November 21, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testaments: Six prophecies after the Jewish exile

John F. Fink(Forty-sixth in a series of columns)

Six of the prophetic books in the Old Testament were written after the Babylonian exile: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Joel, Obadiah and Jonah. All of them are short.

Haggai wrote his two chapters in 520 B.C. As I said last week, the Jews who returned to Judah were being blocked from rebuilding the Temple by Samaritans. Once permission was received from the Persians to build, Haggai encouraged them to do so.

He criticized the Jews for dwelling in their own houses while the Temple lay in ruins. Then Haggai prophesied that the future glory of the new Temple would surpass that of the old.

Zechariah’s initial prophecy also dates to 520 B.C., and he, too, encouraged the returning exiles to rebuild the Temple. This book, 14 chapters, contains eight symbolic visions, all promoting the work of the rebuilding. They are followed by a vision of a prosperous future during which nations will come to Judah in pilgrimage.

Chapters 9-14, though, come from a later period. They begin with the messianic vision of the coming of the Prince of Peace, including the appearance of a “just savior, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zec 9:9). The New Testament evangelists saw the fulfillment of this prophecy in Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Malachi is the last book in the Christian Old Testament (but not in the Jewish canon; that’s Chronicles). It was written shortly before Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem. In three chapters, it gives a picture of Jewish life between Haggai and the reforms of Ezra. He’s tough on the religious indifference he saw.

Chapter 3 prophesizes the day of the Lord, but first a forerunner who will prepare the way: “Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes” (Mal 3:23). Christ said that this prophesy was fulfilled in John the Baptist (Mt 17:10-13).

Joel also writes about the coming of the day of the Lord. His four chapters conclude with all nations gathered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where God judges them. But Jerusalem, he says, shall abide forever because “the Lord dwells in Zion” (Jl 4:21).

Obadiah is the shortest, but sternest, of the prophetic books—only 21 verses. It’s a cry for vengeance against Edom because Edomites settled in southern Judah and were adversaries of the Jews who were returning from exile. Obadiah predicts that Judah and Israel will again form one nation and will occupy the lands of those who oppressed them.

The Book of Jonah, four chapters, was written after the exile. It’s unique in the Bible because it tells the story of a disobedient prophet. When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he tried to flee and got on a ship going the other direction. When a storm arose, he was cast overboard and swallowed by a great fish, where he remained for three days.

He finally went to Nineveh and preached. Then he was unhappy when the people repented, and God didn’t destroy the city. †

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