Lecture 14: The Book of the Twelve (Part 2)
Course: Understanding the Old Testament
Lecture: The Book of the Twelve (Part 2)
Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah remind us of punishment. First Nahum, who is the prophet of Assyria’s punishment. Nahum reminds us that God’s patience with the gentile nations will not last forever. Their punishment must take place. Nahum announces that Assyria, the fierce conqueror of northern Israel, will be destroyed. This prediction begins the punishment emphasis in The Twelve. Nahum mentions the fall of Thebes, which happens in 663 B.C. and the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. Therefore, he preaches sometime between those dates.
Assyria has already defeated Samaria and other countries and now has begun to decline. As I have already mentioned, Babylon destroys Nineveh in 612 B.C. and Assyria is finished as a major power. Nahum stresses that the Lord does not punish Assyria because of personal vindictiveness. In a quotation of Exodus 34:6-7, Nahum says in 1:3: “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power”and the Lord, though, “will by no means clear the guilty.”
These characteristics of God are eternal and they apply to all nations. God is gracious to Assyria, we have already seen that in the book of Jonah. But God is also not going to clear the guilty. And the time has come for guilty Assyria to be judged. So chapter 1 emphasizes God’s wrath against Nineveh for all the sins they have committed through the years, for all the nations they have harmed, for all the war atrocities they have committed, for all the inequities they have perpetrated. God will judge.
Chapter 2 describes the actual destruction of the city and what it is like when the armies come against them that destroy them. Chapter 3 mentions the woe that comes to Nineveh. That their leaders are asleep. Their kings are unaware of their needs. That this city will be wasted and destroyed. That the nation to whom God sent the prophet Jonah, in his grace and through his power, he will destroy because of their lack of compassion and kindness and their lack of faith in him.
The book of Habakkuk emphasizes God’s punishment of both Israel and Babylon. As I mentioned in the introduction to the Book of the Twelve, Habakkuk is a very bright individual who asks very telling questions of the Lord. In chapter 1:2-4 he makes a complaint to the Lord and it is simply this: The law is paralyzed and justice does not go forth. What will God do about wickedness in Judah? God’s answer in chapter 1:5-11 is that he, Yahweh, has a plan. He will send Babylon to defeat all the wicked persons that concern Habakkuk.
Then in 1:12 to 2:1, Habakkuk makes a second complaint, asks a second question: How is this just? Because if Babylon defeats Judah, in this case it is simply the wicked defeating the wicked. The wicked still prosper. What will God do about that? God says he will also defeat the Babylonians. And as history unfolds, in 539 B.C., Persia conquers Babylon. Habakkuk is working before any of that happens. In fact, he is probably working in the late years of the 7th century B.C. and prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.
How is someone supposed to live in such terrible and tumultuous times? In chapter 2:2 and following we have one of the most important passages of Scripture on this subject. It reminds us of Genesis 15:6 where the text says that Abraham believed God and it was credited for righteousness. It will remind us of Hebrews 11, which gives us a whole portrait of faith through the ages and the importance of trusting God and believing in him.
In chapter 2:2 the Lord answers Habakkuk’s second question. He says: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” So far God has said, even though it will seem like I am not judging sin, even though it will seem like I am doing nothing, wait for my word to come through.
Verse 4: “Behold, his soul”- that is, the soul of the Babylonian, of the wicked - “is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” That is, those who trust in God and live for him in these times, will live. They are the ones that God blesses. They are the ones that God saves. They are the ones that God approves. They are the ones that God sees through the day of judgment and vindicates on the day of judgment, and makes one of his own and allows to live with him in Zion, his home. It is those who by faith trust in God and by faith live for God, so that their faith flows seamlessly on to faithfulness. These are the people whom God approves.
In chapter 3 Habakkuk offers a great and wonderful prayer about all the work God has done from Exodus on, and how he will trust in the Lord, no matter what. Chapter 3:17-19 stresses his faith in God, even in terrible times. The prophet ends his book by saying: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”
Habakkuk says that even if the whole agricultural economy collapses, he will trust in the Lord. Once again we see that anyone who preaches that people who are faithful in God will always have money and riches and luxuries, simply do not understand the Bible, are not taught by the Bible, or pervert the Bible. The health and wealth gospel and prosperity is really simply a misunderstanding or a twisting of the Word of God.
Habakkuk understands what Christians worldwide have seen for years and years and that is, that there may be terrible times for a believer. You may be harassed and harmed like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. You may be jailed the way Jeremiah was, or the apostle John was. You may be crucified as Jesus or Peter were. That is up to the Lord’s good providence. But even when there is nothing, we can trust in him because he is enough.
Zephaniah brings the section of judgment to a close by stressing universal punishment. He begins his book in 1:2 by saying: “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” says the Lord. And as chapter 1 unfolds, it is a statement of how the Day of the Lord will in effect do what Noah’s flood did, will destroy the earth, will wipe away all sin and all human failure from the earth. God will start over, in other words. There will be a new creation.
This judgment, according to chapter 2, includes Israel and Judah, but also all the other nations of the world who have sinned against God. What sort of attitude do these other nations have? According to 2:15, here is their attitude: “In their heart they say: ‘I am, and there is no one else.’” In other words, they are filled with pride. They are filled with their own ways and their own plans. They have no time for the Creator of the heavens and the earth. And they will find that judgment awaits.
Chapter 3 talks about this judgment and states it in no uncertain terms. But it also concludes with a statement of why this judgment occurs. In chapter 3:8 the text says God will pour out his anger on the nations. But for what purpose? Zephaniah 3:9 says: “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples” - that is, of the nations – “to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord, from beyond the rivers of Cush, my worshipers, the daughters of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering.”
According to Zephaniah 3:9-10, God is bringing judgment so that people from all nations might call on him. We see many people from different lands coming to faith in the Old Testament. And as we come into the New Testament, we see even more of them. Zephaniah ends with this wonderful statement of joy and restoration, 3:14: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all of your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.’”
Verse 20: “At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.”
God will indeed save people from all nations and all lands. God will indeed sing over these people in Zion. There is a bright future. But Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah help us understand that this bright future will occur through the ashes of judgment. To remind you, Nahum, who is writing about 612 B.C. and Habakkuk and Zephaniah, who both minister nearly at this same time and before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., these people are telling the Israelites of coming judgment. But yet they are also telling them of coming glory. This coming glory is emphasized in Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
Haggai is the prophet of temple restoration. It is important for us to understand that Haggai is written against the background of the years 520 to 516 B.C. Despite all we have learned about the history of Israel, these years have not been covered. The author of Haggai simply expects you to know that after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 587 and took complete control of the political affairs of the Israelite people, the people served under Babylon’s rule from 587 to 539 B.C.
Many of the people were exiled throughout the ancient world. Some lived in the land, but it was difficult at best for the people in the land and often bad for those outside the land. In 539 B.C. the Persians defeated the Babylonians and took over their empire. The Persians were led by a great king, Cyrus the Great.
In 538 B.C. Cyrus began to allow some subjugated peoples to go home, to go back to their ancestral homelands to rebuild there; and he allowed some Israelites to go back to Judea, to go back to Jerusalem and the area. So they began to go back in 538 to 535 B.C. Haggai is one of the prophets who ministered to these people.
In a very short book, in chapter 1, he tells the people it is time to rebuild the temple. It is time to rebuild that symbol of God’s presence in their midst. It is time to restore worship. It is time for them to show that God matters most to them. The people have been suffering under famine. They have been suffering without enough to eat. But yet, when the prophet tells them the key to their future is to build this temple, they do so.
It is not as magnificent as Solomon’s temple, and yet it is significant. It is an important step. In fact, according to chapter 2, the glory of this temple will be greater than the glory of the past temple. The reason this will be so is because the Messiah will come there. The Messiah, the one God has promised, will someday come to this place. So there is a renewed temple as the people return to the land.
The next book is Zechariah. Zechariah continues the restoration theme by talking about Jerusalem’s restoration. Like Ezekiel, Zechariah is a book of many visions, in the same time period as Haggai, that is 520 to 516 B.C., in chapters 1-8, Zechariah has visions of a restored Jerusalem. He has eight of these visions and they are often very difficult to understand. Stated simply, we see their emphasis, the emphasis of all these chapters in chapter 8. In this chapter, according to verse 3, Jerusalem is the holy mountain of God. Their God will bring peace to his people, according to 8:4-5. Their exiles will gladly return, according to 8:7-8. The temple has been rebuilt and the land will be fruitful, 8:8-12. The people will be righteous says 8:14-19. And Israel will be a blessing to all nations, 8:20-23.
Jerusalem’s restoration marks Israel’s return to the Promised Land, where they will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, showing God’s glory in the middle of the earth to all the people around. This is the future that began with a restored Jerusalem in 520 to 516 B.C.
Zechariah 9-14 closes the book with some extraordinary statements about the king who will rule in Jerusalem. These passages are cited in the New Testament as well. For instance, Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This passage is cited in Matthew 21:5 when Christ enters Jerusalem. The text says this king will come and he will save his people, according to 9:14-17.
But chapter 11 mentions the fact that the shepherd will be struck, the shepherd will be harmed. In chapter 12 it says the shepherd will be pierced. This king who has come to shepherd the people, to be the new David, will be pierced and die and his people will be scattered.
These verses state that in Zechariah 13:7: “Awake O sword against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me, declares the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered. I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
What Zechariah 13:7-9 is indicating is that the servant of the Lord, the shepherd who is coming, the king who comes to the people, will be struck and killed and his people will be scattered and they will be refined. But those who are refined will call upon his name. They will be his people and he will be their God. The rest of the Bible helps us to understand that this king is not just struck and killed but he is raised from the dead, according to Isaiah 53.
In the coming Day of the Lord, Zechariah 14 says, “God will cleanse all of Jerusalem, make Mount Zion a place for God’s people. This is glorified Jerusalem. This is what we commonly call heaven. It is what we call from Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21, the New Jerusalem. God will put his people in a perfect place and everything there will be holy unto him.
In 14:8 Zechariah writes, “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half to the west. It shall continue in summer as in winter and the Lord will be king over all the earth. In that day the Lord will be one and his name shall be one.” God will rule in his place with his people through his power. This reminds us of Isaiah stressing over and again that from creation to new creation, the Lord is working his purposes. There is coming a day when there will be a home for his people. Israel’s return to Jerusalem in 520 to 516 helped the prophet see God’s work in his time and helped him think about God’s work in the future.
Malachi, the last book of the Book of the Twelve, is a prophet of restoration of Israel’s people. Malachi knows that a restored temple and city mean little if the people themselves fail to serve the Lord. During Haggai and Zechariah’s ministry, the people are receptive to the Lord’s commands. They repent, rebuild the temple, and plan to restore Jerusalem. But between the years 520 to 516 B.C. and in the time of Malachi, things change. Decades pass. Sin sets in.
Most scholars date Malachi about 450 to 425 B.C., in other words, about 70 years after Haggai and Zechariah. Israel has gone backwards spiritually in these years. Israel’s attitude leads to much of the decline. What do they think? First, they doubt God’s love because they have not been very prosperous, Malachi 1:1,2. Yahweh reminds them that he has loved them and chosen them through the centuries.
Second, Malachi 1:6-14 states that the priests and the people disdain proper worship. They bring crippled, worthless animals for sacrifice in the temple, and yet they expect God to be pleased and bless them. They consider the whole worship process a waste of time. Why? Because they simply want the money. They want God to give them what they want as far as food, luxuries, money. God warns them this mindset is unacceptable.
Third, according to Malachi 2:1-9, the priests have no reverence for God’s law. They have lied about God’s standards. So the Lord has humiliated them. He reminds them that the priests are supposed to teach the word of God. He reminds them that their father Levi had true instruction in his mouth, and he turned many away from iniquity. What is the role of a priest? According to Malachi 2:7, “The lips of a priest should guard knowledge and the people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you (the priests of that day) have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.”
Priests were not just to pray and offer sacrifices and sing in the temple, they were to teach the people the word of God. This was their primary function, to share God’s standards with God’s people. These priests have not done so. And the people have suffered. What has happened? Well, according to Malachi 2:10-16, men are divorcing their wives, breaking their marriage vows. According to Malachi 3:1-12, they have withheld their offerings and speak against God and rob him.
So what will God do? Well, by now you should know. He will judge through the day of the Lord. He will judge in time and at the end of time. He will send punishment in their daily lives, so that they will return to him as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27, 28, said would happen. If they don’t turn, he will send greater judgments until he drives them from the land.
The Book of the Twelve ends and the prophets end with the following warning, Malachi 4:1: “For behold the day, the day of judgment is coming, burning like an oven when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the son of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall and you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
God says there is a day of judgment coming. He warns the people to repent. He warns them to keep the covenant standards set forth by Moses. He warns them to return to the ways of righteousness and truth. He warns them to put their faith in him and to be faithful to one another because of their faith in him. He also says, “I am sending Elijah before the great day comes.”
The New Testament states that John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus by preaching to the people of the coming of judgment, he is the Elijah promised, he is the prophet promised. Just as David is said to be the Messiah when Jesus comes, David is standing as a representative for all the people. Elijah is a representative of all the prophets. John the Baptist is Elijah in that he shares Elijah’s beliefs, he shares Elijah’s teachings and he comes and preaches and he preaches judgment to the people. If they do not turn from their sins and turn to the Messiah, Jesus, they will be judged.
So God continues his pattern of sending his prophets to warn the people, of sending his prophets to turn them back, so that he will not judge. But as is often the case, the people do not respond. So the Book of the Twelve shares in the prophetic books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. Together, these books tell us the history of Israel, what happened and the meaning of that history, why it all happened. It explains to us that God in his faithfulness brought Israel to the land. He made them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, to be a witness to the nations. He gave them his standards, so that they might live out his word. He gave them prophets and priests to teach them.
But the people, the prophets, the priests and then the kings all became unfaithful. God never left himself without witness. There were great people. There were great people even in the era of the judges. The prophets themselves are giants of faith. But sadly, the people turn away from him and he has to send judgment in the form of destruction of Samaria, destruction of Jerusalem, and promise of greater destruction at the end of time.
In the meantime he promises that David will have a descendant on the throne. David’s great son, the Messiah, will come. The Lord’s promises are that when the Messiah comes, Israelites will put their faith in him, build their lives in him and take God’s message to the ends of the earth. God’s promises to Noah, Abraham, Moses and David will come true. They must be kept. They cannot fail.
So the prophets give us this great scope of how God expects his people to live in the land that he has given them, the message that he intends them to take to the nations and how he expects all nations to live before him. So they tell us about truth. They also tell us about love and hope, as we look not only to the day of the Lord and the removal of sin from the earth, but we look to the salvation that will come through that day, through the Messiah; and we can look forward to the time when God will put his people in Zion with him in the absence of sin, suffering, sorrow, and death, forever. This is the message that the prophet gives us.