“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 29: AUGUST 20
JOEL – HAGGAI 2:23
Today’s reading truly is a parade of prophets! We cover nine books, so obviously we can’t do the justice to each book that it deserves. However, we can touch on specific aspects and note how all nine books share similar themes of warning, punishment, repentance, restoration, and, of course, Jesus and his Kingdom. There are also some horrifying end-times scenarios that are referred to (and in some cases reworked) later in the New Testament. As I mentioned in yesterday’s entry – there are no “minor” prophets in scripture, just some prophets who have shorter books than others. No-one who faithfully speaks God’s Word can be considered minor.
- In describing his vision of the Day of the Lord (i.e., the day of God’s final vengeance), Joel presents a terrifying scenario. He sees soldiers who are not quite human (or not at all human) and who display super-human or better said supernatural abilities, such as walking up walls and not being wounded by what should be fatal blows. These beings are described as having a horse-like appearance. We’ll read about them in greater detail in the book of Revelation. Here in Joel, we learn that the role of these super-human supernatural beings is to utterly destroy the earth with fire to the point where rebuilding is impossible – before them is an Eden, behind them is a wasteland. Reading about this scenario that is prophesied to come to pass (and it will come to pass), we can only hope that we’re not still around when these beings are set loose on the world, as “nothing shall escape them”.
- In stark contrast, we also read in Joel about the age when God’s Spirit will be poured out “on all flesh”, not just on prophets from among the tribes of Israel. Remember that during Joel’s time, God’s Spirit visited very few people. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension that the Holy Spirit started to be poured out on genuine followers of Jesus through spiritual rebirth. This has continued for the past nearly 2000 years. Most of those who have received God’s Spirit through rebirth are not genetically children of Israel, though spiritually they are. Ever since Jesus, the bloodline has been spiritual, not genetic.
- After describing a global war scenario, Joel ends his book with a prophecy about Zion, the holy mountain, and spiritual Jerusalem, which we know from previous readings all refer to the same spiritual realm. No “strangers” will pass through this place; in other words, only God’s people are there. It will be a place of peace and plenty, and where there is rest and safety from spiritual enemies. This is a classic description of God’s Kingdom on Earth, as established by Jesus. If you’re genuinely born-again, you live there now. (Thank you, God, and thank you, Jesus!)
- Amos prophesied during the same time as Isaiah and Hosea, and so saw the same problems as the other prophets. Amos’s book presents a litany of sins committed by the enemies of Israel and Judah, as well as sins committed by Israel and Judah. The prophet warns that the children of Israel are being punished in the form of drought, crop failure, sickness, war, etc., as a wake-up call. If the wake-up call isn’t heeded through genuine repentance, worse will follow in the form of total destruction. Preceding the destruction will be “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord”. This, by far, is the worst form of punishment – to be separated from God. Yet those days are coming, and in some parts of the world are already here.
- Amos’s book ends with another prophecy of God’s Kingdom on Earth, as does the book of the next prophet in our parade today, Obadiah. However, Obadiah’s main prophecy concerns the vengeance that God will wreak on Edom (that is the children of Esau, Jacob’s brother who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew). The Edomites participated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the surrounding cities. As their reward, and despite their heritage, Obadiah prophesizes that Edom will be allotted the same punishment as the rest of the heathen; God will put no distinction between them. Meanwhile, the children of Esau’s brother Jacob (that is, Israel) will once again be blessed by God after they repent.
- This is a theme that runs through all of the prophecies in today’s reading – the blessings that will come to God’s people after their repentance. It is made particularly clear in the book of Jonah. Unlike most of the prophets, we’re not given a time frame for this book. Maybe that’s for the better, because it reads somewhat like the book of Job – a timeless cautionary tale of God’s ultimate goodness and mercy to those who do what’s right in his eyes.
- At first, Jonah runs from doing God’s will, but he ends up causing grief to everyone around him in the form of a storm at sea. Not wanting the others to perish for his own sin, Jonah throws himself into the water and is swallowed by a whale. While in the whale, he repents and prays to God. God hears his prayers, gets the whale to vomit Jonah onto dry land, and off Jonah goes to the do the deed he ran from initially – to warn Nineveh to repent or suffer destruction.
- To Jonah’s surprise, the people of Nineveh immediately repent in sackcloth, and God changes his mind about destroying the city. But instead of being happy about this outcome, Jonah is angry and depressed, so depressed, in fact, that he wants to die. Jonah believes that Nineveh should have been destroyed for its sins, not spared, but God explains to him that the people of Nineveh are so lacking in perception that they “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand”. Even so, they repented when warned. If God had destroyed them despite their repentance, it would not have been just. The book doesn’t say, but we can only assume that Jonah eventually comes around to see things as God does. God is merciful to the genuinely penitent. This is good information that we can use.
- The last five books of today’s reading (Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Haggai) all share similar themes of denouncing the sins of Israel and Judah, calls to repentance, and punishment both to the enemies of the children of Israel and Judah, and to the children of Israel and Judah themselves if they refuse to repent. The rich Jews who mislead and feed off the poor Jews are given a special shout-out in Micah as deserving of particular punishment by God. It’s also worth noting that the book of Haggai reports the beginning of the rebuilding of the second temple and a return to Jerusalem, as inspired by God through the remnant of his penitent people and through the King of Babylon at the time. Through these five prophets, God promises Israel and Judah the same reward he promises through all the other prophets – admission to his holy mount Zion if they repent, stay the course, and do his will.
- Also, and as with the other books of prophecy we’ve read over the past week, Jesus and God’s Kingdom appear throughout these books as well. Jesus clearly and openly dominates the NT, but he also dominates the OT, though in an indirect and mostly figurative way; God purposely hides him behind veiled speech. Nonetheless, Jesus and his Kingdom are what God’s people are striving for over the more than 2000 years of their journey to the empty cave.
I hope you enjoyed the parade today! It can be a bit frustrating at times if you want to stop and mull over a particular chapter or verse, but the purpose of the read-through is to grab what you can and keep moving. When we finish our 40-day journey, we’ll have time then to return to whatever is calling to us in some special way.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.