Last month, we reviewed a couple of the "minor prophets" (so labeled simply because they are smaller - shorter, more terse and concise): Joel and Amos. This month we'll take a glimpse at a few more.
Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of Habakkuk's main
themes. (This involves what is called "theodicy": a defense of God's
goodness and omnipotence in a world of evil.) Habakkuk was probably a priest
before he was called as a prophet, as was Jeremiah, and at about the same time.
He thus was also a contemporary of Daniel and wrote in the declining days just
prior to the Babylonian captivity. One of his most pivotal passages
The Just shall live by faith. - Habakkuk 2:4
This verse became the primary prompting of Martin Luther which led to the Reformation and which also appears as a unifying quotation in a "Trilogy" of Paul's epistles:
Who are "the Just"? Paul answers that in the Epistle to the Romans.1 How shall they "live"? Paul answers this in his Epistle to the Galations.2 "By faith!" Paul focuses on this in the Epistle to the Hebrews. 3
In fact, this quote immediately precedes the famous "Hall of Faith" of Hebrews 11! (This also is one of the reasons we believe Paul was the author of this unsigned epistle.)
His book is not about being initiated by God into the ministry, but rather he is initiating a dialog with God about the ministry: he is the initiator and God is the responder. He starts out by wrestling with God and ends up worshiping Him.
Born in the latter reign of Manasseh,4 Zephaniah was a great-great-grandson of Hezekiah, and, thus, of royal blood. His name means, "whom the Lord hides (or protects)." While he was almost a contemporary of Habakkuk, his focus is more distant: the Day of the Lord (as was the focus of Joel, discussed last month).
There are many fascinating hints in this tiny but remarkable book: the fact that in the end times, when Israel would be regathered in the land, there would be a return to pure Hebrew;5 that Ethiopia would ultimately bring the Messiah a special gift on Mt. Zion;6 and it even contains a hint of the Rapture!7 A very brief, but rewarding book!
Haggai was the first of the post-exile prophets, and focuses on the rebuilding of the Temple after the return from Babylon. (As does Zechariah on a more visionary level; Haggai is more practical.) His focus is that work is the measure of life.8
His audience was the believing remnant. They were the right people, living in the right place, wanting to do the right work, and for the right reasons. (Does that sound like us?) But their priorities were not right. They were caught up in their own pursuits, living for themselves rather than for God's glory. (Ouch! Does that also sound like us?)
We sometimes jokingly call this the "Italian prophet" (by mispronouncing his name, accenting the second syllable), but this last book of the Old Testament also features a post-exile prophet. This book, among other things, includes one of the most fascinating personal challenges found in the Bible. Several times in the Scriptures, Jesus emphasizes that we are not to "test" God. 9 In fact, this issue is included among the famed "temptations" of Christ.10 Yet, here we find an astonishing exception, where God actually dares us to put Him to a test!
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. -Malachi 3:10
Here the Divine Ruler of the Universe puts Himself "into a box" of commitment and dares us to "prove Him now herewith" by accepting His challenge! It is the answer to all financial problems, if we will but take advantage of this audacious promise. This book closes the Old Testament record with a prophecy of a return "in the spirit of Elijah," and ushers in the 400-year period that scholars call the "silent years" between the testaments. The New Testament opens with John the Baptist, the person that ends the Old Testament. 11
Our expositional commentaries on these small but provocative and rewarding books are featured on the facing page. In addition to the various topical excursions encountered within these pithy little books, our commentaries also include a number of discursive addenda: The Myth of "the Ten Lost Tribes;" The Pictographs of Pre-Babylonian Hebrew; Research on Broken Families; The Secrets of Personal Financial Management; Ezekiel's Mysterious 430 Years; and Rapture Models in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit always rewards the diligent. Good hunting!
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The Commentary on these four books is now available on CD-ROM.