Tag Archives: Minor Prophets

Haggai: Work Is for Fellowship

HAGGAI
is a book about
WORK
in which God
DWELLS.

The Messenger and His Audience

Haggai is unique in that his audience is primarily just two people: Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. Both of them participate in this revival in a personal way (1:12, 14), receive personal words from God, and special promises. (See Ezra 5:1-2, Hag. 2:21-23, Zech. 3:1-10, 4:9-10, etc.) The only verse specifically directed at the public is 1:13: “I am with you, says the Lord.”
Haggai’s message is intimately related to the Books of Zechariah and Ezra. (See Ezra 5:1.) Zechariah and Haggai’s prophecies dovetail in confirmation of each other, and the people prosper through their prophesying (Ezra 6:14).

Haggai’s Message: Realignment of Priorities

Haggai’s primary spiritual message was one of priorities, and its primary application was that is it is time to work. Five times God commands them to “consider” (1:4, 1:7, 2:15, 2:18). It is easier to live selfishly; righteousness requires that we turn off autopilot mode and examine our priorities.
When we experience spiritual revival, it leads to a realignment of priorities. The first way this seems to happen is in the area of work. Haggai’s hearers were invited to invest time. Building the Lord’s temple would require some sacrifice of the time that they spent on their own affairs.
The second result of revival is in our finances. Haggai’s hearers were challenged to contribute materially (1:8, 2:8). Our time and money go towards what we value. Whenever there is repentance, spiritual renewal translates into an active response in these two ways.

Why Build?

“‘Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,’ says the Lord.” (1:8) God commands the Israelites to build “that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified.” This twofold purpose reminds us of the Westminster Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We build because God says “I am with you” (1:13, 2:5).
When God ordered the building of the Tabernacle, the reason was “so that I may dwell among you.” But now God says he is already among them, and they needed to acknowledge and prepare for his presence.
When God asks us to commit to the work of ministry, it is never to receive justification or atone for guilt; it is always for his pleasure and because he is worthy of glory. Work is for fellowship.

The House of the Lord

The temple is not “a house for the Lord” but “the house of the Lord.” It is a holy place belonging to him that he might reveal himself to his people; it is not a place for a tribal god to live. They did not rebuild the temple so that God could dwell among them; they rebuilt the temple because God was dwelling among them. “Work . . . for I am with you” (2:4).
In the New Covenant, God’s preeminent dwelling place is his people. A church building is never called the house of God in the New Testament. As Solomon said, “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you!” (1 Kings 8:27, NKJV) But it is also written: “You [plural] are God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). Building God’s house for us means prioritizing our time and money for spiritual ministry. (See also: Christ’s Body Is the Temple.)

Special Promises

“The heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit” (1:10, KJV). God hearkens back to his covenant promises in Deuteronomy 7:13 and Leviticus 26:4. Abundant crops are specifically promised for Israel if they obey the covenant; drought and lack are promised if they disobey.
The promise is not universal, and it is not the same as karma—it is a specific way that God proves himself to his covenant nation (Lev. 26:9). In Haggai, God is trying every economic expedient to get the attention of believers, because they should know better. However, he promises specifically that this will turn around from the date of the foundation of the temple (2:18-19, Lev. 26:40-42).
In the Old and New Testaments, God never commits himself to a law of always returning good for righteousness and evil for wickedness. In his great wisdom and faithfulness, he can allow suffering on the righteous (e.g. Job), or mercy for the wicked (e.g. Saul). He sends his sun and rain on the righteous and the wicked, because he is perfect (Matt. 5:45); and the wind and storms come to both, whether our foundation is built on the sand or the rock (Matt. 7:24-27).

The Latter Glory

Haggai says the latter glory will exceed the former glory (2:9). This is immediately about the temple but also relates to the Messianic kingdom to come. The “shaking of all nations” and the “desire of all nations” relate to the future period when Israel becomes the center of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom. (The “desire of nations” is often thought to mean Jesus, but from the context, it seems to refer to the wealth that will be brought to Jerusalem, as in Zechariah 14:14.)
Victory over the Gentiles is also one of the promises of this time period. (See 2:20-23)

Shares themes with: Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah.

Advertisements

Jonah: God’s Heart for the Nations

JONAH
is a story about
MISSIONS
in which God is
MERCIFUL.

God’s Mercy: The Theme of Jonah’s Book

Missions is but one manifestation of God’s mercy. God shows his mercy in Jonah’s book by sending Jonah and saving the sailors (ch. 1), in saving Jonah from the storm (ch. 2), in using Jonah’s message and saving Nineveh (ch. 3), and in soothing Jonah (ch. 4). The entire book is a manifestation of God’s mercy.

Jonah’s book is unique among the Prophets because his story includes both the prophecy and the response. Only a small portion of his book is strictly prophetic, and that is his message to Nineveh.

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” begins a hymn by F. W. Faber. Jonah is set up as a foil (or a contrast) to God’s perfect mercy—towards the sailors, towards Nineveh, and towards the prophet himself. “The selfish unbelief and vindictiveness of man is contrasted with the gracious patience and benevolence of God.”1

The humor of the book is a large part of its appeal. The sailors and Ninevites receive God’s message eagerly, but God’s ordained prophet gives it reluctantly. He is the most self-effacing prophet of the Old Testament, and he accomplishes the bare minimum of righteousness. Yet Jonah uses humor to deal with serious needs that are universal to Christian life.

Jonah’s Flight

Comparing Jonah with John the Baptist (John 1:6), S. D. Gordon writes, “All men are sent. But they don’t all come, some go. There was a man sent from God whose name was Jonah. But he didn’t come. He went.”2

The reason for Jonah’s flight to Tarshish is explained by G. Campbell Morgan: “The book of Jonah is a prophetic story indicating the inclusiveness of the Divine government for Nineveh as well as Israel; and rebuking the exclusiveness of the Hebrew nation as manifested in the prophet himself.”3 Even today ethnocentrism is one of the largest barriers to missions. We are often glad to see someone else go, but feel in our hearts that we would never do so ourselves because we do not love other nations, and do not desire their salvation.

Jonah’s Song of Repentance

As always, the believer who flees from the Lord then seeks God “out of his distress” (2:2). “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried” (2:2). Thus Jonah compares his underwater hideaway to the grave itself. By taking him to the depths of death, God chose to make Jonah a sign of resurrection.

His song concludes: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (2:9) Then the sea-creature spits him out. By this God-wrought salvation, Jonah proclaimed death and resurrection(Matthew 12:39-40), both to Nineveh and to future generations.

Jonah’s Sermon of Repentance

Alexander Whyte summarizes thus: “The prophet Jonah was both the elder son and the unmerciful servant of the Old Testament.”4 The key is that he did not rejoice at the mercy received by others; as Christians, we should rejoice when God pours mercy on any other nation. We should never have any nation written off in our mind, as if God could not or would not grant mercy to those people, or they would not receive it.

Jesus gave credit to the Ninevites, saying that Jonah’s generation of Nineveh would rise in judgment against Jesus’ generation of Jews that had rejected him (Matthew 12:41). In this way, Jesus asserted that Jews could live stubbornly unrepentant while Gentiles could be righteous with God by faith.

Jonah’s Depression

Finally, after all the lessons that God has taught him, Jonah still shows resentment, in spite of his correct view of God! (4:2) However, Whyte writes that Jonah must have repented and written the book “in sackcloth and ashes”5 as he learned that God’s mercy was not to be hoarded. Through the repeated dealings of God, he must have learned God’s intended lesson, for no one else could have shared the story. May God teach us this same great truth.

The book ends with God’s glorious expression of mercy. “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:11)

Study Recommendations

Many books and Bible studies show that God’s plan has always included all nations. A few that come to mind are Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson, Missions in the Age of the Spirit by John York and Mission in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser.

1 Herbert Lockyer. All the Books and Chapters of the Bible, pp. 203-4. Zondervan, 1966.

2 S. D. Gordon. Quiet Talks on John’s Gospel, Locations 585-586. Kindle Edition.

3 G. Campbell Morgan. Voices of Twelve Hebrew Prophets, p. 12.

4 Alexander Whyte. Concise Bible Characters, p. 301. AMG Publishers.

5 Ibid.

Habakkuk: A Book about Faith

HABAKKUK
is a book about
FAITH
in which God is
FAITHFUL.

Background of Habakkuk

Habakkuk, like Jonah, is a personal narrative; his struggle, though, is internal, and so the story takes the form of a conversation between God and the prophet. Unlike Jonah, Habakkuk grows in his faith in God through the course of the book. The prophet begins by questioning God (1:2), and ends in inexplicable joy and triumphant faith (3:17-19). “The story of Habakkuk is that of a movement from the experience of doubt and questioning, to that of certainty and praise” (Morgan1).

The date of Habakkuk must precede Babylon’s invasion of Jerusalem (612BC), since this is yet future during the book. This means he was probably a near-contemporary of Jeremiah and Zephaniah.

Habakkuk’s Question: How Long, God?

Several Bible books deal with faith and doubt, but the content of Habakkuk’s doubt is unique: God’s justice. “Justice never goes forth2” (1:4). Most prophets view God’s justice as perfect and forthcoming, however distant. (Compare, for example, Nahum.) Even though Habakkuk is a prophet, he lacks understanding about God’s plan for his time. Specifically, he cries out about injustice and violence in Judah (1:2-4). Then, God answers that he will send the Chaldeans as a chastisement against Judah (1:5-11), but Habakkuk finds this even more appalling. He again questions God about using the wicked Chaldeans against wicked (but chosen) Israel (1:12-17). It does not fit in with what he thought he knew about God. After all these questions, the major shift in the book comes when Habakkuk determines to wait for a clear answer from God to resolve his inward debate.

Habakkuk’s Watch: Waiting on God

The solution for Habakkuk is to wait; “I will take my stand at my watchpost … and look out to see what he will say to me” (2:1). God’s response (2:2-20) is summarized in one shining assurance: “the righteous shall live by his faith.” (2:4) The righteous will live; that is, they have eternal life, but the proud will not. They will live by faith; trust in God is what enables them to receive eternal life. Despite Habakkuk’s doubt, God leads him to this assurance of God’s future justice, which will outlast any injustice in his day. God has never lied, and the vision that he has given

The rest of this oracle speaks of coming judgment against idol worshippers. God reassures Habakkuk that, even though he will use Babylon (or Chaldea) against Judah, he will also hold Babylon to account. Although “destruction and violence” are present realities (1:3), there is a time coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). A. W. Tozer says it this way: “the resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.3

The oracle ends with yet another encouragement to wait and trust: “But the LORDis in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20). A modern re-statement of this is “God’s still on his throne.” Habakkuk had to recognize and trust the government of God not in history, but in his own lifetime.

Habakkuk’s Worship: “Yet I Will Rejoice”

With the prophet’s doubt clearly resolved, the third chapter is a song of Habakkuk’s faith. Habakkuk recites, in song, a past victory that God brought for Israel as a basis for faith in future victory: “I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD… In the midst of the years revive it” (3:2). The specifics of the song—plague (v. 5), water miracles (v. 15), and geographical details—all point to the Exodus and the birth of Israel as the story which Habakkuk is celebrating in psalm. Likewise God’s unfulfilled promises are known to be certain by his perfect record; the past gives us faith for the future.

The conclusion of the book is exultant praise, rising “to heights of faith which even David did not attain with all his music4.” Job refuses to curse God; but Habakkuk declares boldly that he will rejoice in the Lord even if all his livelihood and material possessions are taken away. This is the highest faith in the lowest depth. Chambers5points out, “faith is trust in a God Whose ways I do not know, but Whose character I do know.”

Book Recommendations

Andrew Murray has a devotional book called Waiting on God, emphasizing the importance of waiting in all aspects of Christian life.

If you are doubting God’s work in the world or your life, Christian biographies such as Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot can restore a right view of God’s timing and his triumphant use of tragedy.

Compare themes with: Job, Lamentations.

Contemporaries include: Jeremiah, Zephaniah.
_________

1 Morgan, G. Campbell. Living Messages. “Habakkuk.”

2 All Scriptures quoted are ESV.

3 Tozer, A. W.  Born After Midnight.

4 Parker, Joseph. The People’s Bible, vol. 17: Hosea to Malachi. p. 332.

5 Chambers, Oswald. Shade of His Hand.

Micah: A Prophecy of God as Ruler

MICAH
is a book about
TRUE AND FALSE AUTHORITY
in which God is
RULER.

The God of Micah

Micah’s book opens by describing a terrible theophany. But this God is not an unconcerned Sovereign; he is Israel’s Leader (2:13), Judge (4:3), Ruler (4:7, 5:2) and Shepherd (7:14, cf. 2:12). He is the sender of true leaders and prophets (6:4-5, Jeremiah 26:5). False leadership is condemned throughout Micah’s prophecy, but the final death-knell on oppression awaits the coming of the true Ruler (ch. 4-5).

Sin in High Places (ch. 1-2)

Micah came from the village of Moresheth (1:1). He prophesied against numerous cities in Israel, calling them by name. He mocks them using numerous puns and wordplays in 1:10-15.

Captivity is no coincidence, but a result of sin and idolatry (1:16). The people are called upon to interpret current events through the character of God. The subjugation of Israel by pagan nations was no coincidence, but was promised in Leviticus for breaking God’s covenant of obedience (Lev. 26:17, 33, 38-39). The prophet Jeremiah cites Micah as preceding him and possibly saving his life (Jer. 26).

Throughout Micah, the places of false leadership and influence are condemned (3:9). Joseph Parker comments that Jesus Christ “differs from all modern teachers in that he finds the wickedness of society in its high places.”1 Rather than associating crime with poverty, the Bible tends to do the opposite: over and over God casts his judgment over the rich, the educated, the religious, and the affluent.

Abuse of Authority (ch. 3)

What does Micah mean that they “build with blood” (3:10)? He is talking about money made through hidden crimes. Prostitution was used to fund pagan temples in Micah’s day (1:7). Micah condemns bribery among officials, and simony among spiritual leaders (3:11, 7:3). Named after Simon the sorcerer in Acts, the sin of simony means performing acts of ministry in exchange for money. In the Middle Ages, corruption of priests was rampant; John Wycliffe of England and John Hus of Bohemia were martyred in part for speaking against it. The prophet Micah likewise risked much by speaking against those who were propping up such a corrupt system.

G. Campbell Morgan writes: “The message of Micah centered on the subject of authority. The prophet arraigns and condemns the authority of those who had departed from the true standards of government, whether the princes, prophets, or priests; and foretold the coming of the true Ruler, under whom all false confidences would be destroyed and the true order restored.”2

Deliverance and the Deliverer (ch. 4-5)

Micah 4 and 5 concern “the last days” (4:1). In Morgan’s notes on Micah, he says that chapter 4 concerns the deliverance to come, but chapter 5 concerns the Deliverer.3 Micah 4 presents a vision of “the mountain of the house of the LORD.” War will be ended on Earth (5:4).

The final deliverance of Israel will not be easily brought about. Micah prophesies that it will involve labor pains (4:9, 5:3), a metaphor that Jesus continues to use to describe the end times. False leadership always uses kind words, but has a mean end in mind (2:6); the God of the Bible forewarns us of coming trouble, but he always has good in mind (4:7, 7:20).

The Deliverer is described in Micah 5. Like Micah, he will come from a little-known village. Final justice means an end to all false worship. Jesus “shall be great to the ends of the earth” (5:4).

What Does God Require? (ch. 6)

Micah reminds Israel of God’s past actions: he had redeemed them from Egypt (6:4); he had sent righteous leadership (6:4); he had refused to repudiate them despite Balak’s efforts (6:5). “From Shittim to Gilgal” (6:5) is especially significant: Shittim was a place where Israel joined in idolatry (Num. 25:1), and Gilgal was where God renewed his covenant with them by circumcision (Joshua 5). This points to the renewal that God would bring Israel if they would repent.

Micah 6 is the crux of the book and perhaps the best explanation of idolatry in the Old Testament. Idolatry involves not only an incorrect view of God, but an ineffective way of approaching him. The God of the Bible is the only god that cannot be bought. No sacrifice is enough to secure his favor (6:6-7).

Instead, God asks for the repentance and faith. “He has shown us what is good: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8). God does not ask what is easy: to bring material goods or sacrifices. He asks what is hard: the surrender of self. “The surrendered life is the foundation of surrendered possessions. Ourselves first, then our offerings.”4

Conclusion (ch. 7)

Micah concludes as it began, with a vision of God: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?” (7:18) This vision of God’s character is Micah’s reason for believing in the forgiveness of sin as well as the deliverance from captivity that will come.

There is no higher conclusion than this simple appeal to who God is. A right vision of God will bring right worship of God, and a right approach to God. He has not only told us what is good; he has shown us what is good, and we should imitate the open and generous ways of our King and Shepherd.

________

1 Joseph Parker. The Minor Prophets (vol. 21 of The People’s Bible). Kindle edition. Locations 3915-3916.

2 G. Campbell Morgan. Exposition of the Whole Bible. Accessed on studylight.org, Oct. 12, 2015. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gcm/view.cgi?bk=32&ch=5

3 Ibid.

4 Herbert Lockyer, The Christ of Christmas. Kindle edition. Location 604.