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Zephaniah: Summary of the Minor Prophets (James Boice)

August 31, 2020 Leave a comment

Among the minor prophets, Zephaniah seems to be a neglected and forgotten one in terms of commentaries and sermon series.  Indeed, S. Lewis Johnson’s series on the minor prophet books, which I listened to several years ago, included content for all of the minor prophets…. except Zephaniah.  Happily, the collection from James Montgomery Boice includes three lectures on Zephaniah, one for each chapter — a series apparently done right after Habakkuk, per the file number order, in the early 1980s.  As Boice mentioned, due to the strong theme of judgment in the minor prophets, he taught through the different minor prophets at different times, in between other Bible book series, for proper balance on the theme of judgment versus other more positive themes in scripture.  Still, a three set in-a-row of Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and then Zechariah, had enough balance and variety of themes.

Among the highlights from the Zephaniah study:  The timeline was early in Josiah’s reign, and it’s possible (and a nice idea) that Zephaniah was one of the prophecies used by God in Josiah’s revival a few years later.  This book is chronologically before Habakkuk, yet placed at the end of the first nine minor prophets — just after Habakkuk though before it in time, with the reason that Zephaniah serves as a summary of the first set of minor prophets, the nine pre-exilic books.  Zephaniah’s content is not at all original, but restates the major themes of the minor prophets: judgment upon the nation (Judah) including its leaders, judgment upon the surrounding nations, and then the wonderful message of redemption and hope.

Chapter 1 has the classic aspects of judgment: upon the priests, the nominal believers (with their syncretism), and outright apostates.  Here we see descriptions possibly exaggerated if in reference to Babylon, yet with reference to the final, future end-times judgment.  Zephaniah alludes to the Genesis flood, yet a situation far worse than it: total destruction, with no exceptions.

The next chapter employs a pattern similar to Amos 100 years before, with a geographic pattern to pronounce judgment upon the surrounding nations (without naming the specific sins) — though here with reference to Judah instead of to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Whereas Amos’ countries arranged in a circle, Zephaniah’s made a criss-cross double-X pattern back and forth, but both Amos and Zephaniah drive home the point by starting with the further-removed Gentile nations before coming closer and then hitting home, to the judgment upon Israel or Judah.  Zephaniah echoes the same idea as Amos 6:1, “woe to those who are at ease in Zion.”  The point brought home is quite applicable in our day; when the people of God as a group, like Judah in Zephaniah’s day, have become just like the ‘other nations,’ indistinguishable from the surrounding culture, and all incentives and warnings have been refused, what more can be done?  The only recourse left is judgment upon an evil generation.

Zephaniah, like the other prophets, follows the standard sequence:  news of judgment first, then the good news of deliverance and hope.  The third and final, great chapter, talks about the remnant and what characterizes them — reference Micah 6:8 and post-exilic Malachi 3:16 for a similar feature, the qualities of God’s people:  they call upon the Lord, their pride is broken, and they keep His commandments.  These are the ones who are to be joyful and sing, as we look to the future, which will bring a reversal of the Fall in the garden of Eden.

This was an interesting and helpful overview series on one of the lesser-known minor prophets, and I appreciate the studies available from Boice on so many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

James Boice on the Prophet Habakkuk (Part 2)

August 19, 2020 Leave a comment
As mentioned in the last post, James Boice did a 5 part series on Habakkuk (as well as teaching through all the other minor prophets).  Boice’s sermon dates are not that easy to determine, as he did not typically reference the year or specific events — unlike S. Lewis Johnson, whose sermons are fairly easy to date given the frequent date references.  Yet in this case, Boice mentioned a recent PCRT conference on the topic of Revival, and specifically that one of the messages was given by John Richard DeWitt.  It turns out that this conference was held in 1982, “Come, Change Our World”  (audio recordings available here) — which also explains Boice’s frequent references to revival, as what Habakkuk probably had on his mind.
Habakkuk 2:4 is a well known verse, cited three times in the New Testament:  Romans 1:17, Hebrews 10:38, and Galatians 3:11.  Here, James Boice pointed out the Greek construction with three parts — “the righteous” “by faith” “will live” — and that each of these New Testament texts provides an exposition of one of the three parts.  Romans provides the commentary on “the righteous,” Hebrews on the phrase “by faith” (with the great “hall of faith” Hebrews 11 soon after the Habakkuk reference in Hebrews 10), and Galatians adds the commentary on “will live,” how the righteous will live.
In the third chapter, Habakkuk has finally been brought from his earlier self-righteous angry attitude, to a God-ward focus.  Here we can see the value of a prepared composition and poem.  Yes, spontaneous prayer has its place and value, our daily talking with God, but Habakkuk’s prayer shows reverence for God, a focus on God that is not filled with the uncomfortable uhs and “ands” in our everyday speech.  Habakkuk’s earlier chapters included references to himself, and he considered God’s attributes.  But what really helps, to reorient our life back to God, involves more than just intellectually understanding God’s attributes.  What helps to get past the complaints, is to also remember and affirm God’s past actions, what God has done for His people in the past.  Habakkuk was terrified as he considered the coming judgment — verse 16:
I hear, and my body trembles;  my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.
 and so now, what gets Habakkuk going again, is to remember God’s mighty acts of the past, and how God had delivered His people.  It is after this focus on God and recalling God’s actions for His people, that Habakkuk can truly trust and rejoice in the Lord, expressed in the final verses (17-19), a great poem and song of hope:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

Lessons from Habakkuk

August 14, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m taking another look through the minor prophets, and particularly the book of Habakkuk.  Alistair Begg’s “No Simple Answers”, which I listened to last fall, provided great down-to-earth application.   Another good one is James Montgomery Boice’s 5 part series from a few decades ago.  Boice mentioned someone saying that he had never heard church sermons on Habakkuk; in our day sermons are more available, including more attention to this minor prophet.  A local-area PCA church is also currently doing a series on Habakkuk, a more detailed approach with 5 messages and still in progress. 

Boice’s series emphasized the overall theme of God’s Sovereignty, and God and History, and how we wrestle with problems and dealing with God’s answers.  Habakkuk was a deep thinker, and like us he remembered his nation’s better times — King Josiah’s brief revival, which turned out to be more from the top-down, an incomplete revival.  Habakkuk then saw the moral decline and wickedness of the nation, and wanted God to do something–very likely, he wanted God to send revival.  The answer was not what he wanted to hear; Boice likened it to God telling American Christians that His answer to American Christianity would be, “I’m not going to send revival, I’m going to send the communists.”  Ironically, a generation later, there is a lot of truth in that idea, as to the judgment that God has sent–though not in the obvious outward way that Boice, during the Cold War with the Soviets, probably thought of.

Referencing Martyn Lloyd Jones, who preached on Habakkuk in the years soon after WWII and later published a small book (which is unfortunately out of print, and used copies quite expensive), come these four points regarding history:

  1. God is in charge of history
  2. God causes history to follow His own plan, a divine plan
  3. History follows a divine timetable — “I am going to do something, in your day”; also Hab. 2:3.  God appointed the time.
  4. History is bound up with the divine kingdom.  The point here is that history was not about “the Babylonian problem.”  God is concerned with building His kingdom through His people.  Boice also referenced Matthew 24 and the general instruction to believers: watch out, do not be deceived; you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.

How did Habakkuk get to the point of Habakkuk 2:1, where he waits for God’s answer?  One view, from Martyn Lloyd Jones and shared by James Boice, demonstrates four steps in how we should approach all problems that we don’t understand:

  1. Stop, and think
  2. Restate the basic principles, the things you know; firm footing
  3. Apply the basic principles to your problem
  4. If, having done all this, you still don’t have answer to the problem: commit it to God and wait for Him to answer it in HIs own time. (Habakkuk 2:1)

The recent Habakkuk series (mentioned above) takes the view that Habakkuk in 2:1 is still in a hostile mindset, not really responding in faith.  Habakkuk uses a military term of watching, as though he is preparing himself to battle the Lord regarding this:  the judgment is so unfair.  When Boice gets to Habakkuk 3, he notes a similar thing (if perhaps less bluntly): Habakkuk at the end of chapter 1 had still been thinking in terms of himself, not yet seeing things from God’s viewpoint.  As brought out in the current series, Habakkuk 1 provides expanded lessons regarding the moral law of God and its three uses, the problem of self-righteousness, and judgment.  The wicked in Habakkuk 1:4 are a different group than the wicked in verse 13, showing Habakkuk’s comparative scale between his fellow countrymen and the pagan Chaldeans (Babylonians).  Habakkuk was among the righteous remnant, but it’s a small step to self-righteousness, when he complains (verse  ) “the law is paralyzed.”  Yet if the Law becomes the main thing, you’ll trip over it.

Both of these series are helpful, bringing in sound theology along with good illustrations and application to our time.  I look forward to the continuing lessons in the current Habakkuk series.  

A Study In Malachi: God’s Name Will Be Great Among The Nations

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Malachi series, a few thoughts from study of Malachi chapter 1.

Looking specifically at verses 11 and 14:

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

and

For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

The King James Version puts it in the present tense.  Modern translations render it more accurately, as pointing to a future time.  Certainly the text itself does not describe the time of Malachi: at that time there were no offerings being offered among the Gentiles that were pure.  Only offerings made in Jerusalem, at the temple, were pure.

Some commentators apply it to the church age, by broadening the scope of the words (spiritualizing), as for example from John Gill concerning “a pure offering”:

meaning either the Gentiles themselves, their souls and bodies,  Isa 66:20 or their sacrifices of praise, good works, and alms deeds  Heb 13:15 which, though imperfect, and not free from sin, may be said to be “pure”, proceeding from a pure heart, sprinkled by the blood of Christ, and offered in a pure and spiritual manner, and through the pure incense of Christ’s mediation.

However, the overall text describes a time when God’s “name will be great among the nations.”  Similar to the idea of Satan now being bound, to suggest that God’s name is now regarded as great among the nations is very wrongheaded, a view that rejects both the NT writers description of this age as well as observed reality.

Malachi was addressing the remnant returned from the Babylonian exile, a group that had already gone astray, thinking more about themselves than of God, as evidenced by their polluted offerings.  God addressed the people in Malachi, this last word from God before the NT age, with rebukes to the priests (Malachi 1:1-2:9) as well as to the people (Malachi 2:10-16).

Malachi 1:11-14 is telling the people of that time:  I am a great God.  The time is coming when the whole of the earth will be worshipping me.  They will bring pure offerings.  Your attitude now is entirely contrary to the future.

In the words of Dr. Ironside, commentary on Malachi 1:

But it is blessed to know that, whatever the present failure, God shall yet be fully glorified; so we read, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the nations; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering: for My name shall be great among the nations, saith the Lord of hosts” (ver. 11). It is hardly the present work of grace among the Gentiles that is here contemplated, but rather that wonderful era of blessing which is still in the future-the times of restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the ages began. Then shall Jehovah’s name be honored and His word obeyed throughout the whole earth, when all nations shall bask in the sunshine of His favor.

Zechariah 14 and God’s Divine Purpose

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished S. Lewis Johnson’s series through Zechariah.  Zechariah 14 is of course one of the great OT chapters with so much to say about the Second Coming and the Kingdom.  Dr. Johnson noted the problems of spiritualizing, and the importance of recognizing the difference between figures of speech used within a passage, and wholesale allegorizing or spiritualizing to alter the meaning to something else; Zechariah 14 is an especially difficult passage to spiritualize.

Here is a great quote from him, regarding the believers and the missionaries in Korea in the early 20th century  (from the later transcript, second series in Zechariah:

C. G. Trumbull who was at one time associated with the Sunday-School Times took a trip to Korea where a tremendous work of evangelization had taken place in the early part of this century.  In fact, there was a great revival there and Mr. Trumbull was interested in the way in which they had responded to the word of God concerning the second coming of Christ.  And so, he asked one of the Koreans whether the Korean Christians believed in the second coming of Christ.  And he received this answer, “Oh, yes, they believe the Bible.  It’s only when some missionaries come and tell them something different that they begin to have any doubts.”

When one reads the Bible and reads in its normal plain speaking then, I think, the answer usually is, we sense there’s going to be some great disturbances in the future, we see that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come, we see that he is going to fulfill the promises that he has made to the nation Israel, and we see he’s going to rule and reign upon the earth.  That seems to be the simple reading of the word of God.

Actually, I agree that Zechariah 14 is difficult to spiritualize, and yet of course the allegorizers persist in doing so, since the imagination can come up with so much — yet such treatment leaves the text with nothing of its original plain meaning, becoming instead the inspired version of the “exalted” human teacher who tells us what God really meant to say.

Here are some great recent articles regarding Zechariah 14, from Michael Vlach:

As I’m finding out through a study through Hebrews (also with S. Lewis Johnson),  that book also has many references to the Second Coming, including the Kingdom age.  The OT scriptures quoted in chapter 1 are filled with references to the Davidic covenant and Israel’s future.  Hebrews 2 quotes Psalm 8, a great psalm regarding man’s intended dominion over the earth:  something begun in Genesis 1, but we do not now see it; we will see it in the kingdom.  S. Lewis Johnson specifically noted that in Hebrews 2:5 (which introduces the citation of Psalm 8 ) the words “the world to come” do not refer to this age (the church), and do not refer to the Eternal State, but to the kingdom of God upon the earth.

As Michael Vlach also noted in the third blog article link above:

These conditions of Zechariah 14 can only occur in an intermediate kingdom between the present age and the eternal state. While people from all nations are being saved in the church age, the nations themselves do not obey our Lord (see Psalm 2). In fact, they persecute those who belong to the Lord. In the coming kingdom Jesus will rule the nations while He is physically present on earth. The nations will obey and submit to His rule, but as Zechariah 14 points out, whenever a nation does not act as they should there is punishment. On the other hand, in the eternal state there will be absolutely no disobedience on the part of the nations. The picture of the nations in the eternal state is only positive. The kings of the nations bring their contributions to the New Jerusalem (see Rev 21:24) and the leaves of the tree of life are said to be for the healing of the nations (see Rev 22:2).

Zechariah’s Prophetic Burdens

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m nearing the end of S. Lewis Johnson’s Zechariah series, and the following is an overview concerning the book’s outline and prophecies.

A basic outline of Zechariah includes:

  •     Chapters 1-6:  prophetic visions given to Zechariah during one night
  •     Chapters 7-8: answer to a question about fasting and related matters
  •     Chapters 9-14: two prophetic burdens, one in chapters 9-11, the other in chapters 12-14

Each of the burdens begins with the words “The burden of the word of the Lord.”  The first burden is “against the land of Hadrach” (Zechariah 9:1),  and the second burden “concerning Israel” (Zechariah 12:1).

The first burden’s theme includes the First Advent and the Jewish rejection of the Messiah.  It also stresses the judgment that would come on the Gentiles in Israel’s deliverance.  The second burden’s theme is the blessing that God will give them when they return to their Messiah.  It also stresses the deliverance amidst the judgments of the last days.

The First Burden:  Zechariah 9-11
Zechariah 9 begins with a prophecy about Alexander the Great (verses 1-8) followed by a contrast: Alexander the Great, versus God’s King, Christ the Lowly, in the familiar words of verse 9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The scene changes in verse 10, shifting from the First Coming to the Second.  The next passage, verses 10-17, includes a prophecy of peace (v. 10), a prophecy of liberation beginning in verse 11, and praise for the Messiah of Israel.  We see here God’s sovereignty: for all the attempts of man to bring peace, man’s attempts at disarmament contracts and treaties, that sought after peace will never happen until God brings it to pass.  The prophecy does have some reference to the more immediate Old Testament situation (Greece), but the language goes beyond it, describing worldwide dominion (verse 10:  from sea to sea … to the ends of the earth) and “in that day,” a prophetic term used frequently throughout the Old Testament, always in connection with events at the last judgment and Second Coming.

Chapter 10 showcases the Shepherd-King amidst the climax of occultism, in the Great Tribulation period of great satanic opposition. God is mighty to save the people who have wandered because of idolatry (Zech. 10:2), without a shepherd.  Verses 8 through 10 describe the regathering of the people of Israel, who had been scattered among the nations.

Chapter 11 begins with their rule by the Romans, until verse 4, which foretells their rejection of their Messiah.  The “three shepherds also I cut off in one month” in verse 8 possibly refers to the three offices, or three groups, of leaders in Israel:  kings, priests, and prophets.  Certainly that is what happened, at the rejection of Christ, and the destruction in A.D. 70:  no more prophets in Israel (or in the church), no more priests, and the king is in heaven, not on the Earth.

Zechariah, probably in ecstatic vision, acts out the scene of Christ coming to His people and being rejected and sold for 30 pieces of silver: the price of a slave that had been gored by an ox!

The national calamity is described in several verses of chapter 11, events fully described by Josephus in the historical records.  Such a horrific judgment:  the nations disavowed them (and sold them as slaves), their leaders disavow them; the Jews turned against each other. (Zechariah 11:5) The Lord Himself turned against them and did not pity them.

Zechariah 11:15 jumps ahead to the last days, describing the false shepherd: the antiChrist, also known as the man of sin, the son of perdition, the beast, the one who makes a covenant with the people but then turns against them in the middle of that seven-year period:

a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

Was Zechariah the Prophet Martyred?

August 4, 2011 2 comments

I’ve started S. Lewis Johnson’s Zechariah series, and for additional study recently read MacArthur’s notes (MacArthur Bible Commentary) introduction.  One rather surprising item was MacArthur’s note that this Zechariah was martyred, since Jesus mentions Zechariah the son of Berechiah in Matthew 23.  I also remember from S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, a brief mention of that passage and reference to the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24.  In considering the overall history pre- and post-exile, MacArthur’s note just seemed odd, in that it basically says that there were two men with the same name Zechariah, and both were martyred in the very same manner.

I also consider the overall time periods: the idolatrous pre-exile period of King Joash, as contrasted with the attitude of the remnant in the days of the chapters in Ezra’s book along with parallel material in Haggai.  Haggai’s prophecies in 520 B.C., a few months before the prophecy of Zechariah, were received favorably and achieved the desired result: the people resumed and completed building the second temple.  Zechariah’s prophecy followed up a few months later, in 519 B.C., a favorable prophecy to encourage the remnant concerning the future, that God is still concerned about Israel and still has a great future for them.  Nothing in Zechariah’s prophecy, or in any of the other post-exilic writings, indicates that the post-exile people were still idolatrous and murderous in the manner of the earlier time.  Instead, only a relatively small number of them had returned (about 50,000 at the time of Haggai and Zechariah), and they were very conscious of their past sins, and more prone to discouragement, to build their own homes first.  All of the people faced persecution and opposition during this time, from the surrounding non-Jewish people: not exactly the time when Jews would be turning on their own prophets who were giving them a favorable message — and besides, the temple was only then being rebuilt, so how could Zechariah the prophet be killed in such a structure?  Yes, Stephen in Acts 7 declares to his generation “which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” and yet the post-exile period seems to be one of the rare exceptions, of prophets who gave messages that the people did respond to.  Before and after this period, the people were more secure in their location, not a small remnant oppressed by outsiders, and thus more inclined and able to persecute and kill the prophets.

But what of Jesus’ remark in Matthew 23:35, concerning “the blood of Abel.. to Zechariah the son of Berechiah”?  Some debate exists as to the actual names in the original manuscripts, and it is common enough to find Old Testament characters given more than one name, or even for generations to be skipped, such that the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles could easily have been a grandson of Jehoida.  Nothing in Jesus’ statement itself proves that this had to be Zechariah the prophet.

The reference to the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles makes much more sense when we also realize that the Jewish scriptures are  arranged differently than our Old Testament (see this link for the actual sequence), and 2 Chronicles (the full book of Chronicles actually) is the last book in the Jewish collection.  Thus, a reference to “Abel … to Zechariah” covers everything from the first book to the last book of the Jewish Bible: from Genesis to Chronicles, NOT Genesis to Malachi.

S. Lewis Johnson explained it thus, in his Matthew series:

Now let me say just a word about verse 35.  You’ll notice that our Lord looks back over the whole of the Old Testament, and beginning with Abel, the first of those murdered in the Bible, then on to Zacharias son of Barachias, slain between the temple and the altar (the account of which is given us in 2nd Chronicles).  And do you remember perhaps that in the Hebrew Old Testament the last book of the Bible is 2nd Chronicles?   For them the order of books is different from the order in our English text, so that what our Lord has done is to begin in the first of the murders in the book of Genesis and has ranged through the whole of the Scriptures, as he knew them, to the last of those that were murdered unrighteously, Zacharias son of Barachias, and has in a sense characterized the whole of the divine revelation up to that point as being a situation in which the righteous men were crucified by the religious men.  It’s a remarkable statement, a remarkable summary of the attitude of religious men, hypocritical men to the reality of the truth of the word of God.  We can then understand very easily how he should say, “Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”

By contrast, MacArthur’s sermon explanation (also in a Matthew series) doesn’t even mention these points, and just assumes it must be Zechariah the prophet, and that Jesus’s statement affirms that the people were always killing their prophets down to the more recent time period.

From a sampling of other commentaries I checked, John Gill’s is the most thorough on this overall question, and he notes several things including the problem of the historical time period, and agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s view above.  An excerpt from John Gill here:

Others have been of opinion, that Zechariah the prophet is designed; and indeed, he is said to be the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, Zec 1:1 and the Jewish Targumist speaks of a Zechariah, the son of Iddo, as slain by the Jews in the temple. His words are these {a};

“as ye slew Zechariah, the son of Iddo, the high priest, and faithful prophet, in the house of the sanctuary of the Lord, on the day of atonement; because he reproved you, that ye might not do that evil which is before the Lord.”

And him the Jews make to be the same with Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, in Isa 8:2 and read Berechiah {b}: but the Targumist seems to confound Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, with him; for the prophet Zechariah was not an high priest, Joshua was high priest in his time; nor does it appear from any writings, that he was killed by the Jews; nor is it probable that they would be guilty of such a crime, just upon their return from captivity; and besides, he could not be slain in such a place, because the temple, and altar, were not yet built: it remains, that it must be Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, who was slain in the court of the house of the Lord,  2Ch 24:20 who, as Abel was the first, he is the last of the righteous men whose death is related in the Scriptures, and for whose blood vengeance was required, as for Abel’s. He was slain in the court of the house of the Lord; and so the Ethiopic version here renders it, in the midst of the holy house.
. . .
The chief objections to its being this Zechariah are, that the names do agree; the one being the son of Jehoiada, the other the son of Barachias; and the killing of him was eight hundred years before this time; when it might have been thought our Lord would have instanced in a later action: and this he speaks of, he ascribes to the men of that generation: to which may be replied, that as to the difference of names, the father of this Zechariah might have two names, which is no unusual thing; besides, these two names signify much the same thing; Jehoiada signifies praise the Lord, and Barachias bless the Lord; just as Eliakim and Jehoiakim, are names of the same person, and signify the same thing,  2Ch 36:4. Moreover, Jerom tells us, that in the Hebrew copy of this Gospel used by the Nazarenes, he found the name Jehoiada instead of Barachias: and as to the action being done so long ago, what has been suggested already may be an answer to it, that it was the last on record in the writings of the Old Testament; and that his blood, as Abel’s, is said to require vengeance: and Christ might the rather pitch upon this action, because it was committed on a very great and worthy man, and in the holy place, and by the body of the people, at the command of their king, and with their full approbation, and consent: and therefore, though this was not done by the individual persons in being in Christ’s time, yet by the same people; and so they are said to slay him, and his blood is required of them: and their horrible destruction was a punishment for that load of national guilt, which had been for many hundreds of years contracting, and heaping upon them.

Haggai’s Prophecy: First or Second Coming?

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

From my studies through the minor prophets with S. Lewis Johnson, some interesting points  from Haggai 2:1-7.  This prophecy contains a familiar passage, since verse 6 is cited in Hebrews 12:26-27:

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken-that is, things that have been made-in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

Haggai 2:7 contains a well-known phrase — or rather, the incorrect King James translation of it:  “the desire of all nations.”  This mistake in the grammar, a singular noun instead of plural, goes back to the Latin Vulgate, and from that translation (in the KJV as well as the NIV) has come the common misunderstanding that this passage is talking about the First Coming of Christ.  Indeed I always understood it as such, that “the desire of all nations” and the promise that this temple would be greater than the previous (Solomon’s), referred to Christ coming to that temple a few hundred years later.  The traditional emphasis at Christian churches no doubt reinforced that, with the emphasis that everything in the Old Testament refers to Christ and the New Testament era.  Along with this, many see the citation of the passage in Hebrews, and (as with so many other NT citings of the OT) distort the plain words to conclude that the very fact of the citation means that the quoted passage must have been fulfilled in the first century, Christ’s First Coming.

First, though, the original Greek, properly translated in all modern translations (excepting the NIV) — NASB, ESV, HCSB, NLT, etc. — has a plural noun.  The ESV translates the passage as:

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.

Thus, this prophecy in Haggai is actually an indirect Messianic prophecy, to Christ’s Second Coming.  Another Old Testament passage that relates to this one, is Isaiah 60 , a great chapter concerning the restoration of Israel. Consider especially verses 5-7, a clear parallel to the idea here that the nations will bring their treasures to Israel and the millennial temple:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.

Habakkuk the Minor Prophet: How to Solve Our Problems

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s four-part series through the minor prophet Habakkuk, I offer the following overview of the book Habakkuk and its major themes.

This three chapter book teaches two great ideas:  individual salvation (the just shall live by faith, Habakkuk 2:4), and the problem of history — God’s dealings with His chosen people and His dealings with the non-elect.

Habakkuk chapters 1 and 2 records a colloquy, a conversation between God and Habakkuk, and chapter 3 gives a theophany.  Or, Habakkuk contains a dialogue in the first two chapters, and a song of God’s intervention in history in the third chapter.

Habakkuk can also be called the great book of faith:

  • Habakkuk 1:  Faith is Tested
  • Habakkuk 2:  Faith is Taught
  • Habakkuk 3:  Faith Becomes Triumphant

Habakkuk’s problem is expressed in simple terms of “how long?” and “why?”  It is the age old question, often asked by Job and the psalmists:  why do the evil prosper, why is the law ignored, and why does wickedness rule?  God’s ways are often mysterious, and His inaction puzzles us.  His instruments are unusual; in Habakkuk’s case He uses the wicked Chaldeans to accomplish His purposes. Yet we observe Habakkuk’s manner, that he gets away from everyone and everything else, and spends time with the Lord.  We take our problems to God (not to others).

From Habakkuk 2:1 we can learn how to solve problems

    1. Put away panic.  Don’t start talking and get upset.
    2. Reflect upon the basic principles, the fundamentals.
    3. You are the eternal God, the Lord Jehovah, the Creator of All, the Holy God, and my God, the covenant keeping God.

    4. Put to use the principles that we learn.
    5. Reference James 1:22 — prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers.

    6. Leave it in the hands of the Lord, and expect an answer.

    The ultimate example from scripture is our Lord’s prayer to His father, in the garden of Gethsemane.  Also, the answer may be yes, no, or even wait.  Sometimes we don’t receive the answer to our prayer in this lifetime.

    Other relevant scripture:  Philippians 4:6-7 expresses this attitude of prayer and dependency on God.

    The Old Testament shows examples of the wrong and right ways of dealing with our problems: Jacob meeting Esau is an example of the wrong way, and Daniel 6 (Daniel in the Lions Den) the right way.

The Prophet Micah’s Lament: Hermits Can Never Please the Lord

July 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Continuing in the study through Micah with S. Lewis Johnson, the beginning of Micah 7 contains a lament:  verses 1 through 6.

About 1/3 of the Psalms are laments, as also shown in the Psalms chart in the MacArthur Bible Commentary, which lists 49 Psalms in this category.

From the text in Micah, we can learn the following.  A lament has two purposes:

  1. It functions as a prayer: the one who writes the lament unfolds his own heart’s burden in his role as a mediator.
  2. It makes plain the divine view of their corruption, of what God thinks about the condition of the land — which     was not at all good towards this apostate nation.

Micah 7:2 tells us that “​​The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind.”  In this terrible society, honest and upright men don’t exist: men who meet the requirements of the things that the Lord required (reference Micah 6:6-8).  Another observation to make here, is that hermits can never please the Lord, hermits can never do the will of God.  In S. Lewis Johnson’s words:

By the way, this lets us know that hermits never can do the will of God.  Isolation never would produce moral and social concern in fruit.  So the hermit is a kind of picture of a spiritual man that the Bible condemns.  The Bible expects a spiritual man not to be a man of isolation, but a man of biblical separation.  That is a holy man in the midst of unholy people doing the will of God, such as our Lord.  Hermits, therefore, are individuals who cannot, by virtue of their very manner of life, cannot please the Lord.

Verse 6 is a passage that became popular among Jews in the apocalyptic literature during the inter-testamental time.  Jesus also quotes this verse, in Matthew 10:35-36

(Micah 7:6)  ​​​​​​​​for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

This description of families will be true in the Tribulation era, the main focus of this passage.  Yet it has application to some past time periods as well, of people living in particularly harsh situations:  for instance the Communist Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Germany, societies where people could not openly speak their beliefs even in their own home, with their own family.  I think of a scene from an old movie, The Counterfeit Traitor, that portrays such at least politically: a father living in Nazi Germany is having secret meetings with William Holden’s character (an Ally spy pretending to be a Nazi), but the young son is committed to the Nazi cause and stirs up trouble.  To a certain extent even believers married to unbelievers, or married to professed believers who nonetheless oppose certain truths set forth in scripture, experience this too, and often to keep peace in the house must follow the words of Micah 7:5, “guard the doors of your mouth from her (or him) who lies in your arms.”

In verse 7 the tone changes, from pessimism to optimism, as Micah affirms his hope, that he looks to the Lord, the God of his salvation, the God who will hear him.  Micah’s response is how we all should end our laments, in looking to our God, in eagerly awaiting His coming and His Messianic Kingdom.