During 2016, apart from reading 1 Samuel and Ezra, we spent almost all of our time in the New Testament. This month we turn back to the Old Testament, to read the prophecies of Habakkuk and Zephaniah.
Wednesday 1st March
We know nothing about Habbakuk, except what we find in this letter. We do not know his genealogy or anything about his call from God to prophesy. It is clear, however, that he is prophesying in the southern kingdom of Judah. In 1:5 we’re told that the Babylonians were soon to attack. This dates the book at around 600BC and would mean that Habbakuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah. In other words, he was writing at a time when God was going to use the invading Babylonians to punish his own chosen people for their disobedience and sin and the nation was now heading for destruction. This context is important in understanding the prophecy.
Give thanks for the success of the new arrangement whereby we have two Prayer Meetings every Wednesday and have between 40 and 50 people praying each week.
Thursday 2nd March
The main thrust of this book is that the prophet is putting God in the dock for not acting on behalf of his chosen people. He asks a series of questions which challenge God’s justice. Habbakuk complains that he has cried out to God and pointed out all kinds of injustice and evil but that God has done nothing about it. God has not listened and not answered. The prophet is clearly angry with God for not intervening. He is not the only one to blame God for lack of intervention. In Jeremiah 12:1-4 we find the same complaint against God. The people of God are suffering, why doesn’t their God do something about it. In verses 3-4 the prophet outlines all of the troubles he is experiencing. He demands that God answer him.
Pray for the Girls’ Brigade Divisional meeting tonight amid continuing concerns over some decisions made at national level regarding succession planning.
Friday 3rd March
As we read these verses, perhaps we find ourselves in the same frame of mind as the prophet. Are there circumstances in our lives which we do not understand? Have we experienced troubles which we think we did not deserve? Do we wonder about God’s justice when evil people seem to do better in this life than believers? Perhaps we feel that we have been treated badly by God despite our faith in him. Certainly there are Christians who have suffered a great deal in this life. If we have ever had thoughts like these, then we are perfectly in tune with the prophet Habbakuk, although we should know that his attitude will have changed by the end.
Today is the World Day of Prayer and the Inverness meeting takes place in our church this morning. Pray that a good number will come and also that there will be a good response in many places across the country.
Saturday 4th March
In these verses, God gives an answer to Habbakuk’s complaint. The Babylonians (or Chaldeans in some translations) are going to be used by God to punish his own people for their sin. All we have to do to understand God’s anger against his people is to read 1 and 2 Kings or 1 and 2 Chronicles or the Book of Judges. Both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah persistently turned away from God, only to worship other gods. Their actions were evil and they did not follow the commandments of God. Now the time has come for judgement. In case there be any doubt as to the origins of the judgement, God says, ‘I am going to do something’ and ‘I am raising up the Babylonians’. The Babylonians may be the immediate concern but they have been sent by God.
Pray for Fraser and Dawn Jackson in Nigeria, as they consider a possible move to another sphere of service. Pray for their son James as he takes exams prior to entering university.
Sunday 5th March
The fact that God is sending the Babylonians against his own people raises another complaint from Habbakuk in these verses. How can a righteous God use godless pagans to execute his purpose? Having described the ruthless evil of the Babylonians in verses 14-17, the question is left hanging. The same question had been raised a century earlier in Isaiah 45:1-10, when God used the pagan king Cyrus to punish his people. Interestingly, Isaiah 45:9 was used by Paul in Romans 9:20 to make the point that human beings have no right to challenge what God does. He is the sovereign Lord and may do as he pleases. God is not obliged to conform to what we think he should do.
Pray for both services in church today and for the Raigmore service. Pray for God’s blessing on all who attend and pray that they will be receptive to God’s Word.
Monday 6th March
Habbakuk, having made his complaint, says that he will not wait to receive an answer from God. He will not easily be satisfied because he has raised serious questions. How can a good God allow evil in the world? How can a holy God use pagan nations against his own chosen people? From our perspective, it might seem a risky business to debate with God over his actions but the prophet is undeterred. He believes that he knows something of the character of God and what he is seeing around him does not make sense in the light of that knowledge. Perhaps we have sometimes struggled to understand the character of God in the light of the world’s events. Why would God do that? and Why would God allow that? are common questions on the lips of believers.
Pray for the Kirk Session corporately and for each elder individually. Pray especially for your own district elder. Ask that God would help them in the pastoral care of the congregation.
Tuesday 7th March
Habbakuk is told to write down God’s answer to his questions and the word ‘revelation’ is used. God says that the revelation will inevitably come true and that Habbakuk should wait for God’s Word and trust in it, for it will certainly come to pass in due course. There is a wider issue here regarding God’s revelation through his prophets and apostles. The Scriptures as we have them today are an accumulation of all the revelation that God has given through his servants. That revelation is true and can be trusted. Some of it has already come to pass, some of it is yet to be fulfilled but when God speaks, it must be believed. After all, without revelation from God we could not be sure of anything.
Pray for Inverness Presbytery meeting this evening. Pray for the Moderator, David Scott and all who will give reports.
Wednesday 8th March
In these verses we have an important statement which God speaks through Habbakuk, ‘the righteous will live by his faith’ (verse 4). This verse was later used by Paul to provide an explanation as to how human beings can enter into a right relationship with God. To understand that, we must turn to Romans 1:17: ‘For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”’. As Paul went on to explain in the next few chapters of Romans, this means that only by faith can we be justified before God. Faith in Jesus Christ places us in a new relationship with God whereby our sins are forgiven, we are born again and granted the gift of eternal life.
Pray for those in the congregation who are ill and for those who are undergoing hospital treatment. Pray too for those who care for them.
Thursday 9th March
God makes it clear in his reply to Habbakuk that the Babylonians themselves will not escape God’s judgement. They would be used to discipline Judah but in turn they too would be judged. Some have argued that Habbakuk’s complaints are about an understanding of history and whether the events of this life are random or controlled. God’s answer makes it clear that he is in control of history. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it like this: ‘The essential principle is that history can be understood only in terms of God’s kingdom – that is, the rule of God in the world as a whole and including the Church’. As verse 14 indicates, God will triumph and righteousness will be vindicated.
Pray for the Senior Citizens’ lunch today at Raigmore and ask that the message will be heard, understood and believed.
Friday 10th March
We read this long section again today because, from verse 6 to verse 20, the prophet pronounces five ‘woes’ which, taken together, describe the doom which will befall the wicked. There is a woe against aggression (6-8); a woe against self-righteousness (9-11); a woe against violence (12-14); a woe against inhumanity (15-17) and a woe against idolatry (18-20). No-one should be in any doubt that the wicked will be punished. We might sum up the message here like this: as we look out upon the world, it seems as if the wicked prosper and evil is dominant and uncontained. It also seems as if the faithful are often persecuted and suffer harm. Despite this, we are to be reassured that God will put things right in the end.
Pray for Open Doors today asking that everyone who comes in will feel welcomed and valued. Pray that help and encouragement might be given to those in need. Pray too for the Minister as he speaks at ‘Prospects’ tonight.
Saturday 11th March
In these verses, we are given a contrast between idols and God. The nations of the world make and bow down before idols but the Lord God, the creator, is the only one who has real existence and power. The prophet Isaiah also poked fun at the makers of idols (44:12-19). After all, how can something a man made, be a god who can help him? The key point here is that there is only one true and living God and ‘all the earth’ must be silent before him. We live in a world where people mock God and mock believers but a day is coming when he will be revealed in all his holiness and power. No-one will mock on that day.
Pray for all the young people from our church who are working away from home and those who are attending college or university. Pray that the Lord will keep them close to himself.
Sunday 12th March
When we began to look at Habakkuk, we saw a prophet who was deeply upset at what was happening and complaining to God concerning his justice. As we come to the end of the prophecy, we see a different man. These verses demonstrate that the prophet came through his experience to a new and stronger faith in God. There is all the difference in the world between the Habakkuk of chapter 1 and the Habakkuk of chapter 3. At the beginning he cries out in anger and despair but at the end he gladly affirms his faith. It was, perhaps, inevitable that he would come through to this, because even as he complained it was obvious that he knew and understood the nature of God. In 1:12-13 he refers to the fact that God is eternal, holy, almighty, faithful and hates evil.
Pray for the Minister taking the morning service and the Raigmore service today. Pray for the Rev. D.A. Maclennan taking the Gaelic service this afternoon. Pray also for Derek Morrison taking the evening service.
Monday 13th March
In these verses, Habakkuk looks forward to the destruction of the Babylonians. He is, as it were, looking beyond the imminent disaster to the forthcoming judgement of God and the rehabilitation of the righteous remnant. We have an advantage here. We can look beyond the Babylonian captivity and remember how God brought his people back to their own land. We know the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah and the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. Could it be that God’s judgement is falling upon church and nation in our day? Should we, like Habbakuk, be looking beyond that judgement to the day when God will return in power? In other words, trusting in the God whose nature we know and trusting that he will not abandon us for ever, should we be looking beyond the present crisis instead of being caught up in it?
Pray for Jim Fraser, our organist and for Muriel and Myra who assist when required. Pray too for the Music Group who share in leading our worship.
Tuesday 14th March
Despite his restored faith in God, Habbakuk was afraid, as we see in verse 16: ‘I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.’ Faith does not mean that we are never afraid. As Lloyd-Jones says, ‘To see the truth and understand God’s will is one thing – we may still tremble.’ Habakkuk faced a war and defeat. He was afraid but he knew that God was sovereign. It is only when we begin to doubt the sovereignty of God that our fear becomes sinful. We must hold to the sovereignty of our God. We must not easily be led into despair.
Pray for the Girls’ Brigade and for its faithful team of officers. Pray for the girls who attend and ask that they might grow up to follow the Saviour.
Wednesday 15th March
These are wonderful verses. We should read again 1:1-4 and compare it with what we read here. The prophet has moved from doubt to faith. He recognises that God is in control of his world and he will accept whatever comes his way without complaint. Before he would only trust in God if everything went well for him, now he trusts God even if everything goes wrong. This is true faith, a faith which endures. Habakkuk has been on a pilgrimage from despair to faith and he is now where he should be. Habakkuk reassures us that God is sovereign even when everything seems to be militating against that conclusion. It persuades us that everything is not as bad as it seems, and it reassures us that there is always a remnant – even in the darkest days – God has never left himself without a witness.
Pray for Beechwood and Cameron House, the two Church of Scotland centres in Inverness. Give thanks for the staff who work in these places and pray for the residents with their different needs.
Thursday 16th March
These verses are very powerful and we cannot help but be impressed by the change which has come over Habbakuk between writing his first complaint and making the astonishing statement in these verses. It should lead us to ask some questions of ourselves. Do we have that same faith in God which Habbakuk had? Or is our faith only strong when everything is going well? We walk by faith but how would we could cope if everything went badly wrong in our lives? The story of Job is a case in point. He lost everything but maintained a strong faith and trust in the Lord,
Pray for the Gathering today. Pray that those who come may find it to be an enjoyable time of fellowship and pray for June McGowan and the other helpers.
Friday 17th March
Having noted yesterday that the challenge of this book is to live by faith, here the prophet helps us to see where his strength came from. He writes, ‘The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights’. This is very important. If we try to live through troubles times in our own strength, then we shall fail. If, on the other hand, we live the life of faith in the Lord’s strength, we shall prevail. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul testifies to the fact that God’s strength saw him through: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength’.
Pray for Bob Matheson and the Open Doors team today. Pray that some who come might find Christ.
Saturday 18th March
The prophet Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah, which makes him a contemporary of Habbakuk and Jeremiah, also prophesying to the southern kingdom of Judah. Before Josiah things had reached an all-time low in Judah, morally and spiritually but Josiah was instituting reforms and calling the people to obey God’s law. Zephaniah was in tune with this change of direction and supported it. Zephaniah prophesied in Jerusalem and the state of the city led him to make some serious statements about the wrath and judgement of God. The nation had just been through the reign of the evil king Manasseh and Josiah had much to do.
Pray for the work of the Scottish Bible Society. Pray for the Chief Executive Elaine Duncan and all her team. Pray that the current programme to give away thousands of free Gospels might be effective in reaching people for Christ.
Sunday 19th March
Here we find a statement of universal judgement. God indicates that, as the sovereign Lord, he has the right and authority to carry out judgement across the whole earth. That is why some of this is in the first person, as God speaks, ‘I will sweep away’. Zephaniah is making it very clear that when disaster comes upon Judah it is not because their enemies were stronger or more skilled in battle, it is because their own God is judging them. God promises that he will not hold back. Although Josiah was a good, reforming king, it is too late. Such has been the sin of Judah, that judgement is inevitable and will come soon. This is a striking beginning to the prophecy.
Pray for the Minister taking both services in church today and for Alex Stephen taking the Raigmore service. Pray too for the Sunday School and for the Ark Sunday club.
Monday 20th March
The judgement was to begin in Jerusalem, the city of David. The nation of Judah was to be cleansed of all evil and false worship. Some of the people had been worshipping Baal and Molech, while others had been worshipping the sun, moon and stars. All of this would be swept away in the coming judgement. Notice, however, that as well as these very obvious sins, there was to be judgement even on those who had not worshipped other gods. As we read in verse 6, judgement would also come on ‘those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor enquire of him’. We might say that we have never worshipped other gods but have we turned away from the Lord, have we not enquired of him?
Pray for the meeting of the Council of Assembly in Edinburgh today and pray for the Minister as he travels to take part in that meeting.
Tuesday 21st March
The judgement of God was also to fall on the leaders of the nation, both civil and religious. They were the ones who had led the people astray and they would pay the price. This included princes and those who followed the ways (and dress) of the pagan nations (verse 8). It also included those who filled temples with false gods (verse 9) and also those who were complacent and didn’t believe that God would judge (verses 12-13). The judgement on the leaders of the nation is significant. The leaders of church and state are answerable to God for their actions. No nation will be blessed by God when its rulers pass wicked laws and its churchmen deny the truths of Scripture.
Pray for Christian Aid and TEAR Fund and the other relief agencies who do their work in Christ’s name. Grant that their work and their witness will be effective.
Wednesday 22nd March
Zephaniah predicts the judgement of God and insists that it will be sudden and terrible. He is referring to that terrible day when the Babylonians would invade and destroy Judah. On that day, no-one will be save. The judgement will be universal and those who trust in their money will find that it is of no use to them (verse 18). This passage might also be read as a prophetic statement about the Day of the Lord, meaning God’s final judgement. Jesus himself described the judgement which will follow his second coming (see Matthew 25). Also, the language of suddenness reflects the language of Jesus, when he said that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. In other words, although these words of the prophet spoke to a specific historical situation, they might also speak to a day which lies ahead, and for which we need to be prepared.
Pray for Kathleen Mackinnon and Agnes Chisholm as they begin to develop a Pastoral Care team to support the Minister and the other elders.
Thursday 23rd March
Zephaniah now calls people to repent and offers them a way to avoid the coming judgement. This is reminiscent of Isaiah 1:18-20: ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken’. In other words, sinners must flee the wrath to come. This is a word for our day too. Our society is full of sin, filth and darkness and men and women glorify in their pollution instead of turning from it. We must call people to repentance before it is too late and we must examine our own hearts too.
Pray for the meeting of the Deacons’ Court tonight and pray for wisdom in all the business to be considered.
Friday 24th March
The remainder of chapter 2 is given over to specific prophecies against the surrounding nations. He begins with Philistia, which lay to the west of Judah. The judgement of God would leave them desolate and their land would become a place for sheep instead of proud cities. Their land would be given to Judah instead, when the Lord restored their fortunes. Here we have something about a remnant of Judah which will survive and return to the devastated land to rebuild. God never totally destroys his people, there is always a covenanted remnant.
Pray for the Male Voice Festival this week-end, asking that the words, the music and the message will draw men and women to Christ.
Saturday 25th March
Now Zephaniah turns to prophesy against Moab and Ammon. These were the nations on the eastern side of Judah. As John Carson says, they were ‘both Semitic in origin and descended from Lot (cf. Gen. 19:36-38)’. In verse 9 there is reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, often used as a byword for sinful excess. As Carson says, ‘In the present context the reference is all the more apt because of the connection of Lot with these nations’. God will judge these people in order to vindicate his own name, in order to vindicate his own people and in order to destroy the false gods whom they worshipped.
Pray for the many vacant churches throughout the country and pray that God would raise up a new generation of ministers to serve the Church of Scotland.
Sunday 26th March
The prophet turns south to condemn Ethiopia and then turns to declare God’s judgement on Assyria. Assyria was a powerful nation who on many occasions had been at war with both Israel and Judah. It was a fierce enemy and very powerful. It was also a proud enemy which regarded itself very highly. The substance of Zephaniah’s prophecy is that when God’s judgement falls there will be nothing left of this proud people because God will bring it to nothing. No individual or nation can stand against God. There can only be one outcome in such a contest: God will triumph. All of these prophecies serve to remind us that we too must one day stand before this God.
Pray for the services in church today, to be taken by the Minister and pray for Donald MacVicar as he takes the Raigmore service. Pray too for the Youth Fellowship and for Andrew and Liz as they lead.
Monday 27th March
Having spoken against the nations all round Judah, the prophet now focusses in on the city of Jerusalem itself. The city is described in these terms: ‘she obeys no-one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God’. Could that not be said of most of the people of Scotland today? The leaders come in for specific condemnation: ‘Her officials are roaring lions, her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law’. The tragedy is that this was the city and the nation which God had set apart for himself. He had provided them with everything they needed and had blessed them in every way. Our nation has been similarly blessed by God in the past but look at her now!
Pray for the Minister as he takes the Assembly at Raigmore School today.
Tuesday 28th March
In marked contrast to the sins of Jerusalem and its leaders, the Lord has remained the same. He is righteous and he does no wrong (verse 5). Every day he dispenses his justice but it has no effect on the wicked, who continue to go their own way. Once again, we have reference in verse 8 to the day when God will assemble the nations before him and deliver his judgement upon them. God says, ‘The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger’. All of this should be an antidote to the wrong view of God which many have (even within the church). Yes, God is love but it is a holy love which hates sin and will ultimately destroy sinners who do not turn to him.
Pray for the Word at One service today. Pray that the time of worship and the fellowship over lunch may be a blessing to those who attend.
Wednesday 29th March
There is a change in Zephaniah’s prophecy at this point. He has spoken his words of judgement and now he speaks of the victory of God and the triumph of righteousness over evil. He looks beyond the imminent attack of the Babylonians and speaks of the day which is coming when a holy and faithful remnant will live in a new Jerusalem and will no longer be proud and sinful. Instead, they will be humble and trust in the Lord. This refers to the return to Judah after the Exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. That was to be a glorious day. The remnant will have nothing to fear and no-one will make them afraid.
Pray for former Probationers: Ross Macaskill, Scott McRoberts and Dougie Wolf. Pray especially for Dougie in these first few weeks in Barvas.
Thursday 30th March
On the coming day of blessing in the new Jerusalem, the Lord will exercise his kingship over his own people. He will protect them from their enemies, provide for all their needs and offer them security and peace. Even more than that, he will take pleasure in his people again, the people who had so upset him. Verse 17 sums up this change of heart: ‘The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing’. Here we see the people of God enjoying the love and favour of their God. Previously, sin had driven a wedge between God and his people but that had been dealt with and peace was restored. Now they would know the full blessing of the God who loved them and, in time, would send his Son to die for them.
Pray for the Minister as he speaks at a conference in Holland today, on the subject of his recent book.
Friday 31st March
These verses speak of the day when God would draw the remnants of his people together again, especially those who had suffered or been persecuted. God says to them, ‘At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes’. This probably refers to the return after Exile but prophetically it can be taken to refer to that great and final day when God’s people will all be gathered together before his throne with the lamb at the centre of the throne, for the great marriage feast and the beginning of an eternity in the presence of God.
Pray for Dolly Coventry who retires today as Minister’s Secretary. Give thanks for all her work on behalf of the church and pray that she and Steve will enjoy their retirement.