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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: Zephaniah, 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 for Part 1 of the Zephaniah study

Click here for Part 2 of the Zephaniah study

We’ve gone through Zephaniah 1:1-2:3. We re-start with section 3 – Zephaniah 2:4-15

KEY VERSE: “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people” (verse 8)

God sees all – all the peoples of the world, and all the injustices done. He judges and punishes others for their pride and their selfishness. We see in Zephaniah, however, that God is more interested in speaking to his OWN people about THEIR shortcomings. The entire 18 verses of chapter one are a message of God’s judgment on Israel. Here God proclaims his judgment on 11 different nations, and he does it in 12 verses. We see something similar in the book of Amos, another minor prophet, who spends only the first 1.5 chapters of his 9 chapter long book on God’s judgment against other nations – the rest concerns Israel.

God’s people have been chosen, blessed, invited in to the wonders of God Almighty. They have been given the law. They should know better. Judah is punished for adultery – for abandoning the God they know, who has demonstrated his love over and over.

I wonder if God puts this section in Zephaniah to remind his people that he’s in charge, and he’ll deal with all the other nations, too – they don’t need to concern themselves with that. What Judah needs to worry about is Judah. Jesus said it’s hypocritical to try to fix other people before working on our own issues (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:41-42), and Paul writes something similar (Romans 2:1-4). I need to be humble enough to recognise my own shortcomings, and then work on them. I need to trust that God is big enough to deal with the shortcomings of others. Jesus brings up the same principle when the woman caught in adultery is brought before him (John 8:1-11). Although some manuscripts of the Bible don’t include this story, I love it. It rings so true with me! Sometimes the very act of remembering my own sinfulness, the things I’ve done that have hurt others, defuses my anger at someone else.

It can be REALLY hard to trust God to deal with the problems we see around us. Sometimes he asks us to take action – but we do so as part of HIS plan, not according to our own plans. We don’t get to see God’s whole plan for humanity, but there IS a plan, and he IS big enough to accomplish it. I do my own part, working on what he puts before me, and trust the big picture to him.

  1. Think of a problem area in the life of a friend or family member. Something that really bugs you.
  2. Does it feel like God has a plan to work on this? Why/why not?

Section 4 – Zephaniah 3:1-8

KEY VERSE: “The LORD within her is righteous… morning by morning he dispenses his justice” (verse 5)

 

God is faithful (have a look at 2 Timothy 2:11-13). Even when his people abandon him and embrace sin, even when he takes them into a season of hardship, God is GOOD. It is his nature –and he does not change. The picture Zephaniah paints here is of God STILL with his people, still IN THE HEART of the nation, still AT WORK doing good, despite their almost total lack of goodness/faithfulness. Hold that thought – I’ll come back to it.

 

KEY VERSE: “I said to the city, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’… But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.” (verse 8)

Severe consequences like famines and capture by enemy nations are not God’s first approach. He tries various things to get our attention – and when a people repent, and cry out to him, his turns it all around. I imagine it must break his heart, to see us hurting and yet unwilling to leave the dangerous path we’re on, knowing that he must watch us endure more before we will turn back. Perhaps the age-old parents’ saying holds true here, too – “This hurts me much more than it hurts you.”

I have held firm to a counterproductive path more times than I’d like to admit. Sometimes God gets my attention and before I get in too deep, but other times I get myself in all sorts of trouble before I’m willing to make a change. I read verse 8 and I see my own sinful nature, my innate tendency to do stupid things, rebellious things, self-destructive things.

So here’s where the two points come together for me. Something that humbles me time and again is when I see God doing good things RIGHT IN THE MIDST of my stupidness. One time he might use me to bless someone despite the fact that I’ve been acting like an idiot. Another time he might bless me with some small unnecessary thing that makes me happy, despite the fact that I’ve been ignoring him lately.

God’s ability to do good is not limited by my lack of goodness.

God’s faithfulness is not dependant on my faithfulness.

  1. Have you ever seen God at work doing good right in the midst of something you would normally call bad?
  2. What does it mean to you that God is both GOOD and FAITHFUL at all times?
 
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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Zephaniah, 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 for Part 1 of the Zephaniah study


STRUCTURE

There are five sections in Zephaniah:

  1. The first chapter is God’s judgment of Israel
  2. The first 3 verses of Chapter 2 are a call to seek God
  3. The rest of chapter 2 is God’s judgment against other nations
  4. Another section of judgment on Israel (Zephaniah 3:1-8)
  5. The last section (Zephaniah 3:9-20) is a picture of restoration for a remnant of Israel.
1st section – chapter 1

KEY VERSE: “those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him” (verse 6)

In Zephaniah the rich and royal are singled out for special condemnation. Merchants are mentioned specifically. People are growing rich from God’s blessings, but then forgetting where the blessings come from. They are becoming worldly, adopting the idolatrous practices of other nations and forgetting the One True God. By making him just one god in their personal pantheons, they are totally missing the point of God’s uniqueness.

Perhaps it happened something like this. If you’re going to engage in international trade and commerce, it’s important to respect the beliefs/customs of the nations you visit and do business in. Every nation has its own gods and it’s important to respect that. For healthy trade relations, it might be necessary every now and then to participate in some religious festival with your business partners. Actually, it wouldn’t hurt to cover your bases and make offerings to the local gods, so your endeavours there will thrive.

The Israelites were missing something crucial in their understanding of the nature of Yahweh: He isn’t the god of Israel – he is the ONE Creator of everything. If they really understood that God was the ONLY God, the One True God, absolutely omnipotent, Lord over EVERY nation, they wouldn’t turn to worship other gods.

It isn’t just idol worship that has God upset. His people have:

–          Not sought God (apathy)
–          Turned away from God
–          Turned to other things
–          Become complacent (questioned whether God does anything)

Not actively seeking.

Actively turning away.

Actively turning to something else INSTEAD of God.

Figuring it doesn’t matter anyway.

Ouch. I don’t know about you, but I see myself right there. I do that exact thing at times. Sometimes it’s a pretty short journey from apathy (or laziness, as it sometimes is with me) to doubt, wondering whether any of it really matters.

Prevention is better than cure – if I keep looking at God I don’t go anywhere, and there’s no need to go back. To keep focussed on God, to remain desperate, active in relationship with him, moving forward rather than backsliding, I need to SEEK. If I am constantly seeking God, pursuing him, my attention is turned toward him. I am looking at him.

  1. Describe a time you noticed the world around you affecting your faith negatively.
  2. When do you find yourself most apathetic about your spiritual life?
  3. When do you need encouragement to keep seeking God?
  4. What are some practical ways you can seek God this week?
Section 2 – Zephaniah 2:1-3

KEY VERSE: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land… Seek righteousness, seek humility.” (verse 3)

 

Zephaniah encourages his audience to come together and seek. If we are to make seeking God a constant, lifelong activity, it is VERY important to “gather together”. It can be hard to grow in righteousness, humility, and the presence of God, especially when you feel isolated and alone. It’s easy to feel like you’re the ONLY ONE seeking God, seeking to serve him. The biblical solution is to PURSUE any opportunity to find these things. RUN AFTER chances to meet with other seekers. We need community to uplift and encourage us – and not just any community. We need to have people and places in our lives where we are encouraged to go DEEPER. Seekers of God need to gather together.

  1. Who/what encourages you when you are trying to live a God-seeking life?
  2. What are some ways you can get more of this kind of encouragement in your life?
 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Zephaniah, 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.


WHEN WAS ZEPHANIAH WRITTEN?

Zephaniah was written during the reign of King Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). The approximate date is 630-625 BC, when King Josiah was a teenager.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Zephaniah was written at a crucial time in Israel’s history. To get the full picture, we’re going to do a bit of a history lesson. Below is a timeline with references from the history books of II Kings and II Chronicles. It’s really worth checking some of this stuff out, because it paints the picture of the state of the nation when Zephaniah gave his prophecy.

724 BC – King Hezekiah takes the throne, aged 25 (II Kings 18-20, II Chronicles 29-32)

695 BC – King Manasseh (son of Hezekiah) takes the throne, aged 12 (II Kings 21:1-18, II Chronicles 33:1-20)

642 BC – King Amon (son of Manasseh) takes the throne, aged 22 (II Kings 21:19-26, II Chronicles 33:21-25)

640 BC – King Josiah (son of Amon) takes the throne, aged 8 (II Kings 22-23, II Chronicles 34-35)

632 BC – Josiah at age 16 begins to seek God

628 BC – Josiah at age 20 begins to clean up Israel, campaigning against idol worship

621 BC – Josiah at age 27 orders the renovation of the temple, and the Book of the Law is found. The Law is read, to

Josiah and then to all Israel, and Passover is celebrated again.

609 BC – King Josiah died at age 39, 23 years before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC

Hezekiah and Josiah were important and influential kings, abolishing idol worship, seeking God, and turning Israel back to him. Sandwiched between them were two bad kings, Manasseh and Amon, who did the opposite – promoting idol worship, practicing divination, witchcraft and all sort of other things like that. Two years into Amon’s reign his own staff plotted against him and had him assassinated. They were later executed for their hand in his murder, and Amon’s son, only 8 years old, was made king. By 630 BC, Israel had been spent 65 years steeped in idol worship (with a brief exception toward the end of Manasseh’s reign, when God got his attention by having him captured and he turned back to God). This was a significant low point in Israel’s moral/spiritual history.

As Josiah grew up, he began to seek God. He was only 16, and had been king for 8 years. This was the start of something big. As king. Josiah had significant influence over the actions of the nation. When he sought God, and returned to him, he brought all Israel with him. We might not all direct an entire people with our actions, but we all have influence of some kind over someone. Josiah was young, and he made a difference. So can we all.

WHO IS ZEPHANIAH?

There is a lot more to Josiah’s story but right now we’re focussed on Zephaniah. Zephaniah was definitely written when Josiah was king, most likely when Josiah was a teenager – so right around the time things were stirring in him.

Zephaniah gives a length genealogy at the introduction to his prophecy, not just his father’s name as was the normal convention. He traces his lineage back to Hezekiah, the last good king before Josiah. There is a theory that identifying himself as a great-grandson of Hezekiah, a man of royal blood, would have made his prophecy more compelling to his audience. It’s also possible that he wanted his audience to be clear of his strong Jewish heritage, since his father’s name (“Cushi”) is translated as “Ethiopian”.

Some scholars believe that if Zephaniah really was of royal descent, he may well have had access to and/or influence over his first cousin, the boy-king Josiah. Josiah was a teenager at the time Zephaniah received these prophecies from God –  they may well have affected the direction his rule was to take.

Zephaniah was NOT king of Israel. He listened to God, however, and obeyed him. The words he gave moveda king, affected a nation, and were in time read by billions more.
WHAT IS ZEPHANIAH ABOUT?

As with many prophets, Zephaniah spoke against sin in Israel, warned of God’s impending judgment (against Israel and other nations) and also shared a message of hope – the restoration of intimate relationship between God and his people. It is not, however, a case of “heard one doom-and-gloom prophet, heard ‘em all”. There are several treasures in Zephaniah well worth uncovering.

Read Zephaniah in the NIV

Read Zephaniah in The Message

Read part 2 of the Zephaniah study

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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