B – Zechariah

B.  Zechariah preaches to us:

Zechariah gave a message of prophecy of great things to come if the people completed the task for which they were commissioned to do upon their return. Since the message of the prophecies was directed to their immediate audience, it was not a message for us today of things in our future. We participate in the outcome of the fulfillment of the prophecies in that we now enjoy the blessings that came through the Branch who is now reigning as priest and king over all things.

It would be an interpretive mistake to steal away the message of prophetic hope that Zechariah gave to his immediate audience in order that we might speculate concerning supposed events in our future.   In reference to our time, the Messiah has already come. The Branch has been revealed. He has offered His blessing of salvation to all the world.

The remnant that was enduring the hostility of the local opposition during Zechariah’s ministry needed to hear a relevant message in prophecy for their encouragement in order that they have hope in their efforts to reestablish the identity of Israel in Palestine for the coming of the Branch/Messiah. Zechariah’s prophecy of great things to come gave them purpose for rebuilding the temple, and later, purpose for rebuilding the walls of the city. The prophecies of the Messianic age encouraged them to build for more than just reestablishing national Israel. They were building for world salvation, though they did not fully understand all the implications of the prophecies that Zechariah made at the time. Nevertheless, they did understand enough in reference to the coming Branch that they were inspired to build.

 1.  Self-oriented faith does not please God. During Israel’s seventy years of Babylonian captivity, and the sixteen idle years while the temple laid in waste, a religious culture developed among the people that was nationalistic and self-centered. In chapters 7 & 8, God saw through their legal religiosity by which they soothed their consciences. It seems that their fasting during the captivity was over the loss of their land and temple. It was somewhat void of mourning over their sin of rebellion. So God began His self awareness examination of their faith with a question: “When you fasted and mourned … even those seventy years [while in captivity], was it actually for Me that you fasted?” (Zc 7:5). The question was a direct admonition of their twisted reason for fasting.

God knew that their fast was really over the destruction of Jerusalem. It was more about their nationalistic pride being bruised than their rejection of the one true and living God and His word. God awakened them to this reality by posing another question concerning their eating and drinking after their fast: “And when you ate, and when you drank, did you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” (Zc 7:6).   Their faith became self-oriented.   Instead of focusing on God through those things God commanded that should stir their thoughts of Him, they focused on their own appetites when they came together to feast.

They fasted because their nationalistic pride had been bruised by the destruction of Jerusalem. God’s judgment of their attitude was that they should have been mourning over their sin and crying out for a restoration of the word of God in their lives. God’s accusation was clear: “Should you not hear the words that the Lord has cried out by the former prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity …?” (Zc 7:7).

The lesson is pointed. When we are in mourning, we should search deep in our hearts and determine the real reason for our mourning. It is sometimes like the mourning of a criminal who has been caught.   He mourns over the fact that he was caught, not over the fact that he was violating the law. In order to shock Israel into the reality of why they ended up in captivity, God reminded them that they not fall into the same moral degradation that their fathers did before the captivity. Through the former prophets before the captivity, God called on them to change their behavior and conform to His directions.

Execute true justice and show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. And do not oppress the widow, nor the fatherless, the foreigner, or the poor. And do not allow any of you to imagine in your heart evil against his brother (Zc 7:9,10).

When these principles are violated, then it is time to fast. But their fathers had rejected these moral principles, and subsequently gave up their right to represent God among the nations. As a result of their rebellion, the nation of Israel was terminated in Palestine and the residents sent into captivity. It was as God said,

 But they refused to hearken and turned to a stubborn shoulder. And they stopped their ears so that they would not hear. Yes, they made their hearts as flint, lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of armies had sent in His Spirit by the former prophets. (Zc 7:11).

But now things had changed. It was a time for rejoicing because God had returned the remnant to the land (Zc 8:1-17). Their fast that was for sorrow over the loss of their nationhood, should now be turned to “joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah” (Zc 8:19). If this is done, a marvelous thing will happen in their present and in their future.   Their zeal to follow the instructions of God to rebuild the temple and city will be a signal to the world that God was again with His people. The oppressing nations that afflicted His people before the captivity were all gone.   But since Israel was being resurrected after their destruction and captivity, they were a signal to the people of the world that God was with Israel as in the days of old.

In those days it will come to pass that ten men from every language of the nations will take hold of the garment of him who is a Jew, saying, “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zc 8:23).

 2.  We must be inspired by hope to build for the future. One of the exciting messages of Zechariah is that it is a book filled with encouragement that inspired the returnees to restore the identity of Israel for the sake of God’s work that was yet in their future. The message of both Haggai and Zechariah was that the people should build, though they did not understand all the reasons for the building.

God discouraged their thinking about fasting over the loss of their past. It was now time to fast in hope of the future. Something was coming that would eventually reveal the purpose for which God originally established the nation of Israel. So through Zechariah specifically, and later through Malachi, God wanted the returnees to know that they must build with faith in the future.

God was working toward the consummation of national Israel, but this consummation (end) of Israel would be for the salvation of the world. When the immediate audience of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi understood this purpose through prophecy, then with zeal they would have purpose in building.   Their zeal was not based on simply building a physical structure in which they could take pride. Their building was based on the fact that they needed to identify again the nation of the fathers, in order that the promises to the fathers be fulfilled in the coming of the Branch/Messiah and the new paradigm of God’s work among men. Embedded in Zechariah’s message are several great prophecies in reference to the future when God would eventually reveal His eternal plan of salvation.

We must remind again those zealous futurists of today not to steal away this hope from the Jews to whom these prophecies of hope were first delivered. They were prophecies in reference to the restoration of national Israel after the captivity in order to usher in the Messianic age to come over four centuries later. They were not prophecies for us today that God is going to usher in another Messianic age or supposed millennial reign of Jesus on earth.

For us, the prophecies have been fulfilled.   For the immediate audience of Zechariah, they were unfulfilled prophecies, but prophecies that contained hope for their future. Let us not selfishly steal away the hope of the prophecies from the first recipients in order that we might have some twisted speculation concerning our future.   We need not make God a liar to them by stealing the hope of the prophecies from them in order to make the prophecies apply to us. Our encourage from the prophecies is that God fulfilled them with the coming of the Messiah in the first century. We live in the time of their fulfillment.

The New Testament gives us hope in the fact that God will fulfill His promises that He has made specifically to us. Our faith is in Him to fulfill His promises to us because He fulfilled His promises to Israel before the cross. We remember Hebrews 6:18:

… so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

We have hope in the promises that God has given to us in the New Testament because He fulfilled the promises He made to His people in the Old Testament. We have so much hope in the New Testament promises that we do not have to steal the hope of the promises that were given to God’s people before the cross.

We must not forget what God stated through Zechariah in 13:2,3. It was a warning to any would-be prophets today who would presume to stand up and prophesy of future events.

“And it will come to pass in that day [our day],” says the Lord of armies, “that … I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.   And it will come to pass that when any would still prophesy [of the future], then is father and his mother who begat him will say to him, ‘You will not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord.’ And his father and his mother who begat him will thrust him through when he prophesies.”

The seriousness of this statement cannot be overemphasized. God is serious about those who presumptuously stand up and say they are prophets of future events, but are actually liars. He is so serious that if one does presume to be a prophet of future things, his parents were to do him some serious damage.

Regardless of this stern warning, however, it seems that we today still have to endure the nonsense of so many self-proclaimed prophets who are proclaiming the end of times. They make their lies concerning the future, nothing happens, and gullible people will still follow them. It is because people are as children tossed to and fro by every self-proclaimed prophet who would through prophecies concerning blood moons, eclipses and star alignments, predict future events. The supposed dates of prophecies come and go, while the prognosticators smile on their way to the bank after making millions of dollars on the sale of books that should have been burned as those in Ephesus (See At 19:18-20). We have found that regardless of the unfulfilled prophecies of the modern-day liars, people will still follow them. People are indeed gullible as what Paul wrote. They are as children tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching (Ep 4:14).

Nevertheless, the prophecies of Zechariah were very encouraging to the people to whom they were initially addressed. They are encouraging to us because we live on this side of their fulfillment. We know that Zechariah did not lie to the people. We read our New Testaments with joy because the Spirit testifies to the fact that every detail of the prophecies of Zechariah were fulfilled in the first century.

We must not miss the point of what God said in Zechariah 13:2,3. Since the prophets of future events would pass out of the land, the “prophets” of the New Testament were not prophets as those of the Old Testament.   They were not in the business of making proclamations of future events. The gullible people of the Old Testament sought to listen only to false prophets of future events. God said through Zechariah that these prophets would no longer exist among His people. And since there would no longer be any Isaiahs or Jeremiahs, Daniels or Ezekiels, then there would never be among God’s people any foretelling prophets who would falsely assume to be a prophet of future events. Therefore, anyone today who would profess to be a prophet of future events is simply a liar to the people. He is not counted among God’s people.

When we read of the prophets of the New Testament church, therefore, we conclude that these were not prophets of future events. They were inspired teachers of the word of God in the absence of the written word of God (See Ep 4:11-16).   When the word of God was eventually written and circulated among the disciples, there was no longer any need for inspired teachers among the people.

Zechariah’s message was filled with hope for the returned remnant. His message was filled with hope in the Messianic future of great things that was yet to come in their future. The following are some of the primary messages of hope that were given to those who faced great opposition in rebuilding the temple:

 a.   Zechariah 6:12,13:

 Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch. He will branch out from His place, and He will sit and rule on His throne. And He will be a priest on His throne. And the counsel of peace will be between them both.

This prophecy was for hope in a new priest and king to come. The Branch would be both a priest and king upon His throne. The Hebrew writer affirmed that this prophecy was fulfilled in Christ Jesus:

Seeing then that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession (Hb 4:14).

Now consider that if Jesus were on earth, He could not be a priest. God had promised David that He “would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne” (2 Sm 7:30). This promise was fulfilled in that God raise up Jesus and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places to reign on the throne of David (See Ep 1:20-22; Ph 2:9-11). In the Hebrews 4:14 passage above, the verb is past tense. At the time the passage was written, Jesus was already our high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hb 5:6; 7:14,21-28). It is at this time, therefore, that “we have such a high priest who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hb 8:1).

It was prophesied by Zechariah that Jesus would be both a priest and king on David’s throne. His function as a priest and king would occur at the same time.   He is now a priest and king on His throne. Zechariah’s prophecy has been fulfilled.

Hebrews 8:4 presents a problem to those who say that Jesus is coming again in order to reign as a king on this earth. “For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest ….” If Jesus did come again to reign on this earth, then He would have to give up His priesthood. But He is a priest forever.   He will never give up this intercession for us as our high priest. Therefore, we know that when Jesus does come again, He will not be coming to reign on this earth because He is our priest forever and will not give up His priesthood for us (See Hb 7:3,23,24).

God wanted Zechariah’s audience to understand that there was a new high priest coming, One who would not pass away. He would not pass away because He would also be a king upon the throne of David. And since the King now has all authority (Mt 28:18), He guarantees by His authority that He will be a priest while He reigns.

This hope was given to Zechariah and his contemporaries. Their kings and priests of the past were often morally corrupt, and sometimes simply wicked. But the kingship and priesthood of the Branch would be different. We are now living in the reality of Zechariah’s prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus.   The prophecy will not be reversed in the future when Jesus comes again. He came first to become our priest. He is not coming again to give up His priesthood. He remains a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, whose priesthood had neither beginning nor ending.

 b.  Zechariah 9:9:

 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.   Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem.   Behold, your King is coming to you.   He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

         What Jesus did on His last trip into Jerusalem fulfilled this prophecy. The prophecy was quoted by Matthew in order to convince his Jewish readers that what Zechariah prophesied was fulfilled in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Mt 21:5).

 c.  Zechariah 11:12:

 Then I said to them, “If you think good give me my wages, and if not, refrain.” So they weighed for my wage thirty pieces of silver.

In prophecy, it was often difficult to understand the meaning of the prophecy until the time of fulfillment. Since this statement was embedded in the context of prophecies concerning the coming of the Branch out of Israel, then the immediate audience assumed that there was some significance to it in reference to the coming Messianic age. At the time of fulfillment, therefore, when thirty pieces of silver were weighed into the hands of Judas who betrayed Jesus, the light bulb came on in the minds of the Jews (See Mt 26:15). They understood that Zechariah’s statement was a prophecy of an event that would take place during the betrayal of the Messiah.

 d.  Zechariah 12:10:

 Then I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications. And they will look on Me whom they have pierced and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son.   And they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

We have no doubt about the fulfillment of this prophecy. John quoted it in John 19:37.   It was Jesus they looked upon and over whom they mourned and wept. The prophecy was fulfilled in the crucifixion of the firstborn Son of God who came in fulfillment of the prophecy that God would set One upon the throne of David (See At 2:33-36).

 e.  Zechariah 13:7:

 Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.

 Previous to His betrayal and arrest, Jesus said to His disciples, “All of you will fall away this night because of Me, for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Mt 26:31). Since Matthew directed his book to the Jews, Jesus’ Jewish disciples knew exactly to whom the prophecy of Zechariah referred. They then determined that Zechariah’s statement was a prophecy of their behavior at the time Jesus was betrayed, for they all fled the scene.

Zechariah’s prophecy of 13:1 explained the purpose for God’s struggle throughout the centuries to preserve Israel until the coming of the Seed that would crush the head of Satan.

In that day there will be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness (Zc 13:1).

In that day, the day about which Joel prophesied in Joel 2:28-32, those who mourned over their sins could do as Peter instructed when all these prophecies were fulfilled in the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus:

Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (At 2:38).

All that God had worked to complete throughout the centuries, from the fall of Adam to the revelation of the Branch—the Redeemer—was fulfilled in Christ. We live in the era of enlightenment in reference to the fulfillment of these prophecies. We are blessed with the privilege to live in the time when we can enjoy the cleansing of our uncleanness through the blood of Jesus (1 Jn 1:7).

We cannot bypass the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament that were made specifically in reference to the Redeemer who came into the world over two thousand years ago. We must keep in mind that every effort to make the prophecies of the Old Testament bypass their fulfillment at the cross of Jesus, weakens the impact of their fulfillment and the joy that we experience today by their fulfillment in Christ. In the prophecies, God gave hope to the immediate recipients. Their hope, however, was not in reference to what would transpire at the end of the world.   Their hope was in God’s work to use them as the seed of Abraham to bring the promised Blessing of Abraham into the world for the salvation of all men.

[Great encouragement from Zechariah.  Now for Malachi.]

A – Zechariah

There are several men in the Old Testament who had the name Zechariah. But the Zechariah who wrote this book of Zechariah was both a prophet and priest (Zc 1:7). He was the grandson of Iddo, who was one of the priestly families of Israel (See Ne 12:4,16). Both he and Haggai possibly returned to Jerusalem as young men with their parents when the first captives were permitted to reestablish Israel under the authority of the Persian king, Cyrus. This first return was led by Zerubbabel and took place in 536 B.C. It was not until sixteen years later in 520 that God called them to stir up the people to rebuild the temple which had been allowed to remain in ruins since the return in 536 B.C. Though the first returnees restored the foundation, opposition from the local residents led to discouragement, delay and indifference.

Zechariah 1:7 – 6:8 is a series of visions that are climaxed by the crowning of Joshua as a symbol of the Branch/Messiah who would build a future spiritual temple and reign as priest and king (6:9-15). In the section of 9:1 – 14:21, Israel’s enemies are judged with the coming of the Prince of Peace (9:1-17). The evil shepherds that led Israel to spiritual ruin, would give way to God’s leader (10:1-12). The Good Shepherd would be rejected by the flock, and then, He would suffer from the attack of an evil shepherd (11:1-17). Jerusalem is then in distress, and subsequently, looks to the One who was pierced (12:1-14). Prophecy is terminated when the Good Shepherd opens the fountain that cleanses sin (13:1-9). The series of visionary exhortations is then concluded by the judgments of the kingdoms of the world by God (14:1-21).

 A.  Historical/social background:

s with the call of Haggai, so was the purpose for the calling of Zechariah. Zechariah was called to encourage the people because of great things that were yet in their future. His was a series of visions that portrayed the glory of Israel if they completed their task of rebuilding the presence of God in Israel.

The first return of the remnant occurred in 536 B.C. Work started on the reconstruction of the foundation of the temple, but it soon ceased once the locals opposed their efforts. Their reconstruction efforts were idle for sixteen years until God called both Haggai and Zechariah in 520 B.C. to reignite the flame to work. So with the encouragement of the two prophets, and the leadership of Zerubbabel, the temple was completed in only four years after the people went to work.

[Zechariah preaches tomorrow.]

 

B – Haggai

B.  Haggai preaches to us:

From the two chapters of Haggai, there are two very important lessons that must be preached to the people of God. Both lessons reflect on the nature of God’s people in reference to their attitudes and behavior.

 1.  Discouragement does not justify idleness. Twenty years before Haggai, the people were excited about returning to the land and rebuilding the temple. It was a dream come true after the seventy years of captivity. But opposition came from the local residents in Palestine who were left in the land by the Babylonians when the city fell in 586 B.C.   There was much intermarriage between local Jews who were left from the northern captivity and those Gentiles who were imported into Palestine from other nations of the world (See 2 Kg 17:26-29).   Therefore, the local residents were not true Israelites. They would later in history be called the Samaritans (See Mt 10:5; Lk 9:52; 20:334; Jn 4:9,30,40). At the time of Haggai and Zechariah, they were jealous of the Jews. They had lost their national identity through intermarriage.   They thus stood in opposition to everything the Jews were doing to restore the identity of true Israel.   This conflict played itself out during the ministry of Nehemiah.

It was difficult for the local residents to accept the fact that the Israelites, now called the Jews, had the task of reestablishing the identity of true Israel. They were intimidated by the fact that the returning remnant was so committed to identify again true Israel that they had put away their foreign wives in the land of their captivity in order to return to Palestine (Er 9).   But the locals could not and would not do this. The commitment of the returned remnant was a daily sermon of their non-commitment.   Subsequently, great opposition by the local residents discouraged the returned remnant. The opposition was so great that the Jews began to believe, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built” (Hg 1:2). They led themselves to believe that it was not the responsibility of their generation to take ownership of rebuilding the temple. So they gave up the task, thinking that sometime in the future the job would be done by someone else.

By the time of Haggai and Zechariah, it had been sixteen years since the people had made any effort to rebuild the temple.   As a result, indifference had set in and the people accepted the fact that everything should just remain as it is in order not to cause any future animosity with the locals.

However, their indifference toward building the temple did not discourage them from putting all their efforts into building fine houses for themselves. Haggai shamed them: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses and this house [of God] lies waste?” (Hg 1:4). The reason for the Lord’s displeasure with them was simple.   The Lord’s house was “in ruins while each of you runs to his own house” (Hg 1:9). And now, according to the call of Haggai, it was time to repent of indifference and discouragement and get on with the task of rebuilding the temple. Some of them had made great sacrifices in order to return to Palestine to reestablish the identity of Israel. As stated previously, some had even made the sacrifice of putting away their foreign wives for this purpose (See Er 9). It was now time that their sacrifices not be wasted in idleness.

We must not confuse ourselves with the God-ordained task that they should rebuild the temple by thinking that God needed a house in which to dwell. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (At 17:24).   God needs no sanctuaries or church houses. What the temple signified was the restoration of Israel to the land. And unless they rebuilt the temple, the nations of the world would not believe that the remnant of God’s people, as promised, had been restored to the land of Palestine.

The opposition of the local residents proved that they had moved on from this identity. And thus, they saw that the rebuilding of the temple would separate them from the returned remnant. Nehemiah specifically said to the locals,

Then I [Nehemiah] answered them [the locals] and said to them, “The God of heaven, He will prosper us [the returned remnant]. Therefore we His servants will arise and build. But you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem (Ne 2:20).

Nehemiah made a distinction between the locals and the returned remnant. In making this distinction, he was reaffirming the purpose of God to identity again that the remnant was the true Israel that was restored to the land.   The locals, who had intermarried with the Gentiles, “had no heritage” with true Israel because they had lost their identity as Jews.

We would connect the building of the physical temple of God as a metaphor that signified the building of the spiritual house of God that would come many years later. At least both Amos and James made this metaphorical connection (Am 9:11,12; At 15:16,17). The spiritual house of the Lord was established in A.D. 30 on the day of Pentecost (1 Tm 3:15). It continues to this day as the witness of God’s presence among the people of the world.   God used Zerubbabel to lead the people into action as a result of the motivation of both Haggai and Zechariah.   Zerubbabel was of the Davidic lineage, and is named in the lineage of Jesus by both Matthew and Luke (Mt 1:13; Lk 3:27). However, when the remnant returned to Palestine, they had repented of their desire to have a king over them as the nations around them. Zerubabbel, therefore, only remained a leader among the people without assuming the position of a king. That position was reserved for the King to come. And when the rightful heir to the throne of David came, He built the house of God (See Mt 16:18,19; 1 Tm 3:15).

The spiritual temple of the Lord’s house today is faced with the same challenge as the physical house during the time of Haggai and Zechariah. If the spiritual temple is not organically functioning and growing, then it is dysfunctional and dying. It is simply the nature of the people of God that they should grow. But if there is no work, then the body is not fulfilling its purpose. Paul explained,

But speaking the truth in love, we may grow up into Him in all things, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love (Ep 4:15,16).

We must ask ourselves as someone said, “Are we launching out into the deep or dabbling around in the wadding pool?”   If we are dabbling, we must remember that a church that will not launch out will eventually go out of existence.   Non-growth is a signal of death.   And once non-growth sets in, indifference to work occurs.

Our faith cannot be void of works. “Even so faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (Js 2:17). What James was saying is that a body that is not functioning is simply dysfunctional.   It is dead. And thus, the only way to prove that there is life in the body is by a faith that is working through love (Gl 5:6).

Life must be demonstrated through an active faith.   James challenged the indifferent members of the body, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Js 2:18). His challenge was to show our connection with the body by our works.   Works is the signal of life and connectivity with the body. The lack thereof is a signal of death. The body is not saved by its works, but without works it is not identified as the body.

The result of Haggai’s exhortation was that within four years—from 520 to 516—the people finished the temple. It is not enough to know that a job must be done. It is not enough to pray about getting the job done.   What is important at the end of all planning and prayer is that we go to work in order that the job gets done.   Eventually, we must hear announced, And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, that was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king” (Ez 6:15). God does not reward plans and prayers. He rewards jobs in progress or jobs completed.   Is this not what Paul said in the following statement?

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Co 15:10).

The exhortation of Haggai and Zechariah to rebuild the physical temple of God in Jerusalem is one of the most misapplied statements of Scripture. Both the contextual and historical meaning of the prophets’ message are missed by those today who wish to construct some grand physical identity of the church of our Lord in their communities. The misappropriation of the message of these two prophets indicates a failure to understand that the temple of Jerusalem was physical and the temple of our Lord is spiritual.

We must not miss the metaphor of the New Testament writers who used the physical to illustrate the spiritual. Paul metaphorically spoke of the temple in 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” “You” in this verse means people, not bricks and mortar. The Spirit dwells in people, not bricks. And thus, the word “temple” is taken from the physical temple of the Old Testament in order to metaphorically refer to the spiritual body of Christ.

Both Amos and James help us understand the metaphorical use of the physical to symbolize the spiritual. Amos prophesied that the remnant of Israel would return and rebuild the tabernacle of God that had fallen down (Am 9:11,12).   Though Amos referred to the tabernacle tent, not the physical temple of bricks, He still had in mind the reestablishment of the identity of the presence of God with the returned remnant in Palestine. When the remnant rebuilt the physical temple, it was a statement that Israel was back in business. However, when James quoted the prophecy of Amos in Acts 15:16,17, as he appealed to the gathered church in Jerusalem, he interpreted the prophecy of Amos 9:11,12 to refer to the church, the spiritual house of God (1 Tm 3:15).

What many today do not understand by misapplying the words of Amos, is that the first recipients of the message thought of something physical, but James interpreted it to refer to something that was spiritual. The prophecy, therefore, was metaphorical of the church, the spiritual temple of God.   In fact, James’ quotation in Acts 15 of the Amos prophecy leaves little room for the interpretation of Amos 9 to refer to the Jews’ rebuilding of the physical temple after the Babylonian captivity in 536 B.C. There are other prophecies that cover that project. Nevertheless, we feel that the Jews had this prophecy in mind as they laid one stone upon another during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah when the temple was being rebuilt.

By the time of the events of Acts 15, the church had been in existence for about fifteen years. But there were no physical church buildings of the church until the early part of the fourth century.   The church existed and grew rapidly, therefore, without the existence of any physical structures. Though the physical temple of Israel, and the early tabernacle, were the signal of the presence of God among the people of Israel, God meant that the spiritual body of His people, the church, be the signal today of His presence among the people of the world. To build a church building for the purpose of signalling to the people of a community that the church exists is to work backwards to something small, located and physical. It is often a backward step to focus the community on something physical and not spiritual. And those who do not have the privilege of building themselves an “identity” with a physical structure, therefore, are sometimes classified as not truly being God’s people in the community.

The more obsessed with the physical we become, the less we focus on the spiritual. In fact, in church growth studies, it is often true that the more people are obsessed with the physical building in which they sit, the less the building of the spiritual house becomes.

By the time of James, and the meeting of the church in Acts 15, the church was still identified as Jesus said it would be, that is, by loving people in action in their communities. By love in action the world identified those who were of the body of Christ (Jn 13:34,35). The early church was thus identified as people lovingly helping one another and others as servants (Gl 6:10). The members of the body were called Christians (At 17:11), or those of the Way (At 19:9). But never was the church identified by some physical structure on 5th and Main.

(Sometimes with zeal the leaders inspire their members within a village to build a “church building.” In wrenching the texts of Haggai and Zechariah out of their historical context, they exhort the members to build in order that the church be identified in the village by a structure, and thus signal to the local residents that the church is here to stay, though they see nothing as this in the church of the New Testament.

So the members gather wood poles and grass and build with zeal their “temple.” When it is completed, everyone sits proudly on benches, and then they wait for the people of the community to come. But Sunday after Sunday it is the same old group of builders who sit in the midst of their accomplishment, patting themselves on their backs that they have a “church building” as the identity that they are the true church in the village. But then they begin to wonder why God is not blessing them with multitudes to come to their new building since they sacrificed so much to build it. They even scratch around in their Bibles in order to find some “biblical name” to nail on the main post in order to convince the people that they were truly the church of the Bible.

And then one unfortunate day a bush fire ravages through the village. It devastates the village. Fathers, mothers and children run for their lives in order to escape the ravaging fire.   All the huts of the village, with the grass church building, end up as a heap of ashes. Everyone is so discouraged and disheartened by the devastation.

So the leaders of the church stood up to encourage the members to build again the identity of the church in the village.   But something changed in the hearts and thinking of some of the members. Certainly, there were those members who again started gathering poles and grass to rebuild their “temple.” They were convinced that if they could rebuild their church building before the other religious groups in the village, they would gain some of the members of the other groups.

But there were some members—and often only a few members—who realized that something was certainly wrong with their focus. They started listening to their hearts and not looking on something physical as the identity of the body of Christ. So they ignored the voices of the those who were trying to usher all the members to rebuild a physical identity of the church. Instead, they started helping their neighbors rebuild their huts and lives.   They went to work helping their neighbors collect poles and grass for their huts in order that their lives be put back together. They helped them find food and make sure that all their needs were served. They even gave them some of their own clothing.

The focus of the religionists identified themselves by first focusing on the burned down church building. But the Christians of the group thought first of their neighbors whose huts had burned to the ground and whose lives were devastated by the fire. The identity of the religionists was in their building, but the identity of the Christians was in their loving service to help their neighbors.)

When people start identifying the church by a physical structure, then we know that we have missed the point of Jesus’ exhortation that we be identified by our love of one another and service to the communities in which we live (See Gl 6:10). In fact, the more we place emphasis on the building as the identity of the existence of the church in our communities, the less the church grows in the community. People may see a physical structure, but they feel love. Church buildings often become “sitting rooms” of the indifferent sick who are waiting on the call of the Great Physician. We must remember that the Physician is on call out in the fields of labor for those who have fallen because of their toil of love to help others. He is not in the “sitting room” answering the cry of those who would sing out, “Come now Lord Jesus and fetch us out of the midst of these bricks, or grass, or whatever.” We are sometimes in our buildings as some poet wrote:

 “I sat in the assembly one Sunday morn,

the members talked so loud,

and showed as little reverence,

as any worldly crowd.

Again, I sat in the same building,

but all was quiet now,

for in the casket up front,

lay one with pallid brow.

And then I thought how strange it is,

that we do oft accord,

more reverence to one that’s dead,

than to our living Lord.”

 2.  Indifference breeds procrastination. In the beginning, the Jews became so discouraged by the local opposition that they led themselves to believe that it was not the right time to rebuild the temple (Hg 1:2).   And once the discouragement spread among the people, the job that they knew they should do was simply put off for another time. And thus they convinced themselves that another day would do.

Paul exhorted the Corinthian disciples, “Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Co 6:2). Someone once said, “The only things you can be sure of accomplishing are the things you do today.” When we consider the task of building the temple of God today through the preaching of the gospel to the lost, there can never be any attitudes among us that tomorrow will do. But because of our procrastination, it seems that tomorrow is always going to be a busy day.

It is not that we need a prophet today to stir our spirits to work. We must listen to the dead preachers of the past. We must open our Bibles and listen to Haggai and Zechariah and others who stirred the people into action. We must follow the example of allowing the Lord to stir us up through the prophets. “Then the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel …. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of armies their God …” (Hg 1:14).

We must never allow opposition and discouragement to put us to sleep for Jesus. Lethargy is a sign of weakness for the Lord. We must always remember the encouraging words that the Lord said to Zerubbabel, “… be strong all you people of the land … and work, for I am with you” (Hg 2:4). “Do not fear” (Hg 2:5). And to every Christian the Lord would say, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10). We must be faithful unto death, knowing that Jesus is with us every step of the way (Mt 28:20). And because of our acute sense of His awareness in our lives, we can “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ep 6:10). As we stand before any task that must be done for the Lord, we must always remember the encouraging words that God gave to Joshua as he stood ready to assume the task of taking the land of promise for Israel:

Only be strong and very courageous so that you may observe to do according to all the law that Moses My servant commanded you. So do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may prosper wherever you go (Ja 1:7).

 

[Don’t miss Zechariah and some great prophecies tomorrow.]

 

A – Haggai

The captivity is now past. It is the time of restoration and rebuilding.   The remnant, who are the descendants of the twelve tribes that were taken into both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, now begin the process of restoring themselves as Israel in the land of Palestine. It is the time for the fulfillment of the promise of God that a remnant of all twelve tribes would return. The freed captives thus begin the process of restoring the identity of Israel in Palestine in order that the promises concerning the Blessing that would come into the world would be fulfilled (See Gn 12:1-4).

 A.  Historical/social background:

 The Medes and the Persians eventually overthrew the Babylonians, and subsequently took possession of all the previous territory that was ruled by the Assyrians, and then by the Babylonians. This vast territory extended from Ethiopia to India.   All the territory was now the governing possession of the Medo-Persian Empire.

What is significant is the fact that the territories to which the ten northern tribes of Israel were taken in the Assyrian conquest were now under the control of the Medes and Persians. When King Cyrus of the Medo-Persian Empire followed his humanitarian policy that people would better serve the Empire if they were in their own homelands, he allowed those who were taken in former captivities to return to their original homelands. In the case of all the Israelite captives that were taken in both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, it was time to go home.   Therefore, a remnant of Israelites from both the former northern and southern kingdoms of Israel were allowed to return their homeland of Palestine.

It is significant to understand the above because some have wrongfully concluded that those of the northern ten tribes of Israel were lost among the nations of the world, and thus, never returned as a remnant to the land Palestine as God had promised through the prophets. It is assumed by some that there are still ten tribes of Israel still lost among the populations of the world who will somehow make their way back to Palestine in a presumed millennial reign of Jesus on earth.

If there were ten lost tribes yet to be returned to Palestine, then the prophets lied to the people, both in reference to the promise of a return of the remnant, as well as in the fact that representatives of all twelve tribes of Israel were in Palestine at the time of the incarnation of the Son of God.

The prophets stated that only a remnant of all the twelve tribes would return. Hosea prophesied that Judah would come with Israel back to the land (Hs 1:11).   All the children of Israel would return and seek the Lord (Hs 3:5). Isaiah prophesied that a remnant would come from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shenar, Hamath and the islands of the sea (Is 11:11; see 19:23,24). Jeremiah prophesied that God would restore Judah and Israel (Jr 23:5-8; 29:14). Ezekiel prophesied that God would take His people from among the nations and bring them again into the land (Ez 36:10,24). The whole house of Israel would be united and returned (Ez 37:11,12,16).

In the context of Haggai and Zechariah, both prophets announced that the house of Judah and the house of Israel had been rescued from their former captivity of the Assyrians and Babylonians (Zc 8:13).   It was a time now for the Israelites to be strengthened in the land (Zc 9:13-16). Zechariah reminded the people of God’s promise of restoration:

I will also bring them again out of the land of Egypt and gather them out of Assyria. And I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon, until no place will be found for them (Zc 10:1).

This was what was happening in history at the very time the first captives returned in 536 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah began their ministry of exhortation on the basis that the people had not yet completed the purpose of reestablishing the identity of the people of God in the land. This particular purpose was to signal to the world that Israel was back.   And the best signal the remnant could give to the world was that their temple was rebuilt.

Haggai and Zechariah had been in Palestine for about sixteen years, but the temple still remained in ruins. They were probably very young men in 536 B.C. when the first captives returned to the land. God, therefore, waited until 520 B.C. to stir up the people by calling the two prophets into action. God gave the people time to act on their own, but they failed to act. Now it was time to get on with the work. It was time that the temple be rebuilt in order to establish the restored identity of Israel in the land.

If the identity of Israel was not restored, then the promises to the fathers could not be recognized as fulfilled when the Messiah came. God, therefore, raised up both Zechariah and Haggai to stir the people into action. Haggai stood up first to inspire the people to rebuild the temple. The date was 520 B.C.   Within a month after the encouragement of Haggai, the foundation of the temple was completed. Soon after, Zechariah added his encouragement to the voice of Haggai (Zc 1:1-6). Of these events, Ezra recorded,

Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them (Ez 5:1).

This was the time when Zerubbabel “rose up and began to build the house of God that is at Jerusalem” as a result of the encouragement of the prophets (Ez 5:2). Zerubbabel was the leader of the first captives who returned in 536 B.C.   Once he was encouraged by the prophets to accomplish the rebuilding of the temple, things started to happen.

After the initial captives returned to Palestine, they established the altar and sacrifices. But because of opposition from the locals, they stopped their work of rebuilding the temple. In the meantime, however, they built lavish houses for themselves (Hg 1:4). During this lapse in rebuilding the temple, the kings of the Medo-Persian Empire changed. Cyrus II, who allowed the first captives to return to the land, died in 530 B.C. (See Is 44:28; 2 Ch 36:22). He was succeeded by his son Cambyses II (“Ahasuerus” in Ez 4:6), who reigned from 530 to 522 B.C. Then came Darius I who encouraged the Jews to continue their reconstruction of Jerusalem (See Ez 4 – 6; Hg 1,2; Zc 1–6). It was in the second year of the reign of Darius I that Haggai and Zechariah stood up to both rebuke (Hg 1) and encourage the people to accomplish the mission of rebuilding the temple (Hb 2).

The construction on the temple had stopped because of opposition and confusion in authorization. Sheshbazzar had been appointed governor of Palestine by Persia (Er 5:14). But then some confusion concerning confirmation of the rebuilding was brought into question by those local residents who opposed the rebuilding of the temple (Er 5:16,17). A message was then sent to Babylon to the king in order to search for the original commission of Cyrus to rebuild the temple. Though the foundation of the temple had been laid, the people procrastinated in waiting for confirmation from Babylon. It was not until 520 that God had to raise up Haggai and Zechariah in order to spur on the people to get the job done. Though the records were found in Babylon that authorized the rebuilding, lethargy had already set in and the people lost their enthusiasm to rebuild (Er 6:1,2).

Procrastination and indifference had delayed the process too long, and now, it was time to move on with the work. Knowing what must be done, but failing to do it, is not good enough in the eyes of God.   It is work well done that will be rewarded, not good intentions (See Mt 25:21,34-46).

[Don’t miss Haggai’s messages tomorrow.]

B – Zephaniah

B.  Zephaniah preaches to us:

Zephaniah preaches to us through the fall of Jerusalem.   His message is negative, and thus, it is given as a warning to God’s people throughout history that we should learn from her ways in order to avoid the judgment of God (See Rm 15:4; 1 Co 10:11).   The reasons for God’s judgment of the people is outlined in one verse:

 She does not obey the voice. She does not receive correction. She does not trust in the Lord. She does not draw near to her God (Zp 3:2).

These four statements of judgment are linked.   In her rebellion, the people did not obey, receive, trust, and thus, draw near to God. The lack of obedience is a sign of not accepting the directions of God, and thus, one is not trusting in the Lord for guidance. And in such a state of rebellion, there is no relationship with God.

1.  “She does not obey the voice.” God faithfully raised up preaching prophets in order to detour His people from leaving Him. Through the prophets, He sought to guard them from following after their own self-imposed religiosity.   But they would not listen to the voice of the prophets (2 Kg 17:13). The same scenario developed again among some of God’s people about six hundred years later with the early church. Zephaniah’s contemporary audience was refusing to hear the voice of the preaching prophets, and during the time of the Hebrew writer, the same was taking place with some Jewish Christians who were refusing to hear the voice of Jesus.

God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son (Hb 1:1,2).

Those to whom the Hebrew writer inscribed these words were considering a return to the Judaism from which they had been converted through their obedience to the gospel. They had purified their souls in obedience to the gospel (At 22:16; 1 Pt 1:22). But they were seeking to go back under a system of law where there was no remission of sins through the blood of bulls and goats (Hb 10:1-4).

Josiah restored the authority of the word of God during his reign. However, though there may be a legal restoration to the law, the people must be obedient to the law from their hearts. Since Josiah’s restoration did not continue, we learn that it takes more than restoring legal obedience to law in order to remain faithful. People’s minds and hearts must be changed when there is a true restoration. It is as James wrote, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Js 1:22). One can hear the word of God, but if there is no obedience from the heart, then the hearing is useless.

With many in the end it will be as Jesus said, “Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven (Mt 7:21). If one is not doing the “will of My Father,” then Jesus will eventually say to that person, “Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness (Mt 7:23).   Knowledge of the word of God without obedience will lead one to destruction.

 2.  “She does not receive correction.” Through the prophets, God sought to correct the error of their ways. But they would not receive His instructions. Their spirit of rebellion was manifested in the fact that they wanted to create a religiosity that conformed to their own desires. When one changes the focus of his life from God to mammon, he will change his religion. He will change his religion in order that faith takes second place to that which one would consider most important in his life. This is the foundation upon which Paul made the following statement:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires (2 Tm 4:3).

When God’s people stop studying their Bibles, they have passed the point of repentance, for they forget that to which they must repent. A refusal to learn what God wants in our lives is an indication that we have left a desire to allow God to direct our ways. The result is the example of backslidden Israel. God subsequently judged His people destroyed because of their lack of knowledge of His word (Hs 4:6). They remained religious, but their religion was created after their own desires.

Assemblies are filled with people today who sit and listen faithfully to prophets who speak no Bible, but are highly motivational in their “ear tickling” messages. Bible preachers preach the Bible. And one is a Bible preacher only when he preaches the Bible. When one refuses to follow the Divine road map to the obedient life, then there is no hope of restoration to the right ways of God. This was the general message of the prophets to Israel who had forsaken their focus on the word of God. Backslidden Israel simply looked for preachers (prophets) who would preach what they wanted to hear.

 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable … for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tm 3:16). But when one throws away his Bible, he will eventually be thrown away by God after hearing the words, “Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness” (Mt 7:23).   Our primary motive for studying the word of God is to receive instruction by which we can have life.   And our primary reason for hearing instruction from the word of God is to prevent ourselves from creating a religiosity that conforms to our own desires. Without instruction from God, we will lose our way, and subsequently, we will lose our salvation. No one can claim that he is following God if he is refusing to study the word of God.

 3.  “She does not trust in the Lord.” One shows his lack of trust in God by following after his own desires. And one knows that he is following his own desires when he has laid his Bible aside and studies it no more.

Jeremiah stated a truth in reference to man that is fundamental to this point: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his steps (Jr 10:23). The arrogant and proud do not believe this statement. But we must remember that this is the way God made man.   If one would seek to trust in himself in order to establish his relationship with God, then he will be disappointed. There are no self-paved roads to God. As a free-moral individual, it is simply not possible for any person to devise any means by which he can morally direct his own way to God. When the honest and sincere person realizes this, it is then that he seeks to trust in God. But one must come to the realization that he cannot find his way to God without God’s road map, the Bible.

Trust in God must also find its way into our hearts in reference to all that transpires in the environment in which we live. The psalmist explains:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth is removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea (Ps 46:1,2).

In the case of Zephaniah’s audience, the nations surrounding Judah were in chaos, and thus, the danger of the destruction of Israel was looming just over the horizon. The nation was in its final years as a nation. After the end, the people would remember all that the prophets had spoken to them over the last 150 years. But in order to delay the inevitable, it was a time when they needed to put their trust in God. Unfortunately, they put their trust in political alliances with other nations.   They thought that through military power they could preserve their nation. But when God is working against a nation to bring it down, no military power will keep it from falling.

On the eve of their termination, the Israelites were putting their trust in the false pronouncements of false prophets and imagined gods. It was as Jeremiah preached in their final days:

“This is your lot, the portion of your measures from Me,” says the Lord, “because you have forgotten Me and trust in falsehood” (Jr 13:25).

The problem was that they “did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation” (Ps 78:22). And because they did not trust in the salvation of God from all calamity, they would suffer from calamity.

 4.  “She does not draw near to her God.” If one does not obey the voice of God, then certainly he is not inclined to receive God’s correction. And because one is not inclined to receive the correction of the Lord, he is certainly not trusting in the Lord. The conclusion is that one is moving away from God. Israel had wandered so far away from the source of her origin that she could not find her way back. And because she could not find her way back to God, the prophets proclaimed that she no longer represented God among the nations. James possibly had their example of apostasy in mind when he wrote the following words:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners.   And purify your hearts, you double-minded (Js 4:8).

 5.  God promises joy in the midst of judgment: Zephaniah closes his message with the sentiment that is expressed in the words of James 1:2: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Israel was about to fall into the various trials of captivity. However, embedded in the message of despair in captivity, there was the promise of restoration over which they could rejoice.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast. And I will give them praise and honor in every land where they were put to shame.   At that time I will bring you again, even in the time that I gather you. For I will give you fame and praise among all people of the earth when I return your captives before your eyes, says the Lord (Zp 3:19,30).

This was a promise that was to take them through the years of captivity. As Christians would eventually emerge from the years of Roman persecution, the captives were to remain faithful until God gathered them from the nations and restored them to the land. But as a nation of people they first had to endure tribulation, as John wrote to the early Christians: “And you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10).

Though the Israelite captives who went into captivity died in the land of their captors, their descendants would be restored to the land, and thus perpetuate the identity of Israel. They would return to reestablish Israel in Palestine in hope of the Messiah to come. Zechariah’s message of hope was directed to these descendants. The comfort that Zechariah’s immediate audience gained from his message was that their grandchildren would be restored to the land.   Their captivity would not be the end of Israel.

At the time of the end of Israel in the land with the Babylonian conquest, the Israelites did not understand all the purposes behind God’s work with them. Because He did not explain all the details, they needed to trust that He was working all things together for the good of those who would believe. When their descendants returned from captivity, they would be a different people, never more following after religions of the nations that surrounded them, for the nations that surrounded them would all be gone.

[Tomorrow is Haggai.]

A – Zephaniah

According to the genealogy that is stated in 1:1, Zephaniah was in the lineage of the Davidic kings. He was a prophet to Judah, ministering sometime during the restoration of King Josiah (690 – 640 B.C.). He was a prophet of love and judgment, and thus describes the judgment of the great day of the Lord that would eventually come to the southern kingdom of Israel. However, in the context of a dim future, Zephaniah gives hope for the future glory of the people of God.

 A.  Historical/social background:

 Judah’s sister to the north had already been taken into Assyrian captivity in 722/21 B.C. The Assyrian Empire grew until it reached its zenith under the reign of Assurbanipal. However, when he died in 626 B.C., the empire began a rapid decline. At the same time in history, and under the kingship of Nabopolassar, the Babylonian Empire was rising to the south of Assyria. A major battle between the Assyrians and Babylonians eventually took place in 612 B.C., which battle marked the beginning of the end of the Assyrian Empire. After the battle, a remnant of Assyrians fled to the city of Carchemish in order to join forces with the Egyptians. However, the Babylonians pursued them, and at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C., the Assyrians were finally subjected to the rule of the Babylonians and the Egyptians defeated. The Babylonians were now the prominent empire of the Middle East, which empire God would later use to bring judgment on Judah.

It was during these years when the Assyrian Empire was coming to a close that Josiah became the king of Judah (2 Kg 22).   He was the young king of restoration.   After a copy of the book of the law was found during some reconstruction work on the temple, Josiah set his course to eradicate Judah of foreign gods and idols, and restore the offerings according to the law of God. In order to do this, he had to destroy everything that was associated with idol worship.

And they broke down the altars of the Baals in his [Josiah’s] presence. And the images that were on high above them, he cut down.   And the wooden images and the carved images and the molten images, he broke in pieces. And he made powder of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. And he burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem (2 Ch 34:4,5).

Josiah initiated a great restoration to the authority of the law of God throughout Judah. And because of his zeal to restore Judah, God promised that he would go to his grave in peace, meaning that no one would usurp his authority as king.   Neither would Jerusalem suffer the invasion of the Babylonians during his lifetime (2 Ch 34:28).

Being a young and zealous person, however, Josiah met his death in battle with Pharaoh Necho who came up from Egypt to help the Assyrians in their war against the Babylonians. In 609 B.C., and in his efforts to stop Necho from joining the forces with a remnant of Assyrians, Josiah was killed in battle (2 Ch 34:20-25).   His legacy of restoration, nevertheless, was recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:33:

Then Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the country that belonged to the children of Israel. And he made all who were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the Lord their God. And all his days they did not depart from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.

 Josiah’s restoration was too brief to change the religious culture of the people. Only in his days did the people serve the Lord. When he died, Judah’s spiritual and moral behavior plummeted. It was only twenty-three years after his death that God terminated the theocratic nation of Israel in Palestine. In 586 B.C. the Babylonians besieged and conquered Jerusalem, and the last captives of Israel were taken into captivity. This date ended forever the independent theocratic state of Israel in Palestine. Though a remnant of faithful Israelites would return to the land after the Babylonian captivity, Palestine would after 586 B.C. always be an occupied land governed by foreign powers.   Zephaniah’s message of judgment and hope was proclaimed possibly during the latter years of Josiah’s reign, for he prophesied of the great day of the Lord that was coming in only a few years.

Zephaniah stood up and proclaimed, “The great day of the Lord is near! It is near, and coming very quickly. Listen!   The cry of the day of the Lord” (Zp 1:14). The day of the Lord was a day of judgment. And since it was only a little over twenty years in the future, it was near. Zephaniah was speaking of judgment in time. And for biblical interpreters, he defines the “day of the Lord” to be the judgment of God in time.

In his message to the people, Judah was charged with digression into sin (See Zp 1 – 2:3).   She would be judged for her rebellion against God. However, Zephaniah also speaks against the surrounding nations who inflicted suffering on the people of God (Zp 2:4-15). Once God had judged all the nations that brought suffering on His people, He would restore a remnant of His people to their land. While all the surrounding nations would be terminated from history, Israel would survive (Zp 3).

 

[Don’t miss Zephaniah’s preaching tomorrow.]

B – Habakkuk

B.  Habakkuk preaches to us:

The unique dialogue of the book is in the style of God giving a message to Habakkuk for the people to ask in complaint to God.   The primary complaint that the people would offer to God is in reference to the suffering of the people. The people complained as to why their prayers were not answered in the midst of great suffering. In reference to their suffering at the hand of the unbelievers (the Babylonians), the people complained concerning why God would use unbelievers to bring suffering upon the believers.

There is no answer given to either the people or Habakkuk as to why God would use the unbelievers to punish His people. The fact that the unbelievers would prosper at the expense of the believers, leaves a question in the minds of the people that is not specifically answered by God. God’s only answer is that He is God, and thus, His people must have faith in Him that He knows what He is doing in the affairs of the nations of the world.

In the first two chapters of the book, Habakkuk is perplexed concerning the violence and sin of the people. The people had lost their moral identity as the people of God because they had forsaken the direction of His law.   Though it was not revealed to Habakkuk how God would cure His people of their idolatry, Habakkuk wondered why the wicked were not punished (Hk 1:2-4). Habakkuk complained,

 Why do You show me iniquity and cause me to behold injustice? For plunder and violence are before me. And there are those who raise up strife and contention (Hk 1:3).

God’s answer was that He was about to bring the Chaldeans (Babylonians) from the east in order to bring judgment upon Judea (Hk 1:5-11).

God’s answer to cure the sin of the people perplexed Habakkuk. So Habakkuk complained again:

Why do You look on those who deal treacherously and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours the one who is more righteous than he? (Hk 1:13).

Habakkuk had a difficult time understanding why God would use the unrighteous to punish His people who were more righteous than those who would bring judgment upon them (See Hk 1:12-17). But Habakkuk needed to be patient. God would eventually bring the proud conquerors, the Chaldeans, into judgment for their mistreatment of His people (Hk 2:1-20).

Though Habakkuk is perplexed concerning the work of God among His apostate people, and the proxy judgment of the Chaldeans who would bring God’s judgment on His people, he defines the judgment of God in a poetic theophany (appearance of God) that justice will be done. And thus Habakkuk concludes the book by giving His allegiance to God, regardless of his inability to understand all that God does in His relationship with His people (Hk 3:16-19). In reference to the work of God among those of the world, and the necessity that believers trust in Him, there are two very important lessons that Habakkuk still preaches today.

 1.  The suffering of the righteous affirms the justice of God. As Job, Habakkuk presented what to many believers is the primary argument against the existence of the God in which the Christian believes. It has been said that these two Old Testament personalities reflect on what is referred to as the evidence for the atheist. The argument is this: The Christian believes in an all-benevolent God who is all-powerful (omnipotent).   Now if God is all-benevolent, and yet allows evil and suffering to exist, and is not able to relieve the righteous of evil and suffering, though He might will to do so, then He is not all-powerful. And, if God is all-powerful, and can relieve the righteous of evil and suffering, but does not, then He cannot be benevolent. Therefore, the atheist concludes, the God of the Christian does not exist. He cannot exist since He would be a logical contradiction between being benevolent and omnipotent at the same time. This supposed dilemma for the believer was presented millennia ago by Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) in his Aphorisms:

The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or being willing to do so cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are both able and willing. If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can, but will not, then they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, then they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent. Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, how does it exist?

The atheist simply replies to the above that the believer’s God is a logical contradiction, and thus, cannot exist.

And indeed, the believers of old struggled with this supposed logical contradiction. Elijah questioned why God would allow suffering to come upon the widow of Zarephath who had helped him survive. “O Lord my God, have You also brought evil on the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” (1 Kg 17:20). And Gideon questioned, “… if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (Jg 6:13). And finally, Job was left in question as to why he was allowed to endure so much suffering when he had sought to live righteously before God (See Jb 10:1-3). Habakkuk wondered why God would look on those who were evil, but allow suffering to come upon the righteous by the works of the evil (Hk 1:13). There are answers to this supposed contradiction concerning the Christian’s belief in a benevolent, omnipotent God. Consider the following:

 a.  The atheist must answer the reason as to why good exists in a totally material world.   The dilemma for the atheist is that if all that exists is matter in motion, then he must explain from where good originated among human organisms that supposedly evolved from innate matter. The believer must answer the question as to why evil exists in a world that was created by a benevolent God. But the atheist must answer how there could be benevolence in an amoral material world without the existence of a benevolent God.

 b.  We must confess the limits of our knowledge and understanding. God answered Job and Habakkuk in a manner that forced both to reflect on their inability to know all that God was doing to work out His plans according to His will. God questioned Job concerning who he thought God was in his infinite knowledge.   If God is who He reveals Himself to be in the world around us, then we must understand that our knowledge is limited concerning the purpose of all things. In our limited knowledge of how God is working all things together for His purpose (Rm 8:28), the finite must trust the Infinite. It is sometimes as Herbert Farmer concluded, “Christianity has never claimed to take the sting out of evil by explaining it, but rather by giving victory over it.”

We can understand the necessity of the existence of evil and suffering. James essentially stated that we can understand to the point of even rejoicing when we fall into different trials (Js 1:1,2).

If we could understand as God, then we would be God. Therefore, we must content ourselves with the limited knowledge we have of things in order to trust in Him who is working His plan through the existence of the temporary in order to take us into the eternal. But we must be clear on this matter in reference to Christian belief. We can understand enough about this matter that we can trust that God is working all things together for our good.

The atheist must not assume that we are here dodging a supposed logical contradiction, nor that we have our heads in the sand. To say that we do not understand all that God is and does is not a weakness in the theology of the believer. The fact is that if there is a God—and there is—then we must suppose that we do not fully comprehend the totality of who He is, or the extent of His ways. His ways, as Paul wrote, are simply past finding out (Rm 11:33). If we were to understand all that God is and does, then He would be a god who was limited to the limits of our imagination. And if He were limited to our thinking, then truly He would only be a god of our invention. He truly would not exist, and the atheist would win the argument.

 c.  The believer must determine that which is actually good or evil.   Simply because something brings pleasure does not mean that it is good. That which brings pleasure can often be evil. Ask a drunk driver who has just ruined his life with alcohol.

Pain does not always indicate that something is evil. Our body expresses pain in order to protect itself. It is sin, not suffering, that is the only real evil. It is obedience to God, not fleshly pleasure, that is the only real good.   However, rebellion against God brings all sorts of evil and suffering into our lives (See Gl 6:7). We would not conclude, therefore, that all suffering is evil. We cannot attribute to God the result of the consequences we suffer when we violate His principles within the environment we live.

 d.  Wrong reactions sometimes confuse our definitions. A bee sting may bring pain, but the bee must protect the honey. The same sun that causes a sunburn, also produces vitamin D in the body. When defining that which is suffering, we must consider the fact that natural laws of both the organic and inorganic world are necessary for the existence of order and the continuation of life on earth. The balance of nature and the circle of life are processes of life that are necessary to continue life as we know it. If we violate the laws of nature, and subsequently suffer for our violations, we cannot define our suffering as evil. The same gravity that keeps us from floating into space is the same gravity that will cause death if one were to leap from a ten-story building.

Natural laws are necessary for the preservation of life. Natural laws are necessary for the continuation of the universe of which we are a participant. When the laws that hold the universe together are violated, there is suffering. But we cannot assume that this suffering is an argument against the Creator of these laws.   In fact, the existence of the laws of order are an evidence that the eternal Designer of order does exist.   At least this is what Paul affirmed in Romans 1:20:

For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made ….”

 e.  A free moral individual cannot exist without being in an environment that allows choice.   God is love, and in order for Him to pour out His love on those whom He created, the created must be able to respond with love. Robots express no love. There would be no meaning in preprogrammed individuals who would supposedly love their Creator. There is no such thing as programmed love. Therefore, man must be a truly free-moral individual in order to express true love.

But being truly free to make moral decisions of love comes with a tremendous risk. It comes with the risk that the individual can freely make the worst possible decisions to be evil. However, this truly free individual can also make the best decisions to do good. And in order to make either decisions to do evil or good, the free-moral individual must be placed in an environment wherein choices can be made to the extremes of either good or evil. So we wonder how many evil decisions are made within this environment that lead to war, and theft, and a host of other evils with which the righteous must endure. God cannot be blamed for the evil that results from the bad decisions that are made by free-moral individuals who choose to do evil.

 We believe that God created the best of all possible environments in which a truly free-moral individual can dwell. We can think of no better environment. So in order for the God of love to bring individuals of this environment into eternal dwelling with Him, He was willing to take the risk of doing that which only love can do. Love must create. Love must be poured out in creation in order that eternal reward can lovingly be given to those who have suffered through the ordeal of an environment that often goes wrong because some free-moral beings make bad decisions.   Such is the cost of love. But in view of this cost, the reward for those who truly make the choice of obedience to their Creator has to be something awesome beyond the imagination of the created. We believe that both Habakkuk and Job came to this conclusion, for both decided to walk by faith in the One who had control over all things. They were content to exist in what may appear to us to be a flawed environment, than not to exist. They concluded, therefore, that it is better to believe than disbelieve.

The awesomeness of the reward possibilities far outweigh any suffering we must endure in order to receive the crown.   Paul was right: “For I consider that the offerings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Rm 8:18).

 f.  God can do only that which can be done. He cannot create round squares. Likewise, a truly free-moral individual could not exist without being in an environment in which he could not choose between right and wrong. And so we wonder as to how much evil exists in this world where free-moral individuals have chosen to do evil. But if we would argue that it would have been better for God not to create, then we would ask if it would be better to have existed with the possibility of eternal existence with a loving Father, than not existed?

Then consider also the definition of God.   Can a loving God exist without creating a free-moral individual who has the choice to respond to love with the statement, “I love you, too”? We exist because God is love. We exist as free-moral individuals because of the action of true love on the part of God.   God could not be love if we did not exist. And thus, the fact that we do exist as loving creatures is evidence that a loving God does exist.

If we concluded that it would have been better for God not to create, then we would be atheists in reference to the God in which we believed. A god who would not create would certainly not be a God of love. To think that a God of love who not create that which would respond with, “I love You, too,” would truly be the god of a logical contradiction.

2.  The just will live by faith. Because Habakkuk concluded that God had all things under control, though he did not understand the teleology of God’s plan, he was willing to live by faith. In 2:4 he wrote, “But the just will live by his faith.”

Habakkuk 2:4 is an incredibly important statement simply because of the contexts in which it is quoted in the New Testament.   It is a statement that expresses the very foundation upon which the believer has a relationship with God.

In Romans, Paul argues against the legalistic Jewish brethren who would impose on the disciples of Jesus the necessity of being justified before God by law-keeping. Paul comes to the following conclusion after arguing his case against meritorious justification by works of law:

And if by grace, then it [salvation] is no more by works, otherwise grace is no more grace.   But if it is by works, it is no longer grace, otherwise work is no longer work” (Rm 11:6).

Paul’s conclusion concerning self-justification was clear: “… by works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight …” (Rm 3:20).

Paul’s arguments in Romans, that we are saved by faith through grace, brought his readers to the conclusion of Habakkuk 2:4: “For in it [the gospel] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written ‘The just will live by faith” (Rm 1:17).

In Galatians, Paul is also arguing against the same legal theology that was promoted by some in Rome. Paul’s aggressiveness in the book of Galatians inferred that Christianity was in danger of losing its identity if the judaizing teachers of the area had their way by enforcing legal obedience to law as a means by which one is justified before God. So Paul was direct when he approached Peter at a time when Peter manifested in his behavior that which was contrary to the grace of the gospel:

knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law, for by works of law no flesh will be justified (Gl 2:16).

In the context of this statement against legal justification, Paul quoted Habakkuk 2:4: “But that no one is justified by law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just will live by faith.’” (Gl 3:11).

In Hebrews, some who had been Christians for several years were intimidated into returning to the Sinai law that was given to Israel. Though the Roman and Galatian disciples were not moving away from Christ in this manner, they were imposing a system of law-keeping on the disciples that was contrary to the grace of the gospel. The Hebrew Christians were thinking about abandoning Christ for the Levitical priesthood of the Sinai law. So again in the same context of legal justification that Paul addressed in both the Roman and Galatian letters, the Hebrew writer quoted Habakkuk 2:4: “Now the just will live by faith. But if any man draws back [to law], My soul will have no pleasure in him” (Hb 10:38). So the Hebrew writer concluded his arguments against drawing back to justification by law by stating, “But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hb 10:39).

Habakkuk 2:4 reveals that salvation has always been based on faith and grace. Ephesians 2:8 is a New Testament passage, but the principle has always been true since the creation of Adam, the first free-moral person. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” From the beginning of time, salvation could never be of ourselves.   All have sinned (Rm 3:23). And the wages of sin is separation from God, and thus, death (Rm 6:23). And because we sin, we have no atonement for sin that originates from within ourselves.   We cannot offer good deeds for our imperfect obedience.

The offer of good deeds in atonement for lawbreaking has led to all sorts of evil among religionists, which evil prevailed throughout the Dark Ages of humanity. Men offered money in order to have the right to sin. Such was called “the sale of indulgences,” meaning that one could indulge in sin if money were paid to the church. Similar beliefs are often seated in the minds of many religionists today who believe that their salvation is based on an equal-arm scale system of salvation. In other words, one’s sins of the day can be atoned for tomorrow by being a better person tomorrow than today.

Habakkuk wanted Israel to understand that God’s creation of the remnant of Israel was based on grace. Those nations that God used to judge Israel were terminated.   They would no longer exist in the world. And though Israel was given so much, but gave up for sin all her advantages, she would still survive as a remnant. This is the grace of God being played out in history. If God had handed out to them that which they deserved, then there would have been no remnant to receive God’s grace into the world through the cross (See Ti 2:11). The existence of the remnant is a manifestation of the grace of God. Instead of rightful national extinction, there was undeserved and unmerited salvation from national extinction. It was because of grace that grace was revealed.

 

A – Habakkuk

Nothing is known of Habakkuk outside the book that carries his name in this book of the Old Testament Scriptures. He was a prophet of Judah, having a name that means “love’s embrace” or “he who embraces.” He was possibly a Levite in Jerusalem who was in the company of the musicians (See Hk 3:19). Most Bible students have concluded that his ministry occurred during the rise of the Babylonian Empire, possibly at the beginning of the Empire. He was contemporary with the prophets Jeremiah, Huldah and Zephaniah, and thus ministered the word of God during the reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim (612-605 B.C.).

 A.  Historical/social background:

At the time Habakkuk ministered the word of God, the temple was still standing in Jerusalem (Hk 2:20; 3:19). And in view of his statements in 1:5,6, it seems that the Babylonian Empire was still developing in the east as a major power of the Middle East. The Empire rose to prominence once it defeated the Assyrians in 612 B.C., and the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. This was a major battle of the Middle East for it signalled a change in Middle East empire dominance from the Assyrians to the Babylonians.

At the time of Habakkuk’s ministry, the “wicked” in 1:4 is probably a reference to the Chaldeans (Babylonians). The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen, and because of the digression of the southern kingdom into the same moral degradation and social injustices as her northern sister, Habakkuk warns of the Babylonians who would eventually terminate the independent theocracy of the southern kingdom. This eventually took place in 586 B.C. This ended forever the presence of Israel in Palestine as an autonomous free state.

 

[Habakkuk preaches tomorrow.]

 

 

B – Nahum

B.  Nahum preaches to us:

Both Nahum and Zephaniah prophesied of the end of Nineveh (See Zp 1:1; 2:13). In the first part of the book, Nahum paints a poetic picture of the majesty of God (Nh 1:2-15). The last half of the book is a graphic poetic picture of the overthrow of the Assyrians (Nh 2:1 – 3:19).

In all the judgments that God made against the Assyrians, His judgment was justified on the basis of the statement, “I will make your grave, for you are vile (Nh 1:14). When cultures become vile, they lose their right to exist in the global community of nations. Therefore, in reference to God’s just judgment of the Assyrians, Nahum preaches to us today the following lessons:

 1.  God’s vengeance will come upon the wicked. Those who would fight against God’s people should memorize the beginning of Nahum’s book concerning the outpouring of God’s judgment.

God is jealous and the Lord revenges.   The Lord revenges and is furious.   The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries and He reserves wrath for His enemies (Nh 1:2).

Those who would terrorize God’s people through cruelty need to be aware of the One who will eventually terrorize them with just vengeance. At the end of national Israel, and during the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, when the religious leaders of the nation had themselves digressed to using terror and threats against Jesus and His disciples, it was again a time for God’s vengeance to be poured out. When Jesus spoken of the termination of national Israel in A.D. 70, He said of the days, “For these are the days of vengeance …” (Lk 21:22). They were days of vengeance on an apostate Israel who persecuted the new spiritual Israel of God, the church. God would use the Roman army to bring vengeance on those who persecuted the early disciples.

Until the final end of national Israel, God reminded the early Christians to leave vengeance to Him. In their desire to render vengeance to their persecutors, Paul reminded the persecuted Christians, “Dearly beloved, do not take revenge …” (Rm 12:19). Instead, they were to “give place to God’s wrath” (Rm 12:19). When considering whose responsibility it is to render vengeance on those who persecute the children of God, we must always remember that this is God’s business. It is not the business of the people of God. So Paul reminded the Christians in Rome of what the Lord said, Vengeance is mine, I will repay (Rm 12:19; see Hb 10:30).

In the years to come, Rome would unleash cruel persecution against Christians. The persecution began with the personal vendetta that Nero unleashed against Christians during the 60s, but this would lead to state persecution by Rome that would be terminated only by the Edict of Toleration at the beginning of the fourth century A.D.

Until the time when God determines that He should unleash His vengeance, persecuted Christians should do the following: “If your enemy hungers, feed him. If he thirsts, give him drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Rm 12:20). In other words, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rm 12:21).

Christians must always remember what God included in the Sinai law that He gave to Israel: “To Me belongs vengeance and retribution” (Dt 32:35). Therefore, we must remember that Jesus is coming “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel …” (2 Th 1:8). God is storing up vengeance for the last day. Those who would lift their hand against God’s people must remember that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hb 10:31).   If one does fall into His hands, he will suffer “the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jd 7).

The tragedy of the story of Nineveh is that 150 years before Nahum, the city had repented as a result of the preaching of Jonah. At that time, the nation had a heart for God. The repentance of the Nineveh population took place during Jonah’s ministry. But after over one hundred years, the Assyrians had backslidden into the degradation they were in before the arrival of Jonah. In the prophecy of Nahum, it seems that after about 150 years, the majority of the Ninevites had digressed to a state of moral degradation that justified their termination as a nation in 612 B.C.

 2.  A just God must bring vengeance on the wicked. The righteous seek to live righteously before God.   If God is to reward justly the righteous, then there must be punishment for the unrighteous. God would not be fair if He rewarded the unrighteous with the same reward with which He rewarded the righteous. The justice of God, therefore, stands on the fact that vengeance will eventually be poured out on the unrighteous. God is a just God. He is just because He will eventually pour out vengeance on the unrighteous.

One hundred and fifty years before, a generation of Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah. But those who repented failed to pass on to their descendants a repentant heart. At the time of Obadiah’s pronouncements, it was now time for the nation to reap the reward of unrighteousness. God had been merciful to Nineveh during the time He used them in proxy judgment upon the wickedness of the northern kingdom. However, the mercy and longsuffering of the Lord had come to an end a little over one hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. It was now time for Assyria to suffer the vengeance of God (See Ex 34:6).

 3.  God works among the nations. The minor prophet Nahum reveals a major work of God among the nations of the world.   We would conclude from the rise of the Assyrian Empire that it was a magnificent nation among the nations of the world. Assyria had conquered great nations throughout the Middle East, reaching as far south as Thebes in Egypt.   From the Assyrian archaeological artifacts that have been preserved to this day, it was a nation that made its mark on history from Egypt to India.

At the zenith of its power and domination of the Middle East, a lone man about whom we know nothing, other than what we read in his book, arises alone and pronounces the fall of the great Assyrian Empire. At the time Nahum wrote these words, the people surely mocked his statements concerning the fall of such a great empire. There were no hints in the Assyrian Empire of impending danger. False prophets would base their predictions on current events. But a true prophet was known by the fact that when he pronounced judgment against a particular nation, the nation itself was at the time of the prophecy often at the zenith of its power.

What the people did not realize at the time of Nahum’s prophecy was that it was God who was working among the nations for the preservation of His people and evangelization of the world. And in order to accomplish this work, the Assyrian Empire had to go. It had to go in order to allow the rise of the Babylonian Empire.

We must see the 200,000 Israelites that Assyria took into captivity at the fall of Samaria in 722/21 B.C. as the beginning of an international network that God was setting up to take the name of His Son into all the world. The captive Israelites were sold throughout the Assyrian Empire. In their captivity, there was repentance on the part of Israel. But also, they maintained their identity as the sons of Abraham until the time when God would bring only a remnant of their great, great, grandchildren back to the land of promise. With a remnant of the captives of the Babylonian captivity, they too would return to Palestine as a remnant in 536 B.C.

During the Passover/Pentecost of A.D. 30, those of Israel who remained in the land of their captors would come as a remnant of all Israel to Jerusalem from as far south as Egypt and Ethiopia to as far east as India. And when the Messiah showed up in history, His gospel message would be carried back to Israelites in all these countries to which the initial captives had established themselves in anticipation of the coming Messiah. God was working among the nations during the ministry of the prophets, not simply to pronounce judgment upon those who fought against His people, but also to turn the work of Satan against himself for the salvation of people throughout the world. When we read of kingdoms as Assyrian and Babylonia, therefore, we must understand that God was working among these nations in order to bring about the preaching of the gospel to the world.

[Habakkuk begins his lectures tomorrow.]

 

A – Nahum

The name Nahum is a shortened version of the name Nehemiah. The literary style of the book of Nahum is poetic. It is poetic prophecy of the downfall of Nineveh, and thus, the conclusion of the Assyrian Empire.

 A.  Historical/social background:

During the final years of the northern kingdom of Israel, Assyria became God’s judgment by proxy of His people. God used the Assyrians to judge the northern kingdom, but now it was time for Assyria to be judged. Through Nahum, God pronounced the termination of this empire, which termination eventually came when the Babylonians, Medes and Scythians formed an alliance and conquered Nineveh in 612 B.C. Nahum had prophesied that Nineveh would fall as the city of No (Thebes, Egypt) that Assyrians themselves had overthrown in 663 B.C. As they arrogantly assumed that it was by their own power that they conquered the people of God, God used other nations to judge them.

Contemporary with Jeremiah and Zephaniah, Nahum ministered the word of God during times of great international turmoil. The book was written somewhere between 663 and 612 B.C.   The wicked reign of King Manasseh of Judah ended in 641 B.C. After Manasseh came Amon, and then the good reign of Josiah (639 – 608 B.C.).

The Assyrian military behaved cruelly toward their enemies in order to terrorize their enemies into surrendering. In 722/21 B.C., they conquered Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. In the same campaign they took forty cities of Judah. According to the records of King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Assyrian army took over 200,000 Israelites into captivity. These captives were sold to the general population of the country of Assyria in order to pay the wages of the soldiers. But that was in 722/21. It is now over one hundred years later. Judgment time had arrived for Assyria.

The Assyrian records of archaeology depict captives being staked to the ground and skinned alive by the Assyrian soldiers in order to terrorize their enemies. The military was a cruel culture within itself, not unlike some of the descendants of the same people today who thrive on creating terror among their enemies through cruelty. The Assyrian soldiers took pride in the fact that they could terrorize a population by their cruelty. The more people they terrorized into surrendering, the more money they made when they sold their captives back home.

This helps us understand why Nahum wrote with excitement concerning the fall of the Assyrian military. When King Sennacherib brought his soldiers up against Jerusalem during the days of Hezekiah, 185,000 of the cruel soldiers were judged and killed by God. The soldiers were judged for their cruelty of Judah’s sister nation to the north which the Assyrians had just overthrown.

We do not judge the people of Assyria, therefore, by the cruelty of the Assyrian military.   However, by the time judgment was pronounced through Nahum, it seems that the general population had regressed into much of the moral degradation from which they had repented in the days of Jonah over one hundred years before. The repentance of Jonah’s ministry was only temporary, but it was sufficient in order to prepare the way for the thousands of Israelites who came their way as captives after the 722/21 B.C. defeat of the northern kingdom.   But Nahum now speaks of the end of the nation of Assyria, which end would take place a little over one hundred years later in 612 B.C. The final blow would be delivered in 605 at the battle of Carchemish (Jr 48:2; 2 Ch 35:20).

[Nahum preaches tomorrow.]

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