Nahum – Overview

The shrill whistle pierces the air, and all the action on the court abruptly stops. Pointing to the offending player, the referee shouts, “Foul!”

Rules, fouls, and penalties are part of any game and are regulated and enforced vigorously by referees, umpires, judges, and other officials. Every participant knows that boundaries must be set and behavior monitored, or the game will degenerate into chaos. The world also has laws—boundaries and rules for living established by God. But men and women regularly flaunt these regulations, hiding their infractions or overpowering others and declaring that might makes right. God calls this sin—willful disobedience, rebellion against his control, or apathy. And at times it seems as though the violators succeed—no whistles blow, no fouls are called, and individual dictators rule. The truth is, however, that ultimately justice will be served in the world. God will settle all accounts.

Assyria was the most powerful nation on earth. Proud in their self-sufficiency and military might, they plundered, oppressed, and slaughtered their victims. One hundred years earlier, Jonah had preached in the streets of the great city Nineveh; the people had heard God’s message and had turned from their evil. But generations later, evil was again reigning, and the prophet Nahum pronounced judgment on this wicked nation. Nineveh is called a “city of murder” (3:1), a city of cruelty (3:19), and the Assyrians are judged for their pride (2:13), idolatry (1:14), murder, lies, treachery, and social injustice (3:1-19). Nahum predicted that this proud and powerful nation would be utterly destroyed because of its sins. The end came within 50 years.

In this judgment of Assyria and its capital city, Nineveh, God is judging a sinful world. And the message is clear: Disobedience, rebellion, and injustice will not prevail but will be punished severely by a righteous and holy God, who rules overall the earth.

As you read Nahum, sense God’s wrath as he avenges sin and brings about justice. Then decide to live under his guidance and within his rules, commands, and guidelines for life.

Vital Statistics

Purpose:  To pronounce God’s judgment on Assyria and to comfort Judah with this truth

Author: Nahum

Original Audience: The people of Nineveh and of Judah (the southern kingdom)

Date Written:  Sometime during Nahum’s prophetic ministry (probably between 663 and 612 B.C.)

Setting: This particular prophecy took place after the fall of Thebes in 663 B.C. (see 3:8-10).

Key Verses: The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him. But he will sweep away his enemies in an overwhelming flood. He will pursue his foes into the darkness of night. Why are you scheming against the Lord? He will destroy you with one blow; he won’t need to strike twice!” (1:7-9).

Key Place:  Nineveh

The Blueprint

  1. Nineveh’s judge (1:1-15)
  2. Nineveh’s judgment (2:1-3:19)

Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, is the subject of Nahum’s prophecy. The news of its coming destruction was a relief for Judah, who was subject to Assyrian domination. No longer would Judah be forced to pay tribute as insurance against invasions. Judah was comforted to know that God was still in control. Nineveh is an example to all rulers and nations of the world today. God is sovereign over even those who are seemingly invincible. We can be confident that God’s power and justice will one day conquer all evil.

MEGATHEMES
THEME EXPLANATION IMPORTANCE
God Judges God would judge the city of Nineveh for its idolatry, arrogance, and oppression. Although Assyria was the leading military power in the world, God would completely destroy this “invincible” nation. God allows no person or power to usurp or scoff at his authority. Anyone who remains arrogant and resists God’s authority will face his anger. No ruler or nation will get away with rejecting him. No individual will be able to hide from his judgment. Yet those who keep trusting God will be kept safe forever.
God Rules God rules over all the earth, even over those who don’t acknowledge him. God is all-powerful, and no one can thwart his plans. God will overcome any who attempt to defy him. Human power is futile against God. If you are impressed by or afraid of any weapons, armies, or powerful people, remember that God alone can truly rescue you from fear or oppression. We must place our confidence in God because he alone rules all of history, all the earth, and our life.

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Source:  Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1476-1477.

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Zechariah – Overview

The Future—that vast uncharted sea of the unknown, holding joy or terror, comfort or pain, love or loneliness. Some people fear the days to come, wondering what evils lurk in the shadows; others consult seers and future-telling charlatans, trying desperately to discover its secrets. But tomorrow’s story is known only to God and to those special messengers called prophets, to whom God has revealed a chapter or two. A prophet’s primary task was to proclaim the word of the Lord, pointing out sin, explaining its consequences, and calling men and women to repentance and obedience. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Amos stand with scores of others who faithfully delivered God’s message despite rejection, ridicule, and persecution. And at times they were given prophetic visions foretelling coming events.

Nestled near the end of the Old Testament, among what are known as “minor prophets,” is the book of Zechariah. As one of three postexilic prophets, along with Haggai and Malachi, Zechariah ministered to the small remnant of Jews who had returned to Judah to rebuild the Temple and their nation. Like Haggai, he encouraged the people to finish rebuilding the Temple, but his message went far beyond those physical walls and contemporary issues. With spectacular apocalyptic imagery and graphic detail, Zechariah told of the Messiah, the one whom God would send to rescue his people and to reign overall the earth. Zechariah is one of our most important prophetic books, giving detailed messianic references that were clearly fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. The rebuilding of the Temple, he says, was just the first act in the drama of the end times and the ushering in of the messianic age. Zechariah proclaimed a stirring message of hope to these ex-captives and exiles—their King was coming!

Jesus is Messiah, the promised “great deliverer” of Israel. Unlike Zechariah’s listeners, we can look back at Christ’s ministry and mission. As you study Zechariah’s prophecy, you will see details of Christ’s life that were written 500 years before their fulfillment. Read and stand in awe of our God, who keeps his promises. But there is also a future message that has not yet been fulfilled—the return of Christ at the end of the age. As you read Zechariah, think through the implications of this promised event. Your King is coming, and he will reign forever and ever.

God knows and controls the future. We may never see more than a moment ahead, but we can be secure if we trust in him. Read Zechariah and strengthen your faith in God—he alone is your hope and security.

Vital Statistics

Purpose: To give hope to God’s people by revealing God’s future deliverance through the Messiah

Author: Zechariah

Original Audience: The Jews in Jerusalem who had returned from their captivity in Babylon

Date Written: Chapters 1-8 were written approximately 520-518 B.C. Chapters 9-14 were written around 480 B.C.

Setting: The exiles had returned from Babylon to rebuild the Temple, but the work had been thwarted and stalled. Haggai and Zechariah confronted the people with their task and encouraged them to complete it.

Key Verses: Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt….Your king will bring peace to the nations. His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.  Zechariah 9: 9-10

Key People: Zerubbabel, Jeshua

Key Place: Jerusalem

Special Features: This book is the most apocalyptic and messianic of all the minor prophets.

The Blueprint

  1. MESSAGES WHILE REBUILDING THE TEMPLE (1:1-8:23)
    1. Zechariah’s night visions
    2. Zechariah’s words of encouragement

Zechariah encouraged the people to put away the sin in their lives and to continue rebuilding the Temple. His visions described the judgment of Israel’s enemies, the blessings to Jerusalem, and the need for God’s people to remain pure—avoiding hypocrisy, superficiality, and sin. Zechariah’s visions provided hope for the people. We also need to carefully follow the instruction to remain pure until Christ returns.

  1. MESSAGES AFTER COMPLETING THE TEMPLE (9:1-14:21)
    Besides encouragement and hope, Zechariah’s messages were also a warning that God’s messianic Kingdom would not begin as soon as the Temple was complete. Israel’s enemies would be judged and the King would come, but God’s people would themselves face many difficult circumstances before experiencing the blessing of the messianic Kingdom. We, too, may face much sorrow, disappointment, and distress before coming into Christ’s eternal Kingdom.
MEGATHEMES
THEMEEXPLANATIONIMPORTANCE
God’s JealousyGod was angry at his people for ignoring his prophets through the years, and he was concerned that they not follow the careless and false leaders who exploited them. Disobedience was the root of their problems and the cause of their misery. God was jealous for their devotion to him.God is jealous for our devotion. To avoid Israel’s ruin, don’t walk in their steps. Don’t reject God, follow false teachers, or lead others astray. Turn to God, faithfully obey his commands, and make sure you are leading others correctly.
Rebuild the TempleThe Jews were discouraged. They were free from exile, yet the Temple was not completed. Zechariah encouraged them to rebuild it. God would both protect his workmen and empower them by his Holy Spirit to carry out his work.More than the rebuilding of the Temple was at stake—the people were staging the first act in God’s wonderful drama of the end times. Those of us who love God must complete his work. To do so we must have the Holy Spirit’s help. God will empower us with his Spirit.
The King Is ComingThe Messiah will come both to rescue people from sin and to reign as King. He will establish his Kingdom, conquer all his enemies, and rule over all the earth. Everything will one day be under his loving and powerful control.The Messiah came as a servant to die for us. He will return as a victorious King. At that time, he will usher in peace throughout the world. Submit to his leadership now to be ready for the King’s triumphant return.
God’s ProtectionThere was opposition to God’s plan in Zechariah’s day, and he prophesied future times of trouble. But God’s Word endures. God remembers the covenants he makes with his people. He cares for his people and will deliver them from all the world powers that oppress them.Although evil is still present, God’s infinite love and personal care have been demonstrated through the centuries. God keeps his promises. Although our bodies may be destroyed, we need never fear our ultimate destiny if we love and obey him.

Timeline: Zechariah

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Source:  Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1501-1502.

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Priorities – Haggai

A trainer at a time-management seminar shared an illustration with the participants.  He reached under the table and took out a wide-mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table. Next to the jar were a number of fist-sized rocks. He asked the group, “How many of these rocks do you think we can get inside this jar?” The participants made their guesses. The instructor said, “Let’s find out.” He put a few of fist-sized rocks into the jar which took up much of the space but were level with the top of the jar.

The instructor then asked, “Is the jar full?” All the participants looked at the jar filled with rocks and said it was.

But then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar. The gravel filled the spaces between the big rocks. He asked again, “Is the jar full?”

The participants were not about to be fooled a second time. They said that the jar was probably not full.

The instructor nodded and said, “Good. You are catching on.” He next took out a bucket of sand and poured it into the jar. Slowly the sand filled the gaps between the rocks and gravel. After the sand settled, the instructor once again asked, “Now, is the jar full?”

The audience shouted, “No!”

He said, “Good.” He was pleased that they understood an important principle. The instructor poured a pitcher of water into the jar. At this point he stopped and asked the group, “What’s the point of this?”

Somebody said, “You can always fit more into your life.”

But the instructor said, “No, the point is this: If I hadn’t put in those big rocks first, I would never have gotten them in at all.”

What should be your big rocks?  For God’s people, our first priority is to be Him.

As Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible points out, “Haggai’s little book is one of the gems of the Old Testament. It has permanent relevance because its concern is not with rebuilding the temple, but with priorities.” 

The Book of Haggai, the second shortest in the Old Testament, communicates this message of priorities. It was written to people like us, who would say that God must be first. But they had drifted away from this truth. They lived with misplaced priorities. Haggai was sent to help God’s people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.

Haggai spoke his message to Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after living in captivity in Babylon.  Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple some 70 years earlier. When the Jews returned from exile they faced the daunting task of rebuilding. The first returnees made preliminary attempts to clear the debris and lay the foundation for a second temple. This prophecy should be read in connection with the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

As years passed, slowly but surely, Jerusalem came to life again. Homes were built, stores opened, commerce established, fields planted, crops harvested, and life began to resemble normalcy. Israel, however, got used to life without the Temple. The foundations were overgrown with weeds. They stood as a mute reminder of the Jews’ failure to take care of God’s house. Fourteen to 16 years passed, and then Haggai appeared on the scene with one prevailing message: It’s time to finish rebuilding the Temple.

It was a message of priority: Put first things first. The Temple was the center for worshiping God. It represented the heart and soul of the Old Testament religion. Although God is everywhere, the Temple was the place on earth where God dwelled in a special sense. For the Temple to lie in ruins was to neglect the worship of God. It was a testimony of misplaced priorities. It was an embarrassment to God and a blemish on his reputation.

Haggai’s message was blunt. He pulled no punches and wasted no words. Haggai spoke like a foreman on a construction project. With a hardhat and tool belt, walking around the construction site, he bellowed out orders. Found here are a few practical steps about putting first things first.

First, Haggai confronted the people’s reasoning for the Temple lying in ruins. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’ Haggai 1:2. They intended to build God’s house, but just hadn’t got around to it yet. If you were to ask them about it, they would probably say, “I’m all for building the Temple. It is a great cause. But God wants us to take care of our own families first. Times are hard. Jobs are scarce. We need to pray about it some more. We will eventually build it, but not now.” They made excuses.

It is always easy to make excuses when we don’t want to obey God. We can always find rational justification for not doing what God wants us to do: The time is not right. I’ve got family responsibilities. My kids need me now. When things settle down at work, then I can do something. The first step to putting first things first is to admit our responsibility.

Closely aligned with excuse making is a selfish mindset that permeates everything. Haggai challenged the people’s selfish behavior. 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?”  Haggai 1:3-4. Paneled houses was also translated “luxurious houses” or refers to being finished out with cedar planks giving their house a beautiful and aromatic finish! Their homes were not “in process.” No weeds were growing around their unfinished foundations. Their homes were complete while the Temple remained nonexistent.

Please understand: Nothing is wrong with having a nice home. This statement is not an attack on riches or big houses. What’s wrong is to own a nice home while God’s house lies in ruins. What’s wrong is spend all your money on selfish needs while ignoring the things of God. What’s wrong is to spend one’s time, one’s best hours, and one’s talents on selfish pursuits while the things of God are left undone. It is an indictment of misplaced priorities.

It is easy to drift away from God’s agenda to our own. It is easy to pursue selfish desires while ignoring God’s. In fact, it is the default mode of our lives. If we give no thought to how we are living, we will naturally live for ourselves. The bent of our hearts and is always toward selfishness. This is what happened to the Jews Haggai addressed.

Our Priorities Affect God’s Blessings

As a consequence of their excuse-making and selfish living, the people in Haggai’s day experienced hardship.

He continues: Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: Give careful thought to your ways.  6 You have planted much, but have 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.” 7 Haggai 1:5-7  

They sowed plenty of seed, but there was a drought and the crops didn’t yield as much as they had hoped. They had active lifestyles but were not experiencing satisfaction. They were laboring but showing no profit. No matter how hard they tried, they seemed to be spinning their wheels. No matter how much money they made, they could not keep it. We know how that feels don’t we?

Because of their selfishness the people missed God’s blessings. Haggai points out a sobering reminder: What happens in your heart affects every other part of your life. Because the people had pushed God out of the center, they suffered in every area.

What they did not see was that God caused their predicament. They hadn’t stopped to consider that God was trying to tell them something. Haggai reminded them: “Guys! It’s God who controls the rain and the harvest. He is withholding his blessing because our priorities are not right. Put his house first and he will bless you.” Jesus said the same thing: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” Matthew 6:33

Blessings come through obedience. If we want to experience God’s blessings we will put him first.

With this strong indictment and devastating predicament, the people realized they had caused their own calamities. The people were ready to evaluate their situation. Twice Haggai instructed the people, “Give careful thought to your ways. “(1:5, 7.) It was time for the people to do some serious self-examination before the Lord. Haggai wanted the people to stop long enough in their busy schedules to evaluate their life in light of God’s Word. He wanted them to measure the consequences of their actions.

Each day we need to evaluate how we spend our time and our money, and how we use our talents. We should examine who we choose as friends, what we set as goals, and where we are going. If God is not first, guess who removed him from his rightful place?

When we stop making excuses, cease being selfish, seek God’s blessings, and take time to evaluate, we can see God work in powerful ways. This is what happens when God is first in our hearts. How will we know that we have put first things first? How will we know that God is first place? Here are three indications.

“Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house. Then I will be pleased with it and be glorified, says the LORD” Haggai 1:8. In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act, a time to consider and a time to do. Those who put God first are up and doing the right things: spending time with God daily, serving people, honoring him with their time, talents, and financial resources. For the Jews living in Jerusalem, it meant cutting down trees to build God’s house.

Great things Happen in God’s House

Why should the Temple be built? Why should we honor God by making the place we meet to worship as a church today clean and orderly? That God may be glorified. When God is not first we are indifferent to his glory—his fame and his reputation being spread. But when God is first revealing his glory is first on our minds. In fact, everything we think, say, and do is to honor God and bring credit to him. Whatever your occupation, the chief business of every Christian is to bring glory to God.

When the people obeyed, God sent word: Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. Haggai 2:4. 

If God seems distant in our lives, perhaps our priorities have gotten mixed up. When we put God first, we experience a new awareness of his presence. That is true blessing!

Darrell

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Sources:  All verses are from The New International Version

Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible

Lifeway Christian Resources, Religious Goods, Nashville, TN

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Haggai – Overview

Pressures, demands, expectations, and tasks push in from all sides and assault our schedules. Do this! Be there! Finish that! Call them! Everyone seems to want something from us—family, friends, employer, school, church, clubs. Soon we have little left to give as we run out of energy and time. We find ourselves rushing through life, attending to the necessary, the immediate, and the urgent. The important is all too often left in the dust. Our problem is not the volume of demands or lack of scheduling skills, but values—what is truly important to us.

Our values and priorities are reflected in how we use our resources—time, money, strength, and talent. Often our actions belie our words. We say God is number one, but then we relegate him to a lesser number on our “to do” lists.

Twenty-five centuries ago, a voice was heard, calling men and women to the right priorities. Haggai knew what was important and what had to be done, and he challenged God’s people to respond.

In 586 B.C., the armies of Babylon had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem—God’s house, the symbol of his presence. In 538 B.C. King Cyrus decreed that Jews could return to their beloved city and rebuild the Temple. So they traveled to Jerusalem and began the work. But then they forgot their purpose and lost their priorities, as opposition and apathy brought the work to a standstill (Ezra 4:4, 5). Then Haggai spoke, calling them back to God’s values: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?” (1:4). The people were more concerned with their own needs than with doing God’s will, and, as a result, they suffered. Then Haggai called them to action: “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord” (1:7, 8). And God’s message through his servant Haggai became the catalyst for finishing the work.

Although Haggai is a small book, it is filled with challenge and promise, reminding us of God’s claim on our lives and our priorities. As you read Haggai, imagine him walking the streets and alleys of Jerusalem, urging the people to get back to doing God’s work. And listen to Haggai speaking to you, urging you to reorder your priorities in accordance with God’s will. What has God told you to do? Put all else aside and obey him.

Vital Statistics

Purpose:  To call the people to complete the rebuilding of the Temple

Author: Haggai

Original Audience: The people living in Jerusalem and those who had returned from exile

Date Written: 520 B.C.

Setting: The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 586 B.C. Cyrus had allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple in 538 B.C. They had begun the work but had been unable to complete it. Through the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, the Temple was completed (520-516 B.C.).

Key Verse: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?” (1:4).

Key People: Haggai, Zerubbabel, Jeshua

Key Place: Jerusalem

Special Features: Haggai was the first of the postexilic prophets. The other two were Zechariah and Malachi. The literary style of this book is simple and direct.

The Blueprint

  1. The call to rebuild the Temple (1:1-15)
  2. Encouragement to complete the Temple (2:1-23)

When the exiles first returned from Babylon, they set about rebuilding the Temple right away. Although they began with the right attitudes, they slipped back into wrong behavior, and the work came to a standstill. We need to be on guard to keep our priorities straight. Remain active in your service to God and continue to put first things first.

MEGATHEMES
THEMEEXPLANATIONIMPORTANCE
Right PrioritiesGod had given the Jews the assignment to finish the Temple in Jerusalem when they returned from captivity. After 15 years, they still had not completed it. They were more concerned about building their own homes than finishing God’s work. Haggai told them to get their priorities straight.It is easy to make other priorities more important than doing God’s work. But God wants us to follow through and build up his Kingdom. Don’t stop and don’t make excuses. Set your heart on what is right and do it. Get your priorities straight.
God’s EncouragementHaggai encouraged the people as they worked. He assured them of the divine presence of the Holy Spirit and of final victory, and instilled in them the hope that the Messiah would reign.If God gives you a task, don’t be afraid to get started. His resources are infinite. God will help you complete it by giving you encouragement from others along the way.

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Source: Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1497-1500.

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