Sunday, March 26, 2017

Block 60: Zephaniah

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“For the day of the Lord is at hand.” Zephaniah 1:7
Unlike most of the other minor prophets, we know something about Zephaniah.  In the opening statement of his book, Zephaniah clearly proclaims his royal lineage, listing his ancestry all the way back to good king Hezekiah.  Zephaniah’s status would have added credibility to his prophecies during King Josiah’s reign.  The name Zephaniah means “defended by God.”  It is likely that Zephaniah had to hide from evil King Manasseh and reappeared during the reign of good King Josiah.
The twelve minor prophets are divided into two groups: 9 who prophesied before the fall of Jerusalem, and 3 who prophesied during and after the return to the Promised Land.  Zephaniah is sometimes considered unoriginal.  He had nothing new to say.  His writing seem to sum up the previous 8 minor prophets.  Judah was a mess.  The people had built their own places of worship and fervently worshiped false idols.  They had even begun to desecrate the temple.  Zephaniah admonished the Judeans and prophesied that “the day of the Lord” drew near and he predicted the impending destruction of Judah, its neighbors and eventually the whole earth.  In fact, Zephaniah used the phrase “day of the Lord” more often than any other book of the Old Testament.  I imagine his prophecies were the Old Testament version of the childish warning, “Now you’ve done it!  Now you’re really going to get it!”  Like the first 8 minor prophets, Zephaniah held great hope that God would bless the righteous and would  deliver those who repent and trust in Him.  Many of the prophecies in Zephaniah’s final words (Zephaniah 3:14-20) have not yet been realized, leading us to believe that these may be messianic prophecies foretelling the Second Coming.  So maybe Zephaniah was a little more original than he was given credit for.
Like the Judeans, we make a mockery of the Church every time we openly sin.  We must not be two-faced in our faith.  But for the times when we have failed in our faith, there is hope.  Zephaniah reminds us that when we truly repent, God is always a God of HOPE.

 



The prophet Zephaniah’s first two chapters prophecies the judgment and destruction of Judah, but the third chapter promises hope  for those who wait patiently for the Lord.  I chose the Bright Hopes block to represent Zephaniah’s message of hope.



Block 59: Habakkuk

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“The Lord, who is my master, will make me safe.”  Habakkuk 3:19
Once again, little is known about the minor prophet Habakkuk.  His self-identification as “the prophet Habakkuk” indicates that he may have been a professional prophet, trained formally in the laws of Moses in a prophet school that came into existence after the great prophet Samuel retired.  So assuming that Habakkuk was a formally trained prophet, he most likely also was a priest in the temple. Habakkuk’s prophetic career came at a time when the kingdom of God was at an all time low.  The northern tribes of Israel had been conquered, and God’s people in Judah did not appear to comprehend God’s message: repent or be punished. The Babylonians were ready to invade Judah, and God was conspicuously absent.
In the first section of the Book of Habakkuk, the prophet carried on a lengthy conversation with God. Habakkuk complained that God had abandoned His people, and God replied that he would allow the Babylonians to carry out His punishment.  This was not the answer that Habakkuk had hoped for, so he continued he pleaded with God to punish the Babylonians, not the Judeans.  In Habakkuk’s prophecy, God replied with a list of the wrongdoings that would result in the coming punishment.  As Habakkuk recounted the many sins (pride, greed, violence, murder, corruption, debauchery, destruction of nature, and idolatry), he came to accept that God would establish order by defeating chaos.  In the third and final section of the  Book, Habakkuk closes with a beautiful song of praise and hope.  Habakkuk knew instinctively that God would not destroy all of His people; He would surely save the faithful and would one day destroy the Babylonians.
Often, when we face adversity over time, we question God’s presence in our lives.  We think we are in our fight, and lose sight that God is always with us and ALWAYS loves us.  It’s okay to question what God is doing, but we must always respect and revere our sovereign God, from whom our strength is found.

I chose Three Steps to represent Habakkuk because the Book is divided into three distinct sections:  a dialogue with God, prophecy against a wicked nation, and a beautiful psalm.  Each section is written in a distinctly different way, but all are attributed to the prophet Habakkuk.

 



Friday, March 17, 2017

Block 58:Nahum

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“The Lord is slow to anger but great in power.”  Nahum 1:3
We know very little about the minor prophet, Nahum.  In his writings, we know that he is from the city Elkosh.  But we don’t know where Elkosh is, as the city is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.  It’s possible that Elkosh and Capernaum are one in the same.  Capernaum in Hebrew means city of Nahum.  Some Bible scholars speculate that it is possible that the city Elkosh was renamed in honor of the prophet Nahum. 
Here’s what we DO know about Nahum.  Nahum ministered around 650 BC.  While not the shortest book of the Bible, the book of Nahum is a mere 47 verses.  Compared to the other prophets, Nahum is often left out in modern worship.  When is the last time you listened to a reading from the book of Nahum in church?  Probably never. 
Like Micah, Nahum predicts that God will deliver justice to those who treat others unjustly.  But unlike Micah, Nahum is not directing his prophecies toward Israelites.  Rather, Nahum is predicting the fall of Ninevah and the Assyrians who had conquered and oppressed the northern tribes of Israel.  Nahum predicts God’s wrath and destruction of Israel’s arch enemy.   Nahum predicted that Ninevah would be wiped from the face of the Earth, and it was.  The city was destroyed, and all evidence of the existence of the city disappeared until 1850 when archaeologists discovered the site.
Nahum delivered a simple message condemning those who disobeyed God’s law and consoling those who trusted and obeyed God’s law. In our world filled with countries at war, terrorism, political and physical oppression, poverty, hunger and other disasters and tragedies, it is important that we maintain hope that we may have a place in the future kingdom of God. Nahum reminds us that the “Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” Nahum 1:7.

 




Block 57: Micah

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“To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
Micah was not an aristocrat.  We was not born of wealth.  Rather, like Jesus Christ himself, Micah had a humble start.  As a child of a small farming community 25 miles from Jerusalem, Micah knew little of government and politics.  Coming from the working class, Micah was extremely protective of the lowly, the disadvantaged, the outcasts, the sick and the lame.  Micah was particularly concerned about the common farmers who were being cheated by wealthy land owners.
Micah directed much of his prophecies toward the powerful, unethical leaders of Judah and Israel.  Morality and religious interest were at an all-time low.  Wealthy land owners robbed the poor, business owners were corrupt, false prophets delivered prophecies for pay, priests taught for a price, judges and rulers could be easily bribed.  Like his prophet contemporaries, Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, Micah realized that the people were performing religious rituals without living faithful lives.  The prophets knew that morality could not be separated from true religion.
Micah was the first prophet to predict the punishment and fall of Jerusalem.  He also predicted that God would stop talking to the Israelites;  He would stop guiding them as well.  AND, Micah was the first prophet to predict that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and described how Christ would rule the whole world.   To add credibility to Micah’s prophecies, Jesus quoted Micah 7:6 when He spoke to the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:36. 
In Micah’s closing prophecy, he describes a compassionate God who would not be angry forever, providing everlasting hope in our ever loving God.  Our take home message from Micah is simple.  We should guard against injustice in our own life.  Micah’s recipe for good living? We should do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”   Micah 6:8




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Block 56: Joel

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“I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”   Joel 2:28
The minor prophets were consistent with their message, “repent and sin no more.”  But the Israelites did not listen.  Joel was the second of the twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).  His name means “the Lord is God.”  Joel is only mentioned in the Bible one time: in the first verse of the Book of Joel, the prophet identifies himself and his father.
A plague of locusts had destroyed the land, and a severe drought followed.  This is ironic (and purposeful).  God had punished the Egyptians with a plague of locusts before freeing the Israelites, and later he punished the Israelites with a plague of locusts.  But the Judeans did not recognize these calamities as the warning they were meant to be.  Joel tried to explain that unless the Judeans repented immediately, armies would replace the locusts, and Judah would receive the God’s promised punishment.  Joel promised that if the people would repent, they would experience physical restoration, spiritual restoration and national restoration.  He described a judgment day that would be terrible and impossible to endure.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however…  Every time the Old Testament authors describe a future judgment for sins, they are foreshadowing the story of Jesus Christ and his death on a cross.  If we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear on the final day of atonement.  It is hard to tell if/when Joel’s prophecies were fulfilled.  Some believe that there was a fulfilled in the 9th century, others believe it was fulfilled at Pentecost (Peter quotes Joel 2:28 in Acts 2;17), while others believe the fulfillment is yet to occur.  Prophecies, such as Joel’s are not meant to be a road map or a time line, letting us know how long we have before we “really” have to repent to be saved.  Rather, they are intended to show us God’s character, His mercy, and His justice for now and all of time.



Block 55: Obadiah

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“You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune.” Obadiah 1:12
The  hostility between Jacob and Esau did not end with trickery and the distribution of the birthright.  The nations of Israel and Edom originated with these brothers, and the nations were at war for decades.  Both nations fought to control the highway from Damascus to Egypt, thereby controlling trade and flow of merchandise.  At one point, Edom (who should have been Judah’s ally) helped the Babylonians attack Jerusalem.  Once Jerusalem was destroyed, the Edomites looted Judah’s possessions.  God was angry.  The Edomites should have shown love for their neighbor, and they did not. 
Obadiah was an Edomite who had a healthy fear of God. When Jezebel was killing prophets, Obadiah hid 100 prophets in two caves.  Why two caves?  Well, Obadiah knew that if one cave was discovered, then at least the prophets in the other cave could escape and survive.  For his efforts, God granted Obadiah the gift of prophecy.  Immediately, Obadiah began his prophecies against Edom.  He warned the Edomites that they would be punished for their sins.  Obadiah warned that they would get what they deserved, and they did!  The Edomites felt confident that they could not be overrun.  The narrow mountainous passage to enter their country gave them a false sense of security.  Obadiah warned the Edomites that their pride and confidence would be their undoing.  God allowed the nation of Edom to be destroyed.  They were overrun by other Arab groups, and Edomite descendants were killed or scattered.
Obadiah is the shortest book of the Bible, only 21 verses.  In those few words, Obadiah promises and gives reasons for the judgment of Edom,  He describes how the judgment will come to pass and gives hope for future deliverance for those who repent and obey God.  Obadiah teaches us that we must help others in times of need,  Obadiah also teaches us that pride goes before the fall.