Lesson 12: Zephanaiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi


Zephanaiah: (3 chapters; Ca. 630 B.C.)

Zephanaiah prophesied under King Josiah but before his religious reform, so about 635-630 B.C. He seems to have been a native of Jerusalem with connections to the royal court. He lived at the end of the period of the kings of Judah just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the exile and the restoration. Two themes stand out in the prophecy which he got from his predecessors, Amos and Isaiah: 1) the Day of the Lord is coming soon, and 2) a remnant will survive in Judah.

The sins Zephanaiah attacks are the superstitions and idol worship practiced under Manasseh, Amon and the early Josiah in the 7th century B.C. He knows that the oppressive Assyrian empire is about to fall to the Babylonians. The coming fall of Judah and Jerusalem will be the Day of Yahweh (1:7, 14-17), which will be an intervention of Yahweh in history in a theophany of power and judgment.

Zephanaiah is faithful to the prophetic tradition in his conception of judgment and punishment as the result of sin, especially the sins of idolatry and injustice to one's neighbor; because Judah has sinned she will be severely punished. He is one of the less original prophets, since he borrows heavily from Amos and Isaiah, especially the key notions of the Day of Yahweh, the holy remnant, the deliverance and the glory of Israel.

There are no direct quotes of Zephanaiah in the NT, but the graphic description of the dreaded Day of Yahweh in 1:14-18 inspired the opening words of the famous medieval dirge, Dies Irae.

Haggai: (2 chapters; 520 B.C.)

The book of Haggai was written between August and December in 520 B.C., the second year of the reign of Darius I of Persia. Nothing is known about the life and person of Haggai, but he is mentioned as a prophet, along with Zechariah, in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14.

The theme of the book is an exhortation by the prophet to the leaders and people of Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The city was destroyed, some of the leaders were executed and the rest were taken into exile in Babylon. Poor people were left in the land to survive as best they could.

In 539 B.C. the Persians under Cyrus conquered the Babylonians. Cyrus decreed that the conquered peoples could return home, so in 537 the first group of Judean exiles returned to a devastated Jerusalem / Judah. They immediately began to rebuild the Temple but soon gave up the project because of a lack of funds and personnel.

In 520 God raised up the prophet Haggai to give the people heart and to urge them to finish the job of rebuilding the Temple in 515 B.C. when it was consecrated and dedicated to the worship of the Lord Yahweh.

The Temple in Jerusalem is very important in the Jewish religion because it locates the presence of God with his people (Hag. 1:13; 2:4). Those who returned from exile are the remnant of Israel, that is, the small group that God will use to fulfill his promises to David and his descendants. By mentioning the remnant Haggai reminds us of God's promise to David in 2 Sam. 7 (cf also Ps. 89) which is essential in understanding the role of David in salvation history; for Jesus is the "Son of David" who fulfills all the promises. So even though the prophecy is mainly an exhortation to the people to rebuild the Temple, it has a very strong Messianic tone. In the context of the whole Bible, it points to Jesus as the Messiah.

Haggai says that the reason for the poverty and suffering of the people is that they have not rebuilt the Temple (1:9). When they begin work on the Temple God will bless them with abundance of food -- grapes, figs, pomegranates and olives. The book ends on a positive note with a promise to Zerubbabel, the current ruler and descendant of David. The prophet says that the Messianic hope of Israel will be fulfilled through Zerubbabel who is a type of the Messiah (i.e. Jesus) whom God will send in the future to restore and save Israel.

Zechariah: (14 chapters; 520-518 B.C.)

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and prophesied during the years 520-518 B.C. He was the son of Iddo who returned from exile with Zerubbabel and Joshua. He was a priest and so shows special attention to the Temple.

The main theme of the prophecy is the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. In this he is closely associated with Haggai. But a very strong feature of the book is its Messianism, especially in the second half. Because of the prodding of these two prophets, the people went to work and finished the Temple in 515 B.C. when it was consecrated and dedicated to the worship of the Lord Yahweh.

Because of the sharp differences in language and content between chs. 1-8 and 9-14, the vast majority of scholars hold that the last six chapters were added in the late fourth century to the earlier prophecy of Zechariah. The dominant idea, however, in both parts is Messianism. Messianic significance is attributed to the new Temple and also to the governor, Zerubbabel, who was the last member of the house of David to rule over Judah and Jerusalem.

Zechariah stresses the notion of universalism in the sense that the salvation promised to Israel is to be offered to all the nations. Also, the absolute transcendence of God is brought out in this book by the developed theology of angels. God usually does not speak directly to the prophet; he communicates with him through angels and visions.

The second part of Zechariah, often called "Deutero-Zechariah," in addition to being Messianic is also heavily apocalyptic. Jerusalem is mentioned frequently. The Messianism of Deutero-Zechariah plus the emphasis on the "new age" is the reason for the number of quotes of Zechariah found in the four Gospels (v.g., Matt. 21:4-5; John 19:37). Zechariah also influenced St. John in the writing of the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation.

Malachi: (3 chapters; ca. 450 B.C.)

The contents indicate that the book of Malachi was written after the founding of the restored Temple in 515 B.C. and the advent of Ezra about 445. So a reasonable date is the middle of the 5th century B.C. Details about the author are not given. The name of the prophet, "Malachi," in Hebrew means "my messenger" and the word occurs in 3:1. It could be either a proper name or a title; it is probably a proper name.

The book contains six messages or oracles: 1) the Lord loves Israel in spite of her faults; 2) the priests and Levites have been unfaithful by neglecting the standards related to the offering of sacrifices and teaching the Law; 3) God hates divorce and marriage with foreigners; 4) the Lord will surely come to purify the Temple and the Levites; 5) prosperity of the land will return when honest tithing at the Temple is restored; 6) those who fear the Lord and keep his commandments will be saved on the day of judgment. A later editor, probably around 300 B.C., added two appendices about Moses (3:22) and Elijah (3:23-24).

Malachi lays much stress on matters of worship, like Haggai, Zechariah and Joel before him. He regards the Temple, the priesthood and the liturgy as central elements in the restored community and in the Messianic age to come. He confronts the spiritual aridity and mere externalism of his people with a call to fidelity to the Law of God, to reverence for holy things.

Beginning with the Fathers of the Church, Christians have seen a prediction of the Holy Eucharist in the remarkable words found in 1:11, "For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; and everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, a pure offering."

The prophet also condemns social evils, especially divorce which is explicitly rejected in 2:16, "For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel." In the final verses the prophet says that God will send "Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes." Jesus interpreted this to mean the coming of John the Baptist before his own appearance (Matt. 17:1-13).

By ending his book on the positive note of the coming of the precursor before the Day of the Lord, the last book of the OT leads directly to the NT with the preaching of John the Baptist and his pointing out Jesus as the Lamb of God.

Reading Assignment

Read the four short prophecies covered in this lesson. Read an article on Messianism in a good dictionary of the Bible, like McKenzie's.

Writing Assignment

Write an essay of about 1000 words on the importance of the Temple in Jerusalem in the Jewish religion; or on Messianism in the prophets; or on the notion of sin in the prophets.

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