Posts Tagged 'Minor Prophets'



A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 7

The remains of one of Nineveh's defenders. Photo David Stronach.

Nahum, Habakkuk

Choices. We all have to make choices. Sometimes we make wise choices, other times our choices are really our mistakes. But no matter, good choice or bad, there are always consequences to face and deal with.

The minor prophets declared a conditional message to their listeners: God’s judgment is never the final word; it can be averted if the people make the right choice: repentance. Whenever anybody chooses to accept God’s mercy, their whole life changes for the better. God’s generous offer of mercy, if ignored, won’t help because judgment is inevitable.

1. God’s power to avenge, Nahum 1:1—9

Nahum provides an interesting parallel to the book of Jonah. Each deals with the great city of Nineveh. However, the book of Jonah is really about the prophet himself. Nahum, though, reveals nothing personal about the prophet beyond his name. “Nahum” is a name that appears only one time in the Old Testament, in the superscription of the book. His name appears one time in the New Testament as part of the genealogy of Joseph in Luke 3:25. “Nahum” means “comfort” or “consolation.”

Though we know nothing about the man, his sermon to Nineveh has survived the centuries because it teaches us something very significant about about God’s mercy and His judgment.

a. The fury of the Lord, vs. 1—6

A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. (vs. 1)

This superscription was probably added by an editor for the purpose of identification. The “prophecy” is sometimes called “a burden” in some translations. That’s a good word; sometimes the Word of the Lord is a burden. Sometimes it’s not all sunshine happiness. This is especially true concerning this “burden” about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. (vs. 2)

Those are pretty strong words directed at Nineveh. Why did God feel this way about the Assyrians? The name “Assyria” comes from “Asshur,” who was a descendant of Shem (Genesis 10:22). Asshur and his kin eventually settled in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Ancient history has a lot to say about these people, and none of it is good. Every time we read about the Assyrians in both sacred and secular history. they are pictured as cruel, savage, and warlike people with a deep-seated desire to conquer and dominate as much territory as possible. They were known for flaying captives and wall-papering pillars with their skins. They would bury captives alive, impaling others on posts, gouging out eyes, cutting off hands, feet, noses, and ears. Young children were burned alive. These and other atrocities caused the Assyrians to be feared for centuries in the ancient Near East.

Verse 2 indicates how God felt about these people. They faced certain doom, not because the Assyrians were so evil, but because God is so holy. God’s perfect nature demands that He punish sin because the nature of sin demands that it receive punishment. God must oppose evil, wherever it is found. And Nineveh was overflowing with it.

The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. (vs. 3)

This could be considered the key verse of this book. The apostle Paul proclaimed the same message to the Romans:

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:3—5)

b. The end for Nineveh, vs. 7—9

God is all-powerful, but He does not remain unmoved by the decisions of people. This group of verses is comforting to God’s people but a warning to those who ignored God’s mercy.

Nahum’s ministry occurred some 150 years after Jonah’s. Immediately following Jonah’s ministry, Nineveh did a complete about-face. They repented and forestalled God’s promised judgment. But by Nahum’s time, they were a rotten as ever.

Here is a powerful lesson: each generation needs its own revival. No individual believer, church, or religious movement can survive on yesterday’s blessings. Human nature always bends away from God towards sin; that’s why every generation needs to seek God for fresh outpourings of His Spirit.

Whatever they plot against the LORD he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. (verse 9)

The prophet directly addresses the Assyrian leaders, and informs them that they don’t have a prayer if they come against God. This is it, as far as Nineveh was concerned. The great city would not be given a second chance. Why not? Nineveh had crossed an invisible line that only God can see. This does not mean that God’s grace could not reach them a second time, but that they could no longer reach it.

Halzi Gate excavation. Excavating skeletons in the gateway dating from the destruction of Nineveh. 7 May 1990.

2. A cry for righteous judgment, Habakkuk 1:1—6

Here is another prophet we know next to nothing about. His name is mentioned here, and nowhere else in the Bible. There are two things that distinguish Habakkuk from other Old Testament prophets. First is what we read in verse 1:

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk is one of the only prophets that is actually referred to as “the prophet.” This suggests that Habakkuk was recognized as a professional prophet.

Second, there is a verse Habakkuk wrote that appears no less than three times in the New Testament and it eventually became Martin Luther’s rallying cry and the watchword for the Reformation:

The just shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)

Habakkuk was a contemporary of the more famous Jeremiah, and this book is traditionally dated around 600 BC, not long before the Babylonian Captivity in 586 BC. So he ministered in and around Judah and this prophet was faced with with two big problems. This prophet was one of the few men with courage enough to wrestle and argue with God over the way God deals with man.

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. (2:1)

The answer, of course, is to be found in 2:4b:

The just shall live by faith.

a. The burden of the prophet, vs. 1—4

Here is the cry of a frustrated believer: how long and why. This could well be the the single issue that plagues all believers: Why does God permit evil to continue among His own people—evils like, the iniquity, the injustice, the strife, and the contention? This is an old question, but a new one.

Times were tough for Habakkuk, and they were getting tougher. Things were about to come a head; violence was on the rise, the balance of power was shifting fast in the Middle East and the Babylonians were on the march. However, as the old saying goes, “one man plus God is always a majority.” Habakkuk went straight to the Top with His complaints.

b. A new world power, vs. 5, 6

God’s answer to his prophet is the comfort of assurance: “I am working.” But, here is an instance where God’s answer wasn’t quite what Habakkuk was expecting. God was indeed working, but it wasn’t among His people, it was among the heathen!

Notice, though, the onus is on God’s people to see Him working:

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. (vs. 5a)

Sometimes God’s working isn’t all that obvious! Believers have to “look” for Him, and sometimes His hand is to be found working in the strangest of places, among the strangest of people.

God did not answer the “Why” part of Habakkuk’s question; He is sovereign and owes no man any explanation or apology. Besides, no human being is capable of understanding the mind of God. But God did speak to the prophet. Far from being insensitive to the plight of His people, God was in fact orchestrating it! In the darkest, most confusing hour for any believer, when we are apt to feel as though God has forsaken us, we should take comfort from God’s word to Habakkuk. God in no way ever loses control; regardless of what it may look like, God is always in command of the circumstances of our lives. It is our lack of perception that makes God look uncaring or uninvolved. God’s activity, though, is far-reaching. It extends from generation to generation. His work in our lives not only touches us, but reaches out to touch others.

3. Confidence in God’s sovereignty, 3:1,2; 16—19

This last chapter of Habakkuk is unique among the Minors. In fact, it’s not really part of his prophecy. We might call chapter three Habakkuk II, for it opens with a whole new superscription, like it was a whole new book:

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. (vs. 1)

The “shigionoth” is a word of unknown origin and meaning, although is has something to do with music; perhaps an instrument or a type of song.

a. An urgent prayer, vs. 1, 2

What a change had taken place in Habakkuk’s life. From complaining to God and waiting for God to answer him, Habakkuk was brought to the place of real, abiding faith. He was an honest questioner of God and God honored him.

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (vs 2)

What God had revealed to Habakkuk drew the prophet closer to Him and allowed him to worship God anew. He had been given a glimpse into the inner workings of God’s mind. He had a peek of things to come, and what he saw filled him with fear. But the prophet’s fear was not fear of the future but reverential awe of God. God opened His mind to Habakkuk just a crack and the prophet was overcome with wonder.

His heart’s cry to God was based on what God had done in the past: repeat your deeds! What a great, simple prayer for revival! G.B. Williamson gives a wonderful outline of these two verses under the heading, “A Prayer for Revival.”

  • Revival in needed because sin in rampant, religion is decadent, and judgment is imminent, 1:4; 2:18—20;

  • The time of revival is NOW: in “our day, in our time”;

  • The way of revival is through prayer;

  • The hope of revival is in God’s mercy.

b. Remembering God’s power, vs. 16—19

After praising God for His past intervention, Habakkuk says,

I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. (vs 16)

This is why it is so important for believers to get to know God through the pages of Scripture. Prayer is vital, but a believer doesn’t get to know God through prayer. God has revealed Himself to us only through His Word. The closer we get to God, the more we get to know Him through His Word, the more aware of His awesome strength we become. A lot of things may draw us closer to God. Sometimes it’s praise and worship, other times we are literally pushed closer to Christ by adversity. It is during those times that the true believer sees in Him the One who is sufficient to meet every need. Time and again in the Bible we see this. God sustained Elijah when he had reached the end of his rope (1 Kings 19). When Paul faces stiff opposition in Corinth (Acts 18), it was God who was his constant source of help.

Habakkuk’s personal story as revealed in these verses reveals that faith was the prophet’s only ally; all he could was wait.

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. (vs. 16b)

The threat of the Babylonians was real and Judah’s days were numbers, but all Habakkuk could do was to wait quietly. He waited for the end to come, but he had no fear. We learn something of the dynamics of fear from these verses. We fear things when we attribute to a person, a place, or a thing two important characteristics:

  • Almightiness—the power to take away another’s autonomy;

  • Impendency—the power to do another harm.

What we need to understand is that those things don’t belong to any human being; they belong to God. This Habakkuk understood, which is why he waited patiently for the end to come. His faith sustained him. He knew he rested under God’s protection.

God’s sovereignty is not a topic reserved for theological discussions. It is an important fact in the life of every Christian. We have been redeemed by God. We are His children and we belong to Him. We are of value to God. We are filled with His Holy Spirit, who makes us able servants. By means of God’s power working in our lives, we have the ability to withstand any and all circumstances that come our way.

Habakkuk’s experience is a good example for the modern believer. He may have had questions, perhaps even doubts, he saw things he didn’t like or understand, but he did not give into fatalism. He did not passively resign to what was to come. Even though he may had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, Habakkuk had faith, and he had the courage to submit to the will of God and to exercise active dependence on Him.

Habakkuk wanted the people to sing his prophecy:

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

And why shouldn’t we sing what Habakkuk wrote? His head wasn’t in clouds, but he knew God and he had the kind of confidence in God that we all need. No matter what the outward circumstances of life may be, the just should simply live by faith. What Habakkuk found to be true, is still true today.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 3

God’s Call for Justice: Amos & Zephaniah

What is “partiality?” In the Bible, there are no less than 15 Scriptures relating “partiality” to God’s character. In Deuteronomy, the question of God’s fairness is the basis for all human relationships:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17—19)

We may say that “partiality” is the opposite of justice in terms of Biblical thought. Based on the above passage, it seems clear that God’s people should behave like God behaves. God is impartial in His dealings with man, therefore we should as well.

In ancient Israel, the idea of “justice” formed the basis of not only the Jewish faith, but also its government. The minor prophets frequently railed against the treatment of their fellows because it was a manifestation of how they treated their God.

1. God hates arrogance, Amos 6:1—8

Justice has been on the minds of human beings for all time, it seems. Probably the most significant ancient work of non-biblical literature is what we call “Plato’s Republic.” What most people don’t know is it’s original title: “A Political Discourse Concerning Justice.” But long before Plato thought about justice, the Bible had that topic completely covered. Israel never needed “Plato’s Republic.”

a. A warning against complacency, vs. 1—3

In the ancient world, almost nobody could read or write. Even in the Roman world, historians estimate that less than 10% of the population was literate. Usually these skills, which we take for granted today, were taught only to the children of the elite class or the very wealthy. What sets the Bible apart from all ancient texts is that its writings stem, not always from the intellectually elite, but from the common man. Such is the case of Amos, of whom next to nothing is known. He was mere shepherd from Tekoa. He was no priest. He had no connection to the Temple. His parentage is not mentioned because there was nothing remarkable about it. The fact that God would raise up such a seemingly insignificant person is a demonstration of God’s impartiality!

This one-time prophet of God ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel. He was living and working during a time when all nations of the ancient Near East were very much aware of the mighty Assyrians and their propensity for the conquest of entire nations. The tyrannical Tiglath-Pileser III was the ruler of Assyria at this time and he managed, in a relatively short span of time, to establish one of the most enduring empires in ancient history.

Amos, as uneducated as he was, was a powerful speaker who could easily catch the attention of his audience. And he was skilful, too. He ably connected the moral decline of Israel and Judah to the coming of the Assyrians. As we read Amos, we can see how vitally connected moral obedience is to God’s Word and the security of a nation.

In the first five chapters, Amos dealt with God’s judgment of the northern kingdom, Israel. While the people expected a day of deliverance coming, Amos knew otherwise; he knew the great and terrible Day of the Lord—a day of judgment—was just over the horizon. The monarchy and political power brokers should have seen it coming, but the power structure of Israel was riding high, falsely secure in their military power and victories of Syria. They felt unconquerable. The people, for their part, seemed quite content to be “under their thumbs.” The people couldn’t do a thing without getting the approval of some political body. No wonder these verse stung and cut so deeply.

Woe 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! Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. (verses 1—3)

Amos aimed at and scored a direct hit at the false optimism and sense of security and carefree arrogance of the leaders. They looked so strong and unbeatable in their own eyes, but in God’s eyes, they were as puny as the leaders of any other nation. Amos lumped Israel in with a bunch of conquered and subjugated city-states of other greater nations.

Naturally, the leaders rejected Amos’ prophecy, and they continued to wallow in their complacency, and in their mistreatment of their own citizens.

b. A warning against elite luxuries, vs. 4—6

So while the political class revelled in their own lives of ease, indulgence, and affluence, they continued to care very little for the state of others. They stuffed themselves with gourmet food, went to the best golf courses, sang songs and got drunk.

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

c. The coming judgment and exile, vs. 7, 8

To Amos, luxury and wealth, in themselves harmless, had become symbols of the oppression by which these leaders pampered themselves. And so, those who amassed so much wealth would be the first to go into exile. The corrupt government of the House of Israel would finally come to an end. Amos said this sometime around 760 B.C., when Jeroboam II reigned over an immensely prosperous people. Less than 4 decades later, Israel was overrun and conquered by Assyria and all but the poor were exiled.

As we read about the state of ancient Israel, we are prompted to think about the awesome responsibility of leadership. A country, church, Christian movement, or even a family can rise no higher than its leadership. Those being led will either rise to great heights or sink to new lows depending on the spiritual and moral quality of their leadership.

2. God hates injustice, Amos 8:4—12

Amos was concerned, not only that the people turn to the Lord, but that society as a whole repent from its injustice.

Looking after those who are incapable of looking after themselves has always been important to the Lord, and it should be important to His people. Much of the Law is devoted to making sure the real poor and afflicted were cared for; those policies had been enshrined in the religious and civil laws of Israel. Other nations exploited the poor, or they were left to die. When Israel did as they were told, the nation prospered, from the richest to the poorest. But when Israel, as they did time and again, followed the example of worldly nations, the poor suffered and the rich were harshly judged.

In Amos 7, the priest Amaziah grew weary of Amos’ preaching, and ordered him to return to Judah.

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the disciple of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (7:12, 15)

Amos was faithful to the Lord, and continued to prophesy in Israel.

a. The sin of oppression, vs. 4—7

In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy had become outright rebellion against God. Those who pretended to be religious were the ones who were taking advantage of the poor. God made it clear that to sin against Yahweh’s people was, in fact, to sin against Him. These religious types kept their festivals meticulously, but managed to find time to rip people off right and left. To these people, God had a particularly ominous message:

I will never forget anything they have done. (verse 7)

b. The land cannot withstand oppression, vs. 8—12

Israel’s end will be like an earthquake. The land will shake and heave. Nature will share in God’s anger. The earthquake will be followed by an eclipse, which will cause great fear. The earth and the very cosmos will seem to be in opposition to the people who turned away from their God, the Lord of all creation.

3. Spiritual renewal results in justice, Zephaniah 3:9—20

There is a “prophetic gospel,” and the minor prophets are full of it. What is the “prophetic gospel?” It is the “good news in prophecy.” God will always have the “last word.” This last word is repeated spoken in Psalm 136: His mercy endures forever.

The minor prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied during the time of great king Josiah, spent 2 chapters declaring what God would do to the nations on a worldwide scale. Now he turns his attention to Judah and Jerusalem. Joshiah’s awesome religious reforms, unfortunately, did not long outlast him. Jerusalem should have been the model for the whole world. Jerusalem should have been setting the example for every nation in the world to follow after. Instead, Jerusalem, like Samaria before it, became the home of those who were wilfully living in rebellion against God. They lived polluted lives, defiling themselves with sinful deeds, and disregarding the rights of others, especially of orphans and widows.

a. Arrogance abolished, vs. 9—13

Just when the promised judgment had reached its crescendo, God would enter center stage in a big way:

Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (verse 9)

The Hebrew for “purify” is a strong word that means “a turning away” or “a transformation.” It’s not a slow process, but a quick and total change; a radical break with the past. This radical change will affect all nations because this work of God will be worldwide in scope.

I will sweep away both people and animals; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all people on the face of the earth…” (1:2—3)

God would use the Babylonian Exile of the Jews to accomplish this purification. The rebellion would be purged from their souls. God would use the exile to reorient the people around God.

b. The everlasting presence of God, vs. 14—17

She who was once the rebellious, polluted, and oppressing city is given three titles of honor: daughter of Zion, Israel, and daughter of Jerusalem. In Biblical poetry, which much of the prophetic word is, cities and their citizens are often referred to as women.

Zephaniah is describing life in the Messianic era. It will be a time filled with great joy, singing, and gladness. All this happiness of God’s people will be shared by God Himself:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (verse 7)

c. The restoration of the nation, vs. 18—20

In spite of the translation difficulties surrounding verse 18, Zephaniah writes of a time in the future of God’s people that even we have yet to experience. The years of exile in Babylong would be difficult for the Jews. They would be unable to worship, and would long for the day when they could gather together in praise.

To these exiles, God promised that one day, all would be restored. Once they lived in shame, but one day, they people would receive honor and fame on account of what their God will do for them.

Through God’s work of restoration, Judah will become renowned around the world.

At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes…” (verses 19, 20)

The minor prophets saw the day when God’s saving grace would flow from Israel to all the people over all the earth. By taking seriously the words of “the minors,” we can learn what God requires of us and how to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

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