|Topical Bible Study||June 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part VI
Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
IN CONTINUING our brief examination of the books comprising the Holy Scriptures, this article will examine those written by the last seven of what are known as the Minor Prophets. There are twelve Minor Prophets and in Part 5 we considered the books of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah. This study begins with the Book of Micah.
Micah served as a prophet of the Lord during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, all of whom were kings of Judah. This places his writings prior to Judah’s captivity in Babylon, for there were no kings, either of Judah or of Israel, subsequent to this captivity. In common with the other prophets, Micah warned the Jewish nation of its sin, and like the other prophets who served prior to their captivity in Babylon, prophesied that this calamity would come upon the nation. Concerning this the Lord, through the prophet, said, “I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah.”—Mic. 2:12
While all the Old Testament prophets served God in warning his people Israel concerning their sins, admonishing them to obedience, and foretelling the punishments which would come upon them because of their iniquity, more important to us is their united testimony concerning the larger purpose of God, which was to be carried out through the coming Messiah whom the Lord had promised. In this connection it was Micah who, in promising the coming of the Messiah, identified the exact city in Judah in which he would be born. Micah says, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”—ch. 5:2
This Messiah is referred to in chapter four, verse eight, where we read, “Thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion.” The ‘first dominion’ here referred to is the one that was given to Adam and Eve when the Lord said to them that they were to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth.—Gen. 1:28
That dominion was lost as a result of sin, and the purpose of the Messiah’s coming to earth was to restore it. To do this, he first purchased it by his death, and then, at the conclusion of his thousand-year reign, will give it back to those who then shall have proved worthy to receive it. It is this that is referred to in the statement, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”—Matt. 25:34
Micah and the other prophets point out in their writings that the great work of restoring the sin-cursed and dying race to life and to fellowship with the Creator is made possible by virtue of the sacrificial work of the Redeemer, and will be accomplished by means of the agencies of his kingdom. In chapter 4:1-4 of his book, Micah gives a graphic promise of the setting up of Messiah’s kingdom (likened to a “mountain”) in the earth, and in beautiful, symbolic language describes many of the blessings which it will assure to the people. The end of war, and educational program in the arts and advantages of peace, and economic security, are particularly mentioned. The latter is poetically described as every man sitting under his vine and fig tree. We quote this beautiful promise:
“In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the Law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.”
The prophecy of Nahum is one of doom against the ancient city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Nahum describes his prophecy as “the burden of Nineveh.” (Nah. 1:1) This ancient city was founded by Nimrod, a notoriously wicked character who lived during the age of the ancient patriarchs. Because of his idolatry and unrighteousness he is an apt symbol of that which is opposed to God. The city which he founded continued in his wicked course of idolatry. In the providence of the Lord, like Sodom and Gomorrah and other wicked cities of the past, Nineveh was finally destroyed, never to rise again.
Nahum’s prophecy of the destruction of Nineveh is designed by the Lord to have a larger application, that is, to the destruction of the entire empire of Satan whom Nimrod quite aptly symbolizes. Nahum 1:5-9, seems too comprehensive to be applied merely to one heathen city.
The statement in verse nine that “affliction shall not rise up the second time” seems much like the Apostle Paul’s promise that Christ shall reign until he has put all enemies under his feet, and that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. (I Cor. 15:25,26) Great have been the afflictions of the human race during the reign of sin and death; but Satan’s great citadel of sin, foreshadowed by Nineveh, is to be destroyed, never to rise again.
Verses three and four of the second chapter of Nahum’s prophecy are believed by many to refer to trains, automobiles, and other means of rapid travel that would make their appearance in this end of the age—in the ‘day’ of God’s ‘preparation.’ We quote, “The chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken. The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall justle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings.”
The prophecy of Habakkuk is thought to have been written about 630 or 629 BC. The first chapter foreshadows the invasion of Judea by the Chaldeans, and in the second chapter is prophesied the doom of the Chaldeans. This, at least, is the subject matter of the two chapters as it appears from a surface reading, and doubtless this is what the prophet had in mind when writing this message.
The Apostle Peter explains in the New Testament that these prophets wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and knew not the full significance of the subject matter with which they dealt. In addition to forecasting an invasion of the land by the Chaldeans—“That bitter and hasty nation”—in the first chapter, (vs. 6) the prophet also earnestly seeks an explanation from the Lord concerning the permission of evil, and why the righteous have to suffer at the hands of the unrighteous. In this connection Habakkuk speaks to the Lord saying:
“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?”—Hab. 1:13
Similar questions to this comprise the remainder of chapter one, and then, in chapter two, the Lord answers Habakkuk, saying, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”—vss. 2-4
‘The vision is yet for an appointed time.’ This was the Lord’s way of informing Habakkuk that what he was forecasting as immediately coming upon Israel, and his questions as to why the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer, as he was witnessing at that time, was of minor importance as compared with the larger purpose of God. The understanding of his vision as it pertained to this more comprehensive Divine purpose was for an appointed time, the Lord explained, and then it would be understood.
In Hebrews 10:36-38 the Apostle Paul quotes from this prophecy concerning the vision not tarrying, and that the “just shall live by faith.” He applies it to the Second Coming of Christ and to the time of his Second Presence. Both the Old and New Testaments reveal clearly that the main objective of Christ’s Second Coming (parousia, presence) is the establishment of his kingdom, and that through this kingdom all evil shall be destroyed.
Thus we see that God gave Habakkuk a marvelous answer to his questions concerning the flourishing of evil. The Chaldeans and the Israelites at the time merely served to make the setting for this very comprehensive prophecy. In the light of the Divine plan as unfolded throughout the Scriptures, it gives assurance to all the Lord’s people that the time is coming when the “rebuke” of his people will be taken away “from off all the earth.”—Isa. 25:8
It is doubtful if the Prophet Habakkuk understood very clearly this larger meaning of his prophecy. He was, however, inspired to write that “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (ch. 2:14) He could not envision the manner, or the time, when this would come true, but, being one of the ‘just’ who ‘live by faith,’ he put his confidence in God and concluded his wonderful book by writing:
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”—ch. 3:17,18
ZEPHANIAH’S prophecy was written only a short time before the Jewish nation was taken into captivity. Verses 2-5 of the first chapter forecast the overthrow of the nation, and there are other references throughout the book to the same calamity. But, as with the other prophecies of the Old Testament, the Lord uses the setting of events pertaining to his people Israel as a background upon which forecasts of events much more momentous in nature are outlined.
Thus, from telling about the overthrow of Israel when the nation was taken into captivity, the Lord inspired Zephaniah to describe a day of more widespread destruction which he named, “The great day of the Lord.” (Zeph. 1:14) In I Thessalonians 5:1-3, the apostle identifies this day of the Lord as being ushered in by the return of Christ. So we know that Zephaniah’s prophecy has to do with events related to our time as well as with the Jewish nation in his own day.
Concerning the ‘day of the Lord,’ Zephaniah wrote, “That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess.” (vs. 15) It is the events of this day of the Lord which the Prophet Daniel prophesied as being a “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation,” and which Jesus described in his prophecy as a time of “great tribulation.”—Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21,22
The second chapter of Zephaniah forecasts the destruction of Nineveh, and in the third chapter the prophet gives us further information concerning the day of the Lord, closing his prophecy with a promise to the Israelites of their eventual return to the promised land, from among all nations. This is much more than a prophecy of their return from Babylonian captivity, for the promise is, “Thou shalt not see evil any more.” (ch. 3:15) Read also verses 14-20.
To the Prophet Zephaniah and to all the people of God who read his prophecy, and who wonder why God allows evil and suffering of all sorts to continue, and apparently does nothing to hinder the prosperity of evil men and nations, the Lord said:
“Wait ye upon me, … until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth [symbolic of the present evil social order] shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language [message of Truth], that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”—ch. 3:8,9
HAGGAI was the tenth of the minor prophets, and the first to prophesy after the Jewish nation returned to Judea from their captivity in Babylon. King Cyrus of the Medes had issued a decree authorizing the return of the captives, and granting permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. A Jew named Zerubbabel had been made governor over Judea and he began with some enthusiasm the work of rebuilding the Temple.
But about the time the foundation for the Temple was laid, opposition against the project arose, and while Zerubbabel could have gone forward with the work of building, he did not. The prophecy of Haggai is chiefly concerned with this delay, and he chides the people, particularly their leaders, for building fine homes for themselves, but neglecting the house of the Lord. It was evidently largely as a result of this prophecy that the zeal of Zerubbabel was renewed, resulting in the Temple being finished.
The Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem is used in the Scriptures as a figure of a much grander temple, one “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (II Cor. 5:1) This antitypical temple is in reality Christ and his church in glory, the channel of God’s blessings which will flow out to all nations during the thousand-year kingdom period.
In Haggai’s prophecy, comparing Solomon’s Temple with the one which was being built under the direction of Zerubbabel, he declares that “the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former.” (Hag. 2:9) While this was doubtless true of the Temple built by the returned captives, the statement is also prophetic as a comparison of either, or both, of the typical temples with the glorious spiritual temple. This spiritual temple is being built during the Gospel Age, and every faithful follower of the Lord will be a “living stone.”—I Pet. 2:5, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott
Concerning the antitypical temple, Haggai quotes the Lord as saying, “I will fill this house with glory.” (ch. 2:7) As a preface to these words the Lord declares, “Yet once [more], … I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.”—vss. 6,7
In Hebrews 12:26 the Apostle Paul quotes from this passage and applies its fulfillment at the time of Christ’s return and the setting up of his kingdom. We know from this that through Haggai the Lord was prophesying the present shaking of the nations in the great ‘time of trouble’ with which this age is already ending.
The prophecy reads that as a result of this shaking the ‘desire of all nations shall come.’ According to the Hebrew text this does not mean that all the nations of the earth will, in the Lord’s kingdom, have their petty desires and selfish ambitions satisfied. The thought is, rather, that their desire shall be to come to the Lord, and to recognize the authority which will emanate from his spiritual temple. They shall “bring their glory … into it,” is the way it is expressed in Revelation 21:24.
The Prophet Zechariah was contemporaneous with Haggai, beginning his prophecy only two months later, namely, in the eighth month of the second year of Darius, whereas Haggai began to write his prophecy in the sixth month of the same year. Zechariah’s prophecy, like that of his contemporary, helped much to encourage Zerubbabel to complete the job of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.
In common with all the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, there were circumstances of a local nature, and of immediate concern, with which Zechariah dealt. This makes the book somewhat historical. It is upon this background of reality that the Lord, by his Spirit, caused the prophet to impose forecasts of events which were to occur in connection with the outworking of the Divine plan many long years after he had fallen asleep in death.
God’s prophets comprehended clearly the significance of what they wrote concerning circumstances and events which were known to them, but they understood little concerning the distant future events about which they wrote. All of these were related directly or indirectly to God’s great plan of salvation through the coming Christ. Peter wrote that the prophets “inquired and searched diligently” to know the meaning of these things. But, as Jesus explained, they did not “see” or understand them.—I Pet. 1:10,11; Matt. 13:17
Such was the case with Zechariah. In addition to what he wrote of conditions, needs, and happenings of his own time, the Holy Spirit also caused him to prophesy, for example, the experience of Jesus when he rode into the city of Jerusalem on an ass. (Zech. 9:9) He also forecast a worldwide scattering of the nation of Israel, and their ultimate return to the promised land; showing that then Judea will be the land capital of the world.—ch. 8:18-23
Chapter twelve, verse ten, forecasts a time when the people will “look upon me whom they have pierced, and … mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son.” Prior to this, however—even as other prophets of the Old Testament foretold—after the Israelites are regathered in their land, and before they recognize Jesus as their Messiah, there will be a gathering of nations against them. It will be in this experience that “the Lord [shall] go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.”—ch. 14:1-3
In this prophecy, the thousand-year day of the Lord is also described—“It shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: But it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.”—ch. 14:6,7
The prophecy declares that “the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.” (ch. 14:9) Zechariah also writes, “It shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.”—ch. 14:16,17
This, does not refer to a literal traveling to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. The thought is, rather, that all nations will be required to recognize the authority of the Lord as it will then be established in the earth. Life-giving blessings will be withheld from those who do not. Only those who then obey the laws of the Lord’s kingdom will continue to live.
MALACHI is the last of the minor prophets, and his prophecy is the concluding book of the Old Testament. It was written shortly after the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity. Much of the book is utilized in reminding the people of their halfhearted, and often hypocritical, worship of God. Because of their unfaithfulness, God was withholding his blessings from them, and they pretended not to know why this was so. The climax of this presentation of facts is reached in chapter three, verses eight through ten, where we read:
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, … and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Malachi also was inspired to write concerning events in the distant future from his day. In Malachi 3:1, he forecasts the coming, and work, of John the Baptist as a messenger to prepare “the way before me.” Also, the coming of Christ to his temple as the “messenger of the covenant”—the Mediator, that is, of the promised New Covenant.—Jer. 31:31-34
In chapter four, verse two, Malachi speaks of the “Sun of righteousness,” which shall arise “with healing in his wings.” This is a beautiful symbolic description of the life-giving blessings which will reach the people during the reign of Christ, the promised Messiah. Associated with him will be those described by Jesus as the “children of the kingdom,” who also are to “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”—Matt. 13:38,43
In this brief examination of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the main emphasis has been on the theme song of the Divine plan. These, however, say much more concerning various features of the plan, reassuring us that God’s promises will come true.Go to Part VII