Can you believe that we are at the last of the Minor Prophets? We come to the book of Malachi. This is the book that was the last word on the Old Testament and the final say for over 400 years.
Malachi which means ‘my messenger’ is a book that speaks right to the nation’s heart. Its main theme is to call the nation back to true worship. The people of Israel had a ritualistic form of worship but it was void of all meaning. Malachi’s prophecy comes to the people as a wake-up call to take seriously the covenant they have with God. In other words, they had settled into complacency.
Of course this is always an issue for us. We too like comfort and dislike being uncomfortable. Complacency is a real threat to our growth in faith. Jesus words were follow him and if you look at the disciples this was always disquieting.
The same, my friends, is true for us.
We come to the next in our Minor Prophets; Zechariah not to be confused with Zephaniah (we did him earlier). It contains many themes, so let me just focus in on one.
It was a time in Judas history where things were very uncertain. A remanent had returned from captivity and were trying to rebuild the temple. It had been 20 years and the people were discouraged. ‘Where was God in their lives’ they wondered?
Zechariah spoke into this context. Do not be dismayed he asserts, God is still here, even though you cannot see him. God will bring all things to completion and will act to reorder the universe. We too can be like the remanent of Judah and wonder where God is in our lives. Zechariah’s words are as relevant today as they were then. God does not forget his people, and ultimately his will is the end result.
We too can have faith in his promises.
The name Haggai almost sounds friendly. Not that I know anyone called Haggai! His book is set in a time when many had returned from Babylonian captivity. It’s apparent that the work on the reconstruction of the temple is a big focus of his book (it was destroyed some years prior).
But it’s not just the rebuilding of the Temple: it’s what it symbolises. That is, a renewed relationship between God and the exiles. There is a strong link with the restoration of the Temple and Gods presence. God wants a vital and alive relationship with his people.
It’s the same today. Exactly the same today. God wants a vital and ongoing relationship with His people (that’s us). Indeed there are things we can do to strengthen and foster this connection with God. There is a spiritual rebuilding that we all need to do, daily – again and again to make sure we are ready for that relationship with God. It’s worth working on!
We come to the book of Zephaniah, a little known prophecy of a few pages. His name means "God has hidden or protected" – maybe because his parents lived in an uncertain time.
His main theme is “the day of the Lord” a reference to Judgement on those who sin against God and of blessing for those who seek to follow God. It’s in direct reference to the apostasy of the nation and their stubbornness to turn back from idolatry to Godly worship. It is a salient reminder for all of us in respect the seriousness we treat God with.
Sometimes we are guilty of using God as a handy backstop and other things come in front, again and again. What God is really after is obedience to his word. Something we too easily think it's optional. But faithfulness is known to God – and he delights in it!
The next cab off the rank is Habakkuk, in our Old Testament Minor Prophet series.
Not a lot is known about the prophet himself. Yet we do have a fair bit of information about his heart… he is deeply concerned as to why God allows a wicked nation to punish Israel. God assures the prophet that he cannot stand wickedness in any form and that both nations are under judgement. Habakkuk does not fully understand this answer, but in the end, he comes to a sense of trust in God's wisdom and justice.
It’s easy to appropriate this book for our own life and times. These are big questions, which lead to many more questions. But like Habakkuk found out, God is to be trusted and he is faithful. While we don’t see everything we know that God does – this is where faith comes in.
And that’s why we are called to walk by faith and not by sight.
We pick up again our ongoing theme on the Old Testament Minor Prophets. This week’s book is Nahum. I wonder how many of us have read Nahum? The second verse is quite a challenge to read and comprehend! Written as a litany against Nineveh – indeed as a prophecy for Nineveh’s destruction.
Nahum’s name means comfort – which is exactly what this message brought to the people of Judah. Particularly as they were under Assyrian rule (Nineveh was the capital).
It’s easy to apply that message to our lives. We love to think about the God who delivers us from the many things oppressing us. This is one aspect of God's character that we should rejoice in – God cares for his people. But we should always remember it’s on Gods terms and in God's time. God was looking for obedience from Judah – as he does from us. Even so the one truth remains – we worship a great God who loves, cares and frees us!
In a few weeks’ time Pledge Sunday will be upon us. So yet again I’m interrupting my small series on the Minor Prophets to talk about what’s before Seeds Church at the present moment.
What we have sketched is a great draft plan for what a renovated building could be like. Overall it seems to be ‘about right’ to quote David Sharp.
But it is a significant challenge for us to fund it. I want to encourage all of us to not despise the small things. Each and every gift, no matter how small or even how big, matter. They matter because God knows the attitudes of our heart. They matter because combined, together, they all add to make a huge difference.
It is this point in our history that we can shape the future. Every gift adds to the next one and all the little bits add to the whole. That’s how we get the full picture.
Our next minor prophet to examine holds one of the most quoted verses in the Old Testament. His name is Micah and is commonly famous for 6:8 “…what does the Lord require of you…?” Yet in this focus we miss the main point of the whole book. Micah's prophecy concerns the sins of the nation and signals that looming judgement is at hand represented by Assyria and Babylon.
He points out that their sins of idolatry, corruption, failure of leadership and violence is soon about to be judged. But forgiveness can be found in God's faithfulness to his covenantal promises.
Far too often, like the people of old we minimise the impact of sin in our lives. We say ‘it doesn’t matter’ or ‘it’s only a little thing’. Yet we forget that we worship and serve a holy God. But in all of this we have a saviour, one to go to with our confession and receive forgiveness and reconciliation.
It is the most amazing thing!
We hit a well-known friend in our walk through of the Minor Prophets. His name is Jonah and if you haven’t seen the veggie tales retelling of this story then it’s worth a look.
Jonah had a message to a people that he feared and he didn’t want to tell it, so he ran away. God stopped his running and promptly turned him around with the help of a big fish. Unfathomable to Jonah, the intended recipients of the message actually listen and obey, much to Jonah’s chagrin.
Following the way of God is not always easy, in fact it is rarely easy. But God has a role for each of us to play. While we might not be swallowed by a big fish, God expects obedience from his people. But following his ways often brings unexpected results.
We serve a big God, with a big heart!
We come back to looking at the books of the Minor Prophets. This week its Obadiah’s turn… which sort of reminds me of a man with a big beard. His name actually means ‘one who serves Yahweh (God)’.
Essentially the book is promising judgement to all those nations who oppose God and his people. While God's people (who have already experienced judgement) will receive restoration from God.
It is a promise for all of God's people. It points us all towards the final end of time when God will make all things new and all the injustices will be righted. It is a promise for all of us that ultimately God is in charge and his will is the only thing that counts. The book of Obadiah points towards what God is doing in all of history.
It’s well worth reading.