Thursday, October 29, 2015

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.

The fall of Nineveh is described in chapter 2 as if it were already happening, though Nahum was actually describing future events. The fall of the Assryian empire was a piece of God's plan to restore Jacob and Israel, a likely reference to Judah, the southern kingdom and Israel, the northern kingdom. In other words, restoring all of Israel. At the time Nahum was writing, the northern kingdom was exiled in Assyria. The fall of Assyria would free the Jews in exile and remove the threat from those in Judah.

The invaders would break through into the city of Nineveh and dash through the streets in their chariots. The Ninevites would take defensive action, but to no avail. There is speculation about the reference to river gates in verse 6. One of the more plausible explanations involved a water system the Assyrians had built into the Khosr River, erecting a double dam upstream from the city which made a reservoir. The theory is that the invaders closed the floodgates in the dam allowing the reservoir to become completely full, and then opening the gates again to their fullest causing the city to be flooded.

Whether or not this was the actual scenario, Nineveh was washed away in flood waters and the invaders were invited to "Plunder the silver!" (V. 9) Assyria had amassed great wealth from their plunder of other nations they had defeated. This was all available to their invaders. Verse 10 describes the result of this devastation on the Ninevites.

God was against Assyria and was the true source of this devastation on the empire, though it came at the hands of the Babylonians and Medes. As with any people, God had given Assyria opportunity to change, and for 150 years he had waited for Assyria to do so, using Jonah at one point. But lasting change had not occurred and God finally acted.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

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.

Israel, the northern kingdom, was captive in Assyria and Judah, the southern kingdom, was in fear of the same fate at the hands of Assyria. God sent Nahum to assure Judah she need not fear Assyria for God had plans for Nineveh's destruction. Leading up to the message of Nineveh's destruction in verse 8, Nahum reminded Judah of the Lord's greatness. He is a jealous God who is fierce when He is driven toward vengeance. He is "slow to anger but great in power." (V. 3) The power He turns loose in vengeance is the same power that can dry up the sea and the rivers. It can make mountains quake, hills melt, and the earth tremble. This is the power that will be unleashed on Nineveh when the time is right, and the city will be completely destroyed.

Judah was in fear of attack by the Assyrians, but God was telling her that her concern was not the Assyrians but her relationship with the Lord. For the Lord "cares for those who take refuge in Him." (V. 7) After his description of God's anger and wrath, Nahum says in verse 7 that "The Lord is good." Some people read these Old Testament passages that speak of God's wrath and anger and that is the picture of God they take away from them, missing verses such as verse 7 that tell us He is good. So is He an angry God who is sometimes good, or is He a good God who is sometimes angry?

Jesus once asked a man who had called Him good, "Why do you call Me good? . . . No one is good but One--God." (Mark 10:18) In 1 John 4:16, John says, "God is love," saying that God's character and who He is defines love. It might be said that the closer we get to God His love becomes most prominent in our understanding of Him, and the further away we get from God His anger becomes most prominent in our understanding.

Nineveh had laid siege to Jerusalem once before and God had intervened and destroyed their army. But the Assyrians continued to plot evil against Judah, which the Lord says in verse 11 was actually plotting against Him. The Lord assured Judah that Assyria would not come out against them again. He had issued an order concerning Assyria: "There will be no offspring to carry on your name. I will eliminate the carved idol and cast image from the house of your gods; I will prepare your grave, for you are contemptible." (V. 14) But to Judah the Lord said, "Look to the mountains--the feet of one bringing good news and proclaiming peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah; fulfill your vows. For the wicked one will never again march through you; he will be entirely wiped out." (V. 15)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

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!

The Lord, through Zephaniah, returned His attention to Jerusalem in chapter 3. The Holy city had become a rebellious, defiled, and oppressive city. Her princes were like roaring lions, her judges were wolves. Her prophets were treacherous and her priests profaned the sanctuary. These were the leaders, not to mention the rest of the people. God had brought judgment first on Judah's neighboring nations with hopes that Judah would fear the Lord and accept correction. Instead, the people became even more corrupt.

Verse 8 begins the conclusion of the Lord's message through Zephaniah's. It is a message of future hope. God's people, the Jews were a rebellious people in Zephaniah's day, and they were about to come under God's judgment and to become a nation of shame among all the other nations. This was not what God intended for His people. Instead, they were to be a blessing to all nations.

But it would not always be this way. There was a time in the distant future when God would restore His people, the Jews. They would be regathered to their land where the nations of the world would gather against them. But the King of Israel, the Lord, the returned Christ, would be among them and would save them. He will deal with all who afflict Israel and Israel will become a nation that is praised throughout the earth rather than condemned.

Monday, October 26, 2015

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 chapter one Zephaniah warned Judah of the coming "Day of the Lord." A day that would bring judgment and destruction on the nation. Entering chapter two the prophet urged the people to gather together before the day of the Lord came and before it was too late and seek the Lord. This appeal seemed to be for individual repentance rather than national. It would not turn away God's judgment but rather hide those who repent from the Lord's anger on that day.

Verse 4 begins a naming of nations who, along with Judah, will be destroyed on the Day of the Lord. These were nations that had participated in Judah's sin. Even Judah would participate in judgment on Moab and Ammon. Though Judah would also be destroyed, a remnant would survive and would plunder what was left of these two nations and take possession of their territory.

Pride is mentioned in the indictments against these nations. These references along with others throughout scripture seem to suggest that pride, not ignorance or any other source, is at the root of any rejection of God. The Apostle Paul, in the first chapter of Romans, makes this point as well, saying, "From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.  For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles."

It is in this claim of being wise that pride enters the picture as the root of rejecting God. Though there is sufficient evidence of God's existence and His work as Creator, people choose to hold their so-called wisdom above the evidence of God's existence. They then replace God with gods of their own making.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

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 opened his book with an all-encompassing statement of judgment - Judgment on the whole earth - and then narrowed it to judgment on Judah. No one was immune to God's judgment in light of the people's persistent sin. Particularly the sin of idolatry which attributes God's wonders to inanimate objects. That no one is immune to judgment becomes clear when the focus of His judgment turns to Judah and in particular, Jerusalem. God's covenant people and His Holy city where His temple stands were not exempt.

God's judgment in Judah is aimed at all idolatrous worship, identifying three forms: those who worship the heavenly bodies, those who practice syncretism by combining worship of God with worship of molech, and those who are religiously indifferent. This last group may not worship other gods but are unconcerned about worshiping the true God. Is it appropriate to categorize those who are religiously indifferent as idolatrous? While the worship of objects is given the greatest amount of attention, particularly in the Old Testament, in the New Testament idolatry came to mean any human desire that takes precedence over God's will. So, for the religiously indifferent, other desires have taken precedence over God in their lives.

Verses 7-13 lists those in Judah who would fall under the Lord's scrutiny. No one escaped His scrutiny. Not the political officials nor the king. Not the business people in the Fish Gate or Second District or the Hollow. In fact, the Lord would search Jerusalem with lamps to find all who qualify for His judgment.

Verse 14 emphasizes the imminence of "The great Day of the Lord" when this judgment will take place. It is "near and rapidly approaching," he says. The focus has turned once again, as well, to worldwide judgment which is called for because mankind has "sinned against the Lord."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

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 complained to God for allowing injustice to continue in Judah and then complained at God's plan to bring judgment on Judah through Babylon. Now, in chapter 3, he is resigned with the reality that God's judgment will soon come through Babylon and he is awed at God's greatness. What brought the change? Was it God's revelation that he would also judge Babylon? A realization of God's ability to orchestrate man's schemes to serve His own purposes? Side note: We don't have to submit ourselves to God to be used for His purposes, but only when we do submit ourselves and become party to His purposes are we blessed in the process.

Habakkuk's change may also have simply come from the time he spent communing with God. Whatever brought the change in Habakkuk, from complaint to praise, he was now praying for God to "Revive Your work in these years." Then he added the request that, "In Your wrath remember mercy!" Judgment must come, but moderate it with mercy.

In verses 3-15 Habakkuk describes some of God's wonders, supporting his statement of awe at God's deeds. He goes from God's dealings with man to His dealings with nature. Beginning in verse 3 with a reference to God's covenant with Israel (God comes from Teman), he then mentions plagues and pestilence he brought on the people and the tents of Cushan in distress. Going on he mentions God's dealings with the rivers, the sea, the mountains, the sun and moon, etc. Then he comes back to God's dealings with man.

In his conclusion to his prophecy, Habakkuk expresses his intent to "rejoice in the God of my salvation!" come what may. He will rejoice in the Lord, "though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines . . . ." Why? Because he knows that the Lord is his strength. What does he have apart from the Lord? These verses are reminiscent of Philippians 4:11-13 in which the Apostle Paul says, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content--whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

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.

Habakkuk, in chapter one, had lodged a complaint with the Lord. Actually he lodged two complaints: one had to do with the rampant injustice in Judah and why God didn't do something about it. When God said he was doing something about it and was going to use Babylon to bring punishment on Judah, Habakkuk complained that God was using a people even more unrighteous than Judah to bring judgement on Judah. It is this second complaint to which Habakkuk refers in verse 1 of this chapter.

The prophet retreated to the watchtower to be alone with God and watch for His response to his complaint and consider his own reply to God's response. In this time with God the Lord answered him saying, "Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it." The vision would not come to pass immediately but it "testifies about the end." Though its fulfillment would be delayed, it "will certainly come" and it would be on time.

The vision related to Babylon, the unrighteous nation about whom Habakkuk complained. Though the ego of the Babylonians was inflated and they were without integrity, a truth on which Habakkuk and his people could rely was that "the righteous one will live by his faith." The injustice of the unjust and the barbarism of the Babylonians does not alter this truth.

As the vision of Babylon's destruction continues in verse 5 and following, we come to realize that it was Bablyn's own desire to amass power and wealth and more of everything that brought the nation to its knees. Their deception grew through the increasing addiction to wine, contributing to an arrogance of their greatness and giving them an insatiable appetite to acquire. The nation became strong for a time, able to subdue other nations, collecting their people and wealth to themselves. But this turned on them. Verse 8 predicts what happened to Babylon: "Since you have plundered many nations, all the peoples who remain will plunder you."

Verse 10 described an irony that befalls those who try to acquire what is not theirs through the downfall of others. Their plans for greatness were really plans to bring shame on themselves. Their sin against others became sin against themselves. Verse 13 gives perspective to the whole scene, pointing out that what is not founded in God is destined to be in vain. The rise and fall of Babylon and the influence the nation on for a time affected one corner of the earth. But God's influence covers the whole earth.

Five woes against Babylon are stated in this chapter. They are:
  • Woe to him who amasses what is not his. (V. 6)
  • Woe to him who unjustly gains wealth for his house to place his nest on high, to escape from the reach of disaster! (V. 9)
  • Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice! (V. 12)
  • Woe to him who gives his neighbors drink, pouring out your wrath and even making them drunk, in order to look at their nakedness! (V. 15)
  • Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! Can it teach? Look! It may be plated with gold and silver, yet there is no breath in it at all. (V. 19)

The final woe, looking upon objects made by their own hands as their gods, was a huge contributor to all the woes. Idolatry credits God's work to an inanimate object. It provides man a religion that he controls for his own benefit and gives him a false sense of power and security. But as the Babylonians discovered, it is the Lord who gives or takes away. Whatever is done apart from Him is done in vain.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

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 raised the age-old questions of why God allows injustice, violence, and oppression. But the more perplexing question was why, in the face of such injustice, God did nothing in answer to his prayers? Habakkuk called out to God for help, but none came. It appeared that God was tolerating wrongdoing. The law was totally ineffective and God did nothing about it. So it seemed to Habukkuk.

Though God may have seemed silent to this point, He responded this time to Habukkuk's questions. In effect, God said, "I am doing something about the injustice, you just can't see it yet." Furthermore, God said, "you will not believe (it) when you hear about it." God was indeed going to do something about the injustice and it would astound Habakkuk and his countrymen. God's justice would be imparted by a people even more unjust than the people of Judah. It would come from the Chaldeans, also known as the Babylonians. They were more violent than Judah even thought to be, and this violence would be turned loose on the Judeans.

Habakkuk he was even more perplexed with God's answer. Why would God use a people more unjust than Judah to punish them? Compared with Babylon, Judah was rigtheous. Was this not more unjust? Was it not tolerating wrongdoing? In the face of this answer Habakkuk raised much the same questions on a different front. His first set of questions related to God's tolerance of injustice within Judah. His second set of questions related to God's tolerance of wrongdoing by Babylon.

We often raise these questions ourselves but do not persist with God to get His answers. Instead, we rely on our own logic and settle for insufficient answers that leave us wallowing in our questions of injustice. How can we imagine that our finite minds could do justice in understanding the purposes of an infinite God? We will not have the true answers to such questions unless we seek them from the only One who can give them.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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.

The message of Haggai chapter one was given to encourage the people to renew their efforts to rebuild the temple. The message of chapter two comes a month after they have begun the work once again. The work at this stage was probably hard and with little encouragement, for they had no doubt had to remove rubble from the destruction with little or no work yet on actual construction. During these efforts their thoughts had gone to the state of the temple compared to the glory of Solomon's temple.

Through Haggai God posed three questions to them addressing these thoughts. Who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn't it seem like nothing to you? The topic of these questions was being discussed among the people, but through these questions God turned the discussion to include Him. It wasn't that He didn't know what they were saying. Obviously He did. But He was not included in their thoughts. He wanted to be included in the discussion and to guide their thoughts.
Having inserted Himself into the conversation, the Lord took it from the past and present into the future. Don't think about how glorious the temple was before and how hideous it is now, the Lord was saying to them. Think instead about how it will yet be. I, the Lord, am directing your efforts and "The silver and gold belong to Me. . . The final glory of this house will be greater than the first." This vision of the future glory of the temple is yet future, pointing to the millenial temple.

In verse 10 and following the Lord turned to the practical side of rebuilding the temple. Doing so would turn blight into blessing. God told Haggai to have the people reflect back to before they began work on the temple. At that time they were getting diminished returns on their crops such as grain and wine. Though they had stockpiled their grain, for instance, what should have amounted to 20 measures only amounted to 10, and the same was true with the wine. This was because God had struck them with blight, mildew, and hail.
Having reflected on their previous condition God had them take note of the present day and from there forward. Through obedience to the task the Lord had given them they would find that the Lord was no longer sending them blight but was instead sending them blessing. Though their granaries and wine vats were currently empty as a result of their past sin, from this day forward they should note how God was blessing them as a result of their continued obedience.

Leading into this message of turning blight into blessing, the Lord had Haggai ask the priests two questions. The first was whether consecrated meat could cause bread, stew, and other foods to become holy? The answer was no. The second question was whether a person who had become defiled could defile these same food objects. The answer to this question was yes. The point in these questions was that while defilement can be transferred, holiness cannot. When applied to their situation it meant that their offerings and sacrifices did not sanctify their other activities of disobedience. Instead, their defilement due to their disobedience also defiled their offerings and sacrifices. Only obedience would sanctify their lives and turn the blight into blessing.

Verses 1-19 addressed the people and their role of rebuilding the temple. To encourage them God gave them a vision of the future glory of the temple, bringing to bear His access to the treasures of the world to make it happen. Now, in verses 20-23, God had Haggai address Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. This may have been to encourage him in his task of rebuilding the nation when the resources at hand for doing so were so meager. But God wanted him to see out into the future at what was possible with the Lord's intervention. Israel would become great again but not simply by determining to do so. Their future greatness would be a result of God's might. He would overturn the thrones of the other nations and destroy their power. But He would empower and bless Israel as a nation. So declared "the Lord of Hosts."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

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 short prophecy predated that of Zechariah and had a similar purpose which was to encourage the Jews who had just returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon to rebuild the temple. He announced right off, in verses 2-4, "These people say: The time has not come for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt." But the Lord asked, "Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?" Apparently they had rebuilt their own homes and planted their crops and were content to relax and forget about the temple. More than likely it also meant they were not intent on worshiping the Lord either. He was no doubt relegated to an insignificant role in their lives.

The Lord said to them, "Think carefully about your ways." They needed to rethink the role that God had in their lives - to change their worldview. They had come to think, as many of us do, that they had no choice but to think first of their own needs and then give attention to God with whatever time and energy they had left. God was calling them to reorder their lives. They gave their efforts to putting in their crops expecting a good harvest, and instead it was ruined and they got little. Who is it, after all, who causes the crops to grow? Shouldn't they turn to the One who does? If they will worship the Lord and observe His commands, putting these first in their lives, will they not find that He provides what they need? This was the lesson Jesus taught, "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you." (what you will eat and drink and wear) (Matthew 6:33)

Haggai experienced an unusually positive response to his message. The people immediately obeyed and feared the Lord. The Israelites had developed a reputation for rejecting the messages of the prophets and treating them badly. But they seemed to recognize that Haggai's message was from the Lord and worthy of their obedience. Leaders and people alike went into action and the work on the temple was begun.