Posts Tagged 'Minor Prophets'

The Minor Prophets, Part 2

Joel is like a caricature of what most people think the minor prophets are all about. His ministry, like most prophets, took place during a terrible crisis: a locus plague and a drought. It was an extraordinarily bad time for Judah; the food stocks were running low and the outlook was bleak indeed.

In the locust invasion, Joel saw something else: the coming of the fearsome Day of the Lord when the Lord would lead an army against His own people in judgment. It sounds monotonous, but the the biggest problem with Joel’s people was that they were outwardly religious but inwardly far, far from God.

Nobody is sure when the locust plague took place or the drought. There are no references anywhere in Joel’s book to help us pinpoint a date. The fact that it is sandwiched between Hosea and Amos is irrelevant. Yet even with a shroud of mystery around it, Joel is an important piece of writing for modern Christians to take note of. God’s people always face one crisis or another and Joel’s words speak to us as much as they spoke to the people of his generation.

Call on God

The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel. (Joel 1:1 | NIV84)

Here’s about all we know concerning Joel. His father’s name was Pethuel, a nice name which means “openheartedness” or “sincerity of God.” And that’s it. But the value in verse 1 are the opening words, “the word of the Lord that came to Joel.” This tells us that Joel’s words – the next three chapters, weren’t his idea, they were God’s. Joel was just a spokesman for the Almighty.

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (Joel 1:4 | NIV84)

The locust plague was bad – the worst ever experienced by Israel. These insects came in waves, upon unrelenting waves, leaving nothing in their wake. Joel addressed the elders of the community first because they held positions of responsibility and influence. He challenges them to look at what was going on and compare it with past events, and to recognize that what was happening to them was unprecedented.

While the elders were his main audience, Joel wanted all citizens of the land to think about the plague and devastation and to pass on what they’ve learned to their children. This is important for modern Christian parents to take note of. It’s important to develop a Biblical worldview; to view the events and circumstances of the world and be able to put them into a perspective that has God and His Word at the center.

The destruction caused by this locust infestation was not unique, but that wasn’t Joel’s point. It was the degree of the destruction that made the locust attack in Joel’s time an extraordinary event and it was primarily what the locust plague exposed about the people’s relationship to God. They had drifted from Him and were consequently unprepared to face the crisis. That’s not an unimportant lesson. When God is at the center of your worldview, life is seen in perfect perspective. That goes for a locust plague.

This is something children need to be taught, hence Joel’s admonition.

Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth. Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the Lord.The priests are in mourning,, those who minister before the Lord. The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. (Joel 1:8-10 | NIV84)

The locusts had ruined the national economy, but far worse was the state of the spiritual lives of the people. The worship of God had been compromised. Why weren’t they concerned about that? In response to that – the fact that offerings couldn’t be made, not the plague itself – the people were to mourn like an espoused virgin whose intended was taken just before the wedding.

Mourning over what a ruined economy does to the Church of Jesus Christ is the proper perspective for a Christian to take, but how many of us have that perspective? When the downturn occurs, all we think about is how it affects us, rarely do we think about how it affects the Church. A Biblical worldview demands all the events of your life be viewed with an eye to their connection to the Lord.

Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. (Joel 1:15 | TNIV)

Joel made that connection. He rightly viewed the locust plague as sort of “mini day of the Lord.” The proper day of the Lord refers to the end times when the world is a complete mess just before Jesus Christ returns in glory and judgment.. In our lives, crises invade like a plague of locusts sometimes and produce that kind of “mini day of the Lord,” too. God uses the circumstances of our lives to remind us that we are accountable to Him for the way we live and to remind us that He is there, watching.

Repent

Chapter 1 looked at events that were happening in the here and now. But in chapter 2, Joel looks to the future. The events of chapter 1 served as a warning of things to come and now with a new chapter, Joel wanted his readers to know for sure that a real day of the Lord was coming.

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come. (Joel 2:1, 2 | TNIV)

The “mighty army” Joel sees here is the Assyrian army, an army so large and all-consuming, it will be “locust-like.” Now we know that the locust plague of the first chapter was a precursor of the plague-like Assyrian army. And the judgment wrought by the coming Assyrian army would be in turn a precursor of a greater judgment to come at the end times. The prophet Isaiah described this period of time this way:

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. (Isaiah 13:6, 9, 10 | TNIV)

And another minor prophet, Amos, described the day of the Lord like this:

Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? (Amos 5:20 | TNIV)

The coming day of the Lord will be a time of great distress, destruction, and judgment. Remarkably, we read this in Joel 2:11 –

The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? (NIV)

It was the Lord who was calling the shots, not the Assyrians. God is ultimately in control, and in the case of Israel, He used the Assyrians to judge His wayward, rebellious people. But, all is not lost:

Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. (Joel 2:12 – 14 | NIV)

So severe will be the coming judgment (“Who can endure it?”) that God provides an out. Judgment is coming; there is no escape. But, a person can prepare for it: Return to God. Repentance is the only way out of a bad situation. In light of the coming judgment, Joel wanted his people to respond the only way that made sense: Pray. The prophet saw a broken and contrite heart as the only response to a holy God. As important as outward acts of worship may be, the condition of the heart is more important to God. Joel’s people had the acts of worship down to a “T,” but their hearts had strayed far from Him. It was essential for them to get their hearts back to the a right condition in light of the coming judgment.

God’s Mercy and Judgment

Then the Lord was jealous for his land and took pity on his people. (Joel 2:18 | NIV)

When people turn to God in repentance, His promise is clear: He will have pity on them. He would restore them (verse 19), and would take away the threat of invasion (verse 20). There you have it. Israel need not have been destroyed. The destruction caused by the Assyrians need never have happened had the people repented and changed.

But there’s more yet:

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.” (Joel 2:25, 26 | NIV)

This is God’s continued response to the repentance of His people. Should they truly repent, God would restore them and more. Of course, what we’re reading here is completely conditional on the people. Will they truly repent? If so, then God would fulfill His promises. Of course, we know they didn’t.

In between verses 27 and 28 is a gap of many centuries.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28, 29 | NIV)

Peter referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts as the fulfillment of these two verses. Up to this point, God’s covenant people are in view, but here God widens the scope of blessing: All people would be blessed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, not just the Jews. Young and old, male or female, regardless of social status, all believers would be filled with God’s Spirit personally.

And in between verses 28 and 29 is yet another gap of an indeterminate number of years:

I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. (Joel 2:30, 31 | NIV)

Eschatologically speaking, these things will take place during the future day of the Lord, beginning with Daniel’s 70th week, a period of time known as the the Tribulation.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:32 | NIV)

Both Peter and Paul take this verse in a universal sense, but Joel had in mind a faithful remnant who would call upon the name of the Lord. This is one of many examples of Bible prophecies that meant one thing when originally spoken but in light of the New Testament, have come to mean something more. Of course, Joel had no idea how Peter or Paul would apply his words, but the Holy Spirit did.

The promise is forever established in Heaven. Everyone who calls upon God will be saved. Period.

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The Minor Prophets Part 1

The Minor Prophets include the following:

• Hosea, whose name means “salvation,” and whose book was written mostly to the Northern Kingdom of Israel for the purpose to encouraging them to repent or face certain destruction. This eventually happened when the Assyrians invaded and took away most of the inhabitants of Israel as slaves.
• Joel, whose name means “Yahweh is God.” His book of prophecy is all about the coming of the “Day of the Lord,” with all its judgements and destruction.
• Amos means “carried by God,” and his book is a collection of messages directed at the Northern Kingdom, which had become wealthy and arrogant and sinful.
• Obadiah, or “servant of God,” preached to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, to reassure them that Edom’s vicious attack against them would be avenged by God.
• Jonah’s name means, “peace” or “dove,” and teaches us that nobody can outrun God, not even His prophet.
• Micah means “who is like God?” and deals with the gap between rich and poor and how one group teaches another.
• Nahum, whose name means, “comfort,” wrote to bring peace, relief, comfort, and joy to the oppressed.
• Habakkuk, meaning “embrace,” was a man consumed with a burning desire to proclaim the joy of the Lord.
• Zephaniah means “hidden by God.” His book begins with the declaration that judgment is coming quickly and that some of Israel and other nations will be saved when the Lord returns.
• Haggai is an odd sort of prophet. His name means “festive,” a paradoxical name for a prophet. But then Haggai was an optimistic kind of guy who wrote about his hope that God’s people would repent and rebuild the Temple, at which time God’s presence would return.
• Zechariah, whose name means “remembered by God,” wrote all about the Second Coming, reminding the people that God had by no means forgotten them.
• Malachi, the last Minor Prophet, means “my messenger.” His book, the last in the Old Testament, serves as a kind of final warning – a last word – to Israel that the great Day of the Lord is coming.

These are the 12 minor prophets, yet they aren’t minor in any way. Their messages resonate with meaning for us today as surely as they did thousands of years ago. We’d do well to pay attention to the Word of the Lord through His “minor” prophets.

Hosea and his wayward wife

First among the minors is Hosea. Of this book, George Adam Smith, Scottish theologian and academic, wrote:

There is no truth uttered by later prophets about the divine grace which we do not find in germ in him…He is the first prophet of grace, Israel’s first evangelist.

God had a habit of using the experiences of His people to reveal Himself progressively in the Old Testament. Bit by bit, piece by piece, God showed Himself to His people until the coming of Jesus Christ, the fullest and final expression of Himself. Hosea is good example of this; through Hosea’s experiences with his wife, we catch a glimpse into the love God has for sinful man.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.  (Hosea 1:2 NIV84)

This paragraph is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is what God told Hosea to do. Would God have commanded His prophet, a holy man, to do something that was forbidden for priests to do and frowned upon for Israel in general? Should this incident be taken literally or figuratively? Augustine refused to believe God would ask a holy man to do this, so he viewed Hosea’s experiences as allegorical.

The old axiom, “the literal sense makes the most sense,” holds as much for Hosea as for the rest of the Bible. What we are reading here should be understood as an historical account written long after the fact. Hosea’s wife and children and their circumstances were real but symbolic warnings for a wayward people. Hosea was fully aware of the kind of woman God wanted him to marry – she would become a prostitute. Her name was Gomer, an unlikely name in our time, but meant, “to end,” “to come to an end,” or “to complete.” Hebrew names are always significant in the Bible. Keil thought that Gomer would be brought to “completion” or “made perfect” through her prostitution. It’s not that becoming a prostitute did her good, but that her horrible experience would parallel Israel’s own unfaithfulness to God.
The prophet would have two children, the bitter fruits of his adulterous wife. Verse two doesn’t necessarily mean that these children weren’t Hosea’s, but rather they shared the taint of unfaithful Gomer’s character. Therefore, God wanted Israel to understand that the coming judgment would fall not only on the nation as a whole, but also on each individual within the nation for each individual shared the sin of the entire nation.

Jezreel: God’s judgment is imminent.

Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel. ” (Hosea 1:4, 5 | TNIV)

The event at Jezreel took place back in 2 Kings 9:21 – 37, long before the child Jezreel was born. It was in Jezreel that the house of Ahab was massacred by Jehu, who claimed to have done the deed for God. In reality, Jehu’s motives were completely political. God promised to make things right in His time:

The Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” (2 Kings 10:30 | TNIV)

Because Jehu acted with such cruelty, judgment would fall on his descendants. It was a heinous sin whose bill was coming due. Hosea lived long enough to witness the fulfillment of this prophecy when Israel’s military (Israel’s bow) was decimated by Shalmaneser in the plains of Jezreel.

But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated—as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children. (Hosea 10:13, 14 | TNIV)

The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes. (2 Kings 17:5, 6 | TNIV)

It took a long time, but the chickens came home to roost. Israel was scattered throughout the world.

So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left… (2 Kings 17:18 | TNIV)

Lo-Ruhamah: God’s mercy withheld.

Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the Lord their God. ” (Hosea 1:6, 7 | TNIV)

This unfortunate child’s name may suggest she was illegitmate – born without a father’s love. Symbolically, Lo-Ruhamah was named so to show that the Lord would not continue to show love or compassion towards a nation, Israel, that steadfastly rebelled against Him. God’s mercy had come to an end. He would step in and save no longer. Once Israel was taken captive, she would never come back. The so-called Northern Kingdom would never be restored, as the Southern Kingdom was. Israel would learn the hard way that at long last, God’s patience had run out and the Covenant had dissolved. He would no longer be her God – she would be forever an adulterous and idolatrous nation.

But, God would continue work with Judah. However, notice the odd wording of verse 7:

Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the Lord their God.

The prounoun “I” is replaced with “the Lord their God.” Even though Judah was not free from the curse of exile and punishment, it would be saved from final apostasy through God’s favor.

Lo-Ammi: God’s love removed.

After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God. (Hosea 1:8, 9 | TNIV)

With this third child, God’s judgment would be complete. Jezreel had promised the scattering of the people. Lo-Ruhamah meant the end of God’s love and mercy. Finally, with Lo-Ammi, God would be forever finished with Israel – the Covenant would end. The people who were once referred to as “my people” by God, would no longer be His people.

Hope for the future

It’s pretty depressing so far. But when we read about God’s judgment and punishment, there is always hope. The hope is found in these verses:

Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.”

“Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’ (Hosea 1:10, 11; 2:1 | TNIV)

There are centuries upon multiplied centuries of history in between verses 9 and 10. Even though God’s message to His people through Hosea is negative and depressing, God does allow a glimmer of hope to be seen. In all, there are six specific blessings mentioned in verses 9 and 10 –

• The nation will increase in number, “…like sand on the seashore, which cannot be counted…”
• A great spiritual revival, “…they will be called the children of the living God.”
• A re-gathering of the nation, “the people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together…”
• Messianic leadership, “…they will appoint one leader…”
• Victory of all enemies, “…will come up out of the land…”
• A full restoration of the Covenant, “say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’”

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 8

OUR GOD REIGNS

Zechariah 14:1—21

The title of this book of prophecy comes from the prophet’s name, Zechariah, who preached in Jerusalem during its restoration, as a contemporary of Haggaih. His name, Zekar-Yah, properly means “Yahweh remembers.” What does Yahweh remember? His people of course!

This is a book filled with unending hope for the many Jews who felt they had been forgotten by God during the 70 years of exile.

This is the longest of the Minors and it is most frequently quoted elsewhere in Scripture. In all, there are over 70 quotations (direct and indirect) from Zechariah in the New Testament. Half of these are to be found in the book Revelation.

1. The day of the Lord, 14:1—8

The phrase, “day of the Lord” is a common one among the Minors. It speaks of the ultimate goal of the history of Earth: the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His personal reign over all nations and people. However, before the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, the Earth must experience certain “birth pangs.” This is what chapter 14 deals with.

It is impossible to see this prophecy as being fulfilled at some time in the past. Though Jerusalem has been destroyed, captured, occupied, and destroyed again numerous times in the past, none of its history comes close to Zechariah’s prophecy. The “day of the Lord” is an eschatological phrase which refers a time in our future. And yet, over the centuries, the “day of the Lord” has had many inner-history fulfillments or partial fulfillments that foreshadowed the ultimate fulfillment. This supra-historical fulfillment of history will finally come to pass when Christ returns literally, physically, and visibly to the Earth to consummate the Kingdom He inaugurated at His first coming.

a. The end of judgment, vs. 1, 2

A day of the LORD is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.

Chapter 14 picks up a thought begun back in chapter 13:

In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:8, 9)

A refining process looms on the horizon for God’s people, the Jews. The final “day of the Lord” will involve a final siege on Jerusalem; it will happen immediately before the Second Coming; it will involve Jerusalem and other nations gathering against it. In the early stages, the siege will be successful. What we are reading in verse 2 is history written backwards.

The fact that many nations will come against Jerusalem is stated repeatedly throughout the Minors:

I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine to drink. (Joel 3:2, 3)

What triggered Zechariah’s harsh words of prophecy? Even though Zechariah is seeing the far future, it was the selfish behavior of his people during his time that prompted the prophecy. The people should have been working tirelessly to rebuild the Temple and fix up Jerusalem after their 70 year exile. Instead, for some 16 years after they returned to Jerusalem, the Temple had virtually no work done on it. The people were more concerned about building homes for themselves than they were with restoring God’s House.

b. God’s breakthrough, vs. 3—8

In spite of how hopeless it will seem for Jerusalem, suddenly the King of Kings will return in full glory for all to see, in the face of the Antichrist’s forces:

Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (vs, 3, 4)

In his book of Revelation, John describes the same event like this:

Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

The Lord will return personally, literally, physically, and visibly to the Earth, just as He said He would, at the exact location He departed from after His earthly ministry was over. Remember what the the early believers were told:

Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

While Zechariah indicates that Jesus will return in power to fight for His people, ultimately He is coming back with “healing in His wings,” according to Malachi 4:2. But before the healing must come great Earth upheavals and catastrophic events that will change the landscape of the Middle East and beyond. See Revelation 16:18, 19, for example.

2. King of the Earth, 14:9—15

a. Return to Shema, vs. 9—11

The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (vs 9)

While on the island of Patmos, John was given a look into this same event:

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

On that day, Jesus Christ will finally be seen by all and acknowledged by all people as the one and only “King of kings and Lord of lords.” And in a final nod to the Jews, their great confession, the Shema, will be regarded by all as true: there is one Lord.

b. Judgment on Babylon, vs. 12—15

This is the plague with which the LORD will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. (vs 12)

As we read about the literal Second Coming of Christ, it is sometimes difficult to separate the figurative language from the literal. We read about the splitting of the Mount of Olives, the spring of living waters, the interruption of God’s own day, and other strange events. But at verse 12, we see a literal horror which John writes about in Revelation 19:11—18. Here we seen a coming together of the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses.

3. Worship of the King, 14:16—21

Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (vs. 16)

In spite of the awful decimation that will take place on Earth as described in the previous verses, there will be those who survive. Theologians are split as to whether these “survivors” will be a converted remnant among all the nations, or just people in general who are not touched by God’s various judgments. It seems to us that there will, in fact, be many, many survivors, some not converted at all, since there will be those who refuse to go and worship.

Three features of this worship become clear in this group of verses:

a. Jerusalem will be the center of faith in the world, 14:16

The Messiah will take His rightful place on the throne of David, and nations will stream to Jerusalem to worship Him and pay Him homage. We are told that all people will celebrate the “Festival of Tabernacles.” Why this festival in particular? This feast, out of all Jewish religious feasts, has been traditionally open to both the people of Israel and to strangers.

The Passover Feast pictured the death of the Messiah as our Redeemer; the Feast of Unleavened Bread pictured the walk of believers in fellowship with the Savior; the Feast of Firstfruits foreshadowed the resurrection of Jesus; and the Feast of Pentecost predicted the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. So the Feast of Tabernacles will remain unfulfilled until the Kingdom age and Israel is gathered to her own land.

b. All nations will come to Jerusalem annually, 14:17—19

Those who refuse to come will be dealt with harshly by God. This group of verses reminds us that, even in the great day when the glory of the Lord covers the earth, during the Millennial Kingdom, there be some who will simply rebel. Egypt is singled out here perhaps because as so often in the past it symbolized a defiant and rebellion nation.

Here is an accurate glimpse into the nature of the Millennial Kingdom. Just because Jesus Christ will rule and reign as the plant’s Sovereign, not every human soul alive at that time will be saved. It simply means that the Godly influence of a divinely ordered kingdom will be a positive influence over all the affairs of human beings. Justice, purity and righteousness will all be favored.

c. Holiness to the Lord will dominate all worship, 14:20, 21

On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD Almighty.

This is a description of the true nature of the Messiah’s kingdom. It will be a holy kingdom, dominated by holiness in all things. Perowne observes:

The ornaments of worldly pomp and warlike power shall be as truly consecrated as the mitre of the High Priest, and every vessel used in the meanest sense of the Temple as holy as the vessels of the altar itself. Nay, every common vessel throughout the city and the whole land shall be so holy as to be meet for the service of the sanctuary, and every profane person all be for ever banished from the house of the Lord…All distinction between sacred and secular shall be at an end, because all shall now be alike holy.

We may sum up the teaching of these verses like this:

  • There will be holiness in public life (“the bells of the horses);

  • There will be holiness in religious life (“cooking pots in the Lord’s house);

  • There will be holiness in private life (“every pot in Jerusalem and Judah”).

And so Zechariah ends his book of prophecy in a most stunning way. This man, whose name means “Yahweh remembers” has proven that God has never forgotten His people. God Himself will end human history as He promised He would in His Covenant: His people will never be forgotten or foresaken.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:14, 15)

(c)  2011 WitZend

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 7

The remains of one of Nineveh's defenders. Photo David Stronach.

Nahum, Habakkuk

Choices. We all have to make choices. Sometimes we make wise choices, other times our choices are really our mistakes. But no matter, good choice or bad, there are always consequences to face and deal with.

The minor prophets declared a conditional message to their listeners: God’s judgment is never the final word; it can be averted if the people make the right choice: repentance. Whenever anybody chooses to accept God’s mercy, their whole life changes for the better. God’s generous offer of mercy, if ignored, won’t help because judgment is inevitable.

1. God’s power to avenge, Nahum 1:1—9

Nahum provides an interesting parallel to the book of Jonah. Each deals with the great city of Nineveh. However, the book of Jonah is really about the prophet himself. Nahum, though, reveals nothing personal about the prophet beyond his name. “Nahum” is a name that appears only one time in the Old Testament, in the superscription of the book. His name appears one time in the New Testament as part of the genealogy of Joseph in Luke 3:25. “Nahum” means “comfort” or “consolation.”

Though we know nothing about the man, his sermon to Nineveh has survived the centuries because it teaches us something very significant about about God’s mercy and His judgment.

a. The fury of the Lord, vs. 1—6

A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. (vs. 1)

This superscription was probably added by an editor for the purpose of identification. The “prophecy” is sometimes called “a burden” in some translations. That’s a good word; sometimes the Word of the Lord is a burden. Sometimes it’s not all sunshine happiness. This is especially true concerning this “burden” about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. (vs. 2)

Those are pretty strong words directed at Nineveh. Why did God feel this way about the Assyrians? The name “Assyria” comes from “Asshur,” who was a descendant of Shem (Genesis 10:22). Asshur and his kin eventually settled in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Ancient history has a lot to say about these people, and none of it is good. Every time we read about the Assyrians in both sacred and secular history. they are pictured as cruel, savage, and warlike people with a deep-seated desire to conquer and dominate as much territory as possible. They were known for flaying captives and wall-papering pillars with their skins. They would bury captives alive, impaling others on posts, gouging out eyes, cutting off hands, feet, noses, and ears. Young children were burned alive. These and other atrocities caused the Assyrians to be feared for centuries in the ancient Near East.

Verse 2 indicates how God felt about these people. They faced certain doom, not because the Assyrians were so evil, but because God is so holy. God’s perfect nature demands that He punish sin because the nature of sin demands that it receive punishment. God must oppose evil, wherever it is found. And Nineveh was overflowing with it.

The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. (vs. 3)

This could be considered the key verse of this book. The apostle Paul proclaimed the same message to the Romans:

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:3—5)

b. The end for Nineveh, vs. 7—9

God is all-powerful, but He does not remain unmoved by the decisions of people. This group of verses is comforting to God’s people but a warning to those who ignored God’s mercy.

Nahum’s ministry occurred some 150 years after Jonah’s. Immediately following Jonah’s ministry, Nineveh did a complete about-face. They repented and forestalled God’s promised judgment. But by Nahum’s time, they were a rotten as ever.

Here is a powerful lesson: each generation needs its own revival. No individual believer, church, or religious movement can survive on yesterday’s blessings. Human nature always bends away from God towards sin; that’s why every generation needs to seek God for fresh outpourings of His Spirit.

Whatever they plot against the LORD he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. (verse 9)

The prophet directly addresses the Assyrian leaders, and informs them that they don’t have a prayer if they come against God. This is it, as far as Nineveh was concerned. The great city would not be given a second chance. Why not? Nineveh had crossed an invisible line that only God can see. This does not mean that God’s grace could not reach them a second time, but that they could no longer reach it.

Halzi Gate excavation. Excavating skeletons in the gateway dating from the destruction of Nineveh. 7 May 1990.

2. A cry for righteous judgment, Habakkuk 1:1—6

Here is another prophet we know next to nothing about. His name is mentioned here, and nowhere else in the Bible. There are two things that distinguish Habakkuk from other Old Testament prophets. First is what we read in verse 1:

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk is one of the only prophets that is actually referred to as “the prophet.” This suggests that Habakkuk was recognized as a professional prophet.

Second, there is a verse Habakkuk wrote that appears no less than three times in the New Testament and it eventually became Martin Luther’s rallying cry and the watchword for the Reformation:

The just shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)

Habakkuk was a contemporary of the more famous Jeremiah, and this book is traditionally dated around 600 BC, not long before the Babylonian Captivity in 586 BC. So he ministered in and around Judah and this prophet was faced with with two big problems. This prophet was one of the few men with courage enough to wrestle and argue with God over the way God deals with man.

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. (2:1)

The answer, of course, is to be found in 2:4b:

The just shall live by faith.

a. The burden of the prophet, vs. 1—4

Here is the cry of a frustrated believer: how long and why. This could well be the the single issue that plagues all believers: Why does God permit evil to continue among His own people—evils like, the iniquity, the injustice, the strife, and the contention? This is an old question, but a new one.

Times were tough for Habakkuk, and they were getting tougher. Things were about to come a head; violence was on the rise, the balance of power was shifting fast in the Middle East and the Babylonians were on the march. However, as the old saying goes, “one man plus God is always a majority.” Habakkuk went straight to the Top with His complaints.

b. A new world power, vs. 5, 6

God’s answer to his prophet is the comfort of assurance: “I am working.” But, here is an instance where God’s answer wasn’t quite what Habakkuk was expecting. God was indeed working, but it wasn’t among His people, it was among the heathen!

Notice, though, the onus is on God’s people to see Him working:

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. (vs. 5a)

Sometimes God’s working isn’t all that obvious! Believers have to “look” for Him, and sometimes His hand is to be found working in the strangest of places, among the strangest of people.

God did not answer the “Why” part of Habakkuk’s question; He is sovereign and owes no man any explanation or apology. Besides, no human being is capable of understanding the mind of God. But God did speak to the prophet. Far from being insensitive to the plight of His people, God was in fact orchestrating it! In the darkest, most confusing hour for any believer, when we are apt to feel as though God has forsaken us, we should take comfort from God’s word to Habakkuk. God in no way ever loses control; regardless of what it may look like, God is always in command of the circumstances of our lives. It is our lack of perception that makes God look uncaring or uninvolved. God’s activity, though, is far-reaching. It extends from generation to generation. His work in our lives not only touches us, but reaches out to touch others.

3. Confidence in God’s sovereignty, 3:1,2; 16—19

This last chapter of Habakkuk is unique among the Minors. In fact, it’s not really part of his prophecy. We might call chapter three Habakkuk II, for it opens with a whole new superscription, like it was a whole new book:

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. (vs. 1)

The “shigionoth” is a word of unknown origin and meaning, although is has something to do with music; perhaps an instrument or a type of song.

a. An urgent prayer, vs. 1, 2

What a change had taken place in Habakkuk’s life. From complaining to God and waiting for God to answer him, Habakkuk was brought to the place of real, abiding faith. He was an honest questioner of God and God honored him.

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (vs 2)

What God had revealed to Habakkuk drew the prophet closer to Him and allowed him to worship God anew. He had been given a glimpse into the inner workings of God’s mind. He had a peek of things to come, and what he saw filled him with fear. But the prophet’s fear was not fear of the future but reverential awe of God. God opened His mind to Habakkuk just a crack and the prophet was overcome with wonder.

His heart’s cry to God was based on what God had done in the past: repeat your deeds! What a great, simple prayer for revival! G.B. Williamson gives a wonderful outline of these two verses under the heading, “A Prayer for Revival.”

  • Revival in needed because sin in rampant, religion is decadent, and judgment is imminent, 1:4; 2:18—20;

  • The time of revival is NOW: in “our day, in our time”;

  • The way of revival is through prayer;

  • The hope of revival is in God’s mercy.

b. Remembering God’s power, vs. 16—19

After praising God for His past intervention, Habakkuk says,

I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. (vs 16)

This is why it is so important for believers to get to know God through the pages of Scripture. Prayer is vital, but a believer doesn’t get to know God through prayer. God has revealed Himself to us only through His Word. The closer we get to God, the more we get to know Him through His Word, the more aware of His awesome strength we become. A lot of things may draw us closer to God. Sometimes it’s praise and worship, other times we are literally pushed closer to Christ by adversity. It is during those times that the true believer sees in Him the One who is sufficient to meet every need. Time and again in the Bible we see this. God sustained Elijah when he had reached the end of his rope (1 Kings 19). When Paul faces stiff opposition in Corinth (Acts 18), it was God who was his constant source of help.

Habakkuk’s personal story as revealed in these verses reveals that faith was the prophet’s only ally; all he could was wait.

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. (vs. 16b)

The threat of the Babylonians was real and Judah’s days were numbers, but all Habakkuk could do was to wait quietly. He waited for the end to come, but he had no fear. We learn something of the dynamics of fear from these verses. We fear things when we attribute to a person, a place, or a thing two important characteristics:

  • Almightiness—the power to take away another’s autonomy;

  • Impendency—the power to do another harm.

What we need to understand is that those things don’t belong to any human being; they belong to God. This Habakkuk understood, which is why he waited patiently for the end to come. His faith sustained him. He knew he rested under God’s protection.

God’s sovereignty is not a topic reserved for theological discussions. It is an important fact in the life of every Christian. We have been redeemed by God. We are His children and we belong to Him. We are of value to God. We are filled with His Holy Spirit, who makes us able servants. By means of God’s power working in our lives, we have the ability to withstand any and all circumstances that come our way.

Habakkuk’s experience is a good example for the modern believer. He may have had questions, perhaps even doubts, he saw things he didn’t like or understand, but he did not give into fatalism. He did not passively resign to what was to come. Even though he may had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, Habakkuk had faith, and he had the courage to submit to the will of God and to exercise active dependence on Him.

Habakkuk wanted the people to sing his prophecy:

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

And why shouldn’t we sing what Habakkuk wrote? His head wasn’t in clouds, but he knew God and he had the kind of confidence in God that we all need. No matter what the outward circumstances of life may be, the just should simply live by faith. What Habakkuk found to be true, is still true today.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 3

God’s Call for Justice: Amos & Zephaniah

What is “partiality?” In the Bible, there are no less than 15 Scriptures relating “partiality” to God’s character. In Deuteronomy, the question of God’s fairness is the basis for all human relationships:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17—19)

We may say that “partiality” is the opposite of justice in terms of Biblical thought. Based on the above passage, it seems clear that God’s people should behave like God behaves. God is impartial in His dealings with man, therefore we should as well.

In ancient Israel, the idea of “justice” formed the basis of not only the Jewish faith, but also its government. The minor prophets frequently railed against the treatment of their fellows because it was a manifestation of how they treated their God.

1. God hates arrogance, Amos 6:1—8

Justice has been on the minds of human beings for all time, it seems. Probably the most significant ancient work of non-biblical literature is what we call “Plato’s Republic.” What most people don’t know is it’s original title: “A Political Discourse Concerning Justice.” But long before Plato thought about justice, the Bible had that topic completely covered. Israel never needed “Plato’s Republic.”

a. A warning against complacency, vs. 1—3

In the ancient world, almost nobody could read or write. Even in the Roman world, historians estimate that less than 10% of the population was literate. Usually these skills, which we take for granted today, were taught only to the children of the elite class or the very wealthy. What sets the Bible apart from all ancient texts is that its writings stem, not always from the intellectually elite, but from the common man. Such is the case of Amos, of whom next to nothing is known. He was mere shepherd from Tekoa. He was no priest. He had no connection to the Temple. His parentage is not mentioned because there was nothing remarkable about it. The fact that God would raise up such a seemingly insignificant person is a demonstration of God’s impartiality!

This one-time prophet of God ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel. He was living and working during a time when all nations of the ancient Near East were very much aware of the mighty Assyrians and their propensity for the conquest of entire nations. The tyrannical Tiglath-Pileser III was the ruler of Assyria at this time and he managed, in a relatively short span of time, to establish one of the most enduring empires in ancient history.

Amos, as uneducated as he was, was a powerful speaker who could easily catch the attention of his audience. And he was skilful, too. He ably connected the moral decline of Israel and Judah to the coming of the Assyrians. As we read Amos, we can see how vitally connected moral obedience is to God’s Word and the security of a nation.

In the first five chapters, Amos dealt with God’s judgment of the northern kingdom, Israel. While the people expected a day of deliverance coming, Amos knew otherwise; he knew the great and terrible Day of the Lord—a day of judgment—was just over the horizon. The monarchy and political power brokers should have seen it coming, but the power structure of Israel was riding high, falsely secure in their military power and victories of Syria. They felt unconquerable. The people, for their part, seemed quite content to be “under their thumbs.” The people couldn’t do a thing without getting the approval of some political body. No wonder these verse stung and cut so deeply.

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. (verses 1—3)

Amos aimed at and scored a direct hit at the false optimism and sense of security and carefree arrogance of the leaders. They looked so strong and unbeatable in their own eyes, but in God’s eyes, they were as puny as the leaders of any other nation. Amos lumped Israel in with a bunch of conquered and subjugated city-states of other greater nations.

Naturally, the leaders rejected Amos’ prophecy, and they continued to wallow in their complacency, and in their mistreatment of their own citizens.

b. A warning against elite luxuries, vs. 4—6

So while the political class revelled in their own lives of ease, indulgence, and affluence, they continued to care very little for the state of others. They stuffed themselves with gourmet food, went to the best golf courses, sang songs and got drunk.

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

c. The coming judgment and exile, vs. 7, 8

To Amos, luxury and wealth, in themselves harmless, had become symbols of the oppression by which these leaders pampered themselves. And so, those who amassed so much wealth would be the first to go into exile. The corrupt government of the House of Israel would finally come to an end. Amos said this sometime around 760 B.C., when Jeroboam II reigned over an immensely prosperous people. Less than 4 decades later, Israel was overrun and conquered by Assyria and all but the poor were exiled.

As we read about the state of ancient Israel, we are prompted to think about the awesome responsibility of leadership. A country, church, Christian movement, or even a family can rise no higher than its leadership. Those being led will either rise to great heights or sink to new lows depending on the spiritual and moral quality of their leadership.

2. God hates injustice, Amos 8:4—12

Amos was concerned, not only that the people turn to the Lord, but that society as a whole repent from its injustice.

Looking after those who are incapable of looking after themselves has always been important to the Lord, and it should be important to His people. Much of the Law is devoted to making sure the real poor and afflicted were cared for; those policies had been enshrined in the religious and civil laws of Israel. Other nations exploited the poor, or they were left to die. When Israel did as they were told, the nation prospered, from the richest to the poorest. But when Israel, as they did time and again, followed the example of worldly nations, the poor suffered and the rich were harshly judged.

In Amos 7, the priest Amaziah grew weary of Amos’ preaching, and ordered him to return to Judah.

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the disciple of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (7:12, 15)

Amos was faithful to the Lord, and continued to prophesy in Israel.

a. The sin of oppression, vs. 4—7

In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy had become outright rebellion against God. Those who pretended to be religious were the ones who were taking advantage of the poor. God made it clear that to sin against Yahweh’s people was, in fact, to sin against Him. These religious types kept their festivals meticulously, but managed to find time to rip people off right and left. To these people, God had a particularly ominous message:

I will never forget anything they have done. (verse 7)

b. The land cannot withstand oppression, vs. 8—12

Israel’s end will be like an earthquake. The land will shake and heave. Nature will share in God’s anger. The earthquake will be followed by an eclipse, which will cause great fear. The earth and the very cosmos will seem to be in opposition to the people who turned away from their God, the Lord of all creation.

3. Spiritual renewal results in justice, Zephaniah 3:9—20

There is a “prophetic gospel,” and the minor prophets are full of it. What is the “prophetic gospel?” It is the “good news in prophecy.” God will always have the “last word.” This last word is repeated spoken in Psalm 136: His mercy endures forever.

The minor prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied during the time of great king Josiah, spent 2 chapters declaring what God would do to the nations on a worldwide scale. Now he turns his attention to Judah and Jerusalem. Joshiah’s awesome religious reforms, unfortunately, did not long outlast him. Jerusalem should have been the model for the whole world. Jerusalem should have been setting the example for every nation in the world to follow after. Instead, Jerusalem, like Samaria before it, became the home of those who were wilfully living in rebellion against God. They lived polluted lives, defiling themselves with sinful deeds, and disregarding the rights of others, especially of orphans and widows.

a. Arrogance abolished, vs. 9—13

Just when the promised judgment had reached its crescendo, God would enter center stage in a big way:

Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (verse 9)

The Hebrew for “purify” is a strong word that means “a turning away” or “a transformation.” It’s not a slow process, but a quick and total change; a radical break with the past. This radical change will affect all nations because this work of God will be worldwide in scope.

I will sweep away both people and animals; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all people on the face of the earth…” (1:2—3)

God would use the Babylonian Exile of the Jews to accomplish this purification. The rebellion would be purged from their souls. God would use the exile to reorient the people around God.

b. The everlasting presence of God, vs. 14—17

She who was once the rebellious, polluted, and oppressing city is given three titles of honor: daughter of Zion, Israel, and daughter of Jerusalem. In Biblical poetry, which much of the prophetic word is, cities and their citizens are often referred to as women.

Zephaniah is describing life in the Messianic era. It will be a time filled with great joy, singing, and gladness. All this happiness of God’s people will be shared by God Himself:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (verse 7)

c. The restoration of the nation, vs. 18—20

In spite of the translation difficulties surrounding verse 18, Zephaniah writes of a time in the future of God’s people that even we have yet to experience. The years of exile in Babylong would be difficult for the Jews. They would be unable to worship, and would long for the day when they could gather together in praise.

To these exiles, God promised that one day, all would be restored. Once they lived in shame, but one day, they people would receive honor and fame on account of what their God will do for them.

Through God’s work of restoration, Judah will become renowned around the world.

At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes…” (verses 19, 20)

The minor prophets saw the day when God’s saving grace would flow from Israel to all the people over all the earth. By taking seriously the words of “the minors,” we can learn what God requires of us and how to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

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