Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 2

    Zechariah 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. This time I saw someone holding a measuring line,
  2. and I asked, "Where are you going?" "To measure Jerusalem," was the answer. "To find out how wide and long it is."
  3. The angel who had spoken to me was leaving, when another angel came up to him
  4. and said, "Hurry! Tell that man with the measuring line that Jerusalem won't have any boundaries. It will be too full of people and animals even to have a wall.
  5. The LORD himself has promised to be a protective wall of fire surrounding Jerusalem, and he will be its shining glory in the heart of the city."
  6. The LORD says to his people, "Run! Escape from the land in the north, where I scattered you to the four winds.
  7. Leave Babylonia and hurry back to Zion."
  8. Then the glorious LORD All-Powerful ordered me to say to the nations that had raided and robbed Zion: Zion is as precious to the LORD as are his eyes. Whatever you do to Zion, you do to him.
  9. And so, he will put you in the power of your slaves, and they will raid and rob you. Then you will know that I am a prophet of the LORD All-Powerful.
  10. City of Zion, sing and celebrate! The LORD has promised to come and live with you.
  11. When he does, many nations will turn to him and become his people. At that time you will know that I am a prophet of the LORD All-Powerful.
  12. Then Judah will be his part of the holy land, and Jerusalem will again be his chosen city.
  13. Everyone, be silent! The LORD is present and moving about in his holy place.

Chapter 2 opens with Zechariah's third vision in which he sees a man with a measuring line. The present for Zechariah becomes intertwined with the distant future so that it becomes difficult at times to know to which time frame a reference belongs. The distant future in this case is Christ's second advent.

In this third vision, the man with the measuring line tells Zechariah that Jerusalem will become a city without walls. Two reasons are given for this lack of walls: First, because of the large number of people and livestock, which is a reference to the prosperity of the city, and Second, because Jerusalem will have the Lord's protection and will not need walls to fortify it against its enemies. The time frame for this setting is the second advent when the Messiah Himself will be Jerusalem's protection.

Next, a call is given to the Jews to return from their exile in Babylon to their homeland. This moves us back to Zechariah's time frame as a call to his contemporaries to leave Babylon. Not only is this a call to re-inhabit and rebuild Judah, but it is a call to safety. God was preparing to punish the nations that had 'plundered' Judah and did not want the Jews to be in harms way.

Then the time frame moves back out to the second advent in the concluding verses of the chapter. The inhabitants of Jerusalem are told to "shout for joy and be glad," because the Messiah is coming to dwell among them. When the Messiah comes, the Gentile nations will also join themselves to the Lord and become His people. Jerusalem will become at that time a world-wide center. The Messiah will reign, many nations - not just Israel - will join in His reign, and He reign will be from Jerusalem.

God sees the whole while we can only see our little piece. God knows how the present fits the future, so for Him the two are inseparable and flow together. Undoubtedly, Zechariah's visions were intended to encourage those returning to Jerusalem from exile. Even though fulfillment of God's plan for His people would not happen in their time, they needed to see how their experiences fit the whole, which is true also for us. If we are to understand life and its meaning, our perspective needs to be informed by God's perspective.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 1

    Zechariah 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo. In the eighth month of the second year that Darius was king of Persia, the LORD told me to say:
  2. Israel, I, the LORD All-Powerful, was very angry with your ancestors. But if you people will return to me, I will turn and help you.
  3. (SEE 1:2)
  4. Don't be stubborn like your ancestors. They were warned by the earlier prophets to give up their evil and turn back to me, but they paid no attention.
  5. Where are your ancestors now? Not even prophets live forever.
  6. But my warnings and my words spoken by the prophets caught up with your ancestors. So they turned back to me and said, "LORD All-Powerful, you have punished us for our sins, just as you had planned."
  7. On the twenty-fourth day of Shebat, which was the eleventh month of that same year, the LORD spoke to me in a vision during the night: In a valley among myrtle trees, I saw someone on a red horse, with riders on red, brown, and white horses behind him.
  8. (SEE 1:7)
  9. An angel was there to explain things to me, and I asked, "Sir, who are these riders?" "I'll tell you," the angel answered.
  10. Right away, the man standing among the myrtle trees said, "These are the ones the LORD has sent to find out what's happening on earth."
  11. Then the riders spoke to the LORD's angel, who was standing among the myrtle trees, and they said, "We have gone everywhere and have discovered that the whole world is at peace."
  12. At this, the angel said, "LORD All-Powerful, for seventy years you have been angry with Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. When are you ever going to have mercy on them?"
  13. The LORD's answer was kind and comforting.
  14. So the angel told me to announce: I, the LORD All-Powerful, am very protective of Jerusalem.
  15. For a while I was angry at the nations, but now I am furious, because they have made things worse for Jerusalem and are not the least bit concerned.
  16. And so, I will have pity on Jerusalem. The city will be completely rebuilt, and my temple will stand again.
  17. I also promise that my towns will prosper--Jerusalem will once again be my chosen city, and I will comfort the people of Zion.
  18. Next, I saw four animal horns.
  19. The angel who was sent to explain was there, and so I asked, "What do these mean?" His answer was, "These horns are the nations that scattered the people of Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem, and took away their freedom." Then the LORD showed me four blacksmiths, and I asked, "What are they going to do?" He replied, "They are going to terrify and crush those horns."
  20. (SEE 1:19)
  21. (SEE 1:19)

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai whose prophecy comes just before Zechariah's in the Old Testament. Both prophets returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile with about 50,000 Jews. While Haggai's prophecy addresses Judah's failure to stay with the task of rebuilding the temple, Zechariah's is concerned with her whole-hearted return to the Lord.

Zechariah's prophecy comprises a series of eight visions which are apocalyptic in nature. While the messages of the visions had a partial fulfillment in the near future for those who heard the prophecy, they will not have a complete fulfillment until the millenial reign of Christ yet to come. The opening message of Zechariah comes directly through the prophet telling the people that the cause of their exile was the Lord's anger due to the sins of their ancestors, and calling them to return to the Lord. Added to this is the Lord's promise that if they return to Him, He will return to them. Zechariah goes on to encourage them not to be like their ancestors who failed to heed the warnings given them, and then asks, "Where are your ancestors now?" This question is followed with another, "But didn't My words and My statutes that I commanded My servants the prophets overtake your ancestors?" The implied answer is 'yes,' their ancestors did not heed the warnings of the prophets, and the Lord's statutes delivered by the prophets overtook them.

With this introduction and preparation for the people to hear from the Lord, Zechariah then delivers the first of the eight visions. The first vision is of a rider on a red-horse standing among the Myrtles. With him were red, sorrel, and white horses. To Zechariah's enquiry, the angel replied that these were sent to patrol the earth. Then their report was given, "We have patrolled the earth, and right now the whole earth is calm and quiet." Thus, the people of Judah have no pending threats. It is the other nations that should now be worried, for the Lord is angry with them. While the Lord 'commissioned' these nations to punish Judah, they carried it too far, causing more suffering upon the people than God intended. Now He will deal with them. But He assures Judah that He has "graciously returned to Jerusalem." His house will be rebuilt and a "measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem." Furthermore, the cities of Judah will again overflow with prosperity.

On the heels of this first vision comes another announcing the judgment to come on those nations that persecuted Judah. Zechariah sees four horns which represent the nations that scattered Judah and Israel, and then he sees four craftsmen who represent those who will "cut off the horns of the nations that raised their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it."

Yes, God at times demonstrates anger and judgment, but these are not His predominate characteristics. Every characteristic must have a contrasting characteristic for it to be viable. For instance, we don't know what good is unless we have bad for a comparison. We don't know what love is unless we have hate to which it can be compared. In God's case, the predominate characteristics are love and mercy. Concerning His love for Judah and Israel, the contrasting characteristic is not hate, but anger. But the argument can be made that anger accompanies love at times as a protective measure. What do I mean by this? When one loves another they do not want the other to be harmed by bad choices. This applies particularly between parent and child. A parent will express anger and even give punishment to keep the child from being harmed by bad choices, yet the anger and punishment emanate from love.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reflections on Haggai 2

    Haggai 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. On the twenty-first day of the next month, the LORD told Haggai the prophet to speak this message to Governor Zerubbabel, High Priest Joshua, and everyone else:
  2. (SEE 2:1)
  3. Does anyone remember how glorious this temple used to be? Now it looks like nothing.
  4. But cheer up! Because I, the LORD All-Powerful, will be here to help you with the work,
  5. just as I promised your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt. Don't worry. My Spirit is right here with you.
  6. Soon I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.
  7. I will shake the nations, and their treasures will be brought here. Then the brightness of my glory will fill this temple.
  8. All silver and gold belong to me,
  9. and I promise that this new temple will be more glorious than the first one. I will also bless this city with peace.
  10. On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, the LORD God All-Powerful told the prophet Haggai
  11. to ask the priests for their opinion on the following matter:
  12. Suppose meat ready to be sacrificed to God is being carried in the folds of someone's clothing, and the clothing rubs against some bread or stew or wine or olive oil or any other food. Would those foods that were touched then become acceptable for sacrifice? "Of course not," the priests answered.
  13. Then Haggai said, "Suppose someone has touched a dead body and is considered unacceptable to worship God. If that person touches these foods, would they become unclean?" "Of course they would," the priests answered.
  14. So the LORD told Haggai to say: That's how it is with this entire nation. Everything you do and every sacrifice you offer is unacceptable to me.
  15. But from now on, things will get better. Before you started laying the foundation for the temple,
  16. you recalled what life was like in the past. When you wanted twenty bushels of wheat, there were only ten, and when you wanted fifty jars of wine, there were only twenty.
  17. I made all of your hard work useless by sending mildew, mold, and hail--but you still did not return to me, your LORD.
  18. Today you have completed the foundation for my temple, so listen to what your future will be like.
  19. Although you have not yet harvested any grain, grapes, figs, pomegranates, or olives, I will richly bless you in the days ahead.
  20. That same day the LORD spoke to Haggai again and said:
  21. Tell Governor Zerubbabel of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth
  22. and wipe out kings and their kingdoms. I will overturn war chariots, and then cavalry troops will start slaughtering each other.
  23. But tell my servant Zerubbabel that I, the LORD All-Powerful, have chosen him, and he will rule in my name.

Haggai's prophecy concludes on a positive note which is not the case in most of the books of prophecy. Most conclude on a note of pending destruction if the nation does not change its ways, and we know that in most of these cases they did not. But Haggai's prophecy concludes on a note of pending blessing.

Haggai delivers four messages in the two chapters of this book, and chapter 2 begins with the second of these messages. It was a message of encouragement. The people had become obedient and returned to rebuilding the temple. So the Lord delivered a message of encouragement to them through Haggai. "Be strong," He tells them, "Work! For I am with you." This was the Lord's declaration to them. Not only was this a rebuilding of the temple, but also a rebuilding of the people and the nation. God reminds them that the promise of His presence with them is like the same promise He made when they came out of Egypt. Then he adds to this promise three others: "I will shake all the nations so that the treasures of all the nations will come," "The final glory of this house will be greater than the first," and, "I will provide peace in this place."

When we put our hand to God's work He puts His blessing on it and provides the resources. This remnant of Judah that had just come out of exile had nothing with which to adorn this new temple, but God was going to take care of that detail. He would shake the other nations and they would provide the adornment of various treasures. It is thought that the other two promises given in verse 9 refer to the coming Messiah. This temple would be standing when Jesus appeared on the scene some 4-5 centuries later. His presence in this temple would give it greater glory that even the Solomonic temple enjoyed. It would also be Jesus', the Prince of Peace, whose presence in this second temple that would provide it peace.

The third message, which begins in verse 10, was a reminder of their state when they began this rebuilding project. They were a disobedient, or defiled, people. Their condition was compared to ceremonial items that were either consecrated or defiled. A consecrated garment that carried consecrated meat did not transfer that consecration to bread or another item that might be placed in the garment. But a person or item that had been defiled transferred that defilement to anything in which it came in contact. Then they were reminded of their state when they began the project. They were defiled by disobedience and everything they put their hand to was also defiled, referring to the lack of productiveness of their crops. But this was about to change. Because they were now obedient and were consecrated, or set apart, to the building of the temple, God would bless them in what else they set their hand to do.

A fourth message follows quickly behind the third. While the first three messages were addressed to the people and their leaders, this fourth one is addressed to Zerubbabel and is more difficult to understand. He was encouraged with word of what the Lord would do. This included shaking the heavens and earth and overturning the thrones of Gentile kingdoms. But what specifically is the references? That is the question. Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David and it is thought, by some, that his role as the Lord's "signet ring" was a representative one linking David's lineage to the coming Messiah who would be the one through whom this promise would be fulfilled, including the overthrow of Gentile kingdoms.

The closing words of the book are, "This is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts." As with many of the Lord's declarations of His plans for the future, we are not certain of all to which they refer. But we can be certain that the Lord has declared it and it will come to pass, and for those who are obedient to Him, it will be good.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reflections on Haggai 1

    Haggai 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. On the first day of the sixth month of the second year that Darius was king of Persia, the LORD told Haggai the prophet to speak his message to the governor of Judah and to the high priest. So Haggai told Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua
  2. that the LORD All-Powerful had said to them and to the people: You say this isn't the right time to build a temple for me. But is it right for you to live in expensive houses, while my temple is a pile of ruins? Just look at what's happening.
  3. (SEE 1:2)
  4. (SEE 1:2)
  5. (SEE 1:2)
  6. You harvest less than you plant, you never have enough to eat or drink, your clothes don't keep you warm, and your wages are stored in bags full of holes.
  7. Think about what I have said!
  8. But first, go to the hills and get wood for my temple, so I can take pride in it and be worshiped there.
  9. You expected much, but received only a little. And when you brought it home, I made that little disappear. Why have I done this? It's because you hurry off to build your own houses, while my temple is still in ruins.
  10. That's also why the dew doesn't fall and your harvest fails.
  11. And so, at my command everything will become barren--your farmland and pastures, your vineyards and olive trees, your animals and you yourselves. All your hard work will be for nothing.
  12. Zerubbabel and Joshua, together with the others who had returned from exile in Babylonia, obeyed the LORD's message spoken by his prophet Haggai, and they started showing proper respect for the LORD.
  13. Haggai then told them that the LORD had promised to be with them.
  14. So the LORD God All-Powerful made everyone eager to work on his temple, especially Zerubbabel and Joshua.
  15. And the work began on the twenty-fourth day of that same month.

Haggai's prophecy is very different from most other prophets of Israel and Judah. Most of the prophets came before Judah's exile to Babylon and their prophecies were pointing toward the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the people. Haggai came after the exile had taken place. King Darius came to rule in Babylon, and due to his more generous policies, many of the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and began to rebuild the temple. Haggai came on the scene as a prophet at this point. While the Jews had gathered many materials for the rebuilding project, they had become sidetracked and lost their desire to complete the rebuilding project. Instead, they were wrapped up in rebuilding their own homes and tending to their crops. Haggai's task was to get the people back on task in rebuilding the temple.

Was it unfair of God to expect the people to put their personal lives on hold while they tended to His temple? Such thought arise from our own perverted thinking that makes ourselves the center of the universe. It was God who made us and everything there is and has allowed us to enjoy what is essentially His - not ours. But He invites us to join Him and be His partners in the use and maintenance of this world. And it is at this point we get in trouble. We try to deal Him out and do it ourselves as if it is our world and it is our lives to do with as we please. What we fail to see in this 'it is our lives and our world to do with as we please' attitude is that when we join God and see it from His perspective, He makes possible what we can never accomplish on our own. Rather than controlling our lives and the world in which we live, we actually have no control at all that God does not allow us to have. All we really have control over is our choices. And if we choose to leave God out of the picture we set ourselves afloat in a perilous sea.

Back to the Jews and their return to Jerusalem. They had spent years as exiles in a foreign country because they had dealt God out of their lives. Now that they were allowed to return to their homeland it would seem the prudent thing to also return wholeheartedly to their God. They made some semblance of such a return with the gathering of materials to rebuild the temple, but it was not wholehearted. They were defaulting back to their old ways of doing their own thing and dealing God out. Haggai's task was to nudge them away from their selfish ways and back to God and the task at hand. If they would do this, God would enable them to also rebuild their lives and their homes and to prosper. As it was, they were trying to rebuild their personal lives on their own and were again leaving God out of it. As a result, God was thwarting their efforts. Instead of helping them, His was hindering them. They planted crops to sustain themselves and God allowed them only a meager harvest. He allowed them enough so they didn't starve, but as verse 6 points out, "You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to become drunk. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it." They were choosing to deal God out and this was the outcome of their choice.

Then Haggai delivered this message, "The LORD of Hosts says this: "Think carefully about your ways. Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house. Then I will be pleased with it and be glorified," says the LORD. (verses 7-8) Haggai was one of the few prophets who saw a positive response to their message. Verse 12 says, "Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the entire remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. So the people feared the LORD." Judah's intended lesson to be learned through her exile in Babylon had not been totally missed. Maybe their failure to rebuild the temple to this point was not an intentional act of rebellion but simply indicated their need to learn once again what it meant to be a people of God.

Due to the positive response to God's message through Haggai, God then had Haggai give to them this declaration, "I am with you." Now they could flourish, both in rebuilding the temple and in rebuilding their lives.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reflections on Zephaniah 3

    Zephaniah 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Too bad for that disgusting, corrupt, and lawless city!
  2. Forever rebellious and rejecting correction, Jerusalem refuses to trust or obey the LORD God.
  3. Its officials are roaring lions, its judges are wolves; in the evening they attack, by morning nothing is left.
  4. Jerusalem's prophets are proud and not to be trusted. The priests have disgraced the place of worship and abused God's Law.
  5. All who do evil are shameless, but the LORD does right and is always fair. With the dawn of each day, God brings about justice.
  6. The LORD wiped out nations and left fortresses crumbling in the dirt. Their streets and towns were reduced to ruins and emptied of people.
  7. God felt certain that Jerusalem would learn to respect and obey him. Then he would hold back from punishing the city and not wipe it out. But everyone there was eager to start sinning again.
  8. The LORD said: Just wait for the day when I accuse you nations. I have decided on a day, when I will bring together every nation and kingdom and punish them all in my fiery anger. I will become furious and destroy the earth.
  9. I will purify each language and make those languages acceptable for praising me. Then, with hearts united, everyone will serve only me, the LORD.
  10. From across the rivers of Ethiopia, my scattered people, my true worshipers, will bring offerings to me.
  11. When that time comes, you won't rebel against me and be put to shame. I'll do away with those who are proud and arrogant. Never will any of them strut around on my holy mountain.
  12. But I, the LORD, won't destroy any of your people who are truly humble and turn to me for safety.
  13. The people of Israel who survive will live right and refuse to tell lies. They will eat and rest with nothing to fear.
  14. Everyone in Jerusalem and Judah, celebrate and shout with all your heart!
  15. Zion, your punishment is over. The LORD has forced your enemies to turn and retreat. Your LORD is King of Israel and stands at your side; you don't have to worry about any more troubles.
  16. Jerusalem, the time is coming, when it will be said to you: "Don't be discouraged or grow weak from fear!
  17. The LORD your God wins victory after victory and is always with you. He celebrates and sings because of you, and he will refresh your life with his love."
  18. The LORD has promised: Your sorrow has ended, and you can celebrate.
  19. I will punish those who mistreat you. I will bring together the lame and the outcasts, then they will be praised, instead of despised, in every country on earth.
  20. I will lead you home, and with your own eyes you will see me bless you with all you once owned. Then you will be famous everywhere on this earth. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Zephaniah returns in this last chapter to the people of Judah after telling, in the previous chapter, of God's wrath on the surrounding nations. His message to Judah is two-fold: First, of the pending doom she faces if she does not return to the Lord, and Second, of the eventual restoration of the nation to the Lord. As stated repeatedly in these reflections, God's message of doom is always accompanied by a message of hope. This is because His judgment is never an end in itself. Judgment is only a means of making hope possible.

God's hope, available to any who turn to Him, is only partially fulfilled in our lifetime. Ultimate fulfillment of God's hope will come at a time when His Messiah, Jesus Christ, returns to reign over the earth. As surely as the man, Jesus Christ, lived and walked this earth, was crucified on a cross, arose again three days later, and returned to be with His heavenly Father, so will this Jesus Christ return to the earth as the reigning Messiah God intended Him to be. So, also, will complete fulfillment of God's hope and salvation be realized. God's promises to Abraham and then to his descendants, the Israelites, were incomplete in their fulfillment in the years prior to Christ's first coming. Yes, many promises were fulfilled, but God's full intention for this nation did not reach completion. She was too rebellious for this to happen. And we are too rebellious for God's full intentions to be realized in us as well. But there will come a time, following Christ's second coming, when all that God intended for His people Israel, and for all people, will be completely fulfilled.

Christians who lack this far-reaching perspective may become discouraged and doubtful and allow themselves to be turned away from God and the hope He promises. If we have in our vision only the present and near future, we can fail to see the big picture God has in store. Then we will begin to question God's justice and His love and even His existence. This is why a Christian needs consistently and persistently to abide in Christ - to reflect on God's Word regularly, to converse with Him regularly, and to fellowship with other believers regularly. Otherwise our vision becomes more and more near-sighted and we are unable to see more than our present circumstances and our understanding of life is filtered through the lens of what is happening to us at any moment in time.

No, we need to see a time when our joy in the Lord is complete, there is peace all around, no harm threatens us, and God's love engulfs us. Life is good!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reflections on Zephaniah 2

    Zephaniah 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. You disgraceful nation, gather around,
  2. before it's too late. The LORD has set a time when his fierce anger will strike like a storm and sweep you away.
  3. If you humbly obey the LORD, then come and worship him. If you do right and are humble, perhaps you will be safe on that day when the LORD turns loose his anger.
  4. Gaza and Ashkelon will be deserted and left in ruins. Ashdod will be emptied in broad daylight, and Ekron uprooted.
  5. To you people of Philistia who live along the coast, the LORD has this to say: "I am now your enemy, and I'll wipe you out!"
  6. Your seacoast will be changed into pastureland and sheep pens.
  7. The LORD God hasn't forgotten those survivors in Judah, and he will help them-- his people will take your land to use for pasture. And when evening comes, they will rest in houses at Ashkelon. *
  8. The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, said: I've heard Moab and Ammon insult my people and threaten their nation.
  9. And so, I swear by my very life that Moab and Ammon will end up like Sodom and Gomorrah-- covered with thornbushes and salt pits forever. Then my people who survive will take their land.
  10. This is how Moab and Ammon will at last be repaid for their pride-- and for sneering at the nation that belongs to me, the LORD All-Powerful.
  11. I will fiercely attack. Then every god on this earth will shrink to nothing, and everyone of every nation will bow down to me, right where they are.
  12. People of Ethiopia, the sword of the LORD will slaughter you!
  13. The LORD will reach to the north to crush Assyria and overthrow Nineveh.
  14. Herds of wild animals will live in its rubble; all kinds of desert owls will perch on its stones and hoot in the windows. Noisy ravens will be heard inside its buildings, stripped bare of cedar.
  15. This is the glorious city that felt secure and said, "I am the only one!" Now it's merely ruins, a home for wild animals. Every passerby simply sneers and makes vulgar signs.

In the first chapter Zephaniah described the coming judgment against Judah, but we see his purpose in the opening verses of this second chapter. The intent was to bring Judah to repentance. This is always God's purpose in announcing judgment. He does not glory in judgment, but always desires repentance for those who stray away from Him. God stands ready at all times to divert judgment should the offending party decide to repent and turn from their sinful ways.

Judah is called here to gather together as a people and "Seek the Lord." Along with seeking the Lord Judah was also called upon to seek righteousness and humility. It is a package. Righteousness and humility are attributes of seeking God. One has to do with our actions and the other with our attitude. It is incompatible with following the Lord to act unrighteously and to be prideful. This was Judah's situation. She tried to give the impression of following God though she was acting unrighteously and was prideful. But she fooled only herself. God was not impressed by her semblance of following Him and was threatening pending judgment on her. If Judah was going to repent she needed to do it quickly because God was about to bring on the judgment.

Judah was not the only nation at risk, however. If God was going to judge her because of her idolatry, those nations that led her into this practice were certainly not exempt. God is not merely the God of Israel but of all people and He desires for all people to acknowledge Him for who He is and to worship Him. If it is detestable for Judah to worship idols and credit them for what God has done, it is also detestable for other nations to do so. Therefore, judgment was announced against Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush, and Assyria.

This announcement of judgment against these other nations was told to Judah. We do not know if these nations also had the benefit of being told of the pending judgment and given the opportunity to repent. I am inclined to believe that God also told them in some manner, because that is His nature and practice. He always prefers repentance to judgment. But Zephaniah's prophecy was primarily for Judah's ears that she might come to repentance. She needed to know that these other idolatrous nations were also in jeopardy. There was no escape for any who turned to idols.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reflections on Zephaniah 1

    Zephaniah 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, the grandson of Gedaliah, the great-grandson of Amariah, and the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah. When Josiah son of Amon was king of Judah, the LORD gave me this message.
  2. I, the LORD, now promise to destroy everything on this earth--
  3. people and animals, birds and fish. Everyone who is evil will crash to the ground, and I will wipe out the entire human race.
  4. I will reach out to punish Judah and Jerusalem-- nothing will remain of the god Baal; nothing will be remembered of his pagan priests.
  5. Not a trace will be found of those who worship stars from their rooftops, or bow down to the god Milcom, while claiming loyalty to me, the LORD.
  6. Nothing will remain of anyone who has turned away and rejected me.
  7. Be silent! I am the LORD God, and the time is near. I am preparing to sacrifice my people and to invite my guests.
  8. On that day I will punish national leaders and sons of the king, along with all who follow foreign customs.
  9. I will punish worshipers of pagan gods and cruel palace officials who abuse their power.
  10. I, the LORD, promise that on that day noisy crying will be heard from Fish Gate, New Town, and Upper Hills.
  11. Everyone in Lower Hollow will mourn loudly, because merchants and money changers will be wiped out.
  12. I'll search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those people who sit there unworried while thinking, "The LORD won't do anything, good or bad."
  13. Their possessions will be taken, their homes left in ruins. They won't get to live in the houses they build, or drink wine from the grapes in their own vineyards.
  14. The great day of the LORD is coming soon, very soon. On that terrible day, fearsome shouts of warriors will be heard everywhere.
  15. It will be a time of anger-- of trouble and torment, of disaster and destruction, of darkness and despair, of storm clouds and shadows,
  16. of trumpet calls and battle cries against fortified cities and mighty fortresses.
  17. The LORD warns everyone who has sinned against him, "I'll strike you blind! Then your blood and your insides will gush out like vomit.
  18. Not even your silver or gold can save you on that day when I, the LORD, am angry. My anger will flare up like a furious fire scorching the earth and everyone on it."

Zephaniah and his prophecy preceded Habakkuk, the focus of our previous reflections, by just a few years. Zephaniah prophesied coming doom for Judah that still had not come in Habakkuk's day and Habakkuk had grown impatient. Neither did Zephaniah identify God's instrument of destruction, so Habakkuk was appalled to learn from God that He planned to use Babylon.

Zephaniah begins and ends this first chapter of his prophesy with reference to a world-wide destruction. It is unclear what the reference points to specifically unless it is of the end-time destruction of the earth. How this might be associated with the pending doom for Judah Zephaniah speaks of is also unclear unless the pending doom for Judah is seen as a preview of the greater destruction at the end-time. At that time there will be a reversal of creation. Man and animal will be swept away, followed by birds and fish. This is in reverse order to their appearance at creation.

Concerning the pending destruction for Judah, God planned to cut off every vestige of Baal worship along with all other ungodly practices. This included pagan priest, those non-Levitical priests appointed by the kings, and also idolatrous priests, those Levitical priests who turned from God to a superstitious faith. In addition God would cut off those who worshiped the heavenly bodies, those who combined the worship of God with worship of other gods, and also those who were religiously indifferent. These didn't worship other gods, but they also didn't worship the true God. The most detestable thing man can do is worship gods of man's imagination, crediting them with what God has done for them.

Invariably when Judah took on the worship practices of other nations her moral practices also became detestable. So Judah's moral practices are addressed next. Zephaniah mentions the king's sons who dressed in foreign clothing. This was probably a sign of their adoption of foreign values as well. Also mentioned was the stealing and ill-gotten gain of the merchants. Thus Zephaniah mentions those "who skip over the threshold," the outcry from the Fish Gate, and the silencing of the merchants of the Hollow. All references to their unethical business practices. God was going to make a diligent search of Jerusalem for those who had become comfortable with such detestable practices. Many were so comfortable with their unethical practices they would say to themselves, "The Lord will not do good or evil." In other words, they convinced themselves that since they had become complacent about such practices God had also become complacent.

The chapter concludes with Zephaniah's warning that time was running out for Judah. "The great Day of the LORD is near, near and rapidly approaching," he said. Further, he says, "That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities, and against the high corner towers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on Habakkuk 3

    Habakkuk 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. This is my prayer:
  2. I know your reputation, LORD, and I am amazed at what you have done. Please turn from your anger and be merciful; do for us what you did for our ancestors.
  3. You are the same Holy God who came from Teman and Paran to help us. The brightness of your glory covered the heavens, and your praises were heard everywhere on earth.
  4. Your glory shone like the sun, and light flashed from your hands, hiding your mighty power.
  5. Dreadful diseases and plagues marched in front and followed behind.
  6. When you stopped, the earth shook; when you stared, nations trembled; when you walked along your ancient paths, eternal mountains and hills crumbled and collapsed.
  7. The tents of desert tribes in Cushan and Midian were ripped apart.
  8. Our LORD, were you angry with the monsters of the deep? You attacked in your chariot and wiped them out.
  9. Your arrows were ready and obeyed your commands. You split the earth apart with rivers and streams;
  10. mountains trembled at the sight of you; rain poured from the clouds; ocean waves roared and rose.
  11. The sun and moon stood still, while your arrows and spears flashed like lightning.
  12. In your furious anger, you trampled on nations
  13. to rescue your people and save your chosen one. You crushed a nation's ruler and stripped his evil kingdom of its power.
  14. His troops had come like a storm, hoping to scatter us and glad to gobble us down. To them we were refugees in hiding-- but you smashed their heads with their own weapons.
  15. Then your chariots churned the waters of the sea.
  16. When I heard this message, I felt weak from fear, and my lips quivered. My bones seemed to melt, and I stumbled around. But I will patiently wait. Someday those vicious enemies will be struck by disaster.
  17. Fig trees may no longer bloom, or vineyards produce grapes; olive trees may be fruitless, and harvest time a failure; sheep pens may be empty, and cattle stalls vacant--
  18. but I will still celebrate because the LORD God saves me.
  19. The LORD gives me strength. He makes my feet as sure as those of a deer, and he helps me stand on the mountains. To the music director: Use stringed instruments.

Habakkuk begins with the prophet's complaints to God and ends with his praises of God. Initially he complained as to how long God planned to allow Israel to continue in her evil ways. God answered and Habakkuk didn't like the answer. God's plan was to raise up evil Babylon to deal with Israel's sin. Habakkuk was appalled that God would use a people even more evil to deal with His people, Israel. But then God told him of His plans to destroy Babylon which left the prophet in awe. God had a plan that covered all of Habakkuk's concerns.

This chapter, which is a conclusion to the book, is referred to by some as a doxology, or a hymn of praise to God. It begins with Habakkuk's request that God renew His work in His day, which is something God has already told him He would do. Having made this request the prophet thinks back to the days of Israel's exodus and points to God's awesome work at that time. At that time God came to Israel from Teman, this "Holy One from Mount Paran." This is our first clue that this is an exodus reference, for Teman and Mount Paran are in the region of Israel's exodus.

Then there is the reference to plague and pestilence and the question, "Are You angry at the rivers, Lord?" References, we might imagine, to the plagues brought on Egypt and parting the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. "You march across the earth with indignation; You trample down the nations in wrath." (v. 12) A reference to God going before Israel, as she marched across the wilderness to the Promised Land, and helping to clear the nations in her path?

At the thoughts of what God told him about dealing with Israel and with Babylon and the remembrance of what God did earlier during the exodus, Habakkuk "trembled where I stood." Now, he says, " I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us." Habakkuk is content to let God do His work and patiently wait for His timing. He is confident that God has it all under control and will do what must be done when the time is right.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reflections on Habakkuk 2

    Habakkuk 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. While standing guard on the watchtower, I waited for the LORD's answer, before explaining the reason for my complaint.
  2. Then the LORD told me: "I will give you my message in the form of a vision. Write it clearly enough to be read at a glance.
  3. At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting-- it will happen!
  4. "I, the LORD, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me."
  5. Wine is treacherous, and arrogant people are never satisfied. They are no less greedy than death itself-- they open their mouths as wide as the world of the dead and swallow everyone.
  6. But they will be mocked with these words: You're doomed! You stored up stolen goods and cheated others of what belonged to them.
  7. But without warning, those you owe will demand payment. Then you will become a frightened victim.
  8. You robbed cities and nations everywhere on earth and murdered their people. Now those who survived will be as cruel to you.
  9. You're doomed! You made your family rich at the expense of others. You even said to yourself, "I'm above the law."
  10. But you will bring shame on your family and ruin to yourself for what you did to others.
  11. The very stones and wood in your home will testify against you.
  12. You're doomed! You built a city on crime and violence.
  13. But the LORD All-Powerful sends up in flames what nations and people work so hard to gain.
  14. Just as water fills the sea, the land will be filled with people who know and honor the LORD.
  15. You're doomed! You get your friends drunk, just to see them naked.
  16. Now you will be disgraced instead of praised. The LORD will make you drunk, and when others see you naked, you will lose their respect.
  17. You destroyed trees and animals on Mount Lebanon; you were ruthless to towns and people everywhere. Now you will be terrorized.
  18. What is an idol worth? It's merely a false god. Why trust a speechless image made from wood or metal by human hands?
  19. What can you learn from idols covered with silver or gold? They can't even breathe. Pity anyone who says to an idol of wood or stone, "Get up and do something!"
  20. Let all the world be silent-- the LORD is present in his holy temple.

In the first chapter of Habakkuk the prophet challenged God with questions. First, he was concerned about the violence and injustice going on in Israel. He wondered how long God would allow this to go on. God told him he had a plan to deal with it. His plan was to raise up Babylon to punish Israel. Habakkuk wasn't any more pleased with this answer than he was with the prospect of the evil in Israel not being addressed. Next he asked God why He would use a people to carry out His punishment who were more evil than the ones being punished. It is a question we would probably all wonder about.

Chapter 2 is God's response to this second question. Having raised the question in chapter 1, this second chapter opens with Habakkuk's statement that he will now stand guard awaiting God's answer and "what I should reply about my complaint." Then God answered telling Habakkuk to write down what God will show him so it might be easily read. Having him write it down suggests a certainty about the message, and this is further borne out in the next verse (v. 3) where God says, "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late." God proceeds to tell of His charges against Babylon and of her coming destruction. So the progression goes like this: God will deal with the evil of His people Israel by using a people even more evil to punish them. Then He will destroy those who were His instrument of punishment for His people.

Does this make sense? It makes perfect sense to God, and after all, on whose standard is true justice based? If not on God's, then there is no objective standard. I do not claim to know the mind of God, but I can see an explanation to the above progression of punishment. Why would God want to use good people who are His faithful follows to carry out His judgment getting their hands bloody in the process and potentially perverting them. His plan for His followers is for them to be messengers of the Good News of God's salvation for all. Using them to also be instruments of punishment would go contrary to this greater purpose. Why not use those whose hands are already bloodied for this purpose? It would not be inciting them to do anything they are not already doing. And, would be a natural outflow of their evil ways.

Through the remainder of this chapter God outlines 5 woes against Babylon. Whether or not Habakkuk is yet satisfied with God using evil people to punish Israel, he can at least be satisfied that God is not rewarding this evil people by turning Israel over to them. He has a punishment in store for Babylon of which Habakkuk can be certain. The woes that God proclaims against Babylon are:
  • Woe to him who amasses what is not his - Their wealth was based on the plunder of other nations.
  • Woe to him who unjustly gains wealth for his house to place his nest on high - They sought to exalt themselves even above God.
  • Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice! - This is self explanatory.
  • Woe to him who gives his neighbors drink, pouring out your wrath and even making them drunk, in order to look at their nakedness! - Also self explanatory.
  • Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! - This referred to their making of idols to worship, pointing out the obsurdness of making something from wood or stone and then expecting it to come to life.
Each of these woes is followed with a description of what will happen as a result. This last woe, however, is followed with the statement, "But the LORD is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence." It contrasts the woe concerning dumb idols that are not alive and cannot hear nor speak. The idols can do nothing, but God is alive and in His holy temple and is to be reverenced. So, also, should Habakkuk reverence Him and get over his concern for God's justice.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reflections on Habakkuk 1

    Habakkuk 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Habakkuk the prophet. And this is the message that the LORD gave me.
  2. Our LORD, how long must I beg for your help before you listen? How long before you save us from all this violence?
  3. Why do you make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere?
  4. Laws cannot be enforced; justice is always the loser; criminals crowd out honest people and twist the laws around.
  5. Look and be amazed at what's happening among the nations! Even if you were told, you would never believe what's taking place now.
  6. I am sending the Babylonians. They are fierce and cruel-- marching across the land, conquering cities and towns.
  7. How fearsome and frightening. Their only laws and rules are the ones they make up.
  8. Their cavalry troops are faster than leopards, more ferocious than wolves hunting at sunset, and swifter than hungry eagles suddenly swooping down.
  9. They are eager to destroy, and they gather captives like handfuls of sand.
  10. They make fun of rulers and laugh at fortresses, while building dirt mounds so they can capture cities.
  11. Then suddenly they disappear like a gust of wind-- those sinful people who worship their own strength.
  12. Holy LORD God, mighty rock, you are eternal, and we are safe from death. You are using those Babylonians to judge and punish others.
  13. But you can't stand sin or wrong. So don't sit by in silence while they gobble down people who are better than they are.
  14. The people you put on this earth are like fish or reptiles without a leader.
  15. Then an enemy comes along and takes them captive with hooks and nets. It makes him so happy
  16. that he offers sacrifices to his fishing nets, because they make him rich and provide choice foods.
  17. Will he keep hauling in his nets and destroying nations without showing mercy?

Habakkuk came on the scene at a time of international crises and national corruption. The prophet watched as Israel's constant foe, the Assyrians, a nation that seemed invincible, was annihilated by the newly emerged power of the Babylonians, or Chaldeans, as they are referred to here. Although this provided a breather for Israel, taking away the threat of the Assyrians, Israel was falling apart from within with its growing corruption. All of this caused Habakkuk to raise the age old question of why a loving and just God would allow evil to prevail?

It is a legitimate question, but one that needs to be taken to the right source if answers are to be found. But do all who raise this question really want answers or is this a question they pose to promote their own ideas? Many use it as an excuse to say there cannot be a God, otherwise He would not allow such evil and injustice. But none of us are qualified to make such a judgment, for we would have to know and understand everything to draw this conclusion accurately. Habakkuk didn't just ask his question of just anyone who would listen. He took it to the only source that could give him an accurate answer - God Himself. What a novel idea! Why is it so many who ask this question don't sincerely take their question to God? It makes one wonder if they sincerely want an answer or if they prefer to draw their own conclusions.

Verses 2-4 give rather pointed questions Habakkuk directs at God. They might more accurately be called accusations. He accuses God of not listening when he calls for help and of not doing anything about violence that is so obvious. He claims that due to God's lack of action His law is made ineffective and therefore justice never emerges. Were we listening to this we might want to get away before lightning struck Habakkuk. Instead of lightning, what happened? God answered and told Habakkuk he couldn't see the forest for the trees. Well, that is not exactly what God said. He told him to look beyond himself and beyond Israel to the nations and observe what was happening. God was raising up a new power - the Chaldeans (Babylonians) - and would use them to deal with the injustice in Israel.

Rather than being glad he had an answer, Habakkuk had a new problem and a new set of questions: Why would God use such an evil people to deal with His own people, the Israelites? Why would God be silent "while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself?" How arrogant we are to think we know enough to judge how God should or should not do something! Habakkuk's assumption here is that if God uses one nation to punish or correct another nation the one He uses should at least be more righteous than the one being punished. This assumes that God uses His loyal followers to punish those who are disobedient or do not follow Him. This is an assumption that leads many who follow God to be judgmental of those who do not follow God. As I understand it, though, God wants to use His followers to take Good News to those who do not follow so they will be drawn to Him. This role does not work well with one of bringing judgment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reflections on Nahum 3

    Nahum 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Doom to the crime capital! Nineveh, city of murder and treachery,
  2. here is your fate-- cracking whips, churning wheels; galloping horses, roaring chariots;
  3. cavalry attacking, swords and spears flashing; soldiers stumbling over piles of dead bodies.
  4. You were nothing more than a prostitute using your magical charms and witchcraft to attract and trap nations.
  5. But I, the LORD All-Powerful, am now your enemy. I will pull up your skirt and let nations and kingdoms stare at your nakedness.
  6. I will cover you with garbage, treat you like trash, and rub you in the dirt.
  7. Everyone who sees you will turn away and shout, "Nineveh is done for! Is anyone willing to mourn or to give her comfort?"
  8. Nineveh, do you feel safer than the city of Thebes? The Nile River was its wall of defense.
  9. Thebes trusted the mighty power of Ethiopia and Egypt; the nations of Put and Libya were her allies.
  10. But she was captured and taken to a foreign country. Her children were murdered at every street corner. The members of her royal family were auctioned off, and her high officials were bound in chains.
  11. Nineveh, now it's your turn! You will get drunk and try to hide from your enemy.
  12. Your fortresses are fig trees with ripe figs. Merely shake the trees, and fruit will fall into every open mouth.
  13. Your army is weak. Fire has destroyed the crossbars on your city gates; now they stand wide open to your enemy.
  14. Your city is under attack. Haul in extra water! Strengthen your defenses! Start making bricks! Stir the mortar!
  15. You will still go up in flames and be cut down by swords that will wipe you out like wheat attacked by grasshoppers. So, go ahead and increase like a swarm of locusts!
  16. More merchants are in your city than there are stars in the sky-- but they are like locusts that eat everything, then fly away.
  17. Your guards and your officials are swarms of locusts. On a chilly day they settle on a fence, but when the sun comes out, they take off to who-knows-where.
  18. King of Assyria, your officials and leaders sleep the eternal sleep, while your people are scattered in the mountains. Yes, your people are sheep without a shepherd.
  19. You're fatally wounded. There's no hope for you. But everyone claps when they hear this news, because your constant cruelty has caused them pain.

The previous two chapters declared Nineveh's fate, now chapter 3 describes it. Although this description is given before it happens, it is amazingly accurate as confirmed by history and archeology. It could have been told after the fact and been little different. Although this is a description of what will happen to Nineveh, it can also be understood as a description of atrocities committed by the Ninevites. God's judgment, as is often the case, mimics the sin. Nineveh suffered the same atrocities she herself had practiced.

Verse 1 begins with "Woe to the city of blood." Nineveh earned this title because of her practice of such atrocities as cutting off hands and feet and other body parts, gouging out eyes, and completely removing a person's skin while alive, among other things. Following the statement of woe is a description of the attacking forces: "The crack of the whip and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and jolting chariot! Charging horseman, flashing sword, shining spear; heaps of slain, mounds of corpses, dead bodies without end--they stumble over their dead." Chapter 2 told of the flooding of the city that brought down the royal palace and decimated much of the city. Now the invading forces were free to swarm the city.

Besides the atrocities, another reason God was against Nineveh was her practice of sorcery and witchcraft. These practices, while contrary to God, are also a means of controlling people. By using incantations to supposedly foretell the future, people's lives can be influenced and they can be held in fear. God's response to these sins was to display Nineveh's shame before the world. "I will lift your skirts over your face and display your nakedness to nations, your shame to kingdoms. I will throw filth on you and treat you with contempt; I will make a spectacle of you." The filth that would be thrown on them was likely excrement.

"Are you better than Thebes," Nahum asks? And the answer is no, but Nineveh thought she was. Thebes was an Egyptian city Assyria had conquered, and what Nineveh had done to that city would be done to her. People would be taken into exile, children dashed to pieces in view of everyone, lots cast for dignitaries to have them as slaves, etc. The invasion would be so overwhelming and fearful that Nineveh's troops would become like women, afraid and defenseless. In fact, at this point the city was totally defenseless with her gates wide open to the enemy. Fire would devour them and the sword would cut them down. The devastation would be like that of locusts on crops. Again, archeology bears out that the city was so decimated that it was never rebuilt.

There was no remedy for Nineveh. Her wound would be too severe. And did her demise sadden the world? Not at all. At the news of her defeat people would clap their hands, "for who has not experienced your constant cruelty?" No people or nation are immune to such a judgment. God will not allow such evil indefinitely. It may appear to us that He does since we may not see His judgment in our lifetime, but in His own time He will take action against those who practice evil. And when He decides to act, those against whom He takes action will have no defense and will suffer as they have handed out suffering.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reflections on Nahum 2

    Nahum 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Nineveh, someone is coming to attack and scatter you. Guard your fortresses! Watch the road! Be brave! Prepare for battle!
  2. Judah and Israel are like trees with branches broken by their enemies. But the LORD is going to restore their power and glory. *
  3. Nineveh, on this day of attack, your enemies' shields are red; their uniforms are crimson.
  4. Their horses prance, and their armored chariots dart around like lightning or flaming torches.
  5. An officer gives a command. But his soldiers stumble, as they hasten to build a shelter to protect themselves against rocks thrown down from the city wall.
  6. The river gates fly open, and panic floods the palace.
  7. Nineveh is disgraced. The queen is dragged off. Her servant women mourn; they sound like doves, and they beat their breasts in sorrow.
  8. Nineveh is like a pond with leaking water. Shouts of "Stop! Don't go!" can be heard everywhere. But everyone is leaving.
  9. Enemy soldiers shout, "The city is full of treasure and all kinds of wealth. Steal her silver! Grab her gold!"
  10. Nineveh is doomed! Destroyed! Her people tremble with fear; their faces turn pale.
  11. What happened to this city? They were safer there than powerful lions in a den, with no one to disturb them.
  12. These are the same lions that ferociously attacked their victims, then dragged away the flesh to feed their young.
  13. The LORD All-Powerful is against you, Nineveh. God will burn your chariots and send an army to kill those young lions of yours. You will never again make victims of others or send messengers to threaten everyone on this earth.

Chapter 1 of Nahum provided an overview of the coming invasion and destruction of Nineveh and now chapter 2 begins a more detailed description. Nahum's account is not only about the destruction of Nineveh but also of the restoration of Israel. However, they are not simultaneous events nor even within close proximity in time.

The threat of attack by an enemy force was not uncommon in Nahum's day. Stronger nations grew stronger by defeating and acquiring the spoils of weaker nations. Assyria had grown very strong and had defeated and acquired spoils from countless nations. But history shows that regardless of the strength of a nation it would eventually be conquered. Sooner or later a nation would grow strong enough to overpower it, multiple nations would pool their forces against it, or the nation itself would eventually grow weak through complacency or poor leadership. God's promise to Israel to be a mighty nation was not based on her own strength but on His. The only guarantee Israel had of becoming great and remaining great was God's protection. She would never be strong enough to be safe from every invading force that might come against her, just as Assyria was unable to remain impenetrable forever. The rise or the fall of Israel was directly connected to her dependence on God. And even though Assyria was not a follower of the true God or considered to be His people, her fate was also in His hands. As Nahum's account describes for us, it was God's hand that brought the destructive blow against this nation using Babylonian forces as His instrument of destruction.

The first verses of chapter 2 describe the invasion of Nineveh as if it was happening as Nahum spoke. "Man the fortifications! Watch the road! Brace yourself! Summon all your strength!" Nineveh is trying to summon its forces against an invader who is already entering the city through its suburbs. The chariots of the invaders are dashing through the streets, darting "back and forth like lightning." Nineveh's forces are summoned to the wall and protective shields set in place. Then verse 6 speaks of the river gates that are opened and the palace being eroded. Though there are varying ideas of what this means, the most natural meaning and one that is supported by archeological remains would point to Assyria's own innovation being used against her to bring this defeating blow against the great city of Nineveh.

Sennacherib, Assryia's king, had the Khosr River damned using a double dam and two massive river walls to form a reservoir. Using gates and sluices, the water flow from this reservoir to the city could be increased or reduced as desired. What the enemy may have done with this invasion was to close the floodgates allowing the reservoirs to become completely full and then throwing open the gates so that the water flowing to the city actually flooded it causing the collapse of the palace. Though this scenario is speculative, the description of verse 6 fits such a scenario.

Verses 7 and following go on to tell of the sacking of the city. The city is stripped of its beauty, ladies-in-waiting are taken away, people are fleeing the city in droves, and the treasures are plundered. The scene is described in verse 10 as "Desolation, decimation, devastation!" Verse 13 identifies the source of this defeat. It was not Babylon, but the "Lord of Hosts," who declares, "Beware, I am against you."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reflections on Nahum 1

    Nahum 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Nahum from Elkosh. And this is the message that I wrote down about Nineveh.
  2. The LORD God demands loyalty. In his anger, he takes revenge on his enemies.
  3. The LORD is powerful, yet patient; he makes sure that the guilty are always punished. He can be seen in storms and in whirlwinds; clouds are the dust from his feet.
  4. At the LORD's command, oceans and rivers dry up. Bashan, Mount Carmel, and Lebanon wither, and their flowers fade.
  5. At the sight of the LORD, mountains and hills tremble and melt; the earth and its people shudder and shake.
  6. Who can stand the heat of his furious anger? It flashes out like fire and shatters stones.
  7. The LORD is good. He protects those who trust him in times of trouble.
  8. But like a roaring flood, the LORD chases his enemies into dark places and destroys them.
  9. So don't plot against the LORD! He wipes out his enemies, and they never revive.
  10. They are like drunkards overcome by wine, or like dry thornbushes burning in a fire.
  11. Assyria, one of your rulers has made evil plans against the LORD.
  12. But the LORD says, "Assyria, no matter how strong you are, you are doomed! My people Judah, I have troubled you before, but I won't do it again.
  13. I'll snap your chains and set you free from the Assyrians."
  14. Assyria, this is what else the LORD says to you: "Your name will be forgotten. I will destroy every idol in your temple, and I will send you to the grave, because you are worthless."
  15. Look toward the mountains, people of Judah! Here comes a messenger with good news of peace. Celebrate your festivals. Keep your promises to God. Your evil enemies are destroyed and will never again invade your country.

Both Nahum and Jonah prophesied concerning the city of Nineveh. Both prophesied the destruction of the city, Jonah's coming about 100 years prior to Nahum's. But the two had very different outcomes. In the case of Jonah, the city repented and changed its ways and God relented of the destruction He planned. But Nahum's prophecy had a certainty about it. Nineveh had gone too far. These Assyrians had a long history of opposing God and His people, the Israelites. Their repentance in response to Jonah's preaching represented a short time in the history of this nation in which it responded favorably to God. As this repentance under Jonah's preaching indicates, the Ninevites were not ignorant of God. They knew Israel's history and how God had intervened on her behalf on many occasions. But they were a proud people, and despite this relatively short period in which they repented and turned from their evil ways, they, for the most part, thought themselves immune to God's actions against them and on behalf of Israel. God used Assyria to punish Israel through military victory. Though this should have given reason for Assyria to look favorably to God, it only caused her to be more prideful and to consider herself beyond God's reach. In the minds of these people, it was their superiority, not God's help, that brought their victory over Israel.

The first half of this first chapter establishes several things about God. First, He is jealous and avenging. He does not look kindly on those who try to take what belongs to Him. In this case it was Israel. They were His people and He was by this time furious with Assyria for trying to take them away from Him. Though I believe this to be the main point of this passage, it could also include taking what God had provided them and using it for their own purposes in opposition to God's purposes. Second, God is powerful, who can withstand Him. He can cause the sea to dry up and the mountains to quake, so who did Assyria think they were to oppose Him? Third, in spite of the first two characteristics, we should not overlook the fact that God is also good and is a stronghold for those who take refuge in Him. He reserves His wrath and exercises His power against only those who are His foes. He is not capricious about it, wielding His might against whomever He takes a notion to strike. It is only against His foes. But notice further, that God is slow to anger. He does not exercise His might against any except those who oppose Him and even then, it is not at the first sign of opposing Him. He is slow to exercise His might in anger.

We often become impatient with God thinking He should zap those whose opposition against Him causes us problems. But God provides ample time for His foes to repent and change their ways. He allowed centuries for Assyria to do so. Though it appeared with Jonah's preaching they had indeed done just that - repented and changed their ways - it was short lived and only delayed the inevitable end for Assyria. So God was saying through Nahum that whatever Assyria plots against the Lord will bring them to complete destruction from which they will never again rise. The nation is finished. It may be a strong and numerous nation (verse 12) but this will not keep it from being "mowed down." No offspring will survive this destruction to carry on the name of Assyria.

That was the bad news for Assyria, but it was good news for Judah. She would then be free from her enemy and able to again worship God and celebrate her festivals without fear of this "wicked one."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Reflections on Micah 7

    Micah 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I feel so empty inside-- like someone starving for grapes or figs, after the vines and trees have all been picked clean.
  2. No one is loyal to God; no one does right. Everyone is brutal and eager to deceive everyone else.
  3. People cooperate to commit crime. Judges and leaders demand bribes, and rulers cheat in court.
  4. The most honest of them is worse than a thorn patch. Your doom has come! Lookouts sound the warning, and everyone panics.
  5. Don't trust anyone, not even your best friend, and be careful what you say to the one you love.
  6. Sons refuse to respect their own fathers, daughters rebel against their own mothers, and daughters-in-law despise their mothers-in-law. Your family is now your enemy.
  7. But I trust the LORD God to save me, and I will wait for him to answer my prayer.
  8. My enemies, don't be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the LORD is my light.
  9. I have sinned against the LORD. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light.
  10. You, my enemies, said, "The LORD God is helpless." Now each of you will be disgraced and put to shame. I will see you trampled like mud in the street.
  11. Towns of Judah, the day is coming when your walls will be rebuilt, and your boundaries enlarged.
  12. People will flock to you from Assyria and Egypt, from Babylonia and everywhere else.
  13. Those nations will suffer disaster because of what they did.
  14. Lead your people, LORD! Come and be our shepherd. Grasslands surround us, but we live in a forest. So lead us to Bashan and Gilead, and let us find pasture as we did long ago.
  15. I, the LORD, will work miracles just as I did when I led you out of Egypt.
  16. Nations will see this and be ashamed because of their helpless armies. They will be in shock, unable to speak or hear,
  17. because of their fear of me, your LORD and God. Then they will come trembling, crawling out of their fortresses like insects or snakes, lapping up the dust.
  18. Our God, no one is like you. We are all that is left of your chosen people, and you freely forgive our sin and guilt. You don't stay angry forever; you're glad to have pity
  19. and pleased to be merciful. You will trample on our sins and throw them in the sea.
  20. You will keep your word and be faithful to Jacob and to Abraham, as you promised our ancestors many years ago.

The third and last message of Micah continues in this 7th and last chapter of the book. Micah states his sadness at looking around him and being unable to find godly people. He compared it to going to the field to pick fruit but finding that all the fruit has picked. From the leaders on down, everyone was intent on doing evil. One could not depend on a friend or even family members for they might turn against him for their own benefit. Because of this state of affairs, punishment was coming their way.

Unfortunately, their was a remnant who, like Micah, looked to the Lord, but who would be caught in the punishment that was coming to the nation. No, Micah and this remnant were not innocent, for as Micah confessed, they had sinned. None of us are totally innocent of sin. But for Micah and this remnant, they were more inclined to "look to the Lord" than to sin. Would God have planned punishment for Israel had the nation as a whole been like this remnant? Unlikely. But the remnant would suffer along with the others. Micah, however, states what separates the godly from the ungodly, the faithful from the unfaithful. Though he must "endure the Lord's rage" he knows the Lord will argue his case and establish justice for him. Micah also knows a day will come when the enemy will no longer gloat over their defeat of Israel but will instead be "covered with shame" when the Lord restores Israel. This restoration will not occur until the Messiah's second advent when He will rule the world. (chapter 5 addresses this more) "On that day people will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, even from Egypt to the Euphrates River and from sea to sea and mountain to mountain." These people will come to Israel to learn about and worship God.

Comments of the previous paragraph about the godly remnant suffering along with the ungodly will undoubtedly raise questions with some about God's justice or how a loving God could allow such suffering for good people. These are age-old questions. But for those who, like Micah, "look to the Lord," they are not deterrents to following God. Why not? Because they trust God even when they don't understand what He is doing. After all, He is God and we are not. Once the issue is settled concerning one's trust of God to care for those who put their trust in Him, they can endure even when they don't understand. They know, as did Micah, that one day God will again lift them up and bless them. Those who trust the Lord come to understand that in diversity our faith and character are strengthened even more than in good times, and as the psalmist says, "Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning." (Psm 30:5) This joy surpasses any we know under normal conditions. But one can only accept this by faith until they experience it and can then understand it. In John chapter 16, Christ compares suffering His followers endure to the pains of childbirth. But once the child is born, the woman no longer remembers the pain because of the great joy over the child that has been born. In verse 22 of that chapter, Christ says, "So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy."

Verses 15-20 of this last chapter of Micah conclude the book with a description of the ultimate joy Israel will have following her suffering. God will show them "wondrous deeds as in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reflections on Micah 6

    Micah 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD said to his people: Come and present your case to the hills and mountains.
  2. Israel, I am bringing charges against you-- I call upon the mountains and the earth's firm foundation to be my witnesses.
  3. My people, have I wronged you in any way at all? Please tell me.
  4. I rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to be your leaders.
  5. Don't forget the evil plans of King Balak of Moab or what Balaam son of Beor said to him. Remember how I, the LORD, saved you many times on your way from Acacia to Gilgal.
  6. What offering should I bring when I bow down to worship the LORD God Most High? Should I try to please him by sacrificing calves a year old?
  7. Will thousands of sheep or rivers of olive oil make God satisfied with me? Should I sacrifice to the LORD my first-born child as payment for my terrible sins?
  8. The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: "See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God."
  9. I am the LORD, and it makes sense to respect my power to punish. So listen to my message for the city of Jerusalem:
  10. You store up stolen treasures and use dishonest scales.
  11. But I, the LORD, will punish you for cheating with weights and with measures.
  12. You rich people are violent, and everyone tells lies.
  13. Because of your sins, I will wound you and leave you ruined and defenseless.
  14. You will eat, but still be hungry; you will store up goods, but lose everything-- I, the LORD, will let it all be captured in war.
  15. You won't harvest what you plant or use the oil from your olive trees or drink the wine from grapes you grow.
  16. Jerusalem, this will happen because you followed the sinful example of kings Omri and Ahab. Now I will destroy you and your property. Then the people of every nation will make fun and insult you.

The previous two chapters dealt much with the future, contrasting the way Israel was in Micah's day with how it will one day be after Christ's second advent when He will rule the world. At that time Israel will be what God intended her to be. In chapter 6 the text returns to Micah's day and to the sins of Israel. As pointed out in earlier reflections, the book of Micah contains three messages. Chapter 6 begins the third of those messages which is an indictment against Israel for her sin. But God's indictments are nearly always accompanied with a promise of hope or blessing, and so also is this one.

As in an earlier chapter, the Lord again called on witnesses to hear His case against Israel - "plead your case before the mountains." Israel was also challenged to make her case against God - "My people, what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Testify against Me!" Then, as is often found alongside God's charges against Israel, God reminds the nation of His goodness to them in delivering them from slavery in Egypt. As if the case has been settled and Israel has been found guilty, Micah then raises the question as to how Israel might find forgiveness with God.

In human justice systems those found guilty are given a punishment they must endure. But God's system of justice offers another option - repentance and forgiveness. Admission of guilt in the human system of justice has become almost unheard of. But, although admitting one's guilt will not cause them to avoid their punishment, it can often help reduce the punishment. With God, though, admission of guilt and a desire to turn away from the wrong actions will erase the punishment and guilt. What it will not do is erase the consequences of the wrongdoing. The harm one's wrongdoing may have brought to others is not erased when one repents of their wrongdoing, nor will the actions of others against them because of their wrongdoing be erased. It is their guilt before God and punishment He would bring that is erased. In its place one is given a sense of inner peace because of being in right relationship with their Creator.

Being out of a right relationship with our Creator causes an emptiness in our being that we often try to fill in ways that are harmful to us and to others. It makes no difference whether we believe in God or not, we are made to have a relationship with God, our Creator. Having inner peace, finding the meaning of life, and putting life in proper perspective are all dependent on this relationship with God.

Returning to Micah and the question of how Israel might find forgiveness with God, Micah asks if he should bring burnt offerings when he bows before God. Would God be pleased with an abundance of sacrifices? The answer? Israel already knows what she must do. Though sacrifice should not be omitted, it is correcting her behavior that God requires. What God requires of her is to stop her evil ways and "to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God." Religious activity and rituals are empty unless accompanied with right behavior and attitude.

Israel is accused here of acting deceptively in her business practices and her cities being full of violence. If she is to find favor with God and avoid the coming destruction she must repent of these evil practices and change her behavior. If she does not, God promises that she will be struck severely and suffer desolation.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reflections on Micah 5

    Micah 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jerusalem, enemy troops have surrounded you; they have struck Israel's ruler in the face with a stick.
  2. Bethlehem Ephrath, you are one of the smallest towns in the nation of Judah. But the LORD will choose one of your people to rule the nation-- someone whose family goes back to ancient times.
  3. The LORD will abandon Israel only until this ruler is born, and the rest of his family returns to Israel.
  4. Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep, this ruler will lead and care for his people by the power and glorious name of the LORD his God. His people will live securely, and the whole earth will know his true greatness,
  5. because he will bring peace. Let Assyria attack our country and our palaces. We will counterattack, led by a number of rulers
  6. whose strong army will defeat the nation of Assyria. Yes, our leaders will rescue us, if those Assyrians dare to invade our land.
  7. A few of Jacob's descendants survived and are scattered among the nations. But the LORD will let them cover the earth like dew and rain that refreshes the soil.
  8. At present they are scattered, but later they will attack, as though they were fierce lions pouncing on sheep. Their enemies will be torn to shreds, with no one to save them;
  9. they will be helpless, completely destroyed.
  10. The LORD said: At that time I will wipe out your cavalry and chariots,
  11. as well as your cities and your fortresses.
  12. I will stop you from telling fortunes and practicing witchcraft.
  13. You will no longer worship the idols or stone images you have made-- I will destroy them,
  14. together with the sacred poles and even your towns.
  15. I will become furious and take revenge on the nations that refuse to obey me.

The previous chapter referred to a future time when the Messiah will return to earth and rule the world from Jerusalem - Christ's second advent. This will be a time in which there is finally world peace because Christ, the Messiah, will be the arbitrator of disputes between nations, and His arbitration will settle disputes with finality. Verse 5:1 returns to Micah's day referring to the coming siege of Israel in which she will be defeated and taken into exile. But the prophet returns to Israel's future hope in verse 2 with a reference to the birth of the Messiah - Christ's first advent. Christmas sermons and musicals frequently reference this verse which speaks of Christ's birth in Bethlehem Ephrathah and His lineage from the tribe of Judah. Then Christ's first advent is tied to His second advent in verse 3. After Christ's death on the cross and ascension to heaven, "He will abandon them (Israel) until the time when she who is in labor has given birth."

During this period between Christ's first and second advents, Israel will remain scattered. But with Christ's return (2nd advent) Israel will be reunited in her homeland under Christ's worldwide reign. Verse 5 makes another reference to peace. At that time, Israel's enemies, such as the Assyrians, will be subdued under Christ's leadership. Also at that time, Israel will have leaders who will shepherd or care for the people. This contrasts the condition in Israel at the time of Micah. The leaders he addressed where using their positions as a means of taking advantage of the people, not to care for them. While Israel is abandoned between the two advents, she will be detested by the other nations, but in the period of the second advent she will not only have peace from the other nations, but will also have influence among them, becoming dominant and more powerful than they.

In the period of this second advent, also referred to as the Millennium (Christ's 1,000 year reign), Israel will become what God had intended for her when He first made the covenant with Abraham. Though the nation seemed on track during King David's reign to fulfill God's intentions for her, she strayed from God and declined. We are individually inclined to be like Israel during that period. Because of her relationship with God and His blessings to her, the nation came to think that God would bless whatever she did. But God was not blessing her plans, He was blessing her as she allowed herself to be guided by God's plans. So it is with us. The life God intends for us and the blessings He has in store for us are found when we adopt His plans, not in asking Him to bless our plans.

Under Christ's reign, in His second advent, Israel will become what God intended for her because she is adopting His plan for her and relying on Him to accomplish it. "In that day," says the Lord, "I will remove your horses from you and wreck your chariots." (verse 5) By doing this, Israel will no longer depend on her military power, but on the Lord alone. Neither will she depend on her cities and fortresses because the Lord will also remove them. Furthermore, the Lord will remove Israel's dependence on other gods by ridding her of sorcerers and fortune-tellers, carved images and Asherah poles.

All of this is in the future and contrasts the conditions in Israel in Micah's day. In his day Israel did not depend on God but on her own strength, which was insufficient, and on other gods, which were nothing more than objects they have made themselves.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflections on Micah 4

    Micah 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. In the future, the mountain with the LORD's temple will be the highest of all. It will reach above the hills, and every nation will rush to it.
  2. People of many nations will come and say, "Let's go up to the mountain of the LORD God of Jacob and worship in his temple." The LORD will teach us his Law from Jerusalem, and we will obey him.
  3. He will settle arguments between distant and powerful nations. They will pound their swords and their spears into rakes and shovels; they will never again make war or attack one another.
  4. Everyone will find rest beneath their own fig trees or grape vines, and they will live in peace. This is a solemn promise of the LORD All-Powerful.
  5. Others may follow their gods, but we will always follow the LORD our God.
  6. The LORD said: At that time I will gather my people-- the lame and the outcasts, and all into whose lives I have brought sorrow.
  7. Then the lame and the outcasts will belong to my people and become a strong nation. I, the LORD, will rule them from Mount Zion forever.
  8. Mount Zion in Jerusalem, guardian of my people, you will rule again.
  9. Jerusalem, why are you crying? Don't you have a king? Have your advisors gone? Are you suffering like a woman in childbirth?
  10. Keep on groaning with pain, you people of Jerusalem! If you escape from your city to the countryside, you will still be taken as prisoners to Babylonia. But later I will rescue you from your enemies.
  11. Zion, because of your sins you are surrounded by many nations who say, "We can hardly wait to see you disgraced."
  12. But they don't know that I, the LORD, have gathered them here to grind them like grain.
  13. Smash them to pieces, Zion! I'll let you be like a bull with iron horns and bronze hoofs. Crush those nations and bring their wealth to me, the LORD of the earth.

Micah provides us a look into the future. That future he saw is still future to us, though we are now some 2500 years nearer that time. The view Micah gives us in the first eight verses of chapter 4 is during a time bible scholars identify as the millennium. This is a 1,000 year period after Christ's return to earth, when He will rule the earth. As described in these first eight verses, during this time Christ will rule from Jerusalem which will be the political and religious center of the world. God's plan to bless the world through Israel will finally be fulfilled.

Finally, during this period, the world will see peace. Rather than defaulting to war to settle disputes between nations, Christ will be the arbitrator. His arbitration will settle the dispute with finality and there will be no need for war or the implements of war. Thus the nations will turn these implements into peacetime implements used for productive purposes. People will be able to sit peacefully and enjoy life without fear of harm. Presently, all efforts to bring peace are imperfect. While we have international peacekeeping organizations operated by major nations that have formed agreements for this purpose, we see more strife between nations in our time - not less. These organizations seek international peace through peaceful means, which is admirable. Peaceful methods, however, will work only with rational leaders who have good intentions. That does not describe every national leader. For those it does not describe, their destructive intentions will only be stopped by meeting force with force. This solution is only justified when the potential destruction of the despot leader appears greater than that of the force used to stop him. Either way, many innocent people are harmed. This is the plight of the imperfect world in which we live.

But when Christ rules the world it will become the world it was intended to be. We ask why God allows bad things to happen. He allows it because He has given everyone of us the freedom to choose what we will do and He will not intervene to take away that freedom. Therefore, people make bad choices and these choices have consequences. God does not intervene on the choice or on the consequence. I suspect that many, who complain the loudest about a God who allows bad things to happen, would also complain the loudest about a God who did not give them freedom to do what they wanted to do. But it can't be both ways.

In the last verses of the chapter (verses 9-13), Micah tells of events to happen before the time of the Millennium. These should not be seen as happening in rapid succession, but as spreading out over thousands of years. In fact, though some have now taken place, others have not. To start this sequence, Micah drops back to the near future for those he is addressing. The Israelites will be like a woman in labor, as they cry out in pain, because of what they will experience. They will be defeated by the Babylonians and exiled to that country. So the first event in the sequence is Israel's exile to Babylon. This happened in Micah's time. The second event in the sequence is her rescue from this exile. This happened about 70 years after the exile. The third and final event mentioned is the gathering of many nations against Israel. We have history in our favor to understand the timing of the first two events, but are left to make assumptions about the third event. And the assumption of many, if not most, interpreters is that this third event takes place when Christ returns to establish His worldwide kingdom. The battle in which Christ enables Israel to defeat these nations gathered against her is then understood to be the "Battle of Armageddon." Israel at that time is the nation God desires her to be and devotes the spoils of this battle to the Lord.