Week 16

13 - 19 July
Psalms 76 - 78, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Jeremiah 1 - 10, Matthew 1 - 10, Proverbs 18

13 July
Micah 1 - 3
Micah 4 - 5
Matthew 1 - 2
14 July
Micah 6 - end
Zephanaiah 1
Zephanaiah 2
Zephanaiah 3
Matthew 3 - 4
15 July
Nahum 1
Nahum 2
Nahum 3
Matthew 5
16 July
Habakkuk 1
Habakkuk 2
Habakkuk 3
Jer 1.1 - 2.13
Matthew 6 - 7
17 July
Jer 2.14 - 4.27Matthew 8
18 July
Ps 78.40-55Jer 5 - 7 Matthew 9
19 July
Jer 8 - 10Matthew 10


Psalm 76 is a hymn of praise to God for his awesome power over rulers and armies.  God acts as sovereign ruler over all the earth, sentencing those who do not obey him and pronouncing judgement, in favour of those who have no power, who trust in him.
Psalm 77 asks the question: "Will the Lord cast us off forever?  Will he no more show us his favour?" The psalmist answers by reminding himself, and us, of God's marvellous deeds in the past, echoing words from Exodus when Israel was brought safely through the Red Sea.
Psalm 78 is mainly a narrative, telling the story of Israel and God.  The past is recalled, in order to reflect how it affects the present and the future.  We might imagine it spoken by a teacher, instructing the people, in poetic form to make the story easier to remember.  The mighty acts of God are contrasted with the failure of the people.  In the wilderness, they wanted more than they were given; when they came into the Promised Land, they worshipped the wrong gods in the wrong places.  The final word is not judgement, however, but grace.  The people's failure is not God's failure, and his mercy means that he has compassion on the people.

Historical Background to the Old Testament Prophets

Follow the link above (or see separate page) for a table giving a historical survey of the events against which the prophets proclaimed the word of God.

The minor prophets

The three major books of prophecy in the Old Testament are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.  Following are a number of minor (because much shorter) books, including Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum and Habakkuk.

Micah, like the first Isaiah, was active in the 8th century BC, although as with Isaiah, earlier material is reflected on by later writers, so that oracles concerning the fall of Samaria may be mixed with similar material about the later fall of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC.  The book contains some of the most famous quotes from the Old Testament:
"... what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"  
"...  they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" [also found In Isaiah 2]
Announcements of doom alternate with expressions of hope, doom as a consequence of Israel's and Judah's failure to observe God's righteousness and justice.

Zephaniah, Nahum and Habakkuk, like Jeremiah, proclaimed the word of the Lord in the last 50 years of Judah's existence as an independent state.  This was a turbulent time.  The Assyrian Empire, which had dominated the world stage for a century, fell in the years between 612 and 605 BC, bringing an era to an end.  King Josiah reigned in Judah, a brief period of independence and restoration, but the vacuum left by Assyria was soon filled by first Egypt and then Babylonia.  The prophets do not see these events as purely political, however, but as the will and work of God.

Zephaniah was called to be a prophet during the reign of king Josiah in Judah (640-609BC), following a gap in our record between the time of Isaiah and Micah (up to 701BC).  Zephaniah announced that the Day of the Lord was about to break over all creation, proclaiming judgement against Judah and pronouncing oracles against foreign nations.

Nahum is the most ignored book in the Bible.  It is never used in the lectionary in church, and the only reference in a hymn is "He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm" from 'God moves in a mysterious way'.  It is a prediction and celebration of the fall of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, in 612BC.  It reads as a vengeful, nationalistic expression of triumph over Israel's enemy, but it is not meant to be a book about human beings, but about God.  For us, God is a God of love and forgiveness, and we are uncomfortable with him as a God of judgement and destruction.  The prophecy of Nahum is a reminder to us that God is not like us, and that we do not have the right to judge his actions and find them wanting.  Whether we like it or not, it is in the Bible, and is part of our scriptures.  We cannot therefore simply dismiss it.

Habakkuk is a book about the purposes of God, and the realisation of his will for the world.  God promised Abraham that his descendants would bring blessing on all families on earth, and his will is for all humankind to be blessed.  Habakkuk is about God's providence for all of us who live in the time between God's promises being made, and their final fulfilment.  Paul (in Romans) and the writer to the Hebrews both knew it and made use of it, and we hear echoes of it in the hymn which speaks of the day when "the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea".

Introduction to Jeremiah

Following the earlier prophets, Jeremiah stood at the forefront of a new phase of prophecy from the end of the 7th century BC.  Old Testament prophets were preachers rather than writers, and what we have now is what the prophet and others felt was worth preserving in written form following the disasters which overtook first the kingdom of Israel in the north, and then the fall of Jerusalem and Judah in the south.  
These catastrophes hit not only the national identities of Israel and Judah, but also at their relationship with God.  Many books in the Bible took on their more or less final written form during these centuries of turmoil, defeat and exile, as people struggled to come to terms on the one hand their sense of being chosen by God to be his people, and on the other, the events they lived through.
Some prophets focused on warning and explanation of judgement, others more on God's mercy and grace.  With the prophets of the exile comes a sense that God is still with them, and that there is hope, and the possibility of renewal and restoration.
Jeremiah stands in this tradition of a message of hope set against the background of political disaster and great human suffering.  He began his prophetic activity in the 13th year of Josiah's reign, so 627/6BC, but most of his preaching dates from later when Judah fell.  Many leaders fled to Egypt, against Jeremiah's advice, but compelling him to accompany them.  During the period of Jeremiah's prophetic activity, Judah fell, Jerusalem was sacked, the temple was destroyed, and many people were exiled in Babylon, or fled to Egypt.  The Davidic line of kings no longer reigned.  
The year 587BC was the most calamitous with the loss of the temple and the Davidic king, both symbols of Israel's relationship with God, and necessitating a complete rethink of the 'special relationship'.


Much of Matthew's material is also in Luke, and quite a bit also in Mark - it seems likely that both Matthew and Luke knew Mark's Gospel, and made use of it, and also another source which no longer exists independently.
A gospel is a passion narrative with an extended introduction, and this is true of all four gospels.  What is distinctive about Matthew's Gospel is the way it mixes the good news of Jesus Christ with ethical teaching.  For Matthew, faith without observing Jesus' teaching is a nonsense.
We can break the gospel into sections:

  • Who is Jesus?  1.1 - 4.11
  • The Messiah's Ministry to Israel  4.12 - 16.12
  • The journey to Jerusalem, Jesus' passion and resurrection  16.13 - 28.20

Proverbs 18

A major theme in this chapter is the proper use of speech.

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