Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Zechariah’s ministry took place during the reign of Darius the Great (1:1).

He was a contemporary of Haggai – the prophet we looked at last week.

A quick summary of history – the Assyrians are in power, then the Babylonians come into power, and now the Persians are in power.

THAT is an over simplification!

Now the Babylonians held power by exiling the smartest and best, sending them to the Babylonia.

Then when the Persians came to power, they held control by being more politically savvy with the nation of Judah.

The people can go home – if they choose to do so – and they get to rebuild the temple.
Zehariah comes on the scene. Not much is known about Zechariah’s family history, but he was probably from a priestly family. He was born in exile in Babylon and came to Jerusalem sometime between 538 and 520 BC.

His prophecies show the influence of both priestly and prophetic concerns in his life. As a member of a priestly family, Zechariah would have been taught the precepts of the law, particularly those related to the priestly duties of sacrifice and ritual. He would have learned how to judge and give opinions in cases involving questions of religious or ritual procedure.
The law and memories of the Temple – with all of its rituals of worship and sacrifice – were passed on to him through his family and other priests in exile.

It is even possible that Zechariah may have listened to the prophetic preachings of Ezekiel, who was among the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Some of the prophecies of Zechariah and of Ezekiel express a similar concern for the Temple, its rituals and its maintenance.

The book is a collection of vision reports and prophetic oracles.

The first part of the book is a brief section – six verses, that serve as an introduction to the book.

Zechariah 1
A Call to Return to the LORD
1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:
2 “The LORD was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.

5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?
“Then they repented and said, ‘The LORD Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”

Zechariah is telling the people, look at your parents. When the prophets prophesied in the past, their fathers ignored them. They went into exile and died as a result of the discipline of the Lord. Where are your fathers? (dead) Where did they die? (in exile) Do the prophets live forever? (no) So listen up while you have a chance.

Beginning in verse 7 of chapter 1, we see the first of a series of 8 visions to Zechariah.

Zechariah is trying to motivate a very depressed and discouraged people by helping them envision the future.

7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.
8 During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
9 I asked, “What are these, my lord?”
The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”
10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the LORD has sent to go throughout the earth.”
11 And they reported to the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”

Now that phrase, “the whole world is at rest and in peace,” sounds good, but what it means is that the world is complacent. They are sitting fat and sassy.

12 Then the angel of the LORD said, “LORD Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” 13 So the LORD spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
14 Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, 15 and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’

I find this to be a fascinating passage. Here we also see the interplay between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humanity. God is angry because, although He wanted the nations to discipline Israel, they went too far. Because Babylon was too hard on Israel, God sends Persia to punish Babylon, etc. So God is a God of history, God is in control of history, but God is not the micro manager of history or a puppet master of the world.

16 “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the LORD Almighty.
17 “Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”

There is that very familiar cycle of doom and gloom and hope – the cycle of judgment and comfort.
Let’s move over to chapter 4…

Zechariah 4
The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees
1 Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. 2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
4 I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
5 He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I replied.
6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Who is Zerubbabel?

He is the governor of Judah. The Persians controlled the people by placing locals in power. Limited power. Zerubbabel was a descendant of David, but he was not a king. He was a provincial governor under Persian rule. One of the big differences between Zerubbabel and his ancestors is that the kings of Israel were political AND religious leaders, but Zerubbabel is simply the secular politician – not the religious leader. This is the Jewish people’s first experience with a separation of church and state.

Continuing with verse 7

7 “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”
8 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.
10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
11 Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”
12 Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?”
13 He replied, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I said.
14 So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.”

These two who are anointed leaders are the governor, Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua.

Through their leadership and guidance, God’s light is shed on the people.

According to verse six, Zerubbabel will lead the people – not by hyis own power, but by the spiritual gifts given him by God.

In verse 9 it Zechariah points out that Zerubbabel has already laid the foundation of the temple.

Now this is important because these are discouraging times. Building the Temple is not easy. The people are discouraged. The old timers remember the Temple in the glory days and what they are now building falls far short of what used to be “back in the day.” The materials are scarce. The work is hard. And in the midst of these difficult times, the prophet says, Zechariah has ALREADY built the foundation AND he goes on to say, that Zerubbabel will finish the task.

Everyone needs that encouragement after you leave the starting line of a race or of any project, “you can do it. Go! Go! Go!” And Zechariah does that for Zerubbabel and the people.

I love that line in verse 10:

“Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
The phrase “seven eyes of the Lord” are not literal, but mean God’s ability to see all things – seven meaning “completeness” in the Bible.

But what captures my imagination is that opening line in verse 10 – “Who dares despise the day of small things…”

We like to think big – and there is nothing wrong with that. Chapel by the Sea, some two decades or so ago, built this wonderful sanctuary. People come here every week to sit through the video tour of the building and to learn about the windows and the history.

But the great things we do in the Lord’s work is not always the monumental things, but what Zechariah calls, the small things.

It’s the showers we provide at God’s Table. The hair cuts. Helping the homeless and needy to feel human and clean. It’s the food we pass out. It’s the soup we serve in Immokalee. It’s one church member asking another church member, “how are you doing,” and then actually listening when the other says, “not that good.”

We should never despise those small moments for God. Zechariah is telling this to the people who look back and say, “all we’ve accomplished is this little wall, or all we did was lay a few bricks…” Never despise the small things.

Now what follows is the kind of passage UFO conspiracy buffs would love.

Zechariah 5
1 I looked again, and there before me was a flying scroll.
2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a flying scroll, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.”
3 And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.
This concept of being under the CURSE of God is a powerful thing that most modern readers ignore.

Think about this. We are under grace. We fell the love. What does it mean to be under the CURSE of God? That is a powerful statement. It’s not judgment, but the curse.

Elizabeth Actemeier in her book about the Minor Prophets says this: “Not only is the accursed cut off from all life and all good, which come only from God, but a curse is active, evil power which brings destruction and wasting and death upon its object.”

We give so much thought to what it means to be blessed. What would it be like to be under God’s curse?

I confess, I’ve never thought much about being under God’s curse, so I did some reading on the subject.

Early in the Bible, Cain kills Able, and this is what happens in Genesis 4

10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

But still, notice that God still cares for Cain. Cain is afraid someone else will kill him out of revenge, but God protects Cain. God gives him a mark and declares that anyone killing Cain would suffer vengeance seven times over. But Cain was still cursed, and Genesis says, “Cain went out from the LORD’s presence.”

Zechariah 1 through 6 give a series of eight visions. We looked at a small portion of them. Beginning n chapter 7 and continuing through chapter 8, we come to a collection of prophetic oracles concerning ethical living.

Zechariah 7
Justice and Mercy, Not Fasting
1 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the LORD 3 by asking the priests of the house of the LORD Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”

The Temple was burned and destroyed decades earlier, and for 70 years the people have been practicing a ritual fasting.

Now the people are wondering if they should continue that fasting since they will now have a new Temple.

The answer that Zechariah gives applies not just to the Jews about to reopen the new Temple, but applies to all of us who practice faith in our lives.

4 Then the word of the LORD Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6

In other words – what was your motivation to begin with.

Any religious action or ritual is worthless if done out of self-centered motivations.

And more than that, it is not just motivation that gives meaning to religious ritual, it is how the religious ritual impacts your own lifestyle and actions:

9 “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

This passage sounds like it was ripped from the pages of another Minor Prophet – Micah:
6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

In chapter 8, there is a series of statements about what life is like in the Kingdom of God – for the people Zechariah’s day, these sayings or brief oracles apply to the restored Jerusalem, but for us, they apply the eventual Kingdom of God on this earth.

For example, here is one with chapter 8 verse 4:

Zechariah 8
4 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. 5 The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

That is a wonderful image of a community that is multigenerational, in which everyone is at peace and in safety. We would be afraid to let our kids play in the streets!

Beginning in chapter 9, there is a completely different feel to the book. Some people even divide Zechariah into two books – 1st Zechariah and 2nd Zechariah. Scholars feel chapter 9 onward is from a different time in history – toward the end of the days of the Persian Empire as the Greeks were coming into power. Some scholars believe this section was written by a different individual entirely – perhaps a disciple or student of Zechariah.

In fact, no where in these remaining verses does it ever say, “the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, as it does in chapter 7, verse 1: “In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah”

Here in chapter nine, we see a passage appropriate for this coming Sunday – Palm Sunday:

Zechariah 9
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

That is fulfilled in the events leading to Good Friday =- the triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus Christ.

Now jump to chapter 11 and there is more reflection on the coming Messiah:
11:8 The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them 9 and said, “I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.”
This is the consequences of rejecting the Messiah. “What is to die, let it die; what is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed; and let those who are left eat the fless of one another.”

That is a picture of every era or society that rejects God’s rule and authority over it. We devour the flesh of one another by hate or crime or war or poverty or greed or injustice.

When we rebel against God, our only inheritance is evil – a wasting away of our life.

In other words, the power of God over us is to give us the freedom of will, to let ourselves wander and flounder as we will, apart from the guidance of God.

This oracle ends with this uplifting statement about the one who would reject the Messiah: Chapter 11 verse 17:

“May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!”

With chapter 12 we come to the last of the oracles of the book of Zechariah.

It continues a Messianic and End Times theme.

Zechariah 12
10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

This sounds like a Good Friday passage with the piercing of Christ on the cross.

So what will the Kingdom on Earth look like? The Second Coming, the rule of Christ on Earth?

Zechariah 14
6 On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. 7 It will be a unique day—a day known only to the LORD—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light.
That is the best description of the future – it will be a day known only to the Lord. It will be a unique day.

8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.

Where else do we hear about the living water? Jesus in John’s Gospel says he is the living water.

9 The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.

What are some of the things you pick out of Zechariah to take home with you?
*Religious ritual is meaningless if it doesn't find itself living out in your life - don't build a Temple without an internal faith.
*The Messiah is humble.
*Peace will someday be established.
*The Kingdom of God is unique, and what we imagine is a tiny part of what it will be.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


An oversimplification of ancient history is this.

The superpower known as Babylon comes into Judah, takes over, and exiles all the smart and industrious people to Babylon, thereby defusing the power of Judah to rebel.

Years go by.

The superpower known as Babylon declines and the superpower known as Persia rises up, comes into Judah and takes over.

What Persia does is to allow the Jewish exiles living in Babylon to go home. Jews are allowed to practice their own religion. They are permitted to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

And as the Jewish people are returning home, the prophet Haggai appears on the scene.

In 538 BC, some of the Jewish Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, though many stayed behind in Babylon.

Why would they stay?

After the creation of modern Israel, a lot of Jews stayed in New York City. Why leave. That was their home where they were born.

The people who did go back to Jerusalem found the city still in ruins from decades earlier when there had been a battle there. The Temple had been used to some extent during the intervening years, but it was basically in ruins as well.

The people who had stayed in Jerusalem during the Exile and the ones who came back in 538 BC had to learn to live together and become a community once more.

Economic conditions were bad. Judah faced occasional military raids from neighboring kingdoms. They had no real defense.

But on the plus side, the Jews were allowed to practice their faith and they were allowed to appoint a descendant of King David – a man named Zerubbabel, as governor. True – he was a governor under Persian supervision, but at least there was some feel of local leadership.

This offered something new and different to Israel. In the past the church and state had been under one authority – theologically speaking it was under the authority of God. The king had led the people on God’s behalf. Now the political and military powers were no longer associated with the religious power, because while the religion was allowed to have leadership – the secular authority was under the control of a foreign government.

In this situation it was especially important that the Temple and the religious structure be restored and maintained, because in this was the preservation and future of the people of Israel.

Cyrus died in 529 BC and he was succeeded by his son who committed suicide in 522 BC. Darius I then took the throne in Persia and faced restlessness in his empire. It was a huge empire, and there were constant rebellions.

For someone like Haggai, this may have seemed to be a sign that the end of foreign rule over Judah was at hand. During the Exile the prophet Ezekiel had proclaimed that God would reestablish God’s people in Judah and God’s rule on the thrown in Zion.

With Zerubbabel, a descendant of David already installed as governor, the time was right for Haggai to declare that God’s house must be rebuilt in preparation for the coming new age.

Now the book of Haggai gives no personal information about the man of Haggai. He is simply called “the prophet.” Jewish tradition states that he was known as a prophet in Babylon during the Exile, so he may have been among those returning to Judah in the years 538 to 520 BC. He became, along with Zechariah whom we will look at next week, the major force in Jerusalem behind the rebuilding of the Temple.

Haggai 1:1 tells the readers of Haggai’s prophecies when, to whom, and by what authority Haggai speaks:

1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

The sixth month is the same as our mid-August to mid September.

Zerubbabel had come to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. He is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Ezra.

Ezra 2
1 Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town, 2 in company with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah):
The list of the men of the people of Israel:
3 the descendants of Parosh 2,172
4 of Shephatiah 372
5 of Arah 775

And so forth and so on…

Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah and a descendant of King David. As governor, he was accountable to the Persian authorities.

Haggai addresses Zerubbabel and Joshua. He had also come from exile and returned to Judah. He was considered the spiritual head of the community and the final authority in matters concerning religious ceremony and sacrifice.

Haggai addresses these two men and also the Israelite people at large with a message from God.

Haggai begins with an oracle concerning the neglect of the Temple.

Haggai accuses the people of caring more about their own comfort than about the condition of God’s house. They have roofs over their heads but God’s house is in ruins.

2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

All of this is to try to get the people to look at their lives as God sees them. They are to remember the covenant they made with God in which faithfulness brings blessing and disobedience brings curses.

7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.

This may be a reference to seeing a Temple so devastated that there was not enough stone to rebuild it – they had to find supplies elsewhere.

9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

The people are not alone in this life – God is with them. But they must get their priorities straight. Haggai is urging the people to rebuild the Temple and he is telling them that it CAN be restored.

12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.

This fear is not a shaking in my boots fear, this is a fear of God, a respect for God, a submission to God.
13 Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.

Isn’t that a great verse? “I am with you,” declares the Lord.

There are times when you are engaged in a great project, and that is a message that you so very much need to hear.

“I am with you.”

14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.

God stirred the spirit of the whole remnant of the people…

In Jane Jacobs book, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, Jecobs writes about the necessity of what she calls “social capital” for any urban community. “Social capital” is that intangible supply of human trust, coordination, cooperation and mutual benefit that maintains a community and makes life easier and pleasant. A good supply of social capital enables people to put their resources together, communicate directly, negotiate effectively and to celebrate together the rewards. From it, the pronoun “I” becomes the pronoun “WE.” Haggai would remind the church that like ancient Israel, we find our store house of “social capital” in worship. Without common worship and service to God, we so easily turn back upon ourselves only to find our solitary selves. For the prophet, the stakes are very high for the community, just as the stakes are high for the church today.

In the second year of King Darius,
Haggai 2

Isn’t that a strange place to put a chapter division, at the end of the phrase, In the second year of King Darius, ?

This business of the versification of the Bible is an odd thing. The chapters and verses of the Bible came long, long after the Bible was written. The division of the chapters, usually about a page in length in old manuscripts, goes back to the 13th century. Verses were added about 300 years later. Sometimes a sentence spans more than one verse (as with Ephesians 2:8-9). Sometimes there is more than one sentence in a single verse, as in Genesis 1:2. And sometimes, as here, you have a strange event. The chapter ends in the middle of a sentence.
And Jews and Christians do not number the Bible the same – almost the same, but not quite. In the Hebrew Bibles, I Chronicles 5:27-41 is numbered as I Chronicles 6:1-15.

The first Bible in English to use both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible published shortly afterwards in 1560.

In the second year of King Darius,
1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 2 “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people.

If this sounds familiar, we’ve heard that in chapter one with the first oracle. These words tell us this is a separate oracle.

After a month of labor, the people have become discouraged. The people doubt the value of their work, and they doubt God’s presence is with them. The remembered glory of Solomon’s Temple far surpasses what they are able to build.

Haggai assures the people that the ancient promises that God made to Israel at the time of the Exodus still hold true.

Ask them, 3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
Now we move to yet another oracle…
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Haggai:

The ninth month is mid-November to mid December, and Haggai asks the priests to decide a question about the holiness and ritual impurity.

11 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
14 Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the LORD. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

This concept of coming in contact with what is unclean is not new to God’s people. Here is a passage from Numbers 19.

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the LORD’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.

But what is Haggai saying here?

11 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”

One can be defiled by coming in contact with uncleanliness, but you cannot become holy by coming in contact with the holy. Implied in all this is that they must not put false trust in the Temple. Just hanging around the Temple doesn’t make them pure.

I meet people all the time who think that because they occasionally come to Chapel, they are members of Chapel. And therefore they are Christians.

Not so – Christianity is a lifestyle.
15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on]—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD’s temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the LORD. 18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
“‘From this day on I will bless you.’”

God has punished the people, but there is that wonderful line, “From this day on I will bless you.”

I also like this line that appears several times in Haggai, “Give careful thought.” Great expression.

20 The word of the LORD came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.
23 “‘On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
This oracle is addressed to Zerubbable. Haggai declares that he is chosen by God for a special role in God’s coming kingdom.

A signet ring is a valuable possession which is elsewhere associated with a king.

This oracle may have been spoken in the expectation that the Persian empire was unstable and was about to fall, thus freeing Judah from its rule. Zerubbabel would then naturally be the one chosen to lead God’s people.

Some scholars believe that Zerubbable is spoken of here as a messiah, king who will rule when God’s kingdom is established. Zerubbabel would then fulfill the promises which had been made that one of David’s descendants would sit on the thrown in Jerusalem.

A new messianic age did not come to Israel in Zerubbable’s lifetime, and the Persian empire was intact until 331 BC. The people who recorded and saved Haggai’s prophecies knew this, so they must have believed that these words had some value even though the prophecy did not come to pass as it seemed to be presented. The value may lie in Zerubbabel’s being a representative for all of the chosen people.

Haggai’s prophecy may have Zerubbable symbolizing all of the people of Israel so that the promises made to him would apply to Israel as a whole. This would mean that the chosen people have been elected for special responsibility and authority under god. They will see the triumph of God’s kingdom on earth.

So what is this book about and why study it today. Obviously it was written for a specific time and place, but it is the word of God and is still useful for teaching and edification.

  1. Be obedient to God’s word. God is faithful to the ancient promises to Israel. In return for God’s steadfast love, the people of God must be faithful to the covenant relationship.

  2. This covenant relationship between God and Israel involves worship and ritual as well as righteousness and faith in daily life – I am amazed at the number of people who claim to be members of Chapel by the Sea, but never come here to worship

  3. Construction of the Temple has a meaning beyond its physical presence. In its construction the people turn away from their worries and concerns to express their love for and confidence in God.

  4. God’s will, not one’s own selfish comfort or prosperity, must be the first priority for people in the community of faith.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Last week we looked at Habakkuk, about whom we know next to nothing. He gives us no idea of his parentage. On the other hand, Zephaniah goes into tremendous detail with verse one of chapter one:

“Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.”

This is the only time in the Minor Prophets that an author traces his geneaology. He goes back four generations and stops with a Hezekiah. Why would he go back and stop at Hezekiah if this is not the king Hezekiah?

Hezekiah was one of the godly kings. Therefore, Zephaniah was probably in the royal family and lived in Jerusalem.

This gives him legitimacy when he preaches against the royalty.

He ministers during the time of King Josiah. So he is a contemporary of Jeremiah. One of the characteristics of Zephaniah is his attention to the Book of Genesis. We see this right away with verse 2, when Zephaniah echoes the story of Noah.

2 “I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the LORD.
3 “I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”

What has so angered God that he would do this?

It is the sin of idol worship.
4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests— 5 those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molek,[b] 6 those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.”

I see three things at work in this statement of idol worship.

First, there is obviously the worship of a false god.
Second, there is the divided worship of God and false god.
Third, there is atheism.
First – there is the worship of a false god. Zephaniah mentions specifically Baal and Molek. These were two popular false gods, we see them throughout the Bible.
Baal was a fertility god in the Bible. The way they would get the earth to become fertile and encourage the crops to grow was to go to the Temple of Baal and have sex with the temple prostitutes so as to encourage the god Baal into making the earth fertile. It was big business in its day.
Molek was a national god of the Ammorites.
When you put your trust in a false reality, a made up god, that is a sin.

Some of these people were hedging their bets. They worshipped God AND a false god. But you have to be committed. You either worship God or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

I love that last line we read, because it is so reflective of today.
6 those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.”

Atheism or spiritual complacency are also sins.
When we turn from God, it is not just the people who suffer – all creation suffers.

7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near.
”The Day of the Lord.” That is a them in Zephaniah and it is a theme that shows up in the writings of other prophets. “The Day of the Lord” can be something to be afraid of, or something that is longed for.
Here, it is a frightening thing.
The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.
8 “On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. 9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold,who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.
What is that business of verse 9 about thresholds?
It is a poetic way of talking about those who worship false gods.
1 Samuel 5
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Philistines and the Ark
5 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

So on the Day of the Lord, God is going to punish those who worship false gods – and not the true God.

Understand, this is during the same time as Habakkuk and with it the rediscovery of Deuteronomy in the temple repairs of King Josiah. The people are being called to rededicate themselves to God. Zephaniah is part of that project – calling people back to the true God.
The sacrifice that is being prepared are the people of Judah. They are being sacrificed. They are the victims. They are the targets for the punishment because of their sins.

10 “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
The old city of Jerusalem, like many ancient cities, was a walled city for protection and defense. There were many gates, and the Fish Gate was on the north. The New Quarter was also on the north.
Geographically, these are the parts of the city that are the furthest from the Temple, or spiritually speaking, the most distant from God.
In other words, on the day the of the Lord, those far from God will weep loudly at their mistakes.
11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be destroyed.

There is another thing about the Fish Gate – it is where seafood and fish were brought into the city and sold. And in verse 11 you have the market district, the merchants – businesses.
These merchants have no regard for ethics, and as such, they will be punished.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’ 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”

Those people whose only goal is to make money and have concern for neighbors or God, will find that their work is futile. They may gain wealth for a time, but they won’t last.
In America we have great examples of outstanding business leaders. Sam Walton, Truett Cathy and others have great businesses, made a lot of money, and gave a tremendous amount to the community and the church.
We also have the people who make money through deceit and unethical practicies.

Now, let’s get a good picture of what this “day of the Lord will be like.”
14 The great day of the LORD is near— near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. 15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.
Yep – that don’t sound good!

A you familiar with the term, “eschatology?” It is a theological term referring to the study of the last days.

In Old Testament eschatology, the message is always focused on punishment AND salvation. It is based on the belief that God is a just and righteous God and he will punish people for sin, but it is also based on the belief that God’s ultimate will is for the salvation of God’s people.

The day of the Lord brings punishment, but beyond this lies a renewed dominion of God and of those who are loyal to God.

So in case you think these past few verses can’t get any worse, let’s move into chapter 2.
Zephaniah 2
1 Gather together, gather yourselves together, you shameful nation, 2 before the decree takes effect and that day passes like windblown chaff, before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s wrath comes upon you. 3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.
This is the purpose of punishment and judgment – to call people back to God.
To be humble here means to be in communion with God and to abide by the will of God. It is to see yourself as lowly in relation to god.
Righteousness in this passage is to have a right relationship with God and with other people.

Remember what another prophet said. Micah in chapter 6 of his book said,
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The next verse begins another oracle.
4 Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. 5 Woe to you who live by the sea, you Kerethite people; the word of the LORD is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines. He says, “I will destroy you, and none will be left.”

What Zephaniah is doing here is going around the compass. If you look up these nations on a map, they are the people to the west, to the north, to the east, to the south.
The people everywhere who reject God are doomed.
But there is hope.
Remember the cycle we see over and over in the Old Testament. Doom and hope. Judgment and redemption. Punishment and salvation.
6 The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks. 7 That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The LORD their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.
Moab and Ammon
8 “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land. 9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah— a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.”

That is another reference to Genesis with the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah – cities that had been so evil that God destroyed them.
10 This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the LORD Almighty. 11 The LORD will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the earth. Distant nations will bow down to him, all of them in their own lands.
12 “You Cushites,[b] too, will be slain by my sword.”

That is an interesting verse, because of who Zephaniah is. Remember verse one of chapter one?
“Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.”
Zephaniah’s father was probably named Cushi because he was of Cush, or Ethiopia. The prophet is speaking to his own.

Actually, Ethiopia is not a major threat to Judah at this time, but they had once ruled Egypt and with the change of the political landscape, that nation and others were ready to rise up.
The power base has been Assyria and its capital city of Nineveh, but that is changing. But the city and nation is still proud and arrogant and confident in its place in the world.
13 He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. 14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their hooting will echo through the windows, rubble will fill the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed. 15 This is the city of revelry that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am the one! And there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.

Ancient treaties often included curses on those who violated the treaty, and a common curse was that wild animals would take over the cities of those who violated the treaty.

“All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.”
The word translated as scoff literally means to hiss.
We don’t hiss any longer.
If you saw the movie “The Conspirators” about the Lincoln assassination and all of those involved in that conspiracy with John Wilkes Booth, saw the trial of several people connected with the assassination of Booth and the attempted assassination of several others in government. The movie shows people literally hissing at the conspirators. People literally go “hiss, hiss” at people. It is almost a laughable moment in the very serious film, but people used to do that.
This is a good example of how difficult it is to translate the Bible. You don’t just write the literal meaning, you have to also translate the essence of the words.
So this text might be translated today not as
All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.

But rather, all who pass by her yell obscene words and flip them the finger.
That is the essence of disregard people have toward those who were once in power over them.

The next oracle is addressed not to the nations that surround Judah, but to the very people of Jerusalem.
Zephaniah 3
1 Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! 2 She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God. 3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law. 5 The LORD within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.
6 “I have destroyed nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are laid waste; they are deserted and empty. 7 Of Jerusalem I thought, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her place of refuge would not be destroyed, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.

The people of Jerusalem rebel against obeying Dod and His laws. The live life as thif they were not accountable to anyone, especially to God.
Four kinds of leaders are named in verses 3 and 4.
3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.
Officials are political leaders,
Rulers are judicial leaders of the law,
Prophets are the religious leaders who give instructions and teach the people.
Priests are the worship leaders who lead the people in the sanctuary.
So what you have is a double whammy on the secular leaders and a double whammy on the religious leaders.
But contrast the unfaithfulness of the people with the faithfulness of God that we see beginning in verse 8. God will be faithful in applying judgment.
8 Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD, “for the day I will stand up to testify.I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.

Why does God give judgment? In order to redeem the people.
9 “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. 10 From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings. 11 On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from you your arrogant boasters. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. 12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the LORD.

The other side of judgment is salvation and redemption.
13 They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.”

This is familiar language to those who are in God’s Salvation.

Psalm 23, “He makes me to lie down…I will fear no evil.”

Isaiah 65: The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food.

Zephaniah ends with a great hymn. It is a song of praise for the salvation to come.

14 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. 19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. 20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD.

Zephaniah basically lays out to the people a road map.

Plan A is doom and gloom.
Plan B is hope and good fortune.

Plan A is wild animals will take over the city streets.
Pan B is God will rescue the lame.

Zephaniah lays it out to the people, and leaves the choices up to them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


How do you pronounce the name of the prophet for today.

The correct way is Habakkuk, with the last K either barely pronounced, or almost silent.
To make that last K a hard K, or to say Hab ba KOOK almost makes Habakkuk sound like a kooky prophet.

But it is hard to say Habakkuk in English without making that last K a hard K, because in Hebrew the sounds are deeper in your throat and in English, the sounds are all in your mouth.

So, what else do we know about this prophet.


His writings imply that he came from Jerusalem, be we don’t know.

We don’t know what tribe he came from, or what his parentage was.

Was he a farmer, shepherd, carpenter, fisherman – who knows?

What we do know is one and only one verse that stands head and shoulders above the rest of this book – and it reflects everything about this book.
“The just shall live by faith.”

And we know that verse not by reading Habakkuk, but by reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.
There is something else we can know about Habakkuk – we know when he lived and worked. This book comes out of a concrete historical situation in the life of the southern kingdom of Judah. The date was around 609 to 600 BC.

The Assyrians have been defeated by the Babylonians.

King Josiah is near the end of his power.

What is the most significant thing to have happened in the time of King Josiah?

II Kings 22:

3 In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the LORD. He said: 4 “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the LORD, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. 5 Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the LORD— 6 the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. 7 But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”
8 Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.”

This book they discovered was Deuteronomy. The Hebrew language is in the style of that period of time, not the style of centuries earlier, as are Genesis, Exodus and Numbers.

The rediscovery of Deuteronomy led to a great spiritual revival. There was a renewal of the covenant relationship between God and the people.

Habakkuk 1
1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

The word for “prophecy” here is the same as in Nahum – massa, or burden. “The burden that Habakkuk the prophet received.”

Some translations say, “SAW” instead of “RECEIVED.”

When prophets received or saw a word from the Lord, it implies two parts – seeing and then telling, or receiving and then proclaiming. The burden, prophecy, or word from the Lord is never just received, it is shared. And Habakkuk does that here. He has received it, he now shares it with us.
What follows are two short sections.

Part 1 is chapter 1:2 through 11, and part 2 is chapter 1 verse 12 through chapter 2 verse 5.

Both conversations concern the issue of God’s justice in the world. Why are the wicked allowed to oppress the righteous? Why is justice perverted?

Now what brings all of this up in Habakkuk’s time is the Assyrian oppression of the people of Israel. BUT, like so much of the Word of God, the questions of Habakkuk and the answers from God apply to any circumstance in which the righteous face oppression from the wicked.

2 How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

“How Long?” That is the way a lament begins. We see that literary pattern often in the Bible.

A lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or a piece of music expressing grief, regret or mourning. Many of the oldest and most lasting poems in history have been laments. The Iliad, Odyssey and Beowulf all contain some elements of laments, and the Bible is full of them.

Psalm 13:1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 82:2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?

Revelation 6:10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
2 How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

Remember that as Habakkuk is writing, the book of Deuteronomy has recently been rediscovered. For Habakkuk, the Law is Deuteronomy. And that means that the prophet bases his understanding of the Law and Justice on the Word of God. The Law is the basis for life and faith. The Law comes from God and is righteous because God is righteous. The Law is the source of order for all of life and provides security and well being to those under the Law.

Justice is ultimately administered by God, and yet Habakkuk looks around and sees injustice. How can this be? And how long will it be?

It is natural for the people of God, who trust God, and believe God maintains the order of the universe, to expect God to establish order and justice. And when we do not see order and justice, we go to God and ask, “how long?”

Beginning in verse 5 we hear the answer from God:

5 “Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

Does that verse sound like it might come from somewhere else in the Bible? It is found in Acts 13.

13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”
16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “People of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!

And then, Paul continues with a history lesson.

He starts with the people in Egypt, Moses, goes through Samuel, then arrives at the part of the story of Jesus – basically, Acts 13 is a 2 minute walk through the Bible. Then Paul says this:

38 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,

And Paul is quoting Habakkuk here…

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’”

Habakkuk questions God – are you at work? And God says, “Yes – I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe even if someone told you.”

God is at work.

And God works through history. The nature of God’s work is not always what we want.
Habakkuk asks

2 How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

So what does God do? He does not bring about the peaceable kingdom, but brings violence into the land to bring about justice and punishment.

6 I am raising up the Babylonians,

The people have been oppressed by the Assyrians, now it is the time for the Babylonians. They conquer the Assyrians and eventually oppress the people of Judah.

6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
9 they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings
and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”

Elizabeth Achtemeier was a professor at the Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, Union Theological Seminary. She has this to say –

“The implications (of this part of Habakkuk) are staggering for our world, for such a word from God implies that the turmoil and violence and death in our societies may not be evidence of God’s absence from our lives but instead the witness to his actual working in judgment as he pursues his purpose. No event in human history, therefore, is to be understood as completely divorced from his lordly action and will. God is always at work, always involved, always pressing forward toward his Kingdom. But the means by which he chooses to pursue that goal may be as astounding as the destruction of a nation or as incomprehensible as the blood dripping from the figure of a man on a cross.” (Nahum-Malichi, Interpretation. John Knox Press, 1986. Page 38-39).

How does Habakkuk respond? He accepts the Word of the Lord:

12 LORD, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.

Habakkuk views the stage of international affairs and politics as always being under the sovereign rule of God.

Now, when we look at the newspaper, we can be distressed and think – this world is in bad shape. I’m not about to argue with that! But – behind the mess we see, God is still in control.

The Book of Revelation – it is a disturbing and confusing book. Or so many people say. “I can’t understand the Book of Revelation,” many will say, and those are just the preachers!

But I had a professor in seminary who told me that the Book of Revelation was simple to understand. The secret, the key, the thesis sentence is found in Revelation 19:6:

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

God is in control. God is in control of history. So when all the world seems to be falling apart – trust in God.

Also notice how personal this verse is.

12 LORD, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.

13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

Habakkuk asks questions that are never fully answered, but he continues to trust in God as a God of history.

In the same way, we often ask why people suffer, and we rarely have a glimpse of an answer, but the ability to trust in God is not based on our ability to understand God.

The next verses offer a poetic or symbolic look at the people of God being as senseless as fish, with the enemy capturing them with tools of the fishing trade…

14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.

Beginning with chapter 2 verse 1, the prophet beings a vigil to wait for a revelation from God. He has questions and he waits for an answer.

Habakkuk 2
1 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
2 Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.

In other words, Habakkuk is not only watching and waiting for himself, but for the community. All of God’s people need answers.

2 Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.
4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—

In the context of this book, to be “not upright” is to be arrogant, greedy and violent. To be “righteous” is to be faithful, trusting and law-abiding.
Also note the last part of verse 4:

4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—

That is quoted by Paul in his letter to the Romans, and it is a major theme of Habakkuk.
In the opening chapter of that letter, Paul says this:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

What follows next are five woes, five curses to the wicked.

These five statements probably are addressed to the Assyrians, but they may apply equally to all nations or individuals who practice greed and deceit. These statements are directed to people as a message – you cannot sustain your self contained life or find satisfaction in a life without God at the helm.

The first statement of woe is directed to tyrants who have oppressed their subjects and captives with heavy debts and taxation. They will find that their debtors rise up against them! They will lose their wealth. This is what we read in verse 6:

“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
7 Will not your creditors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their prey.
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.

What goes around comes around

The next statement of woe is to the house – meaning the family or dynasty or national government which gains power for itself by robbing the people.

9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

The stones of the wall will cry out – in other words, the people of the nation, the walls of the house, will cry out. They will not take it any longer.

The next statement of woe is to the government which believes it can glorify itself by its own achievements, but establishing a city or buildings or instituting new laws by forced and unjust measures.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!
13 Has not the LORD Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

The next statement of woe is toward the military that thinkgs it can gain respect by ruthlessness.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

The next woe, does not start with the word “woe” but with a prelude.

18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”

And then comes this familiar verse. After statement after statement of woe, woe, woe, comes this…

20 The LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.

Then we move onto something different in the book.

3:1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.

Chapter 3 is an independent section. It is a musical hymn as well as a prayer. The shigionoth is a musical instrument or term.
This poem or hymn celebrates the past history of the God of history.

2 LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
3 God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.

These are two geographical places. Teman is probably Edom and Mount Paran is another geographical place. We could just as easily say, God came from Maine and God came from California.

3 His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.

This is a reference, a remembrance of the Exodus – and a reminder, God is a God of history.

6 He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

The tents of Cushan – that is not Cush, or Ethiopia, but a tribe of nomads. In other words, verse 7 might be something like this: I saw the homeless and the mansion dwellers.

In other words, these verses, God is everywhere – from Maine to California, from infinity and beyond. Everyone is involved, the rich and poor alike.

12 In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
13 You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.

This is the God of history. He is in charge, and he will save the people.

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

That’s interesting – the prophet is not waiting for rescue, but for calamity.
I will wait patiently for the day of calamity.

The prophet knows that God is a God of history, calamity must come before the rescue.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

I take that personally, because I have a fig tree that does not bud.

But, in the midst of famine and despair, how does the prophet act?

18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.