MODULE V: Late 7th and early 6th century prophets, Lamentations
With this module, we continue our study of the prophets, with our focus being on those from the end of the seventh century and the beginning of the sixth century, B.C., roughly a fifty year period of time, from about 625 to 570 BC. Included on our list are Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah, (Lamentations–not a prophet, but from the period just after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC), and Ezekiel.
Politically and religiously, great changes were taking place in the Ancient Near East. Assyria’s power was crumbling, especially after the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC. Into this power vacuum King Josiah of Judah stepped up, expanding Judah’s boundaries and instituting religious reforms. Killed by the Egyptians at Megiddo in 609 BC, Josiah’s successor-kings lacked his skills and moral courage. As Babylon overpowered Assyria, it became the major force in the Ancient Near East, conquering Egypt in the Battle at Carchemish in 605 BC. Judah’s kings would vacillate between being loyal vassals of Babylon and rebellious subjects who sought alliances with Egypt. Due to their flirtation with Egypt, Babylon’s armies marched against Jerusalem, defeating it in 597 BC, removing their best and brightest to exile in Babylon, with a second deportation after the crushing defeat of 587 BC, when the city, its walls and temple were totally destroyed.
The prophets address the circumstances of the above period of history. Zephaniah is likely the first, active early in Josiah’s reign before he inaugurated his reforms. Jeremiah was active throughout the period, receiving his call in 629 BC. Nahum condemns Nineveh before its fall in 612 BC. Habakkuk agonizes over the question of “why” as God prepares to punish disobedient people with even more disobedient people. Obadiah confronts Edom (Esau’s descendants) over their arrogant posture as they gloat over their brother Jacob’s demise. Lamentations consists of five poems mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel carried out his prophetic ministry in Babylon, being one of the people in the second group deported there in 597 BC. His ministry is dated from 593 to 571 BC.
Reading, studying and reflecting on this cluster of Biblical books will deepen your understanding of God’s Word and its application to our times and lives. May it strengthen your resolve to live on the basis of that Word and find in God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises hope for the future.
In contrast to most of the prophets, Zephaniah has an unusual identification in 1:1. His background goes back four full generations, when normally only one’s father is mentioned. Zephaniah is a descendant of Hezekiah. Could this be the great, noble King Hezekiah? Zephaniah’s prophecy reflects awareness of and acquaintance with the elite of Jerusalem–officials, rulers, prophets, and priests. His utterances show familiarity with court circles and political issues of the late 7th century. He probably was familiar with prophets who preceded him, such as Isaiah and Amos. There are echoes of earlier prophets in his oracles.
Zephaniah’s ministry was carried out during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC) [1:1] and his prophecy addresses conditions that probably prevailed before Josiah began his reforms in the 18th year of his reign. They were conditions that had developed during the long reign of Manasseh, who re-introduced the idolatry and pagan practices that his father had rooted out. Zephaniah’s ministry should therefore be dated in the early years of Josiah’s reign. This would make him a contemporary of the young Jeremiah.
Theme and Message:
The central theme of the book is “the day of the Lord,” a theme that we met earlier in the Prophet Amos (5:18; 8:9). While the people thought the day of the Lord would be light, relief, and success, the prophet told them that it would be the direct opposite of what they were counting on: it would be darkness, disaster, and sadness. Here in Zephaniah, this accent continues. The day of the Lord will be a day of wrath, distress, judgment and punishment. (1:7 – 2:3) The person who thinks “The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad,” (1:12) is going to be shocked and saddened by the disaster coming his way. It’s a wrath that will be meted out against Judah and Jerusalem, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Egypt/Ethiopia, and Assyria (2:1 – 3:7)
Fortunately, the day of the Lord will also be a day of deliverance for the remnant of God’s people. As his judgment consumes the wicked, it leaves a righteous, humble remnant who will enjoy his blessing. Lamentation and mourning will be transformed into joy and gladness. God is with his people to save them. He will restore their fortunes! (3:9-20)
An Outline to Guide your Reading (CSSB, 1409)
- Introduction (1:1-3)
- Title: the Prophet Identified (1:1)
- Prologue: Double Announcement of Total Judgment (1:2-3)
- The Day of the Lord Coming on Judah and the Nations (1:4-18)
- Judgment on the Idolaters in Judah (1:4-9)
- Wailing throughout Jerusalem (1:10-13)
- The Inescapable Day of the Lord’s Wrath (1:14-18)
III. God’s Judgment on the Nations (2:1-3:8)
- Call to Repentance (2:1-3)
- Judgment on Philistia (2:4-7)
- Judgment on Moab and Ammon (2:8-11)
- Judgment on Cush (2:12)
- Judgment on Assyria (2:13-15)
- Judgment on Jerusalem (3:1-5)
- Jerusalem’s Refusal to Repent (3:6-8)
- Redemption of the Remnant (3:9-20)
- The Nations Purified, the Remnant Restored, Jerusalem Purged (3:9-12)
- Rejoicing in the City (3:14-17)
- The Nation Restored (3:18-20)
Jeremiah the Person
The title of the book informs us that Jeremiah received his call to serve as a prophet in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign (629 BC) and that he continued serving through the time when Judah was defeated by the Babylonians and taken into exile in 587. Jeremiah hailed from the little town of Anathoth, the city to which Abiathar the priest was exiled by Solomon because Abiathar had supported Solomon’s brother Adonijah becoming king. It was therefore likely that Jeremiah came from a priestly family. From the book’s content, we realize that after the fall of Jerusalem, he was taken against his wishes to exile in Egypt, where he continued his ministry. Consequently, his ministry must have extended beyond 587, resulting in more than 40 years of service. Although a tradition exists that Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt for his prophecies, this story cannot be verified.
When Jeremiah received his call, he attempted to decline, saying, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (1:6) His excuse for declining was not accepted, for God promised to be with him. He was indeed to say everything the Lord commanded him and go to everyone to whom he was sent. Even though he resisted this call at times, he had to carry it out. It was like a fire burning in him that could not be extinguished. A highly sensitive individual, he identified deeply with the people to whom he was sent. He was forbidden to marry because of the impending disaster that was coming on his country, which his children should not have to suffer. Even though his message was basically one of doom, which made it unwelcome to many, to his credit, he did not let his personal feelings determine what he said, but only the Lord who had commissioned and instructed him. With his message of judgment, however, there was also hope, for if the people would genuinely repent, the Lord would turn his anger away. Unfortunately, the people refused to turn to the Lord and live.
As a result of his deep awareness of his people’s apostasy and their failure to take his message to heart, he struggled with his call and the daunting responsibility he had to proclaim God’s Word in all its truthfulness when it seemed to have such little effect. In his so-called confessions (11:18-23; 12:1-4; 15:10-21; 17:12-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18), he reveals the inner soul of the prophet like no one else. Reading him with a sensitive heart can surely be a powerful encouragement for us in the preaching ministry today to remain faithful even when it seems that our proclamation is falling on deaf ears.
To assist you in appreciating the context in which Jeremiah was called to carry out his work, we give an overview of the kings who ruled over Judah during this period of her history.
Josiah became king in 641 BC and introduced religious reforms, reversing the wicked course his father and grandfather had pursued. In the 18th year of his reign a book of the law was discovered, which made clear the terrible gap between Judah’s conduct and that required by the covenant. Disaster was imminent because of her failure to live in covenant faithfulness. Josiah instituted widespread reforms to bring his people back into conformity with the covenant. At the outset, it appears that Jeremiah was favorably inclined toward this reform movement, but as time passed, he realized that it was less than genuine. What was needed was a circumcision of the heart!
During the reign of Josiah, the Assyrian empire began to disintegrate. The death of Ashurbanipal in 627 was the signal that its power was being reduced in size and scope. This enabled Judah to regain a measure of independence, and for King Josiah to work at re-establishing Israel as one united country. The shrine at Bethel was torn down as were the high places scattered throughout the land. Worship was centralized at the temple in Jerusalem, which was renovated and restored to its former glory. With the defeat of Assyria at Nineveh in 612, the Babylonians replaced them as the supreme power in the Ancient Near East. In 609, Josiah was killed by the Egyptians who had gone to the aid of the Assyrians against the Babylonians. Josiah saw the Egyptians as a threat to his new found independence. With his death, he was spared the disaster that was coming to his country for its failure to live as the people of God.
Jehoahaz (or Shallum) was placed on Judah’s throne by Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, but he lasted only three months, when Neco deposed him, imposing a heavy tribute on Judah.
Jehoiakim (or Eliakim), Jehoahaz’ brother, was appointed to replace him. He reigned as king from 609-598. During this period a battle of great significance occurred, the Battle of Carchemish in 605 when the Babylonians rendered Egypt a crushing defeat. It solidified the transference of power from Assyria to Babylon and not to Egypt. This meant that Babylon now controlled the trade routes that went through Palestine. Jeremiah advocated that Judah should submit to Babylon, rather than oppose her. Beyond that, Jeremiah opposed Jehoiakim because of the idolatrous practices which he was promoting. Jehoiakim had little respect for Jeremiah or his message, and vacillated between allying himself with Egypt and remaining subservient to Babylon. Three years later he revolted against Babylon, which resulted in coming more fully under Babylon’s control. Jeremiah reprimanded the king, prophets, and priests for their stance, which only brought him their increased opposition and hostility. During this time, Jeremiah persisted in his ministry, exposing the false prophets, interceding for his people with God, and predicting the destruction of the temple and the nation. Eventually Jehoiakim died as Jeremiah had predicted. He was an oppressive ruler, levied heavy taxes to support his building programs and to pay tribute to Babylon and Egypt. He overturned the reforms of temple worship which Josiah had instituted and reverted to the idolatrous practices of his grandfather and great grandfather, Amon and Manasseh. As can be readily imagined, his reign only hastened the disaster that was about to occur.
Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim’s son, reaped what his father had sown. The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and defeated it. Jehoiachin gave himself up, and together with other aristocracy, was exiled to Babylon. He reigned only three months. At the end of II Kings, however, we read of Nebuchadnezzar’s son releasing him from prison and having him eat at the royal table in Babylon, a hint perhaps of the possible restoration of David’s kingdom.
Zedekiah, Josiah’s youngest son and uncle of Jehoiachin, was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to serve as Judah’s new king. Zedekiah was a weak and vacillating individual. Jeremiah’s main conflict with him was over the question of rebelling against Babylon. Jeremiah vehemently opposed it, recognizing that it would be national suicide. When Jeremiah had an intense conflict with the false prophets over the duration of the exile, they insisted that the exile to Babylon would be short, only two years, but Jeremiah knew otherwise. It would be long, seventy years. His was not an easy task, standing up against popular opinion, and yet he persisted.
When Zedekiah engaged in a conspiracy with the Egyptians to revolt against Babylon in the 4th year of his reign, disaster was averted, when Zedekiah went personally to Babylon to submit anew. When Zedekiah did it again in the 7th or 8th year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar saw Zedekiah’s negotiations with the Egyptians as treasonous. In Zedekiah’s ninth year, the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s message was simple and direct: “surrender.” Babylon was briefly distracted by getting involved in fighting Egypt, but soon returned to bring down Jerusalem, its houses, walls and temple, with a devastating defeat. Though Jeremiah’s message of submission to Babylon was right on target, it remained totally unpopular. He was seen as a traitor. He persisted in his mission, however, because he knew the word of the Lord was what was right.
The opposition was intense, so intense that Jeremiah even despaired of his life. He was arrested on the charge of deserting to the enemy and cast into a dungeon, but later removed to a prison in a guard court close to the palace. He was accused of treason and cast into an unused cistern, where he would have died, if he had not been rescued by his friend Ebed-melech. Later he was transferred to the prison close to the palace, where the king secretly consulted with him!
During the turbulent years of Zedekiah’s reign, Jeremiah demonstrated his confident hope that the people of Judah would return to their homeland after a lengthy exile. He bought a cousin’s piece of property in his hometown of Anathoth, and had the purchase registered, a clear sign that he believed the people would return from exile. It was during this time that he undoubtedly predicted the establishment of a new covenant between God and his people.
When Gedaliah was appointed governor of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah was set free from his chains and given the liberty either to go to Babylon or stay behind. He chose to stay with Gedaliah. Unfortunately, Gedaliah was assassinated shortly thereafter, and the remnant left behind forced Jeremiah and his secretary Baruch to go with them to Egypt. Jeremiah continued his prophetic mission in Egypt and confronted the people for their idolatry there.
Composition of the Book
As Dr. Roehrs notes in the Concordia Self-Study Commentary, “The way Jeremiah’s messages were put into written form has no parallel in the composition of Biblical manuscripts. The scroll containing the record of his prophetic activity during more than 20 years was burned in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim.” (495b) Baruch, Jeremiah’s faithful secretary, had written the scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation, and then at his instruction had read its contents to the people when they came to the temple. Officials also had him read it to them; they instructed Jeremiah and Baruch to hide themselves, because the contents had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. The king was informed, and he had his servant read the scroll to him. It was winter, and as three or four columns of the scroll were read, he would cut them off with his scribe’s knife and throw them into the fire. With the destruction of the manuscript, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to dictate the contents over again. Jeremiah did so, and added similar words to them. (See Jeremiah 36.)
It should be noted that the oracles in Jeremiah are not written in chronological order. At times, it seems that they are presented according to subject matter, but this does not always hold either. The student of Jeremiah must therefore seek to fit the oracles into their proper historical setting as best as he is able. The effort will repay rich dividends.
Jeremiah includes both prose and poetry. As the introduction in the Concordia Self-Study Bible says, “Jeremiah’s poetry is as lofty and lyrical as any found elsewhere in Scripture. A creator of beautiful phrases, he has given us an abundance of memorable passages (e.g. 2:13,26-28; 7:4, 11, 34; 8:20, 22; 9:23-24; 10:6-7, 10, 12-13; 13:23; 15:20; 17:5-9; 20:13; 29:13; 30:7,22; 31:3, 15, 29-30, 31-34; 33:3; 51:10). He uses poetic repetition, alliteration and assonance to great effect.
“At times, he uses symbolism to highlight his message: a ruined and useless loincloth (13:1-11); a smashed clay jar (19:1-12); a yoke of straps and crossbars (27:1-22), large stones in a brick pavement (43:8-13). To present his message, he used visual aids like potter’s clay (18:1-10) and two baskets of figs (24:1-40).” (CSSB, 1120)
As hinted at in the background material, a major theme of the Prophet Jeremiah was that a prophet’s calling was to proclaim the word he had received from God. That which was motivated by deference to the throne, or was the wish of the prophet’s own heart had to be opposed. When a prophet’s word came true, then one would know it was genuine. Jeremiah’s ministry was characterized by a faithful adherence to preaching what God had revealed to him. (For an illustration of these assertions, see Jeremiah 28 and the prophet’s conflict with Hananiah. Note how the conflict ends: Jeremiah exposes Hananiah’s lies and predicts his death in the same year. It happens just as Jeremiah predicted.)
Another major theme running through Jeremiah’s oracles is that of judgment. Because of his countrymen’s idolatry God is bringing destruction on his people. Even as he pronounces judgment, he is careful to point out that if they are sincere in their repentance, disaster can be avoided. He counseled submission to Babylon–and encouraged the exiles in Babylon to settle down there, because there would be no quick return to their homeland. Jeremiah was criticized and rebuked for being a traitor to his country for his advice, when in reality his advice reflected a real patriotism. As the Concordia Self-Study Bible introductory notes state, he was “a man who loved his countrymen too much to stand by silently and watch them destroy themselves.” (1119)
At the heart of Jeremiah’s proclamation is his knowledge of God. He is the Creator of all that exists (10:12-16; 51:15-19), is all-powerful (32:27; 48:15; 51:57), is present everywhere (23:24). He knew God as the Lord, not only of his country but of the whole world, as his oracles to the nations attest (46:1-51:64).
At the same time that Jeremiah testified to God’s supremacy–his lordship over all–he knew God’s interest in all people personally. He understood that God wanted his creatures to live responsibly in accord with his will, and for that reason powerfully called people to repentance and righteousness. He did not want to see his people experience the curses that accompanied the covenant.
Unfortunately because of his people’s hardened hearts, their superficial conformity to their covenant obligations, and their stubborn insistence on having it their own way, Jeremiah’s unhappy task was to expose and condemn their rebelliousness. His was a hard job, proclaiming words that threatened and warned of the coming judgment, a judgment sure to come. Believing that the temple was a guarantee of God’s presence and a promise to protect them no matter what they did was a false hope. Destruction was just around the corner. The Davidic dynasty as they knew it was coming to an end.
This did not mean that all was lost. As the Concordia Self-Study Bible introduction asserts, “God’s judgment of his people (and the nations), though terrible, was not to be the last word, the final work of God in history. Mercy and covenant faithfulness would triumph. Beyond the judgment would come restoration and renewal. Israel would be restored, the nations that crushed her would be crushed, and the old covenants (with Israel, David, and the Levites) would be honored. God would make a new covenant with his people in which he would write his law on their hearts (31:31-34) and thus consecrate them to his service. The house of David would rule them in righteousness, and faithful priests would serve. God’s commitment to Israel’s redemption was as unfailing as the secure order of creation (33:1-26).” (1119)
(The following outline presents the contents of the book in the order in which they appear. It is taken from the Concordia Self-Study Bible, 1120.)
- The Call of the Prophet (1:1-19)
- Warnings and Exhortations to Judah (2:1-35:19)
- Earliest Discourses (2:1-6:30)
- Temple Message (7:1-10:25)
- Covenant and Conspiracy (11:1-13:27)
- Messages concerning the Drought (14:1-15:21)
- Disaster and Comfort (16:1 – 17:18)
- Commands to Keep the Sabbath Holy (17:19-27)
- Lessons from the Potter (18:1-20:18)
- Condemnation of Kings, Prophets, and People (21:1-24:10)
- Foretelling the Babylonian Exile (25:1-29:32)
- Promises of Restoration and the New Covenant (30:1-33:26)
- Historical Appendix (34:1-35:19)
III. Sufferings and Persecutions of the Prophet (36:1-38:29)
- Burning Jeremiah’s Scroll (36:1-32)
- Imprisoning Jeremiah (37:1-38:28)
- The Fall of Jerusalem and Its Aftermath (39:1-45:5)
- The Fall Itself (39:1-18)
- Accession and Assassination of Gedaliah (40:1-41:15)
- Migration to Egypt (41:16 -43:13)
- Prophecy against Those in Egypt (44:1-30)
- Promise to Baruch (45:1-5)
- Judgment against the Nations (46:1-51:46)
- Against Egypt (46:1-28)
- Against Philistia (47:1-7)
- Against Moab (48:1-47)
- Against Ammon (49:1-6)
- Against Edom (49:7-22)
- Against Damascus (49:23-27)
- Against Kedar and Hazor (Arabia) (49:28-33)
- Against Elam (49:34-39)
- Against Babylon (50:1-51:46)
- Historical Appendix (52:1-34)
Passages for Study and Discussion
Jeremiah 7: 1-34: Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon and Illicit Worship
- 7:1-4. Jeremiah is instructed to call the people to repent. What lies behind his admonition not to trust these deceptive words: “The temple of the Lord,” which are repeated three times? What were the people pinning their hopes on?
- 7:5-7. For God to dwell with his people, what should they be doing? Where does this advice come from?
- 7:8-15. Jeremiah confronts the people with conduct and behavior that contradicts going to the temple and worshipping. Where does his list of abominations come from (7:9)? When they practice such reprehensible behavior — and then go and worship without intending to change their ways — what are they turning the temple into? (7:11) Shiloh was a major worship site in the days of the judges. Why does Jeremiah refer to it here? (7:12-15) What is the reason for God’s threatened destruction of the Jerusalem temple?
- 7:16-20. God forbids Jeremiah to fulfill a major aspect of a prophet’s work: praying for his people. Why does God forbid Jeremiah to intercede for his people? What does 7:20 suggest about God’s judgment on Jerusalem?
- 7:21-26.What has Israel persistently done, in spite of the persistent call of God’s servants the prophets? More than sacrifice, what does God require?
- 7:27-29. In spite of no prospect of success, what does Jeremiah have to keep on doing?
- 7:30-34. What judgment is God going to bring on his people? What is the reason for such judgment coming their way?
Jeremiah 18: 1-12: A Lesson from the Potter
- 18:1-4. God sends Jeremiah to the potter’s place, that he may observe the imagery of the potter to bring a message to his people, Israel. Since the vessel the potter was working with was spoiled, he reworked it into another vessel (18:3).
- 18:5-11. Drawing on the imagery God used when he called Jeremiah to the prophet’s office–that he was appointed to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant–what does he say he is planning for Israel? What is he willing to do, if they will respond positively to his call?
- 18:12. What is Israel’s response to the message God has brought them based on the image of the potter? (The Harper Collins Study Bible has this comment: “The people’s rejection of God’s will is as absurd as a vessel that argues against the potter, its creator.” p. 1148)
These passages are designed to give you insight into the prophet’s inner struggles, as he sought to carry out his divine commission. Again and again his message was met with resistance and was rejected. As you read and reflect on his intense feelings, seek to apply this passage to your own struggles to carry out your ministries. Be honest with God, dialog with him, share your feelings with him without distortion, and then take heart in the assurance of his ultimate deliverance.
- 20:7-8. Jeremiah complains that God has seduced and deceived him — and all he gets is ridicule and mockery for it.
- 20:9. If Jeremiah tries to keep from speaking to avoid the ridicule, he cannot, for the message is like a fire that cannot be contained. He has to speak.
- 20:10. He senses that people are watching for him to stumble; they are out to get him; they want to prevail over him.
- 20:11. Jeremiah recognizes and is bolstered by the realization that God is fighting for him–his “dread warrior”– and he will overpower and humiliate his enemies.
- 20:12. Jeremiah admits that God is testing him, but he still wants God to execute his vengeance on his enemies, for he has committed his cause to God.
- 20:13. Jeremiah bursts into thanksgiving, assured that God will deliver him.
- 20:14-18. This is another lament of Jeremiah, one in which he is in the pits–wishing he had never been born. He curses the day of his birth.
My confidence is that as you see Jeremiah bare his heart before the Lord, you will realize that in your relationship with God, you can be just as honest as he. May the Lord’s encouragement of Jeremiah–and the way he sustained him in his struggles, sustain you when success is not immediate and the days are dark. Remember Jesus Christ, the servant of the Lord, who endured opposition, ridicule, and death itself for us, that we might be his forgiven, hopeful servants. He is with you to empower you!
Jeremiah is not only a prophet of doom and judgment, but also a messenger of hope. Undoubtedly this passage is the climax of this dimension of his ministry. In contrast to the covenant God made with his people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-24:11) with its stipulations, blessings and curses. What will be the characteristics to distinguish this new covenant? (See especially vv. 33-34.) It is important for you to note how the New Testament presents Jesus as inaugurating this new covenant. See especially Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17; II Corinthians 3:5-14, as well as Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper.
How does the Old Testament background help you to appreciate the Lord’s Supper? How might Jeremiah 31:31-34 assist you in helping your members enrich their participation in the Sacrament?
The author’s name, Nahum, means “comfort.” Nothing is known about him, except that he comes from the town of Elkosh. The book conveys comfort to the people of Judah as it predicts the defeat and destruction of their oppressor, the Assyrians and their capital city, Nineveh.
The date can be placed between the fall of Thebes in Egypt in 663 BC, a highly fortified city of the Egyptians, which was destroyed by the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal (referred to in Nahum 3:8 as already past)–and 612 BC, when the Assyrians would experience a crushing defeat at the hand of the Babylonian army. It was this defeat that Nahum predicted. This would make Nahum a contemporary of the young Jeremiah and Zephaniah.
The message of Nahum is one of God’s vengeance being leveled against Nineveh, capital of Assyria. Assyria had invaded the lands west of her with ruthless force. Her armies had brutally conquered Syria, Phoenicia, Israel, Judah, Philistia, and Egypt. She removed the people of these lands, repopulated the territories with her own people, and then annexed them and made them part of her own kingdom. Her brutal, violent oppression of the people of God undoubtedly raised questions about the validity and vitality of their faith. Was their God really the sovereign Lord of all, when a kingdom of this world, like Assyria, was so vicious, dominating and controlling their affairs?
The prophecy of Nahum brings comfort to his people. God is all powerful; he is “slow to anger” but he will by no means clear the guilty,” (1:3) He “takes vengeance on his adversaries and rages against his enemies.” (1:2) God will work out his vengeance on the Assyrians for what they have done. They will not escape. He will make an end of them, but “he will protect those who take refuge in him.” (1:7) Thus the harsh judgment on the Assyrians is justified because of what they have done to others, but the retribution of God will bring relief and comfort to God’s people.
An Outline to Guide Your Reading and Reflection (from the Concordia Self-Study Bible, p. 1387):
- Title (1:1)
- Nineveh’s Judge (1:2-15)
- The Lord’s Kindness and Sternness (1:2-8)
- Nineveh’s Overthrow and Judah’s Joy (1:9-15)
III. Nineveh’s Judgment (2:1-13)
- Nineveh Besieged (2:1-10)
- Nineveh’s Desolation Contrasted with Her Former Glory (2:11-13)
- Nineveh’s Total Destruction (3:1-19)
- Nineveh’s Sins (3:1-4)
- Nineveh’s Doom (3:5-19)
Little is known about Habakkuk, except that from internal evidence in his prophecy, we know he must have lived at the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 6th century BC. From his book, we sense that he is a deeply religious man who is genuinely searching for answers to his questions, and even as he does so, he turns to God and relies on his answers. In his person he exemplifies what every true prophet seeks to call forth from people: a quiet, steady trust in God that is willing to wait for the Lord to act.
Most scholars date Habakkuk’s ministry in the period between 605 and 597 BC. When Assyria was crushed at Nineveh by the Babylonians in 612 BC, the people of Judah naturally got their hopes up. King Josiah sought to establish a renewed, independent people of God, but when he was killed by Pharaoh Neco in 609 BC, that hope died with him. Judah now became subject to Egypt. In 605 BC the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians and demonstrated that they were now the dominant power in the Ancient Near East. As a consequence, Josiah’s successor, the evil King Jehoiakim became a vassal of Babylon, and Judah suffered from numerous invasions by the Babylonian armies into its land. The positive prospects engendered by Josiah’s rule have now been replaced by the dire outlook that Jehoiakim’s wicked rule brought forth. The period into which Habakkuk’s prophetic work therefore fits most naturally is the period between the defeat of the Egyptians (and Judah) and the invasion of the Babylonians in 597 BC when they come to attack a rebellious Jerusalem.
Habakkuk’s message is presented in a manner different than the classical prophets who preceded and succeeded him. Rather than direct proclamation to the people, relaying oracles from the mouth of God to his hearers, Habakkuk presents the fruit of his dialog with God, and how God’ answers to his complaints moved him to a stance of confident waiting, of humble dependence on God’s acting in his time, and of exulting in God’s salvation, even as he waited. “God, the Lord, is my strength!” (3:19) He believes that God will come through. Truly this is a message all of us do well to take to heart, especially when questions of “how long?” (1:2) and “why?” (1:3,13) plague our hearts and minds.
An Outline for Your Study and Reflection (from CSSB, 1393)
- Title (1:1)
- Habakkuk’s First Complaint: Why does the evil in Judah go unpunished? (1:2-4)
III. God’s Answer: The Babylonians will punish Judah (1:5-11)
- Habakkuk’s Second Complaint: How can a just God use wicked Babylon to punish a people more righteous than themselves? (1:12-2:1)
- God’s Answer: Babylon will be punished, and faith will be rewarded (2:2-20)
- Habakkuk’s Prayer: After asking for manifestations of God’s wrath and mercy (as he has seen in the past), he closes with a confession of trust and joy in God. (3:1-19)
A Passage for Your Study and Reflection: Habakkuk 2:2-5
Habakkuk had engaged in dialog with God in chapter one. As he saw the growing violence, lawlessness, and disobedience that was troubling Judah under Jehoiakim’s wicked reign, he asked God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you, “Violence! and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?” (1:2,3) God responded by saying that he was calling the Chaldeans (Babylonians), the new power that had overpowered the Assyrians, to come to address this evil forcefully. God acknowledged that they were driven by the belief that “their might is their god!” (1:11) They come with violence (1:9), but this is God’s plan for addressing Judah’s own violence. God says, “I am rousing the Chaldeans.” (1:6)
The prophet then asks a second question: “Why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” (1:13) He is concerned, for this does not make sense to him. It seems that God is using a people worse than Judah, less righteous than Judah, to address their wickedness. God’s answer comes in 2:2-5.
1) What is God here saying to Habakkuk? a) What does God have in view? (2:2,3) b) What does God urge Habakkuk to do? (2:3b)
2) How will the righteous live and cope with the evil and with the unanswered “why’s,” with things that do not make sense? What does God assure Habakkuk will happen with the divine vision? (See the last line of 2:3.) Also, see 3:3-15 for a vision of God going into action. God’s power is not limited! Such a vision can inspire confidence as one prays, “In wrath, may you remember mercy.” (3:2)
3) What does God assure Habakkuk will be the end of the proud, the arrogant, whose might is their god? (2:4, 5; 1:11)
4) What is the lesson for us as we face unrestrained evil, unchecked wickedness?
5) This passage is used by Paul in his letter to the Romans (1:17) and to the Galatians (3:11). What does Paul’s use of this passage suggest is the role of faith, trust, in God when we face the challenges of life?
The author’s name, Obadiah, was a common one. It means “servant of the Lord.” We know neither his father’s name nor the place of his birth.
Date and Place of Writing
Two options are proposed, with the second one being the more likely:
- When Jerusalem was invaded by the Philistines and Arabs during the reign of Jehoram (849-842 BC). This would make Obadiah a contemporary of Elisha.
- When Babylon attacked Jerusalem during the period from 605-587 BC. Obadiah would be a contemporary of Jeremiah. We opt for this dating
The Book’s Message
Edom, the country southeast of the Dead Sea, which was made up of the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, had gloated over the demise of Judah and Jerusalem (most likely at the hand of the Babylonians). Even though the Lord had instructed Esau, “You shall serve your brother,” (Gen. 27:40), his descendants treated Jacob’s descendants with enmity and joined in the looting when Jerusalem was defeated by the Babylonians. The Prophet Obadiah brought a word of condemnation against Edom in the first part of the book because on the day of Jerusalem’s disaster Edom did not come to her aid. Rather, she took advantage of her weakened, defeated condition. As a consequence, she would experience judgment and divine retribution. On the day of the Lord, Jerusalem’s (and Judah’s) fortunes would be reversed. Her borders would be expanded, her refugees brought home, and the land repopulated. The conclusion is a word of hope: “The kingdom will be the Lord’s.” (21)
An Outline to Guide Your Reading and Reflection (CSSB, 1366)
- Title and Introduction (1)
- Judgment on Edom (2-14)
- Edom’s Destruction Announced (2-7)
- The humbling of her pride (2-4)
- The completeness of her destruction (5-7)
- Edom’s Destruction Reaffirmed (8-14)
- Her shame and destruction (8-10)
- Her crimes against Israel (11-14)
III. The Day of the Lord (15-21)
- Judgment on the Nations but Deliverance for Zion (15-18)
- The Lord’s Kingdom Established (19-21)
The Book of Lamentations consists of a series of five poems, lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its people by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 587 BC. What preceded this destruction intensified the pathos of those besieged by the enemy. Under King Josiah, temple worship had been elevated to new heights. The pagan elements had been removed, the rites purified, and the building itself restored and returned to its former glory. The king extended his influence northward and destroyed the pagan shrine at Bethel and tore down the high places.
With Josiah’s untimely death in 609 BC, Judah entered a period of chaos under ineffectual leadership. King Jehoiakim became the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah confronted the false hopes of prophets and priests who promoted the idea that observing the temple rites would insure God’s protection of land, city, and temple. Jeremiah knew that mere outward performance of rituals would not prevent the destruction God was bringing on his wayward, disobedient people. In 601 BC, in conjunction with other neighboring nations, Judah conspired to break away from Babylon, but this attempt met abject failure. The Babylonian armies besieged and quickly overpowered Jerusalem in 597 BC. Jehoiakim died at the beginning of the siege; his son Jehoiachin ruled only three months, when he was deported to Babylon. Placed on the throne was Zedekiah, another son of King Josiah to function as a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar.
Unfortunately, the duplicity of the previous decade continued into the next. Zedekiah joined, or perhaps even led, an ill-advised attempt to revolt against Babylon in 595-594 BC. Although this plan seems to have come to nothing, continued rebellion against her overlords led the Babylonian army in 589 to punish the rebels. The Hebrews set themselves to defend Jerusalem to the end, pinning their hope on Jerusalem’s strategic position and her false confidence that God was obligated to defend and rescue them, because they had been observing their religious duties.
The Babylonian army laid siege to the city. Walled up inside the city, without adequate food and water, the situation soon became desperate. When the Babylonians were diverted to Egypt, due to an uprising there, temporary relief was found, but before long they returned to renew the siege, which only increased Jerusalem’s agony. As Professor Fuerst notes (Cambridge Bible Commentary, 205) “the suffering for the Hebrews became intolerable; hunger and misery ravaged the city, women grew wildly desperate and killed their own babies for food, and the stench of the dead and dying hung over the walls. Jerusalem fell in the late summer of 587.”
The resulting destruction was total. The city walls were broken down, its houses destroyed, the temple treasures looted and the building burned, along with the royal palace; thousands were carried off into captivity, including the leaders. This is the situation which provides the backdrop for the lamentations of this book.
Author and Date
In view of the concrete and graphic portrayal of the destruction Jerusalem experienced, a date shortly after the Babylonians utterly destroyed the city seems most likely, perhaps in the period 586-575 BC. Traditionally authorship has been ascribed to Jeremiah, but questions of literary style raise doubts as to the accuracy of this ascription. The book itself is anonymous, and so it is probably best to admit that we are not sure who the author is.
The Concordia Self-Study Bible describes the literary features this way: “The entire book is poetic. Each of its five laments contains 22 verses (except the third, which has 66 verses–3 times 22), reflecting the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Moreover, the first four are alphabetic acrostics. . . . The first three laments are equal in length; in the first and second each verse (except 1:7) has three Hebrew lines, while in the third each of the 66 verses has one Hebrew line. The fourth is shorter (each of its 22 verses has two Hebrew lines), and the fifth is shorter still (each verse has one Hebrew line). Use of the alphabet as a formal structure indicates that, however passionate these laments, they were composed with studied care.” (1218)
Themes and Theology
As one of the five small Old Testament books included in the Megilloth (meaning the “Scrolls”) together with Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, Lamentations was appointed to be read on the Ninth of Ab, in commemoration of the Fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Its contents clearly reflect the horror the people experienced when their beloved city was besieged, overpowered and then destroyed. The appointment of Lamentations as a reading to be heard annually suggests that its meaning is not restricted to that historical event. The introduction in Concordia Self-Study Bible helps us appreciate and appropriate its timeless message for God’s people everywhere.
“The author of Lamentations understands clearly that the Babylonians were merely the human agents of divine retribution and that God himself has destroyed his city and temple (1:12-15; 2:1-8, 17, 22; 4:11). Nor was the Lord’s action arbitrary; blatant, God-defying sin and covenant-breaking rebellion were the root causes of his people’s woes (1:5, 8-9; 4:13; 5:7,16). Although weeping (1:16; 2:11, 18; 3:48-51) is to be expected and cries for redress against the enemy (1:22; 3:59-66) are understandable, the proper response in the wake of judgment is sincere, heartfelt contrition (3:40-42). The book that begins with lament (1:1-2) rightly ends in repentance (5:21-22).
“In the middle of the book, the theology of Lamentations reaches its apex as it focuses on the goodness of God. He is the Lord of hope (3:21, 24-25), of love (3:22), of faithfulness (3:23), of salvation (3:26). In spite of all evidence to the contrary, ‘his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (3:22-23).” (CSSB, 1219)
An Outline to Guide You in Your Reading and Reflection (CSSB, 1219)
- Jerusalem’s Misery and Desolation (1:1-22)
- The Lord’s Anger against His People (2:1-22)
III. Judah’s Complaint–and Basis for Consolation (3:1-66)
- The Contrast between Zion’s Past and Present (4:1-22)
- Judah’s Appeal for God’s Forgiveness (5:1-22)
A Passage for Your Reading and Reflection
In the midst of the poet’s deep grief, he still maintains a positive outlook, for his attitude is not based on outward circumstances, but on the steadfast love of God. It also recognizes that, when deserved retribution comes because of one’s sins, the child of God needs to bear that burden, until the Lord moves to lift it.
- Note the combination in verses 22-23 of the Lord’s qualities: steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness. What can the poet do because of who God is? (See 3:24, 25-26, 27-30.)
- What does the poet know and believe? (3:31-35)
- How can a passage like this help you in your walk of faith? How can you use it to help others when they are suffering, whether through their own doing, the evil actions of others, or when nature has spun out of control and inflicted harm on people (like natural disasters)?
Ezekiel was one of the people deported to Babylon, after Jerusalem’s defeat by the Babylonian army in 597 BC. He received his inaugural vision calling him to ministry in 593 BC and his last vision in 571 BC. His ministry was thus carried out entirely among the exiles in Babylon. The backdrop against which he carried out his ministry was the events and political realities of that time of history: Judah’s infidelity to God, her vacillation between allying herself with Babylon, the controlling power after the defeat of Assyria, and with Egypt which attempted to break free from Babylon’s overlordship. Because of Judah’s duplicity, her idolatry, and her failure to live in keeping with the covenant, God let the Babylonians defeat Jerusalem in 597 BC and utterly crush them and destroy the city and its temple in 587 BC. Deportation of Judah’s citizens to Babylon occurred in 597 and 587-586 BC. Against this background Ezekiel was commissioned to bring a message first of judgment and then of hope.
From the book that bears his name, we learn that Ezekiel was of a priestly family, that he was called to the prophetic office at the age of 30, that he was married, but apparently without children, that with his wife, they lived in their own home in Babylon, and that she died before he did. His book reveals that he was a man of broad knowledge, both of national and international affairs. He was acquainted with topics ranging from shipbuilding to literature. He was gifted with a powerful intellect and had the capacity to grasp large issues and to deal with them in grand and compelling images. Additionally, he was called to proclaim a number of his messages with symbolic acts.
Since Ezekiel notes no fewer than twelve dates when he received a divine message and a thirteenth date when he received word of Jerusalem’s fall in January, 586 BC, the dates of his activity can be determined with considerable precision. Drawing on this information, as well as archeology and astronomy, modern scholars have been able to correlate those dates with our modern calendars and have ascertained that Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry stretched from 593-571 BC. The message he brings, moreover, is something to be taken to heart by all, no matter in which age they live.
The book contains four visions (1-3; 8-11; 37:1-14; and 40-48) and 12 symbolic acts (3:22-26; 4:1-3; 4:4-8; 4:9–11; 4:12-14; 5:1-3; 12:1-16; 12:17-20; 21:6-7; 21:18-24; 24:15-24; 37:15-28). Five messages are in the form of parables (15:1-8, 16:1-63, 17:1-24, 19:1-14, 23:1-49).
Repetition is another way Ezekiel used to make his point: “Then they will know that I am the Lord” (or similar expressions) occur no fewer than 65 times, expressing God’s desire to be known. The introduction in the Concordia Self-Study Bible, from which much of this information is taken, speaks of his repetition having “an unforgettable hammering effect.” (1231)
Symmetry is also evident, by means of which Ezekiel brings home the counterpoint of judgment and hope. The vision of the desecrated temple (8:1-11:25) is countered by the vision of the new temple (40:1-48:35). God is both a God of anger and comfort. Ezekiel is a watchman of divine judgment (ch. 3) as well as a sentinel of the new age (33:1-33).
Ezekiel’s message is easily discernible. In the first part of his book, the message is basically one of judgment delivered to the exiles before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC (1:1-24:27). Jerusalem would surely fall. The next portion of his book (25:1-32:32) relays God’s judgment against the nations. After the fall of Jerusalem, his message to the exiles becomes one of hope. They would “experience revival, restoration, and a glorious future as the redeemed and perfected kingdom of God in the world.” (CSSB, 1230) (33:1-48:35)
In presenting his message of judgment and hope, Ezekiel’s dual background of priest and prophet shows through. “He focuses uniquely on Israel as the holy people of the holy temple, the holy city, and the holy land. By defiling her worship, Israel had rendered herself unclean and had defiled temple, city, and land. From such defilement God could only withdraw and judge his people with national destruction.
“But God’s faithfulness to his covenant and his desire to save were so great that he would revive his people once more, shepherd them with compassion, cleanse them of all their defilement, reconstitute them as a perfect expression of his kingdom in the promised land under the hand of David, overwhelm all the forces and powers arrayed against them, display his glory among the nations and restore the glory of his presence to the holy city, prefiguring the redemption from sin and the restoration to God’s favor of all nations, constituting the spiritual Israel of the new covenant.
“ . . . The book’s theological center is the unfolding of God’s saving purposes in the history of the world–from the time in which he must withdraw from the defilement of his covenant people to the culmination of his grand design of redemption. The message of Ezekiel, which is ultimately eschatological, anticipates–even demands–God’s future works in history proclaimed by the New Testament.” (CSSB, 1232)
An Outline to Guide Your Reading and Reflection (from CSSB, pp 1232-3)
- Oracles of Judgment against Israel (1:1-24:27)
- Ezekiel’s Inaugural Vision (1:1-3:27)
- The divine overwhelming (1:1-28)
- The equipping and commissioning (2:1-3:15)
- The watchman (3:16-21)
- Further stipulations (3:22-27)
- Symbolic Acts Portraying the Siege of Jerusalem (4:1-5:17)
- The city of Jerusalem on a clay tablet (4:1-3)
- Prophetic immobility (4:4-8)
- Diet for the siege and exile (4:9-17)
- The divine razor and its consequences (5:1-17)
- Oracles Explaining Divine Judgment (6:1-7:27)
- Doom for the mountains of Israel (6:1-14)
- The end (7:1-27)
- Vision of the Corrupted Temple (8:1-11:25)
- Four abominations (8:1-18)
- Destruction in the city (9:1-11)
- God’s glory leaves Jerusalem (10:1-22)
- Conclusion of the vision (11:1-25)
- Symbolic Acts Portraying Jerusalem’s Exile (12:1-28)
- An exile’s baggage (12:1-16)
- Anxious eating (12:17-20)
- The nearness of judgment (12:21-28)
- Oracles Explaining Divine Judgment (13:1-24:27)
- False prophets and magic charms (13:1-23)
- The penalty for idolatry (14:1-11)
- Noah, Daniel, and Job (14:12-23)
- Jerusalem as a burnt vine branch (15:1-8)
- Jerusalem as a wayward foundling (16:1-43)
- Jerusalem compared to other cities (16:44-63)
- Jerusalem’s kings allegorized (17:1-21)
- The new tree (17:22-24)
- The lesson of three generations (18:1-32)
- The twofold lament (19:1-14)
- Israel as a hardened repeater (20:1-49)
- The sword of the Lord (21:1-32)
- Jerusalem the city of blood (22:1-31)
- Oholah and Oholibah (23:1-49)
- The final fire: Jerusalem’s end (24:1-14)
- The death of Ezekiel’s wife and the destruction of the temple (24:15-27)
- Oracles of Judgment against the Nations (25:1-32:32)
- Against Ammon (25:1-7)
- Against Moab (25:8-11)
- Against Edom (25:12-14)
- Against Philistia (25:15-17)
- Against Tyre (26:1-28:19)
- The end of the city (26:1-21)
- A lament for Tyre (27:1-36)
- Against the king of Tyre (28:1-19)
- Against Sidon (28:20-24)
- A Note of Promise for Israel (28:25-26)
- Against Egypt (chs. 29-32)
- As a doomed monster (29:1-16)
- As payment to Nebuchadnezzar (29:17-21)
- The approaching day (30:1-19)
- Pharaoh’s arms are broken (30:20-26)
- As a felled cedar (31:1-18)
- A lament over Pharaoh (32:1-16)
- As consigned to the pit among the uncircumcised (32:17-32)
III. Oracles of Consolation for Israel, Prophetic of the Messianic Israel of All Nations (33:1-48:35)
- The Watchman (33:1-20)
- Jerusalem’s Fall Reported and Explained (33:21-33)
- The Lord as the Good Shepherd (34:1-31)
- Oracles against Edom (35:1-15)
- Consolations for the Mountains of Israel (36:1-15)
- Summary of Ezekiel’s Message (36:16-38)
- Vision of National Restoration (37:1-28)
- National resurrection (37:1-14)
- National reunification (37:15-28)
- Defeat of All Forces Hostile to the Messianic Kingdom (38:1-39:29)
- Vision of the New Covenant of Peace in Terms of the Old Covenant’s Religious and Civic Life (40:1-48:35)
- Wall around the temple (40:1-47)
- Temple exterior (40:48 – 41:26)
- Temple interior (42:1-20)
- The return of God’s glory (43:1-27)
- The priesthood (44:1-31)
- Land allotment (45:1-25)
- The duties of the prince (46:1-24)
- Life-giving water (47:1-12)
- Land allotment (47:13-48:35)
Passages for Study and Discussion to help you get a sense of the book’s message
Ezekiel 1-3: Ezekiel’s Inaugural Vision and Call
In this narrative relating Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet, we are introduced to a number of the book’s characteristic emphases. God appears to him in a strange, dramatic vision (1:4-28). The word, “like” is used 10 times in verses 26-28, to emphasize that Ezekiel did not actually see God, but the vision makes him keenly aware of God’s presence. While the symbolism of some of the images can be explained, it is not necessary to spend a lot of time seeking to do so. The important point is to realize that this vision has secured Ezekiel’s attention–and he is attentive to the commission that follows.
- To whom is God sending Ezekiel? (2:3) What is Ezekiel to do? (2:4) What encouragement does God give him? (2:6) What will make Ezekiel’s ministry challenging? (2:3-6)
- In 2:8 – 3:3, God has Ezekiel perform a symbolic act — to indicate what his mission is. What does God instruct him to do? What does that signify for Ezekiel’s ministry? (3:4-11 helps you understand his mission.)
- 3:12-15. What does the spirit do with Ezekiel? The text says that “the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.” (3:14) What do you think that means? How does Ezekiel react?
- 3:16-21. The role of the prophet is to serve as a sentinel, a watchman, for his people. On the basis of this paragraph explain the prophet’s responsibility–and the accountability to which God holds him.
- 3:22-27. How does this concluding paragraph emphasize that Ezekiel’s silence or speech is determined by the Lord? How does this passage remind us anew of the role of the prophet?
- What lessons from Ezekiel’s call can you learn for your ministry as a pastor, teacher, deaconess, or lay leader?
Ezekiel 15:1-8 Jerusalem, the Burnt Vine
God is here helping Ezekiel understand the fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem by comparing them to a useless vine. This parable signals the destruction of Jerusalem that will take place in 587 BC. What is the function of this parable given to Ezekiel? (15:1) What will it help him understand as he carries out his ministry among the exiles already in Babylon? Why is God giving them up like a farmer burning up vines? (15:6-8)
Ezekiel 18:1-32 Three Generations
Scan over the entire chapter, and then focus on the following verses, that you may grasp the central point God is making here. Learning this point well should assist you in carrying out your ministry.
- 18:1-4. The old proverb, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2) needs to be set aside. No longer should children have to suffer for their parents’ wickedness, or vice versa, but each is responsible for himself or herself.
- 18:5-18. These verses expand on the point of individual responsibility and re-enforce the point that each person is responsible for him or herself.
- 18:19-20. These verses summarize and re-enforce the above point.
- 18:21-24. Repentance and righteousness avail for the formerly wicked person. Similarly, the righteous person needs to persist in righteousness, not succumbing to the temptation that he can so some evil now, because his past righteousness will avail for him.
- 18:25-29. Israel’s ways, not God’s, are unjust. God is imminently fair.
- 18:30-32. Here’s the application! What does God want but repentance: “Repent and turn from all your transgressions.” He wants them to have a new heart and a new spirit. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He wants him to repent, turn, and live.
How can this chapter’s emphasis on individual responsibility assist you in dealing with people? with their excuses and rationalizations for improper behavior? What’s the driving force behind God’s insistence on individual responsibility? How does God feel about people? (See especially 18:23, 32.) What does he genuinely want for them? (again, 18:23, 32)
Ezekiel 34: A passage of judgment and hope that provides helpful background for Jesus’ self-identification in John 10: “I am the good shepherd.”
- 34:1-10. “Shepherd” is a common image for the king, not just in Israel but throughout the Ancient Near East. What did the kings of Israel do (or not do) that the sheep of Israel (its people) were scattered? What is the word of judgment that God speaks as a consequence of their behavior? (See 34:7-10.) What does the phrase “my sheep” (34:6, 8, 10) signify?
- 34:11-16. What is the promise God gives? What will he do? Why is this such a word of hope?
- 34:17-21. What is God’s complaint or accusation against his sheep?
- 34:22-31. How is the covenant described that God is going to make for his people? What will be its hallmark? (See especially 34:22, 25, 27-29) What will they enjoy?
Ezekiel 37:1-14: the vision of the valley of the dry bones and its interpretation.
Read over this section. The interpretation should make clear its meaning. How will this vision instill hope in the hearts of the exiles of Israel in Babylon? How can it be a vision of hope for us? (Think of the prophecy of Caiaphas, the high priest, in John 11:50-52.)