utterances but the sense of indignation over the wickedness he observed was all too evident.  He images like a basket of over ripe fruit the people were compared to and a plumb line that could be used to expose crookedness, in the main fell on deaf ears.

Amos is not the only prophet to speak out against social injustice or the exploitation of the poor but he was one of the more prominent to do so and it is not surprising that Christians on the Left like to quote from Amos about justice and righteousness. Amos message was more directed at individuals rather than institutions, who were expected to obey God’s commands. The government was under a king, who along with most of the kings of Israel and Judah was a bad king, and was also an object of rebuke. Not only that, but the judges were corrupt and could be bribed by the rich and powerful. As for the priests, who were the custodians of the law and meant to be the conscience of the nation, they should have been teaching the way of God but were unfaithful to what should have been their calling. Their main fixation was to maintain the status quo and threaten, which they did, and shut up Amos, which they didn’t. As with many prophets, they would have (i.e. kill him) if they could. The situation in Amos’ time, while different to that of today, had similarities, like the rich doing well as the expense of or ignoring those who are poor or with a just grievance. We might well reflect that Amos plea to practice justice and righteousness and return to God is just as relevant for us at this time as it was to 750 BC Israel.

One simple breakdown of Amos message is:

  1. Indictments x 8 (Chapters 1-2)
  2. Oracles x 3 (Chapter 3-6)
  3. Visions x 5 (Chapters 7-9)

We close with the following (memorable) individual verses (to be read in context) – that the author has found helpful when it comes to meditation.

3:2You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” Israel remains God’s special people and it seems as such he will deal harshly with then in order to bring them back to him.

3:7Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” In the Old Testament, certainly, God consistently told His people what He was about to do using the prophets as His mouthpieces, even though they were often rejected and the messages were often repeated.

3:14On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.” The horns of the alter were signs of strength (it was what escaped fugitives held to when fleeing justice) but the people could no longer trust in this as the horns will be removed.

4:1Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”” This so graphically illustrates people (in this case the women) who were pre-occupied with their own comforts and were happy to continue to do so even if it meant exploiting the weak and vulnerable.

5:14-15Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” The need for justice was especially pertinent at the time of Amos and remains so as we see deep injustices in our society, including the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

5:24But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” This is probably the key verse in Amos and is what Martin Luther King quoted in his “I have a dream” speech – but it needed repentance first.

6:1Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!” The people, at least the “haves” of that society thought they were set and secure given it was a time of peace and prosperity (at least for them) but how wrong they were and so are we if we were to think on those lines.

7:1-3This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the late crops were coming up. When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” So the Lord relented. “This will not happen,” the Lord said.” Swarms of locusts then and now can be devastating. Just as remarkable is how prayer can bring about God’s mercy.

7:7-8This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” A plumb line is used to helped ensure straightness building a wall or whatever construct; God wants His people to be straight in all their dealings.

7:10Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel” Here is an example how standing for God comes at a price. Like most prophets it amounted to being persecuted by the establishment, in this case the priest.

8:1-2This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. “What do you see, Amos?” he asked. “A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered. then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” A basket of over ripe fruit which is what the people were likened to, as with so much of Amos prophesying, was a poignant and devastating picture of how God saw His people, who were now over ripe for judgment.

9:11,15In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old … And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God”. After his message of God’s displeasure and imminent judgement, Amos looks forward to a time of restoration and the bringing in of the Gentiles, a theme that is picked up in Acts 15 and is further discussed in Chapter 15.

Obadiah

The prophet and his prophecy

The author’s name is Obadiah, which means “servant (or worshiper) of the Lord”. It was a common name; his father’s name and the place of his birth is not given. The Book of Obadiah is the shortest in the Old Testament and contains a message of judgment against the land of Edom, which lay immediately south of the Dead Sea. It was hostile mountainous terrain, making it ideal for defending against enemies. Its inhabitants were descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob whom God had renamed Israel. They were cousins to the Israelites, but they had a long history of animosity towards them – from refusing to let them pass through their territory as they approached the Promised Land to taking land from them as Judah was conquered and exiled by the Babylonians. Just as the two books preceding Obadiah, Joel and Amos, take a global, future approach, so Obadiah considers Edom’s pride as an example of the human condition and Edom’s downfall pointing to the coming of God’s kingdom over all nations.

Background and context

The date and place of composition are disputed. Dating the prophecy is mainly a matter of relating “In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them” and their indifferent, hostile response (1:11-14) to one of two specific events in Israel’s history: the invasion of Jerusalem by Philistines and Arabs during the reign of Jehoram (853-841 B.C.) or the Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem (605-586). Just as with Joel with possible backgrounds, separated by centuries, it doesn’t matter as far as understanding of the prophecy goes. What does matter is a long history of antagonism between Israel and Edom, going way back to Jacob and Esau:

  1. Genesis 25:22-25 – the birth of Jacob and Esau
  2. Genesis 33:4 – two brothers reconciled, despite a tetchy relationship
  3. Numbers 20:14-21 – Edom won’t let Israel pass on their journey
  4. Deuteronomy 2:4,5 – instructions for when passing through Edom
  5. Joshua 24:4 – Edom, God’s gift to Esau
  6. 1Samuel 22:18 – Deog the Edomite – an enemy
  7. Jeremiah 49:10 – God’s punishment of Edom is foretold
  8. Ezekiel 35:2-4 – Prophesy against Mount Seir
  9. Amos 1:11 – Edom pursues his brother
  10. Malachi 1:2-4 – Edom is thrown down
  11. No reference – The family of Herod were Edomites

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Title and introduction (1)
  2. Judgement on Edom (2-14)
  • Edom’s destruction announced (2-7)
    • The humbling of her pride (2-4)
    • The completeness of her destruction (5-7)
  • Edom’s destruction reaffirmed (8-14)
    • Her shame and destruction (8-10)
    • Her crimes against Israel (11-14)
  1. The Day of the Lord (15-21)
  2. Judgement on the nations but deliverance for Israel (15-18)
  3. The Lord’s Kingdom established (19-21)

The message of the Prophet

Obadiah’s short, far seeing message is that Edom, proud over her security, confident in her alliances, had gloated over Israel’s devastation by foreign powers. Edom’s participation in that disaster, not just as an indifferent onlooker but cheering on, assisting in and benefitting from attacks on Israel, will bring on God’s wrath. She will be utterly destroyed; it will be a devastating demise, and Mount Zion and Israel delivered, with God’s kingdom ultimately triumphing. Since Edom is related to the Israel, their hostility is all the more reprehensible. Edom is fully responsible for her failure to assist Israel and open aggression. Edom, snug in its mountain strongholds, will be dislodged and sacked.

  • Their huge pride will be their downfall and they will be pushed out of their land (1-7)
  • Their despicable treatment of the Israelites will lead to them being cut down (8-14)
  • As they have done, it will be done to them when Mount Zion is delivered and the Lord redistributes the lands of the nations (15-21)

While Obadiah’s prophecy is specifically directed towards Edom, it might also be taken as a warning for any nation opposed to Israel and, in keeping with other prophets, it looks forward to the Day of the Lord scenario and Israel’s future blessing: “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head … But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions … And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s. Israel will prosper because God is with her” (1:15,17,21).

Jonah

The prophet and his prophecy

Jonah is best known as the reluctant prophet that was swallowed by a big fish and was spewed out and eventually carried out the mission God gave him. While most of his ministry, of which we have a record, was not to Israel and Judah, in the divine scheme of things it was significant. The book is named after its principal character, whose name means “dove”.  Though the book does not identify its author, tradition has ascribed it to the prophet himself, Jonah son of Amittai (1:1), from Gath Hepher (2Kings 14:25) in Zebulun (Joshua 19:10,13). Besides the fish story there are many miracles recounted in the Book of Jonah, but as we have argued throughout this book, if God is God that is no problem.

Background and context

There are two references to Jonah outside the Book of Jonah. The first is 2Kings 14:25-26, shortly after bad king Jeroboam II came to power (782BC). It was not long after that, but before 722BC, when Israel was taken into captivity by the very people Jonah was commissioned to prophesy against, that Jonah was called prophesy to the king – not a word of rebuke as might be expected but rather that God will bless Israel by restoring to them some of the land that had earlier been taken from them. As we will see, this side of God’s character is important in understanding the events that followed. It is notable that in the half-century during which the prophet Jonah ministered (800-750 BC), this significant event affected the northern kingdom of Israel: King Jeroboam II (793-753) restored her traditional borders, ending a century of sporadic seesaw conflict between Israel and Damascus. This contributed to a period of relative peace and prosperity (and complacency) for Israel prior to its rapid demise, providing part of the backdrop for Hosea and Amos ministry. Assyria was both a threat and strange ally and this no doubt influenced Jonah when called to prophesy.

The other reference is Matthew 12:39-41 when Jesus was asked for a sign, and the one he gave was of Jonah who spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish. Of significance is this was not just that this was a powerful illustration of Jesus death and resurrection but Jonah was the only prophet Jesus cited in this manner and was from the same place as Jesus, Nazareth. Also significant was those coming from Nazareth and the Galilee area were often looked down on by those from Judea with their more purist outlook to religion, less affected by the passing international trade, and yet it was here that Jesus had his greatest ministry successes. While Jonah’s ministry overlapped with his Northern Kingdom contemporaries, Hosea and Amos, none referred to any other.

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Jonah Flees His Mission (Chs. 1-2)
  • Jonah’s Commission and Flight (1:1-3)
  • The Endangered Sailors’ Cry to Their Gods (1:4-6)
  • Jonah’s Disobedience Exposed (1:7-10)
  • Jonah’s Punishment and Deliverance (1:11-2:1; 2:10)
  • His Prayer of Thanksgiving (2:2-9)
  1. Jonah Reluctantly Fulfills His Mission (Chs. 3 – 4)
  • Jonah’s Renewed Commission and Obedience (3:1-4)
  • The Endangered Ninevites’ Repentant Appeal to the Lord (3:5-9)
  • The Ninevites’ Repentance Acknowledged (3:10-4:4)
  • Jonah’s Deliverance and Rebuke (4:5-11)

The message of the Prophet

Chapter 1, the chapter people are generally more aware off, recounts how Jonah was told by God to preach to the people of Nineveh, 750 miles from where he was based, about forthcoming judgment, and instead tries to escape (foolishly, given God is omnipresent) and gets on a ship bound for Tarshish, 2000 miles away, in the opposite direction. Then came the storm and the response by the pagan sailors that this was to do with divine judgment, the need to pray, the drawing of lots to find the culprit, Jonah who was the culprit offering to be thrown overboard, the sailors reluctantly agreeing, and Jonah being swallowed by the huge fish, and the storm calming, which greatly impressed the sailors.

Chapter 2 contains Jonah’s remarkable prayer of contrition, at the time of his and for all we know his actual death before being brought back to life. If there was a time to get one’s attention then this was it, as Jonah cried to God, reflected on his helpless states and dedicated himself to doing God’s commands. “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry …  Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’” Jonah 2:1,8-9.

Chapter 3 shows Jonah being recommissioned having been vomited by the fish. He goes to Nineveh as commanded and delivers what is likely the most effective sermon ever delivered, and one that was contained in a mere five words. Without giving why’s and wherefores or elaborating, he tells the Ninevites their city will be destroyed in forty days, and led by the king who commanded all its citizens, as well as its animals, that the people fast in penitence. The people did repent and God’s judgement was averted.

Chapter 4 sees Jonah throwing a tantrum, as he objected to God showing mercy on these wicked people and was angry. “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live”. God’s reply was simple – do you have the right to be angry? We next see Jonah sitting at an outside the city vantage point to check out what was to happen, thinking maybe repentance might be short lived and God might revert to Plan A. By miraculous design, God causes a plant to grow up to give Jonah shade and just as quickly he sent a worm to kill it followed by the scorching wind to make Jonah even more uncomfortable, whereupon Jonah embarks on yet another sulk, who wishes again that he were dead. God in response reminds Jonah of His sovereignty and His mercy, to do what he willed and to show compassion on Nineveh’s on its 120,000 residents, who couldn’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals.

As we reflect on lessons that can be drawn, the one that stands out is how God showed mercy on a people renowned for being wicked, who from Jonah’s perspective deserved all what had been threatened upon them. But it is not all one way and a hundred years later a near neighbor of Jonah, Nahum, also pronounced God’s judgment over Nineveh, and this time the people of Nineveh had not repented and God’s judgement was carried through as the Assyrian empire fell. We may well be intrigued at the gracious manner in which God handled his rebellious spokesperson, who as far as we can make out, screwed up several times during the story and yet God persisted with him, as His prophet.

If we were in Jonah’s shoes, we might have done what Jonah did – after all if any deserved judgement rather than mercy it was the people of Nineveh. Yet as we can see, Jonah was full of hate and anger and flawed theology. While the Old Testament is a Jewish book, it also shows God is interested in those outside of the Covenant, and nowhere better seen than with Jonah. Besides His great mercy, God knows what He is doing and He has the right to do what He will; our response should be simply to trust and obey. Flawed as Jonah was compared with other almost too good to be true prophets, he still had a heart for God and despite his hypocrisy and rebellion, God saw something of merit in Jonah (fear of God) and the people of Nineveh (penitence), something we could easily miss.

 

Micah

The prophet and his prophecy

Little is known about the prophet Micah beyond what can be learned from the book itself and from Jeremiah 26:18 (discussed later). Micah was from the town of Moresheth (1:1), probably Moresheth Gath (1:14) in southern Judah. He prophesied concerning Israel and Judah. We do not know about his family but unlike Isaiah with court connections he was likely from a humbler background and while there was much in his message that was similar, as with Amos there was a particular sensitivity on social injustice issues, which he had witnessed first-hand, especially as they affected the towns and villages of his homeland. Micah means “who is like the Lord”, which was also reflected in his message.

Background and context

Micah prophesied sometime between 750 and 686 BC during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (1:1). He was a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea. Micah predicted the fall of Samaria (1:6), which took place in 722–721. His early ministry was toward the end of the reigns of Jotham and during the reign of Ahaz (732–716) (a particularly bad king). Micah’s message reflects social conditions prior to the religious reforms under Hezekiah (715–686). Micah’s ministry most likely fell within the period 735–700.

The background of the book is the same as that found in the earlier portions of Isaiah, though Micah does not exhibit the same knowledge of Jerusalem’s political life as Isaiah does, living his life as he did in a Judean village. What we wrote earlier concerning context, under Hosea, applies also to Micah. Relevant Biblical texts covering this period are 2Kings 15:32-20:21; 2Chronicles 27-32. Israel was in an apostate condition. Micah predicted the fall of her capital, Samaria (1:5–7), and also foretold the inevitable desolation of Judah (1:9–16).

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Title (1:1)
  2. First Cycle: Judgment and Restoration of Israel and Judah (1:2—2:13)
  • Judgment on Israel and Judah (1:2—2:11)
    • The predicted destruction (1:2–7)
    • Lamentation over the destruction (1:8–16)
    • Woe to oppressive land-grabbers (2:1–5)
    • Condemnation of wealthy wicked and false prophets (2:6–11)
  • Restoration of a Remnant (2:12–13)
  1. Second Cycle: Indictment of Judah’s Leaders, but Future Hope (chs. 3–5)
  • Indictment of Judah’s Leaders (ch. 3)
    • Guilty civil leaders (3:1–4)
    • False prophets of peace and Micah’s response (3:5–8)
    • Corrupt leaders and Zion’s fall (3:9–12)
  • Future Hope for God’s People (chs. 4–5)
    • The coming kingdom (4:1–5)
    • Restoration of a remnant and Zion (4:6–8)
    • From distress to deliverance (4:9–10)
    • From siege to victory (4:11–13)
    • From helpless ruler to ideal king (5:1–4)
    • The ideal king delivers his people (5:5–6)
    • The remnant among the nations (5:7–9)
    • Obliteration of military might and pagan worship (5:10–15)
  1. Third Cycle: God’s Charges , Ultimate Triumph (chs. 6–7)
  • God’s Charges against His People (6:1—7:7)
    • A divine covenant lawsuit (6:1–8)
    • Further charges and the sentence (6:9–16)
    • A lament over a decadent society (7:1–7)
  • The Ultimate Triumph of God’s Kingdom (7:8–20)
    • An expression of trust (7:8–10)
    • A promise of restoration (7:11–13)
    • A prayer, the Lord’s answer, and the response (7:14–17)
    • A hymn of praise to God (7:18–20)

The message of the Prophet

Micah’s message alternates between oracles of doom and oracles of hope, God’s “sternness” and His “kindness.” The theme is divine judgment and deliverance. Micah also stresses that God hates idolatry, injustice, rebellion and empty ritualism (see 3:8), but delights in pardoning the penitent (see 7:18–19). Finally, the prophet declares that Zion will have greater glory in the future than ever before (e.g. 4:1–2). The Davidic kingdom, though it will seem to come to an end, will reach greater heights through the coming Messianic deliverer (see 5:1–4), whose first and second comings are anticipated, yet not distinguished.

Chapter 1 while making it clear the vision Micah shared concerned Samaria and Jerusalem (representing Israel and Judah) and coming judgment, that message is for the whole world. (1.2). The incurable wound of God’s people will result in the deaths of Israel and Judah, and will lead to the people into exile (1.8-16).

Chapter 2 makes it clear God’s complaint and the outcome: “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil … Even of late my people is risen up as an enemy: ye pull off the robe with the garment from them that pass by securely as men averse from war. The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory for ever.” (2:1-3, 8-9). Micah criticises the false prophets who could be brought (2:7, 11). Yet there is hope for a future remnant: “I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; and their king shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them” (2:12,13).

Chapter 3 addresses God’s complaint against the leaders: “Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones” (3:2) and the result: “Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings” (3:4). As for Gods judgment on the leaders, who behave wickedly and claim they are on God’s side and are safe: “The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us.” (3:11).

Chapter 4 begins with the same future, glorious yet to be fulfilled expectation of Isaiah 2:1-5 “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it” (4:1).

Chapter 5 look forward to the first coming on the Messiah, just as Micah (4:1-5) (and Isaiah 2) looked forward to his Second Coming: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth” (3:2-4), and while part of this was fulfilled (as we are reminded each Christmas), some of this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. While Micah sees the soon invasion of the Assyrians, they will not ultimately win. A remnant will survive and triumph and there will be a purified people of God! (5.5-15). “I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, such as they have not heard” (5:15).

Chapter 6 sees God bringing charges against His people. He asks how He has wronged them that they should treat Him like this, and recounts His history of caring for them (6.1-5), with Micah spelling out what God requires: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (6:8). The chapter ends with again Israel’s guilt and punishment is made clear: dishonesty, violence and deceit will lead to their ruin and to public scorn (6.9-16).

Chapter 7 is Micah’s tragic lament for the appalling state of his society (7.1-7), “The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net” (7:2). Yet there is also hope: “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me” (7:7,8) and Micah ends on a high: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old” (7:18-20). Not only is this reminiscent of the gospel message but offers hope to the Jewish people and of God’s promise.

One of the less obvious Micah texts referred to in the New Testament was when Jesus quoted “For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (7.6) and He did so in order to prepare His disciples for some of the struggles they would face (Matthew 10.35-36 and Mark 13.12). The one place outside the Book of Micah when Micah was quoted in the Old Testament was “Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest. Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them?” Jeremiah 26:18,19. Not only do we read of an example of a king heeding a prophet’s warning but this was used by Jeremiah’s supporters when some talked of putting to death Jeremiah for his warnings.

Nahum

The prophet and his prophecy

The book contains the “vision of Nahum” (1:1), whose name means “comfort”. The fall of Nineveh, which is what represented Assyria, was Nahum’s theme, although the warnings given would apply to all nations that oppress in a similar way, would bring comfort to Judah. Little is known about him except his hometown (Elkosh). Like Jonah, 120 years before him, Nahum preached to Nineveh in their city, a message of judgment. Unlike Jonah, they had reached the point of no return. The Tomb of Nahum remains, to this day, in the town of Alqosh, 50 kilometres north of Mosul, near the site of the city of Nineveh, that fell as Nahum predicted, and was excavated early in the twentieth century.

Background and context

In 3:8–10 the author speaks of the fall of Thebes, which happened in 663 BC, as already past. While in the first chapter Nahum appears to be speaking generally, in the second and third chapters specifically Nahum prophesied Nineveh’s fall, which was fulfilled in 612 BC. Nahum therefore uttered this oracle between 663 and 612 BC, perhaps near the end of this period since he represents the fall of Nineveh as imminent (2:1; 3:14,19). This would place him during the reign of Josiah and make him a contemporary of Zephaniah, who also did prophesy concerning the destruction of Nineveh, and the young Jeremiah.

Assyria arose as one of the world’s first great empires. Assyria (represented by Nineveh, 1:1) had already destroyed Samaria (722–721 BC), resulting in the captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel, and posed a present threat to Judah. The Assyrians were brutally cruel, their kings often being depicted as gloating over the gruesome punishments inflicted on conquered peoples. They conducted their wars with shocking ferocity, uprooted whole populations as state policy and deported them to other parts of their empire. The leaders of conquered cities were tortured and killed. No wonder the dread of Assyria fell on her neighbors.

About 700 BC, King Sennacherib made Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire. Soon after, during the reign of King Hezekiah, he attempted, without success to conquer Judah and besieging Jerusalem. Nineveh remained Assyria’s capital until it was destroyed in 612. Jonah had announced its destruction earlier (Jonah 3:4), but the people repented and the destruction was temporarily averted (see Jonah 3:10). Not long, Nineveh reverted to its extreme wickedness, cruelty and pride. The brutality reached its peak under Ashurbanipal (669–627), the last great ruler of the Assyrian empire. After his death, Assyria’s power waned until 612, when Nineveh was overthrown by Babylon. Nahum could see what was to happen to this proud and “impregnable” city and it happened just as he saw it.

Some words are addressed to Judah (1:12–13,15), but most are addressed to Nineveh (1:11,14; 2:1,13; 3:5–17,19) or its king (3:18). The book, however, seemed to be intended particularly for Israelite readers living in Judah. The book is written largely in poetry form and in the first chapter uses the technique of starting each line with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The contents are primarily made up of judgment oracles, with appropriate descriptions and vocabulary, expressing intense moods, sights and sounds. There is frequent use of metaphors and similes, vivid word pictures, repetition and many short, often staccato, phrases (e.g., 3:1–3). Rhetorical questions punctuate the flow of thought, which has a marked stress on moral indignation toward injustice.

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Title (1:1)
  2. Nineveh’s Judge (1:2–15)
  • The Lord’s Kindness and Sternness (1:2–8)
  • Nineveh’s Overthrow and Judah’s Joy (1:9–15)
  1. Nineveh’s Judgment (Ch. 2)
  • Nineveh Besieged (2:1–10)
  • Nineveh’s Desolation Contrasted with Her Former Glory (2:11–13)
  1. Nineveh’s Total Destruction (Ch. 3)
  • Nineveh’s Sins (3:1–4)
  • Nineveh’s Doom (3:5–19)

The message of the Prophet

Chapter 1 presents a complete ‘A – Z’ of God’s indignation and vengeance against a nation that had fallen from the repentant attitude of Jonah’s time to the militaristic cruelty and economic corruption at the time of Nahum. Nahum’s oracle paints a terrifying picture of an awesome God dealing with His enemies. “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked” (1:3). He is jealous, avenging, full of wrath, destructive like a whirlwind, like a terrible drought, like an earthquake and like a fire. This chapter can also be seen in more generic terms for it is about how God will deal decisively with wicked nations down the ages, of which Nineveh is but an example. While serving a warning to violent nations, it also provides hope to God’s faithful remnant: “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (1:7). “There is good reason for Judah to rejoice: “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off” (1:15).

Chapter 2 presents a picture of God laying siege to Nineveh, pillaging it and finally overthrowing it. Nahum describes in graphic detail how God as a terrible army, shining red and flashing in the sunlight, advancing on the town, darts from street to street, and coming hard up against the city walls. The people of Nineveh cannot resist because the Lord is set to free His people from this oppressor. Resistance is futile and the city collapses (2:1-6). The detail including the red uniforms and way Nineveh’s defences were breached is precisely what happened. What the Assyrians did to God’s people will happen to them. Terrified, they’ll be plundered, pillaged, stripped of all their assets and carried away into exile! (2:7-10). The war picture ends by likening the Assyrian capital to a pride of lions, once so proud, predatory and well-fed, but now they had disappeared (2:11-13). Notably their conquerors were the Babylonians whom God subsequently used to punish the southern kingdom of Judah.

Chapter 3 completes Nahum’s prophecy by giving God’s reasons for His anger and judgment on the Assyrians. It opens with a curse “Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not” (3:1). They were ripe for judgment because of two major sins in particular. The first was the brutality and inhumanity of their conquering armies (3.1-4). They didn’t just conquer, they destroyed and enslaved. God declares He is their enemy because of this, and He will punish and humiliate them as an adulterous prostitute. “And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazingstock. And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?” (3:6,7). Secondly, He charges them with unscrupulous, asset-stripping business practice. Just like corrupt businessmen, when God strikes them, their guards and officials will disappear like a thief in the night (3:12-17). The end has come for the cruel Assyrian Empire, and the whole world will applaud: “Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell in the dust: thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathereth them. There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” (3:18,19). Notably, the ruins of this once great city lay buried and undiscovered until the nineteenth century. We might reflect God is in control of history and he will always have last word. History shows that the woe Nahum pronounced did come to pass.

Habakkuk

The prophet and his prophecy

Little is known about Habakkuk (Clinger) except that he was a contemporary of Jeremiah and ministered some twenty years after Zephaniah (whose book comes after). He was a man of vigorous faith rooted deeply in the religious traditions of Israel. He was bold enough to remonstrate with the Almighty over the sort of issues that have occupied human kind since the time of Job – why does such and such occur – it just isn’t right – with the Lord, rather than rebuking his audacity, explaining His actions in a way that puts Habakkuk’s mind at rest.

Background and context

The prediction of the coming Babylonian invasion (1:6) indicates Habakkuk lived in Judah toward the end of Josiah’s reign (640–609 BC) or the beginning of Jehoiakim’s (609–598). The prophecy is generally dated a little before or after the battle of Carchemish (605), when Egyptian forces, which had earlier gone to the aid of the last Assyrian king, were routed by the Babylonians under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar and were pursued as far as the Egyptian border (Jeremiah 46). Habakkuk, like Jeremiah, probably lived to see the initial fulfilment of his prophecy with Jerusalem attacked by the Babylonians in 597. He wrote clearly and with great feeling, using poetic language, and unlike Zephaniah he came up with many memorable phrases (2:2,4,14,20; 3:2,17–19).

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Habakkuk’s First Complaint: Why does the evil go unpunished? (1:2-4)
  2. God’s Answer: The Babylonians will punish Judah (1:5-11)
  3. Habakkuk’s Second Complaint: How can a just God use wicked Babylon to punish a people more righteous than themselves? (1:12­­-2:1)
  4. God’s Answer: Babylon will be punished; faith will be rewarded (2:2–20)
  5. Habakkuk’s Prayer: After asking for manifestations of God’s wrath and mercy (as seen in the past), he confesses trust and joy in God (Ch. 3)

The message of the Prophet

Among the prophetic writings, Habakkuk is somewhat unique in that it includes no oracle addressed to Israel. It contains, rather, a dialogue between the prophet and God. In the first two chapters, Habakkuk argues with God over His ways that appear to him unfathomable, if not unjust. Having received replies, he responds with a beautiful confession of faith (Chapter 3). This account of wrestling with God is, however, not just a fragment from a private journal that has somehow entered the public domain; it was composed for Israel. No doubt it represented the voice of the godly in Judah, struggling to comprehend the ways of God. God’s answers therefore spoke to all who shared Habakkuk’s troubled doubts. And Habakkuk’s confession became a public expression. Habakkuk was perplexed that wickedness, strife and oppression were rampant in Judah but God seemingly did nothing. When told that the Lord was preparing to do something about it through the “ruthless” Babylonians (1:6), his perplexity only intensified: How could God, “too pure to look on evil” (1:13), appoint such a nation “to execute judgment” (1:12) on a nation that is “more righteous than themselves” (1:13)? God makes it clear that eventually the corrupt destroyer will itself be destroyed. In the end, Habakkuk learns to rest in God’s sovereign appointments and await his working in a spirit of worship. He learns to wait patiently in faith (2:3-4) for God’s kingdom to be expressed universally (2:14).

Chapter 1 begins with an anguished cry to God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear” (1:2). There is violence, injustice, conflict, lawlessness – in Judah, just as Jeremiah and contemporary prophets observed. Why doesn’t God do something (1.1-4)? Incredibly, God’s response is He is going to raise up an idolatrous and pagan nation to use as an instrument of punishment on His own people! Babylonia was a super-power feared throughout that part of the world, and God was going to use them to punish sin! (1.5-11). But still this doesn’t satisfy Habakkuk. In Chapter 1.12 – 2.1 he continues to complain. He still can’t understand how God can tolerate such high levels of evil – even using the evilness in other nations as part of His purpose. How can God use wrong to punish wrong? How can God use the Babylonians, who worship their own prowess and abilities like a fisherman might worship the nets and hooks he has made for himself? Can God really tolerate the Babylonians as they cruelly ‘catch’ and conquer more and more nations – and even His own people?

Chapter 2 Habakkuk concludes his complaining with some reticence “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved” (2:1). God’s answer is that He’s fully aware of the evil in the Empire He proposes to use, and His uses them at this particular time as part of His longer term plans. He tells Habakkuk to write down what He’s going to tell him, because His purpose will be worked out – but in His time (2.2-3). In responding, God makes it clear how His people should act, which is picked up three times in the New Testament: Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38 “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The Lord knows Babylon is arrogant, drunken and greedy for conquest, but the time will come when they too will face a day of reckoning. In a series of five ‘woes’ God outlines their crimes and prophesies their punishment: piling up stolen goods, becoming wealthy by extortion, wholesale destruction of people and property, building an arrogant kingdom by unjust gain, building cities by bloodshed, drawing other nations into sin and immorality to exploit them, worship of idols and man-made things. God sees all this. In due course all will rebound on the Babylonian Empire: “Woe to them…” But with these ‘woes’ are declarations of the victory and sovereignty of God… “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea … But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:14,20).

Chapter 3 This encounter with God was deep and life-changing for Habakkuk. His mood turns to one of understanding and trust, even though the outward situation has not changed. He begins by declaring he heard about God’s great deeds of the past, and appeals to Him to: “Revive Thy work … in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). Then he calls God to come in power and judgment as He did to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. He pictures the Lord coming like the sunrise, like a gathering storm, like a plague and like an earthquake. And asks why does He come in this way? It is not because He’s angry with His creation, but rather He is coming as a mighty Warrior-God to destroy the leaders of the wicked and “even for salvation with thine anointed” (3:13). The truth of who God is and what He will do overwhelms the prophet: “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops” (3:16).

The Book ends on a wonderfully optimistic note: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments” (3:17-10). As those looking on 2600 years later, with consternation at the evil of our own times and what appears to be an unsatisfactory response, we should take heart: God is control. While Israel’s evil is a given, unlike other prophets this was not Habakkuk’s focus. Rather it was him taking his concerns to God in prayer and finding rest in God’s answer. Habakkuk shows how, come what may, the righteous can (must) live by faith.

Zephaniah

The prophet and his prophecy

We know little about Zephaniah (Yahweh hides), who is not referred to by name anywhere else in the Bible, other than in the opening verse of the Book: “The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah” (1:1). What we might deduce is he was a descendant of good king Hezekiah, and of royal blood, and he came on the scene after the rapid downward spiral in the moral and religious life of Judah, and may have been the spur the next good king (Josiah), needed for his short lived reforms. Like so many of the prophets, his message was one of judgment (Yahweh is NOT to be messed with) and future (how far he knew not, Messianic) hope.

Background and context

Zephaniah may have began his prophesying around 621BC, around the time Josiah began his reforms. We know Josiah, who was king 640-609BC, came to the throne, aged 8, and before he took the deliberate decision to go along the righteousness way, with an all too sad limited impact, while still a minor who might have continued in the evil ways of his predecessors. Who knows to what extent Zephaniah was instrumental in that decision, but there was no ambiguity or mincing of his words when following the introduction, he declares: “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord” (1:2). While the main audience of the prophecy was Judah, there was a message too for the nations surrounding Judah on all its sides, all of which were to face judgment under, the not named by Zephaniah, God’s instrument – Babylon.

As for hope, while that realisation was for a future time, including a some of it in a still to be manifest future, there was still the prospect, even then, that if the people turned to the Lord, He would relent concerning future judgment, for that was an important part of God’s character. Tragically, what might have been following Josiah’s reforms was not to be. After, four more kings, who between them did not reign long and were in effect puppets to foreign masters, exile to Babylon was the fate in store for Judah, and would be a theme that Habakkuk would pick up some twenty years later, as well as Jeremiah who picked up the pieces of Judah not heeding Zephaniah’s warnings. Besides following similar judgement and then hope themes of other prophets, some of these, with God judging His people and then the surrounding nations before seeing in a kingdom where His rule and blessing dominates, are picked up in the Book of Revelation.

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Introduction (1:1–3)
  • Title: The Prophet Identified (1:1)
  • Prologue: Double Announcement of Total Judgment (1:2–3)
  1. The Day of the Lord Coming on Judah and the Nations (1:4–18)
  • Judgment on the Idolaters in Judah (1:4–9)
  • Wailing throughout Jerusalem (1:10–13)
  • The Inescapable Day of the Lord’s Wrath (1:14–18)
  1. God’s Judgment on the Nations (2:1—3:8)
  • Call to Judah to Repent (2:1–3)
  • Judgment on Philistia (2:4–7)
  • Judgment on Moab and Ammon (2:8–11)
  • Judgment on Cush (2:12)
  • Judgment on Assyria (2:13–15)
  • Judgment on Jerusalem (3:1–5)
  • Jerusalem’s Refusal to Repent (3:6–8)
  1. Redemption of the Remnant (3:9–20)
  • Nations Purified, Remnant Restored, Jerusalem Purged (3:9–13)
  • Rejoicing in the City (3:14–17)
  • The Nation Restored (3:18–20)

The message of the Prophet

Chapter 1.1 – 2.3 gives dire warnings of punishment and destruction for Judah. The prophet begins with an all-embracing prophecy of destruction, possibly for the whole of mankind (1:2-3), but focuses on the people of God. “I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests” (1:4). God says He will punish them for their worship of other ‘gods’, “that are turned back from the Lord; and those that have not sought the Lord, nor enquired for him” (1:6). God’s complaint and punishment is described in graphic detail, His righteous cause and devastating effect. “And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil. Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof. The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly” (1:12-14). In the light of this terrible prospect, God calls upon His people to and turn back to Him before it’s too late, for there is still hope: “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger” (2:3).

Chapter 2:4-15 turns our attention to other nations near to Judah, in fact to all four points of the compass, for having invoked God’s simmering anger it was about to boil over, who will also be judged by the same instrument of the Lord, i.e. Babylon a rising power, as He used to bring about Judah’s downfall:

  • West – Philistia (2:4-7)
  • East – Moab, Ammon (2:8-11) – pride and oppressed God’s people
  • South – Egypt, Ethiopia (2:12)
  • North – Assyria (2:13-15) – full of pride (reminiscent of Nahum)

Chapter 3 Zephaniah returns to God’s own people. He starts with the coming judgment and accuses them of rebellion and resistance, and uses the strongest of warnings of the direst of judgements: “Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God. Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame” (3:1-5). They had exhausted God’s patience and judgment was coming to Judah and the nations, through not named Babylon in a matter of a few years but looking far into the future when all the nations will face the wrath of God (3:8).

Yet there is hope and there is a remnant: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent … I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord” (3:9,12). Zephaniah ends with a song of encouragement and joy for the future – punishment is taken away, hope is restored, and enemies are brought to justice. God promises that He will bring His scattered people back to their land and they will be honoured by the nations of the world instead of being their victims (3:9-20). “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing … At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord” (3:17,20). Having started the chapter with a curse (justice), it ends with a blessing (mercy), for Israel and those from all the nations that trust in the Lord. Our job is to make known His message!

Haggai

The prophet and his prophecy

Haggai (meaning festal) was a prophet who, along with Zechariah, encouraged the returned exiles to rebuild the temple: “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built” (1:1-2). Haggai is referred to in the Book of Ezra, along with Zechariah the prophet who overlapped him at the end of his ministry, and two key figures, also referred to by Ezra: Zerubbabel (the governor – a direct descendant of David and ancestor of Jesus) and Joshua (the High Priest): “Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them” Ezra 5:1-2. We know little about Haggai, the man, although some have argued he may have witnessed the destruction of Solomon’s temple and therefore was an old man.

Background and context

In 538 BC, the conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus king of Persia, issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (see Ezra 1:2–4; 6:3–5). Led by Zerubbabel, about 50,000 Jews journeyed home and began work on the temple. About two years later (536) they completed the foundation amid great rejoicing (Ezra 3:8–11). Their success aroused the Samaritans and other neighbors, who feared the political and religious implications of a rebuilt temple in a thriving Jewish state. They opposed the project vigorously and managed to halt work until 520, after Darius the Great became king of Persia in 522, who encouraged the building to continue. Notably, the two Persian kings between Cyrus and Darius were ambivalent regarding the project and just as significantly did not provide financial support, unlike Cyrus. However, the Jews were more to blame due to their inactivity, and Haggai tried to arouse them from their apathy. Unlike most pre-exile prophets, he was successful in that task, with the four messages he gave, which were recorded, happening over a period of four months: August 29th, October 17th and December 18th (twice). In 516 the temple was finished and dedicated (Ezra 6:15–18). This was seventy years after the first temple had been destroyed, just as Jeremiah had prophesied. Haggai uses a number of questions to highlight key issues (see 1:4,9; 2:3,19). He also makes effective use of repetition: “Give careful thought” occurs in 1:5,7; 2:15,18, and “I am with you” in 1:13; 2:4. “I will shake the heavens and the earth” is found in 2:6,21. The major sections of the book are marked off by the date on which the word of the Lord came. Several times the prophet appears to reflect on other passages of Scripture (compare 1:6 with Deuteronomy 28:38–39 and 2:17 with Deuteronomy 28:22). The threefold use of “Be strong” in 2:4 echoes the encouragement given in Joshua 1:6–7,9,18. The writing was all in prose.  

A synopsis of the Book

  1. First Message: The Call to Rebuild the Temple (1:1–11)
  • The People’s Lame Excuse (1:1–4)
  • The Poverty of the People (1:5–6)
  • The Reason God Has Cursed Them (1:7–11)
  1. The Response of Zerubbabel and the People (1:12–15)
  • The Leaders and Remnant Obey (1:12)
  • The Lord Strengthens the Workers (1:13–15)
  1. Second Message: The Temple to Be Filled with Glory (2:1–9)
  • The People Encouraged (2:1–5)
  • The Promise of Glory and Peace (2:6–9)
  1. Third Message: A Defiled People Purified and Blessed (2:10–19)
  • The Rapid Spread of Sin (2:10–14)
  • Poor Harvests because of Disobedience (2:15–17)
  • Blessing to Come as the Temple Is Rebuilt (2:18–19)
  1. Fourth Message: The Promise to Zerubbabel (2:20–23)
  • The Judgment of the Nations (2:20–22)
  • The Significance of Zerubbabel (2:23)

The message of the Prophet

In Chapter 1, we note his message, on behalf of God, to the governor and High Priest, and it was simple one: ‘Rebuild my Temple!’ When the people had returned to the land, after starting on the task set, they took little interest in completing it. They had built themselves fine houses but hadn’t got around to what should have been their priority: rebuilding the Temple, which had been destroyed when the city fell in 587 BC. The Lord points out accordingly they had not prospered since their returned, despite His promise of blessing. Food, clothes, drink and wages had not met their needs. God had withheld rain and allowed drought because of their slowness to honour Him by building the Temple (1:1-11). “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.  Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord” (1:6-8). Led by Zerubbabel and encouraged by Haggai, the response from the people was swift and positive: “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the Lord. Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord. And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king” (1:12-15).

In Chapter 2:1-9, four weeks after the building work had commenced, Haggai brings a word of encouragement, when it seems initial zeal was flagging. There were those who could still remember the glory of the former Temple. And the present building site could not have looked very promising! But the Lord saw things differently and that was all what mattered, as well as looking forward to beyond the immediate aftermath of the Temple rebuilt: “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts … And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace … (2:4-9).

In Chapter 2:10-23 Haggai begins his word with an illustration from the Law, to drive home the message of the need for purity and putting away that which defiles and hinders God’s blessing. It appears the people did respond and we read in the word that follows (3:20-23) of a glorious future for God’s people: “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the Lord, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts” (3:21-23).

Zechariah

The prophet and his prophecy

Like Haggai, Zechariah’s prophetic ministry took place in the postexilic period, and like him his focus (in his early ministry at least) was on the building of the Temple. He first prophesied in November 520BC (Haggai last prophesied in December 520BC) and likely prophesied for at least a further twenty years. As in Jeremiah (1:1) and Ezekiel (1:3), Zechariah was not only a prophet (1:1) but also a member of a priestly family. He was born in Babylonia and was among those who returned to Judah in 538/537BC, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua. At a later time, when Joiakim was high priest, Zechariah may have succeeded Iddo (1:1,7) as head of that priestly family (Nehemiah 12:10–16). Zechariah (Yahweh remembers) was a common OT name. A good deal of what he wrote was referred to elsewhere in several books of the Bible. The Book is remarkable in its use of rich imagery, insights into the spiritual (angelic) realm and its apocalyptic nature. In the second half (chapters 9-14) it refers to events in detail relating to the first and second coming of the Messiah. As an (this author) aside, the insights it has provided in piecing together the big prophetic picture have been extraordinary, and its neglect in Bible study is regrettable, which is one reason why extra space is given here to Zechariah’s prophecies.

Background and context

The background for Zechariah was much the same as described under Haggai and in the “Exile” section of Chapter 3. Regarding the end time events part, this was significant and not only was it consistent with that given my many of the writing prophets discussed earlier in this book but was referred to as being fulfilled in the life of Jesus (e.g. thirty pieces of silver, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey) but will be fulfilled when it comes to the great final battle and the coming in glory of Jesus (the second time) as detailed in the later chapters of Revelation and of Israel’s conversion referred to by Paul in Romans 11:26: “and so all Israel shall be saved”. If there is an overarching message to the Book, it is however long it takes, or strange it may appear, God is in control of history.

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Introduction (1:1–6)
  • The Date and the Author’s Name (1:1)
  • A Call to Repentance (1:2–6)
  1. A Series of Eight Visions in One Night (1:7—6:8)
  • The Horseman among the Myrtle Trees (1:7–17)
  • The Four Horns and the Four Craftsmen (1:18–21)
  • A Man with a Measuring Line (ch. 2)
  • Clean Garments for the High Priest (ch. 3)
  • The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees (ch. 4)
  • The Flying Scroll (5:1–4)
  • The Woman in a Basket (5:5–11)
  • The Four Chariots (6:1–8)
  1. The Symbolic Crowning of Joshua the High Priest (6:9–15)
  2. The Problem of Fasting and the Promise of the Future (chs. 7–8)
  • The Question by the Delegation from Bethel (7:1–3)
  • The Rebuke by the Lord (7:4–7)
  • The Command to Repent (7:8–14)
  • The Restoration of Israel to God’s Favor (8:1–17)
  • Kingdom Joy and Jewish Favor (8:18–23)
  1. First Prophetic Oracle: Messiah comes and is rejected (chs. 9–11)
  • The coming of the Messianic King (chs. 9–10)
    • Destruction of surrounding nations; Zion’s preservation (9:1–8)
    • The coming of Zion’s King (9:9–10)
    • The deliverance and blessing of Zion’s people (9:11—10:1)
    • The leaders warned and the people encouraged (10:2–4)
    • Israel’s victory and restoration (10:5–12)
  • The rejection of the Messianic Shepherd-King (ch. 11)
    • The prologue (11:1–3)
    • The rejection of the Good Shepherd (11:4–14)
    • The rise and fall of the worthless shepherd (11:15–17)
  1. Second Prophetic Oracle: Messiah’s coming and reception (chs. 12–14)
  • The deliverance and conversion of Israel (chs. 12–13)
    • The siege of Jerusalem (12:1–3)
    • The divine deliverance (12:4–9)
    • Israel completely delivered from sin (12:10—13:9)
  • The Messiah’s coming and his kingdom (ch. 14)
    • The siege of Jerusalem (14:1–2)
    • The Messiah’s return and its effects (14:3–8)
    • The establishment of the Messianic kingdom (14:9–11)
    • The punishment of Israel’s enemies (14:12–15)
    • The universal worship of the holy King (14:16–21)

The message of the Prophet

Chapter 1:1-6 introduces the word of the Lord that came to Zechariah. Like Haggai, he urges the people to take commitment to the Lord more seriously. Their forefathers had been warned by earlier prophets. They hadn’t listened, and were deservedly punished by exile. His message was unequivocal; this was their opportunity to take note and be blessed: “Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts” (1:3).

Two months later, Chapter 1:7-6:15, Zechariah had a series of visions (full of strange imagery and remarkable symmetry: 1&8, 2&7, 3&6, 4&5 all having a correlation) during the night, speaking of God’s burning desire to see Jerusalem, the city of Zion, rebuilt and restored for the fulfilment of His future purposes:

The first vision (1:7-17) is of God surveying the whole earth by means of four horsemen during the seventy years when God’s people were in Exile, noting the world was at peace (thanks to King Cyrus). The angel (not having predictive powers) appeals to God on the nation’s behalf. The Lord with displeasure notes the oppressing nations at ease and declares He will bless Jerusalem “the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem” (1:17) but in His time.

The second vision (1:18-21), involving blacksmiths and horns, is God sending His agents (likely Persia) to overthrow nations who had scattered His people.

The third vision (2:1-13) is of a man measuring Jerusalem and God telling him that great numbers will live there in the future because He’s going to bring so many people home. The Lord also says that He will come and live among them, giving us a first glimpse of God’s promises for the far future in which those who are not Israel will join with Israel in worshipping the Lord and knowing his protection (for which man-made walls are not required): “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her … And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee. And the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again. Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation” (2:5, 11-13).

The fourth vision (3:1-10) is of Joshua the high priest having filthy clothes removed and fresh clothes put on. This is a poignant picture of how Satan (often in the shadows and never far away as far of the OT narrative goes) is apt and keen accusing God’s people, especially their leaders. The Lord has a wonderful response (worth us all now to bear in mind) and a glorious future prediction, involving the future Messiah and the wiping away of sin: “And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? … Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree” (3:2, 7-10).

The fifth vision (4:1-14) is reminiscent of Haggai 2:20-23 where Zerubbabel the governor of Judea is given greater authority. It also presents us the picture of the golden lampstand (that stood in the Holy Place of the Temple) replenished with oil (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) in never ending supply through two (not identified by name, but likely Zerubbabel and Joshua, anointed ones, who God had called to their tasks). The message is one full of hope and encouragement and a reminder of how God’s work done in His way will assuredly be carried out: “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth” (4:7-10).

The sixth vision (5:1-4) is of a flying scroll whose purpose is to curse all unrighteousness amongst God’s people, for stealing and lying cannot be.

The seventh vision (5:5-11) is of a woman in a basket, representing the wickedness of God’s people. She is exported to Babylon in place of God’s people who have been re-imported from Babylon into their land. Yet there is a salutary note, as part of God’s sovereign plan permits evil to establish itself elsewhere: “Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah? And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base” (5:10-11).

And the eighth vision (6:1-8) recalls the first: four chariots riding out from the presence of God to do His will. All the history of Israel and the surrounding nations has been God’s work. And now His Spirit is at rest, even in the land of the north (Babylonia). It implies His work must surely be complete.

The visions are rounded off with a word from God about crowning Joshua the high priest as king – a picture of the future Messiah, fulfilled ultimately in Jesus, our great High Priest, who sits on the throne of David forever (6:9-15). “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both … And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (6:12-13,15).

In Chapters 7 and 8, two years after these night visions, God gave Zechariah prophetic words for a delegation who came from the worship centre at Bethel. They had come to ask if they should continue observing fasts in the fifth and seventh months, which were memorials of the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC and the murder of the governor Gedaliah a little later. God’s answer was: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Yes – don’t forget the disaster and punishment came seventy years ago, because the message God’s people refused to hear then must be obeyed by the present generation. Don’t forget the lesson the Lord is teaching (7:1-14). No – forget the destruction of the Temple and the murder of the governor. The Lord is going to restore and bless Jerusalem and His people such that all memory of the past will be blotted out. God is going to bless the remnant of His people and they will be able to grow old in peace again. If there is a moral for now, fasting and feasting both have a place, but as unto the Lord.

The question of whether to fast or feast was therefore not an unreasonable one but better if it could be turned around. It could read: will you become the people ready to participate in God’s Kingdom? 2500 years on, we still await the full answer, which will gloriously come to pass, with Israel restored and we read again, along with those not of Israel joining them: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (8:19-23).

Chapters 9 – 14 are not always easy to understand, and they pick up on events in the far future and speak concerning God’s final intervention in history. While still concerned with Israel’s future, it is more concerned with Israel’s Messiah. It can be viewed in two parts: national (Israel) restoration (Chapters 9-11) and international (furthest future) repercussion (Chapters 12-14). There appears to be a certain amount of darting backwards and forwards. Like the other OT prophets, Zechariah had but a bare inkling of elapsed time. While the modern reader may want sequential presentation of events (some having happened with Jesus first coming; others yet to happen with his second coming), as far as this presentation goes, besides that which is further discussed in (our) Chapter 15, we will take each section as it comes, concentrating on the main highlights. We are reminded that “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” Hebrews 1:1-2 and Revelation when the pieces come together.

National Restoration (9-11)

  • Vanquished enemies (9:1-8) speaks of Israel’s enemies being vanquished – Jerusalem is God’s eternal city and will be there, come what may (until the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21), and the day will come when the enemies will be no more and some will even join with Israel.
  • Peaceful king (9:9-10) speaks of a king who has dominion from sea even to sea (9:10). The words “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” was fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, a few days before being put to death, although those who acclaimed Hosanna wrongly assumed that He was coming to liberate them and then turned against Him when He didn’t (for His time had not then come).
  • Mighty God (9:11-10:7) speaks of He who fight’s on Israel’s behalf, like the good shepherd. “And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land” (9:16). He will rid Israel of bad shepherds, destroy her enemies “And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the Lord their God, and will hear them” (10:6).
  • Gathered People (10:8-12) speaks of those who were dispersed among the nations coming home: “And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again. I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them” (10:9-10).
  • Deforested Neighbours (11:1-3) speaks, somewhat surprisingly, of the trees of some of Israel’s neighbours being removed.
  • Worthless Shepherds (11:4-17) contains a parable about three shepherds that had been sacked for not doing their jobs and then throwing back their wages. This also looks to a time when God raises up worthless shepherds who rather than look after the sheep do the very opposite. There is also a NT fulfilment with Judas Iscariot: “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord” 11:12-14.

International Repercussion (12-14)

  • Invading Army (12:1-9) shows while Jerusalem is the main focus and up to the end of the Book, when becoming the centre of world government, some things need to happen first. It begins with a siege against Jerusalem (and Judah) with the nations gathered against it. We are introduced to a concept considered in both OT and NT – “the Day of the Lord”. We now come to the culmination of world events prior to the messianic reign. As for the outcome of this attack: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (1:9).
  • Grieving Inhabitants (12:10-14) is where we reach the glorious climax of the Day of the Lord before back and once again fore tracking: “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon” (12:10-11). The glory is He who Israel had hitherto rejected, the Lamb of Calvary, is the one who now comes to rescue them. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him” Revelation 1:7.
  • Banished Prophets (13:1-6) are those who have been scourge to the people but the land will be banished of the now shamed false prophets.
  • Reduced Population (13:7-9) reflects that the population had been reduced to a third (could this have begun under the Holocaust?).
  • Plagued Attackers (14:1-24) is where we return to Israel under attack (with parallels to Ezekiel 38-39 and Joel 3), with the Lord gathering the nations for battle and defending Israel, with the armies turning on each other and with Jesus returning to mount of Olives as He said he would (Acts 1:8): “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (14:1-4) and with living waters going out from Jerusalem (4:8) and “the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord” (4:9). There will be geographic changes with the City elevated and the people living in safety.
  • Universal Worship (14:16-25) follows. The Lord establishes Jerusalem. It becomes the place from where He rules and all nations recognise and submit to His authority, including celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Significantly, this feast celebrates the final ingathering of the harvest. It is the most important one for Jews, and is one where they are again married to the Law and when they expect their Messiah to come, just as the Church celebrates the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7): “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. … Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts” (14:16-17, 21).

Malachi

The prophet and his prophecy

The book is ascribed to Malachi, whose name means “my messenger”, of which we know little. A high percentage of the narrative is the actual word of the Lord and given it is His last, at least explicit, word for 400 years, it is one we need to note carefully. While a hard hitting one, which is nothing new of course, there is a sense of sadness as God tells the people to get their act together and as it were slips away until they do or at least until the coming of Jesus. Remarkably, the words of the prophecy resonate today and might be encapsulated in the phrase “take God seriously”. Malachi is the last Old Testament prophet, although the date when he wrote we cannot be certain. As far as canonical writings go, there appear to be no more prophets until John the Baptist. Israel continued to be ruled, with varying degrees of benevolence (from sympathetic to exactly the opposite) by occupying powers (and that remained the case until 1948 when the Jewish State of Israel was formed) with moral leadership shifted toward priests.

Background and context

Spurred on by the prophetic activity of Haggai and Zechariah, the returned exiles under the leadership of their governor Zerubbabel finished the temple in 516 BC. In 458 BC the community was strengthened by the coming of the priest Ezra and several thousand more Jews. Artaxerxes king of Persia encouraged Ezra to reconstitute the temple worship (Ezra 7:17) and to make sure the law of Moses was being obeyed (Ezra 7:25–26). Fourteen years later (444) the same Persian king permitted his cupbearer Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls (Nehemiah 6:15). As newly appointed governor, Nehemiah also spearheaded reforms to help the poor (5:2–13), and he convinced the people to shun mixed marriages (10:30), to keep the Sabbath (10: 31) and to bring their tithes and offerings faithfully (10:37–39). In 433 BC, Nehemiah returned to the service of the Persian king, and during his absence the Jews fell into sin once more. Later, however, Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem to discover that the tithes were ignored, the Sabbath was broken, the people had intermarried with foreigners, and the priests had become corrupt (13:7–31). One hundred years after the first return, as Malachi preached to people, things had got worse, despite some mini revivals under Ezra and Nehemiah and the people were despondent and depressed. Several of their past sins are condemned after repeating them in Malachi’s time (Malachi 1:6–14; 2:14–16; 3:8–11). Malachi’s prophecy (1:1) is written in lofty prose. The text features a series of questions asked by God and the people. Frequently, the Lord’s statements are followed by sarcastic questions introduced by “(But) you ask” (1:2,6–7; 2:14,17; 3:7–8,13; cf. 1:13). In each case the Lord’s response is given. Repetition is a key element in the book. The name “Lord Almighty” occurs 20 times.

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Title (1:1)
  2. Introduction: God’s Faithful Covenant Love for Israel Affirmed (1:2–5)
  3. Israel’s Unfaithfulness Rebuked (1:6—2:16)
  • The Unfaithfulness of the Priests (1:6—2:9)
    • They dishonor God in their sacrifices (1:6–14)
    • They do not faithfully teach the law (2:1–9)
  • The Unfaithfulness of the People (2:10–16)
  1. The Lord’s Coming Announced (2:17—4:6)
  • The Lord Will Come to Purify the Priests and Judge the People (2:17—3:5)
  • Call to Repentance in View of the Lord’s Coming (3:6–18)
    • An exhortation to faithful giving (3:6–12)
    • An exhortation to faithful service (3:13–18)
  • The Day of the Lord Announced (ch. 4)

The message of the Prophet

Introduction (1:1)

The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi”(1:1). While “burden” may not be the best translation, it was something this messenger carried.

Jacob loved, Esau hated (1:2-5)

We have already set the scene of a people that were disconsolate. God is saying He loves them and their response is how come given their situation. God’s response is to remind them of the ongoing story of Jacob and Esau and how he has even since, and demonstratively so, favoured Jacob over his brother, Esau,

Blemished sacrifices (1:6 – 1:14)

We come to one of the crunch issues in God’s complaint – the people giving to God what is second best and thinking they can get away with something that in any normal father son relationship or between the people and the governor would be seen as wholly unacceptable. This occurred in the matter of sacrifice – rather than offering the best animals they offered the worst. As for God, we are reminded: “for from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles” (1:11) and “I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen” (1:14).

Admonition for the Priests (2:1 – 2:9)

Attention turns to the priests who were now the effective leaders of the people who were meant to be teaching them what is right and arbitrating in matters of justice but had fallen from that high standard that was set when the priesthood, and particularly the Levites were established under Moses: “The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.  For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts” (2:6-8). There will be dire consequences as a result of them falling short of the of the standards and expectations that God had set.

Judah Unfaithful (2:10 – 2:16)

God makes a further complaint against the people, despite outward religious observance, and in two specific areas. Firstly, they had inter-married with those who were outside the faith (something we are reminded was an issue in the Book of Ezra): “for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god” (2:11). Secondly, there was unfaithfulness in marriage: “the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth” (2:14-15). It is a salutary thought that believers marrying unbelievers and Christians divorcing and re-marrying are significant issues among Christians today and that Malachi’s message on these matters is relevant.

The Day of Judgment (2:17 – 3:5)

Just as relevant as being a contemporary issue is the idea of calling right wrong and wrong right and thinking that with God it doesn’t matter: “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (2:17). As is the case of many of the writing prophets and has been discussed, Malachi considers future events and later develops thoughts on the Day of the Lord. He talks of the one preparing the way (John the Baptist) “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” (3:1a) and then the Lord Himself (in the person of Jesus): “and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts” (3:1b).

There will be a time of refinement: “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (3:2,3), followed by evil purged and of blessing: “Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts” (3:4,5).

Robbing God (3:6 – 3:18)

The Lord reminds His people that He does not change, for if He did they would have been consumed. This has implications for now, given so much else does change. He invited them to return to Him. Their response, yet again, is why and how? God is clear they are robbing Him and they need to give Him what is His due, for until they do, they will remain under a curse, and if they give Him what is His due there will be a great blessing (yet another poignant lesson for today): “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (3:8-10).

The issue of tithes and offerings is one we might pick up on. While it was true the people lost out by withholding that which was God’s due, the author is of the view that under the New Covenant we are not obliged to tithe and yet our whole life you be characterised by our giving to God, including in financial matters. As for the people being addressed here, if they do these things, God will protect them from their enemies and the surrounding nations will recognise that they are indeed blessed of God. Such is the twisted minds of some though that they still think people are better off doing wicked than doing right.

This section ends on a heart warming note, concerning them who fear God and what God will do for them: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (3:16-18). Again, a practical application for now, for those who fear the Lord (and there is nothing to say under the New Covenant fear does not matter), should be encouraging one another in the things of God and this is something in which he delights.

The Day of the Lord (4:1 – 4:6)

So we end looking forward to the Day of the Lord, although as we now know, 2400 years on it has still to happen, although Christians see part fulfilment in the first coming of Jesus, which again was declared by His forerunner, John the Baptist, again talked of in this section. It will be a time when wickedness will be judged and righteousness vindicated: “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts” (4:1-3). Again, we see a lovely picture of them who fear the Lord with the thought of calves skipping freely. As for the here and now, the God who has not changed, still requires His people to keep the Law.

Back to John the Baptist, who is referred to as Elijah, we note: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (4:5-6). This is referred to when the angel speaks to Zacharias, 400 years later, concerning the birth of son, John: “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” Luke 1:16,17. John was an Elijah type figure when it came to lifestyle and he did what Malachi and the angel said before Jesus embarked on His ministry that is yet to be fully fulfilled. It is a sobering thought though, that the very last verse is a threat of a curse, should the hearts of the people not be changed. For while the last word of the Old Testament has been spoken, the story has not ended!

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