The Old Testament In Context


                                            'THE OLD TESTAMENT  in   CONTEXT"

                                                                                       by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand           


Introduction

Printable pdf Version of this StudyPrintable pdf Version of this StudyChristianity, essentially, is a historical religion.  God's revelation of divine truth (Scripture) was communicated to mankind down through the course of history  "by holy men of God who wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (cf. 2 Pet 1:21) -- thus, all of Scrip-ture is "divinely inspired  or  God breathed" (cf. 2 Tim 3:16), and not the product of men.  In some mysterious way God directed some of His faithful followers to record His word with absolute precision and without error.  The Old Testament was recorded through the nation of Israel and its prophets. . . the New Testament was recorded through the person of Jesus Christ and His apostles.  Due to the fact God's Word was communicated to us during a given time in human history, it is necessary that one under-stand the "historical context of it" if one is to interpret it correctly.

The Old Testament is a library of thirty-nine books that cover the period of human history from its very beginning (creation) to roughly four-hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  These books have been divided into three major categories: History, Poetry & Prophecy.  The historical books comprise the first seventeen books of the Old Testament (Genesis through Esther)… the poetic books make up the next five books (Job through Song of Solomon)… and the prophetic books comprise the last seventeen books (Isaiah through Malachi).  The first five books of the Bible describe the history of man from creation to the time of Moses (1400 BC), and are referred to as the Five Books of Moses… the Pentateuch… or Five Books of the Law;   they consist of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  The next twelve books describe the one thousand year history of Israel from the time of Moses to the end  of the Old Testament era (1400 BC to 400 BC).  After these seventeen historical books, come five books of Hebrew poetry Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.  The last seventeen books of the Old Testament are prophetic books, and are divided into two major sectionsthe first five prophetic books are categorized as the “major prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel); the last twelve books are categorized as the “minor prophets” (Hosea thru Malachi).  It should be noted, the designation “majorvs.minor” has nothing to do with how significant their ministries were; they were simply identified as such because the books of the major prophets are longer than those of the minor prophets, except “Lamentations” which was authored by Jeremiah (a major prophet).

The prophets came on the scene because of unbelief and sinful behavior among the people of God… as foretellers, they peered into the future and told the people what the consequences would be if they obeyed or disobeyed.  Incidentally, the writings of the prophets did not occur until about 930 BC, when the kingdom was divided; so their ministries existed during the last 500 years of the Old Testament era.  The 400 year period between the Old Testament and the New Testament is referred to as the “Intertestamental Period.”  In order to understand each particular book in the Old Testament, it is important to see each book in its “historical context.”  Therefore, I have put together a “chronological chart” of the entire Old Testament that was designed for this purposestarting with creation and going through to the end of the Old Testament era.  In doing so, I have identified the major events, the major characters, and the approximate dates (see the middle column) of when things occurred.  It is located at the end of this study.  I would encourage you to look at it now so that the following description of biblical history is easier to understand.  I have also included some smaller copies of this chart along with this study for you to put inside the back cover of your Bible.  Feel free to “make additional copies” of it as needed.


A Brief Description of Biblical History

The Bible is God’s account of human history, from the beginning of creation to the days of the early church in the first century.  It describes man’s creation, his fall, and the subsequent work of God on man’s behalf to redeem him and reconcile him to Himself.  The book of Genesis essentially tells the story of the first 2500 years of human history, from the creation of man to the time of Moses (1441 BC); nearly 3500 years ago.  This is the only written account in existence of the first 2500 years of human historyif you’ve never read it, it is a fascinating read.  Genesis recounts the reality of the fall of man, his incessant sinfulness, and God’s plan to raise up a man named Abraham, through whom He would ultimately bless the entire world.  Central to God’s blessing was a covenant He made with Abraham (cf. Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21).  It would be through the descendents of Abraham, that God would create the nation of Israel and give them “His Moral Law” (through Mosesthe book of Exodus), and bring them to the “Promised Land of Canaan” (the book of Joshua).  The maturation of Israel as a nation occurred down in Egypt when the children of Jacob (Israel) had to take refuge in Egypt due to a famine in the land of Canaan in 1871 BC (cf. Gen 41-50).  The extraordinary growth of the children of Israel in Egypt, ultimately resulted in one of the leaders of Egypt (a Pharaoh) “enslaving them,” for fear that the Israelites might eventually take control of the land due to their population growth (cf. Ex 1:7-14).  Scripture tells us that the children of Israel lived some 430 years in Egypt (cf. Ex 12:40), before God miracuously delivered them out of Egyptian bondage under His servant Moses, through the parting of  the Red Sea in 1441 BC (cf. Ex 6:10-13; 14:5-31).  Throughout the early years of Israel’s history, they continually turned away from God and worshiped idols (apostasy)the Lord would punish them by letting their enemies subdue and oppress them; the pain inflicted on His people would cause them to cry out to Him for forgiveness, and God would then raise up a “judge” to deliver them from foreign oppression and to rule over them with divine wisdomthroughout the 325 years of being ruled by judges in the land of Canaan, the children of Israel repeatedly turned their back on God and went through this same cycle of deliverance.  When the judge Samuel was approaching the end of his life, the elders of Israel met with him and asked him to “appoint a king” (rather than a judge), to rule over them like other nations (1 Sam 8:1-20)they felt having a “king” would make them more respected like the other prominent countries in that part of the world.  So Israel became a “kingdom” in 1050 BC.   In spite of Israel’s having a king, she still continued to turn      her back on God and worship false gods, so after just 120 years of being ruled by three kingsSaul, David & SolomonGod divided the kingdom into two separate kingdoms in 930 BC: the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah.           

Both kingdoms struggled with obedience to God and wandered away from Him (but the northern kingdom was the more idolatrous of the two nations); therefore God sent “prophets” to them… but they would still not listen… so God then told the northern kingdom of Israel through the testimonies of several prophets that He would destroy them through the much feared Assyrians; this occurred just a little more than 200 yrs after the kingdom was divided… so the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed in 722 BC.  At that time God was also confronting the southern kingdom of Judah because of her sinfulness, but through the prophet Isaiah, Judah turned back   to God. However, Judah’s stubborn heart and intermittent disobedience ultimately led her down the same road that the northern kingdom of Israel travelled… her continual rejection of the Lord’s prophets (Jeremiah, etc.) led God to raise up the most powerful force in history, Babylon, to completely destroy Jerusalem and its temple and take its people captive in 586 BCjust 138 years after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Though God’s prophets would proclaim the Lord’s message, His people would simply close their ears to it and continue to walk in darkness.  This prompted God to subject them to the most grievous of punishments: Babylon would completely destroy their thought-to-be impregnable city, Jerusalem (by tearing down its walls)… steal all of the nation’s treasures in the temple, and completely demolish it… and then take the strongest and brightest of her people captive to a far and distant land.  The conquering of the kingdom of Judah by Babylon actually took place over a period of some nineteen years and consisted of three separate deportations:  the first was in 605 BC, the second was in 597 BC, and the third was in 586 BC.  God through His prophet Jeremiah, said He would keep them captive for “seventy years” (cf. Jer 25:11-12; 29:10; Ezra 1:1-3; Dan 9:2), at which time He would then raise up leaders to take them back to their homeland to reconstruct the city and the temple (the 70 years is akin to comparing 2015 to 1945).  And this He did precisely seventy years later in 516 BC.   Yet in spite of God’s gracious acts toward His people in restoring them to their homeland, “they still continued to turn away from God and walk in darkness.”  So God Himself (some 500 years later) entered into human history in the person of Jesus Christ, to redeem sinful man by going to the cross and dying for him.  Thus He would place within man a “new heart,” and take up residence in him in the person of the “Holy Spirit,” and thereby “cause him to walk in God’s ways;” this is referred  to by the prophets as the new covenant (cf. Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:22-32; Lk 22:17-20).  Man has clearly demonstrated that he cannot and will not obey God’s Law, that he needs to become a “brand new creature in Christ!” (cf. Jn 3:3; 2 Cor 5:17); incidentally, GOD is the only one who can do that incredible work (cf. Mt 19:26).  These last two paragraphs are a brief thumbnail sketch of biblical history it is simply a starting point from which to read God’s Word.       


Apostasy in Israel’s History

Apostasy is the deliberate repudiation and abandonment of the faith that one has possessed (cf.  Heb 3:12); so it differs in degree from heresy (adhering to a religious opinion that is contrary to Christian doctrine).  Isaiah (1:2-4) and Jeremiah (2:1-9) offer illustrations typical of the numerous defections during the history of Israel; people jettisoned their faith for various forms of idolatry and immorality.  In order to better understand the “spiritual apostasy” that went on in Israel throughout her history, I thought it might be helpful to expand on it in more detail.  During the early years of Israel’s history, God used “divinely appointed judges” to govern and administer  His law and procure justice for His people (cf. Jud 2:16-19; 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25); these Hebrew judges remained invested with high authority throughout their lives (cf. 1 Sam 4:18; 7:15).  The origin of their authority in all cases was traced directly to the God of heaven, who theocratically ruled over His people Israel (2 Sam 7:7); that’s the essence of a theocracy.  Whereas we are run by a democracy (people rule), God’s style of government is one of God rule is it any wonder that we have so many problems?  And to compound our problem, all people are sinful.  The book of Judges clearly demonstrates that defection from Jehovah incurs severe punishment and servitude only by turning back to God and heeding His message can restoration be enjoyed.  Historically, Israel did not become a kingdom until God appointed Saul as its first “Kinga king was a monarch who held a pre-eminent position of power and reigned over a kingdom as a sovereign ruler.  Hebrew kings were “anointed of the Lord” and considered by the people to be holy individuals    (1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:11, 16, 23; 2 Sam 1:16) without being deified (only pagan cultures deified their kings).  Furthermore, in Israel, kings were not constitutional princes elected by the people… they were princes (rulers of a principality or state) selected independently by God; as such, they were de-pendent on God alone, and endowed with the responsibility of carrying out His Law and following His will as it was made known by His prophets (cf. 1 Sam 10:24; 16:1, 13; 13:13; 15:26).  Due to King Solomon’s intermarriage with hundreds of foreign women, against which God had clearly fore-warned him (1 Kg 11:1-13), he courted spiritual declension and idolatry (1 Kg 11:5, 33), which ultimately resulted in “God’s dividing the kingdom” under his son Rehoboam (cf. 1 Kg 11:11-13, 32, 36; 12:20).  

When the kingdom was divided into two, the law of succession to the throne continued to be followed in the southern kingdom of Judah; that is, the eldest or firstborn son in the line of King David succeeded his father on the throne (cf. 1 Kg 14:31; 15:8, 24; 22:50; 2 Chron 21:3); with a few exceptions (cf. 2 Chron 11:22; 2 Kg 23:34)… by contrast, none of the kings of the apostate northern kingdom of Israel were of the Davidic line  essentially, her kings came to the throne either by succeeding their father or by some measure of intrigue (cf. 1 Kg 16:8-13, 16-23, 29; 22:40; 2 Kg 15:8-14, 23-25, 30; etc.).  As the biblical record states, every king of the northern kingdom of Israel “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (cf. 1 Kg 15:26, 34; 16:19, 25, 30; etc.).   The northern kingdom of Israel, because of its wickedness, existed for only 208 years (930-722 BC)… whereas the southern kingdom of Judah (though no paragon of virtue itself) existed for 344 years (930-586 BC).  The average reign of the nineteen kings of Israel was eleven years; by contrast, the average reign of the twenty kings of Judah was seventeen years and according to Scripture, only eight of Judah’s twenty kings “did right in the sight of the Lord” (cf. 1 Kg 11:38; 15:10; 22: 43; 2 Kg 12:2; 14:3; 15:3, 34; 18:3; 20:3; 22:2).  So due to the fact that both Israel and Judah repeatedly forsook the Lord, He brought judgment upon both of them.  The process God used was this He would raise up prophets (men who would declare His message) in times of declen-sion and apostasy to call them back to God they would speak to the heart and conscience of the people to whom God would send them.  The prophets were primarily revivalists and patriots, but the political aspects of their messages were always secondary; first and foremost their message was spiritual.  Being as the Hebrew language is a “picture language” (each word is a picture), it was a wonderful language for communicating through stories, poetry, symbols and images (which is very different from the exacting languages of Greek and English).  As prophets, they spoke with divine authority… announced the will of God to men… and called men to complete obedience to the Word of God.  “Thus saith the Lord” was the theme of their pronouncements as God’s spokesmen.  Historically, in Hebrew a prophet was called a seer literally, “one who sees,” or “one who sees supernaturally” (cf. 1 Sam 9:9; 2 Sam 24:11), or a watchman(cf. Ezek 3:17; 33:2, 6, 7; Is 52:8; Jer 6:17); as a watchman, he would look out after God’s people with divine wisdom, and speaks God’s Word to them and warn them solemnly should they disobey; so in that sense, he was like an undershepherd of God’s flock who had been divinely commissioned.


The Old Testament Prophets

With all of the foregoing in mind, I thought it would be helpful to give a “brief contextual description” of the various messages God’s seventeen prophets proclaimed during the period of the divided kingdom.  You will find these descriptions on the remaining pages of this study.  Incidentally, after each prophet’s name, I have identified both the “place” and the “time period”   in which he prophesied.  It is important to remember that the “time periods” were all in the years before Christ (i.e., “BC”); hence, the larger the number the more distant the date; whereas the opposite is true in the modern age in which we live (the larger the number the more recent the date).  If you are not accustomed to reconciling dates prior to the time of Christ (BC), you may find chronological dating a little confusing; for example, Isaiah prophesied between 740 BC and 680 BC; that is, he began prophesying 740 years before Christ, and ended his prophetic ministry 680 years before Christ.  Remember, the larger the number the more distant the date so you are actually “counting backward” when equating the dates to the time period in which we live today.  One further note:  each prophet is presented in the order in which his prophetic work appears in the Old Testamentyou’ll notice they are not listed in strict chronological order by date…     this is due to the fact that the Greek-English order is based on logical arrangement of content, rather than chronological order or the categorized order found in the Hebrew Bible (which also does not list the books in chronological order; the Hebrew Bible actually closes the sacred text with the poetical and wisdom books).  It should also be noted that there were a number of Old Testament prophets who did not leave a “written record” of their ministry the “oral prophets” include Elijah, Elisha, Nathan, Ahijah, Iddo, Jehu, Obed, Sermaiah, Azariah, Hanani, Jahaziel  and Hudldah.  So the seventeen “writing prophets” in this study are presented in the order in which they appear in the Christian Bible; hence, we will begin with the prophet Isaiah.  But before doing so, however, let me first list the writing prophets in the chronological order in which they appear in history


1.   Obadiah (848-840 BC)            10. Jeremiah (627-580 BC)

2.   Jonah (782-753 BC)                  1 1.  Habakkuk (609-605 BC)

3.   Amos (760-753 BC)                   12.  Ezekiel (592-570 BC)

4.   Joel (770-730 BC)                      13.  Daniel (605-535 BC)

5.   Hosea (755-715 BC)                  14.  Lamentations (586 BC)

6.   Micah (735-700 BC)                15.  Haggai (520 BC)

7.   Isaiah (740-680 BC)                16.  Zechariah (520-480 BC)

8.   Naham (664-654 BC)              17.  Malachi (432-424 BC)

9.   Zephaniah (632-628 BC)                 


The Writing Prophets of the Old Testament 

1.  ISAIAH  {Judah 740-680 BC}.  All of the messages of God’s prophets addressed the people of Israel and Judah and /or the sur-rounding nations who lived between the years 840 and 420 BC.  Isaiah is the first of the major prophets.  No other prophet gives more prophecies regarding the coming Messiah… he reveals the Messiah (Christ) as the Suffering Servant and the Conquering King.  The Lord had shown Isaiah a glimpse of His glorious throne and placed a call on his life.  This “prince of prophets,” as he is affectionately known, was extremely unpopular in his day because he spoke God’s words of confrontation, exhortation and warning to a decadent people… but regardless of the opposition, he never strayed from defending the truth.  The Lord had called him to warn His people of their headlong rush into disaster.  The book of Isaiah addresses three different historical time periods:  Chapters 1-39 address Israel when it was confronting invasions by Assyria (all of which occurred during Isaiah’s life-time).  It was at this point the prophet condemned the eighth-century Israelites for their idol-atrous and immoral lifestyles.  God’s judgment came very rapidlyit was during Isaiah’s ministry that Assyria completely destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and applied great pressure on the southern kingdom of Judah.  Though Judah miraculously sur-vived their threat (because of God’s intervention), Isaiah prophesied that even they would ultimately fall; Babylon overthrew them in 586 BC.  Chapters 40-55 deal with Isaiah’s com-forting words to the future generation of weary exiles in Babylon; that is, those Jews who thought that God had forgotten them (40:27).  It is important to remember that these discour-aged exiles in Babylon lived two centuries after Isaiah had died.  In a brilliant series of prophesies, Isaiah presents the case that their captivity was not due to the superiority of Babylon’s idols, but to the disciplining rod of Israel’s Lord (Is 42:23-25; cf. 10:5-16).  He predicted the exiles return and encouraged them to rouse themselves (52:1-10), to flee Babylon (48:20-21), and entrust their future to the Almighty (41:14-20).  In Chapters 56-66, Isaiah exhorts the Jews who had returned to the land this was the period at about the time the temple was rebuilt. Isaiah encouraged these Jews to put away greed (56:90-11), self-indulgence (56:12), idolatry (57:3-10), cynicism (57:11-13), and hypocritical self-righteousness (58:1-5)… that the promised Messiah would appear in the future (61:1-3), and that the Gentiles would join Israel’s godly remnant to become the “servants” of the Lord (56:3; 65:1, 15, 16) in a new nation (65:1; 66:8); though the ultimate triumph of good over evil would have to await the new heaven and the new earth (65:17-19).  So the first section of Isaiah’s book stresses the righteousness, holiness and justice of God, and the last two sections portray God’s glory, His compassion, His undeserved favor, and the coming of the promised Messiah.  At the beginning of chapter 40 the Lord cries out, “Comfort, O comfort My people!” (Is 40:1).   


2.  JEREMIAH  {Judah 627-580 BC}.  Jeremiah was the prophet in Judah’s darkest days.  When King Josiah of Judah died at the hands of the Egyptian army, Judah became subject to Egypt and its ruler Pharaoh Necho (cf. 2 Kg 23:29-35).  In spite of having lost their freedom, the people of Judah did not turn to God but to the idols they had worshiped in the days of Manasseh and Amon.  This idolatry was the reason for Jeremiah’s proclaiming God’s judgment.  In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Necho, and Judha’s king Jehoiakim immediately submit-ted to the Babylonian king, who permitted him to remain on the throne as a vassal; but when he rebelled three years later he was deposed as king (2 Kg 24:1-2).  Following the rebellion of his successor, Nebuchadnezzar carried away thousands of political and religious leaders to Babylon in 597 BC (2 Kg 24:14-16), and made Zedekiah the new ruler; but when he also led a rebellion against Babylon, the Chaldean King took swift action and totally destroyed Jerusalem’s walls, the temple, the palaces, houses and other administrative buildings, and deported 4600 additional Jerusalemites to Babylon in 586 BC (2 Kg 24:18-25:21).  The book of Jeremiah, perhaps more vividly than other book, reveals the inner struggles of one of God’s prophets.  The prophet’s anguish over the message of judgment upon his people and the coming destruction upon the land was at times totally overwhelming to him (Jer 4:19-22).  Apostasy, idolatry, perverted worship, and moral decay were the conditions under which Jeremiah lived and ministered.  This was the word of the Lord to His people “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls” (Jer 6:16).  But the people said, “We will not walk in it…. we will not listen!” (Jer 6:16-17).  Hence, an avalanche of judgment was forthcoming (as just described), and Jeremiah was called to proclaim that message faithfully for forty years! (that’s a long career).  Thus, Jeremiah serves to this day as an example of someone who remained faithful to the word of God despite being disliked by the populace and countless hardships.  In response to his sermons, the tender prophet experienced intense sorrows at the hands of his countrymenopposition, beatings, isolation, and imprisonment. Though he was rejected and persecuted, he lived to see many of his prophecies come to pass.  The Babylonian army triumphed… vengeance failed… and God’s holiness and justice were vindicated though it broke the prophet’s heart. 


3.  LAMENTATIONS  {Jerusalem 586 BC}.  The book of Lamentations was penned by “the mourning prophet” Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon; it reveals the broken heart of the prophet.  In forceful poetry, he expresses his grief over the national tragedy that had unfolded before his eyes Jerusalem, God’s city, and the Jews’ proudest city was reduced   to rubble (it was completely demolished).  The people had chosen to reject Goddefeat, slaughter, and ruination (the horrors so long promised and so stubbornly ignored) had now befallen the people of God at the hands of the brutal Babylonians.  Yet even as the prophet’s heart breaks, he pauses to proclaim a ringing testimony of deep faith in the goodness and mercy of God.  Though the present is bleak with judgment and devastation, the future sparkles with the promise of renewal and divine restoration.  As the prophet and the hymn writer declare: “Great is Thy faithfulness!” (Lam 3:23).  The poetry of the book of Lamentations enhances its message:  Chapters 1-4 are composed as acrostics of the 22 letters of the Hebrews alphabeteach verse or group of verses begins with a word whose “initial letter” carries on the sequence of letters in the alphabet.  This method of writing was a commonly used gramma-tical device that aided in memorization (the psalmists often used itlike Psalm 119).  The last chapter of the book (chapter five) was a prayer for restoration.       


4.  EZEKIEL  {Babylon 592-570 BC}.  Ezekiel was the son of a priest (Levite); he was taken captive to Babylon with a number of other Jews in 597 BC; since he was of a priestly family, he was also a priest.  So as a priest and a prophet, he ministered during the darkest days of Judah’s history (the 70 year period of Babylonian captivity) in the crowded, hostile streets of Babylon.  The Babylonians did not capture the Jews in order to make them slaves in Babylon; their strategy was always to displace the population, especially its leadership and nobility, and settle their own citizens and other foreigners in the land.  The Babylonians settled the Jewish exiles in the southeastern region of modern day Iraq (near the Persian gulf) in order to “colonize them;” there goal was never to “kill or enslave the people,” but to “integrate the various people groups that were conquered” into their kingdom; only those who refused to cooperate were killed.  At the time Ezekiel was preaching his message to the exiles in Baby-lon, the prophet Jeremiah was warning the citizens of Jerusalem of the coming destruction on the holy city.  Even though these exiles were a thousand miles away from the Promised Land and the temple, God would not leave them in the dark… so He sent Ezekiel to warn, exhort, and comfort the weary exiles.  Ezekiel used prophecies, parables, signs, and symbols to dramatize God’s message; he prophesied that there would come catastrophe and captivity for Judah and Jerusalem (586 BC), yet he also brought an encouraging message from God concerning eventual restoration and renewal, based on God’s faithfulness to the promises of all the covenants He made with His people since the Abrahamic covenant though His people were like dry bones in the sun, God would ultimately reassemble them and breathe new life into the nation once again (Ezek 37).  Ezekiel showed the people how judgment was a natural outcome of a holy God’s wrath against sin; it was also a loving God’s means of disciplining His people to correct their beliefs, redirect their behavior, and restore intimate fellowship between them and Himself.  Thus the prophet preached to the exiles the imminence of God’s judgment and the need for individual and national repentance.  His message stretched from condemnation upon Judah’s faithless leaders and godless foes, to consolation regarding her future.  Through it all, says Jehovah, mankind will come to see the glory of Israel’s sovereign God, and “they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek 6:10).       


5.  DANIEL  {Babylonia and Persia 605-536 BC}. When Nebopolassar became king of Babylon, he altered the course of ancient history.  He overthrew the domination of the long-standing Assyrian Empire by the time of his death in 605 BC, and swallowed it up into what became known as the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Empire.  This course of events had significant implications for Judah, the surviving remnant of the nation of Israel; Assyria had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel more than a century earlier (722 BC).  When Nebopolassar died, his son “Nebuchadnezzar” became king, and he brought his father’s empire to even greater heights he was the one responsible for deporting many Jews to Babylon, and ultimately destroying the holy city of Jerusalem and its temple after their continued rebellion against him.  Daniel lived in the midst of all these momentous events; he himself was taken captive when he was sixteen years of age, and together with three other Hebrew youths of rank (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), was deported to Babylon in 605 BC.  Daniel became a close confidant of Nebuchadnezzar throughout the Babylonian king’s reign (605-562 BC)this young well-educated Jew was handpicked for special training and government service in the Babylonian palace.  Later, he served with equal distinction “Cyrus,” the enlightened Persian ruler who conquered Babylon.  One of the first policies Cyrus implemented after subduing Babylon was to allow the Jewish people to return to their homeland and rebuild their way of life.  It is highly likely that Daniel had some influence on Cyrus’ decision.  So Daniel’s life and ministry bridge the entire seventy-year period of Babylonian captivity…   he became God’s prophetic mouthpiece to the Gentile and Jewish world, declaring God’s present and eternal purpose.  The book of Daniel is a testimony to how God works out His purposes through His servants even in the courts of pagan rules (cf. Dan 2:21; 4:18).  The Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans will come and go (do you understand the significance of that?); but God will establish His people forever!  Nine of the twelve chapters in his book revolve around dreams, including God-given visions involving trees, animals, beasts, and images.  Through these visions, Daniel shows God’s guidance, intervention, and power in all the affairs of men.  I find it strange that even in the Christian community many believers really struggle with the idea that God is sovereign and is superintending the course of events throughout the world to reject such a position is to simply not understand what it really means for Him to be the Eternal, Almighty God of creation God very GOD.  Perhaps this statement will help “Before anything else existed, there was GOD.”  No Self-existent, Eternal Reality subjects itself to that which is temporal (to think such is “sheer lunacy”).  As the Lord said to Isaiah, “Since when does the created question the Creator?” (cf. Is 29:16). “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker” (cf. Is 45:9).  Thank goodness God is merciful and overlooks our mindless, impudent insolence.  


6.  HOSEA  {Israel 755-710 BC}.  The prophet Hosea was called by God to prophesy during the northern kingdom of Israel’s last hours.  Hosea’s personal tragedy became an intense illustration of Israel’s national tragedy.  It is a story of one-sided love and faithfulness, be-tween a prophet (Hosea) and his unfaithful wife (Gomer).  Just as Gomer was married to Hosea, so Israel was betrothed to God.  Hosea had chosen Gomer to be his wife and they had three children, each of whom received a symbolic name from the Lord the firstborn son’s name was Jezreel; his name was a reminder of the slaughtering of the “house of Ahab” by Jehu at Jezreel (a city in Issachar); God would avenge (judge) Israel for the blood that was wrongly shed.  Although Jehu had carried out God’s directive in part (2 Kg 9:1-10), he sinned grievously when he killed more people than God had intended (Jehu had probably done this more out of a desire for personal advancement than obedience to God).  The punishment for Jehu’s sin is to be the cessation of the kingdom of Israel as a nation.  Hosea and Gomer’s second child was named Lo-Ruhamah, which means “not loved;” thus announcing the fact that the Lord would temporarily withdraw His love from Israel.  Their third child was named Lo-Ammi, which means “not My people;” thus anticipating the severe disruption of God’s covenantal relationship with His people.  Because of Gomer’s adulteries, the marriage dis-integrated, and she eventually became the slave (or concubine) of another man.  However, the Lord instructed Hosea to buy back his wife; thus Hosea’s act of mercy toward his wife was a powerful picture of God’s great love for Israel.  Essentially his message was this unconditional love keeps seeking even when it is spurned.  In Hosea’s case, it meant buying back his wife from the slave market.  This unhappy story illustrates the loyal love of God   and the spiritual adultery of Israel.   Hosea exposed the sins of the northern kingdom of Israel and contrasted them to God’s holiness.  The nation had to be judged for its sins, but it will be restored in the future because of the love and faithfulness of almighty God.  In the exquisite nature of poetry, the Lord says, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely” (Hos 14:4).


7.  JOEL  {Judah 770-730 BC}. National disasters frequently provoke an overwhelming fear and dread in the hearts of people, because they are powerless to control them.  Joel began his book with a description of such a natural disasterhe looked back to a recent locust plague that decimated the land of Judah in order to illustrate the far more terrifying day of the Lord.  In the locust invasion, grapevines were stripped clean; grain fields laid bare; and fruit trees stood leafless and unproductive.  The devastation was so complete that even grain offerings to God were not possible (Joel 1:9).  Joel used the locust invasion as the starting point of his sermon the land will be invaded by a fearsome army that will make the locusts seem mild in comparison (the fearsome army of which Joel spoke was Babylon; it had not yet taken center stage in the world at that pointAssyria was in power then the prophecy clearly points to Babylon as the power that would ultimately consume Judah; Babylon displaced the Assyrian Empire in 605 BC).   Most Bible scholars believe Joel prophesied during the reign of King Uzziah (also known as King Azariah), who was king between 791-739 BC; his reign ended just 17 years before the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC by Assyria.  Since many prophets did not fully understand their our message (this was especially common when prophesying about the Messiah), Joel obviously was referring to Babylon as that power through which God would carry out His judgment against Judah (605-586 BC), though they were not a significant power in the eighth-century BC when Assyria was the dominant force.   It was through the prophets Isaiah, Joel and Micah that God appealed to the people of Judah at that time to repent in order to divert the coming disaster; heartfelt repentance is the only hope for sinful people.  Though Judah averted judgment during the eight-century BC, history tells us that just over a century later she stubbornly turned her back again on God and incurred severe judgment at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC.   Though Israel and Judah had experienced unparalleled prosperity during the middle of the eighth century, every level of society was greatly impacted by the ravenous locust plague that came upon them. It was in this catastrophic circumstance that Joel saw the imminent judgment of God on Judah.  Al-though God had blessed abundantly during King Uzziah’s (Azariah’s) day, the people had taken His blessings for granted their faith had degenerated into an empty formalism, and their lives into moral compromise.  Why is it that wealth, prosperity and abundance frequently have an adverse effect upon believers spiritually?  There seems to be something about the “easy life” that causes spiritual declension; does not the Lord use trials & affliction to do His transforming work in our lives?  Under divine inspiration, Joel told the Jewish people that the locust plague was a “warning of greater judgment” that was imminent unless they repented and returned to full fellowship with God.  If they did, God would abundantly pardon them and restore the health of the land, and give them the elements that were necessary to offer their sacrifices the ceremonial system was designed to express a heart relationship with God; by their sin they had forfeited any right to religious ceremony.  Though judgment was averted in Joel’s day, a little more than a century later it would not be stopped.  Joel offered hope to the truly repentant that God always keeps His promises the Savior would one day reign supreme in all the world.              


8.  AMOS  {Israel 760-753 BC}.  The prophet Amos prophesied during a period of national optimism in the northern kingdom of Israel, during the reigns of Jeroboam king of Israel, and Uzziah king of Judah.  The two kings had formed an alliance for much of their reigns and for a brief time together ruled an area nearly as large as the empire of David & Solomon.  Though business was booming and their boundaries were bulging, below the surface, greed and injustice were festering.  Hypocritical religious motions had replaced true worship in both kingdoms, creating a false sense of security and a growing callousness to God’s disciplining hand neither famine, drought, plagues, death, or destruction could force the people to their knees.  Amos, the country-farmer-sheepbreeder-turned-prophet, lashed out at sin unflinching-ly, and tried to mobilize the nation to repent.  But the nation, like a basket of rotting fruit, was ripe for judgment because of its hypocrisy and spiritual indifference.  In his eight pronouncements of judgment, Amos spirals around the surrounding countries before landing on Israel.  He then delivers three sermons to list the sins of the house of Israel and calls upon the leaders of Israel to repent and reform.  Amos warned them that if they did not heed his call, their injustice against the poor and the weak would destroy the nation, because God would not allow them to continue in their unrighteous, unjust ways.  Repentance or retribution were the only alternatives.  It is no accident that what we often remember from Amos is his stirring cry, “Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).  Sadly, the people rejected the prophet’s warnings, and he portrayed their coming judgment in a series of five visions.  In spite of imminent judgment, Amos closes his book with a brief word of future hope.    


9.  OBADIAH  {Edom 840 BC}.  The book of Obadiah is one of the three prophetic works in Scripture that is addressed entirely to a nation other than Israel or Judah; the other two were Jonah’s and Naham’s messages to the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyrian.  Obadiah was the first of the writing prophets (predating Jonah by about 60 years), and was a contemporary of the oral prophet Elisha; his book only consists of 21 verses (making it the shortest book in the Old Testament).  Obadiah’s message deals with the ancient feud between Israel and the nation of Edom; that is, the descendants of Jacob and those of his brother Esau.  So this obscure prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah directs his short oracle to the nation of Edom that bordered Judah, just southeast of the Dead Sea.  Fighting and feuding between the twin brothers Esau and Jacob (Gen 27; Num 20:14-21) led to national enmity between their respective peoples the Edomites (descendents of Esau) and Israelites (descendents of Jacob) had a long history of not getting along.  When Edom should have been helping their relatives, they were gloating over the Israelites’ problems and raiding their homes.  During the reign of Jehoram in the southern kingdom of Judah (848-841 BC), the Philistines and Arabians had invaded Judah and looted the palace (cf. 2 Chr 21:16-17). Edom itself had revolted during the reign of Jehoram and became a bitter antagonist (cf. 2 Kg 8:20-22; 2 Chr 21:8-20).  In an hour of need when Judah’s enemies were knocking at the gates of Jerusalem, the Edomites not only failed to help their relatives, they actually came to the aid of Judah’s enemy.  For their unwillingness to serve as their brother’s keeper, the Edomites would one day become totally extinct. Ironically, the Edomites, who had applauded the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC (cf. Ps 137:7), actually died when they participated in the rebellion of Jerusalem against Rome and were defeated along with the Jews by Titus in AD 70.  According to the great Jewish historian of the first century, Josephus, Herod the Great was an Edomite (an Idumaean, a descendant of Esau); he became king of Judea under Rome in 37 BC.


10. JONAH  {Nineveh 760 BC}.  The prophet Jonah ministered in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II (792-753 BC) (cf. 2 Kg 14:25).  Israel and Judah had formed an alliance together under King Jeroboam II and King Uzziah, and were enjoying a period of great prosperity and resurgence.  Conditions looked promising after many bleak years, and nationalistic fervor was high.  During these years Assyria was in a period of mild decline; though weak rulers had ascended the throne, Assyria nevertheless was still a mighty foe.  When God called Jonah to preach repentance to the wicked Nenevites (the capital of Assyria), the prophet knew that God’s mercy might follow, so He turned down the assignment and headed west to the city of Tarshish instead.  But once God had dampened his spirits by tossing him into the sea and protecting him in the belly of a whale, Jonah realized God was serious about His command!  According to Jehovah, Nineveh must hear the word of the Lord, so Jonah reluctantly goes and proclaims it.  Though his preaching was a success, the preacher Jonah comes away angry and discouragedhe had to learn firsthand of God’s compassion on sinful people.  The repentant response of the Assyrian people of Nineveh to Jonah’s terse oracle caused the God of mercy to spare the city.  Through it all, Jonah learned to look beyond his nation and trust the Creator of all people.  Jonah’s view of God was too restrictive; he had failed to appreciate the fact that the Lord may be equally forbearing with other nations just as He was with Israel.  In short, the book of Jonah challenges God’s people not to exalt them-selves over othersthe Lord, the great King, is free to bless and be gracious and be patient with all the nations of the earth… more than that, He may even show compassion to the wicked.  Jonah’s story contains a strong warning to all godly peoplethe elect may miss the blessing of seeing God’s grace extended beyond the borders of what they feel is acceptable, because of their own self-imposed limits on God.  The truth is, believers sometimes struggle with letting God be GOD! (cf. Is 53:6; 55:8-9).   


11. MICAH  {Israel and Judah 735-710 BC}.  Sadly, Old Testament prophets are often thought of as providing nothing but doom and gloom predictions… but the book of Micah presents an impassioned interplay between oracles of impending judgment and promises of future blessing on Israel and Judah.  The people of both nations had broken covenant with the Lord, and through His messenger Micah, the Lord would not only confront His people because of their sinfulness, but promise to bring future blessing through the One who would be coming this One was the Messiah of God (Christ) who would be the true Shepherd of God’s flock.  Micah prophesied during a period  of intense social injustice in Judahfalse prophets preached for riches, not for righteousness… rulers thrived on cruelty, violence, and corruption… priests ministered more for greed than for God… landlords stole from the poor and evicted widows… judges lusted after bribes… businessmen used deceitful scales and weights.  Sin had infiltrated every segment of society (a fairly accurate portrayal of our own country).  Obviously, a word from God was urgently needed.  Micah enumerates the sins of both nations; sins which will ultimately lead to their complete destruction and captivity.  The book of Micah centers on the threat of the Assyrian invasions that occurred throughout this period.  Much of his preaching warned Judah about an impending national disaster… yet the religious leaders of Jerusalem were falsely confident that no evil would befall them because of the inviolable presence of the holy temple in their midst.  In no uncertain terms, Micah reminds the people of what God requires of them: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).  The prophet sternly confronted their arrogance and their mistaken notions of God; not even the temple on Mount Zion (God’s dwelling place) would be spared the on-slaught of God’s wrath (Mic 3:12).  Yet in spite of pending judgment, there was hope with God   in the midst of darkness a Divine Deliverer will appear and righteousness will prevail!  Though justice is now being trampled underfoot, it will one day triumph gloriously.  God’s covenant promises will be fulfilled in the future kingdom of the Messiah, and judgment will ultimately be followed by forgiveness and restoration… so Micah ends his book on a strong note of promise.     


12. NAHAM  {Nineveh, capital of Assyria 660 BC}.  About 100 years after Nineveh repented under the preaching of Jonah, Naham predicted the imminent destruction of that same city; so this is the second of two Old Testament books that centers on Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria.  This ancient city was situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris River opposite the modern city of Mosul in pre-sent day Iraq.  The Bible names Nimrod as the founder of Nineveh (cf. Gen 10:8-10).  It was one of the great cities of the world; it was surrounded by high walls, fortified with two hundred towers, and encircled by a deep moat it was truly an invincible and impregnable fortress… or so the Ninevites thought.  According to the prophet Nahum, the proud city and its inhabitants would be powerless to stand before God’s coming wrath.  In the years since Jonah’s remarkable revival, the people of Nineveh had returned to their immoral, decadent ways (to put the time frame in perspective, it would be like comparing 2015 with 1915 – a relatively long period of time).  The people in the Assyrian capital had reverted to idolatry and brutality… Assyria had overthrown the northern kingdom of Israel some 60 years earlier (722 BC).  Nahum’s preaching was not a call to repentance like Jonah’s, but a decree of death for evil people who had “worn out God’s patience” (cf. Nah 2:13; 3:3).  Because of God’s holiness and power, Nineveh would be destroyed in spite of its apparent invincibility (cf. Is 10:5ff, 12-15, 24-27).  In the conquest of the ancient world, the Assyrians were merciless and cruel their atrocities included everything from burning children to death to chopping off hands.  In many ways, the book of Naham is a theology of the maxim of the sword “you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”  Nineveh had an international repuation for its bloodthirsty actsGod would not be good if He failed to call such a nation to account.  So the theology of the book of Naham is a theology of the goodness of God in bringing about the final destruction of those who oppose His will and abuse His people.  The city of Nineveh was so completely obliterated in 612 BC, it is now but an excavation site.  So Nineveh is a prototype for the coming judgment of God on all workers of wickedness. The seriousness of coming judgment is never a call for complacency among God’s people; implicit in any announcement of doom is a call for holy living on the part of God’s people.  The fall of Nineveh, of which the book predicts, took place just a few years before the final destruction of the Assyrian Empire, and its complete amalgamation into the Neo-Babylonian Empire under King Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC.             


13. HABAKKUK  {Judah 607 BC}.  Habakkuk was unique among the prophets in that he looks at his native Judah, observes the violence and injustice on every hand, and asks God some perplexing questions. Near the end of the southern kingdom of Judah, the prophet asks God why the wicked are prospering in the midst of His people?  and why He is not dealing with  the wickedness in Judah?  When God tells him He is about to use the Babylonians (i.e., the Chaldeans) as His rod of judgment, Habakkuk asks another question:  How can He judge Judah with a nation that is even more wicked?  Habakkuk wanted to know, like many of us, what God is doing and why.  From the prophet’s point of view, there seemed to be too much evil among the “righteous” and too much freewheeling power among the “wicked.”  Sadly, many nations are given to greed, power, idolatry, and immorality.  Often it seems as if power and success come to those who break God’s laws and reject His legitimate right to rule. Yet according to Habakkuk, the Lord remains sovereign; He sits in His holy temple watching the earth, and He will eventually judge each person for his or her life (cf. Hab 2:20). While the masses (or so it appears) may be seduced into wickedness by the allure of power and success (Hab 2:6-20), a glorious future awaits those who submit to God (Hab 2:4).  Habakkuk’s prophetic vision (2:2) and prayer (3:1) provide a proper perspective for viewing the injustices of this world: “the Almighty is in control, and will establish His righteous kingdom in the end.”  When Habakkuk reacts with shock and dismay, God patiently instructs him until at least he is able  to respond with a psalm of praise that magnifies the name of God for His power and purpose: “I will exult in the Lord, and rejoice in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:18).  So he concludes by praising God’s wisdom even though he was not able to fully comprehend it.  The lesson is this: “God has His reasons for doing what He does; His ways are not our ways… His thoughts are not our thoughts; as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways” (Is 55:8-9).  At some point on our journey of faith, as believers we must learn to let God be GOD without insisting that He give us complete understanding of everything.


14. ZEPHANIAH  {Judah and Nations 630 BC}.  During Judah’s hectic political and religious history, on occasion they would see reform.  Zephaniah’s forceful prophecy may have been    a factor in the reform which occurred during King Josiah’s reign a revival which produced outward change but could not remove the inward heart of corruption which characterized the leadership of the nation.  Jehovah is holy and must vindicate His righteousness by calling all the nations of the world into account before Him.  The sovereign God of the universe will not only judge His own people, but all the other people in the world as well.  No one escapes from His authority and dominion.  Zephaniah repeatedly hammered home his message the day of the Lord” (Judgement Day) is coming when the malignancy of sin will be fully dealt with; the day of the Lord will have universal impact.  The Israelites had acted like their pagan neighbors they had scorned God’s law, worshiped false gods, and sinned without remorse long enough.  Now it was time to repent:  Either they turned back to God or they would face the consequences.  It was the “turn back to God” part of Zephaniah’s message that offered a ray of hopeand to those who listened and responded to His call, the good news wiped out every line of bad God would restore those who sought Him.  History tells us that it worked.  The book of Zephaniah tells about events that took place in the city of Jerusalem when Josiah was king (640-609 BC).  The northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed nearly a century before by the Assyrians… the southern kingdom of Judah had suffered under the extraor-dinarily wicked rulers of Manasseh (697-642 BC) and Amon (642-640 BC).  The evils of their reigns had made doom appear certain.  But the godly king Josiah led an important revival that affected  all Judah; the revival, though short-lived, delayed God’s judgment, the invasion of Babylon (cf. 2 Chr 34:27-28).  Though Zephaniah announced the coming of the day of the Lord (in the darkest of terms), he also promised the blessing of future glory in a picture as bright as the doom was dark.  Blessing will come in the person of the Messiah, who will cause the redeemed to sing His glorious praises.   


15. HAGGAI  {Jerusalem 520 BC}.  Haggai was a prophet to the “Jews” (i.e., the people of “Judah”) who had returned from the Exile in Babylon.  His task was to force them to see where their hearts and priorities really lay.  He urged them to do what they should have done from the startrebuild the temple with a willing heart.  Following the return of a number of Jews to the land of their forefathers in 538 BC, they determined to restore the worship of God to its rightful place at the center of their lives.  They planned to build a new temple in 536 BC (cf. Ezra 1)… but sixteen years after the process had begun, the people had yet to finish the pro-ject because they became preoccupied with rebuilding their own houses instead; their own affairs had interfered with God’s business because they failed to put God first, they were not enjoying His blessing in the land.  Though they were not the idolaters their ancestors had been, they had lost their early passion for the worship of the living God.  They explained their behavior by offering the time-honored excuse, “It just doesn’t seem to be the right time” (Hag 1:2).  They did not realize that their hardships were divinely given symptoms of their spiritual indiffer-ence. The prophet brought them to an understanding that circumstances become more difficult when people place their own selfish interests before God’s.  When they put God first and seek to do His will, He will bring His people joy and prosperity.  So the prophet Haggai preached a fiery series of sermons that were designed to stir up the nation to focus on their spiritual condition and finish the temple.  The temple was more than a building; it was the site where the people met with the living God.  If the people ignored the physical ruin of the temple, they were ignoring the spiritual wreckage in their souls as well.  His basic theme was clear the remnant must reorder their priorities and complete the building of the temple.  So Haggai called the builders to renewed courage in the Lord, renewed holiness in life, and renewed faith in God who superintends over the course of events and controls the future.  After chastening the people for their spiritual declension, he then closes with a promise of future blessing.  Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, along with the people of God, responded quickly to the message of Haggai (Hag 1:12) three weeks after Haggai gave his first message, they began their work on the temple (520 BC).  Haggai then came with another message he assured the people that “the Lord was with them!” (Hag 1:13; cf. Ex 3:8).       


16. ZECHARIAH  {Jerusalem 520-518 BC}.  The prophet Zechariah was one of the three prophets, along with Haggai and Malachi, who ministered to the exiles returning to Jerusalem.  These exiles faced the ruins of what had once been a splendid city and a glorious temple.  For more than a dozen years, the task of rebuilding the temple stood half-completed.  The prophet Zechariah was born in Babylonia and was brought by his grandfather to Palestine when the Jewish exiles returned under Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest in 536 BC.  Zerubbabel was living in Babylon at that time, and was recognized as “prince of Judah” in the captivity; he led the first colony of captives to Jerusalem along with the high priest.  Their first care was the building of the altar on its old site and restoring the daily sacrifice (cf. Ezra 2; 3:1-3).  Jewish tradition tells us that Zechariah was a member of the Great Synagogue that collected and preserved the canon of revealed Scripture.  He was commissioned by God to encourage the people in their unfinished responsibility.  Rather than exhorting them to action with strong words of rebuke, he sought to encourage them to action by reminding them of the future importance of the temple.  Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai, and his method of motivating the remnant was one of encouragement rather than admonishment.  The temple needed to be built, because one day Messiah’s glory would inhabit it; but the future blessing was contingent upon present obedience.  The people were not merely building a structure for social worship, they were building the sacred house of the Lord. The combined prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai resulted in the finishing of the temple in 516 BC.  The total prophetic ministry of Zechariah lasted about two years.  The book of Zechariah is considered to be the most Messianic (regarding the Messiah), the most apocalyptic (regarding the destiny of the world), and the most eschatological (regarding the final events of history) of all the writings in the Old Testament.  His series of eight nightly visions (Zech 1:7-6:8) give a remarkable detailed depiction of the future Messianc kingdom over Israel.  Zechariah’s series of visions and mes-sages offer some of the clearest messianic prophesies in Scripture.  The end of the prophetic age was near… God was now preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah.  Through the hellenization (“helenes” means “Greek”) of the entire Mediterranean world, the Greek Empire established the Greek language, education, and culture as the social norms in every civilized country… thus setting the stage to communicate the message of the gospel to the entire world.  The Greek language is probably the “most exacting language” in the world;  even more so than English… so the Lord arranged to have all of the New Testament doc-trines described in incredible detail.  Again, no other language has that capacity.  We are blessed here in the US in that we have “English” as our mother tongue, because it is also a very exacting language in its own right (it is the language of “science” in the world).


17. MALACHI  {Jerusalem 432-425 BC}.  After the great turmoil of the wars of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Medes & Persians, a period of comparative calm came to this part of the ancient world.  The books of the pre-exilic prophets were formed in the flaming cru-cible of international wars and catastrophes… but under Persian rule the Jewish people were allowed to return to their homeland in peace.  The constant threat of international conflict did not loom over their heads; the Persians collected taxes, but otherwise were content to leave the Jewish people alone. Malachi marks the close of Old Testament prophesy, roughly one hundred years after Haggai and Zechariah began to prophesy in 520 BC, and the beginning of four hundred years of silence between the Old & New Testaments.  Having learned little from their captivity, the Jewish people soon lapsed into many of the same sins that resulted in their exile in the first place covetousness, idolatry, mixed marriages with pagan people, abuse of the poor, and calloused hearts; in short, the spiritual and moral climate of the people had grown cold, their worship was meaningless and indifferent, and as they grew more distant from God, they became characterized by religious and social compromise.  This final book of the Old Testament prophet is about the error of “forgetting  the love of God;” when God’s love and loyalty are in doubt, true holiness of life and spiritual commitment are no longer possible.  God sent Malachi to awaken the people from their spiritual stupor and exhort them to return to the living God.  In a question and answer format, the prophet Malachi highlights Judah’s hardheartedness and pronounces God’s curse upon all who practice such things.  A terrible day of judgment is coming, he says, “when all the arrogant and every evildoer will be as chaff and set ablaze…. But for those who fear My name, the Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings” (Mal 4:1-2) here the prophet compares the Savior to a bird whose comforting wings bring healing to the chicks that gather underneath (cf. Ps 91:4).  Malachi’s oracle was inspired by the same problems that Nehemiah faced in 444 BC (some 15 years earlier) when  he came to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls corrupt priests (cf. Mal 1:5-2:9; Neh 13:1-9), and intermarriage with pagan wives (Mal 2:10-16; Neh 13:23-28).  Malachi’s appeal in this oracle was that the people and priests would stop to realize that their lack of blessing was in no way caused by God’s lack of concern; rather it was caused by their own compromise and dis-obedience to God’s covenant law.  The book of Malachi reveals a people who questioned the reality of their sin and the faithfulness of God; a people hardened through and through.  When they repent and return to God with sincere hearts, then the obstacles to the flow of divine blessing will be removed. 


A Chronological Chart of Old Testament History

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A Chronological Chart of Old Testament History.pdf