The Bible is like one book. Therefore, Jesus’s Sermon On the Mount was not preached in a vacuum, but was connected with the Old Testament. “I have not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” he said. In fact, his teaching confirmed both. So it helps us understand the Beatitudes to read the Old Testament.
King David’s kingdom had split into two nations and each was sliding more and more into immorality and a disregard for God and their heritage. By 750 B.C., Assyria, with its capital, Nineveh, set the standard for life without God and was riding high in prosperity, arrogance, and immorality. What would God do?
He chose to speak through three unknowns, and mysteriously their messages were preserved and have been read through the centuries since. You can easily read each book in one sitting. Habakkuk, Jonah, and Zephaniah call for repentance and faith in a sovereign God who shows mercy and extends forgiveness. As you read them, think about how Jesus must have known these books, and possibly discussed their main points with the religious leaders when he was only twelve. Is this why he put such stress on being poor in spirit and mourning sin when He summed up his doctrine in the Sermon on the Mount? All three books remind us that God’s compassion and mercy reach out to all cultures and nations and are new every morning, refreshing us. Yet they illustrate for us His sure justice. Look what happened to Assyria; it was conquered by a coalition led by Babylon. Nineveh was spared under Jonah, but its very place lay desolate for over 2000 years until artifacts were discovered by British historians in the mid 1800’s. And, of course, the Northern Kingdom virtually disappeared until the Zionist return to Israel after World War II. These facts should motivate us to repentance and poverty of spirit because of our own sins since they are evidence of the sure judgment against sin.
I hope you will be blessed by taking the time to read these prophets in the light of our study of the Beatitudes. Those who think these books only apply to the nation of Israel are seriously in error!
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls–
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together,
O undesirable nation.
Before the decree is issued,
Or the day passes like chaff,
Before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you,
Before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you!
Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD’s anger (Zephaniah 2:1-3).
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it….’And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left–and much livestock?'(Jonah 3:10;4:11).
For the Children
See if you can find a copy of The Book of Jonah by Peter Spier. It was published in 1985 by Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan. His illustrations will help pre-school through elementary visualize life 600-700 years before Christ Jesus. He goes into much more depth than most children’s stories of Jonah. Apply the story to your child by explaining Jesus’s teaching in the Beatitudes on being poor in spirit and mourning for sin in repentance and faith. Ask pointed questions like: Do you have faith? Have you ever sinned? Show what repentance is by having child walk along, seeing an obstacle, and turning sharply away from it.
I hope we are all seeking humility and righteousness as we think about what it means to be poor in spirit, to mourn, and to be meek.