Mid blended shouts of joy and grief were laid the stones
Whereon the exile’s hopes were based.
Then foes conspired, the king’s courage retraced
His throne against the enterprise arrayed,
And now self-seeking apathy in vain all hearts
The pulse grows faint, the will unbraced
They rear their houses, let God’s house lie waste.
So heaven from dew and earth are stayed
There comes a swift messenger from higher court
With rugged message of divine import
Your ways consider, be ye strong and build
With greater glory shall this house be filled.
He touched their conscience, and their spirits stirred
To nerve their hands for work, their loins regird.
Haggai is the first of the three minor prophets who prophesy after the exile in Babylon. The other two are Zechariah and Malachi. Haggai is a book about priorities. Why do you live in panelled houses while the Lord’s house lies in ruin?
The word Nahum means comforter and Nahum, the seventh in the list of minor prophets, wrote before the fall of the Assyrian empire, with it capital Nineveh. Nahum is a short and somewhat gloomy book. It addresses the issue of violence and human suffering perpetrated by people on other people. It shows how God is moved by the death of the innocent and the reality of God’s justice and judgement. It is a message of judgement on the suffering inflicted by Assyria, and a word of comfort for Judah. John Owen says of Nahum ‘No one of the minor Prophets seems to equal the sublimity, the vehemence and the boldness of Nahum: besides, his Prophecy is a complete and finished poem; his exordium is magnificent, and indeed majestic; the preparation for the destruction of Nineveh, and the description of its ruin, and its greatness, are expressed in most vivid colours, and possess admirable perspicuity and fulness.’
Habakkuk is a book for our time. It shows us that we can question God and complain when bad things happen. Protest and lament have their place, but do not have the final word. While bad things do happen to good people, God is in control and is holding it all. Hannah Hurnard’s classic book Hind’s Feet in High Places illustrating an allegorical journey through suffering and sorrow through to grace and joy, brings to life the words in Habakkuk 3 that end the book: ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.’
Zephaniah means ‘Yahweh has hidden/protected’. It is a book written to the southern kingdom of Judah in the time when King Josiah had introduced religious reform as he encouraged the people to turn back to God. The book begins by describing God’s judgement and there is a focus on the Day of the Lord, something we also see in Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Obadiah, Joel and Malachi. The words ‘I will sweep away’ occur three times, emphasising the completeness of the devastation - yet, as in the other prophetic writings, a remnant will survive by seeking refuge in God. The book finishes with an announcement of joy and of hope as God rejoices over his people with singing. As with the other minor prophets, we are reminded that God is in control, and that our only real safety is found in him. We are encouraged to wait on the Lord as we obey his will and are patient.