Old Testament Reading Guide – November 21-27, 2011

How do I use this reading guide?

Read our own commentary on Joel, Habakkuk, Malachi and Amos for more background material on this week’s readings.

Joel 2:28-3:8

The point to remember about prophecy is that 80% of prophecy is “forth-telling” and 20% is “foretelling”. Verses 28 and 29 open with one of the more familiar passages in the Old Testament which speaks of a future time where God will restore his people by pouring out his Spirit after punishing them (the destruction of Jerusalem and the people’s exile).

What will happen to God’s people when the God’s spirit is poured out on them?  Compare what Joel predicts to the events described in Acts 2:1-12 which tells the story of the birth of the church?  How does Peter connect the events surrounding the birth of the church, sometimes called Pentecost, to Joel’s prophecy (see Acts 2:14-21)?  What promise does God give to those who call on the name of the LORD?    Compare this promise to Peter’s promise in Acts 2:36-40?

The first eight verses of Chapter 3 speak of the restoration of Judah to their own land and the reviving of their prosperity. Simply put, the LORD will take care of his own. How this prophecy may have been applied at the time it was written is not clear. What is clear is that Peter cited this passage on Pentecost to affirm Jesus’ claim as Messiah and to proclaim the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Joel 3:9-17

How are the nations (i.e. Gentiles, non-Jews, the nations that had oppressed Israel) baited into God’s judgment? What rash decision will be they be enticed to make? 

So this hoard gathers in “the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (or the “valley of decision” in v. 14) to face the day of the LORD. Here the LORD will visit on the nations all that they had sought to do to Judah.

There is a recurring theme in the Bible.  God’s judgment on evil, means the day of liberation for God’s people.  This was true for the Exodus when the day of the LORD meant plagues for the Egyptian Empire, but freedom for the Hebrew slaves.  What bright future does Joel hold out for God’s suffering people?  Does Israel deserve such a future and such forgiveness?  Do we?  

Habakkuk 1:1-2:1

Not much is known of Habakkuk and, interestingly enough, this prophecy does not address the people of Judah directly. As far as the date when this was written, the only clue we have is in verse 6 of Chapter 1:

“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwelling not their own. (Habakkuk 1:6 ESV)

So it appears that Habakkuk prophesied shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (see 2 Chronicles 2:15-21).

Habakkuk opens his oracle with that age-old complaint:

“Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3 ESV)

Compare with:

“O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. “How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?” (Psalm 79:1, 4 ESV)

While the psalm is addressing the wickedness of the heathen, Habakkuk is lamenting the wickedness of his own people. Have you ever asked Habakkuk’s question: how long will evil go unpunished?  What is God’s frightening answer to Habakkuk’s plea?  

What complaint does Habakkuk lodge against God for using the Babylonians to punish Israel for its sins?  In case you were wondering, Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem, burning the city to the ground and carried off most of the people into exile.

Habakkuk 2:1-20

As the book opened, Habakkuk was upset with God for leaving the sins of Israel unpunished.  When God announces that he will use the Babylonian army to bring judgment, Habakkuk’s anger rises to another level.  How could God use a people more wicked than Israel itself?

What does God ask Habakkuk to do in verse 3?  What is God’s ultimate answer to Habakkuk?  The ‘he’ in verses 4 and following is the Babylonian kingdom.  What will be Babylon’s fate? What promises do you see for God’s people, the righteous (see verses 4 and 14)? 

You have heard that is was said of old “The walls have ears”? Well its roots may actually be found here (I really don’t know – but it works)

“For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond” (Habakkuk 2:11 ESV)

Interestingly, as Jesus was to enter Jerusalem triumphantly amid all the rejoicing and praising of God by the people,

“… the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’” (Luke 19:40 ESV)

I cite this only to show that the imagery of the stones crying out, by Jesus’ time, was not a new one.

Habakkuk 3:1-19

This is a prayer of praise – for the first sixteen verses Habakkuk outlines one after another of the great works of the LORD in dealing with his people. It should serve as a reminder to us who are so far removed (in time) from Habakkuk, that we worship the very same LORD today and he is as omnipotent now as he was then. One of the most memorable lines from this prayer is: “In wrath remember mercy.” (v. 2b) Habakkuk’s close is a praise worthy of Job: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him…” (Job 13:15a ESV)

Try offering your own prayer to God following the pattern of Habakkuk, thanking him for using his great power to save you.

Malachi 1:1-14

Malachi opens with “The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.” (Mal. 1:1 ESV) I mention this only because Malachi is addressing the post-exilic people of Judah, that is the people who returned to Israel after Babylon destroyed its cities and carried its people into exile. “Israel” was a deliberate choice by Malachi to remind them not of the divided kingdom, but rather the one that existed in the time of David. The term Israel would tie the people to the covenant obligations of their fathers and of the covenants made with God (beginning with the one delivered on Mount Sinai).

In what ways has Israel (another name for Jacob the ancestor of nation of Israel) failed to love the God that had loved them?  What is unacceptable about the offerings that Israel brought before God?  

It is important to remember that Israel could not approach God without an offering, a perfect sacrifice, because they were a sinful people.  We approach God today without a sacrifice.  Why?  Jesus was that perfect sacrifice that put an end to sacrifice once and for all.

Amos 1:1-2:8

Amos opens telling us that he was “among the shepherds of Tekoa” (v. 1:1) which tells me that he was called to be a prophet out of his day job of tending sheep.  Later we will learn that he dressed sycamore fig trees (7:14-15) as a sideline.  While I hesitate to say that Amos is “reluctant” it is clear that he sees his calling as just that – a vocation – a calling from God to speak to both Israel and Judah.  He prophesies during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah and Jeroboam (II) of Israel sometime between 796 and 739 B.C.  As stated, Amos was, among other things, a shepherd.  In the socio-economic system then prevalent in that area of the world, shepherds were at or near the bottom.  While David was a shepherd, for some reason his greatness did not lift the life of a shepherd from the lowest ranks of society.

Amos begins by warning of judgment to the nations which surround Israel for their treatment of their neighbors. He warns Syria (Damascus); Philistia (Gaza); Phoenicia (Tyre); and Edom. All of the warnings are introduced by the phrase “For three transgressions of (…) and for four, I will not revoke the punishment…” (ESV vs. 3, 6, 9, 11)

“1:3 three transgressions … four. This poetic expression is used to introduce the judgment upon all seven of the neighboring nations, and upon Israel as well (2:6). It is a way of expressing totality: “three” expresses the plural in Hebrew, and by raising it to “four” the idea of multiplicity is conveyed.” [ESV Study Bible Notes p. 1659 regarding “for three transgressions and for four…”]

What sorts of sins of Israel’s neighbors does Amos denounce in 1:3-2:3? 

Amos sets up the readers.  As Amos announces God’s judgment on Israel’s neighbors you can imagine Israel cheering, “Yeah! Go Amos get them heathens!”  It’s human nature.   Amos is an equal-opportunity prophet. Judah (what’s left of Israel) is next.

What sins in Judah does God condemn?  How is the worship of false gods (idols) connected to way the people in Judah treated the poor and the vulnerable?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s