Hosea through Malachi
HOSEA: THE PROPHET OF PERSEVERING LOVE
PROLOGUE: THE WHOLE STORY IN SYMBOL 1-3
ISRAEL'S SIN INTOLERABLE: GOD IS HOLY 4-7
The Fivefold Indictment 4-5
Israel's Unreal "Return" 6
Healing Made Impossible 7
ISRAEL SHALL BE PUNISHED: GOD IS JUST 8-10
The Trumpet of Judgment -
These Chapter Throughout are
Expressions of Wrath to Come.
ISRAEL SHALL BE RESTORED: GOD IS LOVE 11-14
Divine Yearning 11
Yet Israel Must Suffer 12
The Final Victory of Love 14
Hosea is the prophet of Israel's zero hour. The nation had sunk to a point of such corruption that a major stroke of Divine judgment could no longer be stayed off. What the weeping Jeremiah was to Judah, the southern kingdom, nearly 1« centuries later, that was the sob-choked Hosea to Israel, the northern kingdom. The opening verse of the book tells us that he prophesied from the times of Uzziah to that of Hezekiah. Hosea lived on through the 50 years or more in Israel between the death of Jeroboam II and the Assyrian invasion. Now this period, from Jeroboam II on to the captivity, was the awful "last lap" of iniquity in Israel's downward drive. Jeroboam is the last king who reigns in Israel with any semblance of Divine appointment. The kings who follow seize the throne by murdering its occupant at the time. Shallum slays Zechariah, Manahem slays Shallum, Pekah kills Pekahiah, and Hoshea the last of them kills Pekah. Israel's self-reliance is gone. She is as fluttered as a startled bird; "They call to Egypt; they go to Assyria." But everything is hopeless, kings cannot save, for Ephraim (Israel) is seized by the pangs of a fatal crisis.
Things were even worse morally and spiritually than they were politically. The alliances which Israel's kings made with foreign powers brought in the immoral idolatries of Syria and Phoenicia - cruel nature-worship associated with the names of Baal and Ashtaroth, with all the attendant abominations of child-sacrifices and revolting licentiousness.
THE STORY IN SYMBOL:
These first three chapters are symbolical narrative. The prophet's wife, Gomer, and the three children, Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi, and the tragedy of the prophet's married life, of which these chapters speak, are all symbolic of the relationship between Jehovah and Israel. Here we have the faithless wife and her faithful husband, and the remaining 11 chapters, where we have faithless Israel and her faithful God.
What then is the special relevance of this prologue? It is this: THE PROPHET, THROUGH THE HEARTBREAK OF HIS OWN MARRIAGE TRAGEDY, HAD COME TO SEE ISRAEL'S SIN AGAINST GOD IN ITS DEEPEST AND MOST AWFUL SIGNIFICANCE. Hosea had loved, with a pure, deep, tender, sensitive love. He had honorably taken to himself the woman of his choice, and entered into what he anticipated would be a union of life-long happiness. After the birth of the first child, however, painful suspicions were aroused in his mind as to Gomer's loyalty; and these were confirmed later by the discovery of adultery. The first child Jezreel is definitely said to be born to Hosea (1:3), but the others are not. The 2nd child he does not own. He names the little girl Lo-ruhammah, which means "Unloved," or "she that never knew a father's love." The 3rd child he disowns outright, calling it Lo-ammi, which means "Not my people" or "No kin of mine."
We can imagine the conflict of emotion in Hosea's heart, the sense of shame in his desecrated home. He had forgiven his beloved but weak and disloyal Gomer once . . . twice . . . He had pleaded and warned. But things had at length reached the point where separation was necessary. After this, so it would appear, Gomer had sold herself for money, and later drifted into slavery, from which however, she was redeemed by the still compassionate Hosea (3:2), though there could be no thought of reunion without a process of discipline and chastening.
This story is told consecutively, and at each point the symbolism is explained and applied. Gomer is the nation, Israel. The children are the people of that nation. Hosea's sorrow, patience, compassion, and his final act of redeeming, chastening and restoring Gomer are, in adumbration, the sorrow, patience, compassion, and love of God toward sinning Israel. The whole tragic story of Israel is here, in these first 3 chapters, and the ultimate triumph of that day yet to be when God shall say, "I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies...I will say to them which were not My people: Thou art My people; and they shall say: Thou art my God."
Chapter 2 is the application of chapter 1. And chapter 3 looks right on to the end of the present age, for its last words are, "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God , and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness IN THE LATTER DAYS." Yes, the whole story of Israel, past, present, and future, is here, in this symbolic prologue.
But the deepest and most awesome thing of all in these chapters is that through his own cruelly desecrated relationship with Gomer, Hosea came to understand the true meaning of Israel's sin: it was SPIRITUAL ADULTERY, and even HARLOTRY! The sin of adultery has been defined as that of "seeking satisfaction in unlawful relations." That is what Israel had done. Harlotry is even worse. It is the sin of "prostituting high possessions for the sake of hire and gain." That too, Israel had done. As Hosea tells them, God had taken them to Himself in a special relationship, had loved them, carried them in His arms, taught them to walk, been Husband and home to them; and they had gone after other gods - and had prostrated their high privileges to the lascivious indulgence of idolatry! Such sin is spiritual adultery! To see it in this light is to see it in its ugliest enormity, and at the same time to realize with a cutting keenness THE SUFFERING WHICH IT CAUSES TO THE HEART OF GOD. The sin of a people with such high privilege and sacred relationship as Israel is the most heinous sin thinkable; that of WILLFUL INFIDELITY TO LOVE.
God sustains four principal relationships to mankind (1) Creator, (2) King, (3) Judge, (4) Father. Which of these four demonstrates the fundamental motive and purpose in the bringing of the human race into being? Did God create merely to possess? to reign? to judge? No, it is the fatherhood of God which is ultimate. God created us for FELLOWSHIP with Himself. This means that human sin hurts the great, loving heart of God. In its deeper aspect, sin does not merely break God's law, it breaks His heart. Calvary says so. Whether it be under Hosea's metaphor of the grieved and wounded husband, or our Lord's picture of the sorrowing and compassionate father, the truth is there: HUMAN SIN HURTS GOD! "Lost souls" are a loss to the heart of God!
ISRAEL'S INTOLERABLE SIN:
In chapter 5 the Lord speaks twice of withdrawing Himself from Israel. The knowledge of God was destroyed in the land (4:1,6); and this was the tap-root of all manner of evils. Because of Israel's impenitent persistence in these evils Jehovah purposes to exact retribution and to withdraw Himself from them (5:6,15). Whereupon Israel superficially "returns" to "know" Jehovah, taking it presumptuously for granted that "after a couple of days" there will be a reviving (6:1-3). But their professed return is merely ritualistic, and Jehovah protests, "I desire real love, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Jehovah, however, still longs to spare and restore Israel, but when He would do so the determined wickedness of the nation prevents Him. The upshot of these chapters is that ISRAEL'S SIN HAS REACHED THE POINT WHERE IT IS INTOLERABLE.
ISRAEL SHALL BE PUNISHED:
In the first part of the book we have the exposure of Israel's awful SIN, in these 3 chapters that follow we notice the utterance of the awful JUDGMENT which is swiftly coming upon it.
ISRAEL SHALL BE RESTORED:
Finally, in this last part of the book we find "The Yearning of God." The yearning is that of LOVE. See the opening words, "When Israel was a child I LOVED him . . . I drew them with cords of a man, with the bands of LOVE..." "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? . . . Mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together..." Although the inevitability of judgment is reiterated, yet the note is now that of sorrowing regret that it must be so.
But most of all here is the final triumph of love, culminating in the last chapter. It is a grand and beautiful climax. Judgment is finished. Sin is forsaken. Backsliding is healed. Love reigns. In the closing verse Ephraim says, "What have I to do any more with idols?" Jehovah responds, "I have answered and will regard him." Ephraim again says, "I am like a green fir tree"; and again Jehovah responds, "From Me is thy fruit found."
AN ALARM - INVASION BY PLAGUE 1:1-2:11
The Present Desolation 1:1-20
The Yet Further Threat 2:1-11
AN APPEAL - ELEVENTH-HOUR HOPE 2:12-27
Appeal: "Turn Ye to Me" 2:12-17
Promise: "I Will Restore" 2:18-27
AN ANNEX - ON THE AFTER-DAYS 2:28-3:21
Epochs of the End Time 2:28-3:16
Ultimate Glory of Zion 3:17-21
Joel whose name means "Jehovah is God," calls himself the son of Pethuel. Beyond this we are told nothing about him. His book makes it tolerably certain, however, that he exercised his prophetic ministry in or near Jerusalem. It is the inhabitants of that city whom he addresses. It is Jerusalem which he sees in danger, it is in Zion that the "alarm" is to be sounded (2:1,9,15). The 10-tribed northern kingdom is not once mentioned.
INVASION BY PLAGUE: Chapter 1 is a moving description of the desolation in the land, resulting from successive locust ravages. The prophet was here using the graphic present to depict, as though it were already there, a calamity yet to break on the nation. As so often used in the prophetic writings, the prophecy is so worded that while there is a primary reference to a historical happening with which the prophet's contemporaries were familiar, there is a further and larger fulfillment envisioned away in the future.
In the first 11 verses of chapter 2 we find a most gripping and awesome picture of this still further and greater trouble which was about to break upon the nation. This visitation, whatever its nature, was to be so grave and extraordinary that it could be described by no less an expression than "the Day of Jehovah is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?"
At verse 12 there is an imploring appeal to the nation to repent before the dread stroke falls. In the mercy of God there is always this 11th hour chance before a major stroke of judgment falls.
At v.18 there is a gracious promise - a promise of salvation if the 11th hour appeal is heeded. It is in the past tense, for it visualizes the Divine response, if the people repent, as though it had already happened.
THE AFTER DAYS:
This section plainly stands by itself, for it is all PREDICTIVE of what will happen in the after days. The apostle Peter, in his discourse on the day of Pentecost, definitely relates Joel 2:28, and what follows it, to the last days (Acts 2:15-21). Whatever latent significances (Armageddon) may lie in Joel's words, the genuine first sense has to do with Joel's own time (Locust plague); and we do not serve the best interests of our Bible when, with zeal for seeing prophetic meanings, we exalt the apocalyptic at the expense of the historical integrity of Scripture.
INVASION BY LOCUSTS:
The ground over which their devastating hordes have passed at once assumes an appearance of sterility and dearth. Well did the Romans call them "the burners of the land," which is the literal meaning of our word "locust." All is as nothing to the myriads of insects that blot out the sun above and cover the ground beneath and fill the air whichever way one looks. The breeze carries them swiftly past, but they come on in fresh clouds, a host of which there is no end, each of them a harmless creature which you can catch and crush in your hand, but appalling in their power of collective devastation. Nothing in their habits is more striking than the pertinacity with which they all pursue the same line of march, like a disciplined army. W.M. Thomson tells us that when the millions upon millions of locust eggs hatch, the very dust seems to waken to life, and the earth itself seems to tremble with them; and later, when the vast new breed have acquired wings, the very heavens seem tremulous with them.
THE DAY OF JEHOVAH:
The term "the day of Jehovah appears 5x (1:15, 2:1,11,31; 3:14). Joel uses this term in three ways. He uses it of THE THREATENED LOCUST PLAGUE (2:11,25). He uses it of a "great and terrible" day which is even yet to come, at THE END OF THE PRESENT AGE (Acts 2:14-21). He uses it of a day of Divine judgment which was even then "near" upon THE PALESTINIAN NATIONS which had afflicted Israel (3:2-14). The three uses of this phrase then, are a LOCAL sense, a FINAL sense, and a in a DOUBLE sense - examples are as follows (Is.2:12, 13:6,9, 14:3, Jer.30:7-8, 46:10, Lam.2:16, Ez.7:19, 13:5, 30:3,9, Amos 5:18-20, Obad.15, Zeph.1:7, Zech.14, Mal.4:5).
But even when this "day of Jehovah" does not look right on to the end of our own age, it is reserved to denote only the most extraordinary visitations of Divine judgments. Here in Joel, for instance, where it is used of the threatened locust-plague, the plague is such that "there has not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations (2:2).
What the day of Jehovah at the end of the present age will be passes the power of imagination to anticipate. We only need to look up the references to it in both Testaments to realize that all the events of past history will be dwarfed by this magnitudinous culmination. It will suddenly burst into occurrence with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in supernatural splendor. This will precipitate Armageddon, when the "beast" and the "false prophet" and the anti-christ's "kings of the earth with their armies" shall be utterly overwhelmed, the present world system smashed, Satan flung into the bottomless abyss, and all powers of evil crushed to the dust. And this will inaugurate the world-wide empire of Christ, with a restored Israel in Palestine, and all the peoples of the earth forming the one kingdom of "our God and of His Christ." This "day of Jehovah" will be heralded by cosmic disturbances and other preternatural signs; it will continue for 1000 years; it will end with a Divinely permitted final insurrection of evil inspired by Satan; then the final abolition of evil from the earth, the general judgment of the human race at the Great White Throne, and a cataclysm of fire, followed by a "new heaven and a new earth."
ADDENDUM TO JOEL:
It is usually held that the inauguration of the Christian church dates back to Pentecost. Acts 2:16, however, explains Pentecost as, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel . . ." And Joel 2:28-3:21 refers not to the church, but to the even yet future "great and terrible day of Jehovah," the final regathering of Israel, and the Messianic kingdom. But if that Joel prophecy is yet unfulfilled, how could Peter say at Pentecost, "This is THAT"?
In fulfillment of promise, our Lord proclaimed the kingdom of the Jews, and offered Himself as Messiah. The Jews who had doted on the material aspects of the promised kingdom, to the neglect of its spiritual requirements, rejected and even crucified Christ - which, however, was foreknown and overruled of God to effect a world-wide Gospel of individual salvation.
On the cross our Lord prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." In answer, the Jews were given a further opportunity in the period covered by the Acts, when the new offer was accompanied by the additional message (and proofs) of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal miracles were God-given SIGNS that the kingdom was truly drawing near again in offer. Therefore Peter's "This is THAT..." But Israel again rejected; and as the further rejection crystallized, the Pentecostal signs were withdrawn, as also was the kingdom. The Joel passage now awaits the second coming of Christ, when the church age ends, and the kingdom age begins.
1. EIGHT "BURDENS" 1-2
Damascus Gaza Tyre Edom
Ammon Moab Judah Israel
Note: "For three transgressions and for four."
2. THREE "SERMONS" 3-6
Judgment Deserved (3:1-10); Decreed (11-15)
Judgment Deserved (4:1-11); Decreed (12-13)
Judgment Deserved (5:1-15); Decreed (16-6:14)
3. FIVE "VISIONS" 7-9
Grasshoppers Fire Plumbline
Summer Fruit God over the Altar
Note the final promise to Israel
Amos, the herdsman-prophet, is a singular figure among the Old Testament prophets. His writing too is distinguished by a peculiar forcefulness and rural freshness. In chapter 1 he speaks of himself as "Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa." It was there he was called of God to be a prophet to the northern kingdom, Israel. He says, "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdsman and a cultivator (of Sycamore figs); and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, "Go, prophesy unto My people Israel" (7:14-15). He had not been trained in any of the "schools of the prophets." He was what we would today call a "layman." His vocabulary, his figures of speech, his illustrations, are all redolent of the country life from which he came. There was an unconventional bluntness about him which must have been pretty disconcerting to the college trained professional prophets of Bethel calf-worship, with their polished ambiguities and evasions. They would certainly feel a cold shiver down their spines to hear Amos address the upper-class ladies of Samaria as "cows" (4:1).
Here we see coming retribution on 8 Palestinian nations - Syria, which is addressed through Damascus its capital, Philistia, which is represented by its fortress-city of Gaza; Phoenicia, which is represented by its great seaport, Tyre; Edom; Ammon; Moab; Judah and Israel.
Each address is prefaced by the formula, "For three transgressions and
for four. . ." Idiomatically, this means that the measure was full, and
more than full; the sin of these people had overreached itself; or, to
put it in an allowable bit of modern slang, they had "gone one too
many," and "tipped the scale." The first time they had done the evil,
God had rebuked. The second time He had threatened. The third time He
had menaced with uplifted hand. Now, at the 4th time He smites! Let the
nations know that though God may bear long with the wicked, they can sin
once too often! God is not mocked; there cannot be cumulative sin
without a culminative stroke of retribution.
Second, in each of these burdens the symbol of judgment is FIRE - the most destructive of all the elements. Extreme guilt brings extreme doom.
Third, in each case (except Judah and Israel) the sins to be punished are CRUELTIES AGAINST OTHER PEOPLES. See the recurrence of "Because they . . ." God hates inhumanity. Yet never in all history have nations shown such coldly calculated inhumanity to other nations as have certain nations of today.
Each of the three sermons is divided by an emphatic "THEREFORE," so that in each we have in the 1st part judgment DESERVED, and in the remainder judgment DECREED (3:11, 4:12, 5:16). These three addresses grow in intensity, and the third is made longer than the others by two culminating "woes" which are appended to it. The 1st sermon declares the fact of Israel's guilt in the PRESENT. The 2nd stresses Israel's sin in the PAST. The 3rd stresses the punishment of Israel's sin in the FUTURE. Note the vehemence and intensity at the end. Yet notice also the 11th hour warning in the thrice-uttered appeal of Jehovah, "Seek ye Me, and ye shall live."
Note further about these 3 addresses that in the 1st we have the PRINCIPLE underlying Divine judgment - "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; THEREFORE WILL I PUNISH YOU for all your iniquities (3:2). This is the key verse of the book. Amos is the prophet of JUDGMENT FOR ABUSED PRIVILEGE. Judgment is always determined according to privilege. Increased privilege is increased responsibility. Israel had been supremely favored, and therefore was supremely responsible.
In the 2nd address we see the FORBEARANCE behind Divine judgment. Before the stroke of a final major judgment is allowed to fall on the nation, there comes a succession of minor judgments to warn. It is when these are ignored and the Divine patience is outraged that the culminative judgment falls (4:12).
In the 3rd sermon we see the uncompromising SEVERITY of Divine judgment on the impenitent, where sin has been obdurately persisted in.
In chapter 7:1-3 is the vision of the GRASSHOPPERS, or locusts, eating up the product of the soil. But in answer to the prophet's entreaty to "forgive," the plague is AVERTED.
Next in v.4-6 we have the vision of the devouring FIRE. This is definitely the symbol of judgment; yet in response to the prophet's entreaty to "cease," the fire is stayed; so that the judgment is RESTRAINED.
Next in v.7-9, there is the vision of the plumbline (fitting symbol of judgment according to a righteous, Divine standard). Here God says, "I will not again pass by them"; and there is no intercession of Amos. Here, then, is judgment DETERMINED. Following this there is the parenthetical episode of Amaziah's rebuke to Amos v.10-17, making it clear that the nation, at least officially, was certainly set against the appeals of Jehovah.
Then in chapter 8 we find the vision of the basket of SUMMER FRUIT. The fruit was dead ripe, and once fruit has reached that point, especially in hot lands, it is on the point of quickly perishing. Here then, we see judgment IMMINENT.
Lastly in chapter 9, in one of the most awe inspiring visions of the Bible, we are shown Jehovah Himself "standing upon the altar" - that is upon the false altar at Bethel. No symbol is here used, as in the visions preceding. It is the Lord Himself, and He says, "Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake, and cut them in the head, all of them. . ." Here is judgment EXECUTED. There is an increasing intensity in the five visions, as there is in the three sermons. Yet even amid the execution of the culminative judgment, not one grain of the pure wheat was to be allowed to perish (9:9)! Even in wrath God remembers mercy!
Note: Amos 5:26-27 - The word rendered as "tabernacle" in v.26 is the Hebrew "SUCCOTH," and research has now shown that it is the name of a heathen god, not just the Hebrew word for a tabernacle. The more correct rendering is, "Succoth your king." Schrader translates the verse: "Thus shall you then take Succoth your king and Kewan your star-god, your images which you have made for yourselves, and I will carry you off into captivity..." It was the forewarning of expulsion to a people who had forsaken Jehovah and made idols their gods.
1. THE DESTRUCTION OF EDOM 1-16
The Certainty of It 1-9
The Reason for It 10-16
2. THE SALVATION OF ISRAEL 17-21
The Promise of It 17-18
The Fullness of It 19-21
This remarkable fragment from the pen of Obadiah is the shortest and perhaps the earliest of the writings which have come down to us from these Hebrew prophets. It has one subject only, JUDGMENT on Edom, though this is offset in the closing verses by a contrastive reference to the final salvation of Israel.
Of Obadiah himself nothing is known. Not even his father's name is given in the title of the book. The name "Obadiah" was common enough among the Hebrews, and means a "worshipper" or "servant of Jehovah"; but he cannot be identified with any of the persons so named in the Scriptures. The contents of his prophecy, however, indicate that he belonged to Judah, the southern kingdom.
The name "Edom" means RED. It is the name that was given to Jacob's brother, Esau, because he sold his birthright for Jacob's red pottage. The Edomites were Esau's descendants, and their country was Mount Seir.
"Esau said to Jacob, `Feed me I pray thee, with that same red
pottage, for I am faint. Therefore was his name called Edom'."
"Esau dwelt in Mount Seir: Esau is Edom. . . the father of the
Edomites in Mount Seir." Genesis 36:8-9
Esau means rough or hairy. It may be for this reason and his love for the field and the hunt and the wild life of the open, that Esau was first drawn to Mount Seir and the Horites, or rock-dwellers. At any rate, this was the identity and background of the Edomites who are addressed by the prophet Obadiah. Their father was Esau, and their country was Seir.
The area occupied by the Edomites, although mountainous and craggy, had no lack of fertile valleys and fruitful soil. The ancient capital was Bozrah, a few miles south of the Dead Sea; but in Obadiah's days the capital was Sela, or Petra, the rock city, which because of its peculiar position, its difficult access, its rock-hewn dwellings, and its precipitous natural defenses, was considered impregnable, and had fostered a spirit of fierce independence and security in the Edomites, which defied attack and scorned all attempts to subjugate them.
Now the Edomites were like both their father and their country. Their nature was marked by a hard earthiness. They were profane, proud, fierce, cruel; and these tempers found concentrated vent in a strangely persistent, implacable, bitter, gloating spite against Israel, the nation which had descended from the twin brother of their own national father, Esau. This violent nastiness had expressed itself again and again in the history of the two peoples. See Num.20:14-22.
In Obadiah's times, this undying Edomite anti-Jacobism had flamed out more wickedly than ever, in unprovoked treachery. In the days of Jerusalem's disaster, instead of befriending or at least sympathizing, the people had indulged the passive cruelty of looking on with gloating satisfaction, and had egged on the plunderers. It was the Edomite venom that the Judean captives in Babylon recalled in the words of psalm 87:7, "Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem, who said, `Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.'"
But passive callousness had given place to active alliance with Jerusalem's destroyers. The Edomites had "entered the gate"; they had robbed and despoiled Jacob; they had barred the escape of the refugees, and had delivered up the remnant to the spoilers (v.13-14).
It was this long-accumulating guilt that Divine retribution was now determined against Edom. The key verse is 15 - "As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee." In this prophecy about Edom, we are meant to learn emphatically that there is a principle of "poetic justice" operative in the Divine government of the earth's peoples. This is the distinctive contribution of this Edom prophecy. Obadiah, let us remember, is the prophet of poetic justice.
See how this key truth is amplified by the context. Edom had indulged in treachery against Judah (v.11-12), therefore Edom should perish through the treachery of confederates (v.7). Edom had seized the chance to rob Judah (v.13); therefore Edom should be robbed even till his hidden things, or treasures, were searched out (v.5-6). Edom had lifted the sword and shown violence against Judah (v.10); Edom should perish by slaughter (v.9). Edom had sought the utter destruction of Judah (v.12-14); therefore Edom should be utterly destroyed (v.10,18). Edom had even sought to hand over and dispossess the remnant of the invaded Jerusalem (v.14); therefore, in the end, the remnant of Jacob should possess the land of Edom (v.19). Yes, poetic justice! - the penalty corresponding to the iniquity as one line of poetry corresponds to another! And have we not seen in our own day the operation of poetic justice in the anti-Axis war? Never was there a war with such strange anomalies. To mention only one - was it altogether without significance that Britain was forced off the European mainland, first in the north, at Dunkirk, and then in the south, from Greece, and made to stand aside for the time, while Germany and Russia, the two nations which, officially and more blatantly than all others, had blasphemed God, slaughtered each other, despite their recently-signed pact of friendship? Were not the shocking brutalities of both these nations to the Jews paid back to them in identical terms? Yes, if we believe the Hebrew prophets, and Obadiah in particular, then we believe in poetic justice!
Obadiah predicts even the EXTINCTION of Edom. "Thou shalt be cut off forever" (v.10), "There shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau" (v.18). At the time when the prophet wrote, Edom might have seemed far more likely to survive than Judah; yet history has strikingly endorsed the prophecy. Edom has perished, Judah persists.
There is a strangely fascinating, symbolic interest about the successive PAIRS OF SONS way back in Genesis - Cain & Abel, Ishmael & Isaac, Esau & Jacob. Cain, Ishmael and Esau are the "natural" men, who are "of the earth, earthy," and they represent different aspects of the self-life or "flesh." Cain is the natural heart in its antipathy to REDEMPTION. He is all for religion and culture. In Ishmael we see the self-life in its antagonism to that which is of FAITH, as Paul tells us in Galatians 4:29. In Esau we see the self-life in its disappreciation of that which is SPIRITUAL. He is the man "who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright" (He.12:16). From Genesis 25:25 we learn that two characteristics distinguished him from his birth; he was "ruddy," and he was "hairy," which two things speak of beauty and strength. Yes, there is no doubt that in Esau the "flesh" is attractive. But wait, see how soon the beauty corrupts. Esau the "ruddy" becomes Edom, "the red one"; and his hue, like that of the red horse and the red dragon and the scarlet beast in Revelation 6, 12, and 17, betokens the fierce life within. The hair which at first bespeaks strength soon comes to indicate animal coarseness. Esau the strong becomes Edom the wild, the hunter, the slayer. After all, in Hebrew, the word "Edom" is actually a form of the word "Adam." Edom is Adam, and Esau is the flesh again - outwardly fair but inwardly fierce. When he really expresses himself, see the value he puts on spiritual things; for a dish of lentils he scorns his birthright, even though he knows that the birthright from his grandfather Abraham downwards carries the Divine promises of great spiritual and future blessing. This is the "flesh" in every age. For a momentary gratification it will despise the hope of a heavenly glory, and esteem an earthly morsel in the present far more than a Divine promise for the future.
Edom pictures the "flesh" or Adamic-nature. See first its pride - "The pride of thine heart" (v.3); then see how strong its hold is - "Thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock"; then its defiance - "Who shall bring me down?"; then see its ambition - "though thou set thy nest among the stars" (v.4); then its hatred of the spiritual - "thy violence against thy brother Jacob" (v.10); then see its real cruelty - (v.11-14). But on the other hand, see its self-deceivedness (v.3); its detestableness to God (v.2); its eventual defeat by the sons of faith (v.17-21); and its final destruction by God (v.10,18).
1. JONAH AND THE STORM
Disobedience - Fleeing from God
2. JONAH AND THE FISH
Preservation - Praying to God
3. JONAH AND THE CITY
Proclamation - Speaking for God
4. JONAH AND THE LORD
Correction - Learning of God
We also see "Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet which was of Gath-hepher" with king Jeroboam II in 2K.14:25. If this Jeroboam, who fulfilled Jonah's prophecy, was a real enough person, so was this Jonah himself who uttered it. Second Kings fixes the time of Jonah's ministry. It was during the later years of Joash, and (presumably) the earlier years of Jeroboam II.
Also, tradition strongly attests to the historicity of the narrative.
Its early and unquestioned place in the Hebrew Scriptures at once argues
the original belief of the Hebrews in its historicity.
Third, the word of Christ Himself conclusively confirms it. In Matthew 12:39-40 He says, "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah, for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." He also states, "The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here" (Mat.12).
And the PHYSICAL miracle of the "whale" is not nearly so wonderful as the MORAL miracle of Nineveh's repentance, or as the SPIRITUAL miracle of the Divine Self-revelation at the end of the book.
WHY DID JONAH FLEE?
In chapter 4:2 Jonah says to God, "Therefore I fled to Tarshish, because I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil." Nothing could be franker than that! JONAH DID NOT WANT GOD TO SPARE NINEVEH. Moreover, Jonah had shown himself prepared to forfeit his prophetic office, prepared to flee into exile, prepared even to resign life itself, rather than that Nineveh should be spared! Now such deliberate self-abandonment, followed by such frankness to the One who, as Jonah well realized, could read his inmost motive, surely will persuade us that Jonah must have had some far greater reason than any thought of personal safety, prejudice, prestige, or wishing to leave Nineveh to its doom.
There are two awesome facts about Assyria which gave Jonah a vehement dread of its wicked capital, Nineveh. First, ASSYRIA WAS THE RISING WORLD-POWER DESTINED TO DESTROY ISRAEL; and Jonah knew this. Second, THE NOTORIOUS BRUTALITY OF THE ASSYRIANS was such as to make the surrounding peoples shudder with a sickly terror of ever falling prey to them. They reveled in hideous cruelty on those whom they vanquished.
Jonah knew that Assyria was the nation which was predicted to destroy his own beloved land and people (Nah.2:12; 3:1-4,19). The Hebrew prophets were made aware of what was to happen consequent upon Assyria's rise to the mastery. Twenty, thirty or more years before the event, Isaiah foretold how Assyria would despoil Israel (7:17); and Hosea (9:3, 10:6-7, 11:5). Yes, Jonah knew the bitter role that Assyria was intended to play; and when the almost unbelievable Divine announcement came to him, that Nineveh was to be destroyed within 40 days, his heart must have leapt with a sudden sense of relief. Gladder news had never come to him! Besides being a prophet, he was a man of Israel, and an ardent patriot, who loved his native land, and yearned as a shepherd over his beloved but wayward countrymen. What would he have done or given for their salvation? With what emotion he would cogitate on the Divine command - "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me"! So Nineveh's cup was full! The great Judge had passed sentence; and if Nineveh perished, then - oh, the gladness of the thought - Israel was saved! There was but one thing that Jonah feared; Jehovah was a merciful God; and if Nineveh cried to Him, even at the 11th hour, Assyria might be spared, and then Israel would perish. Oh that he might be quite sure that Nineveh would not be spared! But how could that be? Well, there was a way - he could leave Nineveh without the warning! Thus she would be left to reap the deserved harvest of her wickedness.
Jonah must now make the most costly choice of his life. He must choose between suffering the Divine vengeance upon himself for awful disobedience, and thus save Israel; or else he must go to Nineveh, and possibly cause the salvation of Nineveh, which would result in Israel's ruin. His mental agony resolves itself into the determination to flee rather than risk delivering the message. He would sacrifice himself that Israel might be saved; for if it came to a choice as to which should not be spared, Nineveh or Israel? - then let it be wicked Nineveh!
Jonah knew well enough the omnipresence of God. He knew that he would not escape Him, but he was willing to suffer the inescapable vengeance of Heaven if only Israel might be saved. Yes if only Israel might be saved - that was why Jonah fled.
Jonah and the Storm
The storm came because of him - because of his fleeing from the presence of Jehovah. Three times in the first 10 verses we have it that Jonah's flight was from "the presence of Jehovah." These words were never meant to suggest that Jonah thought he could sail to a place where God was not! When Jonah "rose up to flee to Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord," he was voluntarily forfeiting his prophetic office and his prophetic standing before Jehovah (2Chr.29:11).
When the sailors realize the greatness of Jehovah from Jonah's own
words, they are filled with consternation at having one of His prophets
- a disobedient one - on board with them. Understanding fully, now,
Jonah's identity, they try their very utmost to spare him. But without
success, they reluctantly cast him overboard into the foaming fury
beneath, and lo, the storm at once dies away into dead calm! We are not
surprised that these amazed men "feared Jehovah exceedingly, and offered
a sacrifice unto Jehovah, and made vows."
One wonders what the next move of these sailors was after their scaring experience. They certainly could not have proceeded with their intended voyage, for all their cargo had been jettisoned, and probably their boat had been damaged. Presumably they would return to Joppa, to report on the happening, and to make new preparations. One wonders if they had actually seen the fish appear, and Jonah pass into its great wide mouth. Nor can one help wondering how soon and how far the story got around - possibly even as far as Nineveh, before Jonah himself ever got there!
Jonah and the Fish
The swallowing of Jonah by the "sea-monster" was not an act of punishment but of preservation. That, perhaps more than anything else, confirms the belief that Jonah's motive in fleeing was, the high motive of Israel's salvation.
Jonah's prayer from inside the great fish is not a cry for deliverance. Jonah knew that he was already being delivered. His prayer is really a psalm of praise. There is not one word of petition in Jonah's prayer. It consists of thanksgiving (2-6), contrition (7-8), and rededication (9). Inside that fish Jonah realized in a new way the wonderful love and care of his God. He learned as never before, that underneath and round about him were the "everlasting arms" of Jehovah. It was there too, that he came to understand with vividness the folly and futility of disobedience to God, for he said, "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy" (rebuking himself for his own self-willed subterfuge). Still more, in that fish, Jonah recovenanted with God, saying, "I will pay that which I have vowed"; while his final word is "Salvation is of Jehovah." Thereupon, the fish discharged its unusual cargo, safe and sound at an unnamed port of call.
Jonah and the City
Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is that of Nineveh's repentance. How great this moral miracle was may be judged from the size of the city. Three times God speaks of Nineveh as "the great city." Its circumference was about 60 miles, containing about 350 square miles. The walls were 100 feet high, and so broad that three chariots could be driven abreast on them. They were fortified with 1500 towers, each of these being 200 feet in height. On the basis of the Scripture reference to the great number of young infants in Nineveh, namely the "120,000 persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand," the population is estimated about one million. The whole of this vast and populous metropolis repented, with an immediate and genuine repentance, at the preaching of this lone prophet from Israel?
Now a most significant clue to the reason why Jonah's appearance and proclamation at Nineveh created such an immediate stir is found in the New Testament, in our Lord's words - "This is an evil generation; they seek a SIGN; and there shall no SIGN be given unto it, but the SIGN of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was a SIGN unto the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation" (Lk.11:29-30). Jonah was a sign unto the old-time Ninevites, by this miraculous experience in the great fish; but the question at once presents itself, "How could Jonah have been a sign to them if the Ninevites DID NOT KNOW of Jonah's experience? How could it be otherwise than that this phenomenal story should reach Nineveh before ever Jonah got there? Also, Jonah's experience in the "whale" had perhaps left a bleached appearance about him, we can well imagine what a startling and solemn "sign" he would be to the astonished Ninevites.
Still further, many revolts had shaken Assyria's hold on its subjects, and contracted her boundaries. It began to look as though Assyria's hour was coming. Jonah's sudden cry came just at the most telling moment. It was like a spark on dried wood, or a thrusting in of the sickle when the harvest was dead ripe. The hearts of Nineveh's thousands were bowed as the heart of one man.
Jonah and the Lord
Chapter 4 is a dialogue between Jonah and the Lord, and it gives us the supreme message of the book. Jonah is not only displeased and angry, but is dismayed at Israel's dark future, now that Nineveh is to be spared. The Lord tenderly reproves him with the question, "Doest thou well to be angry?" Thereupon, Jonah, thinking that possibly there was still a gleam of hope, "went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, TILL HE MIGHT SEE WHAT WOULD BECOME OF THE CITY." Here the Lord tenderly and patiently reasoned with His overwrought servant, by three "prepared" things - a gourd, a worm, and a wind.
First, God "prepared a GOURD, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his grief." It has been truly observed that "the tenderness in the heart of God is manifested not only in His compassion for repenting sinners, but also in His patience with repining saints."
But with the next sunrise God also "prepared" a WORM, which "smote the gourd that it withered. Thus Jonah was now left exposed to the sun again.
Still further, however, God "prepared" a SULTRY EAST WIND. Poor Jonah, dispirited at the thought of Israel's dark future now that Nineveh is to be spared, inadequately screened from the glare of the merciless sun, and reduced to utter lassitude by the sweltering heat, sinks down and yearns that he might die. He is roused by a voice, however. It is God speaking. "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?" Jonah's reply is, "I do well to be angry, even unto death." This occasions the wonderful Divine utterance with which the book closes.
"Then said Jehovah: Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which
thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in
a night, and perished in a night. And should not I spare Nineveh,
that great city, wherein are more than 120,000 persons that cannot
discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also
This is the revelation of the heart of God to which the whole book has been moving, and for which indeed it was written. We are left in the presence of God, face to face with this moving revelation of the Divine compassion. We are told the story of this man and Nineveh because of what it reveals to us of GOD.
Ponder then this revelation of God. It is perhaps the most tender
anticipation of John 3:16, the parable of the prodigal son, and the
world-embracing message of the Gospel, to be found anywhere in the Old
Testament. God's tender patience with the resentful prophet, and His
tender concern for the Ninevites, despite their wickedness, together
give us a unique expression of the Divine compassion. See here the
compassion of God toward penitent wicked-doers, and toward innocent
little children, and even toward dumb animals. He is as slow to punish
as He is quick to pardon when there is penitence.
Jonah needed to learn that God's special favor toward Israel did not mean a lessened love for other peoples. He must learn that the Divine election is not arbitrary, but for the fulfilling of high purpose. Israel had not been chosen simply for Israel's own sake, but to fulfill a Divine purpose, the end of which was the blessing of ALL peoples. The election of the nation did not mean the rejection of others! The omnipresent Jehovah had an omnipresent care and concern and compassion toward ALL men and women, boys and girls, and even the lower animals.
Jonah's pity for the gourd was not only because a thing of beauty and fragrance had been ruined, but because the loss of the plant meant much to HIMSELF. Even so, God's pity toward the Ninevites is not only because of their instinctive preciousness as human souls, but because they mean much TO HIS OWN HEART. How that comparison must have set Jonah thinking! And how precious to ourselves is this thought that each one of us means much to the heart of the Eternal! And how it pulls at our heart-strings to know that each man and woman and boy and girl, of whatever race or clime or color, means something very tender in the mind of God! Surely this is the deepest inspiration of all overseas missionary activity - and this revelation was given to the first foreign missionary sent out from Israel! Even a modern critic like Dr. Arthur Peake is obliged to say, "That out of the stony heart of Judaism such a book should come, is nothing less than a marvel of Divine grace."
Jonah as a Type
First, Jonah typically foreshadows THE HISTORY OF HIS OWN NATION, ISRAEL. See the whole nation of Israel moving with him, just as a man's shadow on a wall behind him moves with him. See here the people of Israel - disobedient to the heavenly commission, as Jonah was; out of their own land as Jonah was; finding precarious refuge with the Gentiles as Jonah did; everywhere a trouble to the Gentiles, as Jonah was on that ship; yet witnessing to the true God, among the Gentiles, as Jonah did to those sailors; cast out by the Gentiles, as Jonah was cast out by the troubled seamen; yet miraculously preserved amid their calamities, as Jonah was miraculously preserved in the deep; calling on Jehovah, at last, in repentance and rededication, as Jonah did from inside the great fish; finding salvation and deliverance in Jehovah-Jesus, as Jonah found salvation in a new way in the deep, concluding his prayer with the words, "Salvation is of Jehovah"; and in the end becoming missionaries to the Gentile nations (Zec.8:13,20,23), as Jonah in the end, became God's missionary to Gentile Nineveh.
Second, Jonah typically anticipates the DEATH, BURIAL AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST. Jonah was inside the great fish for "three days and three nights." Why? So long as the fish had served the purpose of preventing drowning, might not the prophet been discharged from the fish without further delay? The Lord Jesus tells us why, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the sea-monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Hundreds of years before our Lord's incarnation, Jonah's entombment in the great fish should be sovereignly overruled to become a type in this way. For the inside of the fish is likened in Jonah's prayer, to Sheol (the Hades in the New Testament), into which our Lord went between the death and resurrection of His body, and where He "preached unto the spirits in prison" (1Pe.3:19). See note on the triple type of Christ's resurrection of Elijah, Elisha and Jonah in notes on II Kings. Following is a summary in type.
Jonah - Dies, goes down to Sheol, does not see corruption
Elisha - Dies and in his death gives life to others
Elijah - Ascends to heaven and Pentecostal Spirit is sent
Third, Jonah is a type of CHRIST HIMSELF AS GOD'S "SIGN" MESSENGER. Our Lord Jesus said, "As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation." The late John Urquhart wrote, "Look back over those nearly 20 centuries and you will see the answer. When Jonah, having become a curse for his people, came back as it were from the dead, whither did he carry the word of the Lord? To Israel? No, to the Gentile city of Nineveh. And there he beheld what he had in vain longed and prayed to see among his own people - the turning of a whole city to God - the leaders for once leading in the right direction, and the entire people following and seeking God with purpose of heart. When Christ came back from the grave, and the word of the Lord was once more to be proclaimed, whither was it carried? It was borne to the Gentiles. And how fared it with the message there? The Word of Life, which Israel had rejected, these received. Age after age the Jew has been confronted with that sign. Out of the grave of the Crucified has come this power that has tamed the barbarian, changed the savage, cleansed and raised the hopelessly debased, brought back the outcast races into the brotherhood of man, and given to all who have received the message, the nobility, the spiritual insight, the compassions and the purity of the children of God. He who said that the Jew should have that sign read the future. He gave a promise, and, rising from the grave He has kept it. He has proved His claim to be the Son of God and the world's Savior. He has attested the Book of Jonah, He has attested the entire Scripture; and for us that attestation is final."
1. IMMINENT JUDGMENT DECLARED 1-3
2. ULTIMATE BLESSING PROMISED 4-5
3. PRESENT REPENTANCE PLEADED 6-7
It is good to know that in the Judean capital, the great prophet Isaiah had such a trusty comrade and fellow companion of truth as "Micah the Morashtite." Although Isaiah was a man of the schools and Micah a man of the fields, these two giants of faith would no doubt have their heart to heart consultations on the stirring doings of those eventful days. Probably Isaiah's ministry was more to the upper classes, and Micah's more to the lower. Our prophet calls himself a "Morashtite," which means that he was from Moresheth, a little place in Judea, near Gath on the Philistine border. He was a prophet of Judah, with Jerusalem as the center-point of his prophetic ministry and message, though he often also includes Samaria.
The central thought is: PRESENT JUDGMENT BUT FUTURE BLESSING. The present judgment is because of Israel's unfaithfulness to the Covenant. The future blessing is because of Jehovah's UNCHANGING FAITHFULNESS to it.
The "wound" in v.1:9 is the stroke of retribution. There had been earlier chastisements, but this coming one was to be "incurable," that is, they would not be recovery from it. Jehovah's rod to inflict the stroke would be Assyria; and after the Assyrians had laid low the northern kingdom they also invaded the southern kingdom, even to Jerusalem itself (2K.18:9-19:37). "It (the stroke) is come unto Judah; it is come unto the gate of MY people, even to Jerusalem."
In chapter 4 we have the future KINGDOM, in chapter 5 the future KING. To Micah and the Hebrew prophets it was given by the Spirit of inspiration to foresee a golden day-break of restoration beyond the grim nightfall of retribution. They were not given to see all the intervening historical processes; they did not discern the long period between the Messiah's first coming, as the suffering Servant to bear the curse of the Law, and His second coming, as King of kings, to administer the blessings of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants; but they DID see the eventual consummation. In 1 Peter 1:11 we learn that they actually studied their own writings to ascertain "what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." The present age of grace and of the Church was a secret of God and not divulged until apostolic times (Ef.3).
There is something rather thrilling in the fact that these Hebrew preachers of 25 centuries ago should be telling us even today of things which are still to happen. An unbiased consideration of such predictions as we have in Micah 4 and 5 will convince any honest mind that there has not yet been a fulfillment which satisfies all their intent. They await the Millennial age era for their full realization. They will burst into consummating occurrence at the reappearing of Israel's great Deliverer, the now rejected Christ.
And now in this 4th chapter, note the opening phrase, "In the last days." It clearly lifts the passage from any application merely to the prophet's own time, and points to the far future. Also note v.2. Nations other than Israel are to be in the Messianic kingdom and are to walk in the ways of Jehovah. And v.5 should read, "All the peoples now walk in the name of their god, but shall walk in the name of Jehovah our God forever."
Note also the sharp contrast Micah makes between the restoration promised for the LAST days, and the judgment imminent in HIS OWN. In v.1-8 he speaks of "in the last days" and "in that day." But see v.9-11, "NOW doest thou cry" and "NOW shalt thou go...to Babylon" and "NOW also many nations are gathered against thee"; and 5:1 "NOW...he hath laid siege against us"; and 5:3 says, "UNTIL" the coming of Christ.
This brings us to the remarkable prediction of the place of Christ's birth (5:2). Micah and Isaiah give the two clearest predictions concerning our Lord's incarnation. Isaiah foretells His birth of the VIRGIN. Micah tells the PLACE of His birth so plainly that when the Magi long after inquired of Herod where the King of the Jews should be born, the scribes answered without hesitation, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written of the prophet." Note that between the first half of Micah 5:3 and the second, the present age with its further scattering of the Jews intervenes, which Micah was not given to see. The rest of the 5th chapter looks on to the kingdom age yet to be. Note Israel's double aspect in v.7-8 - fresh as the dew, strong as the lion! Mark the regeneration of Israel in v.10-14. And in v.15 see the coming wrath on the earth's penitent peoples. This verse should read, "I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the nations which do not hearken."
The last two chapters of Micah are in the form of a colloquy; and when read as such they light up with new interest. In chapter 6:1-2, the MOUNTAINS are exhorted to listen, like stately referees, to Jehovah's "controversy." Then in v.3-5, JEHOVAH pleads. In v.6-7 MICAH speaks, representing those in the nation who would fitly respond. In v.8 the overhearing mountains break in - "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Next, in v.9-16 JEHOVAH speaks to "the man of wisdom," wherever he is, in the city, exposing the nation's sin, and showing why the nation suffered. Then in 7:1-6, the unhappy NATION is impersonated as confessing its baneful state. In v.7-10 the "man of wisdom" speaks again. In v.11-13 it is Jehovah. In v.14 the man of wisdom. In v.15 Jehovah. Finally, from v.16 to the end it is the man of wisdom. These two chapters are Jehovah's pleading for REPENTANCE. They are the "application" of the great sermon preached in the foregoing chapters.
Note first, THE PROFOUND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS WITH THE HEBREW NATION. Micah addresses a small people in a strip of land merely the size of Florida yet in 1:2 and 6:1-2, he commands the whole earth, the mountains, the hills to attend (frequently in Scripture mountains and hills symbolize kingdoms). Micah realized that the covenant people were brought into their unique relationship with Jehovah so that through them the sovereignty of the true God, in its governmental administration among the nations, might be objectified to all peoples and for all time. Had Israel remained faithful she would have displayed the munificence of the Divine government. Alas, Israel exhibits a tragically different yet vastly significant aspect of the Divine government.
Note too, the contrast which Micah strikes by THE UNMASKING OF FALSE RULERSHIP VERSUS THE UNVEILING OF TRUE RULERSHIP IN CHRIST. God delegates authority to human rulers. Micah recognizes this fact in the Divine economy, and addresses the princes, priests, and prophets as the ordained representatives of the Divine administration. Their responsibility is commensurately great. See Micah's scathing indictment of false rulership in chapter 3 vs. the arresting description of the TRUE "RULER," in chapter 5, who was yet to come. Christ is God's ideal of rulership. Micah traces the perversion and adversity of the people to the misrule of those over them, and all who abuse such authority incur equal penalty.
Finally, we revert to Micah's AUGUST DECLARATION AS TO THE TRUE ESSENCE OF RELIGION. Note that God "REQUIRES" for He is God. And God also REVEALS, for "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good..."(Dt.10:12).And when we turn to the New Testament, and learn there that God REDEEMS. He "requires" because He is God. He "reveals" because He is good. He "redeems" because He is love. The Christ of God has come already to redeem. He will come again to restore. Meanwhile let us view all our life in the light of the Divine purposes and the future reappearance of the great "Ruler" whose goings forth have been "from of old, even from everlasting."
1. NINEVEH'S DOOM DECLARED
2. NINEVEH'S DOOM DESCRIBED
3. NINEVEH'S DOOM DESERVED
Of this prophet who tolls the knell over Nineveh practically nothing is known. He comes to us simply as "Nahum the Elkoshite"; that is, he was of Elkosh, a place which cannot now be located with certainty. It is surmised that he was of Galilee. His name is thought to be preserved in the Galilean city of Capernaum, the name of which (Kaphar-Nahum) means Village-of-Nahum. This much is certain, Nahum addresses Judah; and the impression left on the reader's mind is that he also wrote from Judah. He follows Isaiah, in the reign of Judah's most wicked king, Manasseh.
Jehovah and Nineveh
Nahum's oracle is given to one subject alone - the doom of Nineveh, capital of Assyria, and when Nahum wrote the world's greatest city. It is noteworthy that two books of the Minor Prophets are devoted wholly to Nineveh. Over a century before Nahum, Jonah had lifted up his voice for Jehovah in the great thoroughfares of Nineveh; and the Ninevites had learned through him that "Jehovah is slow to anger." Jonah would preach this to the Ninevites, and it would strike a sharp contrast between Jehovah and the fierce-tempered deities of the Assyrians. To this strangely welcome compassion of Jehovah, they responded; but soon afterward they had presumed upon it, going to greater lengths of wickedness than ever before. They must now learn through Nahum, that "Jehovah is a jealous God"; jealous of His rights over His creatures. They must now learn that wrath restrained (as in Jonah's time) is wrath RESERVED, if there is willful return to wickedness. Nahum takes up where Jonah left off. Like Jonah he says, "Jehovah is slow to anger" (1:3), but he adds the other side of the truth - "and great in power, AND WILL NOT AT ALL ACQUIT THE WICKED." These words are the key to this doom song of Nahum. The fact that two of the Minor Prophets are devoted to Nineveh emphasize its significance. This mighty metropolis of a bygone empire was meant to objectify for all peoples and for all time the governmental method of God with the Gentile nations. Though God will forgive sin repented of, He will not condone sin persisted in. Compassion can never be exercised at the expense of righteousness. Nineveh was the proudest and the fiercest, as well as the vilest of cities. The surrounding peoples cringed at her feet. She swelled with pride in the imagination of her seeming invulnerability. But now, besides rebuking Nineveh's pride, oppression, idolatry, and defiance of the sovereign Jehovah, Nahum publishes the irreversible decree that she shall be forever destroyed.
Practically throughout, it is poetic in form, and it is poetry unsurpassed for power of description. It opens with a description of the attributes and operations of God, and runs in three strophes. Chapter 1 asserts the CERTAINTY of Nineveh's overthrow. Chapter 2 depicts the SIEGE AND CAPTURE of the city. Chapter 3 tells of the WICKEDNESS which provoked the retribution. Nineveh's vastness was eclipsed by its VILENESS. The surrounding peoples shuddered with a sickly horror at the thought of ever being prey to them. Their mania for blood and savagery was gruesome and foul. The word of God to her is, "I will make thy grave, for thou art vile" (1:14).
NAHUM'S PROPHECY FULFILLED
One of the unanswerable arguments for the superhuman origin of the Bible is its amplitude of fulfilled prediction. Nahum's oracle on Nineveh is an impressive instance. His reference to "the gates of the rivers" being opened, and the palace "dissolved" (2:6), is striking in view of what actually happened. The Pulpit Commentary says, "This prophecy, so precise and assured, was the result of no human prevision. When Nahum prophesied, Assyria was at the height of its prosperity. No enemy in its neighborhood was left unsubdued; the distant Egypt had submitted to its arms; Phoenicia and Cyprus owned its sway; Judah paid annual tribute; commercial enterprise had drawn unto it the riches of all nations. No one at this epoch could have seen the speedy end of this prosperity. In 50 years the end came. Nabopolassar made alliance with all the enemies of Assyria, and became the ruling spirit of a strong confederacy which comprised Medes and Persians, Egyptians, Armenians, and other nations, all animated with the fierce desire of revenging themselves on Assyria. About 612 B.C. the allied forces attacked Nineveh, but were repulsed with loss. Victory some time hovered over the Assyrians; but the enemy, reinforced from Bactria, proved irresistible. The Ninevites, fearing for their final safety, attempted to escape from the city. They were overtaken, and again shut up within their walls. Here they defended themselves for more than 2 years, when a circumstance against which no remedy availed laid them at the mercies of the besiegers. An unusual heavy flood of the Tigris carried away a large section of the huge rampart that surrounded the city. Through the gap thus formed the enemy forced their way within the walls and captured the place. The town was sacked, and a great number of the inhabitants were massacred. Thus fell Nineveh in 608 B.C., according to the prophecy of Nahum." So completely was Nineveh destroyed, we may add, that in the 2nd century A.D. even the cite of it had become uncertain.
The name of the prophet Nahum means Comfort; and frankly Nahum's dirge is real comfort for the godly. It is the comfort of knowing that in the righteous government of God, the outrages of impenitent evil-doers against their fellow-humans are Divinely requited. Note the fact that Nahum scarcely mentions his own nation. He does not exult in Nineveh's downfall merely for Judah's sake, or for his own. Nineveh had sold whole peoples for her whoredoms and witchcrafts. Nahum voices the outraged conscience of mankind. Other than merely indulging revenge, he identifies himself with God's government in its guarantee that such wrongs shall not go without redress.
Again, Nineveh figures to us "this present evil world," in its outward display, its seeming security, its superficial response to God's message, its false religion, its inward corruption, its cruelty to the souls of men, and its eventual overthrow by Divine judgment. But there is another significant correspondence. In chapter 1:11 Nahum says to Nineveh, "there is one come out of thee that imagineth evil against Jehovah, a wicked counselor." Possibly Nahum here harks back to Rab-shakeh, who a few years earlier, had come from Assyria to terrify Jerusalem (2K.18 & 19; Is.36). Rab-shakeh certainly was a "man of sin" with a foul mouth speaking insolent things, and exalting the Assyrian sovereign above all gods, even above Jehovah Himself. He certainly adumbrated, if he did not actually typify the "man of sin" who is to appear toward the end of the present age. Again and again, in the course of history, the world spirit, the spirit of anti-christ, has expressed itself with blatant concentration through some outstanding personality. But there is yet to appear the Rab-shakeh whose number is 666, through whom the forces of evil will vent their culminating defiance of the true God and His Christ. It will then be as it was with Rab-shakeh and the suddenly death-smitten Assyrian host (Is.37:36); for it is written, "Then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming" (2Thes.2:8). Yes, Nineveh is fallen. Jehovah will not acquit! His government is righteous. He is the stronghold of the godly. Christ is His supreme pledge. Lo, He comes, and every eye shall see Him! Wrongs shall be righted. The valleys shall be exalted, and the mountains brought low. The dark shall be made light, and the crooked straight; and the kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdom of our God and His Christ.
CH.1 "BURDEN": FAITH GRAPPLING WITH PROBLEM.
CH.2 "VISION": FAITH GRASPING THE SOLUTION.
CH.3 "PRAYER": FAITH GLORYING IN ASSURANCE.
Habakkuk, like any individual, is unique. Unlike the other prophets, he does not address either his own countrymen or a foreign people; his speech is to God alone. Again, unlike the other prophets, he is not concerned so much with delivering a message as with solving a PROBLEM - a problem which vexed his own sensitive soul relating to Jehovah's government of the nations. The first part of this prophecy (1 & 2) is a COLLOQUY between Habakkuk and Jehovah. The remainder (3) is an exquisitely beautiful ode describing a majestic THEOPHANY, or visible coming of God to the earth. Both in the colloquy which it relates and in the theophany which it describes, this book of Habakkuk is unique.
The focus of Habakkuk's problem and prophecy is BABYLON. Of the enemies
which afflicted the covenant people long ago, three were outstanding -
the Edomites, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans (Babylonians). It was
given to three of the Hebrew prophets to pronounce the doom of these
three powers. The prophecy of Obadiah sealed the fate of Edom. The
prophecy of Nahum tolled the knell over Assyria. The prophecy of
Habakkuk dug the grave of Babylon.
Now it was not until Nineveh had been destroyed that Babylon rose above the nations as the new dominating world power, which suggests that Habakkuk wrote either a little while BEFORE, or more probably, soon AFTER the fall of Nineveh, in 608 B.C. It was probably in Jehoiakim's reign that Habakkuk wrote, somewhere about 600 B.C., and we are confirmed in this by II Kings 24, which gives the reign of this Jehoiakim as the time when the Babylonians began their harassing of Judah when eventually culminated in Judah's seventy years' Babylonian servitude.
Thus Habakkuk, contemporary of Jeremiah, was a prophet of fateful days in Judah. The dark storm-clouds were massing over Jerusalem. This prophecy of Habakkuk puts into words a struggle and triumph of faith which took place in the soul of the prophet himself. It begins with a sob, and ends with a song.
Chapter 1 - A "Burden"
The prophet here is in an agony of perplexity. He is beset by a double enigma of the Divine providence, or at any rate, what seems to be so. He sighs -
"O Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear? I cry
out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save! Why doest
Thou show me iniquity, and look upon perverseness? (v.2-4)
Habakkuk's problem was the silence, inactivity, and apparent unconcern of God. Violence abounded; lawlessness was rife; blatant evils defied all protest from God's prophets; and God seemed to be doing nothing. But Habakkuk's problem on this score was cleared up by a special word from God-
"Behold ye among the nations, and regard, and wonder
marvelously; for I work a work in your days which ye
will not believe though it be told you. For, lo, I raise
up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation; which
march through the breadth of the earth, to possess
dwelling-places that are not theirs."
This, however, to the distraught Habakkuk, only solved the one problem by raising a still bigger one. Certainly the crushing requital coming to Judah was deserved; but why should God punish Judah by means of a people far more wicked and ruthless than the Jews themselves? The thought of this was a painful shock to Habakkuk. It seemed hard to reconcile with his belief in the righteousness of Jehovah's government over the nations of the earth.
Habakkuk's plaintive further appeal to God is given in v.12-17, which should be read again in a revised version. What can Habakkuk do about it? After all, God is sovereign. It is no use beating one's head against the wall. Will God be gracious and give His servant some understanding of this matter? Habakkuk resolves to await God's word. He says, "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and I will look forth to see what He will speak with me (2:1).
Chapter 2 - A "Vision"
In this chapter we have the wonderful "vision" which God gave to Habakkuk; and here faith finds a solution, though not a solution in the logical sense, but a spiritual solution which is thoroughly intelligible to faith. The chapter should be read again with special regard to two great pledges which God gives in v.4 and 14. Verse 4 says, "Behold his soul (the Babylonian's) is puffed up, it is not upright in him; BUT THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." And v.14 says, "FOR THE EARTH SHALL BE FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD." If then, in chapter 1 we have a double problem, in chapter 2 we have a double pledge.
What is the meaning of these two assurances? Take the first - "The just shall live by his faith." The words might almost seem to occur in a merely incidental way; yet in reality they are so significant that they are quoted no less than three times in the New Testament as a decisive factor in evangelical argument (Ro.1:17, Ga.3:11, He.10:38). It should be understood at once that the words look beyond the body to the SOUL. This is indicated by the earlier half of the sentence, in which God says to the proud Chaldean, "Behold his SOUL is puffed up; it is not upright in him." That word "soul" betokens the deeper sense in which we are to read the remaining words of the sentence, namely, "the just shall live by his faith." The words look beyond the outward to the INWARD, beyond the merely physical to the SPIRITUAL, beyond the present to the FUTURE, beyond the intermediate and episodal to the ULTIMATE and the ETERNAL. It is as though God said to Habakkuk, "Yes, your estimate of the Chaldean is quite right; his soul is all wrong; but though I use him to chastise My people, he himself shall be brought to woe in the end; and although in the present painful process the righteous suffer with (and by) the wicked, yet the righteous shall never perish in the end like the wicked, but shall live because of his faith, as will yet be seen, for the earth shall yet be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." The fact is that this word to Habakkuk is one of those prolific words of the Old Testament which must be read in the light of New Testament revelation if we are to grasp the full meaning. Those who by faith in the God of the Lord Jesus are justified, or made righteous, in Christ, DO "live" by their faith, in the sense that they RECEIVE new spiritual life here and now, and SHALL live forever with Christ beyond the short years of mortality on earth.
As for the second pledge - "For the earth shall (yet) be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord", that also must be read anew in New Testament light. Not yet have the words had fulfillment. They await the return of Christ. They look on to the Millennium. THEN the meek shall inherit the earth, and the controversy of history be resolved in the final vindication of the right and true. God's word to Habakkuk is, "Though it tarry, WAIT for it; because it will surely come" (2:3). God has given supreme pledge in Christ that He is indeed working out great and gracious purposes for mankind. Habakkuk himself grasped something of this, and said, "Jehovah is in His holy temple; LET ALL THE EARTH KEEP SILENCE BEFORE HIM" (2:20).
Chapter 3 - A "Prayer"
This "prayer" of Habakkuk is really a sublime rhapsody of faith. It begins, with an appeal to God, to grant a gracious revival "in the midst of the years," before ever his ultimate purpose for history has worked out to its final fulfillment (3:2). Then, from v.3-15 there is a glorying in Jehovah's mighty deeds of the past, His coming forth for the emancipation of Israel, His marvels from the time of the Exodus onwards. There can be no doubt that Habakkuk here refers to these things; yet significantly enough he puts his verbs in the FUTURE tense, so that from the imagery of the Exodus and the journeying to Canaan there is a solemn picturing of a far greater coming of God to judgment which is yet to be. Thus v.3 should really read, "God SHALL COME from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran"; similarly the future tense in most of the verses. "Teman" and "Paran" are the land of Edom, and the land between Edom and Egypt.
Finally, in v.16-19, we have a postlude, in which faith soars on wings above all doubts and fears. It does the heart good to read such exulting words of assurance in days like these. Although the prophet had "trembled" at the coming judgment upon his own people (v.16), he now speaks of himself as "I who shall REST in the day of tribulation." That is the more literal translation. Though he should be brought to utmost destitution, yet he says, "I will rejoice in Jehovah; I will joy in the God of my salvation." The literal is, "I will jump for joy in the Lord; I will spin round for delight in God." Here is the hilarity of faith! - joy at its best with circumstances at their worst! What a victory! May it be ours!
Such then is the book of Habakkuk. In chapter 1 we have a twofold PROBLEM; in chapter 2 a twofold PROMISE; in chapter 3 a twofold PRODUCT - praise for the past and confidence for the future. In chapter 1 we have faith SIGHING; in chapter 2 faith SEEING; in chapter 3 faith SINGING.
The key verse to Habakkuk is 2:4 - "The just shall live by his faith"; and around this truth precious lessons for faith are written. The living message of the little book is clear, "Faith has still its problems." If Habakkuk's days seemed draped with dark enigmas, even more do our own. But this book tells us not to judge merely by the appearances of the hour. God has given us great promises, and is working out great purposes. He cannot tell us the whole in so many words; but He has revealed enough to make faith intelligent, and to give it scope for development.
There is also truth of high value for us in the process by which Habakkuk passed from his sob of doubt to his song of trust. First, he told his honest doubt to GOD, and not to any mere human "brain trust." If we would only do that instead of sighing abroad our doubts on human ears, what unrest we would escape! But second, Habakkuk resolved to WAIT on God. He said, "I will get to my watchtower. I will wait to see what it all means." Nor did God mock him. Nor does God ever mock such a man. We do not know how long Habakkuk waited; but we do know God answered him. Oh, if we would only give God time, so that He might prepare our minds for what He has to say! People say that God does not speak to men today as He did long ago. The truer statement is that men do not listen today as they did of old. To the man who waits, God does not remain silent. Thus thirdly, Habakkuk broke through to joyous certitude and song. He had seen a vision. All was changed. When he had looked at circumstances he was in despair. When he waited and heard God speak he began to sing.
Finally, let us keep Habakkuk's golden hope before us, that the earth shall yet be filled with the glory of the Lord. The age is far spent. The final epoch hastens to us. The vision has tarried; but now it speeds to its full realization. Christ is coming soon; the big events of our time are the solemn heralds of His return. God help us to wait with the patience of a true hope, to watch with the eye of a true faith, to work with the zeal of a true love - until He come!
LOOK WITHIN! - WRATH COMING ON JUDAH (1:1-2:3)
The purpose of Jehovah to judge 1-6
The "Day" of Jehovah "at hand" 7-18
And so - plea to Jerusalem 2:1-3
LOOK AROUND! - WRATH ON ALL NATIONS (2:4-3:8)
West, East - Philistia, Moab, Ammon 4-11
South, North - Ethiopia and Assyria 12-15
And so - "Woe" to Jerusalem 3:1-8
LOOK BEYOND! - AFTER WRATH, HEALING (3:9-3:20)
Conversion of Gentile peoples 9
Restoring of Covenant people 10-15
And so - the NEW JERUSALEM 16-20
In introducing himself to us, Zephaniah gives his pedigree more fully than any other of the prophets. We can understand how a prophet like Zephaniah would be grateful to show his near descent from a king like Hezekiah. So, Zephaniah is by distinction the prophet of royal descent. He is a prince of the house of David, and the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah. He also tells us when he prophesied. It was "in the days of Josiah." We can well appreciate that king Josiah, in his noble religious reforms, would have the ardent backing of his prophet - cousin. It may be that much of the urge toward these reforms came from Zephaniah, who would have the intimate influence of a relative in the royal house. There is something pathetic however, about the religious reforms in the days of King Josiah. Outwardly it was impressive perhaps, but inwardly it was far from what was needed. Noting particularly the words of prophetess Hulda to Josiah (2K.22:15-20). In effect the prophetess said, "Yes, King Josiah, do all that is in your mind; it is good, but the heart of this people is become gross; there will not be a real heart turning to God such as would avert judgment."
We are not greatly surprised, therefore, that our prophet Zehanaih does not make mention of these outward reforms. His perceiving eye left him in no doubt as to the real state of the nation's life. He exposes the transgressions and pollutions of his days, and with a stern vehemence warns his people that the "Day of Jehovah" hastens toward them, with its tornado of Divine wrath. The two prophets Joel and Zephaniah are in an emphatic way the prophets of judgment against Judah; yet both of them, having delivered their message of judgment, foretell a glorious aftermath. The final passage from Zephaniah's pen is one of the most beautiful in the Scriptures. It looks on to that promised age which is yet to be, when Israel's Messiah, the Church's Divine Husband, shall hold empire over all the earth.
Zephaniah's Threefold Message
PART 1 - In all this run of verses there is no mention of the outside nations. The theme is the sin and coming judgment of JUDAH. Note the one grimly significant "BECAUSE" in 1:17. "Because they have sinned against Jehovah." And note also, that this part of the book ends with an appeal for repentance, and an encouraging word to the little company of upright ones among the degraded populace (2:1-3).
PART 2 - Here the prophet looks away from Jerusalem and Judah to THE SURROUNDING NATIONS. Note that this part concludes with a sudden turning round on Jerusalem again, the point being that if God so smites the surrounding nations with judgment, how certainly will He smite the people of Judah who have had privileges above all others! "I have cut off the nations; their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by; their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. I said, surely (in view of all this) thou (Jerusalem) wilt fear Me, thou wilt receive instruction ... but they rose early and corrupted all their doings ... Therefore ... I rise to the prey" (3:6-8).
PART 3 - Blessings shall come to Israel and to all peoples alike, after the days of judgment have served their purpose. The passage begins, "For then will I turn to the PEOPLES (not singular as in the authorized version) a pure language, that they may ALL call upon the name of Jehovah, to serve Him with one consent." In this the vision of Zephaniah is like that of other prophets. The coming Messianic kingdom is to embrace all the nations. Yet the covenant people are to be the center of that kingdom; and therefore Zephaniah concludes by picturing the exalted blessings of Israel in that golden age. There is to be a regathering of the dispersed (v.10). There is to be a changed temper and behavior of the people (v.11-13). There is to be banishment of evil, and an exulting joyousness (v.14-15). God Himself is going to find utter pleasure in the Holy City and her people; it shall be said to Zion, "Jehovah, thy God, is in the midst of thee, the Mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing" (v.16-17). All afflictions are to be forever over, and Israel is to be made "a praise among all the peoples of the earth" v.20. It is a delectable picture indeed, and sets our longing hearts praying the more fervently, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
The key thought is not expressed so much in any one verse as in the CONTRAST between the very first and last verses. After the superscription, the first word is, "I WILL UTTERLY CONSUME." This is the fierce fire of judgment. But the last word of the book is, "I WILL MAKE YOU A NAME AND A PRAISE." This is the final fullness and blessing.
God has a glorious end and purpose in view; but even that golden goal must not be gained at the expense of absolute justice and righteousness in the present; and therefore present sin must be equated by present judgment. Yet even so, the ultimate purpose shall be realized, for the sovereign Jehovah so overrules, that, however grievously His people sin, and however grievously He must punish, the present process of judgment shall eventually issue in the final blessing. There must be the smiting with retribution before there can be the smiling of restoration. Thus we may say that the key thought of Zephaniah is, "THROUGH JUDGMENT TO BLESSING." Closely allied with this is the thought that, "Jehovah is in the midst." He is in the midst of Jerusalem to JUDGE (3:5); and He is in the midst of Jerusalem to SAVE (3:15-17). Well may we sing -
"And though His arm is strong to smite
'Tis also strong to save."
Here was a man who had the mind of God on the national and international situation when few others, if any, had taken the measure of it or sensed the gravity of it; and he declared it even though it was severely unpopular. This is ever the mark of the true prophet. This man saw beneath the sudden new burst of religious activity, and judged it for what it was really worth. He looked out on the larger crowd of the populace, the irreligious lot, who simply nodded an artificial respect for the new stir of Jehovah-worship because the king was chief patron, but who had said among themselves that these religious ideas were now played out, that "Jehovah will not do good, neither will He do evil" (1:12), or in other words, that Jehovah just didn't bother and didn't matter - Zephaniah looked out on these and saw the tragic farce of their unconcern. He had heard the sickening thud and rumble of a coming judgment which would crush the nations to pieces; he knew that soon there would be upon them the biggest calamity since Israel had become a nation. Zephaniah knew and cried to his countrymen, "The Day of Jehovah is at hand!" (1:7). This is his great theme, especially in the first part of his prophecy (1:1-2:3).
And now the time is once more here when we must lift up our cry that "The Day of the Lord is at hand!" Zephaniah's fervid depicting of "The Day of Jehovah" - the awful judgment which was determined on his own generation, is really an adumbration of that all eclipsing "Day of the Lord" which is to be at the end of the present age. And unless we are strangely deceived, the words of the Book, together with the signs of the times, point to its near approach. The religious and social conditions are morally similar to those of Zephaniah's days. Despite the new bursts of religious activity of different groups, and the strong passion for conferences on denominational reunion, the spiritual condition of the churches and the people is worse than at any time since just before the Methodist revival.
That day will be joy superlative for Christ's own, the blood-bought, Spirit-born members of the true Church; but it is well that we should cry aloud the TERROR of that day to many others. This is the aspect of it which grips and excites Zephaniah. Mark his phrases as he struggles to impress his lethargic fellow countrymen with the dread of it: "That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of waste and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities and against the high towers" (1:15-16).
The popular attitude today is exactly that of Zephaniah's time - "The
Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil," that is, God doesn't
act in human affairs, He neither blesses or punishes; the world is
governed by "natural laws," and God doesn't interfere with these laws to
give supposed answers to prayers. God's existence is remotely admitted,
but His interest and activity in human affairs is denied.
Finally, let us learn the threefold truth that God permits, but punishes, and in the end perfects. Men are free agents. God allows enough freedom to the human will for any man to know at any time that he is thinking and speaking and choosing and acting of his own volition. Thus God PERMITS sin - and suffering. If God were to intervene everytime the innocent are made to suffer by the wicked there would be no history at all. But God PUNISHES the wicked - usually by overruling natural processes, and not by miracles. Thus, He allows Israel to be punished through the agency of wicked nations; but in turn He punishes these nations for their own wrongs. In this process the innocent often suffer; but God has pledged a final restitution; and He has pointed us to a time when the present darkness shall give way before a sorrowless daybreak, and the present travail shall be forgotten in the tender triumph of love and virtue. Smiting will give place to smiling. The peoples shall serve the Lord "with one consent." God will PERFECT His purpose, and fulfill all His promises. Christ shall reign. The curse shall be gone. God will rejoice over His redeemed sons and daughters. He will rest in His love. He will "joy over them with singing."
FIRST MESSAGE - TO AROUSE 1:1-15
Date - Sixth month, first day.
Crux - "Build the House" v.8
SECOND MESSAGE - TO SUPPORT 2:1-9
Date - Seventh month, 21st day.
Crux - "I am with you" v.4
THIRD MESSAGE - TO CONFIRM 2:10-19
Date - Ninth month, 24th day.
Crux - "From THIS day will I bless you"
FOURTH MESSAGE - TO ASSURE 2:20-23
Date - Ninth month, 24th day.
Crux - "In THAT day I will make thee..."
This book covers a period of merely four months and it puts on record one of the crucial turning points of the Divine dealings with Jerusalem and the covenant people. It has to do with the Jewish "remnant" who returned to Judea and the rebuilding of the temple.
In 520 B.C. this otherwise unknown prophet Haggai stood forth and voiced
his message to the leaders of the returned Jews. This was 16 years after
the decree of Cyrus for the rebuilding of Jehovah's temple, 14 years
after the foundation had been laid and the work halted. Adversaries from
the mongrel race of the Samaritans had opposed them, and now with
Artaxerxes, Cyrus' successor in power.
The repatriated Jews seemed to have accepted the situation with an almost fatalistic resignation. This was the result of a wrong reaction to prophecy. Jeremiah had predicted a seventy year period of "desolations" on Jerusalem. The Jews of the returned "Remnant" seemed to have mistakenly inferred (despite God's sign to them by the edict of Cyrus) that even the temple could not be rebuilt until the period of the "desolations" had run their course. It is this which the prophet Haggai has in mind in his very first words, "This people say, The time is not come, the time that Jehovah's house should be built" v.1:2. They were paralyzed by a wrong attitude to prophecy.
Now the pivotal significance of Haggai lies in the fact that this very year in which he uttered his fourfold prophecy, 520 B.C., was THE YEAR WHICH ENDED THE PERIOD OF THE "DESOLATIONS" AND INTRODUCED A NEW PERIOD OF DIVINE BLESSING. Through the lips of the inspired Haggai, the Spirit of God had marked and emphasized the point of transition, to the very month, and even to the very day.
"Consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was
laid upon a stone in the temple of the Lord ... consider now
from this day and upward, from the 24th day of the 9th month,
even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple
was laid, consider it ... from this day will I bless you."
The last deep shadow of that night slinks away, a new sun has risen. Here is a word of new hope, heralding good things to come. This is Jehovah's announcement - "FROM THIS DAY WILL I BLESS YOU." This is the crux of Haggai's message. Four times within four months in that notable "second year of Darius," 520 B.C. the "word of Jehovah" came through the lips of this prophet. Each of the four communications is carefully dated, and each has its own clear focus-point.
The Four-Fold Message
In his first address his purpose is to reprove the people for their neglect, and to arouse them to immediate action. They were presuming on prophecy, and saying, "The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built." Whatever their original reason might have been it had degenerated to a mere excuse for negligence of religious duty and for the pursuance of selfish interests. "Consider your ways!" cries the prophet. "Is it time for YOU to dwell in YOUR ceiled houses (expensive and embellished), while this House (of Jehovah) lies waste?"
There are those among us today who presume upon prophecy, and say, "The
time has not come." They mislead or excuse themselves into inactivity on
this plea, when they ought to be spending themselves in the effort to
win our present generation for Christ. The mistake of the returned
Jewish exiles is a case in point. They had given way to a feeling that
there was a hopeless inevitability in things. Present effort was of no
use; they must just wait until the clock of prophecy struck the
predestined hour. The result was indifference, and the cause of God
suffered. The people were getting used to being without a temple; and
this would have proved fatal.
Who says that there cannot or will not be another great ingathering of souls before Christ returns? "Consider your ways," says Haggai. "Go up ... and build the House." WHILE REGENERATION AND REVIVAL ARE THE SOVEREIGN ACT OF GOD, EVANGELISM IS THE CONSTANT OBLIGATION OF THE CHURCH. The Divine sovereignty and human endeavor are not mutually exclusive; they are meant to be co-operative. It is not the case of "either ... or ..." It is not the case of either "waiting on God" or "working for revival"; it must be the two together - waiting and working. It is not a choice between agonizing in prayer or organizing an effort.
Haggai's second message is a striking one. Its purpose was to encourage. Some of the older Jews who remembered the former temple were downcast at the contrast between it and that which was now being built. Haggai therefore heartens them by a declaring of three great facts. (1) Jehovah's covenant with Israel still stands, and Jehovah's faithfulness to it continues v.5, (2) the Spirit of God still remains among them v.5, (3) God's promise is that there shall yet be a great shaking, that One shall come who is the Desire of all nations, and that "the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former" v.6-9. These are the three great things that must ever inspire ourselves - the covenant, the Spirit's presence, the promised return of the King. A shaking - an advent - a glory filled temple; this is the landscape of promise.
We have already mentioned Haggai's third message. The people had expected a return to material prosperity as a result of recommencing work on the temple. But Haggai now points out that God was not under obligation to them for their renewed work on the temple. Instead of having special merit, they were defiled; and it was grace on God's part to accept them. Yet now, none the less, God would give them a special sign of His favor, for FROM THIS DAY onwards He would bless them.
The fourth message is to Zerubbabel himself, and beyond him to the ultimate consummation of the Davidic line in the coming reign of Christ. Zerubbabel is here addressed as the representative of the Davidic line. Once more God speaks of the great shaking which is to come, but adds that "in THAT DAY" Zerubbabel shall be as a signet (the sign of authority). The signet was used of his grandfather, king Jeconiah, in a tragic way, to express God's rejection of him, "As I live, saith the Lord, though Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim King of Judah were the signet upon My right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence" (Jer.22:24). In the last great victory of the Divine purpose, Christ, the greater Son and wonderful Antitype of David and Zerubbabel, will be Jehovah's signet whereby He shall impress and imprint upon all nations His own majesty, His own will and ways, His own perfect ideal, and His own very image.
Jeremiah's 70 year period of servitude (606 - 536 B.C.)
Began with Jehoiakim's submission to Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C. and ended with the proclamation of Cyrus in 536 B.C. The Revised Version correctly translates it, "Thus saith the Lord, After seventy years be accomplished FOR Babylon, I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place" (Jer.29:10). God had appointed 70 years "FOR Babylon" to rule over the nations. He nowhere said the Jews would have to be there for 70 years, but that they would be in SERVITUDE to them.
Jeremiah's 70 year period of desolations (590 - 520 B.C.
This was as a consequence of Israel's further impenitence (Jer.25:9-11, Dan.9:1-2, Zech.1:12). The day when the siege began was the 10th day of the 10th month (Tebeth) 590 B.C. in the 9th year of Ezekiel's captivity in Babylonia (Ez.24:1-2, 2K.25:1, Jer.52:4). This is the first time in the historical books that an event is dated to the very day. From this date down to the date emphasized by Haggai (2:15-19) the 24th day of the month Chisleu, 520 B.C. is 25,200 days, exactly 70 years of 360 days each.
EARLY PROPHECIES: TEMPLE BEING REBUILT 1-8
A Sevenfold vision: Horses, horns & smiths, measuring line,
reclothing Joshua, candlestand, roll-ephah-women, chariots.
A Fourfold message: 7:1-7, 8-14, 8:1-17, 18-23.
LATER PROPHECIES: AFTER TEMPLE REBUILT 9-14
The coming Shepherd-King, and Zion's consequent blessing 9-10
The offending of the Shepherd-King, and its tragic results 11
The final travail and triumph of Zion; Jehovah's victory 12-14
The little scroll of Haggai might almost be considered an introduction to this larger work from Zechariah. Zechariah was both a priest and a prophet. When many times the prophets had to stand in sharp opposition to the priest, Zechariah had united in himself all the sacerdotal traditions of the Aaronic priesthood with the zeal and authority of the prophet. Nothing could have been more timely than that the one voice should have this double appeal.
It is worthy of note that from this time the priesthood takes the lead in the nation. As to government the history of the covenant people falls into three main periods.
(1) From Moses to Samuel we have Israel under the JUDGES.
(2) From Saul to Zedekiah we have Israel under the KINGS.
(3) From Jeshua and the repatriation of the Remnant, down to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 we have Israel under the PRIESTS.
The first eight chapters are mainly VISION-prophecies, the remaining six chapters are wholly DIRECT prophecies. The first eight prophecies were written DURING the rebuilding of the temple; the remaining six chapters were written considerably AFTER the temple was rebuilt. The first eight have a PARTICULAR & IMMEDIATE reference to the Jewish "Remnant" now back in the land; the remaining six have a GENERAL & FAR-REACHING reference to Israel as a whole, to the ultimate future, and to the Gentile nations. The contents of the first eight are CAREFULLY dated (1:1, 7; 7:1); the contents of the remaining six are NOWHERE dated.
In the first part we have SEVEN VISIONS with a follow-up message of application to "all the people of the land." The second part of the book consists of one continuous, unfolding prophecy which looks beyond the prophet's own time to the conquests of Alexander the Great, and the sway of the Greek empire, and the heroic struggles of the Maccabees, and the coming of Israel's Shepherd-King, the Messiah. It trumpets the King's first advent, then, in veiled, mystic phraseology, tells of His rejection, and then sweeps on to His second advent, overleaping the present age and depicting the final travail and triumph of Zion, when the bells on the horses and the posts in the kitchens shall be "holiness unto the Lord."
It runs in three movements. First, in chapters 9 and 10, we have the coming Shepherd-King, and Zion's consequent blessing. Second, in chapter 11, we have the offending of the Shepherd-King, and its tragic results. Third, in chapters 12 to 14, we have Zion's final travail and triumph, and Jehovah's ultimate victory.
The key-word here in Zechariah is, "I am (become) jealous for Zion (again); I am returned unto Jerusalem with mercies" (1:14-16, 8:1-3).
The seven visions described in the first part of the book are really seven in one, for they all came, so it would seem, in the one night, that of the 24th day of the 11th month (Sebat), in the second year of Darius. Take the FIRST of them, THE FOUR HORSES AND THEIR RIDERS. Zechariah sees an angel patrol drawn up among the myrtles in the vale. These heavenly "scouts" report to the Angel of Jehovah the result of their survey of world conditions; the nations are "at ease." Zechariah is intended to grasp that although the surrounding nations are at careless ease while Jehovah's remnant suffer hardships, and although there may seem little sign that judgment is about to fall on these wicked nations, according to Jehovah's word through Haggai (v.2:22), yet in the invisible realm, God is watching, and the heavenly powers are already preparing for the stroke of retribution. The Angel of Jehovah asks, "O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which Thou hast had indignation these seventy years?" The answer is, "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. And I am very sore displeased with the nations that are at ease, for I was but for a little (while) displeased (with Jerusalem and Judah) and they (the nations) helped forward the affliction (lit. `they helped for evil'). Therefore, thus saith Jehovah: I AM RETURNED TO JERUSALEM WITH MERCIES: MY HOUSE SHALL BE BUILT IN IT, SAITH JEHOVAH OF HOSTS, AND A LINE (A MEASURING-LINE FOR ITS REBUILDING) SHALL BE STRETCHED FORTH UPON JERUSALEM." Clearly then, the essential point in this first vision-picture is that Jehovah has now become jealous again for Jerusalem, and is about to punish the nations for their abuse of His covenant people.
The SECOND and THIRD visions re-express this very same fact under different symbols. In the second vision Zechariah sees "four horns" and then "four carpenters" which come to "fray" them. The four horns are the four nations which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem, and the four carpenters are Jehovah's agencies of judgment against these nations. In the third vision Zechariah sees "a young man" with "a measuring line" going to "measure Jerusalem." But a heavenly messenger runs to this young man saying, "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as TOWNS WITHOUT WALLS, for the multitude of men and cattle therein" (that is, it would exceed all the wall measurements which this young man was intending to take, so great would be its prosperity). Jehovah Himself should be Jerusalem's wall, as v.5 continues, "For I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her." Here again we see the judgment of the nations, and the return of Jehovah's favor toward Jerusalem - Jehovah has become jealous for Zion.
In the FOURTH vision-scene, Zechariah is shown "Joshua the high priest (of the returned remnant) standing before the Angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him." During the period of the "desolations" Jerusalem has been rebuked and chastised, and her priests and people have suffered Jehovah's indignation. But now there is a change. It is shown in the reclothing of Joshua, the representative of the covenant people. Instead of rebuke against Joshua, it is now Satan who is rebuked, and Joshua, representative of the returned remnant, is a "brand plucked out of the fire." Joshua's filthy garments are removed, the symbolic meaning of which is THE REMOVING OF INIQUITY. Joshua is then clothed with "rich apparel" and a "diadem" is set on his head, and a new commission and promise for the future are given him. Quite clearly again we have Jehovah's return of favor to His people and city.
The FIFTH vision, that of the golden candlestick and two olive trees, is a special encouragement to Zerubbabel, the CIVIL leader of the remnant, as the preceding vision was to Joshua, the RELIGIOUS leader. The mountain should become a plain before him, and he should certainly complete the rebuilding of the temple. Verse 10 is the crux which should read, "Who hath despised the day of small things (the poor looking beginnings of the rebuilding)? For these seven eyes of Jehovah (the seven lamps of the candlestick) which run through all the earth SHALL BEHOLD WITH JOY THE PLUMMET IN THE HAND OF ZERUBBABEL." Once again the meaning is that of Jehovah's new pleasure and favor toward Zion. Verse 12 should read, "What be these two olive branches which through the two golden spouts (or tubes) pour out from themselves the golden oil?" (the oil dropped of itself from the fruit-bearing branches into two spouts or channels which conveyed it to the central reservoir). The answer is, "These are the two sons of oil which stand by the Lord of the whole earth" - Joshua and Zerubbabel, as representing the covenant people, and through whom the spirit of Jehovah was now flowing again to bless.
In the SIXTH vision Zechariah sees a huge scroll (30'x15'), passing through the air, and is told that this is the curse which goeth forth against wickedness in the land. When God sets up His house (as in the preceding vision) His word goes forth (as in this vision) to judge and sentence all that is not in harmony with that house. There cannot be a restoration of Jehovah's blessing without the expulsion of that which is evil. That large, floating scroll, open for all to read, explains why there had been such adversity among the remnant: it was Jehovah's curse upon the evil which was still permitted. But now, Zechariah is shown what is to be done to the evil. It is to be removed to Babylon. The "ephah" was the largest of the dry measurements used by the Jews (6 or 7 gallons). The outstanding point of the vision is plain enough. Let the false swearing and stealing which were extracted on the flying scroll go where they properly belong, even to Babylon, the seat of anti-Godism right from the days of Nimrod (Gen.10:10). If the "ephah" was the old-time Jewish symbol for TRADE, then the woman in the ephah would represent Babylonian corruption which was leavening commerce among the returned remnant. The proper home for such corruption is not Jerusalem, the city of Jehovah, but Satan's rival city, Babylon.
Finally, in the SEVENTH vision, and the symbolic CROWNING OF JOSHUA,
which follows it, we see again Jehovah's judgment on the Gentile
nations, and His return of favor toward Jerusalem. There can be little
doubt that the four war-chariots represent swift-coming Divine judgment.
The four angel drivers are "the four spirits of the heavens which go
forth from standing before the Lord of the whole earth" - thus
corresponding to the four angels of Rev. 7, as Jehovah's agents of
JUDGMENT. Special judgment is meted to "the north country" from where
the great Gentile invaders had come. But in marked contrast with this,
there comes to Zechariah - apparently at dawn - the instruction to enact
a remarkable CORONATION CEREMONY. He was to receive silver and gold from
certain Jewish visitors who were present from Babylon, and to make a
composite diadem with which to crown Joshua, the new high priest at
Jerusalem. Then he was to say, "Behold the man whose name is the BRANCH,
and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of
Jehovah ..." There is here a definite type reference to Christ. But the
immediate meaning, is that Jehovah, besides sending forth His chariot
judgments on the surrounding Gentile powers, has returned with mercies
and gracious promises to the remnant of His people.
In these seven visions of Zechariah we can see the unifying idea: "I AM JEALOUS (AGAIN) FOR JERUSALEM AND FOR ZION WITH A GREAT JEALOUSY; and I am sore displeased with the nations that are at ease; for I was but a little while displeased , and they helped for evil. Therefore, thus saith Jehovah, "I AM RETURNED TO JERUSALEM WITH MERCIES."
We are now at chapters 9-14 which constitute one of the most remarkable prophecies ever penned. Many of the translation obscurities can be overcome by reading one of the newer English translations. Chapter 9-10 is about THE COMING SHEPHERD-KING, AND ZION'S CONSEQUENT BLESSING. In verses 1-8 Zechariah gives his prelude of predicted judgments on the Gentile nations, and then in v.9 he breaks out in rhapsody over the coming King and the coming blessing on Zion. Also in this chapter we find the prediction of the period of the Maccabees, which led up to the first coming of Zion's King, which COULD have led right to the final struggle and victory of Zion which is depicted in the 10th chapter, had it not been for the unbelief and sin of the Jews. As a result of what happened when Zion's King first came and offered Himself, nineteen hundred years ago, the final struggle and victory now depicted in chapter 10 are postponed, and the present age intervenes (as it does between 9:1-10).
Zechariah, like the other O.T. prophets, is not enlightened as to the present long interval of the "Church" age (Eph.3). It may be asked, "Why did not God reveal this in advance since He foreknew that it would come to pass?" The answer is twofold. First, if God had plainly revealed this beforehand, then the Lord Jesus could never have come and made a real, BONA FIDE offer of Himself as Messiah; and God could never have tested the Jews in relation to Him. Second, God HAS been pleased to foreshow the rejection and crucifixion of Christ again and again in Old Testament prophecy, so that we ourselves, in this present age, both Jew and Gentile, may know that He had anticipated and graciously overruled the unbelief and sin of the Jews when Christ first came to them.
Part II - THE OFFENDING OF THE SHEPHERD-KING, AND ITS TRAGIC RESULTS (11). This part, like the former, begins with an outburst of calamities on the surrounding powers - Lebanon and Bashan and the pride of Jordan, denoting areas north, northeast and east, just beyond the bounds of the area which was now occupied by the Jews. Then Zechariah tells us how Jehovah instructed him to "feed the FLOCK OF SLAUGHTER" (Judah), and how he did so (emblematically), and what eventuated.
Thus the true Shepherd is despised and rejected, with tragic consequences. The remaining tell of a faithless shepherd who should exploit the flock. The big fact to grasp is that the transaction of the thirty pieces of silver, in the light of Matthew 28:9-10, clearly has reference to Christ. As a result of His humiliation the Jews have been under false shepherds ever since; and the falsest of all shepherds is yet to exploit them as the present age draws to its close. No wonder our Lord wept over Jerusalem, on the very day when He fulfilled Zechariah 9:9, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke 19:42).
Part III - THE FINAL TRAVAIL AND TRIUMPH OF ZION: JEHOVAH'S VICTORY (12-14)
In this part the language makes it clear that this passage passes over the present "Church" interval, right on to that culminating epoch at the end of the present age, when after all the tragic delay caused through the rejection of the true Shepherd-King, Jehovah shall again take up and complete His grand purposes with and for and through Israel.
Such, then, is the Book of Zechariah. In both the first and last parts of the book we hear the same recurrent key-note - Jehovah is "jealous for Zion." The Pulpit Commentary remarks on chapter 9:13, "NOTHING BUT INSPIRATION could have enabled Zechariah and Daniel to foresee the rise of the Macedonian dynasty, and the struggle between the Jews and the Syro-Grecian power in Maccabean times, which is here announced." What then shall we say about those passages in Zechariah which look right on to the Messiah's first and second comings - to His public entry into Jerusalem in lowly dignity, riding on an ass; to His being "wounded" in the house of his own kinsmen; to the "smiting of the Shepherd and the scattering of the flock"; to the preservation of the remnant even as at this very day; to the "mourning" for Him, which is yet to be, when the Jews "look on Him whom they pierced"; to the last super-conflict and the final kingdom-glories? Yes, what shall we say to all this? Is it not a marvel of inspiration? Oh for that final triumph which Zechariah has predicted! "EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS!"
APPEAL (A) - IN VIEW OF THE PRESENT SIN (1-2)
Jehovah the speaker: the priests are appealed to 1:6-2:9
Malachi the speaker: the people are appealed to 2:10-17
APPEAL (B) - IN VIEW OF THE COMING "DAY" (3-4)
The day will judge the guilty (3:1-6) therefore appeal 7-12
The day will bless the godly (3:13-4:3) therefore appeal 4-6
Malachi calling! - the last call of the Old Testament before the voice of prophecy dies into a silence of four hundred years. One great phase of Divine revelation is now to close. The last spokesman utters his soul, and retires behind the misty curtains of the past. A peculiar solemnity clings about him. What does this last speaker say? What is the final message? What is the parting word?
One step toward appreciating the message of Malachi is to see him amid his own times. All agree that his book is post-exilic, and later than the other two post-exilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The likelihood is that it was written a little later than the days of Nehemiah. Here follows a brief summary of the post-exile days:
Did Malachi prophesy during the days of Nehemiah? No, not during Nehemiah's FIRST TWELVE YEARS as Governor of Jerusalem when such grand restorations were effected. No, not during the brief INTERVAL was away at the Persian court. For there is a settled attitude and behavior, and a state of callousness and defiant hostility, indicated in the time of Malachi which were not the product merely of a sudden collapse all within a couple of years, but a growth through a longer period. No, not during Nehemiah's SECOND TERM at Jerusalem. There is a reference to "the Governor" (unnamed) in Malachi 1:8. This verse also speaks of "offerings" for the Governor; but Nehemiah expressly tells us that HE made it his practice to maintain himself apart from such Governor's dues (Neh.5:14-15); and it is not likely that he changed later!
Nehemiah, it will be realized, may have lived for a considerable time beyond the last event recorded in the book that bears his name; and so long as he lived he would exert a strong influence for moral and religious purity. But the conditions described by Malachi suggest a deterioration which had come about AFTER THAT INFLUENCE WAS WITHDRAWN. Not only had the earlier zeal of people and priests cooled down; it had given place to a complex of slovenly formalism (3:14) and even deceitful evasion (1:14). Our last glimpse of Nehemiah in Jerusalem is about 430 B.C., but he probably continued there for some years after that; so we put the ministry of Malachi somewhere between 420 and 397 B.C.
The Meaning and Message of the Book
And now what is the special purpose, the central message, the key thought of the book? If we mentally place ourselves in the ring of Malachi's first audience, and read through the book at speaking pace, letting it speak to us as though it were the living voice of the prophet himself ringing in our ears, we simply cannot miss seeing that from beginning to end this little book is AN APPEAL - a powerful, passionate, pleading appeal - an appeal to REPENT of sin and to RETURN to God - an appeal accompanied by rich PROMISE if the people respond, and by stern WARNING if they refuse.
The simple fact to note is that this APPEAL of Malachi quite naturally falls into TWO PARTS. In chapters 1-2 the appeal is made in view of THE PRESENT SIN OF THE NATION. In chapters 3-4 it is in view of THE COMING "DAY OF JEHOVAH."
After the few verses of introduction it is the PRIESTS who are first addressed. Also notice that it is JEHOVAH HIMSELF who directly addresses these priests, and all the way through to v. 2:9, the verses are in the first person. Then at v. 2:10 there is a change. It is the PROPHET now, who speaks on behalf of Jehovah. It is no longer the priests who are addressed, but THE PEOPLE GENERALLY. The prophet puts himself among them, and asks, "Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us? ..." And from this point all the verses are in the third person.
Now in chapters 3-4 a new note is struck. The prophet views the present
IN THE LIGHT OF THE GREAT "DAY OF JEHOVAH" WHICH IS TO COME. It will be
noted that beginning with the first verse of chapter three it is Jehovah
Himself who speaks directly again, using the first person, "I," "Me,"
"My," right to the end of the book. First, in v.1-6, we are told that
THE COMING ONE who was the nation's hope of future blessing was coming
to JUDGE (not merely, as was being presumed, to bless the nation
indiscriminately!); and rising from this there is RENEWED APPEAL to the
people to "return" and to "bring all the tithes" and to "prove"
Jehovah's present offer of blessing.
Then from v.13 to the end of the book, there is a further addition about this coming "Day of Jehovah" - not only will it judge the guilty, it will VINDICATE THE GODLY MINORITY; and arising from this is the closing appeal of the book, to "give heed" again to "the Law of Moses." The final section of the book which runs from 3:13, brings out a contrast between two classes - the larger number who RESISTED Jehovah and "spake together", and minority who FEARED Jehovah and "spake often one to another. There are only two tenses in the Hebrew language, and the context must decide. Verses 13-16 should read:
"Your words are stout against Me, saith Jehovah; yet ye say,
What do we speak in our conversation together against Thee?
Ye say, It is a vain thing to serve God ...
But those who fear Jehovah speak one to another, and Jehovah
doth attend and hear. And a book of remembrance is being
written before Him, of them that fear Jehovah, and that
esteem His name. And they shall be to Me a peculiar treasure,
saith Jehovah of Hosts, in the day that I am preparing ..."
"Behold, He shall come ... but"
The key thought of Malachi is found in chapter 3:1-2 - "BEHOLD, HE SHALL COME, SAITH JEHOVAH OF HOSTS, BUT WHO MAY ABIDE THE DAY OF HIS COMING?" In our study of Haggai we saw that the Jewish Remnant had become indifferent to the rebuilding of the temple through a wrong attitude to prophecy. On the strength of Jeremiah's prediction that seventy years of "desolations" were determined on Jerusalem, the leaders of the people were saying, "The time is not come, the time that Jehovah's house should be built" (Hag.1:2). Thus they excused themselves into blameworthy indolence - and were rightly rebuked for it. A hundred years later in Malachi's time, there is a WRONG ATTITUDE TO DIVINE PROMISE. The earlier prophets had foretold of the coming One who should bring final deliverance and age-long blessing to the covenant nation; Ezekiel and Daniel had continued the strain; the post-exile prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, had carried it still further, the time was now surely drawing nearer, and the promised One would come to exalt the nation in untold dignity and prosperity. All would then be well, so the leaders, priests and people told themselves, and the present did not very much matter. Thus they sank into a non-chalant formalism, and even into unblushing hypocrisy in their dealings both with God and with each other. Malachi now shows them that the Divine promise is a two-edged sword. Not only will the coming "Day" slay the enemies OUTSIDE the nation, but also the wicked INSIDE the nation. The "Messenger of the Covenant" in whose promised coming they were "delighting" should surely come, as promised; BUT (let them mark it well, this very big "but") - who should "abide the day of His coming"? for He would come as a "refiner's fire" and would be a "swift witness" against all evildoers. Yes, there is a "but" in the promise. "Behold, He shall come ... BUT." That is the center thought in Malachi.
We must make a sharp distinction always between Divine foreknowledge and Divine fore-ordination. God foreknew the Jewish rejection of Christ; but He did not fore-ORDAIN it. God never predestines sin! In His government of this world God does not allow His larger purposes for the human race to rest upon the uncertain behavior of the human will; yet He does leave enough scope for the free action of the human will to make men conscious at all times that they are acting of themselves, and by their own intelligent choice. Thus He permitted even the crucifixion of Christ. He foreknew it, and fore-provided against it, so that THE CRUCIFIXION OF ISRAEL'S MESSIAH BECAME THE CORONATION OF THE WORLD'S SAVIOR, and from the ugly debris of Jewish failure there emerged God's further purpose, that is, the CHURCH, and the proclaiming of a WORLD-EMBRACING GOSPEL of personal salvation throughout the present age. God could not reveal all this to the Old Testament prophets; for had He done so, Christ could never have come and made a bona fide offer of Himself as Israel's Messiah.
Then again, with this little scroll of Malachi before us, we should ever
guard against a WRONG ATTITUDE TO DIVINE PROMISE. We have seen how this
wrong attitude cursed Malachi's generation. So today there is a
complacent indifference to the hope of Christ's return. "Thou wicked and
slothful servant!" - will those awful words fall on some of US who have
been believers in the Lord's second coming? Oh, may the deeper prospect
of His coming ever be an incentive to holiness, and an urge to the
winning of other souls to Him!
Again, if we have read Malachi observantly, we cannot have missed seeing that the two besetting evils of his day were FORMALISM and SKEPTICISM. In these we see the beginnings of Pharisaism (formalism) and the Sadduceeism (scepticism) which later reached their harvest - whiteness in our Lord's days. How these two things curse us today! And how they cause men to argue back against God! Seven times the priests and people of Malachi's time are faced with the vital issues of real heart-religion:
1) Wherein hast Thou loved us? 1:2
2) Wherein have we despised Thy name? 1:6
3) Wherein have we polluted Thee? 1:7
4) Wherein have we wearied Thee? 2:17
5) Wherein shall we return? 3:7
6) Wherein have we robbed Thee? 3:8
7) Wherein have we spoken against Thee? 3:13
The formalist does not like to have his formalism DISTURBED. The skeptic does not like to have his skepticism DISPROVED. Both will evade the real issues of heart-religion by self-justifying counter - argument.
And finally, in Malachi we see how precious to God are the godly minority in times of declension. A "book of remembrance" is kept; and they, God's remnant, are to be Jehovah's "peculiar treasure" in the "day" which He is "preparing." Thus, as the Old Testament closes, we see the godly remnant speaking softly to one another of a great hope - "He is coming!" Then, for four hundred years they disappear from sight, until they reappear from obscurity in New Testament times, in the aged Simeon and Anna, who are found in Jerusalem, "waiting for the consolation of Israel." And so it is today. They who fear and love Jehovah-Jesus speak one to another amid the closing decades of the present age, comforting one another with the words, "He is coming!" And God's book of remembrance is being kept. Yes, He is surely coming - "Unto you that fear My name," saith Jehovah, "shall the Sun of righteousness arise, with healing in His wings!" And our prayer is, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
Yes, comforting, thrilling prospect, He is coming, coming a SECOND time.
The inviolable guarantee of this is the historical fact of His FIRST
coming, as vicarious Savior, which fulfilled scores and scores of Old
Testament predictions, with Divine precision. That first batch of
fulfillments, two thousand years ago, constitutes the mightiest
conceivable guarantee that ALL THE OTHER predictions and promises
concerning His reign on earth in world-wide empire will similarly be
fulfilled. Yes, He is coming! HE is coming - the Church's Bridegroom,
Israel's Messiah, and God-Man Emperor of all nations!