Congratulations, you are nearing completion of the Old Testament and 3/4 of your way through the Bible!
Historical note. In moving from Zephaniah to Haggai you have jumped seventy years from the beginning of the exile of the Jews (and the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC) to the return of the exiles from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Hence, the last three books of the Old Testament are called the “post-exilic prophets”, which is a phrase you can use at almost any social gathering and people will take notice.
Mountain peaks. The theme of Zephaniah is “the day of the Lord”. The day of the Lord usually refers to a cataclysmic judgment, and in reading the prophets one is not sure whether it is some calamity soon to come, like the fall of Jerusalem, or a great end-time, cosmic event. Students of the Bible sometimes call this the “mountain peaks of prophecy” or “telescoping” prophecy. [See graphic below.] For example, we may view in the distance what appears to us to be a single mountain peak, but as we get closer, or standing in the mountains, we see that our view was compressed and it is actually two or more peaks in a line. In the same way, the Old Testament prophets spoke of future events, some near, some far, which may appear to be compressed as one event, but actually there are periods between the events. They are very similar, but distinct. And often the nearer event is a foreshadowing of the more distant event.
What have we learned from the Prophets? What was the “gospel” of the OT prophets? Here are a few thumbnail highlights…
— the God of the Old Testament is not only the Creator, and the covenant God of Israel, but also the God of righteousness, who is glorified in his judgment as well as his mercy. He is both holy and just, as well as good, merciful, and gracious.
— God hates all idolatry and human injustice, whether among the nations or among his covenant people. He will bring judgment, both in time and at the end of history. All will come to know, whether in mercy or in judgment, that he alone is the Lord.
— Whoever turns from sin and seeks refuge in the Lord, calling upon his name, will be saved. Many from all nations will come to trust in the Lord, and to worship him, and to be joined to God’s people.
— At times there will be only a remnant of believers left, but God will preserve and restore his people, and bring them to their land under his glorious rule, with everlasting joy.
— There is One coming, a descendant of King David, about whom prophecies are given (some 60 major prophecies, such as, he will be born in Bethlehem, Micah 5), who will bring this glorious and righteous rule to God’s people, and who will judge the earth and fill the world with the glory and knowledge of God.
And now, after the book of Malachi is closed, there will be a prophetic silence for 400 years, …until we hear the soft voice of a baby cry in the night at Bethlehem, and soon, a voice of one calling in the wilderness…. “Prepare the way of the Lord!”