Week 23

29 October - 4 November
Psalms 107-111, Isaiah 56-66, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Hebrews 10 - 13, Proverbs 25

29 October
Isaiah 56 - 59Hebrews 10.1-25
30 October
Isaiah 60 - 63Hebrews 10.26 - 11.7
31 October
Isaiah 64 - 66Hebrews 11.8-end
1 November
Haggai 1
Haggai 2.1-9
Haggai 2.10-end
Zechariah 1 - 2
Hebrews 12
2 November
Zechariah 3 - 8Hebrews 13
3 November
Ps 110Zechariah 9 - 14

4 November
Malachi 1
Malachi 2
Malachi 3
Malachi 4


Psalm 107 praises God's faithfulness and his love, as shown in mercy to those in distress.  The hymn 'Now thank we all our God' sums up this psalm.
Psalm 108.1-5 corresponds to Psalm 55.7-11, and 108.6-13 corresponds to Psalm 60.5-12.  These sections put together here form a prayer to God at a point when the people understand that only God can bring about his reign on earth.
Psalm 109 is a prayer for help, in which the psalmist starts by recounting what people are doing against him, then curses them.  After this, there are further petitions, and then a promise of praise.  The context appears to be that of an innocent person on trial for his life, surrounded by hostile witnesses, who lie and try to bring about his downfall.  But despite such negativity, the psalmist knows that curse and blessing are both in the hand of God, and that God will always prefer to bless.
Psalm 110, with its focus on the king sitting at God's right hand, has been interpreted by Christian writers as a messianic psalm.  It refers to Melchizedek, whom we met in Genesis 18, and again in Hebrews.
Psalm 111 is a song of praise of the Lord.

Third Isaiah, and the post-exilic prophets

The Historical Background to the Old Testament prophets.

Third Isaiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi spoke God's word to the Jewish people in the aftermath of the exile in Babylon.
Isaiah 56-66 is known as Third Isaiah, to distinguish it from chapters 1-39 (First Isaiah) and 40-55 (Second Isaiah).  In 540BC, Second Isaiah announced to the people that God would bring them home from exile in Babylon.  In 539, Cyrus, King of Persia, defeated the Babylonians.  The following year, he allowed the Jews to return to their homeland.  But the situation was very different from what it had been before the exile.  Judah no longer existed as an independent nation, but was a tiny sub-province in the vast Persian Empire.  There was an initial attempt to rebuild the temple, with Cyrus providing finance for it, but the work soon ground to a halt.
Haggai, written in 520, describes a community dealing with drought, crop failure, hunger and inflation.  The prophet is clear that the cause of their problems is their focus on a variety of restoration projects rather than on rebuilding the temple.
Written a year or two later, Zechariah 1-8 is in some ways reminiscent of Ezekiel, with its visions and mysteries.  The prophet describes how God will rise up, acting in a new way to bring his kingdom into being.  God has a purpose which he is working out, and the Jewish people still have a role to play.
Most of Third Isaiah is written in the period between that early unsuccessful attempt to rebuild the temple, and its eventual completion in 515.  It was a time of rivalry between different groups, with low morale, accusations of corruption, and a vindictive spirit.
To start with, Third Isaiah picks up the message of Second Isaiah, with its themes of comfort and blessing to come, but the mood of hope and promise was soon eroded, as people tried to work out what was going wrong.  This is a time of harsh realities, when the promise of peace and blessing seems hollow.
Zechariah 9-11 and 12-14 were not written with the earlier chapters, and were probably added by someone other than the original prophet.  Scholars can't be sure when they were written, or in what context, but they were probably placed in their present position soon after Zechariah was preaching.  These chapters form a theological reworking of the prophetic tradition, written to remind people that God's kingdom will not be established without pain and suffering in the fight against evil.
Malachi dates from about 460BC, shortly before the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which we will soon encounter.  'Malachi' is not a name, as such, but means 'my messenger'.  It is written in the form of questions and answers, as in a court of law, with God initially defending himself, then putting Israel on the defensive.

Hebrews 10 - 13

The preacher has spent several chapters talking about Jesus, and who he is.  In chapter 10, he moves onto telling people what their response should be – and it is worship.  Under the old dispensation, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies.  Now all have direct access to God through Jesus Christ.  Jesus moved from heaven to earth, so that all human beings could, with him, return to God.
He tells his listeners about the great cloud of witnesses, the prophets and the saints, people who despite suffering remained faithful.  And now they, his congregation, are to take their places in the chain of witnesses.
But the congregation are weary of the struggle to stay faithful, so the preacher reminds them that true faith is costly.  Focusing on the question as to why the Christian life is hard, the preacher draws their attention to Jesus' own suffering.  He also helps them to see that it is not meaningless suffering but God's discipline which will help them to share in his holiness.
Using the analogy of a race, the preacher wants them to carry on to the finish line, even if they are limping along.
Finally he ends by remind them about hospitality and ministry to those in need, and the need for them to act in the right way over money and sex.  They are to worship together and pray for each other.  Finally he blesses the people, and then exchanges greetings.

Proverbs 25

Wisdom for kings and their subjects, including advice against rash and hasty words, and advocating moderation and self-control.

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