Grace and Hope IN THE BIBLe
THE Minor Prophets:
Anne Oâ€™BrieN Bible Studies on Grace and Hope in The Book of Acts
Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah MicHA NAHUM habakkuk zephaniah haggai Zechariah Malachi
Grace and Hope in the Minor Prophets THE BOOK OF HOSEA Hosea was a prophet contemporary with Isaiah. His book describes the unfaithfulness of the Jewish people and prophesises about the coming exile as part of God’s judgment. But praise the Lord, it also shows us how God remains faithful and how he is a God of restoration. In this book we see how Hosea was asked to ‘act out’ a parable (literally), in which Hosea and his unfaithful wife represent God and his people. To emphasise parallels we will look at the story piece by piece. Reading
Chapter 2v5 and v14-16
Hosea and Gomer Hosea married a prostitute, a parable about God and errant Israel They had a son who was to be called Jezreel – meaning ‘to be scattered’ (paralleling the prophecy that Israel would be scattered. God said call your daughter, Lo- Ruhamah, ‘unloved’ (or ‘no mercy’).
A third child, another son, was to be called LoAmmi, ‘not mine’. (This child was probably not fathered by Hosea). He possibly represents the gentiles. Gomer returns to her old life, thinking it will be better. But Hosea pursues her. He still shows his commitment.
God and the Israelites
The meaning for us as Christians? This marriage God made a new represented the covenant with us – the Covenant that God had gentiles, through Jesus. with the Israelites A loving relationship. The Israelites had not Are there times when followed God’s ways we don’t feel settled? It – there would be a could be that God allows scattering, some to it. Maybe it is the Lord’s Assyria and further way of bringing us back afield. Others to Babylon into his will. (but they would return) Would this be likely to Sadly, God would happen under the New withdraw his loving Covenant? Think of the hand from errant Israel reasons why not. – leaving them to their own devices and to suffer the consequences. Sadly, God was rejecting God extends his grace, even to us as gentiles, Israel. even when we backslide However, in the same – there is a way back to breath he promises him. Read Romans 5v8 future restoration (v11 and 2v1)
God cannot be other than faithful – even when our faith fails. He always offers us hope when we put our trust in him. Read 2 Timothy 2v13 Hurt and jealous, Hosea God has a jealous love What grace is shown was to seek out his wife for his people and longs to us, even when we deserve punishment! and show her love again. for them to return to him. He never breaks the Read 1 John 1v9 covenant with them. God promised to redeem We are redeemed, paid Gomer was ‘owned’ by for, with the blood of the other man, so Hosea Israel through the had to buy her back. Messiah. To redeem is to Jesus Christ. What an act Hosea was willing to pay buy back what is already of Grace! What total love! Read 1 Peter 1v18-19 yours. the price. Israel had broken their covenant vows with God. But hope is offered. (Achor = trouble) Trouble will become a door of hope.
Chapter 6v1-3 And verse 6
These chapters are not part of Hosea’s parable, but his words of prophesy to Israel about their sins and the judgment of being exiled.
Chapter 4v1-3 The Israelites had broken all of the 10 commandments, the basis of the Old Covenant.
Think about the 10 commandments – how many of them are being kept by people in our society today? Should we be worried? Will we be judged?
The Israelites were full of empty words and promises, merely going through the motions of religion
If their faith was worth anything (v6), it would show itself in love to God and love to others. We are to sow righteousness (see note on next page) In verses 3, 4 & 8 we see the heart of God – just how much he loved Israel. He had to exercise ‘tough love’ in order to bring them back to himself. Wisdom is following God’s ways
Jesus said the fulfilment of the Law is to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Read Luke 10v25-28 Again, God promises restoration ultimately. (Read chapter14v11) There is always grace, healing and restoration when we turn to him. Read 1 Peter 5v10 Praise God, His Grace is for each one of us. Again and again and again. Read Hebrews 4v16
As Hosea loved Gomer, so God loved Israel. Gomer and her children were restored into the family – once again loved and cherished.
Read Chapter 10v12: This verse shows us what God really wants us to live like. The Hebrew gives a fuller meaning. ‘Sow righteousness for yourselves’ Righteousness should read ‘acts of lovingkindness’. Righteousness merely means doing what is right but the Hebrew word ts’dakah means that we should do more than is required. E.g. Loving our neighbour as ourselves; going the extra mile; giving good measure with no thought of return; giving more than our tithe to God; and all to be done with love and grace. A tall order!!! ‘Reap the fruit of unfailing love’ And the verse goes on to say that we can reap the fruit of unfailing love. In other words, we will reap what we sow (also in Galatians 6v7). Getting something back should not be our motivation but when we help others out of love for the Lord, he will reward us. ‘Break up your fallow ground’ Prepare your heart to receive from The Lord. Spend time with Him getting right with him; confess any sin or wrong attitude. ‘It us time to seek the Lord, until he comes and teaches you righteousness’ The time is always now! We need to seek God because he is the root of all righteousness. Being righteous in our own strength is merely doing the right things. The righteousness that God imparts helps us to truly show his loving kindness to all. This was the lesson that Israel had to learn – but surely it applies to us all! The Outcome Israel did not turn away from their sin and they were taken by the Assyrians. The Judean’s were more obedient to God and God stayed his hand for a further hundred years, after which they were exiled to Babylon. God’s promise that he would restore them came about after 70 years of exile, and they were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild. Despite judgment there would always be a remnant who would be restored, because God cannot forsake his people – he has never broken his covenant with them. His name is “Faithful God” – he can be no other way. And he is our source of grace and our source of hope.
THE BOOK OF JOEL In this year, 2020, a plague of locusts has spread across West Africa and is currently devastating crops in Pakistan. Thousands of people have lost 50% of their crops and their income through loss of food and loss of cotton plants. Many are now starving, and the animals are also dying. These locusts can move at a speed of 100 miles a day, destroying all vegetation in their path. Even a small swarm of locusts (1 square kilometre) can consume as much food in one day as 35,000 people. They work like an army destroying everything in their path. Read Joel chapter 1v1-4 Israel had suffered a plague of locusts as described above. All the crops had been destroyed – completely. What the larger locusts had left the smaller ones had eaten. It was complete devastation. They had questions like, “Why had God not given the harvest? Why had he let them down?” Joel, the prophet (approx. 800 BC before the Assyrian invasion) spoke God’s words in answer to their question. · “Hear this” (v2) They were to listen carefully to what God was saying – and what the locust invasion meant for them. They were to remember it and tell it to their children. In other words, it would be good if they would learn from their mistakes! · “Wake up … and weep” (v5) There’s no food or wine, they cannot make their offerings to God. Their hope and their joy had gone (v12). They would be dependent on other nations because there was no harvest to look forward to. · “Repent … cry out to the Lord” (v13,14) The leaders were called to encourage the people to repent of their backsliding, and to cry out to the Lord for forgiveness and help, because the Lord had allowed this. There was no joy, no food, no sacrifices, and no pasture for the sheep (v17-20). The invasion of locusts was allowed by God, as a warning of what was to come upon Israel if they did not repent. The locusts symbolised Israel’s enemies, who were about to invade. Read Joel chapter 2v6-9 This is a description of Israel’s enemies - the Assyrian empire, and an imminent invasion. These verses (very cleverly written) could describe the locust invasion, but in fact they describe a military takeover of the country which was about to happen because they had not turned back to the Lord. But Joel, despite it being the eleventh hour, pleads with Israel again to repent. Read Joel chapter 2v12-14 Joel knows that God is a God of his word, He is upright and fair and just. He has foretold judgment, but even yet – he could relent if the people repent of their sin. These verses show us how God is just waiting for us to return so that he can pour out his blessings upon us. Q. What does God want to see in the Israelites (and in us)? When was the last time we did any of these things mentioned in verses 12 and 13? Which words remind us of God’s great grace? Read Joel chapter 2v22-26 The promise of eventual restoration: just as nature will restore itself, so God promises to restore those who return to him. The trees bearing fruit are a symbol of joy (9v22). The showers of rain are a symbol of refreshing (v23). The grain and wine are a symbol of communion with God (v24). GRACE is giving us more than we deserve, and it is shown in verses 25,26. We sing a song with the words, “He gives and takes away, my heart will choose to say, blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Sometimes our experience is that God does allow the locusts – he does take away, and we wont always know why. But we can trust that he has a reason, and that he will ultimately repay us for what we have lost (the years the locusts have eaten). For example, Job’s experience was that, at the end of his suffering he was twice as blessed as before. God never “owes us one”. We will see his hand of blessing when we keep close to Him and trust in Him. At this point Joel’s prophecy moves forward to the time of Jesus and the early church. Read Joel chapter 2v28-32 We know that this is Messianic prophecy because Peter quotes it in Acts chapter 2, after the Lord Jesus Page 4
ascended to Heaven and, as promised, poured out his Spirit on those gathered in the Upper Room. But, it wasn’t just for then – it is for all those who love the Lord for all time. The “latter rains” would be for all – Jew and gentile alike. They usher in a great “end time” harvest. Chapter 3v1 and 17&18 The Valley of Jehoshaphat means The Valley of Judgment – where all people of all nations will be judged. Those who have harmed Israel – or any of God’s children will be judged. Those who have not repented will be judged. For those who have lived before the coming of Jesus, their faith will be credited to them as righteousness (Gal 3v6&7). For those who have never heard the gospel, they will be judged according to their conscience (Romans 2v14-16). Read Romans and Galatians and you will see that God judges people according to their hearts, according to their faith and according to how they act towards others. We could never decide how people should be judged but we can put our trust in the all-righteous Lord. Read chapter 3v17,18 Zion is a synonym for Jerusalem – it is where God chooses to dwell. In Psalm 48 it is referred to as... Mount Zion, the city of the Great King and the joy of the whole earth. Why joy? Isaiah 35v10 gives us the answer: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads. Joel 2v32 also explains why: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance. Close to Zion, Abraham received the promise of God for all nations. At the end time, Christ will reign from Mount Zion and everyone will have that last opportunity to turn to the Lord, before the judgment. God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3v9). He extends his hand of grace and hope to the very last minute. Praise His name! _____________________________________________________________________
THE BOOK OF AMOS Having read the prophets so far (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea and Joel), you will be getting the picture. From the end of Solomon’s reign, to the beginning of the exile, was a period of about 250 years where God is increasingly disappointed with the Israelites on many counts, but most of all because they have gone away from Him. So, there had been prophet after prophet bringing warning after warning for 6 or 7 generations. But the people would not listen. And so, these prophetic books are God’s words of judgment and love, where we see his sorrow because of the Israelites’ failure to keep the Covenant. Yes, these books are about judgment, but so much more about God’s GRACE and willingness to forgive if they repented and returned to Him. AMOS means ‘burden’ or ‘burden bearer’. God had placed a burden on him for the people of Israel. Sometimes he places a burden on us, to pray for a certain person or people, or even our nation. Chapter 1 Chapter 1 begins with impending judgment on all the nations surrounding Israel. These nations are like the nations today that persecute, torture and kill Christians in the name of their religion or ideology (like Communism). People often say, “Why doesn’t God intervene?”. Here, we see that eventually, he does. Read verses 1&2: The Lord roars from Zion – God was not pleased! And we see his judgment on the surrounding nations: Verses 3-5 ………. SYRIA … because she threshed Gilead (destroyed the harvest). Verses 6-8 ………. PHILISTIA … because she sold captive Israelites to Edom. Verses 9,10 ………. TYRE … because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom Verses 11,12 ………. EDOM … because he bought Israelites and slaughtered them. Verses 13-15 ……… AMMON … he carried out ethnic cleansing and took the land. We can take comfort from the fact that God sees every injustice committed against his people and he will deal with it in his own way and in his perfect timing. Page 5
Chapter 2 The Israelites were no doubt pleased that their enemies were to be judged. It was the furthest thing from their minds. But … now it is their turn! And in this chapter God sets out his case against Israel and Judah. Judah’s sins: Read 4-5 They had rejected and broken God’s Law, on which the covenant was based. They had been led astray by the false gods of the other nations. Israel’s sins: Read verses 6-8 They were guilty of horrendous treatment to the poor and vulnerable. They sold them into slavery for money (v6). They denied them any justice (v7a). They committed perverted sexual acts (v7b). They committed sacrilege and got drunk in the sanctuary of the temple and the altars of God (v8). Q. Is our country any better than this today? How or what can we do about it? Chapter 3 Read verses 7&8 and 10&11 God reminded them of all the warnings that had been given by the prophets. The lion has roared – this would make most of us afraid, and sit up and take notice! Not so Israel. Verse 11 describes the coming invasion of the Assyrian army who will overrun the land (like a plague of locusts, as described in the Book of Joel). The prophecies against Israel were to the rich who had exploited the poor and vulnerable. Read verse 15. It is they who will be judged more severely, for living in their “ivory palaces”, whilst others were starving and destitute. Chapter 4 continues the charges against Israel, and their pending judgment. Chapter 5 Read verses 21-24 – What God wants from a nation Not religion – but true love for God. God is not interested in people who say and do what they think God wants to hear. He is not impressed with church attendance and piety that is not from the heart. He hated the sacrifice of animals in his name, when they were not accompanied by repentance. Being sorry is not enough for God, we ought to show that we want to start behaving in the right and just way. Saying we feel for the poor and vulnerable is not enough. If we have more than they do, then we should be helping them. “Let justice roll on like a river” (v24) Read James 1v26&27 We cannot sit in our “ivory palaces” and comment on the sins of Israel, without first looking at ourselves to see if we pass the test! Chapter 6 Read verses 4-7: To really hammer home the point, Amos continues in the same vein. Fine lotions and fatted calves were more important to Israel than their coming ruin. If we have a nicely decorated house which is warm in the winter, and we have enough food for each day, then we are better off than at least 815 million people, which is 10% of the world’s population. Over half a million people in Britain are now reliant on food banks, just in Britain. God will judge our land for turning away from him, but also by the way we treat the poor and vulnerable. Praise God, most of the food banks and many charities helping the homeless are run by churches. As Christians, it is something we should all be involved in, whether it be giving money, praying, or helping at the point of need. Chapters 7-9 Amos has 5 visions: 7v1-3 Locusts … Judgment pronounced but intercession can make a change! 7v4-5 Fire … Again, intercession can cause God to relent! 7v7-9 Plumb-line … Israel didn’t measure up. Amos could not intercede. 8v1-3 Basket of ripe fruit … Israel was ripe for judgment. 9v1 and 8-10 The ruined Temple … A shaking and a shifting of the people. Amos reminds them that God has the power and reason to bring judgment. Page 6
Israel’s promised restoration – Read verses 11-15 – THE AGE OF GRACE “I will restore through the remnant of David’s line” (i.e. through Jesus and a New Covenant). There will be “new wine” and blessings – the Holy Spirit, for one. There will be restoration for the exiles extended to all people. The day of grace will bring the eventual restoration of Israel’s land ready for the coming of the New Jerusalem. God may very often be disappointed in his people, but he never breaks his side of the covenant. He is forever faithful, waiting to pour out his grace on all who turn to him. _____________________________________________________________________
THE BOOK OF OBADIAH On reading the one and only chapter of Obadiah the first thing you might think is “Why?”. Why was it included in the canon of Scripture? Why is it all about the destruction of Edom? Why doesn’t Israel get much of a mention? Why judgment? Why is there no grace shown to Edom? It doesn’t seem to fit with the underlying grace of God in the rest of the Books of the Prophets. We need to understand Bible history to get the answers to these questions. There had been a long history between Edom and Israel over hundreds of years: 1. Isaac’s sons – Esau and Jacob – Genesis 27v41/Obadiah v10 Esau held a grudge against Jacob. Esau went south to the area of Seir which became known as Edom. Esau was a forefather of Amalek who was a thorn in the Israelites side for hundreds of years to come (Amalekites). 2. Edom/Esau’s sin was pride in their land and hatred of God’s people – but it was God who created all that it was. (v3&4) 3. When Moses was leading the Israelites out of the wilderness, he asked for permission to cross the land of Edom but was denied. In fact the Edomites came against Moses with a mighty army. Numbers 20v17 4. Centuries later, Israel had been guilty of making alliances with other countries and ultimately God allowed them to be attacked by their enemies and taken away as exiles. But rather than helping, Edom gloated over their downfall. Psalm 137v7 and Obadiah v11 Summary: Edom set themselves against God’s people and against God. They declared themselves enemies. They gloated over Israel’s destruction. They were arrogant and proud of their fortresses, which were natural rock formations. This location is now known as Petra in Jordan. Consequently: Verses 21 of Obadiah says “There will be no survivors from the house of Esau. The Lord has spoken.” Has the prophecy come true? The area, now controlled by Jordan, is the district situated to the south of Palestine between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The fortress, a natural rock formation now known as Petra, was once a major city. It was located just off the Kings Highway (the main route between North Africa and Europe) and the only way into it was (and still is) through a mile-long narrow canyon. Invaders could only approach in single file and could be easily “picked off”. Many hundreds of people used to live in hundreds of dwellings built into the rock face. But by 400BC, after Obadiah’s prophecy, the Edomites were overrun by their ‘so called’ friends the Nabatean Arabs. Read Obadiah v7 For hundreds of years Edom lay deserted until archaeologists discovered it in the late 1800s. The only people who go there now are tourists. Did the prophecy come true? The answer is most definitely “Yes!” Why was God’s judgement so final? The Minor Prophets all show us that God is a righteous judge, bringing judgement when necessary on all nations, including Israel. But in all cases except Edom, the judgement was not a final one. So, why? Because Edom represents the Spirit of the Antichrist. Back to Esau and more history: 1. The Amalakites were descended from Esau, in fact Amalek was Esau’s grandson. The Amalakites tried to stop the Israelites from settling in the Promised Land (but Joshua overcame them) and it displeased God. Exodus Page 7
17v14 The Amalakites are representative of God’s enemy. 2. King Agag was King of the Amalakites in Saul’s day. Saul did not kill the king as God asked and Saul lost his kingship because of this. But the prophet Samuel killed King Agag in accordance with God’s will because he understood the significance of, and reason for, God’s command. (1 Samuel 15) 3. In the story of Esther we read that Haman (who tried to bring about the destruction of all the Jews) was a descendant of King Agag, of the Amalakites. But Haman could not get his own way because God had promised that Israel would have the victory over the Amalakites way back in history. The struggle between good and evil, God and Satan, God’s people and those who set themselves in opposition goes on and on throughout history. What do all these people have in common: Esau, Amalekites, Agag, Haman, and even twentieth century examples such as Hitler? The answer is that they are all types of Antichrist. They are unrepentant and consequently have placed themselves under God’s judgement. The specific prophecy in Obadiah stands true, but it is also relevant to us today. Jacob, Esau’s brother, was renamed Israel. The Israelites were God’s people. We also are God’s people. Read Obadiah, verses 17-21 For Israel specifically, there is the promise that they will ultimately possess all the land God has given them. For us, there is also a spiritual analogy. God wants us to enter in to all that he has for us. He wants us to possess his promises and he has promised us his protection. Obadiah teaches us that: Prophecy comes true God is Sovereign in all things God is faithful God’s judgement is perfect It answers the question, “Why doesn’t God do something about the wrong in the world?” Because in Obadiah, we see that he does. ___________________________________________________________________
JONAH This is an unusual book of prophesy in that the book is all about Jonah, rather than what he said. Another striking thing, which reflects God’s grace, is that despite Jonah’s reluctance, everybody he meets (that is, the sailors and the Ninevites) all come to know the Lord God! There are many parallels with our Christian walk with God; not least that God has a plan for each one of us and he is in control of all the circumstances in our lives. Read verses 1-3: Jonah’s Commission God said, “Go to Nineveh and preach against their wickedness”. We don’t know how God spoke to Jonah, but it must have been very real, judging by his reaction. The problem was that usually Jonah was asked to prophesy to Israel – this time it was different. Nineveh was some 700 miles east of Israel and it was not a very nice place. Q. How would you feel if God asked you to go to a communist country or an Islamic country and preach the gospel? Would you be any different? Nineveh At that time Nineveh was an established and significant city, part of the powerful Assyrian Empire which later became a threat to Israel. Nineveh was the very opposite of Israel – its goal was power and wealth at any cost. It was morally and spiritually corrupt (The description in Nahum 3v1-7 makes disturbing reading). It would seem that it was ripe for God’s judgment, and yet ... in his grace, God was willing to give the people of Nineveh an opportunity to repent and be saved. Amazingly, God is doing similar things today in places like Iran, which apparently has ‘the worlds fastest growing underground church’. (Gateway News). Read chapter 1v1&2 So, Jonah rejected God’s commission and ran away! It probably seemed the easiest option at the time! He Page 8
boarded a ship to Tarshish which was certainly in the opposite direction to Nineveh – Jonah could well have got as far as Spain and the Atlantic Ocean in order to encounter a fish as big as a whale. Jonah chose to take himself outside of God’s will. Q. Can we ever really escape the presence of the Lord? (See Psalm 139) Stormy waters In verses 4-7: Following Jonah’s disobedience, we see that the Lord sent a storm, not out of anger or retribution, but in order to bring Jonah to the place where he wanted him. Q. Can you think of any times in your life when God has used a time of difficulty to move you into his will, or to keep you from going out of his will? Everyone’s life was in danger and Jonah knew it was his fault. He tried to ‘opt out’ of the problem by hiding and sleeping. At this point the captain seems to have more faith and sense than Jonah! Q. How was Jonah feeling? How do we feel if we have not been a good witness for The Lord? “They cast lots to find out who was responsible”. Proverbs 16v33 says: The lot is cast ... but its every decision is from the Lord. When the lot fell on Jonah they began to interrogate him. Read verses 8-12: Who was responsible? The sailors recognised a greater power was responsible for the storm. In response to their questions Jonah answered (in a general sense) that he was a Hebrew and a worshipper of God, and that he was running away from God. He took the blame. Q. What effect did Jonah’s answer have on the sailors (v.10)? Jonah’s sacrifice in leaving the ship brought them deliverance. The actions of the sailors (v.15) resulted in a calm sea and an easy passage for them, which resulted in their acknowledgement of God’s Sovereignty, as they sacrificed and made vows to him. Read Matthew 12v40,41 Jesus referred to Jonah, and this shows us several things · This was a true event, not a made-up story · This event portrayed the work of Jesus · Jonah sacrificed his life for the sailors, Jesus also sacrificed his life for all mankind · Jonah possibly died in the great fish (Jonah 2v2) and was resurrected. Jesus was also in the realm of the dead for 3 days before he was resurrected. However, that’s where the parallel with Jesus ends – Jonah still remained stubborn, reluctant and badtempered! It’s ironic that God still worked through Jonah, even in his disobedience! Read Chapter 3 From rebellion to obedience Jonah’s near-death experience had obviously changed him – we can assume he was repentant because he had a real change of heart and direction (literally!). This time God said, “Go” and Jonah obeyed (v3). God won’t call us all to do what Jonah had to do. This was Jonah’s specific calling – to be God’s prophet. God calls us all to different ministries, but the principle of obedience is the same. God will bless our work if we are obedient and acknowledge his sovereignty, rather than wanting the control to do it our way. Q. If God knew what Jonah was like, why do you think God chose him, rather than another prophet? Aren’t you pleased that God, in his grace, gives us second chances to get things right? It is significant that the people’s hearts were ready to hear the Word of the Lord, and on hearing the word they repented and believed (what an amazing miracle - nearly lost through disobedience!). Possibly God had already prepared their hearts in a dream (as is the case when many Muslims accept Christ as Saviour). Even the King believed and prayed for God’s deliverance; almost certain judgment was averted (v10). God was in control of the Ninevites too and had prepared them to hear Jonah’s message. Q. Is there someone God has prepared who is ready to hear his message through you maybe? Chapter 4 Read chapter 3v10 and 4v1: What amazing grace!!
It seemed wrong to Jonah that Israel’s enemies, who were wicked people (until their repentance) escaped God’s judgment. In fact, it made him absolutely furious! But would we feel the same? It was ironic that God had turned away his own anger, but Jonah’s was building up inside him! Q. How does anger stop us from seeing things as God sees them? Sometimes our world-view (the ideas we form as we grow up) doesn’t synchronise with God’s view and the teaching in the Bible. Jonah knew what God was like – gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love – and he didn’t like it! Jonah was stuck in the mindset that evil-doers should be punished and not given another chance. He didn’t seem to (or didn’t want to) understand how repentance could change the past or bring forgiveness. He couldn’t cope with his concept of God and justice being challenged, and so he wanted to die (a bit like a petulant child!). Like many people, he believed we should be judged according to what we have done. But God challenged this view, “Is it right for you to be so angry?” Q. What does this passage tell us about God’s grace – to Nineveh, and to Jonah, and to each of us? Read verses 5&6: Jonah runs away! Once again, Jonah removes himself physically, this time to the east of Nineveh. Now, God could have punished Jonah because of his misplaced anger. Instead he deliberately showed Jonah kindness by providing a plant to shelter him. Why? Was it because God wanted Jonah to experience the same grace that he had shown to the Ninevites? Was it because this story is just as much about Jonah and individuals as it is about Nineveh and wicked cities? Or was it because God wants us to understand more about his grace? Read verses 6-9: In a way God turned the tables on Jonah. If Jonah didn’t think grace was right for the Ninevites, God would take away his grace (symbolically) from Jonah. So he caused the plant to die, resulting in “punishment” for Jonah; and so Jonah suffered for his rebellion. Once again Jonah was in despair, “let me die” he said. Q. We can see that Jonah was being irrational – but can we be the same? Contrasts A contrast is drawn between: · the loss of a plant and the loss of a group of people; · the anger of Jonah and the love of God; · Jonah’s selfish desire for comfort and God’s altruistic love; · Jonah’s stubborn ideas and God’s grace; · Jonah’s ideas about who and what should live or die, and God’s love for all that he created. The phrase “those who don’t know their right hand from their left” is telling us that the Ninevites were ignorant of the things of God and shouldn’t be judged without being given that chance to hear and repent. It’s the same message today. And we should not be judging nations who don’t follow God’s ways; rather, we should be praying for them, giving to missions, and seeking to tell them about Jesus – whatever God is calling us to do. Lord, help us to share the grace you have shown us with others, so that they may come to know you. Amen _____________________________________________________________________
The book of Micah can be likened to a prism. In the same way that a prism allows us to see white light as many different colours, so the Book of Micah is one prophecy, but with many different facets. As we read Micah, the Holy Spirit reveals to us truths for today just as truth was revealed regarding the Messiah, and Israel’s future. Past, present and future are intertwined in Micah’s prophecy, but we will study them in order. THE PAST Read Micah 6v1-5 The Lord has a case against his people (v2). Read to see why: Page 10
Micah 1v7: Idols, temple bribes, icons and political prostitution were common. Micah 2v2: The people were guilty of coveting, and stealing houses and land (inheritance). This was very serious because God had given each tribe their inheritance, but the land still belonged to God. In stealing from each other they were stealing from God. Micah 2v6: False prophets were disagreeing with Micah and Isaiah. Micah 3v1-3 and v11: Even the leaders, priests and prophets were exploiting people. Their society was rotten from the top down – politically, religiously and socially. Micah 6v6-8: God did not want their sacrifices (including implied child sacrifices – v7). He wanted them to show love and mercy. Q. This is held to be one of the most significant verses in the Bible. Why? Read Micah 6v5: Micah asks the people to remember two things. Balaam: (Numbers chapter 22-24) Balaam was a prophet (a false prophet – a wanderer who made money from foretelling the future). He cursed military enemies and pronounced blessing on the one who paid him. Using a donkey and an angel God spoke to him so that he could only say the words God gave him, which were, that he (Balaam) could not curse Israel because God had promised to bless them. The apostle Peter also uses Balaam as an example of a false teacher. So Micah says: Remember not to listen to false prophets. God has determined blessing for Israel if they keep covenant with him. Remember, that also means that God has determined blessing for you! Despite judgment, God still wants to bless. The journey to Gilgal: As the Israelites entered the Promised Land God told Joshua: I will give you every place where you set your foot. God has determined Israel’s inheritance if they keep covenant with him. The people had taken the blessing away from themselves. Remember, God has determined our inheritance through Jesus Christ for eternity. Q. How often do we take time out to remember what God has done for us and the promises he has given us? Why is it good to remind ourselves? THE PRESENT Read Micah 6v10-16 and 7v2: Judgment was imminent because the people would not repent. Judgment ultimately came on Israel (within 20 years of Micah’s prophecy, in 722 by Sargon 11) when the Assyrian army took Samaria and carried the people of Israel away as exiles. A further judgment came on Judah about a hundred years later when the Babylonians took Judah captive. Read Micah 7v7: But Israel was not without hope. Micah, Isaiah and those who were upright were the remnant who knew God would hear them and bring them through. Q. When things around are bad, is our response the same as Micah’s? Verse 7 is a good verse to learn! THE FUTURE The remnant would return. There would be a new start. Read Micah 4v10: The Judean exiles to Babylon will return and the Temple would be rebuilt, making possible sacrifice and renewal of vows (see Ezra). The Word of the Lord (Torah) was found and read out to all the people by Ezra. Read Micah 7v11: Despite opposition, there would be rebuilding and restoration (see Nehemiah). First the walls around the City of Jerusalem, and then housing. Read Micah 5v2: 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ the Saviour/Messiah is promised, and will be born in Bethlehem (the burial place of Jacob/Israel’s beloved wife Rachel – Gen 48v7). This prophecy was confirmed by Matthew in Chapter2v6. Read Micah 4v1-5: In the Last Days God will establish His reign. “The mountain of the Lord (v1) could be interpreted literally or figuratively. Whichever you choose – it is BIG! It is a place of worship for people from all around the world, and therefore inclusive (v2). It is a place where God will speak and where he will judge (v2&3). It will be a place of Peace. Each person will have an inheritance (v4). And it will be for all who walk in the name of the Lord – for ETERNITY. Page 11
Q. Why do we shy away from death when we are promised such a wonderful inheritance? Read Micah 7v18-20: Although God in his infinite justice would bring judgment, he would also forgive and restore the remnant that trust in him. God is faithful throughout the ages to those who are in covenant relationship with him (Abraham, Jacob, Moses etc. and US!). There is grace and hope oozing out of this passage! · Our God is a mighty God like no other · He is a pardoning God, there is hope for the sinner · He delights to show us mercy, grace, forgiveness · He has compassion on us · He gets rid of our sin completely · He is a faithful God throughout the ages We can learn and remember from the past, we can trust God in the present, and we can know we have a secure future in God.
NAHUM In a way, the Book of Nahum is a short and disappointing sequel to the Book of Jonah. Because – like Jonah – Nahum prophesies to Assyria. At least 100 or more years before, Jonah had taken God’s word to the Ninevites and they had repented of their sin; and avoided God’s judgment. But the successive generations had gone away from God, and Nahum’s message foretold the fall of Nineveh to the Babylonians (which history tells us, occurred in 612BC). Nahum’s message is about two things: · Bad news – Judgment on Nineveh and Assyria · Good news – Blessing and relief for Israel Nineveh The first mention of Nineveh is in Genesis 10v6-11 when it was called Nimrod. Today it is known as Mosul in Iraq. It has often been a troublesome place. In Nahum’s time we get a picture of the severity of their sin. Read chapter 3v19 Their leaders were unbearably cruel! Asshur-banipal put a dog-chain through the jaw of a defeated king, and made him live in a dog-kennel, like an animal. He also had his defeated foes hanging from the city walls. Chapter 3 is full of Assyria’s crimes: lies, theft, slavery, exploitation, and war against Israel. Read chapter 1v3 God is slow to anger, but his ultimate judgments are always righteous and just. Read chapter 1v8 Nahum predicted a flood would be the end of Nineveh which is what actually happened. · The bad news – For Assyria, was that God defeated them once and for all. The flood meant that the Babylonian army were able to defeat the Assyrians. They engulfed the Assyrian Empire to enlarge their own expanding Empire. Assyria was no more (as prophesied by Daniel). · The Good News – For the Israelites – and for us, is that God always defeats sin and brings freedom and salvation to those who put their trust in him. Read chapter 1v15 A note of hope to finish – the coming of the Messiah – GOD’S ULTIMATE GRACE - was on the horizon.
HABAKKUK The Babylonians were God’s way of dealing with the people of Nineveh and the Assyrians. But … now Habakkuk is telling us that the Babylonians will also be God’s instrument to bring his judgment on Judah. The ten northern tribes of Israel had already been scattered by the Assyrians and now, approximately 100 years later, Judah would be exiled by the Babylonians. But, Habakkuk has two questions which he asks in the form of complaints. First Complaint – Read chapter 1v2-4 Here Habakkuk is crying out to God for his people, who have allowed their society to become violent and unjust; and his question/complaint is, “How long before you do something, Lord?” How often do we say these words? Q. Is it wrong to complain to God? And, is there a difference between complaining about God or to God? Does the nature of the complaint make any difference? Habakkuk wasn’t complaining because the people weren’t listening to him, but because they weren’t listening to God. He was concerned for God’s kingdom. It is not wrong to complain to God if our motive is to see others blessed. It can be wrong if it is because of our own rebellion or lack of trust. But when we complain we must be ready to accept God’s answer. When Habakkuk said, “Why aren’t you doing something Lord?” God’s answer was that he was sending in an army to defeat them! Read chapter 1v5&6 Maybe, his answer isn’t always what we want to hear! Second Complaint – Read chapter 1v12-13 Why would God allow the wicked Babylonians (whose wickedness far exceeds that of the Jews) to “swallow up” His people? In other words – How can God use something bad to bring about something good? As Christians we know the verse which says, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord”. So it begs the question – Why do some Christians have to suffer terrible things for their faith, even, sometimes to the point of death? The fact is we cannot explain how God can take all sorts of things and put them together in our life and make something good – but it is possible; and I believe we would know if we could only see the bigger picture. The parable of the lovely cake Imagine a child asking its mother for a snack in the kitchen. “Here you are”, she says, and gives him some raw eggs. “Yuk, I can’t eat raw eggs”, he says. “Well have some butter then and some flour”. “I can’t eat those”. “Have some sugar to sweeten it”. Individually none of those appealed to the boy. He might have enjoyed the sugar, although too much of that would probably make him feel ill. And the other raw ingredients certainly would have made him feel ill. . . But half an hour later, after the butter and sugar had been beaten and the eggs had been whipped and the flour had been stirred in, and it had been subjected to a lot of heat, the mum gave the boy a lovely cake. “There you are,” she said,” all those things were just what I needed to give you just what you wanted”. It’s only now that you can see that! The boy just had to wait and trust that his mum knew best . . . Now I don’t understand how the cake ingredients all work together to produce a lovely cake, but the laws of chemistry can explain it. We don’t understand why God does things in the way that he does them, but only He knows the good result they will achieve ultimately. God used the Babylonians to discipline his people and he used the next great empire, the Persians, to eventually allow them to return from exile (read the Book of Esther). , God’s Answer – Read chapter 2v3&4 God has the answer to our prayer already determined for a set time. So, we are to wait for it with a sense of trust and assurance, by faith. For it will surely come. Read chapter 3v2 Page 13
Habakkuk’s Response – Read chapter 3v2 Habakkuk stood in awe of God’s deeds, he was determined to trust God. It is an effort of our will. Read chapter 3v17-19 What amazing and encouraging words. When we truly meet with God he gives us the confidence to trust that he knows best, whatever our circumstances are telling us. This book reminds us that God is not distant, but that he wants to engage with us and hear us and for us to hear him, too. _____________________________________________________________________
ZEPHANIAH The name Zephaniah means “The Lord hides” – in the sense of “protects”. Zephaniah prophesied after the Fall of Samaria (Israel) and before the Fall of Judah in the south. But although Zephaniah’s message is for Judah and the surrounding nations, like most prophecy it also speaks to us today in these uncertain times. Key verse: Chapter 2v3 – Seek the Lord ... A very apt verse for the times in which we find ourselves! Who would be the channel of God’s judgment? The Babylonians were expanding their empire. God would use them to bring judgment, both on Judah and also on the surrounding countries who had helped in Judah’s downfall. As we saw last week, Habakkuk dealt with the whole issue of why God would use something bad (Babylon) to bring about ultimate good for his people. CHAPTER 1 Why Judgment? What was Judah guilty of? Read chapter 1 verses 4-6: There is quite a list:Baal worship (v4), idolatrous priests (v4), astrology (v5), worship of Molek (the Philistine god) (v5), superstitions (v9), rejection of God, no communion with God. Read chapter 1v12: They were complacent. Like most people in our country today they thought the Lord would do nothing, either good or bad. They didn’t believe that judgment would come. They were spiritually dead or at least, very much asleep! Perhaps a catastrophic event would get their attention. But we have already seen, in the Book of Joel, that even a plague of locusts didn’t wake them up to what God was saying to the nation. Q. Why is it easy to become complacent? We start to take things for granted, we have plenty and do not consider others less well off. Some even begin to exploit the foreigner or the poor and vulnerable. (Had any scam phone calls lately?!) Once we are complacent, we don’t even react to the wake up calls that God gives us. For example – a worldwide pestilence/ virus. Read chapter 2v3. Chapter 2 - Who would be judged? JUDAH - Read chapter 2v3: “The humble” would be the only ones to avoid judgment – in other words they were those who believed in God and were repentant of heart. If they were righteous before God they would be spared, but there was no such hope for the unrepentant in Judah and Jerusalem. What does God call them in verse 1? This is the opposite of glorious – they were meant to reflect God’s glory to the world. The Surrounding countries: PHILISTIA – Read chapter 2v5: The Philistines owned the land to the south-west bordering the sea (now Palestine). They had always been Israel’s enemies, and judgment would come because of that. MOAB and AMMON – Read chapter 2v8&9: They had taunted and insulted God’s people. They were enemies since Moses’ time. CUSH (Egypt, Upper Nile) – Read chapter 2v12: They would not escape God’s judgment. ASSYRIA – Read chapter 2v13: Even mighty Assyria, the world’s first great empire, would be taken by the Babylonians and its great city of Nineveh would be left desolate. Page 14
CHAPTER 3 – Grace and Hope for Jerusalem? JERUSALEM – Read chapter 3v1-5: Even in the place where God’s presence filled the Holy of Holies in the Temple the people were guilty and the unrighteous “knew no shame”. They were like lions and wolves exploiting the people. Even the prophets and priests were unholy (v4). Q. Should these verses make us, as a country, feel uncomfortable? What would you define as foreign gods? Where was there hope for Judah, and ultimately for us? Our hope is in being humble and not proud. (Zephaniah 2v3) Even when we question God, we are challenging his authority and therefore not giving him the rightful place in our thoughts – not showing absolute trust in Him. Our hope is in God’s covenant-based promises. For Judah these were based in the covenant that God made with Abraham to bless his seed. God would always save a remnant so that he would keep his promise: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Judah, David, Mary and Joseph – all trusted in the promises of God which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Read chapter 3v12&13. God’s desire is to bless, because he delights in those who trust in him. When we humbly follow the Lord, we don’t avoid his judgment on our country, but we will continue to know his blessing and grace in our lives. Even in exile in Babylon, many of the Jewish believers were not only blessed by God but, used by God in national affairs. God’s ways are far higher than our ways. Read chapter 3v14-20 Here God offers a promise of restoration, and reaffirms his love for us (v17). He promised a time of help and deliverance to the soon-to-be exiles. Those who walked with him would see deliverance and renewal of the covenant when they eventually returned to Jerusalem (Ezra and Nehemiah). Q. Which covenant is the basis of our hope, and why? Q. Do we view today’s world judgments in the light of the Bible? Does God have a guiding hand, or are they just things that “happen”? Q. How would we react, and would we be surprised, if God’s judgment fell on our country tomorrow? Is there anything we can do about it today? As Christians, we can all intervene in prayer. · We can pray for healing · We can pray for our families and friends and the wider circle of people need to heed the wake-up call. · We can be repentant and pray that others might be humble and repentant also · We can pray for revival and renewal in our land. GOD HEARS AND ANSWERS PRAYER
HAGGAI The prophecies of Habakkuk and Zephaniah had come true, just as they had predicted: the Babylonians had taken Judah and exiled its people – and it was a time of great sorrow for God’s people. Read Psalm 137v1-4 o They no longer had a king (The signet ring, referred to in Haggai, was God’s seal of authority on the king’s leadership) Jeremiah 22v24-27 o They no longer had their land o They no longer had the Temple where they could offer worship and sacrifice (it had been sacked by the Babylonians). They had been in exile for 70 years when, once again, God used another world power to work out his purpose. Page 15
King Cyrus, the King of Persia (for the Persian Empire had now superseded the Babylonian Empire) gave them permission to return to their homeland. Read Ezra 1v1&2 (The Bible is factual - You can still see the actual clay cylinder today; it is on display in the British Museum) or look it up on the internet. And so, the Jews returned to their homeland. But Jerusalem was now under a Persian governor. The Jews would no longer have their own king. However, the amazing thing was that, under the Persians, they not only had permission to return, but King Cyrus gave them all the Temple goods that had been confiscated 70 years before. This was nothing short of a miracle. And, King Cyrus encouraged them to rebuild their Temple ... which is where Haggai’s prophecy comes into their story. Haggai is the most precisely dated book in the Bible. He gives 4 sermon prophecies in the space of a year and each is precisely dated. Darius was the Persian King 10 years after Cyrus and began his reign in 522B.C. Therefore, Haggai wrote his prophecy in 520B.C. It is 10 years after the Jews had returned to Jerusalem and little had been done to rebuild the Temple. The people were building their own very fine (v3) houses first. Read Haggai 1v1&2 Haggai’s first sermon The charges against the people: Read verses 3-6 The people lived in “paneled houses” (i.e. luxury homes. Amos called them ivory palaces) while God’s House was still unbuilt. They had finished the foundations and built a temporary altar, but that was all. Their priorities were wrong – they were putting themselves first. And yet, they were still never satisfied (v6). Isn’t this true of us today? We do not appreciate all that we have until it is in short supply. Read verses 7-11 God said that the drought was a result of their failure to put God first. They had their priorities all wrong and were twice told, “Give careful thought to your ways.” Read verses 12-15 The people heard God (really listened to what he had to say); they determined to obey God; and then God stirred them up spiritually; so that, within 3 weeks they were rebuilding the Temple. Q. If this is a parable where the Temple is God’s church today, how can we apply this to ourselves? Think about the period of isolation during the Coronovirus – We are currently in “exile” – isolated from church and our Christian brothers and sisters. What are our priorities? Are we using this time to reflect on what God is saying to us and how he might use us to “build his Temple”? Haggai’s second sermon Encouragement Read chapter 2v1-9 One month later Haggai encourages the people to compare the Temple, not with their own houses but with the former Temple that was built by Solomon. Yes, the past was good, but God wanted to do a new thing. To the older people it didn’t seem as good – but it was different. This new Temple would see the dedication of Jesus the Messiah when he was 8 days old. Verse 5 suggests that this Temple was connected to the Old Covenant which cannot be in isolation from the New Covenant. Verse 7 specifically refers to Jesus. The Old Temple was the House of God. The New Temple encapsulates the concept that through Jesus, God’s presence can be in our hearts and not just in one place. See Heb.3v6 In difficult times, God says to us, “Do not be afraid” (v5) Fear is the opposite of faith, so we overcome fear by exercising our faith, staying close to God, worshipping, reading Scripture, and not being negative. Haggai’s Third Sermon “Give careful thought” – a promise to bless. Read chapter 2v10-19 What Haggai is saying in verses 10-14 is that it is easy enough to contaminate something or somebody with something bad – but the reverse just doesn’t happen. Even though the priests had cleaned and consecrated their garments that didn’t make the people pure or righteous in God’s sight. They were merely ‘looking good on the outside’ but rotten on the inside. Page 16
Until this point, even though God had used different ways to get Israel to return to him (verse 17), they just hadn’t bothered. But when they truly loved him, he promised to bless them abundantly (v19) Q. Does being blessed by God mean being problem free? What do you think it means? (Think about the foundation of your faith – what can God build on?) Haggai’s Fourth Sermon The Lord’s signet ring Read verses 20-23 To Zerubbabel. In this case Zerubbabel is representative of the kingly line: he was the grandson of the last King of Israel – from the line of David, the line of promise, the Messiah’s line (Matthew 1v13). Haggai is talking about the End Days now. One day earthly nations would be overthrown, and Israel’s king would be restored, their land would be restored, and their Temple would be restored (refer back to introduction). And the signet ring that had been taken from Jehoiachin (Jer. 22v24) would be restored to Zerubbabel (signifying the descendant from David’s line) i.e. Jesus. Signet rings were used to denote authority and honour when they were bestowed upon a person. By calling Zerubbabel his ‘signet ring‘ God was giving Zerubbabel and Israel a hope of what was yet to come in Jesus – the one who would share all of God’s authority and honour. Everlasting hope is found in Christ alone and through the Grace of God. In his grace, God had not finished with the Israelites. And he is never finished with us – I’m so thankful for that! Lord, As part of your Living Temple, help us to reflect on your grace and glory. Help us not to be afraid. And help us to be willing to be a part of building your church. Thank you for your great love. Amen
ZECHARIAH – PART 1 Zechariah was contemporary with Haggai, at a time when the Israelites were returning to Jerusalem after having been exiled in Babylon. It is the longest book of the prophets. The first part centres around 8 visions which came to the prophet in the space of one night, and which speak to the newly returned exiles. To keep it simple we will look at: What Zechariah saw, what was the likely interpretation of the vision, and what it could mean for us today THE FIRST VISION – Read chapter 1v8-16 What did Zechariah see? He saw a man on a red horse, with 3 other horses too; they were in a steep valley with myrtle trees and an angel was the mediator. What did it mean? The Jews had returned home but were not free (trapped as in a ravine) because they were still under Persian governors. The myrtle tree symbolises the beauty and presence of God with them. The horsemen probably represent God’s angelic messengers – God’s eyes on the earth. What could it mean for us? When we are in a valley, feeling hemmed in on all sides, we can remember that God’s presence is with us, and his angels are watching over us. God sees all, he knows all that we are going through, and he has promised never to leave us. Where do you see God’s grace in this? THE SECOND VISION – Read chapter 1v18-21 What did Zechariah see? He saw four horns and four craftsmen. What did it mean? In the Bible the number 4 signifies north, east, south and west – the four corners of the earth. The horns, in Page 17
the Bible, are symbolic of powers and strength. So, the four horns are Israel’s enemies and God was angry with them (ch 1v15). These horns were to be cut off and reshaped by the four craftsmen. God would do it – he is the one who is powerful above all others. He is in control. What could it mean for us? Jesus was the craftsman – he made things out of wood. But, more than that, he can take a person with a damaged life and craft them into something beautiful for God. He even has the power to change countries. He is still the God who is in control of world powers and events over which we have no control. Do you find hope in this thought? THIRD VISION – Read chapter 2v1-5 What did Zechariah see? He saw a man with a tape measure, and a city without walls (which is odd, because it begs the question, “What was he measuring?”) What did it mean? The people had built their own homes but had not rebuilt the Temple. The measure was a symbol of building. They were to rebuild both the Temple and the City walls and then the people would grow and prosper. God had directed Nehemiah to build the walls of the City, so that it could protect itself from enemies. So why were there no walls in the vision? Firstly it was to get the people to see that ultimately their trust should be in God and not in walls. Secondly, the vision looked forward to the day when God’s kingdom would not need walls – there would be no boundaries or hindrance to people coming in – as they put their trust in Jesus. What could it mean for us? We are also asked to build God’s kingdom without walls. God has promised to protect us – we don’t need “walls”. This is God’s promise in verse 5: I will be a wall of fire around it – I will be its glory within. We can know God’s fire (the Holy Spirit) protecting us and bringing glory to himself. FOURTH VISION – Read chapter 3v1-7 What did Zechariah see? It was a kind of courtroom scene. Joshua, the High priest, was clothed in filthy rags. Satan was the prosecutor, and the Angel of the Lord was the Defence. What did it mean? Joshua – as High Priest – represented all Israel, and the filthy rags were symbolic of their sin. Satan was accusing him, but God rescued him from the burning fire. And then he re-clothed Joshua in clean garments. This was a new start for the Jews. Remember, Israel had not been able to atone for their sins for over 70 years in exile. They had no Temple, no Ark, no Holy place where the High priest could enter once a year to make atonement. They needed rescue and renewal. What could it mean for us? Joshua was a “type” of Jesus – both names mean Saviour. Jesus, our Great High priest, put on our “dirty garment”, when he took our sin upon himself on the Cross. He made himself unclean so that he deserved our punishment in the flames. But God rescued him and raised him up and exalted him to the highest place, so that he is above all things. Just as the work of Joshua was to bring atonement for Israel – and a new start – so, the work of Jesus brings atonement for us - a good point to pause and praise our Saviour! FIFTH VISION – Read chapter 4v2-4 What did Zechariah see? He saw a 7 branched lampstand – the kind used in the Tabernacle – a reservoir of oil, and two olive trees. What did it mean? Light always characterises the presence of God – I guess that is the reason why they light candles in some churches. More importantly, when God is present there is light. The reservoir of oil speaks of the Holy Spirit, perpetually sustaining the light. Zerubbabel and Joshua (symbolising the ministry of the King and the High priest) were the two olive trees. The promise to the people was that God’s presence, his light and his Spirit, was with them. What could it mean for us? Jesus is our King, and our High Priest, and the one who sends the light of the Holy Spirit into our lives. The promise in v 6 is for us too as we seek to follow our Lord. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” says the Lord. Page 18
SIXTH VISION – Read chapter 5v1-4 What did Zechariah see? He saw a flying scroll, 30’x15’ – the exact dimensions of the Holy place in the tabernacle. On one side was written ‘Theft’, and on the other side ‘Lies’. What did it mean? The measure of the Holy Tabernacle represented the standard of absolute purity with which God measures sin. The sin of the people was represented by the two words – Theft and Lies. These two words can be said to sum up the ten commandments What could it mean for us? ‘Theft’ equates to us not giving God his due reverence and service. ‘Lies’ equates to hidden sin that we do not admit to. Praise the Lord that Jesus has taken away our sin, but it is always worth us considering what we might be holding back from God. See Romans 3v23 SEVENTH VISION – Read chapter 5v5-11 What did Zechariah see? He saw a woman (under a heavy lead cover) in a measuring basket, which was carried in the sky with storks wings. What did it mean? The measuring basket meant that the people had been weighed and found wanting. The woman was the personification of Israel’s sin (so bad it had to be held down). The destination was Babylon, synonymous with sin in the Bible. Babylon, mentioned over 350 times in the Bible, begins with Babel in Genesis and ends in Revelation where it is representative of the Antichrist. What could it mean for us? When we ask God to forgive us, he will literally take away our sin. It has been dealt with on the Cross. Babylon’s sin will be dealt with at the End Times – see Revelation chapters 17&18. EIGHTH VISION – Read chapter 6v1-5 What did Zechariah see? He saw 4 chariots, drawn by different coloured horses, coming between two mountains of bronze. What did it mean? It is difficult to say. It may not have happened yet – possibly apocalyptic and referring to the valley of Armageddon. What could it mean for us? It reminds me that God is Sovereign over all the earth. One day there will be judgment tempered with grace. Our hope is in the Branch (Read verse 12) – Jesus our Saviour, who will build his Living Temple and will have the ultimate victory. Praise his name!
ZECHARIAH – PART 2 Grace and Hope in Zechariah – Part 2 Some two years after Zechariah’s visions, God gives him important messages for Israel’s future. They refer to a time after the rebuilding of the Temple. They are prophecies which refer to Jesus the Messiah and The End Times. Chapter 7 J. Pelican once wrote: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead – but traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” That is: going through the outward motions with no engagement of our spirit. In this chapter, the people ask about mourning and fasting (v3), but God replies that he is not looking for outward show (traditionalism), but for love and justice which come from the heart. Read verses 8-10 Q. This is a timeless request, how can we apply it to ourselves? How does God use the difficult times to test the reality of our faith? Page 19
Chapter 8 This chapter deals with the restoration of Jerusalem, when God would again be with his people. Read verse 3. Those who were scattered by their enemies would return (and be known as the remnant). Read verses 8-12. At a time when Israel had been tested (no wages, no safety), God promises restoration and renewal and bountiful crops. Notice, verse 8 says, “I will bring them back”. At the time of writing, we are being tested by the Covoid-9 virus. This is a good time to ask the Lord to bring back all those who have backslidden from the faith. Chapter 9 This chapter clearly speaks of Jesus. Read verses 9&10. This is a prophecy of how Jesus did in fact enter Jerusalem on a foal of a donkey (Palm Sunday) – and Matthew made a point of recording it in his gospel – as if to say, “Look, this prophecy is coming true.” Matt 21v5. And at that point many Jews recognised Jesus as their Messiah. And by doing the impossible (riding on an unbroken colt), Jesus was also showing his Lordship over all creation. Q. Does Jesus have Lordship over the Covoid-9 virus? Chapter 10 Read verses 4-9. These verses are about God giving his people strength and hope. Jesus is the cornerstone of verse 4, meaning: · He is the stone that provides the standard for the building and keeps it strong. When we trust in him we have a sure foundation that will never let us go. · Just as the cornerstone joins walls going off at two different angles, Jesus joins together believers from the Old Covenant and the New. · The cornerstone speaks of immovable strength and will stay forever. Q. When we cannot literally attend church, what is the cornerstone that upholds our faith? Chapter 11 Read verses 7-14. Zechariah speaks in the first person, as if he is doing the things, but he is representative of Jesus. And so Zechariah draws a picture of the good shepherd who got rid of bad shepherds. This good shepherd had two staves (shepherd’s rods) called “Favour” and “Union”. The breaking of these rods became symbolic: · The rod called Favour was broken, because when Jesus came, Israel’s favoured position came to an end. The act of Judas (see verse 12) was representative of the value that the Jews put on Jesus’ life – so, not surprising that they lost favour with God. · The rod called Union was broken to show that when Jesus came the Jews would no longer automatically be in union with God – they, along with the gentiles, must come to Him for salvation through Jesus Christ. There is sadness in these verses – and I am sure, in God’s heart, over the lack of faith by his chosen people whom he loves so much. Chapter 12 Read verses 10&11. Possibly, one of the saddest verses in the Bible -There will come a day when the Jews will realise the responsibility they bear for “the one they pierced”, and they will be devastated and grieve bitterly in deep mourning and repentance. But they will find on that day (Verse 3 suggests Armageddon) that God’s grace is still there for them: “I will pour out a Spirit of Grace”. Oh, the overwhelming, never ending grace of God – how wonderful is He? There is no-one who cannot receive God’s grace if they turn to him in repentance. His grace never runs out, because God never ceases to love us. Chapter 13 Read verse 1. It is not begrudging grace, but a FOUNTAIN of grace pouring out with forgiveness and cleansing. On that Day, the Jews will understand the full meaning of the Temple and the blood sacrifices, when they see how they are fulfilled in Jesus. They will be sanctified and purified as they re-covenant themselves to God (see verse 9). Page 20
We already have this knowledge and understanding, and know God’s grace, as he works in our lives – Praise His Name. Chapter 14 The Last Days: · The lord will fight against the nations (v3) · He will stand on the Mount of Olives which will split in two, to form a valley (v4) · It will be an everlasting day (v7) suggesting the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of a new era. · Living water will flow continuously out of Jerusalem (v8) · The LORD will be king over the whole earth (v9) · Jerusalem will be inhabited and secure (v10,11) · A terrible fate will afflict those who rebel against God (suggestive of a nuclear bomb’s effect) (v12-14) · All of Jerusalem and Judah will be Holy to the Lord God Almighty (v20,21) The true Temple will be complete, made up of living stones from restored Jews and believing gentiles. Christ will reign on earth, where his kingdom will be established. Jews and gentiles will worship together. And all things will be Holy – not just the people and the temple, but all things and all people in this New Living Temple. Every aspect of life will be holy and consecrated to the Lord. God has great plans for us! He longs to make us holy and he longs to pour his grace into our lives. What a wonderful Saviour we have!
MALACHI It would be nice to finish the last Book in the Old Testament on a “high”, in the knowledge that God’s people were committed to bringing honour to the Lord. But the Bible is not a mere story book – it’s an account of man’s condition. More than anything it is true and it is real. Sadly, despite the rebuilding of the Temple and many ‘second chances’, God’s people were still found wanting. What is amazing is that God doesn’t wash his hands of them, but – in his grace - he gives them a way forward. He challenges them to think about 6 issues. And he promises another Elijah (John the Baptist) who will proclaim the coming of Jesus. · First Issue – God’s Love - Read Chapter 1v1-5 When God declared his love, the people replied, “How have you loved us?” Their answer was unkind. But we all know people today who might say that. Jacob represented the special covenant that God had made with his people, calling Jacob by the name of Israel as the head of the Israelites. Esau had already rejected his birthright (his inheritance), he had no desire to follow God’s ways. When we become sons and daughters of God, we are born again into God’s family and we are given a birthright – the right to share in his inheritance, like Jacob. God wants to show us his love and give us the assurance of eternal life with him. Note: When verse 3 uses the word ‘hate’ this is Hebrew hyperbole, God does not literally hate anyone – although he might hate what they do. It is like this: Just because my husband has a unique relationship with me in marriage and loves me, it does not follow that he hates all the other women in the church! God had a special love for Israel – but he still loves everyone. God is Love. He can be nothing other than love. If, like the Israelites, we are not feeling his love we need to come back to the covenant he made with us through the sacrifice of Jesus – a Covenant made in grace and love. Q. It begs the question – How much do we love God? · Second Issue – Respect for God’s Name – Read chapter 1v6-11 The lack of blessing was not, as we have seen, a lack of love on God’s part – but a lack of respect on the part of Page 21
God’s people. They were proud and contemptuous, even to the point of offering impure, maimed sacrifices. They were carrying out rituals, going through the motions – but without love and respect for the Lord. Verse 11 leads us to the time when Jesus would make it possible for all men to find salvation in Him – and ultimately when every knee will bow before the Lord. This should lead us to consider how we define our worship of God? Q. Do we give God our very best, or second best? Are we always honouring to His Holy Name? What is our purpose behind going to a worship service? · Third Issue – Faithfulness in relationships Read chapter 2v10-16 Basically – and it is also true today in many cases – the people could not see what their attitude to sex and marriage had to do with their relationship with God. Many types of relationships in Britain today are common practice and even lawful – but they remain un-Biblical. Why does the inconsistency exist? Well, God created us to be in a three-fold relationship with Himself - man, wife and The Lord – a perfect environment for the raising of children in a godly environment. How should we reflect on this? If we have not obeyed the Lord’s word in these things, is it possible to make things right with God again? God, in his grace, is willing to forgive when we come in repentance to him. 1 John 1v9 Q. If God wants us to be like him, how does that impact on our faithfulness in our relationships? Are we kind and faithful in the way that God is kind and faithful to us? · Fourth Issue – Testing God’s patience - Read chapter 2v17 to 3v4 How had the Israelites tested God’s patience? They were saying that wrong is right, sin is not sin at all, anything goes as long as no-one gets hurt (sound familiar?). What could God do for people who had effectively made up their own religion? Would he wash his hands of them? Would he bring punishment on them? How could he do that if he was a God of love and faithfulness? What he did was to provide them with a Saviour – a new chance. But not only for them, but for the whole world. “I will send a messenger” and “The Lord will come to his Temple” (3v1) And that is exactly what Jesus did, as Jesus revealed himself in the Temple. Read Luke 2v25-32; Luke 2v41-52; John 7v28-29; John 8v42-47 The question posed here is, “Who will stand at the day of his coming?” (3v2&3) Those who bring offerings in righteousness will be the ones who stand – those who have considered the previous verses in Malachi and are following the Lord in true love and worship – those who are made righteous through the blood of Jesus. Aren’t we so blessed to be living in this Age of Grace? · Fifth Issue – Tithing, giving freely to God – Read Malachi 3v6-12 The people asked God, “How do we return?” (v7). This passage is about tithing, but it is also about giving of our all to God – not holding anything back, because in doing so we would be robbing God. God makes 2 promises in this passage: · If you return to me I will return to you (v7) · If you are faithful in tithing, I will pour out blessings on you Tithes were, and are, important because. They are a Biblical principle (Deut 14v22-29, 2 Cor. 8v7-12, Matt 23v23) They are to be part of worship, in fellowship with each other in God’s name. They are significant of obedience and sacrifice. They are for the support and encouragement of the fellowship. They are for the support of God’s workers. They are for the storehouse (v10), now considered to be the local church. They are a symbol of our attitude towards giving to God. · Sixth Issue - God’s Desire Read chapter 3v17 and 4v2 We see the loving, father-heart of God. Israel will be spared – and because we have been grafted in – we can be spared too. With the coming of Jesus, all people could have the opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation and healing from the God who loves them. In his grace God was to provide a way forward. Chapter 1v9 tells us to plead with God for his grace. Q. Should this not be our prayer for the world today in the grip of Coronovirus? God alone is the answer to our every need and he is waiting to pour out his grace on us.
The Estuary Elim Group of Churches are three Essex based Elim Pentecostal Churches in Ashingdon, Rayleigh and Southend on Sea with a shared Leadership team. We are a group of people responding to the love of God and the life changing message of Jesus Christ. Our services are lively with contemporary music, worship and preaching and teaching relevant to the 21st Century. To find out more about us visit www.estuaryelim.church Whether you are new to church, someone with questions or a committed Christian, we want to serve you and help you discover and fulfil Godâ€™s purpose for your life. If you would like an opportunity to email or talk to one of the team email your contact details to email@example.com and we will get back to you. The Ashingdon, Rayleigh and Southend Elim Pentecostal Churches are branches of The Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance (Registered Charity No. 251549)
Bible study on Grace and Hope in the Bible - The Minor Prophets