October 31, 2017
A Table of Lessons for November
November 1, All Saints Day
What is a saint? According to some, any dead Christian a saint. Thus we hear people talk about “sainted” relatives and friends. Others say a saint is a person who has died, made it through “Purgatory,” and reached Heaven. Still others say a saint is a person specifically designated with the title by an official or council of their church.
The Bible presents a different definition of a saint. In its pages, a saint is any person who is reconciled to God through the redeeming work of Christ. When God the Son became a Man, He lived and died and rose again on planet earth. He died in our places, bearing in Himself the suffering and death our sins deserve. Because He died for our sins, we are no longer under the sentence of hell for them.
He also gives His righteousness to us. A great, spiritual transaction has taken place. He has transferred our debts (sins) from our account to His, and He has paid for them in full on the cross. He has transferred His righteousness to our accounts. Therefore, we are no longer regarded as sinners by God. We are regarded as just. We have been “justified.”
There is yet another aspect of this transaction. It happens inside the believer, and it is a change in the life-orientation of the whole person. Our thoughts, values, actions, and desires are changed and changing. We are being enabled to desire God more, and desire sin less. This transformation continues throughout our lives on this earth, and is called, “sanctification.”
People who are justified and sanctified no longer belong to hell, the world, or even to themselves. They have been set aside for God. They are God’s people. The Bible calls these people, “holy.” It also calls them “saints,” and often addresses them as “saints and faithful brethren,” as in Colossians 1:2. So the real definition of a saint is a person who has been forgiven of sin and set aside to live a holy life with God, now and for all eternity.
On All Saints Day, we remember those who have gone before us in the faith. Some of their names and deeds are household words. Some are remembered only in Heaven. It is good to learn of their faith and their faithfulness, to see how they resisted sin and withstood the indulgent, self-absorbed culture that has been the enemy of faith in all ages. Through their examples we may be encouraged to resist it in our own time and culture. But let us never forget that such persons are not saints because a man or council of people officially declared them so. They are saints because God has made them holy through Christ.
Amos 9, Jn. 11:1-29
Obadiah, Col. 2
Amos closes by re-emphasising the two main points of all prophetic books. First is the warning of punishment for disobedience. Israel has left the Covenant and gone so far from God it is virtually no different from the Gentile nations around it. Since it is so much like the Gentiles, it will be treated as if it is a Gentile nation. God will break the house of Israel, and there will be no place for it to escape from Him (1-6). It will be invaded, conquered, and scattered throughout the nations.
Second is the promise of mercy. Purely out of His free grace, and purely because He chooses to do so, some of the Israelites will be spared and allowed to remain in Israel. Others will be returned to their homeland after the time of captivity through the benevolent policies of Cyrus of Persia (11-15). Though Israel will not exist as an identifiable nation, nor will it join with Judah politically or spiritually, there is a hint here that individual Israelites will return to God and be included in the restored Davidic kingdom (11). In the New Testament era, Christ, the true Son of David, will bring many of them, along with believing Gentiles (12) into the New Israel and Kingdom of God through His cross. We see some of this in Christ’s dealing with the woman at the well and the people in her town. In the time of Christ they were called Samaritans. In the time of Amos they were Israelites. Thus Amos ends with a promise of mercy that is both undeserved and unsought by Israel. Such mercy is the only hope for any person to be saved.
Jonah 1, Jn. 11:30-50
Jonah 2, Col. 3
Israel had a very complex relationship with her Gentile neighbors. She admired their wealth and self-indulgent lifestyles and idolatrous religions. She often adopted and participated in their pagan culture and religion. She also considered herself morally and religiously superior to the Gentiles because she also worshipped God and was God’s chosen people. By Jonah’s time, at least 400 years have passed since Israel conquered Canaan. The centuries have been marked by almost constant fighting with the Gentile people, though Israel often allied with some Gentiles against other Gentiles, and even against other Israelites. Peace, therefore, was rare, and always fragile in the area.
Nowhere is Israelite snobbery more fully revealed and rebuked than in the book of Jonah. Called to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the Gentiles, Jonah flees to the sea in disobedience. Nineveh is the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which rules the upper Tigris-Euphrates Valley and is the local super power of the era. The Assyrians want to conquer Israel, and subjugate her into their empire. Though unable to conquer Israel, they do dominate her, and the Israelites resent them bitterly.
Jonah, like the rest of Israel, does not want Nineveh to receive anything but hellfire and damnation from God. When God tells him to preach in Nineveh, Jonah fears God will have mercy upon the Ninevites, and might even bring them into the Covenant people. According to Jonah, this must not happen, therefore he decides to go as far away from Nineveh as he can. He probably believes God is one of many gods, and to leave Israel is to leave God’s territory and be beyond His reach (2). He is wrong, which God demonstrates by means of the storm and the fish.
In the fish, Jonah has time to consider his own wickedness. Though he is probably a native of Israel, which divided itself from Judah after Solomon’s death, he seems to have a great love for Jerusalem and the Temple. Many Israelites continued to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem after the division, to worship in the Temple and to observe Passover. Like them, Jonah desires to go to the Temple again and offer sacrifices (1:9). He has not repented of his sin. He has simply acknowledged God’s rule is not limited to the geographical area of Israel and Judah.
The call to go to Nineveh comes again (1, 2). This time Jonah goes to Nineveh, where he begins to preach, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (4). The repentance of the Ninevites is astounding (5-9). Though familiar, through trade and military invasions, with Israelite religion, Ninevites are naturally disposed to doubt the ability of a foreigner’s God. Yet they are moved to believe and repent. God also turns from His wrath against Nineveh to mercy toward it (10).
Jonah 3, Jn. 12:1-19
Jonah 4, Col. 4
Jonah is angry at God for sparing Nineveh (1). He would rather die than see Nineveh living in God’s grace (3). He leaves the city and sits under a booth, probably a small shelter made of tree branches, and probably hoping the Ninevites' faith will rapidly decline into unbelief again (4), and that they will be conquered in forty days.
God causes a gourd plant to grow over Jonah’s shelter, which helps shade the prophet from the hot sun. But the wind kills the plant, making Jonah even angrier at God (8). Now God is ready to make the point of the book. It has already been stated once, in verse 2, “thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” meaning to turn away the punishment of Nineveh.
God reminds Jonah that his sorrow over the gourd was due to his own loss of its shade. He only liked it because it was useful to him. But God’s love is not based on any value or worthiness in any person, including Israel. God’s love is based on His nature, and in His love He will have mercy on Nineveh, whether Jonah likes it or not. But, if we want to talk about value, aren’t the people of Nineveh far more “valuable” than a gourd? Therefore, shouldn’t God care more about Nineveh than Jonah does for the gourd?
Jonah learns the hard way that God is sovereign, even in salvation. He can pass over the “chosen people,” who, though they have the Scriptures, prophets, Temple, and many other advantages, have turned from Him and embraced pagan culture and religion. He can choose whole cities of pagans to be saved. Jonah learns that the true Israel (chosen people) is not defined by nationality, but by faith. He learns God’s wrath can be turned upon disobedient Israelites (or Church members), as readily as upon unbelievers.
Micah 1, Jn. 12:20-50
Micah 2, 1 Thes. 1
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, and preached in and around Jerusalem during the reigns of Judean kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1). Ahaz did much to bring Judah into spiritual and political poverty. After Israel was conquered in 722 B.C., he allied himself with Israel’s Assyrian conquerors, and vigourously imported Assyrian culture and religion into Judah and Jerusalem. Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, sought to return Judah to God and Godliness. For a while his efforts were successful, but corrupt people gained control of the civil and religious authority structures, which they used to silence Godly people and to gain wealth and security for themselves by theft and oppression.
Micah foretells the conquest of Jerusalem, which he says God will allow as punishment for sin. But God also speaks of restoration in this book. A remnant of the people will be left in Judah, and a remnant of the captives will return to the homeland, where God’s work will continue until He brings the Messiah into the world in a barn in Bethlehem.
The sermon, which comprises chapter one, seems to have been preached prior to the fall of Israel, for verses 2-7 specifically speak of her sins and foretell the fall of Samaria, her capital city. Verses 8-16 continue to warn Israel and extend the warning to include Judah as well.
Like the other prophets, God’s message through Micah indicts the entire structure of Jewish culture. He is angry over the idolatry and hypocrisy, which is encouraged by the corrupt priests and lying prophets. He is also angry at the moral corruption by which people seize religious and civil authority, which they use to steal the property and inheritance of those whose rights they should be protecting. It is a terrible thing when corrupt people pervert the power of government for personal gain. In such a country, laws are meaningless and justice is impossible.
Micah 3, Jn. 13
Micah 4, 1 Thes. 2
God describes the wickedness of the civil authorities in verses 1-4. They hate good and love evil (2). Their actions are so repulsive they are compared to eating the flesh of the poor, and chopping them into pieces to be boiled and eaten (3) as they financially and emotionally take possession of people and their resources. When the punishment comes, they will cry to God for deliverance, but He will not hear; He will hide His face from them (4), meaning He will not deliver them or help them. He will leave them to their fate.
Notice God has more to say to the lying prophets than to the crooked politicians. The prophets are enablers of corruption and vice. Not only do they not confront and condemn it, they actually approve and condone it in God’s name. No matter how wicked a thing may be, there will always be blind guides and wolves in sheep’s clothing who will attempt to pronounce God’s blessings on it. This is no less true today than it was in Micah’s time, as men, entrusted with the ministry of the Word and the care of souls, abandon the Bible and encourage sin and corruption in the name of Christ. Such “ministers” enable wickedness, and weaken the spiritual/moral fabric of the Church and the state. Judah and Israel have suffered under such preaching for generations. By Micah’s time the nation is so morally bankrupt that their heads of government and the courts “judge for reward” (bribes and monetary gain), priests teach for hire (bribes and monetary gain), and prophets divine for money (bribes and monetary gain). When this happens, everyone loses.
For their sakes, meaning, due to the sins of the politicians, priests, and prophets, Zion will be plowed like a field and Jerusalem will be reduced to heaps of rubble (12). This refers to the devastation and destruction God will unleash upon them through the invading armies.
The corruption of the current leaders is contrasted with the selfless service of the coming Messiah. His reign will bring peace, and He will rule in justice. In His time, people from all tribes and tongues will come into the House of God where they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. In His Kingdom people will live in unity and peace.
The Messiah’s Kingdom is the Church, the Kingdom of God on earth, established by Christ and built by His Word and Spirit. It encompasses people from many nations, and many more will come into it before the end. But even the Church is not perfect yet. There are still wolves among the sheep, and false teachers still distort the Word for money and popularity. But the day is coming when such things are finally and forever cast out of the Church. In that Day the whole earth will resound with the praises of God, and His people will walk with Him in holiness and truth. For He is coming back to accomplish these things, and all things will be gathered together in Him. Knowing these words of Micah, and having seen a glimpse of that New Heaven and Earth, the Apostle John in the closing verses of the Bible says, “Even so , come Lord Jesus.” Amen.
Micah 5, John 14
Micah 6, 1 Thes. 3
The Messiah will come from Bethlehem, the ancient home of David’s family, and will be a descendant of David, according to the flesh. Thus, the Davidic kingship will be restored to Israel. Assyria, here should be understood as the literal Assyrian Empire, and symbolically as the representative of all the enemies of God’s Church, in both Old and New Testament eras. In the same way, Israel, here, refers to God’s people in both Testaments. The grace offered to sinners also carries the judgement of those who remain hardened in their refusal of it. Micah is given much to say about the plight and end of the enemies of God and His Church.
God now beseeches His people to hear His words and repent of their sins. His question in verse 3 can only be answered in a way that upholds the absolute goodness of God towards all humanity. It is not God who has sinned against us, but we who have sinned against Him. He brought Israel out of Egypt and defended her from all enemies. He brings us out of our bondage to sin, keeps us safe in Christ in this life, and brings us at last to the Promised Land.
Instead of loving and obeying God, the people of Israel engage in cheating and violence toward each other (11). They keep the statutes of Omri and walk in the counsel of the house of Ahab (16), the wicked kings who intentionally led the people into idolatry and immorality. Therefore God will make the people sick (13). He will smite them, and will make them desolate, as in uninhabited places, because of their sins.
Micah 7, Jn. 15
Nahum 1, 1 Thes. 4
Verses 1-7 recount the sins of Israel. Instead of loving their neighbours and the people of
God, “The good man is perished.” All who are left “lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.” No one is trustworthy. The members of a person’s own family are his enemies. Friends cannot be trusted. All are cheaters and murderers for personal gain. Government is no better. Instead of protecting the innocent and preserving justice, the prince, judge, and great (influential) men want bribes and rewards for their rulings and verdicts. Micah concludes there is no hope or help in any of them. Only God can help Israel now.
Verses 8-13 personify Israel, who speaks to the Gentile nations about her defeat and captivity. “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned,” she says in verse 9, which perfectly expresses the thought of these verses.
Verse 14 is a prayer to God, as though the nation of Israel speaks it. Verses 15-17 is God’s answer. Read verse 14 as Israel speaking to God, and 15-17 as God answering her. In verse 18 Israel speaks again, expressing her faith, and giving thanks. “Who is a God like unto thee,” she says, “that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger forever, because He delighteth in mercy.”
Micah closes his book with Israel continuing to trust God to forgive her sins and turn her to Himself again. He will do this not because of any worthiness in Israel, but because He is faithful and will keep the promise He made to Jacob, Abraham, and the fathers. He will perform the truth, which He has sworn to the fathers from the days of old.
Once again we see the faithfulness of God contrasted with the unfaithfulness of man. God has chosen Israel for a purpose, and nothing can prevent Him from accomplishing that purpose. The Gentiles may rage against Israel. Her own people may fall into terrible sin and corruption. But God is able to overcome these obstacles. They are not even obstacles to Him. He moves through them, and even uses them for His own glory, as He continues to prepare the world for the advent of the Saviour, and move the world toward that Day when He will bring all things together in Christ.
As Nahum writes, the Assyrian Empire dominates the ancient near east. But Assyria is decaying, and Babylon is strengthening. Soon, Babylon will overcome Assyria, and become the new area superpower. Judah lives under Assyrian domination. Israel has been conquered by Assyria, and her people have been deported to various places in the empire, where they are unable to re-unite and cause any more trouble for the conquerors.
It is in this setting that Nahum is called to foretell the coming doom of Assyria. Nineveh, in upper Mesopotamia, is the capital of the empire, and Nahum’s opening words express the primary concern of his prophecy; the “burden,” or doom, of Nineveh and Assyria (1). The first chapter reinforces the truth of this prophecy. God is unstoppable, and He intends to punish Nineveh, and to preserve at least part of the Jewish people.
Nahum 2, Jn. 16
Nahum 3, 1 Thes. 5
Nahum describes a vision of the destruction of Nineveh. Given in poetic, and often symbolic language (6), it is still very real and very terrible. We remember from Jonah that the city takes three days to walk through, so it is very large and heavily populated. At the same time, it is very wealthy from the spoils of war, and from tribute paid by kings and nations in return for being spared total annihilation by the Assyrians.
Like all empires forged in blood and violence, Assyria faces constant unrest and rebellion. Babylon, especially is rising in power, and Egypt continually seeks an opportunity to break free of Assyrian control. Israel, too, resisted Assyria, but was too small to stand against the Empire’s army. Therefore, Judah is an unwilling vassal, in which revolution is always being plotted and prayed for. Israel’s conquest and and destruction by the Assyrians is the subject of verse 2.
In verse 3, the weakening Assyrians face the destruction of their capital. This comes from an army formed by the alliance of the Medes and Babylonians. Nineveh, who has conquered many nations, and scattered their peoples across her empire, will, herself, be conquered and led into captivity (7). She is pictured here as a woman who is mourned by her daughters and maids. She is compared to lions and a lions’ den (11, 12). She kills and devours as she pleases, but her end is coming. God is against her (13). He will burn her chariots and kill her young “lions.” Cutting off her prey means to make her unable to capture and kill others, like a lion who hunts, but finds no prey.
The “voice of thy messengers” may refer to Rabshakeh, sent, to Jerusalem with a message from the Assyrian king to surrender and allow the people to be deported and scattered. His message boasts that not even God can deliver Jerusalem from Assyria (2 Kings 18). But Nineveh herself will be destroyed and scattered. No more messengers of doom will come from her.
The “bloody city” (1) has a double meaning. First, it is Nineveh, who sheds innocent blood, murdering and plundering other nations. Second, it is Nineveh’s own blood being shed by her conquerors. Her streets are filed with the carcasses of her slain (3). Her most serious sin is her idolatry, which Nahum, like other prophets, calls whoredom (4). The multitude of her whoredoms refers to the many, many idols claimed and worshiped by her in the place of God. It is because of her refusal to honour God as her God, and to love Him with all her heart, soul, and mind, that she has embarked on a spree of murder and plunder from the Nile to the Caspian. Naked and exposed, she will be led into captivity, and none who see her will bemoan her (4-7).
“No” (8) is an early name for Thebes, and symbolises Egypt. Located deep inside of Egypt, she was protected by the Mediterranean and Sahara. Yet, she fell to the Assyrians in 663 B.C. Once powerful, she declined until Assyria was able to conquer her. God is making the point that Assyria is declining, and, not having the natural barriers of the sea and the desert to defend her, will fall to her enemies, too. The Assyrian strongholds will fall like ripe figs shaken from the tree (12). Her trained soldiers will fight like women, who are not trained for war. Her borders will be open gates through which her invaders will flow (13)
Like so many before, and after her, Assyria is overconfident, and her people have become fat and weak. They live for the enjoyment of their ill-gotten gains, and they forget to keep watch against danger. Her religious, governmental, and military leaders (shepherds) slumber instead of keeping watch and being prepared to defend her (18). There is, therefore, no healing for her wounds. She will die of them, and all that hear of her death will clap their hands in joy (19). Thus ends another of the enemies of God and His people.
Habakkuk 1, Jn. 17
Hab. 2, 2 Thes. 1
Habakkuk is broken hearted over the sins of his people. Living in Jerusalem, he has heard or read the words of prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. When he begins to prophesy, the northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the Assyrians, as Amos foretold, and Assyria is weakening while Babylon grows stronger, as Nahum foretold. We are not sure when Habakkuk preached and wrote, but if it was after 612 B.C., Assyria has already been conquered by the Babylonians, who now also control and oppress Jerusalem. Habakkuk, therefore, has seen many of the other prophets’ words literally fulfilled before his eyes. He also sees the rising Babylonian threat to Jerusalem, just as other prophets predicted.
Yet, Jerusalem continues in her sin. “Spoiling and violence” (3) refers to the rich and powerful taking the property of the poor through force. Slaking of the law and wrong judgement (4) refers to corruption in the political and judicial rulers, who use the “system” for their own gain, at the expense of those outside of their circle. In verses 1-4, Habakkuk voices his concern to God. “O Lord, how long shall I cry [about these injustices] and thou wilt not hear?”
God answers in verses 5-11. The heart of His response is that He is going to use the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to chastise Judah, by allowing them to conquer Jerusalem and take her people into captivity. God’s answer makes Habakkuk even more unhappy than the sins of his people. Yes, the Jews have sinned, but aren’t the Chaldeans worse? Even God calls them “terrible and dreadful” (7). They come for violence (9), and credit their god with their victory (11). How can God, who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (13) even look upon the Chaldeans, let alone allow them to conquer the Jews? Yes the Jews are sinners, but aren’t they more righteous than the Chaldeans? How can God give the righteous into hands of the unrighteous? Where is the justice in this?
Surely we can understand Habakkuk’s problem. God’s actions seem backward to us. It seems to us that He should empower the poor and the oppressed to rise up against their oppressors, and to elect new leaders, who will rule in justice and equity, according to the law rather than according to greed. But the moral/political condition of their country is just what God said would happen when the people demanded a king, and when they turned away from God to follow the idolatry and wickedness of their Gentile neighbors. So the Jews are getting the natural consequences of their choices and actions.
If the Jews had lived by faith, trusting and obeying God, they would not have fallen into this situation. God would count their faith as righteousness, and give them all the blessings and graces promised to them in His Covenant (1-4). Indeed those who live by faith will yet prevail. God’s promises to judge the Chaldeans, and return a remnant of Jews to Jerusalem. This faith will keep them going through the conquest and years of captivity. They know their conquerors will pass away, but Jerusalem will remain.
Just as the ancient Judeans trusted God to save Jerusalem from complete destruction, our faith in Christ delivers believers from the spiritual captivity of sin and the spiritual death of the wrath of God. As the faith of the Jews looked for the restoration of Jerusalem, and the full accomplishment of God’s purpose for Israel, the faith of God’s Church looks for the Day in which the Messiah will restore the earth and the New Jerusalem to purity and peace under Christ. Faith assures us that God’s purpose for His creation, and His people will be accomplished perfectly.
Verses 5-20 tell of the fall of the Chaldeans. Their appearance is terrifying and frightening to the people of Jerusalem. They are, indeed, powerful and cruel. They will kill many, cause much suffering, and destroy much. But their dominion on earth will be short. Like the Assyrians, whose empire they are taking, they will grow weak, until they, too, are conquered and replaced by another, which will be replaced by another, and another, until the end of time. But God’s Church, meaning His people, both of the Old Testament and New Testament eras, will remain because He will keep them forever.
Hab. 3, Jn. 18
Zephaniah 1, 2 Thes. 2
Habakkuk closes his book with a prayer and a hymn. He probably intends the entire chapter to become part of the liturgy when the people are taken into captivity. It is a request that God remember mercy, even in His wrath, lest the people give up hope and faith completely, and become like those who never knew God. “In the midst of years” probably refers to the seventy years of captivity predicted by Jeremiah. During this time the older generations, who remember Jerusalem, her fall, and her prophets, will pass away. The rising generations will know only Babylon. How will they continue in the faith unless God sends them help, unless He sends them revival in the midst of the years of captivity?
Habakkuk says, “I have heard thy speech” (2). In chapter 2, the prophet sets himself to wait for the word of the Lord, like a soldier on watch, guarding the city. Now he has heard God’s answer, and it is not good news. God will send the Chaldeans to conquer Jerusalem (1:6) as His judgement upon the Jews and as punishment for their sins. But their punishment will not last forever. God will also punish the Chadians for their sins, and in this, He will deliver the Jews from the power of the Chaldeans. God allows them to kill and plunder the Jews, but their actions are still murder and theft, for which they will pay.
Habakkuk has also heard that the just will live by faith (2:4). They will trust in the Lord, and their faith will enable them to persevere through the awful events of conquest and captivity, waiting for the promise of return and restoration to be fulfilled.
Now Habakkuk beseeches God to revive the work of His hands. He is asking God to restore the Jews to Jerusalem, but, even more importantly, he is asking God to restore them to the Covenant, and true faith. His concern is not simply that the nation of Judah continue, but that God’s great work of redemption and restoration of fallen people and creation may be brought to completion and fulfillment. He is asking God to restore Israel to faith and Godliness, so she may again be the people of God.
The prophet is given a vision of the coming of God to deliver the Jews and judge her enemies. He comes from Teman and Paran in the Sinai desert, where the Law Covenant were given and ratified. He comes in terrifying fury. His hands have horns to gore and tear enemies. Burning coals and pestilence surround His feet like tremendous dust storms as He walks, destroying everything in His path (5). He drives the nations, the enemies of His people before Him. Kings, armies, and hordes of people flee in terror. The mountains crumble and the earth trembles under His feet. Rivers and seas (symbols of Gentiles and opposition to God) feel His wrath (8). His bow is out of its case (9) and He shoots arrows that “cleave the earth” so deeply they create new rivers and seas. Even the sun and moon stand still in fear as God threshes the heathen in anger (12) for the salvation of His people from Babylon (13).
Habakkuk, too, is filled with fear at the appearance of God (16), and horrified at the massive devastation and destruction of the Gentiles (16). But this vision will sustain the believing Jews during the catastrophic days and years ahead. It has much affinity with the New Testament book of Revelation, which tells of the persecutions and tribulations Christians will face, yet encourages them to be faithful, even unto death by foretelling the horrible fate of their persecutors, and the eternal blessedness of the Church. Thus, the message of Habakkuk is not so much judgement for the sins of Israel, as it is a message of encouragement to repent and be faithful to God, even during time of trouble and catastrophe. God does remember mercy, even in wrath, and He will deliver and restore His people.
Zephaniah seems to be a descendant of King Hezekiah, spelled, “Hizkiah” in verse 1. He ministers as a prophet during the time of King Josiah (640-609), and God may have used his preaching as part of the reformation and revival during Josiah’s time.
The prophet speaks boldly against the idolatry and social corruption that holds the hearts of the Jewish people. Their idolatry is often combined with God’s worship, and even uses Biblical language, though its meaning is twisted to convey ideas and practices entirely different from what is taught in Scripture. Thus, the people appear to worship God, but their ideas about God are based on their own ideas of what they want God to be like, and upon ideas imported from pagan mythology. Baalism is still practiced (4) along with astrology and worship of the moon goddess and sun god (5). Jews wear the gaudy, sexually suggestive clothing of pagans rather than the simple, modest dress that befits the people of God (8). Prosperity, rather than Godliness, occupies their minds and energy. They conduct their business like Canaanites (merchant people, vs. 11), with cheating and dishonesty. They say the Lord will not do anything about it (12).
But God tells the people of Maktesh, which is a neighborhood of Jerusalem, to howl in mourning because He will cut them down (11) and their goods will become booty for their conquerors (13). The great Day of the Lord is a day of judgement on Jerusalem, and it “is near, and hasteth greatly” (14). It is a terrifying day for the Jews because God will make a “speedy riddance of all of them” (18).
Zeph. 2, Jn. 19
Zeph. 3, 2 Thes. 3
God calls His people to gather before Him to repent of sin and seek God. If they repent, He will hide them from His wrath when He sends the Babylonians through the area to conquer and destroy the nations. “Seek ye the Lord… it may be that ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.” But they do not repent.
Verse 4 begins to list the nations around Judah who will be conquered by the Babylonians. Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron are Philistine cities on the Mediterranean coast, who have been bitter enemies of Israel from the start (4). Cherethites (5) are a small coastal people. Their land will be given to the remnant of the Jews (7). Moab and Ammon are descendants of Lot, who have been aggressive toward the Jews from the Exodus era. They will be treated as Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed by God (9). Ethiopia and Assyria will be made into a wilderness. This passage describes the Babylonians sweeping through Canaan like a storm, leaving death and destruction in their path.
The chapter begins with yet another inditement of the failures of the leaders of God’s people. This is a recurring theme in the prophets because it is the normal condition of the leaders. God calls them lions who gnaw away the bones of His people (3), and treacherous polluters of the Temple who do violence to the law of God (4). After so many warnings from so many prophets, we would think the Jews would learn not to pervert the faith and practice given by God, or the moral/civil law of His Covenant. God even says He “cut off’ other nations for their sins, and that the Jews should have learned from their example (6, 7).
The book closes with another expression of God’s grace. The Jews are going to be punished. The Chaldeans will march through their land, just as they will through the neighbouring nations. Their suffering will be terrible, and it will take generations to recover from the devastation caused by the conquest. But Jerusalem itself will continue, along with a remnant of the people, who will trust in the Lord (12, 13). His purpose and faithfulness is not disrupted by the loss of purpose or the unfaithfulness of the descendants of Abraham. His work will continue, as He holds Israel together and brings the Messiah into the world through her. All the promises and purposes of God will be fulfilled.
Haggai 1, Jn. 20
Haggai 2, 1 Tim. 1
The Prophet Haggai lived and ministered in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian Captivity. His work began in the second year of Darius, who ruled the Empire from 522-486 B.C. So, Haggai began his ministry around the year 520. His message is that the Temple of the Lord must be rebuilt. Leveled in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem, Cyrus of Persia gave permission and funds to rebuild it, yet fourteen years after their release from Babylon, only the Temple's foundations have been laid. Haggai asks the Jews why they work diligently on their own houses, yet let the House of God lie waste (4).
Today we see people, maybe even our own selves, fervently building their own "houses" and neglecting the House of God. Our work, our amusements, our prosperity, our comfort, and our pleasure consume our energy and time, while, day after day, the Bible and Christian life are neglected, and Sundays find us indulging our own pleasures while the House of God is ignored.
Haggai reminds us that God is not blind to this, nor does He bless it. He tells the Jews their neglect of God is the reason they have sown much to the flesh (see Gal. 6:7-8) but have reaped little harvest for their labours. In the same way, people today who put their efforts into the things of the world, to the neglect of the things of God, reap a bitter harvest. There is nothing in this world that can give happiness and purpose to life. Worldly things do give pleasure for the moment, but it fades quickly. Only God remains forever, and only those who find their happiness in Him will be truly happy, now, and for eternity.
The Jews hear the words of Haggai and repent. The Lord stirs up their hearts and they obey (12-15). Through much work, sacrifice, and, even danger, the Temple is completed. Those in our own age who have neglected the House of God will also expend much effort, sacrifice, and no small amount of spiritual danger as they try to re-establish Godly habits of life and worship. But the greatest danger of all is failure to obey. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8).
The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed when Babylon sacked the city in 586 B.C. It is often called Solomon's Temple because it was built while he was king of Israel, and it was largely financed by him through a system of forced labour and foreign trade that made Solomon fabulously wealthy but caused a grassroots feeling of resentment among the Hebrew people. The Temple reflected his wealth. In Haggai's day things are different. Jerusalem is in ruins and Judah is in poverty. Even with the funds given by Cyrus, the Temple would be a poor reflection of the glory of Solomon's Temple (Hag. 2:3).
Or would it? Perhaps the real glory of the Temple cannot be found in its dimensions or ornaments. Perhaps the Temple's real glory is measured by other things, like the faith of the people, obedience to God's law, and Scriptural worship. Maybe the real glory of the Temple is something even greater than that; maybe it is something that cannot be given or removed by people. Maybe it is the glory of God dwelling in it that is its true glory. This is the point God is making through the prophet Haggai. And God intends to make His Temple more glorious than the people of Jerusalem in 520 B. C. can imagine. In a little while (6) God is going to shake the nations. The Desire of Nations will come, and God will fill the Temple with His glory (7). The Desire of Nations is Christ. He filled the Temple with glory when He was taken there as a young child, when He later confounded the Doctors at Passover, and when He taught the people there during His ministry. He filled it with glory when He accomplished the salvation it could only foreshadow, and when He gave Himself as the Lamb of God which alone is able to take away sins. He filled it with glory when, in the true Holy of Holies in Heaven, He offered the true sacrifice. He filled it with glory when He rose from the grave and ascended into the true Temple of God. He fills it with glory now in the days of His new Temple, the Church. In the Church He brings the nations into His Kingdom, proclaims His Word, dwells by His Spirit, and gives the kind of peace a Temple built by human hands could never give.
Zechariah 1, Jn. 21
Zech. 2, 1 Tim. 2, 3
Zechariah is another of those short books at the end of the Old Testament called the Minor Prophets. The prophet began his ministry in the second year of Darius. Thus, Zechariah and Haggai began their work in the same year, 520 B.C. (Hag. 1:1). Looking at the first verses of both books we see their ministries began within two months of each other. Naturally, their messages compliment one another. Both are concerned to get the new Temple built. Haggai tells the people it is wrong for them to work so hard to establish their own houses, yet neglect the House of God. Zechariah is determined to show why they are willing to neglect the House of God. It is because their hearts are not with God. They are starting to fall back into the ways of their fathers (1:3-4). They are beginning to be content with an outward show of religion and a general intellectual assent to the being of God as revealed in Scripture. They are willing to live in general conformity with the moral and ceremonial law of God, but they lack a sense of belonging to God, of being His people, of being loved by Him and of loving Him back with all their heart and soul and might (Dt:6:4-5). Thus, they really love themselves above God, so they work for their own advancement, and neglect the things of God.
We often see the same thing in professed believers today. They give mental assent to the doctrines and moral values of the Bible. They live decent lives. They believe the things Christian people are supposed to believe. But these things are held as something outside of them. They are like the scenery through which a train passes, when they ought to be the fire that drives the locomotive. Love for God ought to be the driving force of life; that one Thing that gives the direction and purpose to every other aspect of our being. Mankind lost that love for God when we fell into sin. We rejected God, and we chose to love ourselves more than we love Him. Christ died to free us from that kind of self love, for it is destructive and deadly to everything it touches. Christ also died to return us to the spiritual condition of loving God first of all and with our all. Faith that does not move a person in that direction is not faith at all by Biblical standards. It is a form of Godliness which denies the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:4-5). Thus, God, through Zechariah, urges and beseeches the people not to be like their fathers in their sin.
Three months after the message of Zechariah 1:1-6 was given, the Lord speaks again to Zechariah (7). This word comes in a vision of a Man among the myrtle trees receiving a report from riders who have returned from going to and fro through the earth (10). The Man is Christ Jesus, and the riders report that the earth is at rest. There is peace in the Persian Empire. Persia is strong and secure, and there is none to disturb her rest (11). But all is not well, for the Lord Himself is displeased with the people of Persia. They are the heirs of the Babylonians who attacked and brutalised the Jews. Even now they trouble the Jews and prevent them from building the Temple of God. In this they have inflicted more sorrow upon the Jews than God intended (15). The Babylonian Captivity was God's will. He allowed it to chasten the Jews for their sin, to humble them, and to lead them to depend upon Him again. In 520 B.C., the time of chastisement is over, yet the Gentiles will not cease their troubling of the Jews. So God assures the Jews He is with them again in mercy (16). Jerusalem, He promises, will prosper, along with God's people around the world (17). This promise has an immediate meaning to the Jews in Jerusalem. They do prosper, and the Temple of God is rebuilt. But its primary meaning is fulfilled in Christ and His Church. Through Christ the House of God was built in Jerusalem, and through His House, He has gathered people into it around the world. In Christ He has blessed the New Jerusalem with prosperity and posterity the frightened inhabitants could scarcely imagine when Zechariah spoke these words.
Why is the man measuring Jerusalem? To show its dimensions, meaning, to show that it has dimensions. It has boundaries, breadth and length (1-2). There is a point where Jerusalem begins, and a point where it ends. But the day will come when its wall will not be able to contain its people and goods (4). Its wall will be a wall of fire, not of stones, a living wall of God Himself (5). God will dwell in it (10), and people of many nations will be joined to it (11).
These promises refer to the Jews in 520 B.C. Their feeble efforts and the seemingly plain and small Temple they build seem as nothing compared to the old one. Their city, small, weak, and impoverished, seems to them as a poor imitation of the old Jerusalem. But God has great things in store for them. The Temple of God will be great in all the earth, and the city of Jerusalem will be a city that cannot be contained by any wall but the presence of God. These promises are fulfilled, in part, by the rebuilding of the Temple and the city, and by the return to Jerusalem of Jews who had been scattered among many peoples and many nations. But this is only a partial fulfillment. The real fulfillment is found in Christ and His Church. Few Old Testament passages speak so clearly of the Church of Christ in the New Testament. The Church, which is the New Jerusalem, is a city encompassing multitudes of many nations. Jews and Gentiles alike are welcomed into it. Walls cannot contain its multitudes. God, by His Spirit, dwells in it.
Zech. 3, Acts 1
Zech. 4, 1 Tim. 4
God is restoring the Levitical priesthood to Jerusalem. He has already restored the city, the people, and the Temple. Now He is officially consecrating and commissioning the priests who minister in the Temple. This is done for all the priests, using Joshua, the High Priest, as the figurehead and representative of all (8). Taking away his filthy garments symbolises taking away his sin; dressing him in clean, new garments represents God counting Him as righteous (4). This is followed by an exhortation to walk in the ways of God (7) which is a contrast to the ways of the former priests, who walked in the ways of idolatry and sin. The priests are being charged to judge and keep the Lord’s house (7). This, of course, refers to the Temple, where they will officiate in the sacrifices and will instruct the people in the knowledge and keeping of the Scriptures. In another sense, all of Israel is the house and courts of God, and God is charging the priests with the spiritual care of His people. Their job is to ensure that God’s laws and ordinances are followed, and no new practices or strange fires are admitted into God’s worship (Lev. 10:1).
These men are to be wondered at (8) because they foreshadow the Righteous Branch God will bring forth out of Israel. The Righteous Branch is Jesus Christ, who ministers in the true Temple and offers the one sacrifice that can take away sin (Jn. 1:29, Heb. 9:24-28).
The stone (9) is an issue of much discussion. Some, like the Rev’d. Dr. Matthew Henry say it is the Messiah, others say it cannot be the Messiah because the context seems to give Joshua authority over it, and no man has authority over Christ. It appears to refer to the Temple, for God is charging Joshua with the regulation of His house and the keeping of His courts.
It may include both meanings. It may represent the Temple, given into the care of the priesthood until the Righteous Branch and Great High Priest arrives. It may also represent the Messiah, the foundation and cornerstone of the true Temple, who will come forth out of Israel and bring the Kingdom to full maturity in His ministry and Church.
The candlestick is a seven-headed, menorah-like lamp that burns olive oil, with an unending flow of oil supplied by two olive trees. The vision is the word of God to Zerubabel (6). Its message is that the task of completing the Temple, and leading the Jews to abide in the Covenant of God, will be accomplished by God’s Spirit, not Zerubabel’s wisdom or abilities.
Zerubabel is of the direct line of David. He led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem at the end of the Babylonian Captivity. He was their king as they struggled to rebuild their city and the Temple. Progress was very slow, and numerous problems and enemies obstructed the work. It seems to Zerubabel, and all of the people, that the task is impossible. They have, essentially abandoned it and turned their energies to simply trying to survive. The vision assures Zerubabel that God is with him, and the restoration and preservation of Israel depends on God, not Zerubabel. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (6). By God’s power, mountains (obstacles) will be leveled (overcome). The day of small things refers to the smallness and weakness of Jerusalem, the incomplete Temple, and Zerubabel. None of them seem to have the power or wisdom to accomplish the task God has set before them. That is exactly the point. They don’t. But God does, and, if Zerubabel obeys and trusts God, and leads the people to do the same, the great things God has promised will be accomplished.
The lamp signifies the Temple, which Zerubabel is struggling to complete. In the broader sense, it refers to the entire work of God in Redeeming His people and establishing His Kingdom. The oil is the power of God given to the Kingdom in unending supply by which the work of the Kingdom is accomplished. The olive trees represent God sending His grace and power into His people and Kingdom. They probably are the Son and the Spirit of God, standing before the Father. The vision reinforces the word of God in verse 6, that the Temple, and the Kingdom, are built by the power of God, which flows in unending supply to His people.
Zech. 5, Acts 2
Zech. 6, 1 Tim. 5
The scroll is identified in verse 3 as the curse that covers humanity. It is the curse that applies to all who break the law of God. In this case, it is especially applied to Israel for her sin and departure from the Covenant relationship with God (Dt. 28:15-68). The curse consumes the guilty, and Israel is guilty. Her only hope is for God to somehow remove her guilt. The woman in the ephah basket (5-11) is a vision of God removing Israel’s guilt. Guilt is symbolised as a woman, very likely a prostitute, who is placed in a basket. Two other women (angels) carry the woman in the basket to Shinar, where the tower of Babel was built, and which signifies a place of spiritual darkness and rebellion against God. The woman in the basket (Israel’s sin) belongs there, not in Jerusalem.
Verses 1-8 record the vision of the four chariots. They represent four spirits of God who cover the earth. These spirits probably refer to angels, rather than the Holy Spirit. The first two are sent into the north country (6). The third goes into the south. Since the Mediterranean is on the west side of Israel, and the Arabian desert is on the east side, most of the foreign invaders came into Israel from the north. Assyria and Babylon both attacked from that direction. Egypt, a constant threat to Israel, lay to the south. The chariots sent in these directions, keep the enemies at bay. Therefore God’s Spirit is at rest, symbolising a time of relative rest for Jerusalem.
The word of the Lord turns to Joshua in verses 9-15. Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, are Jews who have recently come to Jerusalem from Babylon with gifts of gold and silver from other Jews who choose to remain in Babylon rather than face the hardships and dangers of Jerusalem. God tells Zechariah to use the gold and silver to make a crown for Joshua, the High Priest. He will build the Temple (12), meaning he will have oversight of the worship and sacrifices to God offered in the Temple. He also has the spiritual care of the people of God (see Zech. 3:7). Verse 15 promises that more Jews will return to Jerusalem to help with the Temple.
Joshua is a symbol of the Righteous Branch, who builds the spiritual Temple, of which the physical Temple is also a symbol. The Branch is the Messiah and the Temple is His Church, in which all the promises to humanity through Israel are fulfilled.
Zech. 7, Acts 3
Zech. 8, 1 Tim 6
Zechariah takes us back to the days before the Temple was built, and a time when the construction had ceased due to military threats by the Persian government. His prophetic message comprises two primary points. First, rebuild the Temple. This point comes with many encouragements and promises of God, some of which we have looked at in recent comments. Second, be the People of God. Return to the Covenant God made with your ancestors. Return to Him. Love and honour Him as you are called to do. This point also comes with promises and encouragements. We have looked at some of them already, and will do so again soon. Chapter 7 is about the second point of Zechariah's message; being the people of God. It is about returning to the Covenant relationship with God. It is about being His people and loving Him above all else. God's major concern is not for the Temple. The Temple is not for Him, it is for the Jews. It is a symbol of God's presence and providence with them. It is a symbol of the forgiveness of their sins and their acceptance by God through His grace. It is the place where they worship God, and where God meets them as they worship. In short, the Temple is the symbol of the Covenant in action. The Law specifies their Covenant obligations; the Temple is a central part of how they fulfill those obligations in everyday life.
The Law is a primary aspect of the Covenant. It consists of three parts parts; moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law. The Jews have a tendency to focus on the ceremonial law because it is the easiest to keep. The moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments, is the hardest to keep. It still is. It is because of our failure to keep the moral law that we need the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to cover our sins and make us acceptable to God. The civil law, because it is simply the moral law codified and applied to everyday life, is also very difficult to keep. It, too, still is. Man's natural inclination toward evil causes us to tend to pervert civil law and government for selfish gain. If a party can gain control of the government and courts, its members can do what they want without fear of human retribution. It does not take the Jews long to figure this out. David's false dealing with Uzziah over Bathsheba, and Ahab’s and Jezebel's dealings with Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16) show some of this abuse, but it is not limited to the palace. The writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel frequently mention the abuse of power to gain wealth. Crooked scales, moving property boundaries, and false accusations are well honed and heavily used tools in Judah before the Captivity. But God called the Jews to live in fellowship and respect, even to love one another. He did not create a welfare state; He did create a system of laws, which promote freedom, justice, and well-being among His people.
Zechariah reminds the people of Jerusalem that their ancestors' abuse of the civil law is a major reason why God allowed the Babylonians to conquer and brutalise them. They were warned by the former prophets (9-10), but they did not listen. "Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law" (11). Because they refused to hear God's call to them through the prophets, God did not listen to their call to Him through prayer when the conquering armies came (12). He allowed them to be conquered in a brutal war that left vast numbers of their people dead and vast parts of their land ravaged, including Jerusalem and the Temple. Survivors of the war were forced to live in captivity in foreign lands (13-14).
We may draw many lessons from this short passage. First, law based on the moral law of God provides a sure foundation for liberty and justice; and the nation that has and follows such laws will live in peace and freedom. The natural sin-inclinations of the human heart are one of the main reasons why we need government. It exists to protect the God-given rights and freedoms of the people. Second, even good government can be perverted and used for evil if people are allowed to control and distort it for personal gain and power. God desires peace and liberty for all people. Therefore, failure to live in true liberty and peace is great sin, and God is angry at such people. God is also angry at those who pervert justice and use government power for their own gain and goals. On a higher level, it is God's plan that His Covenant People live in mutual respect and love according to His moral law. There is to be a fellowship and unity among us based upon our love for God and one another. We cannot expect the world and its kingdoms to live up to this standard very well. But the Church must.
God is returned unto Zion (3). This refers not to His actual presence, for God is present in all places and in all times. It refers to His presence in grace. It is His presence in the way we mean when we say, "God be with you, and with thy spirit." He is present to defend, to lead, to bless, and dwell in peace with His people. The time of His wrath has ended. The conquest, the captivity, the scattering of the people of Jerusalem into the surrounding nations is over. God allowed that to happen because of sin in his people. The holy city of Jerusalem, and even the Temple itself, had become unbearable in God's eyes because of the sin of the people. The Temple had been filled with idols. The worship offered in it was vain and insincere. The morality of the people was as that of Gentiles who did not know God. All of this is recorded in the Bible from Genesis to the prophets. So God allowed His people to reap what they had sown and receive what they had sought. They wanted to be as the Gentiles, so God gave them over to the Gentiles, to be conquered and murdered and dominated by them. But all of that is over. God has brought them back to Jerusalem. God has called them to return to the Covenant, to being the people chosen by God, to being His unique people among all others. God has returned to them in grace, and calls them to return to Him in faith.
The chapter foretells the glory of Jerusalem filled with such people. They will not be killed by invaders. They will live to ripe old age, and the streets will be filled with children. Thus, the Jews are to "Let your hands be strong" (9), for the work of rebuilding the Temple and the city, but most of all, for rebuilding their faith.
This passage has obvious application to the New Testament Church. God will bring His people into it from many nations and countries. It will be a City of Peace, for the peace that passes all understanding, which is not as the world giveth but as Christ only can give, will dwell in it. God Himself will dwell in this New Zion, and it will be blessed and a blessing. Therefore, we who dwell in this City of God must let our hands be strong for the work of the Kingdom. Let them be strong in faith. Let them build spiritual things now and for generations yet to come. For we will possess all things.
Zechariah 8:14-23 continues the wondrously good news that God has returned to Zion. Because the Jewish people had forsaken Him, He withdrew His grace and protection from them, and allowed them to be devoured by their enemies. But now He has returned in grace to accomplish His purpose for His people. As He did not turn back from His wrath, He also will not turn back from His mercy (14-15). As surely as His words of wrath were fulfilled, His words of mercy will also be fulfilled. He will do good things for Jerusalem and Judah, thus, they can have confidence in Him. They may draw near to Him in faith, rather than run from Him in fear.
He calls the Jews to return to Him as He has returned to them. The call is not simply to rebuild a landmark and re-institute religious activity. The call is to turn their hearts to God as He has turned His to them. The call is to live in fellowship and peace with one another and with God. It is a call to come to God with sincerity and truth in worship. God does not tell them to dispense with liturgy in order to worship Him with their heart. He tells them to put their heart into the liturgy. The Temple worship is formal, but it is not dead formalism, and it means nothing if the heart of the people is not in it. Let the service of God in worship and in everyday life be joy to the house of Judah (8:19). When the heart is in it, it will be joy to worship God.
This will cause many to want to return to Jerusalem and to the Covenant (20-21). Many Jews did not return to Jerusalem at the end of the Captivity. They had established comfortable homes in the lands where they had once been prisoners, and they did not want to return to Jerusalem, a land of poverty, hardship, and danger. They also enjoyed the looser approach to the faith allowed in the Gentile lands. In short, they had no intention of returning to Jerusalem or making the sacrifices required to become the people of the Covenant again. The joy of the people in Jerusalem will be an invitation to them to return to God.
It will also induce Gentiles to seek the God of Israel. "Many people, and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord" (22). This will be fulfilled in greater glory in the New Jerusalem. Christ's Church will gather many people and strong nations into it in a way the old Jerusalem could never do. Verse 23 is also a picture of the day of Christ and the era of fulfillment in which we live. The first Christians were Jews, and through the grace of God working in them, Gentiles have come to their God. May they also come to us, the spiritual children of Abraham, because they have heard that God is with us.
Zech. 9, Acts 4:1-22
Zech. 10, 2 Tim. 1
Verses 1-8 prophecy judgement on enemies of Jerusalem. Some are descendants of the ancient Canaanites and Philistines, who have resisted the efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. The Grecians (13) may refer to the future Greek empire forged by Alexander, which will conquer and oppress Judah for many generations. Verses 9-17 picture God, the true King of Israel entering Jerusalem. He once came to the city in wrath through the Babylonians. Here, He comes in peace; not in a chariot leading a conquering army, but on an ass, the symbol of peace and good will. The time of His wrath against Jerusalem is over. He is giving her a chance to return to Him and His Covenant, and to reap all the blessings He has promised. This vision is literally fulfilled in the Triumphal Entry of Christ, as God the Son enters Jerusalem with peace and grace for His people.
God reminds the people that the false prophets and idols, to which they turned before the conquest, fed them vanity and lies. For leading the people into idolatry, the Lord punished the shepherds (religious and civil leaders) of the Jews. Thus, this passage is a warning to the High Priest and the king, to seek the Lord. Ask of Him the rains and the blessings. Rain equals grass and crops in the fields, which feed the flocks and the people. The basic necessities of life come from God alone, not wood and stone statues. The goats (3) are the people who followed the evil shepherds into idolatry and wickedness. They, too were punished for their sin.
But God is now visiting Judah, in mercy (3, 4) and makes them as a good horse in battle. A soldier in battle needs to be able to concentrate on the enemy. A horse that does not obey the commands, requires the chariot driver to divert his attention from the enemy to the horse, making him more vulnerable to the enemy. Judah is become like a good horse that can be counted on to obey and conquer in the day of battle. Out of Judah came forth the “corner” or cornerstone that is the foundation of a building. The “nail” may refer to the pole that supports a tent. The “bow” is the most advanced weapon of the era. Archers in chariots could circle ranks of infantry and fire volley after volley of arrows into them. Often, the mere appearance of chariots was enough to rout an army of footmen. “Every oppressor” refers to the enemies being driven out of the land. Ultimately, these words are fulfilled by Christ, the Cornerstone of the true Temple, the central pole that supports that Tabernacle, and the Deliverer who drives away the enemies of His Kingdom. He is the Bow of God who subdues all opposition.
The Jews will be like mighty warriors. God will give them victory so that even the enemy’s cavalry and chariots will not be able to stand against them. The rest of the chapter describes the glorious victories of the city of God, first in Jerusalem, then as the Church of the Messiah, and finally in Christ’s full and open reign when He returns and all enemies are put under His feet, and His Church reigns with Him forever.
Zech. 11, Acts 4:23-37
Zech. 12, 2 Tim. 2
The chapter records a vision that looks back to the recent conquest by the Babylonians. The doors of Lebanon are the mountain passes and roads used by the invaders to move into Judah and Jerusalem. The possessors who slay the flock (4) are the shepherds of Israel, the prophets, priests, and kings, who neither fed the flock with the word of God, nor defended it from spiritual or human predators. The shepherds even become predators, buying and selling the flock for personal gain, then thanking God for their prosperity (4). God says He will feed the flock with slaughter (7) and the shepherds will be cut off (8) by the conquering Babylonians. But some of the people wait on the Lord in faith (11) and recognise the word of the Lord in His true prophets. Breaking the staffs (10, 14) removes the beauty, or glory of the Lord from Jerusalem, and dissolves the Covenant relationship with Israel and Judah. All of this was accomplished in the Babylonian conquest, which this vision recalls.
The vision also looks forward to future failures of Israel. The Jews will not persevere in the faith, which is being revived in the people of Zechariah’s time. Even in those days the revival encompasses a minority of the people, leaving the majority in hypocrisy or open unbelief. Future generations will fall deeper into sin, and will be judged accordingly. Jerusalem will fall under the dominion of Greece and Rome. By the time of Christ, most of Israel will be unable to recognise the One who is the Saviour of Israel and the Desire of Nations. Chapter 11 foretells their return to sin, and the fearful consequences which result from it. Their shepherds will lead the way into this sin. As Rev. Henry wrote, the foolish shepherds, “instead of preventing, shall complete the ruin [of Israel], and the blind leaders and their blind followers shall fall together into the ditch.” Most readers will recognise the thirty pieces of silver, and other words and phrases in the chapter, together with their application to our Lord Jesus Christ. (Mt. 27:, 10, Acts 1:18, 19).
Chapter 11 recalls the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, but chapter 12 is about the return from Babylon and the reconstruction of the Temple, Levitical Priesthood, and Davidic kingship. Most of all, it is about the return to the Covenant and the renewal of the intention to be God’s Covenant people. Like Galatians 4, which distinguishes between the physical Jerusalem and the spiritual one, chapters 11 and 12 foreshadow the fall of the physical Jerusalem and the blessing of the spiritual Jerusalem of Christ. The spiritual Jerusalem has always been, and always will be, a remnant of true believers rather than the physical descendants of Abraham. The physical Jerusalem will pass away, but the spiritual Jerusalem, consisting of the true believers of both the Old and New Testament eras, will endure forever by God’s grace and power. This message is constantly repeated throughout the Bible. As chapter 11 regards the fall of the physical Jerusalem, chapter 12 regards the rise of the spiritual, New Jerusalem of Christ.
God promises to keep the spiritual Jerusalem safe, through all the trials and troubles of earth, and bring her to His eternal glory at last. He warns that He will punish those who attempt to harm her. The world is always laying siege to the spiritual Jerusalem (2), and the armies of the world are always aimed at her. Yet God promises her that tribulations will not destroy her. Instead, He will destroy all nations that come against her (9).
Verses 7-14, while promising God’s grace to Zerubabel, also look ahead to the Christ and His crucifixion. Through Him God ultimately pours grace on the house of David. He is the One the others pierce (Jn. 19:34) and look upon, and because of this, will mourn under the weight of their sin (Rev. 1:7).
Zech. 13, Acts 5:1-16
Zech. 14, 2 Tim. 3
This chapter tells of the current and future blessings of Jerusalem. The fountain (1) flows with grace and forgiveness like Christ Himself. The Jews have sinned, but God has forgiven them and returned them to the Promised Land. They now have an opportunity to return to God and His Covenant. In a purified Jerusalem, idolatry will be put out of the land and remembered no more. False prophets will not live. Those who have come out of the sins of idolatry and false prophecy will repent (4) and admit that they are herdsmen and workers rather than prophets. The wounds (6) are probably the scars of sin, but may also be self-inflicted wounds that were part of pagan worship. The house of friends is the pagan places of worship, which promised life and happiness, but delivered only sorrow and death. When they bowed to the idols, the people thought they were honouring gods who were their friends, but all they got from the idols is wounds, both physical and spiritual. Verses 7- 9 tell of the Lord’s judgement on those who leave the faith. They also tell of His mercy on the third part, which He will keep for Himself, and which is the real Israel. Those who are outwardly Jews, but do not keep the faith are not the true Israel, and will not dwell in this purified, spiritual Jerusalem.
Zechariah closes his book with an apocalyptic vision of the future glory of Jerusalem. The symbols and their meanings are not easily understood, but we can see the vision begins with Jerusalem under attack by the Gentiles (2). This time the attack is not caused by God’s anger as punishment for sin. It is the result of evil intent and hatred toward Jerusalem by idolatrous and wicked people. Thus, the Lord goes forth to fight against the nations (3). He stands on the Mount of Olives, which exists in the time of Zechariah, more than 500 years before Christ, and still existed in our Lord’s time. God’s feet crush the mount and form a great valley (4). The moving earth causes Jerusalem’s enemies to flee, leaving the land for the Jews. The normal times of day and night are ended, and the city enjoys light, even during the hours once given to darkness.
Verse 10 describes the boundaries of Judah, which are similar to those during David’s reign. The southern boundary is near Beersheba, the northern boundary is about ten miles north of Jerusalem. It is a place of safety, never to see utter destruction again. Former enemies will come to worship God in the city (16-18). Plagues and droughts will punish those who refuse to worship Him.
In battle, horses wore bells to add sound to their actions. Thousands of archer armed chariots, accompanied by the sound of horses’ feet and the din of their bells must have terrified infantry soldiers. But in Jerusalem, the bells will have “Holiness unto the Lord” inscribed on them, and will not be used in battle again (20). The pots are those used to boil the meat of the sacrifices. Not all Old Testament sacrifices were completely burned on the altar. Parts of some were boiled and given to the priests, and some were returned to the people who offered the sacrifice. But here (21) the sacrifice appears to be offered by the Lord, and given to the people. Canaanites often sold animals to the Jews for sacrifices. Since God is the one offering the sacrifice, the Canaanites and their beasts are no longer needed.
Thus, Zechariah ends with Jerusalem in peace, and the Jews living in holiness unto the Lord. It is not hard to see that the Jerusalem of this chapter is the spiritual Jerusalem as it will exist in the New Testament, and in the time of the fullness of the Day of the Lord, when all things are gathered into Christ. The language is metaphoric rather than literal, since we don’t literally expect to see Christ return as a giant whose foot flattens the Mount of Olives and the surrounding area. But the image of Christ ruling the earth and bringing the nations into His Kingdom is absolutely consistent with the New Testament image of the Church, in which the distinctions between Jew and Gentile are passed away, and both are one in Christ. The image of God making the sacrifice calls to mind the sacrificial death of Christ. God feeding His people with the sacrifice reminds us that we feed on the spiritual food of Christ. These images, combined with others in the book, many of which were quoted by our Lord Himself, make Zachariah one of the clearest presentations of Christ in the Old Testament.
Malachi 1, Acts 5:17
Mal. 2, 2 Tim 4
It has been more than a hundred years since the Temple was rebuilt and Zechariah wrote and preached about the glorification of Jerusalem and the destruction of her enemies. Yet, Jerusalem is weak, impoverished, and ruled by the Persian Empire. Where is the time of glory promised by Zechariah and the other prophets? Why isn’t Jerusalem the capital of a world-wide empire, dwelling in wealth and peace? And where is the era of righteousness? It seems the Jews have fallen back into their old patterns of sin and unbelief. They are discouraged, and resentful toward God, if they even believe in Him at all. When God says, “I have loved you,” the Jews say, “wherein hast thou loved us?” Where is Your love? What good have you done for us? Why are we still in poverty and danger, and why are we still under foreign rule? They are saying two things here. First, obviously God does not love them, because He has not given them wealth and security. Second, if He does love them, His love is worthless, therefore they are justified in having a casual attitude toward Him, and in looking to other gods for what He does not provide. Clearly seen in their attitude is a spiritual arrogance that assumes they are entitled to God’s best because they worship Him and keep the ceremonial laws, at least, mostly.
God answers by first showing that He is sovereign in love. He chooses whom He will love. Thus, He loved Jacob and not Esau. Second, the Jews are not worthy of His love, and any good they receive from Him is due to His grace, not their righteousness. The priests do not honour God (6). The offerings are polluted (7) because the worship is insincere (8). Therefore, God is given the rejects and culls of their flocks, rather than the best. It is possible that, when good animals are brought as sacrifices, the priests take them for themselves, and substitute blemished animals. Verse 10 seems to indicate that the peoples’ offerings and worship are merely attempts to manipulate Him. They seem to believe their worship, obligates God to bless them with prosperity and preeminence over all other nations. But God tells them the day is coming when the Gentiles they despise will offer incense and pure offerings that are far better than the Jews’ polluted offerings. God is God. He is the great King. He is owed the very best of the best (14). Why should He settle for leftovers and rejects? This is what Israel has offered Him. Thus, she is unworthy of His love.
God warns the priests that polluted offerings are not accepted by Him. Instead of earning His love, they earn His curse, as all sin does (2). He reminds them of His Covenant with Levi, in which they are pledged to serve God faithfully. “But,” He says in verse 8, “ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant with Levi.” These words remind us of God’s warnings to the shepherds of Israel through other prophets. The shepherds misled the people, and God brought curses, rather than blessings on Israel. God alone directs how He is to be be worshiped and served. Men are to follow His directives, not make their own. In a similar way, God gives His word to us,which we are to trust and obey. We are not given authority to change it according to our whims and ideas of what God ought to say and do and require of us.
The treachery of the Jews is as active in their interpersonal relationships as in their relationship with God. This is easily seen in the divorces among them. Instead of marital fidelity unto death, people have become serial marriers, readily divorcing their wives (or husbands), and often marrying Gentile idolaters (13-16).
When they come to the Temple and daily prayers, they recite the liturgies with precision, yet they neither understand nor care about the meaning of their words. They say them, and return to their sins and bless evil and evil doers (17). Since God has mercifully not struck them dead and cast them into hell, they think He does not see or care. “Where is the God of judgement?” they say, meaning, He will not punish them if they do wicked and abusive things. Therefore, their words weary the Lord.
Mal. 3, Acts 6
Mal. 4, 2 Titus 1
The Jews long to see the Day of the Lord. They believe it will be a day of devastation and destruction of the Gentiles. But Malachi says the Day of the Lord begins with judgement on the house of Judah. God will be a refiner’s fire to His own people (2-5), He will burn away their impurities the way a super-heated furnace burns the impurities out of gold and silver.
The casual attitude of the people is well expressed in verses 6-9, which tell us many have stopped offering the sacrifices and tithes called for in the Law. They keep God’s portion for themselves, to increase their own wealth while the house of God is empty. This probably means they have also stopped attending the Temple and synagogue, preferring to spend their time, as well as their money, on their own pursuits rather than God’s. God calls this robbing Him.
Why have the people stopped attending the Temple and synagogue? Why have they stopped worshiping God with the tithe? Why have they fallen back into the very sins that caused God to turn them over to the Babylonians? Because they say, “It is vain to serve God.” It does them no good they say. There is no profit in it for them. Remember that, in their own minds, they are righteous. They believe they have done everything the Covenant requires, but God has not. They have been entirely faithful to the Covenant, but God has broken it on every count by not giving them the wealth and peace He promised and they deserve. They have fallen back into the idea that God is only concerned about “religious” things. He only cares about the outward forms of sacrificing animals and saying liturgies. He does not care about personal morality, and He does not care about loving Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds. So they went through the motions of worship without engaging their hearts. When God did not bless that, they stopped going through the motions, and accused God of breaking His promises to them.
In reality, it is they who have broken the Covenant and turned away from God. Their worship is empty and revolting to God. They do not care about God, but expect God to care about them. They call the proud (those who despise God) happy. They say those who tempt God, by open sin and blasphemy, are the ones who are delivered from the problems of life. It does often appear that the wicked prosper at the expense of the righteous. Thus, it is natural to conclude it is better to be wicked than righteous. But God promises that the wicked will be punished, while those who turn to Him in faith will be saved from the wrath to come. Otherwise, there is no hope.
The wicked are compared to stems of wheat that are left after the grain is harvested. Such stubble is dry and easily burned. It can also be gathered into bundles and burned for heat. It is as fuel for the furnace that the wicked are referred to here. God is the furnace. He will gather them and consume them in the unquenchable fire of His wrath. The wicked are not getting away with their oppression and immorality. God sees, and God will consume them.
The Sun of Righteousness is God (2). His Righteousness will rise on the faithful like the sun on a new day. He will accomplish all that He has promised them. Ultimately, He is Christ, who is risen from the grave with healing for our souls in His wings. In His death, our sins are crucified. In His resurrection, our souls are healed. In His return, His righteousness will rise like the sun, and cover the whole creation. All evil will be punished, and His people will inherit the earth. We will go forth as calves from the stall, joyful and happy to be free.
As they return to God, the Jews are reminded to keep the law of Moses (4). They have fallen into sin again, so God calls them to keep the law. This is a call to be the Covenant people again.
Elijah (5) will be known as John the Baptist. He will be the forerunner of the Messiah. Through his preaching, many will be turned to God again, and many will embrace the Messiah in faith.
Isaiah 1, Acts 7:1-30
Isaiah 2, Titus 2, 3
Isaiah is a wealthy priest who began his ministry in the year King Uzziah died, about 742 B.C. He is the king's pastor, and is possibly a member of the royal family. Well educated and a faithful minister of God, his book is a warning to people who have turned away from God. The heart of the chapter is expressed in the words of God, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (2). This verse sets the tone for the entire book of Isaiah. Everything after this verse is either a plea from God to repent and be blessed, or a revelation of the terrible price to be paid for sin.
The Jews find these words offensive. They are the chosen people, and they are outwardly very religious. They are very conscientious about observing the ceremonial regulations of feasts and fasts and animal sacrifices. But their hearts are far from God. Thus, God is “full” of their burnt offerings and has no delight in the blood of bulls and goats (11). When God says He is “full," He does not mean He is satisfied as a person would be after a good meal. He means He is overfull. He is like a person who has eaten far too much, and is violently sick because of it. He is so sick of their insincere worship that the very thought of it makes Him nauseous.
God will not endure this forever. If the people repent He will feed them with the good of the land, but if they refuse they will be devoured with the sword (19-20).
The chapter is summarised well in two phrases. The first is found in verse 24. The "adversaries" and "enemies" of God are outwardly religious people who do all the religious things specified by the Old Testament ceremonial law. But, somehow they have separated faith from life. They keep the Sabbath with meticulous detail, but oppress and mistreat their brethren throughout the rest of the week. The concept of Godliness in every aspect of life, from work to recreation to home and church is foreign to them. But God demands Godliness in all things. He demands to be Lord of your home as much as of your church, and Lord of your morals as much as of your worship. The plan of God for Israel was for them to love God, to worship Him in Biblical worship and faith, and put that faith into practice in every aspect of life. So there is no part of life that is separate from "religion." God is Lord of all of life. The same is true for the New Testament Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ.
The second phrase that summarises this passage is in verse 25. The image of this verse is the refining furnace, which burns away impurities from precious metals. God is telling the people of Judea He is going to put them through the refining fire. He is going to burn away their dross in the fire of His wrath. He is going to purify them through suffering, much of which will come through brutal military conquest of their land.
Isaiah 2 looks beyond the refining fire of the Babylonian conquest and the trials of this life to a day when God Himself has healed His people and brought peace to them forever. In that Day all nations will walk in His ways and there will be no more war. This is the time of the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ. That Day is not here in its full sense, but it is here in part in the Church. It would be good to think about how the Church fulfills this passage (or falls short of it) as we read this passage.
The people in Isaiah 2 have a problem. It is not a problem of poverty or hunger, for there is no end of their treasures (7). Their problem is that they have forsaken the greatest treasure of all, God. Forsaking God, they have turned to false gods. Why would they turn to idols? Because it is easier to fall for a lie than to stand for the truth. To put it another way; idols are easier to serve than God. We can create an idol to be anything we want. We can dictate to it what kind of god it will be and what we will give to it. But God refuses to be dictated to. God always demands that we change to conform to Him. He never changes to conform to us. Do people today try to change God to make it easier to serve Him? On what do you base your answer?
Is. 3, Acts 7:31-60
Is. 4, Philemon
Isaiah 3 is another sermon and warning about the judgement of Judah. Always deeply aware of the sins of the Gentiles, the Jews are happily unaware of their own. Always looking for God to punish the Gentiles, they never seem to think God’s wrath will burn against them, also. But chapter 3 details many of the ways God will punish the Jews. Of particular notice is the unlearned and foolish who become leaders and major influences of thought and culture. Verse 4 describes them as children and babes. Manasseh became king at the age of 12. His incompetence and wickedness did immeasurable harm to the Jewish people, and was a major cause of their moral religious collapse. But people of mature years can be like children in their understanding and selfishness. Incompetent people are often elevated to positions of great power, where their childish understanding and behaviour cause disaster for many others. Because of their sin, the destruction of Jerusalem is stated as though it is an accomplished act (8). “Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen” is an accurate statement of the theme of this chapter.
Isaiah 4 looks past judgment to the redemption and restoration of Judea. The reforms under King Hezekiah and the restoration of the Jews after the Babylonian Captivity are the first applications of this passage. But it looks beyond these things to an event that is immeasurably greater than both of them, and of which they are symbols and representations. That event is the advent of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christ is the Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious. The salvation of souls and the Kingdom of Christ is the fruit He brings forth by His suffering and resurrection. In Him, Jerusalem (the Church) is holy. In Him the filth (sin) of the daughters of Jerusalem (people who receive Him as Lord and Saviour) is washed away. Through Him the cloud of smoke and fire (the presence of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit) descend to Mt. Zion (the Church) and her assemblies (meetings for worship). He is the Tabernacle, the shelter from the heat, storm, and rain (the results of our sins). Note that a shelter protects us by bearing the storm for us.
Is. 5, Acts 8:1-25
Is. 6, Hebrews 1
Isaiah returns to the theme of judgment. The vineyard is Judah. Called and blessed by God, she has refused to bear the fruit of righteousness. Thus, she is left to be overgrown by thorns and weeds, which are sins and worldly cares that choke the word of God out of the vineyard. In another sense, the thorns and weeds are the enemies who will conquer and rule the Jewish people. The enemies will flourish and choke out the vines.
Future generations will see the Messiah, the true vine, but most will reject Him. They, too , will be overrun with weeds of unbelief, and turned over to the weeds and thorns. The same can happen to professing Christians, churches, and denominations. Neglect of the word and house of God allows the weeds and thorns to grow and flourish in us. If not uprooted, they can take over, and choke the faith out of us.
The Word of the Lord in Isaiah 6 is a terror to the prophet. He was commissioned to proclaim the Word to Judea, but he is told that the people will not understand or receive it. Instead, his preaching will make their hearts fat, their ears heavy, and their eyes shut, that they may not hear and convert and be healed. The prophet probably remembers the warnings of God's anger, which he has already been preaching to the people. Those warnings were coupled with a promise of forgiveness to those who repent. But now Isaiah is told by God that the majority of people will not repent. Most will not even understand or receive his message. Instead of hearing it with faith and repentance, their ears and hearts will become calloused to it. It will fade into the background noise, like music in a mall.
Perhaps a similar thing has happened to people today. The Bible is the ideological foundation of Western civilisation and culture. It formed our ideals and our world, and gave us our values of justice and freedom. We have rarely come close to actually living up to its teachings, but it has always been a force to reckoned with, even when we have strayed from it. Today, after 2,000 years, people are no longer listening to it. It is there. Even the most secularised people listen to Christmas carols, and most people have at least some knowledge of the Bible’s message. But they are not paying attention. It has become background noise to them. It puts them to sleep, even those who believe it is true. God help us to hear it.
Is. 7, Acts 8:26-40
Is. 8. Hebrews 2
Ahaz is Uzziah's grandson. He is a comparatively good king who actually attempts to accomplish some reforms in Judah. In chapter 7 Israel, which separated from Judah and formed its own country after the death of Solomon, has joined forces with Syria to fight against him. How tragic that part of God’s people have joined unbelievers to fight against another part of God’s people. God’s message to Ahaz is that He will not allow them to defeat him. He offers to give a sign, which Ahaz refuses. So God gives the sign, but not just for Ahaz; for all people. A virgin shall be with Child (14).
Doubtless, this verse has a direct application to Isaiah and Ahaz. But its actual fulfillment comes in the Virgin Birth of Christ. It looks forward to an event more than seven hundred years in the future, when the virgin Mary will conceive the Messiah, Immanuel. Christ literally and actually fulfills the words of this prophecy.
Chapter 8 speaks Immanuel’s name in great sadness. The sadness comes because the land of Judah, Immanuel's Land, will be occupied and conquered by an army so vast and powerful its lines will "fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel." Chapter 8 is given first as a promise of security to Ahaz and the people of Judea. It is the good news of the fall of their enemies. Rather than conquering Judea, they will be conquered by Assyria (7). This will be a temporary deliverance for Judea, and during this time they will have a time of partial reformation and faith as Hezekiah attempts to move the people back towards God. But, the reforms will be incomplete, and many of the people will resist them. Therefore, even Judah will be troubled by the Assyrians, and, eventually fall to the empire that conquers Assyria, Babylon.
Is. 9, Acts 9:1-23
Is. 10:1-18, Heb. 3
The coming Messiah is promised clearly in verses 1-7. The constant sin and punishment of the Jews points to the need of a Deliverer who is able to do far more than protect the Jews from Gentile invaders. The Jews, and Gentiles, need a Deliverer who is able to save them from their sinful patterns, and to accomplish their eternal forgiveness and reconciliation to God. They walk in the darkness of sin, and they need to see the great Light of God. Fortunately, that is just what God intends to do (2). Since this Deliverer must do what no man can do, He must be far more than a man. He must be, and is, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace (6). We know Him as Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and coming again to judge the quick and the dead.
In verse 8, the Northern kingdom of Israel is boasting that it will rebuild. Chapter 8 warned that Israel would be defeated by Assyria. In chapter 9 this has already happened, yet the people will not turn from their sins to God (9:13). They boast that if they don't have bricks they will build with stones. If good, sycamore wood is unavailable they will build with cedar. Their attitude is very much like that expressed in the poem, "Invictus." Because of this, the wrath of God will be as darkness upon the land, and the people will be as fuel for the fire (19).
The Lord continues to warn Judea of His approaching wrath. Notice the disintegration of Jewish society which causes God's anger to burn against them. Israel was called to be one people. They were to be like a good family, walking together in love to God and love to one another. Instead of love they have given hate. They have trampled the rights of the poor. They buy and sell "justice" with bribes and threats. They prey on widows and rob orphans. Thus, they will become prisoners and casualties. God has set them aside to become fuel for the fire. If He punished Samaria, capital of the Northern tribes of Israel, shall He not also punish Jerusalem, capital of the Southern tribe of Judah?
God pronounces woe on the swindlers and deceivers in Judah and Jerusalem (1-4). Of all people, they will suffer most in the coming invasion (4). Truly, God requires justice and truth among His own people.
Verse 5 turns to the Assyrian conquerors. True, God will allow them to destroy Israel and trouble Judah, but their deeds are still evil. They are being used by God to chastise His people, but they are still wicked people, and God will not let them go unpunished. He will bring judgment and wrath upon them as surely as He has done upon His own chosen people. "Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?" Who is the ax and who heweth therewith? Assyria is the ax, but it is God who heweth.
Is. 10:19-34, Acts 9:24
Is. 11, Heb. 4
Here we read of God’s inexhaustible grace. Though His own people habitually despise Him and prostitute themselves to gods that are not even real, He will not utterly destroy them. A remnant will be saved to carry on the mission for which Israel was called. God cannot fail. His purpose for Israel will not be stopped by worldly enemies, or even by sin in His own people. His work of Redemption, by which He brings His own to Himself in everlasting peace, and by which He restores His creation to its original glory will be unfailingly accomplished. He will continue His work through Israel. He will bring the Saviour into the world through her. Through Him, He will complete the great work of Redemption, until all enemies are put under His feet, and all of His people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are safely gathered into His eternal peace.
Judah is cut down. Once a great tree, luxuriant and well watered, it is shown here as a dying stump. Years of war have leveled it. Future conquests, coupled with internal decay, will wear even the stump away. But a Branch will grow out of its roots. Seemingly tender and weak, it will grow to be mighty and great. In it all the promises of the chapter come to pass.
In one sense, the chapter refers to the Jews after the Babylonian conquest. The tree represents Judah and Jerusalem, cut and worn away to nothing but roots. But a branch, representing the Jews returning from Babylon after being released by Cyrus the Great of Persia, sprouts from the roots. The post captivity Jews are few and weak. They are surrounded by enemies, and their survival looks doubtful. But they will survive, because God is their protector, and He will ensure their continuation.
In an even greater sense, the Branch is the Kingdom of God. Often battered by the world, and decayed by heresy and sin, its survival looks doubtful, and many have confidently predicted its death. Yet it survives. Why? Because Almighty God wills it. It is God’s Church, God’s people, God’s Kingdom, and He will protect and ensure its continuance. No matter how weak it looks, or even if it appears to be completely gone, God will always have His faithful remnant. One day He will cause this branch to inherit the earth, and its enemies will pass away.
In a still greater sense, the Branch is Christ Himself. He comes to earth through the root of Judah, being born of the Jewish people in the town of Bethlehem. An insignificant infant in an insignificant family, in an insignificant town looks small and weak to us. Can He continue the work of the Kingdom? Can He be the personification of it. Can He be its Lord and God? Can He complete the great plan of Redemption, which God formulated before He laid the foundations of the earth? He can, because He is God with us. He is Immanuel. The world, and the Kingdom were created by Him and for Him, and He is far stronger than all His enemies. He is able and He is willing to accomplish all that He has promised, and threatened, in the Bible.
Is. 12, Acts 10:1-34
Is. 13, Heb 5
This chapter continues the message of the Branch begun in chapter 11. It is a hymn of praise and faith sung in the Day of the Branch by those who have been saved and brought into the Kingdom of God. The wells of salvation symbolise all of God’s wondrous acts in the ministry of Redemption. Here they refer to God bringing the Jews back to Jerusalem and bestowing His mercies upon them again. But, in their broadest, and most complete form they are the ministry and Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the completion of Redemption when He returns to restore the earth and creation to its original perfection, with His people dwelling in it with Him.
The 13th chapter of Isaiah foretells the destruction of Babylon by devastating military conquest. Even her women and children will be mercilessly murdered by the cruel sword of the conquering army. Babylon was famous for its wealth. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers provided abundant water, and that meant an abundance of food, waterways for shipping and trade, and the accumulation of wealth. That wealth enabled Babylon to became a mighty empire, ruling most of the Middle East, including Israel and Judea, both of which fell to her advancing armies. The Old Testament makes it very clear that God raised up the Babylonians and allowed them to conquer the Jews as punishment for sins. But He would not let the Babylonians go unpunished. Their conquest and oppression of others was still wrong, and they would suffer for it terribly.
November 30, Feast of St. Andrew
Andrew, with his brother, Peter, left a prosperous fishing business to follow Christ. Both died by crucifixion in the service of Christ. It is commonly believed Andrew went into Asia, and ministered around the area now known as Istanbul, Turkey. There he was executed on an X shaped cross, which has become known as the St. Andrew’s cross.
Andrew is not one of the more noted Apostles. He did not write a Gospel or epistles, and we have no written accounts of his ministry. Many today remember him for bringing his brother, Peter to Christ (Jn. 1:41) and many sermons and tracts about “witnessing” cite him as an example of someone who may not be able to do great things for Christ, but whose witness may bring someone into the fold who will do great things. But Andrew did far more than just bring Peter to Christ. His responsibilities as an Apostle required him to help establish the New Testament Church, deal with controversies, and ensure that bishops, pastors, and congregations preached and followed the pure Gospel, which was entrusted to the Apostles by Christ. He, along with John and Paul, established a strong Christian influence in Asia Minor, from whence missionaries went west into Europe, further east into Asia, and north into Russia. Andrew, then, was an effective missionary himself, and a great influence on other missionaries.
Collect for St. Andrew’s Day
Almighty God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle St. Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay; Grant unto us all, that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfill thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.