Minor Prophets: Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk
Micah: Prophecy during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, about 740 to 700 BC
Micah 1:1-16, On the coming Exile (2/29/16)
Let’s spend most of the rest of the year reading the prophets, beginning with some of the minor prophets that we haven’t paid much attention to before. What’s the difference between a major prophet and a minor prophet? Major prophets have long books; minor prophets have short books. That’s it. No other difference. We’ll read them in roughly chronological order, although many of the dates are somewhat conjectural.
The prophet Micah tells us in the first verse when he worked, so it’s easy to date the book from about 740 to 700 BC. Notice that “the word of the LORD” came to Micah. Generally speaking, prophets heard
God’s message, and usually they passed it on orally. After a time, many of the prophetic messages were recorded in writing, either by the prophet personally or by a disciple. The message of this first chapter is that God is coming (vss. 2-4) because Judah and Israel have sinned greatly (vs. 5) and are going to be punished (vss. 6-7). Micah is really sad about this (vss. 8-9), but predicts that the only future he sees is exile (vss. 10-16).
Micah 2:1-13, Prophecy against the rich (3/1/16)
Micah 2 shows two of the most prominent characteristics of prophecy. One trait that almost all prophets share is that they tell you or your society in detail what you’re doing wrong right now. I heard somebody say yesterday that the country’s a mess. How? She didn’t say, so that isn’t a prophetic message, it’s just whining. Micah, in contrast, says exactly what the rich are doing wrong. They are lying awake nights thinking up evil things to do, and in the morning they seize fields and houses that don’t belong to them. They try to silence anyone who points out their failings, and they assume that no harm will come to them (either because they are the Chosen People or because they are rich, I’m not sure which). They prey on foreigners, women, and children, who are specifically protected by God’s Law.
Then in vss. 13-14, Micah promises that sometime in the future God will preserve a remnant – just a little bit – of the nation for himself. The theme of “the preservation of the remnant” is a common element of Messianic prophecy.
Micah 3:1-12, Prophecy against oppressors (3/2/16)
Another characteristic of prophets is that they are keen observers of government. In this chapter, Micah takes aim at unjust rulers and corrupt religious leaders. Because they have shown no mercy to the people for whom they are responsible, they can expect no mercy from God, to whom they are responsible. Vs. 11 summarizes his criticism of the rulers, priests, and prophets. He marvels again at their conviction that they can come to no harm and then repeats his prediction of destruction in vs. 12.
Micah 4:1-13, Prophecy on the new age to come (3/3/16)
Jerusalem is located on Mount Zion, and a common theme of Messianic prophecy, as we see in vss. 1-2 and 8, is “the exaltation of Zion.” Mt. Zion will be lifted up – metaphorically, I think, but possibly physically – to become the most important place in the world. Everybody will want to come there to be near the LORD, his people, and his temple, so that they can learn about his holy ways. A second theme is that new age is to come (vss. 3-5), and a third theme is that the LORD will restore the remnant of his people (vss. 6-7). However, first there’s going to be exile and restoration (vss. 9-13).
Micah 5:1-15, Prophecy on the Davidic dynasty (3/4/16)
In Micah 5:2-5, we see another common theme of Messianic prophecy, “a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Bethlehem Ephrathah is the plain Bethlehem that we all know. (There’s another one somewhere else.) It was the home of Jesse, the father of David, and David’s birthplace. So everybody knew that the Messiah, David’s descendant, would also be from Bethlehem. This passage is quoted in Matthew 2:5-6, when Herod asks his advisors where he should send the magi to look for the newborn king. The remnant appears again in vss. 7-9. The rest of the chapter seems to be devoted to repeated warnings that if Israel and Judah don’t change their ways, they’ll be in trouble.
Micah 6:1-16, Israel on trial (3/7/16)
Many prophetic messages contain what amounts to a courtroom scene. Usually God’s people are the defendants, and God is either the prosecutor or the judge. The prophet is sometimes the prosecutor and sometimes the defense attorney. There’s typically an indictment; a listing of crimes, with evidence; an opportunity for the people to offer their defense; a judgment; and a sentence. This chapter of Micah contains all of these elements, and in addition it contains a famous summary of the Law that has been broken: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Sometimes God grants a pardon or a suspended sentence, but not this time.
By the way, Omri and Ahab were two kings of Israel, father and son, and their statutes and works were the worship of the idol Baal, not to mention assassination, murder, and theft. Baalism in Israel was a state religion along with the worship of the true God, and it also made inroads into Judah.
Micah 7:1-11, On injustice (3/8/16)
Years ago I saw a one-panel comic, which I think was a Frank & Ernest, where one prophet was saying to another, “Do you ever have one of those days when everything
seems like an abomination unto the Lord?” Micah is having one of those days. He’s really discouraged, because no matter where he looks, he sees only evil. Even so, he realizes that if he looks to the LORD, he will be vindicated.
Micah 7:12-20, On the steadfast love of God (3/9/16)
In spite of all our failings, which are numerous, God loves us. Notice that the faithful remnant, who were mentioned before, will be the ones who are pardoned. When my boys were in high school, the biology teacher had a big sign in his room that said, “I respect your right to fail.” God loves sinners (and a good thing, too); nevertheless, if we don’t repent and try to stay faithful, we are unlikely to be pardoned, because God respects our right to fail.
Zephaniah: Prophecy against Judah during the reign of King Josiah, about 640 to 609 BC
Zephaniah 1:1-9, Prophecy against Judah (3/10/16)
Zephaniah, like Micah, tells us the name of the king who reigned during his prophetic ministry. King Josiah of Judah was exceptional for his time, about 640 to 609 BC, because he worshipped only the one true God. In fact, 2 Kings 22:2 gives him the high accolade that “he always obeyed the LORD, just as his ancestor David had done.”
The rest of Judah, not so much. You will understand why the prophet Zephaniah brought such a harsh message from the LORD if you read 2 Kings 23:1-25. Josiah carried out tremendous reforms, which means that there was a lot to be
reformed! I notice that all the king’s sons and officials are going to be punished, but not Josiah himself. He was one of the few good guys of his time.
Zephaniah 1:10-18, Prophecy emphasizing the Day of the LORD (3/11/16)
Zephaniah emphasizes a prophetic theme that Micah only hinted at: the Day of the LORD. Most of the time, God works in time and through history. He calls up a nation to punish his sinful people, as in the Exile, or he uses his own people to punish other peoples who are excessively wicked, as in Joshua’s invasion of Canaan. He rewards his people when they repent, as in the Exodus or the time of the Judges. God works through the agency of human representatives to bring about his will.
The Day of the LORD, however, will be the “end times,” and God will step into history. God will appear personally to bring about judgment and justice. It won’t be pretty.
Zephaniah 2:1-15, Prophecy against Philistia and Cush (3/14/16)
Old Testament prophets spoke not only to God’s people, but also to other nations. You may remember Daniel’s prophecy to Babylon and Jonah’s prophecy to Nineveh. Remember Samson and the Philistines? The Philistines were a coastal Canaanite people who were usually enemies of Israel, although occasionally allies. Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron were four of their five chief cities (the other one was Gath). Cush is most likely Ethiopia. It doesn’t matter who you are, God loves you and wants to give you a chance to repent, which is why he had Zephaniah preach to the people of Philistia and Cush.
Zephaniah 3:1-10, Prophecy against Jerusalem (3/15/16)
Remember that one fairly standard part of a prophetic message is an indictment, that is, a listing of all the sins that are being committed by whomever the prophet is talking to. Here Zephaniah reports the LORD’s grievances against Jerusalem and says that the LORD will see them in court. It appears in vss. 9-10 that the few remaining faithful people may be called as witnesses.
Zephaniah 3:11-20, The remnant will be restored (3/16/16)
We read yesterday that Jerusalem is in big trouble because of its sins; however, those few who are left who have been faithful to God, the remnant, will be returned to Jerusalem and rewarded. The restoration of the remnant is a common theme in Messianic prophecy.
Habakkuk: Prophecy after the fall of Judea to Babylonia, about 612-597 BC
Habakkuk 1:1-4, A dialog between the prophet and God (3/17/16)
Zephaniah and other prophets had warned that Jerusalem and Judah were doomed by their own sin. Not many decades later, the nation was defeated by the Babylonians. All of the leading families and many of the lesser families were deported, in the era still known as the Exile.
Now the prophet Habakkuk is talking to the LORD, and he asks a couple of questions: “How long is this going to go on?” and “Why do you let all these bad things happen?” Since we still ask God these questions on a regular schedule, we’ll be interested to see tomorrow how God answered Habakkuk.
Habakkuk 1:5-17, Continued dialog between the prophet and God (3/18/16)
God doesn’t answer Habakkuk’s questions; instead he tells his prophet that the Chaldeans (that is, the Babylonians) will soon invade the country, sweeping everything before them. Habakkuk says, “Wait! No-o! You’re God! Why would you let this happen?” However, I can’t quite tell whether the prophet is talking about the Babylonians or the people of Judah when he says, “Your eyes are too pure to gaze upon evil; and you cannot tolerate wickedness. So why do you tolerate the treacherous? And why do you stay silent while the wicked devour those who are more righteous than they are?” Prophets are extremely clear-headed about evil, so maybe he was talking about both!
Habakkuk 2:1-20, Continued dialog between the prophet and God (3/21/16)
I’m particularly interested in the contrast between gods in vss. 18-19 and God in vs. 20. If you make an idol, you can talk to it, but it’s not capable of speaking back to you. In the presence of the living God, however, you are encouraged to remain silent, so that you can hear what the LORD has to say. We want our idols to do as we say, and God wants us to do as he says.
Habakkuk 3:1-19, A prayer set to music (3/22/16)
I never know whether to be amazed or impressed that prophets and psalmists can write such sad songs and then finish with a joyful statement of praise for God. Habakkuk is afraid (vss. 2 and 16) and he also seems really depressed. This is not surprising, considering the sufferings of the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem and their subsequent deportation to a foreign land. In spite of everything, Habakkuk knows that God is with him and will deliver him.
More Prophets of the Bible
|Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk|
|Haggai, Malachi, Obadiah, and Joel|
Prophets without Books:
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