The Bible from 6,000 Feet, part 5

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The Book of Zephaniah

 

Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah (the one who was in the running for the best King) of the Southern Kingdom. The blatant theme of Zephaniah is the coming universal JUDGMENT known as the “Day of the Lord.” The phrase the Day of the Lord, or “that day” is used several times throughout the prophets, but it is used an unusually large amount of times in Zephaniah, especially for such a relatively short book. The summary found in 1:14-18 says it all. “The great day of the Lord is near-near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble (tribulation) and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities, and against the corner towers. I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.” The day of the Lord is a phrase that speaks generically of God’s impending judgment at any given time, but most of the time, it is used in reference to the period of time classically known as the Tribulation period, the Seventieth week of Daniel, or the time of Jacob’s trouble. It is the period of time that covers that last seven years of human history leading up to Jesus’ Second Coming. This is the time period that is amplified in detail in Revelation 4-19.

 

The Book of Nahum

 

Nahum in many ways is the sequel to the book of Jonah because it covers the destruction of Nineveh, the very city that repented nearly a century earlier under the ministry of Jonah. The message of Nahum is VENGEANCE. An example of this comes in Nahum 1:2-3 “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on His foes and maintains His wrath against His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of His feet.” The very reason that Jonah was reluctant to go to Nineveh was because he knew that God had prophesied that Assyria would be the nation that would take the Northern Kingdom into captivity. He didn’t want God to give them an opportunity to repent. He wanted Israel’s problem dealt with. Nahum is now prophesying after the Northern Kingdom has already been taken into captivity by Assyria, and the Southern Kingdom has been delivered through God’s mighty hand in response to King Hezekiah’s prayer. Just as Assyria was God’s tool to deal with the sins of the Northern Kingdom, now King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will be His tool to deal with the sins of Assyria.

The Book of Habakkuk

 

Habakkuk is a book about the struggle of FAITH. One of the most famous phrases in all of the Bible comes from Habakkuk 2:4 “The just (righteous) shall live by faith.” This verse is quoted in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. Some have suggested that these three New Testament books form a trilogy based off Habakkuk 2:4: 1) Romans = the just, 2) Galatians = shall live, and 3) Hebrews = by faith.

 

Whether that theory is correct or not, Habakkuk 2:4 is famous for another reason. There lived a Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther. This monk was severely troubled by his sins and couldn’t bring himself to believe that God could forgive him. He disciplined himself severely with fasting, wearing irritating clothes, and self-flagellation. Finally, one of his superiors sent him to attain his doctorate and be a professor. He was also instructed to read the book of Habakkuk (some versions of the story said he read Romans), and Luther came upon the phrase “the just shall live by faith,” and suddenly everything clicked for him. He not only was able to receive God’s forgiveness, but he stumbled upon the biblical teaching that salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works or by keeping the law of Moses. He sent letters to the pope and received no satisfactory reply to his attempts to reform the church from within, so he nailed his 95 theses based of the teaching of salvation by grace through faith to the church door, and the Reformation had begun. Those of us who call ourselves Protestant or believe in the biblical teaching of salvation by grace through faith owe much to Martin Luther, and to Habbakuk and Paul before him.

 

In the context of Habakkuk, this phrase comes in the midst of a conversation between God and Habakkuk concerning God’s revelation to Habakkuk that He would use King Nebuchadnezzar and the nation of Babylon, who was deemed by Habakkuk to be a wicked nation, to bring His judgment on the Southern Kingdom of Judah. God’s reply to Habakkuk was that His word would come to pass quickly, and that Babylon would be His vessel to bring judgment, but soon Babylon’s sins would be dealt with as well.

 

Habakkuk is a great book for those of us who even in the midst of a ministry of proclaiming God’s will and plan do not fully understand God’s motives or reasoning behind His actions.

1 & 2 Kings

Part 3

 

Sadly, the books of 1 & 2 Kings tell us of the fall of both the Northern and the Southern Kingdom. The Assyrians took the Northern Kingdom into exile in 722 B.C. The Assyrian policy was to intermingle the people groups to keep the possibility of a revolt to a minimum. As a result, even after the exiles of the Northern kingdom returned, there were many children who were a result of intermixing, and were not genetically true Israelites. They became known as Samaritans because Samaria was the capital of the Northern kingdom. This is why Samaritans are hated in the New Testament.

 

Assyria also threatened to wipe out the Southern Kingdom at the same time, but King Hezekiah read the scroll of the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s blasphemous words in defiance of Yahweh to the Lord and placed the battle in His hands. (2 Kings 18-19) Because of Hezekiah’s prayer, God sent an angel that night that slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. Yet Manasseh, the worst king in the history of the Southern Kingdom, followed Hezekiah. Even all of Josiah’s reforms afterwards could not turn away God’s judgment. It was only a matter of time before the Southern Kingdom was taken into captivity by Babylon.

 

The Babylonians took the Southern Kingdom into exile in three stages. Daniel was taken captive in the first stage, which took place in 605 B.C. Ezekiel had been taken captive in the second stage in 597 B.C. Jeremiah remained in the Southern kingdom to see the bitter end and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C. During the reign of Belshazzar, who was a vassal king while the real king of Babylon was away, the Persians captured the city of Babylon without a battle. History tells us that it took some of the citizens days to realize that the city was under foreign control. The story is told in Daniel 5. Legend has it that Daniel, who had been second in command of Babylon, met Cyrus, the king of Persia and showed him a copy of Isaiah 45, in which God, several centuries earlier, had called Cyrus by name and told him that he was His chosen vessel to bring the Jewish captives back to their native land of Israel. Cyrus was so impressed that he allowed the Israelites to return back to their land, and even gave them financial incentives to do so.

Prophets During the Time of Exile

 

The Book of Daniel

 

The book of Daniel could be rightly called the “backbone” of prophecy. If you desire to understand biblical prophecy, it is mandatory that you understand the prophecies contained in the book of Daniel because they give the master outline that gets filled in by all of the other prophets, and particularly the book of Revelation. Yet interestingly enough, the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) does not place Daniel in the section of the prophets, but in the section called the writings. Why would they have done that? I believe one reason is that his profession was more aptly described as prime minister rather than prophet. Yet Daniel is treated to several visions, interpretations of dreams, and visits from angelic figures in which he is given several glimpses into a period of time called by Jesus “the times of the GENTILES. While other prophets pronounce judgment on other nations, and Jonah was actually called to preach that judgment to other nations, Daniel  was given prophecies “about” the nations that for the first time in the Bible aren’t given through the lens of Israel.

 

We are told in Daniel 1:3-5 that when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem for the first time in 605 B.C. “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility-young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.” Amongst these were Daniel and his three friends, who are better known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

 

These four are a great example of what it means to live a godly life in the midst of a completely pagan environment. Without the temple or the word of God easily accessible, they show the law of God written on their hearts. We are told in Daniel 1:8 “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” After showing themselves to have wisdom and integrity, they entered the king’s service. They were found ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in the kingdom.

One night, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that alarmed him. He saw a giant image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. This image in the dream turned out to be a prophecy of the world kingdoms that would reign until the Second Coming of Jesus. The head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar, or Babylon (2:37-38). We are told the names of the other kingdoms in Daniel’s other visions. In chapter 7, Daniel has a vision of four beasts: 1) lion with the wings of an eagle (Babylon), 2) bear (Persia), 3) a leopard with four heads and wings like a bird (Greece), and 4) an unidentifiable beast with large iron teeth and ten horns (Rome). In chapter 8, Daniel has a vision of a Ram and a Goat. He is told by the angel Gabriel that the two horned ram was the Medo-Persian empire (8:20), and the shaggy goat is the empire of Greece (8:21). The fourth kingdom is not named, but its identity becomes clear as history unfolds. It was the Romans. The Roman Empire will one day become a confederation of ten kings who will be ruled by the Antichrist. In the days of the reign of Antichrist, the “stone cut without hands” (Jesus) will break the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream into pieces and will set up His kingdom, which will never end.

 

In Daniel 9, Daniel is reading Jeremiah 25 and discovers that the 70 years of captivity are almost up, so he begins praying for God to fulfill His promises and remember His people Israel. Daniel’s prayer is interrupted by the angel Gabriel, and he is given the most fundamental and amazing prophecy in the entire Bible. To give an overview, it prophecies: 1) the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt in times of trouble, 2) the Messiah would present Himself as king to Jerusalem 173,880 days from the decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, 3) Messiah would be executed for a capital crime, but not on his own behalf, 4) Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed by the people that the Antichrist will eventually come from (Romans), 5) The Antichrist will confirm a covenant with Israel for 7 years, 6) In the middle of the seven year covenant, the Antichrist will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings and will cause the “abomination of desolation,” and 7) the Antichrist has a determined time in which his end will come.

Key Insight

Looking back in history, we realize that the people who would destroy the city of Jerusalem and the temple would be the Romans in 70 A.D. under the leadership of Titus Vespasian. Jesus made a prophecy that “not one stone would be left upon another” in the temple because Israel “did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44) Jesus held the Israelites accountable to know Daniel’s 70 week prophecy that prophesied the very day that He would present Himself as the Messiah of Israel. We are told that a fire broke out in the temple during Titus’ siege of Jerusalem, and because he wanted the gold, he commanded his soldiers to take the temple apart brick by brick and scrape the gold off. So the prophecy was fulfilled literally that not one stone would be left upon another.

The Book of Obadiah

 

Obadiah is a short one chapter book that prophecies the coming destruction on Edom. Edom was a nation named after Jacob’s older brother Esau (Edom). When Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, Edom stood by and mocked them. The book of Obadiah is about REAPING what you have sown, as God says in verses 10-15 “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble. ‘The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.’”

 

The Book of Ezekiel

Ezekiel comes from the family of the priests in Israel. Because of this, he is very concerned with the prophetic events as they relate to the temple. He was taken into captivity by Babylon during the second siege of Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. Ezekiel’s message to the Israelites in captivity is that God is going to carry out his full judgment. The Israelites in captivity were still expecting that they were going to go soon. They didn’t think that God was serious about carrying out his punishment of 70 years spoken through Jeremiah. Ezekiel’s message to them was that not only was God going to carry out the full punishment, but Jerusalem and the temple were going to be left in ruins. Even so, Ezekiel speaks a great deal about the eventual RESTORATION of the nation of Israel that will take place in the last days. It is Ezekiel who first tells us about the “New Covenant” that God will establish with His people in the last days. This is where we get the title of our “New Testament” (covenant). It is important to realize that God’s faithfulness to the nation of Israel to bring them back into the land and love and cherish them as His people is not because they deserve it. God has never done anything for the Israelites because they deserved it, or because they were the most numerous or successful nation. God is faithful to Israel because He made covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, and in those promises, He proclaimed that He would place Israel in the land and David would always have a successor on his throne. Jesus will ultimately be the final successor to David’s throne, and of the increase of His government there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7) Ultimately, God’s name and reputation is on the line, and that is why He will be faithful to the nation of Israel. (Ezekiel 36)

The Book of Jeremiah

 

Jeremiah was called into the ministry when he was a young boy. (Jeremiah 1:4-10) He was told by God “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah is known as the WEEPING prophet because his words are never responded to favorably. The false prophets always shouted louder than he did, and the evil kings of the Southern Kingdom wanted to believe that God was going to always protect the Southern Kingdom regardless of her idolatry and wickedness because He had made promises concerning the land and David’s throne. At certain points in his ministry, Jeremiah wanted to give up. In his words “O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in His name,” His word is in my heart is like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:7-9)

 

While Daniel and Ezekiel were taken into captivity by Babylon, Jeremiah was left in Israel during the reigns of the last few kings. After Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of the Southern Kingdom, he placed vassal kings on the throne. These vassal kings rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar because they listened to the false prophets rather than to Jeremiah, and finally Nebuchadnezzar got sick and tired of dealing with their rebellion, and completely leveled and devastated the city of Jerusalem. He had King Zedekiah of the Southern Kingdom’s eyes put out shortly after witnessing the death of his sons.

 

It was Jeremiah who was given the prophecy that the Southern Kingdom will be in captivity for 70 years. (Jeremiah 25:11) It is this prophecy that Daniel was reading, and when he realized that the 70 years were almost up, he began confessing the sins of his people and asking God to fulfill his word. In response, God gave him the prophecy of the 70 weeks. (Daniel 9:24-27) We will cover this prophecy in detail when we get to the book of Revelation.

 

The Book of Lamentations

 

The book of Lamentations is the sequel to the book of Jeremiah and was authored by the same. It is written in the style of a funeral dirge, and expresses Jeremiah’s MOURNING over the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet the great Christian hymn “Great is Thy faithfulness” is based off of Lam 3:19-24 “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’”

The Return from Exile

 

The Books of Ezra-Nehemiah

At the decree of Cyrus, the Persian king, the exiles were allowed to return to the land of Israel. (Ezra 1:2-4) The book of Ezra tells of the return of the Israelites back to the land of Israel and the rebuilding of the temple. Haggai and Zechariah prophesied during this time.  The book of Nehemiah tells of the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the walls of the city. Joel and Malachi prophesied around this time. The key message of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is the REBUILDING of the nation of Israel. Even though the Israelites were allowed to return to the land, they would not be a sovereign nation as they were before the exile. From this time forward, they would always have some other nation looking over their nose at them. At the time of Cyrus’ decree, that nation was the Medo-Persian empire. Later it would be Greece, and then Rome.

 

The Book of Esther

The book of Esther tells the story of those Jews that remained in Persia and did not return to Israel. It is a story all about God’s PROTECTION of His people. During the reign of Xerxes (Ahasuerus) in Persia, a young Jewish girl named Esther became queen. We are also introduced to Mordecai. Esther was Mordecai’s cousin, but he had raised her as his own daughter. We are also introduced to the villain of our story, who’s name is Haman. Whenever this story is read in a Jewish setting, the audience is supposed to hiss everytime Haman’s name is said. Haman desires to ascend the ranks of the Persian governmental structure, and he despises Mordecai and the Jewish people. In the spirit of Pharaoh in Egypt and Hitler in Nazi Germany, Haman devises a plot to exterminate the Jewish people in Persia and tricks the king into signing a decree stating the day in which the Jewish people were to be hanged on the gallows. After the king discovers that Esther is Jewish, along with her cousin Mordecai, who had previously saved the king’s life, he desires to prevent them from being killed, but cannot change the laws due to the laws of the Medes and the Persians which made laws unchangeable. Instead, he allowed for a separate law to be created which allowed the Jewish people to defend themselves on the scheduled day of their execution by any means necessary. The story ends in irony as Mordecai and Esther are honored and the Jewish people delivered while Haman is hung on the gallows that he had built. This event is celebrated every year by the Jews in the feast of Purim.

 

Esther is also a book about discerning God’s purpose for your life, as well as standing up for what you believe in. When Esther first discovered Haman’s plan, she didn’t know what to do. It was at this point that she was challenged by Mordecai to take a risk and present herself to the king without being invited, something that could have had her put to death. Mordecai’s words ring true even today, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Key Insight

Due to the fact that God is never mentioned once in the book of Esther, some, such as Martin Luther, have suggested that it be removed from the canon of Scripture. However, the book of Esther is a powerful testimony of God working behind the scenes, and especially in a moment in which He feels the furthest away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Books of 1 & 2 Chronicles

            The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are best known for their endless genealogies. Many of us have probably never read through the first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles. Why are these genealogies in the Bible? and why do these books repeat the same stories that we have already heard earlier? Even though the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles cover the same history that is presented in the books of 1 Samuel-2 Kings, they weren’t written until after the exile, and were probably written by Ezra the priest. The purpose of this retelling of the history of the United and Divided Kingdom is to provide CONTINUITY to this new generation of Israelites that have come back to the land of Israel. All they had known was their life in exile in the Babylonian and Persian empires. Even though it covers the same period of history as 1 Samuel – 2 Kings, there are some differences. The first is that it tells only the history of the Southern Kingdom because they were the ones that returned from the exile without having intermingled with the surrounding nations and remained faithful to Biblical worship of Yahweh. The second difference is that the reigns of David and Solomon are idealized. You might notice that the episode of David and Bathsheeba is edited out of this version of history. The third difference is that this version of the story was written from the perspective of the priesthood, and focuses on the Ark of the Covenant and the temple.

 

Post-Exile Prophets

 

The Book of Haggai

            It comes as a surprise that there is a book of Haggai to many Christians. Even when you flip through the pages of your Bible when trying to find the passage on Sunday morning, it is still possible that you have never seen the book of Haggai because it is so short. I can recall a sermon that my previous pastor preached on Haggai and he suggested that when we get to heaven, we want to be prepared just in case the writers of the books of the Bible are lined up waiting for us and will ask us, “Did you read my book?”

Haggai delivered the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the High Priest when the exiles returned to the land of Israel. His message was almost solely concerned with the rebuilding of the TEMPLE. He challenged the Israelites because they were rebuilding their own houses before they rebuilt God’s house. (Haggai 1:2-3) He encourages the people by telling them that the glory of this temple will overshadow that of the former (Haggai 2:9) and “in a little while I will once shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory.” (Haggai 2:6-7) This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus entered the temple during His ministry, and especially when He cleansed it. To Zerubbabel and Joshua the message of God’s presence and blessing comes.

 

 

The Book of Zechariah

            Zechariah prophesied during the period of the ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah and of the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile.  His message is a contrast of SHEPHERDS. The ultimate shepherd of course is God. Zechariah 9:16 says, “The Lord their God will save His people on that day as a shepherd saves His flock. They will sparkle in His land like jewels in a crown.”

 

The second group of shepherds are the leaders of Israel who are leading the fold astray.

 

“The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for His flock, the house of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle.” (Zechariah 10:2-3) “This is what the Lord my God says: “Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter. Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, “Praise the Lord, I am rich!” Their own shepherds do not spare them.” (Zechariah 11:4-5)

In the midst of God’s condemnation of the false shepherds, we have one of the most remarkable prohecies of the Messiah, the third shepherd.

 

“So I shepherded the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock. In one month I got rid of the three shepherds. The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them, and said, ‘I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.’ Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord. I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’ So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter”-the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.’” (Zechariah 11:7-13)

 

This seems to be a prophecy of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. After Judas regretted his actions, he tried to give the 30 pieces of silver he had received for betraying Jesus back to the priests, but they wouldn’t receive it. He then threw the money on the temple floor (the house of the Lord) and the priests ended up buying a field with it because they could only use blood money for purchases they saw forthcoming. They had to bury certain individuals, so they ended up buying a field. The field was owned by “a potter.”

 

The passage in Zechariah 11:14-17 continues to tell us about the fourth shepherd, better known by the title of Antichrist. He is the ultimate false shepherd who is to come.

 

“Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel. Then the Lord said to me, “Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hooves. “Woe to the worthless (idol) shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!”

 

This may be an actual physical description of the Antichrist who is to come.

The Book of Joel

 

The book of Joel outlines the events surrounding the “Day of the Lord.”  Scholars disagree about when Joel actually prophesied because there is so little detail within the text that could be used to date the book, and Joel is not mentioned any other time in Scripture. However, the evidence seems to point toward some point after the exile. This is mostly an argument from what is not talked about. The things that aren’t mentioned are: 1) Assyrian or Babylonian kingdoms, 2) addressed to the “elders” and not the king, 3) opposition from pagan cults, and 4) the Northern kingdom. We also know that the temple was operating normally. Another interesting clue is that Joel seems to quote several of the other prophets. Compare these verses in Joel with their counterparts and come to your own conclusions:

 

Joel 1:15 – Isaiah 13:6

Joel 2:3 – Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 36:35

Joel 2:10 – Isaiah 13:10

Joel 3:10 – Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3

Joel 3:16 – Amos 1:2; Isaiah 13:13

Joel 3:17 – Ezekiel 36:11; Is 52:1

Joel 3:18 – Amos 9:13

 

All of this seems to point to the period of time directly following the time of Ezra and Nehemiah after the return from the Babylonian exile. However, some scholars believe that Joel was a contemporary of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos. They point to the fact that it was placed next to these books in the Bible and the fact that most of the similar quotes listed above come from Isaiah, Micah and Amos and Ezekiel could have quoted Joel. Examine the data and come to your own conclusions. For our purposes, I have placed it after the exile. Wherever you place the book, the message is still the same and still sobering.

 

The message through Joel in all of these warnings is one of REPENTANCE. He instructs the Israelites to “wake up” (Joel 1:5), “mourn like a virgin in sackcloth” (Joel 1:8), “despair and grieve” (Joel 1:11), “wail” (Joel 1:13), “declare a holy fast” (Joel 1:14), “cry out to the Lord.” (Joel 1:14) One of the best passages concerning repentance in the Bible is found in Joel 2:13-14:

 

“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing – grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.”

However, the book of Joel is perhaps best known because the main text of Peter’s sermon at the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost, in which one of the greatest times of repentance came, was Joel 2:28-32: “And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Yours sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The last part of this verse is also quoted in Romans 10:13 as Paul is driving home the importance of sharing the gospel. What a wonderful thing to ponder that the Holy Spirit and salvation are available for the asking. The God of the universe can indwell you and me and empower us to live a godly and pure life of power and ultimate fulfillment that is only to be found in serving Him. Praise God!

 

The Book of Malachi

 

            Some have jokingly labeled the last prophetic mouthpiece of the Old Testament as “the Italian prophet” because in English Malachi looks like an Italian name. However, this final book of the Old Testament is all about giving the Lord the HONOR due His Holy name.  It appears that it didn’t take the Israelites long after returning from the exile to go back to their old habits, and God has to call them out on the carpet yet one more time. God answers a series of questions that the Israelites were asking to justify their actions that get to the heart of “why we do what we do” when it comes to our religious service to God. To give you a flavor of this, Malachi 1:6 says, “A son honors his father, and slaves honor their master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me? It is you priests who show contempt for My name. But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for Your name?” If the Israelites didn’t shape up, God announces, “My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because My name will be great among the nations.” (Malachi 1:11) For those who do give honor to His name, a wonderful promise is given: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name. On the day when I act, they will be My treasured possession. I will spare them.” (Malachi 3:16-17) Did you know that the words that you say in praise and honor to God are written down by Him in a book that He treasures?

It is fitting that Malachi ends the Old Testament because it also speaks of a messenger that will precede “God’s coming.” In Malachi 3:1, God says, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, Whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty.” The final words of the Old Testament, and the last words that Israel will hear for 400 years are these: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5) This sets the stage beautifully for one who will stand on the banks of the Jordan, who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), who is preparing the way for the Lord and preaching a baptism of repentance. (Matthew 3:1-12) The ultimate fulfillment will come when Elijah will come in person as one of the two witnesses who will come to preach to the nation of Israel during the 70th week of Daniel to prepare them for the Second Coming of Jesus. (Revelation 11:1-12)