Passages from the various prophetic writings this week all deal with God’s judgment of sin – the sin of his own people who have chosen to disobey His law and worship idols, and the sin of the surrounding nations who refuse to acknowledge God. The following map from the NIV Study Bible shows how the prophets were somewhat localized in their areas of influence, hence some overlap in the content of their writings. Some were called by God to preach to Israel, some to Judah, and some to both.
In the historical timeline, these writings all fall around the transition of regional power from Assyria to Babylon. The Assyrians have taken control of as much of the territory as they are able and their power is waning.
Meanwhile, the Babylonians are rapidly gaining strength and are taking over the territory controlled by the Assyrians.
The book of Habakkuk is an interesting look at the struggles the prophets often had. They got a glimpse of God’s plans and sometimes experienced frustration at how they thought God was handling things. Habakkuk has a series of conversations with God in which he asks why God doesn’t do something about the evil brought on the Israelites by the Assyrians. God replies,
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. (Habakkuk 1:5-6)
This is not the answer Habakkuk wanted to hear! The Chaldeans (Babylonians) did not represent an improvement over conditions associated with Assyrian rule. Habakkuk complains that it is not fair for God to use unrighteous, evil people to exact judgment against His own people, idolatrous as they are. God then promises that the Babylonians will ultimately receive judgment for their own arrogance and injustice. Habakkuk then replies in faith,
I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:16-18)
He submitted to God’s wisdom and chose to trust Him no matter what happens.
Jeremiah is one of the major (longer book) prophets. He is sometimes referred to as the “weeping” prophet because, like Habakkuk, he is in such anguish over the extent of God’s judgment on His people. At one point he writes (Jeremiah 8:18-21, technically from next week’s readings)
My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me. Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” “Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images and with their foreign idols?” “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.
Jeremiah is a prophet whose ministry lasted for almost 60 years and included a lot of visual object lessons. Look at this chart about those visual lessons.