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Monday, March 13, 2017

Meeting some major minor prophets

This week our Bible study moves on to look at the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. I guess, at last, we're looking at "minor prophets," but they had some major things to say at a time when major things were happening. They seem to have had some major things to say about the future too.

(44) Haggai and Zechariah issue a call to rebuild

The Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem and tried to rebuild the Temple. The foundations were laid (Ezra 3:10-11) but work stopped around 535BC and didn’t restart until around 520BC.

1.       Read Ezra 3:10-11, 4:24-5:1 Have you ever started something for God then encountered a long unproductive pause?

2.       Read Haggai 1:1-4 How do we know whether it’s time to wait or time to work?

3.       Read Haggai 1:6 How well does this describe modern Western society?

4.       Read Haggai 1:7-8 How important is it to have beautiful churches, beautiful music, well-kept church gardens, etc?

5.       Read Haggai 1:9 What might the returning exiles have hoped to find or achiever in Jerusalem? How would this contrast with reality? Would they blame God or the survivors or both? (Archeological evidence suggests Israel lost 90% of its population. The city was deserted in ruins. The land wasn’t harvested. Returnees would have found wild animals, weeds and mountains of debris.) Who do we blame when life doesn’t live up to our expectations?

6.       Read Haggai 1:12-13. What did they fear? What do we fear?

Haggai encourages the people with God’s message:

1.       Read Haggai 2:4-5 What reminds you that God’s spirit will never leave you? What reminds us to “work”?

2.       Read Haggai 2:6-9 Does this refer to the Temple they are building, or to some future time? Who will come?

3.       Read Haggai 2:10-14, Matthew 15:11. What makes us, our lives or our world impure? How easily does impurity spread? And what frees us from impurity. (Read Haggai 2:19)

Zerubbabel the governor and Jeshua/Joshua the high priest will have to work together in the rebuilding. This can be used as evidence that we shouldn’t separate church and state. What might we use as evidence that they should be separated (see last question)?

1.       Read Zechariah 1:1-4 Zechariah prophesies at the same time as Haggai. What external events might make us feel God is calling us to return to him? Have you ever felt or witnessed a “come back to me” call?

2.       Read Haggai 2:22-23 Zechariah spoke to the people. Haggai speaks to their secular leader. What might it mean to be God’s signet ring? Is there a more modern image that would carry a similar meaning?

3.       Read Zechariah 3:1-5 Zechariah has a vision of their spiritual leader standing before Satan—“the adversary,” closely related to the character in Job. Do you remember Jesus’ parable where someone was clothed in cleaner garments? Or the message about white robes in Revelation? Who makes us clean?

4.       Read Zechariah 4:6-7 Who rebuilds – priest, governor or God?

Zechariah received visions filled with symbols and parables, many of which are echoed in Revelation, so now we’ll go back to the beginning of the book.

1.       Read Zechariah 1:7-11. How many horses are there? Read Revelation 6:1-8. How do the horses compare? (Note, the older language has fewer words for color.)

2.       Read Zechariah 1:12, Jeremiah 29:10. Does the number of years have to be accurate or can it be symbolic? What might 70 mean?

3.       Read Zechariah 1:14-17, 2:1-2. Who else wrote about measuring lines and temples? (Read Ezekiel 40:3)

4.       Read Zechariah 1:18-20. Who else wrote about horns? (Read Daniel 7:7-8. Do you think reading Zechariah first might make it easier to understand Daniel?)

5.       Read Zechariah 2:4-5, Ezekiel 38:11, Revelation 21:22-27. The city in Revelation does have walls (but open gates). What might tie Jerusalem without walls, and the heavenly city without a Temple together?

6.       Read Zechariah 2:6-13. So… are non-Jews friend or foe (verse 11)? And how hard is it to “be still”?

7.       Read Zechariah 3:6-10.
a.       Who is often referred to as the branch? (Read Luke 1:76-79 – the word for rising sun or dayspring is also used for branch.)

b.      Why seven eyes? (Read Revelation 5:6)

c.       Why vine and fig tree? (Read Micah 4:4, John 1:48)

8.       Read Zechariah 4:1-3 Bowls and lampstands were part of the Temple vessels. Olive trees are a sign of blessing. Read Revelation 1:12, 11:3-5, 16:1. Visions that sound strange to us would have sounded relatively normal to their first hearers. What things do Christians say that sound strange to non-believers just because they’re missing the context?

9.       Since Zechariah immediately mentions Zerubbabel (verse 6), the olive trees are believed to represent Joshua (the priesthood) and Zerubbabel (kingship – he’s descended from David and he’s in charge). In Revelation, when the witnesses prophesy and are called the olive trees, they combine the offices of prophet, priest and king. Who is the one true prophet, priest and king?

10.   Read Zechariah 4:11-14, Revelation 11:3-4. Do you think the first readers of Revelation would have caught the reference? How was their world similar to the world of the returnees? How might ours be similar?

11.   Read Zechariah 5:1-3. What might a scroll make people think of?

12.   Read Zechariah 5:5-11. Shinar was the land of Nimrod (Genesis 10:9-10). It was the center of early civilization. Abraham’s family came from there. Babylon is there. It became a byword for the place of exile, hence the place where wickedness dwells. Does this mean Babylon (Iraq) is always a center of evil, or can symbol be different from reality?

13.   Read Zechariah 6:1-3 Horses again! Read verses 6-8. What was North of Jerusalem?

14.   Read Zechariah 6:9-15. Crowning Joshua combines the offices of priest and king. Could it prefigure combining prophet priest and king? Could “those from afar” prefigure Gentiles becoming part of God’s people?

The Temple was eventually rebuilt, but not without difficulty. Meanwhile Daniel was still in Babylon – soon to enjoy a night in the lion’s den. Ezekiel may still be among the exiles. Esther is preparing to be a queen. And the prophet Malachi is probably just writing down his visions. But, back to temples…

How long does it take us to get from a foundation of Christianity to truly believing our bodies are the Temples of the Spirit (Read 1 Corinthians 6:19)?

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