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dealing. Hosea had added the lesson of mercy,
and Isaiah the need of humility. Micah speaks
of all three of righteousness, mercy, and humility.
These are what the Lord requires of His children.



THE last chapters of the book of Micah, which
include the passage we have been last thinking of,
were probably written after the death of Hezekiah,
during a very sad time in the history of the Jews.
Manasseh, Hezekiah's son, had succeeded to the
throne on his father's death. He was not a good
or religious man, and had no sympathy with the
reformation which Hezekiah had carried out. All
the old idolatrous ways were restored ; and when
the prophets gave their message of warning and
judgment, Manasseh had them put to death. For
a long time no prophet appeared openly among
the people, though perhaps during the time of
suffering and persecution some prophetic writings


Nahum the Triumphant 73

were handed about among the faithful servants of
the true God, which helped to keep them brave
and strong. Possibly that very passage telling of
God pleading with His people was among these.

In this chapter we will consider three prophets,
who appeared some years after the close of this
sad reign. Their books are not very long, and
come one after the other in our Bible. Their
names are Nahum, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk.
We must not think that all the books of the
prophets are of equal importance. The four
which we have already considered contain more
and perhaps deeper teaching than the three just
named. But each one of the sixteen has received
some inspiration from God, and it is not by chance,
but by God's guiding, that their writings have come
down to us, in what has ^been called the * Divine
Library of the Old Testament.'

What then can we learn from the short prophecy
of Nahum ? We do not know much about the
prophet, nor even quite certainly where he was
living when he wrote his book. Perhaps he was
not living in Palestine at all, but in Nineveh, the

74 The Work of the Prophets

Assyrian capital, to which the northern Israelites
had been carried away captive a hundred years
before. Most of his book refers to Nineveh,
which was very soon going to be destroyed.
Perhaps you may wonder why we find this book
in our Bible, as it does not seem to contain much
direct teaching to the Jews, and through them to
us. But all through the writings of the prophets
we find mention of other nations. From Amos
onwards the prophets continually proclaim the
truth that all human affairs are under God's
guidance and control. The Assyrians for more
than a hundred years had been a danger and a
terror to God's people. They had oppressed
them, and taken tribute from them, and now
by the mouth of Nahum Judah utters her glad
rejoicing that the great power is itself to be
destroyed, and that the Lord Himself will do
it. What actually happened was that two other
powers, the Babylonians and Medes, besieged
Nineveh, and took it very suddenly. Perhaps
this was because the river Tigris rose unex-
pectedly, and ruined the outer walls, which helped

Nahum the Triumphant 75

the besiegers very much. The account of this
destruction which was coming upon Nineveh
occupies two of the three chapters. It is
interesting to read it, because it shews how
fully Nahum believed that it was God's doing,
and that the Assyrians had to be overcome because
of their cruelty and wickedness.

But it is in the first chapter that we find the
message to ourselves, for which we look in all
the books of the prophets. Nahum has faith
in God, and he knows that all things are in
His hands. He has a care for His people,
and He will destroy those who oppose Him.
He is all-powerful, and His cause must always
triumph in the end. The seventh verse is one
we should learn by heart, and it may come back
to us some day, when we want a word of cheer
and comfort. By-the-by, the name Nahum means
"consolation," or "comforter," and these words
of his correspond very well to his name

" The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble ;
And He knoweth them that put their trust in Him."

It does not make any difference to his message

76 The Work of the Prophets

whether we think of him as a descendant of
one of those Israelites who had been carried away
captive to Nineveh from the northern kingdom
a century before, or as a dweller in Judah, look-
ing forward to her freedom from oppressors.
" The Lord is good," he says we may safely
trust in Him ; He is " a stronghold in the day
of trouble." All things in heaven and earth are
subject to Him. Nothing can harm us, or separate
us from Him, but our own wrong-doing.

Nahum, unlike the other prophets about whom
we have read, says nothing about the sins of his
people. It seems as if he were thinking only of
God's power and goodness, and of the coming
deliverance from the Assyrians. Zephaniah, on the
other hand, has a solemn message of judgment to
deliver against the people of the Lord. God sends
him, as He had sent Amos and Hosea and Isaiah
and Micah, to rouse up the Israelites from being
careless and self-pleasing, contented with all that
went on around them, not thinking of God's
near presence. The reign of Manasseh was over,
and his grandson Josiah was now king, but there

Zephaniah the Stern 77

was still much idolatry in the land ; and those who
ought to have led the people by example and teach-
ing to better lives, the princes, the judges, the
prophets, the priests, were among the greatest
sinners. It is the worst thing that can happen
to a country when men like these fill the high
posts. We cannot wonder if the mass of ordi-
nary people go astray.

Zephaniah seems to speak of a special judgment
which will fall upon the guilty people. He was
probably referring to a terrible danger which was
threatening all western Asia, and had come near
to the borders of Judah. Suddenly, so it seems,
there had burst forth from the coasts of the Black
Sea, behind the mountains to the north, wild tribes
of horsemen. These barbarian invaders galloped
through the countries of Western Asia on their fast
horses, spreading desolation and death everywhere.
This invasion of the Scythians lasted for more than
twenty years. We can imagine how terrified the
dwellers in villages and small towns must have
been, on hearing the report of what these wild
heathen had done, of their killing men, women,

78 The Work of the Prophets

and children, destroying homes and crops, leaving
the land desolate as they went. As a matter of
fact, Judah escaped this awful calamity, but the
prophet Zephaniah saw the black cloud hanging
over the country, and thought it possible that
this might be the means God would employ to
punish His people.

His words are very stern, very severe, and
are intended to arouse the people to a know-
ledge of their state (i. 1 4- 1 6)

" The great Day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth
greatly, even the voice of the Day of the Lord : the mighty man
crieth there bitterly.

" That Day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a
day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,

"A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and
against the high battlements."

Do not the words roll out solemnly, like
a Dead March being played on an organ, or
slow rumblings of thunder, which prepare us
for a great storm about to burst ? Do you
feel impatient over this very serious bit of our
prophets, and anxious to go on to something

Zephaniah the Stern 79

you can better understand and make your own ?
But our time is not wasted if we try to enter
into what was in Zephaniah's mind. A nation
is like a family in this, that what some of the
members do, makes a difference to all the rest.
If the judgment was to fall upon the land, the
innocent children must suffer as well as the
sinful grown-up people. And we cannot learn
too early how much God hates sin, and how He
will do anything to win His people back to good-
ness, even though it means suffering to all the
nation. A very well-known Latin hymn, used for
funeral services, or on other solemn occasions, was
written on those verses of Zephaniah. In our
English hymn-books it begins

" Day of Wrath ! O day of mourning ! "

It was written by Thomas de Celano, who was
the companion of St. Francis of Assisi, in the thir-
teenth century, and wrote his life. In the Roman
Church it is called the " Dies Irae." It is interest-
ing to know how some of our Christian services
are thus linked on to this stern prophet of old.

8o The Work of the Prophets

Zephaniah speaks of the Lord as " searching
Jerusalem with lamps," to find out and punish
those who were contented with their old ways,
and thought God would take no notice of them,
that said in their heart, " the Lord will not do
good, neither will He do evil." He pictures
the Lord with a lantern in His hand, going
through the streets of Jerusalem, lighting up the
dark places, uncovering things which the people
would rather keep secret. It recalls the picture
we most of us know well, of our Lord with His
lantern standing outside a fast-closed door. And
this verse has made some artists paint pictures of
Zephaniah with a lantern in his left hand.

His book is not all full of rebuke and judg-
ments ; in the last chapter there are visions of
a purified Israel. After the judgment, when
they have suffered, and have learnt through
their sufferings, more about God and His ways,
" an afflicted and poor remnant " are to be left,
who will trust in the name of the Lord. It is
another of the comforting passages such as we
have read in Hosea and Isaiah and Micah

Zephaniah the Stern 81

" The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies j
Neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth j
For they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
Sing, O daughter of Zion ; shout, O Israel j
Be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
The Lord hath taken away thy judgments, He hath cast out thine

enemy :

The King of Israel, even the Lord is in the midst of thee ;
Thou shalt not fear evil any more.' 1

You should read to the end of the chapter, for this
passage is a great contrast to the stern message in the
earlier part of the book. It shews the blessed side
of the judgment ; the punishment must fall, but
the peace and contentment of which the prophet
speaks are not only because the suffering is over,
but because the remnant have learnt truth and
righteousness, and are good as well as happy. One
verse in the first chapter speaks of some who
" will be hid in the Day of the Lord's anger."
These are the meek and righteous, who have
sought the Lord when others have forgotten Him.
And the expression " will be hid " reminds us of
the meaning of Zephaniah's name, "Jehovah

Habakkuk is the third of the group of prophets


82 The Work of the Prophets

whom we are considering in this chapter. We
do not know exactly when he lived, but it was
probably about the same time as Nahum, when
Josiah was king of Judah, or possibly later. This
prophecy is different from most of those about
which we have been thinking, in the way in which
it is arranged. The words do not seem to come
as a direct message from God to His people by
the mouth of Habakkuk. They are in the form
of a dialogue between the Lord and His prophet,
in which first Habakkuk speaks, and then God
answers him.

Habakkuk is like Hosea, and like Jeremiah
(of whom we shall hear very shortly), in being
sad and sorrowful as he sees what things are going
on. First he sees wickedness and injustice, and
good people suffering at the hands of the wicked,
and he cries out to God to tell him how long
this will go on. The Lord answers that He will
raise up a nation to punish the wicked people
in Judah. These are the Chaldseans (or Baby-
lonians), who would before very long come to
Jerusalem and carry the people away captive to

Habakkuk the Watchman 83

the east, as their northern brethren had been
carried away by the Assyrians.

This is a fresh difficulty to Habakkuk.
He sees that God will use this nation as His
means for punishing His own people. But the
Chaldseans are more wicked and cruel than the
Jews. How then can the righteous God give
them the victory over His chosen people ?

The prophet longs for an answer to this
question. To describe his eagerness he says

" I will stand upon my watch,
And set me upon the tower,

And will look forth to see what He will speak with me,
And what I shall answer concerning my complaint.' 1

Do not these words remind us of the watchmen of
old standing on the fortress towers in war-time,
eagerly gazing out to see if succour is coming
from any direction ?

Habakkuk was not disappointed. The Lord
answered him and said

" Write the Vision, and make it plain upon tables,
That he may run that readeth it."

84 The Work of the Prophets

It was to be so clearly written that all might see
it. Even those running past would catch the
meaning, as we may from a large placard on the
wall. And what is the vision which Habakkuk
is to pass on to others ? This the Chaldaeans
were puffed up by pride and wickedness, and
though they were to be used as God's instruments
for a time, they would not endure, while

" The just shall live by his faithfulness."

This was the message of comfort. Those
who are righteous, trusting faithfully in God, have
the secret of eternal life. The faithful remnant,
of whom Isaiah and Zedekiah speak, will endure.
Perhaps Habakkuk wrote these words on a
tablet, and set it up in some public place, where
all could see. The prophets were often directed
by God to do acts like this, in order to attract
the people's attention. We have thought of the
meaning of two of the prophets' names, and the
meaning of this rather strange name is to " caress,"
or "embrace." Most probably it was given to
him as a child. But Luther says, " Habakkuk

Habakkuk the Watchman 85

means one who embraces or holds up his people
as one embraces a weeping person." And this
explanation gives us a beautiful thought about
this prophet's mission. His own doubts and
difficulties he took to God, and asked Him to
explain them. And in answer God gave him a
message, which not only comforted him, but
which he was to share with other sad hearts.

The third chapter of this short book is called
in our Bibles a prayer. But it is more like a
religious poem, or one of the psalms. It describes
God's power and glory, going forth for the salva-
tion of His people, and it ends with a triumphant
song of faith in God, whatever troubles and pri-
vations may come upon the believer

" Though the fig tree shall not blossom,
Neither shall fruit be in the vines }
The labour of the olive shall fail,
And the fields shall yield no meat ;
The flock shall be cut off from the fold,
And there shall be no herd in the stalls :
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation."

Our prophet's doubts and difficulties seem to

86 The Work of the Prophets

have quite passed away, and he knows that the
source of all joy and endurance is in the God of
salvation. He has looked out from his watch-
tower to see what God would say to him, and
not in vain. Nothing can shake him now. " The
just shall live by his faithfulness."





(From the Fresco by Michelangelo.




WE must now turn to the prophet Jeremiah,
who gives his name to one of the longest books
in the Bible. This book tells us more about the
prophet himself than any of the other propheti-
cal writings do. We know something about the
lives of Amos and Hosea, more about Isaiah, very
little indeed about Micah and Nahum, Zephaniah
and Habakkuk. But about Jeremiah we know a
great deal, and his history is very closely bound
up with the history of the nation through many
important years. The three prophets of whom
we were reading in the last chapter, lived and
prophesied in the seventh century before Christ,
about one hundred years later than our first four


88 The Work of the Prophets

prophets. And Jeremiah also lived in this century ;
we know exactly the year when he was first called
to his great work. It was in 626 B.C., when
King Josiah had been on the throne thirteen
years. The king was still quite a young man, and
he does not seem to have had much power to
turn his people to better ways. You will remem-
ber that, under Manasseh, Hezekiah's son, things
had gone from bad to worse in Judah. The next
king, Amon, only lived two years, and his son
Josiah was a child of eight years when he was
put upon the throne in 639 B.C. We know from
Zephaniah's short solemn prophecy how sinful
God's people were at this time, and of the judg-
ments that were coming upon them. It was
Jeremiah's hard task to live and prophesy to his
unrighteous countrymen for forty years, and to
see the doom fulfilled which the prophets before
him had foretold.

What kind of man was Jeremiah, and how
was he specially fitted for the great work which
God laid upon him ? Jeremiah was a man of
loving, sensitive, sympathetic disposition. He

Jeremiah the Steadfast 89

reminds us constantly of Hosea by the way in
which he feels the sorrows and sins of the people.
When God first calls him, he does not respond
like Isaiah, " Here am I : send me." Jeremiah
is diffident, self-distrustful ; he feels he is too
young, not equal to the great burden of preaching
righteousness and judgment to a people who will
not listen. His answer is, " Ah, Lord God !
behold I cannot speak : for I am a child." But
God always prepares us for the work He means
us to do. And so the Lord tells Jeremiah that
before he was born His divine purpose for him
was to send him as a prophet. He was not to
say " I am a child," but to go bravely forth to
carry God's messages. He would not speak in
his own strength. The Lord " touched his
mouth," and henceforth he knew that the voice of
God was speaking through him.

It was a very solemn commission, and Jere-
miah's was a life set apart for much suffering and
loneliness. He was to have no home life, no
wife and children to love and cherish. Year by
year he was to speak and write words of warning

90 The Work of the Prophets

and judgment, which the king and people did not
want to hear. His advice would be set aside, and
his life would often be in danger from his many
enemies. He was to see two kings in succession
carried away to captivity, and his own loved
Jerusalem and Solomon's temple destroyed ; and
finally he was to die in a foreign land. Does it
seems strange that God should send such suffering
upon His faithful servant ? There are martyrs
who witness to the truth by their lives, as well as
by their deaths, and Jeremiah is one of these.
And in spite of all his sorrows he is more to be
envied than those who disregarded or persecuted
him. His memory is handed down to us as the
brave prophet, who urged his people to listen to
God's words, and trust in Him, and who never
withheld the message with which he was en-

What was his special message through all those
forty years ? To learn that we ought to go through
the history from 626 B.C. to 586 B.C. The first
important event that happened was the discovery
in 621 of a " book of the law " in the Temple.

Jeremiah the Steadfast 91

This book was given by Hilkiah the priest to
Shaphan the scribe, and Shaphan read the book
before the king. Josiah was greatly struck by the
words of the book, which is probably what we have
in our Bibles under the name of Deuteronomy, or
the Second Law. The teaching of that book is very
much the same as the teaching of the prophets.
It rebukes the people for idolatry, and warns them
of the judgments which will fall upon them unless
they turn from their evil ways. Josiah's heart, we
read, was tender, and he humbled himself when
he heard God's message to him read from the
pages of the newly discovered book. And he set
himself to a religious reformation, in obedience to
the commands contained in the book. The idola-
trous worship was done away with, and the wicked
practices which went along with the idolatry were
put down. And the " high places " all over the
country, where the people had been used to offer
sacrifices, were destroyed, because the worship had
not been pure there. And now the people were
to come to Jerusalem only, for their public worship,
three times a year, for the three great feasts. All

92 The Work of the Prophets

this we think must have pleased Jeremiah at the
time. He saw once more a righteous king, doing
what was pleasing to God, and trying to help his
people to be good, and to offer pure worship.
But we do not read that Jeremiah took any active
part in the reformation. And indeed it seems as
if it had come too late to make a lasting difference
in the land. In the earlier part of his ministry, it
certainly seems as if there was still room for repent-
ance. God's message through him reminds us of
Hosea's words. Jeremiah says

" Thus saith the Lord, I remember for thee the kindness of thy
youth, the love of thine espousals ; how thou wentest after Me in the
wilderness, in a land that was not sown."

"Wilt thou not from this time cry unto Me, ' My Father, Thou
art the Guide of my youth ' ? "

"Return, thou backsliding Israel, I will not look in anger upon
you, for I am merciful, saith the Lord."

" Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord. . . . O Jerusalem, wash thine
heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved."

We might find more verses which speak of the
possibility that they might turn and be forgiven.

Jeremiah the Steadfast 93

But far the larger part of these prophecies, even
in the earlier part of the book, speak as sadly and
severely of the sins of the people as Amos or Isaiah
had spoken. What we feel, as we read one chapter
after another, is the bitterness of the prophet's
sorrow over the sins of his countrymen, or over
the punishment that must come upon them. And
from this we learn the tenderness of the Father's
heart towards those who do wrong. If His
servants the prophets feel so keenly, what must
the Lord feel, whose messengers they are ?

The judgment was drawing nearer and nearer.
Josiah, the righteous king, fell in battle against the
Egyptians at Megiddo, in 608 B.C. This seemed
to be the end of hope for the land. His son,
Jehoahaz, was put on the throne. But after
three months he was taken prisoner to Egypt.
And Pharaoh Necho, the Egyptian king, who was
now supreme ruler over Judah, placed Josiah 's
eldest son, Eliakim, on the throne, and changed his
name to Jehoiakim. We read much about Jeremiah
during the reign of Jehoiakim. After Josiah's
death, the people seem to have fallen back into

94 The Work of the Prophets

idolatry. Some openly gave up their faith in
God, and others tried by offering more and more
sacrifices to win back God's favour, forgetting
those great words of Samuel's, " To obey is better
than sacrifice," or of Micah's, " What doth the
Lord require of thee ? "

Jeremiah goes on preaching, giving God's
message without ceasing, in spite of the in-
difference with which it is listened to. This often
brings him into danger. On one occasion we
read (in the twenty-sixth chapter) when he had
been prophesying the destruction of the temple
and city, the priests and the prophets wanted to
put him to death. But Jeremiah boldly declared
that the Lord had sent him to utter these words,
and to call upon them to amend their ways and
their doings, and to obey the voice of the Lord.
He knew he was in their power, but he reminded
them that if they put him to death they would
bring innocent blood upon Jerusalem and its in-
habitants. The scene would make a fine picture
the brave prophet, standing before his enemies,
alone against many, strong in the knowledge that

Jeremiah the Steadfast 95

he was God's messenger, and believing even yet
that repentance might save them. Does it remind
you of another prophet, of New Testament times,
Stephen, the first martyr for the Christian faith,
boldly confronting his accusers, reminding them of
their own and their fathers' sins ?

" Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost : as your
fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did
not your fathers persecute ? and they killed them

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