Since our last free day we have read 5 books of Old Testament prophecy, nearly one a day, Micah through Haggai. Here are some thoughts about what we have read. Micah 6:8 is an often memorized verse and it answered a series of questions asked by a confused people who had lost both their spiritual and moral compass. The people of Israel wanted to know what they could do to once again be acceptable to the Lord. The society they lived in was oppressive, deceitful, and morally bankrupt. They had completely lost a sense of what the Lord regards as good. The two verses leading up to verse 8 were questions the people asked; what should we bring. It was as though they thought a gift would make everything right once again. But God is not seeking mechanical, rote, worship from His people. What the Lord wants is for the people to be in right relationships, not only with Him but other people as well. God wants His people to be motivated by love. God wants His people’s actions to be tempered by justice, mercy, and humility. God’s people are called to not oppress others but instead do what is just, righteous, and honest toward one another. Micah 6:8 summarizes what God had already made known in the past to Israel: humility, faith, and obedience are pleasing to Him. God declared this message to Abraham, to Moses at Mount Sinai, through His prophets, and through Israel’s wise men. It pleases God when His people walk humbly in faith before Him; like Moses, Habakkuk, Daniel, and Ezra. Real spirituality and devotion result in doing good, seeking justice, relieving oppression, defending orphans, and aiding widows. These acts are marks of God’s own character.
Nahum concentrated on Nineveh’s judgement because God’s justice demands it. God is just. He detests sin and rewards people and nations justly in accordance with what they do. God is in sovereign control of the natural world and all nations. The world and its inhabitants stand helpless when opposing Him. God’s justice may sometimes seem slow in coming but if He seems to delay judgement it is not because He is slow. It is because He is patient and merciful toward people. God does not execute justice with rigid disinterest. God gives justice with love and He seeks to bring those who deserve only judgement into a family relationship. Nahum’s good news was that all who trust in God will one day enjoy the peace and well being that comes with the final defeat of evil. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus experience the blessings of salvation in part as they now await God’s final judgement of evil and the coming of His kingdom in its fullness.
Habakkuk seemed to have a fairly candid relationship with the Lord. He felt free to bring his honest concerns to the Lord, and God did not rebuke him for doing so. From Habakkuk’s perspective, God seemed inactive in the face of violence and the social injustice that plagued Judah. But God revealed He would take action. He was going to raise up the Babylonians, a nation even more wicked than Judah, to punish Judah. This was perplexing to Habakkuk and he questioned the Lord. God assured him that justice would be done. Then God gave Habakkuk a vision of God’s own glory and that gave Habakkuk a measure of faith and praise. Habakkuk’s spiritual journey was similar to many believers. When times of doubt and discouragement come, believers need to approach the Lord and pour out their questions and concerns to Him. And like Habakkuk we need to search God’s Word for a fresh glimpse of who God is and what He is like in order to renew our trust in the One who alone is truly God. Habakkuk 2:20 reminds us that the Lord is not an absentee God. He is intimately involved and active in all that comes to pass so that everything might work toward His purpose. The Lord is a holy and merciful God who acts in history to redeem His people so that ultimately others will see His glory.
Zephaniah painted a graphic picture of the future day of the Lord’s judgement. That day will engulf all nations and cause terrible havoc on the earth. So, God’s people must repent immediately in the hope of finding a place of refuge in that day. The humble and trusting remnant must patiently await
God’s day of restoration. Following God’s day of judgement a purified people will worship and rejoice in the Lord’s saving work and enjoy His presence forever. The horrifying spectacle of judgement will lead to the ultimate blessing. Disaster beyond any yet seen is coming to the whole world. Zephaniah revealed that the day of the Lord forms a continuum from the time now at hand to the distant future. For the northern kingdom, the day of the Lord came when the Assyrians destroyed Samaria as God had promised through Amos. The day of the Lord came for the southern kingdom when Babylon invaded in 605-586 B.C. and destroyed Jerusalem. Zephaniah also spoke of the great and final day of the Lord, when all sin and opposition will be put away forever. He reminded us that the day of the Lord can begin at any moment. All people in every age should trust in the Lord and wait patiently for God to fulfill His will and purposes. Believers must concern themselves with the coming judgement of the world, warning others of the seriousness of unbelief, while living faithfully in hope for the future day of blessing that God has promised.
Haggai repeatedly charged his audience to reflect on how their current situation resulted from neglecting their relationship with the Lord. He also called the people to lay a spiritual foundation of reverence for God in their hearts before building the Lord’s temple. God’s chastisement in a series of natural disasters called for repentance. Spiritual renewal had to accompany the physical reconstruction of the temple. The theme of spiritual renewal helps tie Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi together. Israel’s failure to obey God highlights the need for the appearance of the Lord’s servant, the righteous shepherd king who is Christ the Lord. Then God’s presence among His people will return, creation will be restored, and worship of the Lord will be universal.
Here are three final thoughts. There have been several references to oracles in our readings lately. An Oracle is a divine proclamation through a prophet that directs human action in the present or foretells future events. In the Old Testament an Oracle always refers to communication from God through a prophet. There are three instances of oracles in the New Testament that have Israel’s God as their source. They refer to the revelation begun in the Old Testament and finalized in Christ. You can find these in Acts 7:38, Romans 3:2, and Hebrews 5:12. Writings from other cultures and religions show that they also believed their gods gave them oracles. The Bible presents the classical prophets as ambassadors of the heavenly court who authoritatively presented the revelation of God to His people. Sometimes oracles provided a divine answer to a human question but they were initiated by God. Sometimes the divine revelations were framed as parables or allegories and sometimes they were acted out. The prophets pronounced oracles of warning against both individuals and nations but also oracles of salvation that predicted a day when God would restore His people. Only Yahweh among the gods of
the ancient world spoke in order to establish, maintain, and enforce a covenant relationship.
And a bit about Nineveh. Located across the River from Mosul Iraq this city was first inhabited in the seventh millennium B.C. The prominence of this city in the Bible however is due to their distinction as one of the capital cities of the Assyrian empire. This empire dominated the ancient Near East from 900-612 B.C., being at the height of their power under their kings Sennacherib, Esarhaddon , and Ashurbanipal. The walls of the city were nearly eight miles long and they enclosed an area of about 1,700 acres. Portions of the palace, covering three city blocks have been excavated. The city boasted a large number of parks and water gardens which may account for the focus on water in Nahum 2:8. Records found mention both King Hezekiah and Manasseh, king of Judah. One of the most significant finds was Ashurbanipal’s library. It contained close to 1,500 different texts, some with multiple copies. Archaeologists discovered archival, literary, magical, medical, divinatory and ritual tablets.
Almost two years after Jesus as born, a dusty and majestic caravan made its way into Jerusalem. The members of the caravan stopped to ask for directions. Their simple question shook the city:
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” A strange star had announced the birth. King Herod knew they had no interest in him but he also realized that if their quest was legitimate, his own reign was about to be eclipsed by the arrival of another king, the long awaited Messiah. Herod would not give up his throne without a fight. Among the prophecies of the Old Testament, God had clearly revealed the birthplace of this Messiah. The Jewish religious leaders that Herod gathered to answer the strangers question, pointed to Micah 5:2 for the location of the Savior’s hometown, Bethlehem. They knew. Micah had left written directions hundreds of years before. But they were not ready to believe. Curiously, no one volunteered to go with the Wise Men to look for the Messiah. God offered a clear invitation to His people through Micah. Watch Bethlehem!!! The people remembered the invitation but failed to take it seriously. Why would a king, the long awaited Messiah come from tiny, wide spot in the road Bethlehem? Given an opportunity to discover the truth, the people of Jerusalem let someone else take the risk of disappointment. Herod even killed the children of Bethlehem in a vain attempt to eliminate his rival. Micah’s invitation still rings true but our response must be different that that of the people of Jerusalem. The people in Jesus’ time were waiting for something to happen, but they missed it because of unbelief. We can look back at Jesus death and miss it just as seriously because of our own unbelief. A crucial chapter in God’s story of salvation began in Bethlehem. God gave more than a hint of that salvation in the Book of Micah.
By this time next week we will be one day from beginning the New Testament. Many are counting the days. But once we dig in there, I hope and pray you will see the connections between the Old and the New Testaments. The New is much richer when you have put in the time and effort to read the Old. Here’s to the prophets Zechariah and Malachi. Look for the nuggets God has given us there, and happy reading!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W