Zechariah’s Divine Messiah

Michael S. Heiser

Jerusalem is under siege. The city is caught in a raging battle against “all the nations of the earth” (Zech 12:3). This battle, part of an oracle in the book of Zechariah, is reminiscent of the book of Revelation (Zech 12; compare Rev 16:14; 20:9). Yet, instead of being a dismal scene, the story is one of hope for the people of God, as Yahweh Himself declares that He will “seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech 12:9).

Amid this Armageddon-like destruction is an allusion to a future, pierced messiah (Zech 12:10; compare John 19:37). This is no ordinary savior.

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And the Lord will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah. On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem (Zech 12:7–9).

Zechariah 12:8 declares that the “house of David”—referring to a future king from the royal dynastic line of David—will be “like God, like the angel of the Lord.” To grasp the significance of this verse, we need to recognize the parallelism between God and the angel of the Lord. Jewish readers would have known that God and the angel of the Lord are identified with each other in passages throughout the Torah. In the last issue of Bible Study Magazine, I wrote about how Hosea identified the angel of the Lord with God Himself (אלהים, elohim) on the basis of the Torah. 1 Zechariah 12:8 also casts David’s heir as like God (אלהים, elohim) and as like the angel of the Lord.

Wanting to identify David’s heir with God and the angel who is God in human form, Zechariah describes this future heir as “going before” God’s people into battle and “destroying all the nations” that threaten Jerusalem (Zech 12:9–10). This is precisely the role of the angel of the Lord—the angel in whom the essence of Yahweh Himself dwells (see Exod 23:20–23). 2 In Judges 2:1–2, after the death of Joshua, it is the angel of the Lord who, using first person language, appears and claims to have driven out the enemy inhabitants of the promised land (Judg 2:1–2). Elsewhere God’s own presence receives this credit (Deut 4:37). God and the angel of the Lord are one—divinely fighting for God’s people.

This angel is God in human form—and the heir of David in Zechariah is identified the same way. The Old Testament prophet not only foresaw a crucified Davidic king, but an heir of David who was God in human form. Remarkably, this identification also shows up in the New Testament, in precisely the same context. Jude 5 tells us that it was “Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, [and] afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Jesus, the pierced messiah, is associated with the angel of the Lord. And He is no ordinary savior. 3

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3


1. See Michael S. Heiser, “Filtering God.”

2. See “The Name Theology of the Old Testament” in Faithlife Study Bible.

3. See John D. Barry’s The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, pgs. X to Y. Also, see “The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah” in Faithlife Study Bible.

Wrestling with God

Israel P. Loken

When we’re hit by chaos or confusion, we often feel like God has left us on our own. When the prophet Habakkuk surveyed the situation in Judah in 630 BC, he felt much the same way.

O Yahweh, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? How long will I cry out to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you cause me see evil while you look at trouble? Destruction and violence happen before me; contention and strife arise (Hab 1:1–3).

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Judah was in a state of complete chaos after more than 50 years of deadbeat leadership. Manasseh (696–642 BC), one of the nation’s most evil rulers, built altars to Baal and consulted spiritists and mediums instead of prophets. He had even sacrificed his sons to foreign gods and erected an image of the Canaanite goddess Asherah in God’s temple. Then, after his death, his son Amon reigned for just two years before he was assassinated by his servants. In the early years of Josiah’s reign, the nation was still living in apostasy.

Wrestling with God

It’s in this context that the prophet demands answers from God. Habakkuk’s name was probably derived from the Hebrew word for “embrace” (habak), a word sometimes used in the context of wrestling. He lives up to his name as he clamors for deliverance and justice while “the wicked surround the righteous” and “justice goes forth perverted” (Hab 1:4). He believes God should have intervened long ago.

When God reveals to Habakkuk that He has a plan, it’s far from what the prophet expected. God says He will judge the apostate Judah by raising up the Babylonians to be His instrument of judgment. Habakkuk is understandably appalled. Lexham Bible Dictionary tells us that Babylon had historically been “a symbol of opposition to God and His people.” Habakkuk questions how a holy God could use such an ungodly people to carry out His work. The prophet rebukes God, stands in defiance and waits for the Lord’s response (Hab 1:12–17).

Trusting in God’s Justice

God responds to Habakkuk by assuring the prophet of His justice. Using a series of woe pronouncements, God announces that Babylon, too, will be utterly destroyed. The Hebrew term translated “woe” (hoy, הוי) appears frequently in prophetic literature as a warning of God’s chastisement (Hab 2:6–20, see also Isa 5:8, 11, 18, 20–22). Called out during funeral processions (see 1 Kgs 13:30), hoy meant “woe is me” or “alas.” God’s prophets adapted it as a word of warning: The pronouncements of the Lord’s judgment were so certain to take place that mourning for offenders began immediately, as if they were already dead.

God’s decision to judge Babylon for its many sins—including covetousness, violence and idolatry—would have comforted the righteous in Judah, since He had promised to curse those who abuse His people (e.g., Gen 12:3). Paul reminds us that God has made a similar promise to the Church: “Do not take revenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19).

Living by Faith

But what about Judah? God hasn’t forgotten about His people. He tells the prophet that “the righteous shall live by his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4). While God welcomed the prophet’s cries for help, both Habakkuk and the righteous people of Judah needed to have faith that God was involved in events—even when they had no tangible evidence of His presence. Such faith would help them endure the difficult times ahead.

We’re familiar with this phrase, “living by faith,” in part because it’s quoted three times in the New Testament. In Romans 1:17, Paul reminds believers that we’re granted God’s righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3:11, Paul uses the phrase as the proof-text that a believer is justified by faith, not works. And in Hebrews 10:38, the author quotes it to explain why a righteous person must persevere by faith. In effect, these seven words (“the righteous shall live by his faithfulness”) reveal not only our salvation, but how God’s grace plays out in our lives as believers. He wants us to depend on Him alone and live lives of faith in the midst of chaos and confusion.

We see this in the closing chapter of Habakkuk. As the once-defiant prophet offers a prayer to Yahweh, the revelation of the Lord has filled him with awe. He acknowledges the certainty of God’s plan and requests simply, “In wrath, may you remember to show compassion” (Hab 3:2 leb). Habakkuk moves from doubting God’s presence and questioning His sovereignty to expressing certainty in His plan despite what his surroundings suggest. “Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor there be fruit on the vines; the yield of the olive tree fails, and the cultivated fields do not yield food; the flock is cut off from the animal pen, and there is no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in Yahweh; I will exult in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:17–18).

As we encounter difficulties in our own lives—and they will come—the words of Habakkuk can give us comfort. Even when we cannot see Him at work, God has plans and a purpose. In those times, call upon Him.

Scripture quotations are from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3

Staying the Course

Rebecca Van Noord

Proverbs 4:18–27

“May your eyes look forward and your gaze be straight before you. May the path of your foot be balanced and all your ways be sure. Do not swerve right or left; remove your foot from evil” (Prov 4:25–27).

These verses reflect someone who has incredible purpose. I imagine an acrobat walking a tightrope—knees bent, one foot carefully placed in front of the other, and nothing but a slender rope keeping him from plummeting to the ground. Such efforts would require incredible calm, effort, and focus—especially focus. The body naturally follows the path of our eyes, which is detrimental if we’re focused on the wrong thing.

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The idea of staying the course illustrates God’s path and purpose for us. When we act, speak, and follow that path, we are carrying out His will for our lives. But there’s a problem: We can’t. All of our efforts are tainted. Our knees are bound to buckle, we’re sure to misstep, and it’s just a matter of time before we swerve to our own disadvantage.

Before we lose hope, though, we can remember God’s sacrifice. Jesus’ work of redeeming us has reversed our fate. The threat is gone—and that changes everything. Our lives are infused with the incredible purpose of His costly death. We have a renewed sense of hope because of His resurrection.

The cross puts everything in perspective. It is the new focus of our gaze. From His sacrifice to the time when redemption is complete, we are meant to live intentional lives that reflect His purpose. Keeping our eyes on Him helps us to stay on the path.

How are you staying the course?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: The World of the New Testament

Elliot Ritzema

The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts
Baker Academic, 2013

The New Testament was written in a culture vastly different from our own. If we want to understand what the New Testament writers intended to say, we must understand the context in which they lived and wrote.

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Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald have gathered a cast of contributors to illuminate the cultural background of the New Testament. The 44 essays that compose the book fall into five sections: Jewish heritage, Roman Hellenism, Jewish people in the context of Roman Hellenism, literary context and geographical context. Notable essays include the following: McDonald on the chronology of the New Testament, Green on healing and healthcare, Nicholas Perrin on the imperial cult, Ben Witherington III on education in the Graeco-Roman world, Larry R. Helyer on apocalypticism, David A. DeSilva on Jews in the Diaspora, and Michael F. Bird on Josephus and the New Testament. Many of the essays feature maps, pictures and diagrams.

Each essay is a self-contained primer on a subject. Unlike many dictionaries, the essays are not simply about a subject in general; they focus on how each subject relates to the New Testament. This book is a welcome resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the world in which the New Testament was written.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3

Tithe and You Shall Receive?

Douglas Magnum

“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7) might sound familiar if you’ve heard a sermon on tithing lately. Many such sermons focus on this type of New Testament passage. But recently, I heard a pastor read Malachi 3:8–10, where God scolds Judah for robbing Him by neglecting to tithe ten percent of their produce. Then came the startling words that the pastor claimed as a promise for us today.

Test me in this … and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it (Mal 3:10).

The Bible says that if I give the church a full ten percent of my income, then God will bless me beyond my wildest dreams. Or at least that was the impression I got from the sermon.

Context

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The message that I would get only if I would give troubled me. It conflicted with everything else I had been taught about giving—that it should be willing, not coerced (2 Cor 9:5), and that it was more about the attitude than the amount (9:7). This “give and you shall receive” concept seemed uncomfortably like the rhetoric of those who promise worldly prosperity in return for contributions.

As I studied the text of Malachi, I realized this claim does not fit the historical and literary context of the book. Malachi was writing to the community of Jews who had reestablished themselves in Judah after the Babylonian exile. They had rebuilt the temple and Jerusalem at the prodding of the prophets (see Ezra–Nehemiah; Haggai). But there was one problem: The beautiful picture of restoration and God-given prosperity those prophets promised had not materialized. 1

Promised Prosperity

Malachi explains why this vision had not yet become reality: While the people had returned physically, they were still far from God spiritually. They had not kept their covenant with Yahweh. Yet they blamed Him for their situation: Clearly, He had changed His mind and decided not to bless them after all. God answers that charge in Malachi 3:6–7:

For I, Yahweh, have not changed, and you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. From the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my rules, and have not kept them! Return to me and I will return to you.

God had not changed but neither had they. Before the exile, the prophets told the people of Israel they would be punished for their sin, but repentance could stop that judgment (e.g., Jer 9:12–16, 17:19–27). Their lack of repentance resulted in exile (Lev 26:33; Deut 28:36). Even now their restoration was the result of God’s mercy, not His response to their repentance (Isa 43; 48:9–11).

Blessings and Curses

So what exactly was God saying in Malachi 3:6–10? Would repentance result in overflowing blessing? That depends on how we understand the last few words of the passage. Many English translations say something like “overflowing blessing” (LEB; NRSV), “blessing until it overflows” (NASB) or blessing “without measure” (HCSB). Others take the phrase as a reference to meeting needs, like “blessing until there is no more need” (ESV; CEB; NCV). That idea of sufficiency and contentment aligns much better with the New Testament attitude toward wealth and giving (see 2 Cor 8:3; Phil 4:11), but the idea of “overflowing blessing” also fits the Old Testament context for understanding Malachi 3:10.

We can better understand this concept of “overflowing blessing” by looking at the biblical law codes found in the Pentateuch. These codes end with warnings about the conditions attached to the Israelites’ covenant with God (Lev 26; Deut 28). Disobedience would bring punishments such as famine, disease and invasion (Deut 28:15–68). Obedience would bring blessings such as agricultural abundance, fertility and military victory (28:1–14). The promised blessings describe a similar result as that described in Malachi 3:10–12. However, the conditional nature of these promises can easily be lost if we read only isolated fragments that say God will “make you successful and prosperous” or will defeat your enemies or will bless all your hard work.

We can work hard at obeying the letter of the law for the wrong reason, like tithing because the pastor says God promises to bless us if we do, and miss the reality that our attitude and intent are just as important as our actions. The prophets repeatedly call Old Testament Israel to a repentance that goes deeper than external obedience (Isa 1:11–17; Micah 6:6–8). Jesus also criticized the religious leaders of His day who similarly overemphasized externals and missed “the more important matters of the law—justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23).

Malachi 3:10 likely draws on the language of the covenant blessing in Deuteronomy, “Yahweh shall open for you his rich storehouse, even the heavens, to give the rain for your land in its time and to bless all of the work of your hand” (28:12), but the tithe represents the bigger issue of obedience to the covenant. Malachi’s audience still lived under the covenant based on obedience to the law. Their failure to tithe represented a continued failure to return to God. By alluding to Deuteronomy 28, the prophet was reminding the Jewish exiles otf their covenant relationship: You keep your part, and God will keep His. This covenant represented salvation and the restoration of their relationship with God—the ultimate overflowing blessing eventually provided to all through Christ.

In context, the passage in Malachi is about obedience and faith in God. Malachi 3:10 challenges Israel to test whether God will really keep His word. Bringing in the full tithe was a test of their faith. For Christians today, tithing should reflect faith and trust in God despite doubts over our own finances. We shouldn’t simplify Malachi 3 to a formula for “give-and-ye-shall-receive.” We’ll give for the wrong reasons—all the while missing out on the real message of Malachi.

Read more about Malachi in The Prophets as Preachers by Gary V. Smith. Go to Logos.com/BSMSmith

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3


1. See also Isaiah 2; 11; 35; 49; 66; Ezekiel 36; 47; Joel 1–3.

The High Cost of Sibling Rivalry

Stephen Witmer

During my years in pastoral ministry, I have discovered a strange reality: It seems more conflicts occur within the church than without. This dysfunctional church-family dynamic is a far cry from the Apostle Paul’s admonishments to “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom 12:10). Shouldn’t people who have the Holy Spirit living inside them get along better?

The book of Obadiah offers a stark reminder of the rifts that can form when family conflict goes unchecked—and why it is so vital that members of God’s family treat each other with love.

Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament, was written after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 bc. It’s an oracle of doom against the nation of Edom. Judgment will fall upon Edom through a coalition of other nations, but the ultimate indictment will be from God Himself (Obad 2; see also Lam 4:21–22). And His punishment will be remarkably severe (Obad 5–6).

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Why such harsh judgment? Obadiah 10–14 tells us Edom had not only failed to intervene in the Babylonians’ destruction of Jerusalem—they had encouraged it and rejoiced over it (Psa 137:7; Obad 11–12). Taking advantage of the situation, Edom had looted Judah’s wealth and captured Judaean fugitives (Obad 13–14). On their own, these crimes against God’s chosen people would deserve a curse from God (see Gen 12:3). But Obadiah pinpoints another factor that makes Edom’s transgressions even more intolerable: Edom treated Israel like a stranger even though Israel was Edom’s “brother” (Obad 10, 12).

The nation of Edom was descended from Jacob’s brother, Esau (Gen 25:19–28). Though Edom was not part of God’s covenant people, God nonetheless continued to bless and provide for them (Deut 2:22). Because of their common ancestry, Israel and Edom were like “brothers” (Deut 2:4–5, 8). But the two nations did not act like siblings. They engaged in constant antipathy and war, with Edom revolting against Judah’s rule and each nation hating the other (2 Kgs 8:20–22).

For Obadiah, this “brotherly” relationship between Israel and Edom heightened the wickedness of Edom’s actions. The prophet Amos similarly noted that God judged Edom fiercely “because he [Edom] pursued his brother [Israel] with the sword and cast off all pity” (Amos 1:11, my emphasis). Apart from the superpowers of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, Edom is condemned more often in the Bible than any other enemy nation, likely because it broke bonds of brotherhood and kinship. 1

As Christians, we’ve been adopted into God’s family. If God held Edom responsible for treating Israel with care, how much more are we responsible for loving other members of the body of Christ? The New Testament encourages us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:16–18) and to do good to everyone—“especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).

Although we might bicker like siblings, the Bible points us to a better way: family love within God’s family. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to be known by our love for one another (John 13:34–35).

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3


  1. See Jeffrey Niehaus, “Obadiah,” in The Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Comiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 496.

Malachi as Cliffhanger

Eli T. Evans

The hero dangles by one gloved hand from the wall of a steep ravine. The heroine, lashed to the railroad tracks, struggles to escape as the train rushes toward her. The villain looks on gleefully, twirling his mustache. Will the hero fall? Will the heroine be crushed? Will the villain get away with it all? You’ll find out—in our next installment!

The cliffhanger, so named for melodramatic scenes such as this, is used to ramp up suspense and dramatic tension just before a break in the story. Cliffhangers tend to bring the conflict into sharp focus, sometimes by putting the main characters into impending danger, other times by suddenly revealing a plot twist or introducing a new character. The point is to keep the audience guessing about what happens next.

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Malachi is the cliffhanger to the Old Testament—not that the period between the Testaments is completely silent. (Many Christian communities recognize books that were written in the 400-odd years between Malachi and Matthew as Scripture.) Rather, Malachi is the last book of the “thus sayeth the Lord”-style of discourse that typified the golden age of Israelite prophecy.

Malachi sets a scene of impending doom: The people have returned from exile in Babylon, Israelite society is being painfully rebuilt and the temple worship is functioning once again—or would be, except that the priesthood is desperately corrupt. Malachi demonstrates how low the Israelites have sunk by putting a series of petulant questions into their mouths:

“How have you loved us?” Israel’s first failure is that they have forgotten the nurturing and preserving hand of Yahweh (Mal 1:2). “How have we despised your name?” By offering polluted food on the altar (1:6). “How have we polluted you?” By offering blind or lame animals as if they were acceptable (1:7).

At this point, the priests protest, saying “What a weariness this is!” (1:13). They apparently see no use in serving Yahweh in the proper way. Later, Malachi has them say that “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” (3:14). The fundamental issue in Malachi is a lack of real respect for God—the façade of the temple worship is there, but there’s no substance behind it.

The protests continue: “Why does he not [accept the offerings with favor]?” (2:14). “How have we wearied him?” (2:17). “How have we robbed you?” (3:8). The cumulative effect of these “hard words” against Yahweh is startling: When confronted with their sin, the priests stubbornly respond with slander, blasphemy and demands for more evidence.

The sins we see in Malachi are no different from those in Jesus’ day: cheating with the sacrifices, mishandling the tithes, profiteering, oppressing the poor and rampant divorce. “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.” That’s Malachi 2:7–8, but it could just as easily have come from one of Jesus’ tirades against the “blind guides” who “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” as in Matthew 23:2–36.

As Malachi comes to a close, all hope appears lost. The should-be-heroic priests are playing the villain while the fledgling nation of returned exiles dangles over the precipice by its fingertips. Will the priesthood remain corrupted? Will Israel and Judah join Edom as “the people with whom God is angry forever” (Mal 1:4)? Find out in our next exciting episode!

Just as the peril reaches its peak, the plot shifts, and a new character is introduced: “For behold, the day is coming” when the tables will turn and “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (4:2). Malachi doesn’t say who this “sun of righteousness” is, but he does tease us with something to look forward to: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before that great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (4:5).

Malachi’s cliffhanger ends abruptly with both imminent danger and two mysterious new characters. After a prophetic intermission of four centuries, a lone preacher appears in the desert, dressed in a hair shirt and belt, proclaiming repentance and prophesying like a man from another time. For someone who claims not to be Elijah (John 1:21), John the Baptist certainly dresses, speaks and acts just like him. John’s protestations notwithstanding, Jesus confirms that John is the prophet promised in Malachi 4:5—if we are “willing to accept it” (Matt 11:14). John the Baptist, “one like Elijah,” prophesies of this Jesus, this “sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2). Thus the cliffhanger is resolved by the arrival of the only true hero in the story. There’s a new sheriff in town, stirring up trouble, ready to pardon any villains who will lay down their arms and follow Him, putting life and limb on the line to pull us all back from the brink.

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3

God of War or Peace?

Robert B. Chisholm

It’s easy to become confused while reading the prophets’ depictions of God. Malachi, for instance, warns that God is a powerful warrior who will consume all evildoers in the fire of His judgment (Mal 4:1). In contrast, Isaiah anticipates God’s kingdom as a time of peace—when nations will beat their weapons into farming tools (Isa 2:2–4). God Himself looks forward to the day that “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9). So, is God for war or for peace?

God as Warrior

Among the sixth and fifth century bc Minor Prophets, three prophets—Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi—repeatedly call God “Lord of Hosts.” This title portrays God enthroned among His heavenly assembly, whom He sometimes leads into battle. It can also be translated “Lord of Armies” in some contexts. For these prophets, it epitomizes God’s identity as the mighty warrior-king who rules over all.

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Like the prophets who came before them, the prophets of this era describe startling images of God as warrior-king. Joel describes an army that burns like fire and destroys everything in its path (Joel 2:3). God Himself rides as general of these fearsome troops (2:11). In Obadiah, God warns the nations—and Edom in particular—that He will avenge His people (Obad 15). He will transform His people into a fire to consume the Edomites as easily as if they were stubble (Obad 18).

Depictions from other prophets can be equally as frightening. According to Haggai, the Lord will shake the cosmos and overthrow the earth’s kingdoms, destroying warriors and their chariots (Hag 2:21–22). In Zechariah 14:12, the prophet warns about the terror that meets those who defy God: “And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.”

The prophets match anything Hollywood could dream up. It’s easy to excuse this imagery as not representative of the true God revealed through Jesus—as if it is only Israel’s conception of Him. But it’s much more than that, and it seems wrong to set aside Scripture so easily.

Divine Ideal: Peace

The Bible provides us with a picture of God’s ideal for life, harmony and peace. Genesis tells us that God desires us to be fruitful, multiply and rule the world as His representatives (Gen 1:28; 9:1, 7). His intention for this world was a place of peace: Violence (like murder) is an attack upon His image (Gen 9:5–6).

The prophets tell us God intends to establish His kingdom on earth; when He does (in fullness) there will be peace among the once-warring nations (Isa 2:2–4; 11:1–10; 19:23–25; Mic 4:1–4; Zeph 3:9). We see a foreshadowing of this day in God’s choice of Solomon (whose name means “peace”) over David as builder of the temple. God said to David, “You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest … He shall build a house for my name” (1 Chr 22:8–10; see 28:3).

The Ever-Present Reality

Peace is God’s ideal, yet the Old Testament affirms that the God of Israel is also a “man of war” (Exod 15:3), who is “mighty in battle” (Psa 24:8) and stores up weapons for the fight (Job 38:22–23). God’s actions show us there is a time for war and a time for peace (Eccl 3:8)—but what prompts Him toward one or the other?

In Exodus, we find an example of God’s warrior-king behavior. Moses and the people of Israel sing a song of praise in Exodus 15. They have just passed through the sea after being pursued by Egyptian chariots and horsemen:

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters (Exod 15:9–10).

These actions are part of God’s work of redemption, which the Israelites acknowledge: “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode” (15:13).

The prophets elaborate on this picture of God. One day, God will intervene as warrior-king to judge the earth (Isa 24:5–6; 26:21). His wars implement His justice and become, ironically, the avenue to His peaceful ideal. In Revelation 19:11–16 we see a vision of Jesus as a mighty warrior-king, descending from heaven to ride into battle with His army behind Him. He strikes the ungodly nations, thus clearing the way for His kingdom of peace. This is not senseless violence; it is the only way that violence can be removed from the earth. It is the only way that God’s peace can be established for good.

The Battle Today

God does not advocate violence. When Jesus was taken in the garden, He told Peter to put away his sword, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52). Jesus’ statement reflects the ultimate futility of human violence: Those who embark on a path of destruction will fall victim to it themselves.

Yet, today, Christians are involved in a different sort of battle. Prior to the ultimate battle in which Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth, the New Testament depicts the Church engaged in war. We take on the chaos of this world with the “gospel of peace” that Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. This war takes up arms, but not the physical kind. The spiritual instruments for this battle are faith, perseverance and prayer.

Paul says this battle is not against flesh and blood, but against all spiritual forces that oppose God. God has given us victory in Christ and His resurrection against spiritual forces. We see this when the Holy Spirit, evoked in Jesus’ name, does the miraculous. Until Christ comes and brings the final victory, we fight for the peace He desires in the world.

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3

The Spiritual Battle

John D. Barry

1 Kings 18:1–46; Mark 10:17–52; Proverbs 4:8–17

Sometimes our work for God requires severe actions. In these times—ones that we can’t possibly prepare for—we need to rely on the Spirit and its work to empower us.

I have always admired Elijah the prophet because he goes into firestorms with little, if any, preparation. The Spirit of God is his leader, sword, and shield. One of the most frightening moments in Elijah’s life is his encounter with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. How could Elijah prepare to face 450 prophets from the enemy nation who are endorsed by Elijah’s own king? He faced certain death. Perhaps he had even reconciled himself to the idea that his life would end on that mountain.

Elijah’s supreme confidence in Yahweh is inspiring. He instructs the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are the majority, and call on the name of your god, but don’t set fire under it” (1 Kgs 18:25). After the other prophets fail to bring down fire from heaven, Elijah does what must be done: He calls down fire, and then he kills the evil prophets (1 Kgs 18:30–40).

Although Elijah’s particular actions do not apply directly today, his boldness certainly does. We should never fear walking into a fight against evil; instead, we should be ready to engage those who lead others astray. We must be certain that God will give us His words. He will act through us.

Whenever we’re in need, no matter how severe the situation, God can deliver us. We cannot prepare for the battle against the great evil that lurks in the world, but we can be certain that God will be with us.

What evil must you face? What do you need? Have you asked God for it?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

Shelf Life Book Review: The Message of Malachi

Jason Brueckner

The Message of Malachi
IVP Academic, 2013

malachi.jpg

The book of Malachi seems tucked away in the Bible, seldom visited or preached from.

In this resource, Peter Adam urges us that the news of Malachi is relevant for the church today for three vital reasons: (1) God’s people must have a “deep, radical, and overwhelming conviction that God loves them”; (2) Although we know not to sin against others, the source of all sin is sin against God, something Adam says “we find … hard to take seriously”; and (3) Malachi is God’s effective remedy for Christians living in neutral, who think there is no need “to respond whole-heartedly to God, nor refuse him.”

These ancient themes still challenge us today, and Adam continually points us toward the saving work of Christ while reminding us of them. The Message of Malachi will prove a valuable resource for those who desire to preach from Malachi or simply understand it better.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3