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The Minor Prophets: conclusion

All summer we’ve been going through some of the minor prophets, in a bible study I wrote two years ago (learn more about the background of this study in the introduction). We’re going to close the series with some of the conclusion I wrote for the original study guide.

Here’s a brief look at some of the topics we’ve covered while studying these six books:

Obadiah

  • Pride deceives
  • The good  you DON’T do is sin
  • Deeds return on your head (the Boomerang Effect)

Joel

  • Crying out to God
  • Turning your heart toward God
  • God’s gifts satisfy fully –and more!
  • God is both Judge and Protector
  • God is present with us

Zephaniah

  • Seek God
  • Seek God together
  • Trust God to deal with injustice
  • God is faithful when we are not
  • Serving shoulder-to-shoulder

Habakkuk

  • When sin goes unpunished
  • Trusting God when life doesn’t go to plan
  • Watching for God’s answers
  • God’s heart for the exploited
  • Lament worship

Haggai

  • Serve God first – trust Him to take care of the rest
  • Obeying (not procrastinating)
  • God’s presence makes the temple great
  • Offerings of faith
  • Tools chosen by God

Malachi

  • What would your life be like without God?
  • Priest offering sacrifices
  • Breaking faith/keeping faith
  • Trusting God’s timing
  • Robbing God
  • Unity affects God

There’s a LOT packed into these six short books. One thing I love about reading the Bible is that no matter how many times I read the same book, there’s always SO MUCH MORE to learn. I discover new treasures every time as I turn my heart to God.

  1. These lists reflect some of the things that are special to me in each of these books. I encourage you to make your own list, of the things that spoke to you from each book.

I hope that you have enjoyed taking a brief look at some of the minor prophets. I pray that you have a deeper understanding of the character of God, and his passionate love you his people – his passionate love for YOU.

I also hope that you have been recording your thoughts, your insights, your questions. These are the things we need to share with each other! This is how we strengthen our faith – gathering together, sharing together.

I’m going to close with a beautiful prayer from Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

God is truly beyond comprehension, beyond imagination.

He is greater than all our wildest dreams.

I pray he will be glorified through me, through you – through us, as we continue to seek him together.


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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Habakkuk, part 3

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

Click here to see part 1 of the Habakkuk study
Click here to see part 2 of the Habakkuk study

The final part of our study of Habakkuk looks at chapter 3.

Read Habakkuk 3 in the NIV
Read Habakkuk 3 in the Amplified Bible

KEY VERSE: “I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day” (verse 2)

Chapter 3 is a song attributed to Habakkuk. It is written by one who stands in awe of who God is and what he does. The focus is clearly on GOD – his power, his justice, his greatness. This isn’t “pretty” – it is POWERFUL.

When I see God for who he is, when I meditate on what he has done, I long to see him move in power – now!!

KEY VERSE: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (verse 18)

The final verses of the book of Habakkuk are a beautiful example of lament worship. I love laments – one of my favourite Psalms (Psalm 42) is a lament. Lament worship is when I tell God everything that’s wrong (things that aren’t going well, my hurts and frustrations and anger and all the other things those perfect Christians don’t struggle with!) and then say “BUT”. The “but” is the important part. The “but” turns complaints into worship. The “but” is when I say that while all those hard things are true, there are other true things – like the unchanging nature of Who God Is. I will choose to worship him when life is hard.

I am so tired, life has been so hard lately, BUT I know you are good.

I’ve been waiting so long, Lord, BUT I trust you. I know you are faithful.

Even if things don’t turn out the way I hope and pray they will, I will still praise you, Lord!

Lament worship encourages me. It tells me it’s okay to feel down, depressed, weary. It tells me God WANTS to hear my heart. When he tells me to cry out to him, pour my heart out to him, he actually means it! Lament worship shows me how to talk to God when I’m having a bad a day, a tough week, a hard year. Dan Allender explains the place of the lament beautifully:

“To lament – that is to cry out to God with our doubts, our incriminations of him and others, to bring a complaint against him – is the context for surrender. Surrender – the turning of our heart over to him, asking for mercy, and receiving his terms for restoration is – impossible without battle. To put it simply, it is inconceivable to surrender to God unless there is a prior, declared war against him. Christians often assume our conflict with God was finished when we converted… But the battle is not over with conversion…Sanctification is a lifetime process of surrendering as more and more intense conflicts with God and others expose and dissolve our urgent preoccupation with the self. A lament is the battle cry against God that paradoxically voices a heart of desire and ironic faith in his goodness… A person who laments may sound like a grumbler – both vocalize anguish, anger, and confusion. But a lament involves even deeper emotion because a lament is truly asking, seeking, and knocking to comprehend the heart of God. A lament involves the energy to search, not to shut down the quest for truth. It is passion to ask, rather than to rant and rave with already reached conclusions. A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God.”

 The book of Psalms is full of lament worship. The following is not an exhaustive list of lament psalms, by any means, but it’s a good place to start in learning the heart of the lament.

Psalm 10Psalm 13Psalm 22Psalm 55Psalm 56Psalm 69Psalm 102Psalm 142, Psalm 143

  1. Think of something amazing God did in your life, or in the life of someone you know.
  2. How do you feel when you think about what God did?
  3. Sharing testimonies of what God has done in our lives (both the big things AND the small things) is a great way to strengthen our faith, and the faith of those around us. Think of a small testimony to share with others this week.

My journals are full of laments – raw emotion followed by a BUT, and a declaration of faith. I’d like to encourage you to try writing a lament of your own. Start with anything you’re sad/angry/weary/upset about – tell God everything. Then, with the same heartfelt honesty, tell God what you know to be true about him DESPITE the problems you’re facing. If you’re anything like me you may need a few pages to write your lament, but these two phrases are a good place to start:

Right now I feel…

BUT I know You…

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Habakkuk, part 2

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

Click here to see part 1 of the Habakkuk study

Part two of the Habakkuk study starts with section 3 – Habakkuk 1:12-2:1

Read Habakkuk in the NIV
Read Habakkuk in the Amplified Bible

KEY VERSE: “you cannot tolerate wrong… why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” (verse 1:13)

Habakkuk’s first complaint was that Israel was going unpunished. Now he asks God a second curly question. If God is holy, how can he tolerate all the wicked nations, let alone use them to dispense judgment? Won’t this encourage their idol worship? Won’t it just increase, or at least do nothing to discourage, all their evil practices?

I love that Habakkuk questions God so directly. When God’s answer to his first question is confusing, he asks again. He challenges God. He brings his confusion to God and asks for clarity.

 

KEY VERSE: “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me” (verse 2:1)

Habakkuk ends his spiel by stopping himself, preparing to wait on God. He makes himself ready to listen. He believes God will provide an answer. I can imagine Habakkuk thinking “Okay, fine. I’ve said my piece. Now I’m ready to listen to what you have to say.” Maybe I hear it like that in my head because I’m like that. Sometimes I need to get stuff out before I can really listen.

When you are confused about what God’s doing/who he is, when you wonder WHY, how do you normally react?

  • Ask someone more mature in faith for their ideas on the matter
  • Look for Christian materials about the issue
  • Discuss your question with friends/peers
  • Try to ignore the “why”
  • Ask God to explain it some way
  • Believe God has a reason for it and choose not to think about it any more
  • Other ________________________________________________________
  1. How do you personally receive understanding best? What helps you be open to receive answers?
  2. Do you find it hard to “watch” and wait for God to reveal something?
  3. How can you practise watching/waiting this week?

Section 4 – Habakkuk 2:2-20

KEY VERSE: “write down the revelation and make it plain” (verse 2)

When God responds to Habakkuk’s question, he commands him to write down the answer given. It is important to record the things we learn, so we can share them with others. Sharing lessons taught to us is one way we can build each other up in faith.

KEY VERSE: “the righteous will live by faith” (verse 4)

This little line is one of the most famous verses in Habakkuk. It is quoted several times in the New Testament. This idea is very important throughout Scripture, and Christian theology throughout the ages. While we aren’t going to spend much time on it here, you may want to compare this to some other passages: Romans 1:16-17, 3:19-4:25, 9:30-33; Galations 3:5-29; Philippians 3:8-9; Hebrews 10:36-11:13


KEY VERSE: “will not all of them taunt him, saying…” (verse 6)

God’s response is in the form of a “mashal” – a poetic form of the time, known as a “taunting proverb”. The taunting part is made clear in verses 5-6, where the mashal is introduced. Verse 6 says “they” will taunt “him”. “They” refers to the captives in verse 5; “him” is the arrogant, greedy captor described. Although he might have power and wealth now, the tables will be turned and the captives will taunt their captor.

This mashal consists of 5 groups of three verses each, known as the “five woes”. Each group exposes an area of evil God especially despises.

  • Extortion (verses 6-8)
  • Exploitation for financial gain (verses 9-11)
  • Violence for personal gain (verses 12-14)
  • Exploitation for personal pleasure (verses 15-17)
  • Idol worship (verses 18-20)

Do you notice any connections between the five? 4 of the 5 describe abuses of power, and the first three all relate specifically to greed. God is sending a message to all who amass wealth and power at the expense of others. Arrogance and greed might seem to get you somewhere in this world, but God sees, and he cares.

God has a heart for the downtrodden, the enslaved, the exploited. God sees, knows, and loves those who have been used. He sees me and loves me when I am exploited. He also sees when I use others for my own gain.

There is SO much material here! I pray you are inspired to study this mashal in more depth later. (Don’t miss the beautiful insights into the nature of God in verses 14 and 20!)

  1. Describe a time you felt you were used, abused, powerless or exploited.
  2. How did this experience affect your perception/understanding of God, and how he sees you?
  3. How does seeing God’s heart displayed in this mashal affect your understanding of him?
 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Habakkuk, part 1

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

WHO IS HABAKKUK?

We know very little about Habakkuk. There are some Jewish traditions about who he may have been, but we know almost nothing about him. Habakkuk identifies himself as a prophet at the beginning of the book, rather than saying that God had given him a message to speak, which suggests he held the official office of prophet. Therefore, many people believe he was a temple prophet – that he was a Levite who ministered in the temple at Jerusalem. It is possible that the third chapter was written at a separate time, but if it was written at the same time, by the same person, that lends more credibility to the theory that Habakkuk ministered in the temple. (There is a notation at the end “to the director of music” saying that the song is to be perfomed “on my string instruments”.)

WHEN WAS HABAKKUK WRITTEN?

Although nothing is certain, scholars have made some educated guesses based on the contents of the text. Due to the condition of Israel Habakkuk describes it was unlikely written during Josiah’s reign, which was a time of spiritual renewal in Israel. Josiah died in 609 BC and was succeeded by king Jehoiakim (609-598 BC). Habakkuk also speaks of the Chaldeans, which gives us another clue. The Chaldeans were a people group from Southern Babylon who became rulers of the Babylonian empire following the battle of Carchemish in 605. Since Habakkuk speaks of the Chaldeans, not the Babylonians, the book was probably written before this time. That gives us an approximate date of 607 BC.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

If this book was written in 607 BC, it came two years after the death of Josiah. Josiah’s reign was marked by a return to God, a renewal of faith and service. The kings who followed returned Israel to evil ways.

  • 609 BC – King Josiah died in battle against the Egyptians; 23 year old Jehoahaz is made king, but three months later is deposed by Pharaoh Neco, who makes 25 year old Eliakim king of Judah, changing his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim pays taxes to Egypt throughout his reign (II Kings 23:29-37; II Chronicles 35:20-36:8)
  • 607 BC – Approximate date of Habakkuk
  • 605 BC – The Battle of Carchemish (Chaldeans rise up to rule the Neo-Babylonian empire)
  • 598 BC – The Babylonians march toward Jerusalem; King Jehoiakim  dies; 8 year old Jehoiachin takes the throne. Within three months Nebuchadnezzar takes the city, takes Jehoiachin captive back to Babylon, and makes Mattanaiah king (changing his name to Zedekiah). (II Kings 24:1-17; II Chronicles 36:9-14)
  • 586 BC –Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews are killed or taken to Babylon as captives (including king Zedekiah). Those left behind to live in the ruins intermarry with other nations; these people become the Samaritans. (II Kings 25; II Chronicles 36:15-23 – the history books end here).


Habakkuk was writing to a people who had abandoned the ways of God pretty much as soon as Josiah died. If he really was a minister in the temple, this must have been difficult to watch. He would have been in the temple when it was really the centre of worship, where God was honoured properly, as the Law prescribed. To then serve a king who had no care for the Lord, to see the people ignoring the newly re-discovered Law, must have been heartbreaking.

WHAT IS HABAKKUK ABOUT?

A unique feature of Habakkuk is the way he questions God directly – and rather than be rebuked, is answered. It’s not a message from God to his people, but a record of a candid conversation between Habakkuk and God.  In essence, the book is about Habakkuk asking what God’s going to do about all the evil happening in Judah, and why he doesn’t wipe out the evil outside Judah. The book then finishes with a song of praise to the Lord.

STRUCTURE

There are five sections in Habakkuk:

  1. Habakkuk’s first complaint (Habakkuk 1:1-4)
  2. God’s response (Habakkuk 1:5-11)
  3. Habakkuk’s second complaint (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1)
  4. God’s response (the rest of chapter 2)
  5. Habakkuk’s song of praise (Chapter 3)
Section 1 – Habakkuk 1:1-4

KEY VERSE:
“Why do you tolerate wrong?” (verse 3)
“Therefore the law is paralysed and justice never prevails.” (verse 4)

This section is one long “why?!” from Habakkuk to God. Many scholars seem convinced that in this section Habakkuk is referring to injustices and sin happening within Israel, not sin in the nations around them. He sees injustice all around him. He wants to know why God hasn’t stepped in to fix things. Habakkuk’s point seems to be that if God tolerates wrongdoing, the law is useless. If God’s blessing remains with those who no longer follow his ways, justice will never be done. Without consequences, what’s the point in having the law at all?

  1. Have you ever seen negative consequences to overly lenient treatment (a lack of punishment)?
  2. How do you feel about an authority figure (parent, teacher, boss etc) who lets you escape fair punishment?
  3. Habakkuk didn’t understand God’s leniency. With the benefit of hindsight, do you have an idea why God chose not to act earlier?

Section 2 – Habakkuk 1:5-11

KEY VERSE: “I am going to do something that you would not believe even if you were told.” (verse 5)

God is going to use people of another nation, an evil people, to dispense his judgment on Israel? Unbelievable! Habakkuk may have wanted to see justice done in Israel, but I’m sure this isn’t what he had in mind.  Still, God is clear. HE is doing this – it’s a part of the plan, whether Habakkuk can believe it or not. In fact, it’s an answer to Habakkuk’s prayer for justice to be done.

All the same, I can imagine Habakkuk hearing God speak the words above and doing a complete double-take. “That can’t possibly be right. Our enemies, who have no respect for you whatsoever, will be your agents to enact justice on our people. Are you crazy??”

Well, maybe that wasn’t his reaction. Mine might have been similar, though! I’ve reacted like that to some of the crazy twists God’s brought along in my life. Still, I’m glad I don’t understand God all the time. I’m glad his thoughts are higher that mine, his plans more long term than mine, his love fiercer than mine.

Any God who I could totally work out wouldn’t be worth following.

  1. Can you think of a time when God answered your prayers in a way you didn’t like?
  2. Describe a time when your life wasn’t going according to plan.
  3. What helps you trust God when life doesn’t look the way you think it should?
 
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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