MICAH 4-7: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8) These words have anchored my faith, especially at times when I have been disturbed by claims, on the part of religious people, invoking the name of God, to more knowledge, power and authority than what Micah 6:8 describes. A lot of religious pride and presumption occurs beyond the realm of these simple criteria: love, justice, mercy and humility. They are all we need to stay on track. These words come after Judah is put on trial and God states his case against her (6: 1-5).
Micah 4 contains an image and promise of peace almost verbatim like what we find in Isaiah 2. This opens a window onto the source and nature of Hebrew prophecy, that the feedback, testing, sharing and adapting of messages among the prophets were all as much a matter of divine inspiration as was the original insight that sparked the prophetic message. But the differences also speak of inspiration. Micah’s version includes the words, “everyone will sit under his vine and fig tree, at peace and without fear.” That image speaks of economic justice and security, not only the absence of war.
But Judah and Zion must go through exile, testing and purification. Key to their restoration will be the king born of Bethlehem, the city of David (5:2), which promise figures greatly in Matthew’s infancy narrative (ch. 2), heard every year around Christmas.
Micah ends with a lament (7:1-6) and words of acceptance (7:7-13) comparable to Jeremiah’s Lamentations, in anticipation of the defeat and exile that Judah will suffer. The final passage, from 7:14-20, reads almost like a Psalm of thanksgiving for what God will do, which includes the forgiveness of sins, not only the sins of individuals, but of the nation and the people.
NAHUM 1-3…is almost the anti-Jonah, in that it celebrates the fall of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Jonah was supposed to prevent this by preaching repentance, but evidently that repentance did not last long, for the Assyrians made more enemies than they conquered, by their wanton cruelty. In Nahum’s defense, the fall of Nineveh carried the potential for a new start for Judah and Zion. But that start was wasted by the Southern Kingdom’s decline into idolatry and injustice, and by rebellion against her Babylonian suzerains.
AND NO….Nahum 2: 4 is not a prediction about cars and bad driving in our streets today. The context of that passage is about the Babylonian invasion and overthrow of Nineveh, in 612 BCE.
The take-away message of Nahum is that God has the last word over empires and nations, even those that do not know or acknowledge him, and that no rulers nor peoples who engage in the kind of cruelty and oppression as did ancient Assyria can escape the divine laws of consequences.
HABAKUK 1-3 How does a sensitive, poetic and prophetic soul deal with the cruelties and sufferings of the world (1:1-4)? And how does he trust and address his God whose will and action in this world seem neither visible nor sensible (1:12-17)? Furthermore, what does such a sensitive, poetic and prophetic soul do while waiting for the answer to the painful questions he has put to his God (2:1-2)? That’s the situation of Habakkuk, a Judean prophet, as he watched the rise of the Babylonian empire (1:6ff) and foresaw all the devastation that this rising empire would cause.
The answer to Habakkuk’s anguished questions comes (2: 2ff), but it is only a partial answer, with the remaining pieces of the puzzle left for “an appointed time” (2:3), the end of time for which we too are waiting. But for now, we and Habakkuk are given to know that God is just in raising up Babylon to punish arrogance, injustice and idolatry, and that, likewise, God is just in raising up whoever he will to bring down Babylon for the same things.
Chapter 3 then closes with a hymn of praise to God, with powerful imagery of the power, majesty and holiness of God, with God as a warrior of infinitely superior power to anything the Babylonians could muster in the field. This hymn closes with a note of confidence even in the face of the disruptions and disasters that the near future will bring.
The Prophecy of Habakkuk has had a tremendous effect on history. The Apostle Paul applied the centerpiece of Habakkuk’s message, “The righteous shall live by their faith [or “faithfulness”]” in 2:4 to his discussion of justification by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3: 11. When Martin Luther re-discovered the import of these words, the Protestant Reformation was launched in 1517.
That is still the take-home message of Habakkuk for us, 2700 years later. We can’t understand the depth and details of all that is going on in a world that is just as brutal and incomprehensible as it was on the eve of the Babylonian invasion, nor what all God is doing in it nor how. The full revelation is coming at “an appointed time.” For now, we are granted some vision of God’s majesty and power and trust in God’s justice. By clinging to them with what light and strength we have now, we are “the righteous [who] will be justified [or vindicated] by their trust,” or faith, or faithfulness. Same things.
Nor should we expect that bedrock institutions and arrangements will continue, without interruption or disruption. But we can expect God to sustain us and give us reasons for joy (3:17-19)
ZEPHENIAH preached during the reign of King Josiah, the reformer/king during whose reign the scroll of the Law (Deuteronomy?) was rediscovered in the Temple, and who sought to cleanse Judah and Jerusalem of idolatry. His father, Cushi, may have been Ethiopian, for “Cush” is another Biblical word for Ethiopia. Ethiopia figures several times in his prophecies concerning the nations. In Zephaniah then we have a rarity: a prophet of God allied with the king, and vice versa. And yet his words could be as harsh and frightening as any other prophet, providing us some of the most graphic and memorable images and symbols of judgment and “The Day of the Lord” that reappear in such places as the Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”), a Latin Christian liturgy, often used in the Requiem Mass, as a reminder of the accountability of all souls to their Maker. Check out Mozart’s musical expression of this theme in his Requiem Mass, particularly in the Confutatis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDQ3MH8CkII&feature=related
and the Dies Irae http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1C-GXQ1LdY
…..is a hymn of thanksgiving that blends the restoration of an individual (verse 14) with the restoration of the people (verses 9-12), and compares them to the seminal event in Hebrew history by which both Creation and the future are interpreted, the Exodus (verse 6). If the events of verses 9-12 refer to the Babylonian Captivity, then this is a Post-Exilic psalm. But the images could also apply to some of Israel’s reverses, defeats, occupation and subjugation prior to the Exile. This would likely have been a song, a prayer or a litany for a sacrifice offered in the fulfillment of a vow made to God in time of distress. Psalm 66 models to us a faith that endures setbacks and suffering, that fulfills its vows, and which scrutinizes the heart for hidden, cherished sin. Otherwise, “The Lord would not have heard me,” had he or she cherished anything more than God and God’s ways (v. 18).