Those Who Speak for God: Household Studies on the Minor Prophets
Jan Adams-Williams, Judy McMillian, Milo Thornberry
- Prophets: Marching To a Different Drummer
- Amos: Let Justice Roll Down
- Hosea: Love That Won't Let Go
- Micah: What Does The Lord Require?
- Zephaniah: The Day Of The Lord
- Habakkuk: Waiting For Answers
- Haggai: The Temple And Shalom
- Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet
- Malachi: Covenant Living
Neither esoteric soothsayers nor quaint eccentrics from the past are the Old Testament "Minor Prophets," but voices whose searing words about integrity between faith professed and faith lived, between doing justice and faithfulness, are as timely--and irritating--in the twentieth century as they were in ancient Israel. Households willing to invest a little time and effort can enable children and other family members to discover that these voices have meaning for today.
'Those Who Speak for God' has been prepared by Alternatives for the Presbyterian Office of Women as a supplement to the Presbyterian Women's 1984-85 study, A Contemporary Message from the Past: Themes of Judgment and Hope in the Minor Prophets. This supplement is designed for use by adults and children, to be used by itself or along with the Women's study book.
Participants in the study: The participants may consist simply of a family living in one household. The group could also include others from the community, such as an elderly neighbor, another family, a single person, a homeless individual who takes refuge in a night shelter or a refugee from another country.
Scheduling: After deciding who the family will be, schedule a regular time to meet. Since calendars tend to fill up quickly, this will ensure that all family members will be present for the studies. Plan for the sessions to be an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
Preparing: Review all of the materials well in advance. Prior to each session read the scripture passages and collect anything needed for that session. If possible, collect enough Bibles for each person to have one. Choose one person to be leader for all sessions or rotate leadership within the family.
1. To understand what it meant to be a prophet.
2. To learn who the minor prophets were.
3. To understand how prophets fit sequentially into the Bible story.
1. Write these names on index cards (Creation, Abraham, Moses, prophets, Jesus, the present).
2. Write these names on name tags (Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Haggai, Jonah, Malachi.) These will be worn by each person in the family each session. The person whose prophet is studied that session will get to wear a prophet costume and have special activities to do. There may be too many names. One person can be more than one prophet during the series. If you have more in the group than names of prophets, just repeat a few prophet names and let more than one person share the role.
1. Bible for all if possible. Several translations make it very interesting.
2. Prophet names - straight pins.
3. Names on index cards.
5. Towel, scarf.
Before beginning each family session, it is important to "check in" as a way to bring the group together. Today, ask each person to say what color they feel like at that moment and briefly tell why.
Before each session begins, the family will listen as one person reads the introduction aloud. These first person narrations are intended to provide background information about the prophet and the period. Although based on what is known about the prophet, the narrations are not quotations from the Bible. The introduction to the first session will give general information about the prophets. Have one group member read the following to the group:
Grumpy old men announcing their visions of doom and destruction is a way we often think about the Old Testament prophets. But it is not an entirely true picture. They were not always grumpy, old or always thinking about the future.
The word "prophet" in Hebrew simply means "one who speaks for God." In those days, there were fortune tellers and soothsayers who tried to foretell the future for kings and other powerful people, but who nearly always said what would please those in power. The prophets, whose writings are included in the Old Testament, were a unique band of people who knew that they represented not kings or powerful people, but the Lord of history. The "Minor Prophets" make up the last twelve books of the Old Testament. They differ from the "Major Prophets" - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel - only in that their writings are shorter.
The prophets thought a lot about the past, about how God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; how God freed the Hebrew people when they were slaves in Egypt, how God had led them through the forty years in the wilderness to their home in the Promised Land; how God had stayed with them through thick and thin. But as the prophets watched the people respond to God's faithfulness by ignoring God's commandments, worshipping other gods, or imagining that by making sacrifices and singing songs God would overlook their not treating other people right, the prophets not only got grumpy but downright angry.
It was then that they talked about the future, with their visions about what was going to happen because of the people's unfaithfulness to God. No wonder they were unpopular with so many people. But for those who listened long enough, they could hear the prophets say that God's anger would not last forever, that the people would again be restored.
Those who speak for God are the prophets. Because God does not ignore even the smallest injustice, neither do the prophets. Because God cares deeply for the poor, weak and outcast, so do the prophets. Because God does not accept worship or sacrifice as substitutes for doing justice, neither do the prophets. Because God is Lord of history, prophets not only judge but offer hope.
1. Leader says, "Contrary to what many people believe, prophets were not primarily future tellers. They spoke for their own time calling the people back to their covenant with God. A covenant is an agreement between two parties (individuals or groups). It could also be an agreement between the people and God. In a covenant each party has certain responsibilities. Let's look at two passages that will help us understand God's covenant with the Hebrew people."
a. Look up the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 17:1-8. Help children to find the passage. Let several people read the verses if there are several translations. Ask: "In this covenant, what did God promise? What did God ask of the people?"
b. Look up the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-18. Ask someone to read the passage. Ask: "What was God's part in the covenant?" (See verse 1.) "What were the obligations of the people?"
2. Show the group where the prophets are located in the Bible, right at the end of the Old Testament. Let all find the prophets. Close Bibles and see who can find the section first. Do this several times, making a game of it.
1. Place the index cards previously prepared on the floor or table. Explain that the cards represent important times in the Bible. Let different people try to place them in order. Give each person a card and ask them to hold their card and form a line in order with Creation on one end and Present on the other.
Say, "We are also part of the covenant God made with the Hebrew people. What do you think it means for us to live according to the covenant today?" Let any who want to share do so. Then say, "Through our study of the prophets we will be learning more about the covenant, what God expected of the people in the time of the prophets and what God expects of us now."
2. Pass out the set of prophet names, one to each person and let each person say his/her name. Have different people practice saying the names. Have them find their prophet in the Bible. Explain that that is the name each person in the family will go by during the study sessions. Each person gets to dress up like a prophet when their prophet is studied. We will study eight of the Minor Prophets.
LIGHT THE CANDLE: Turn the lights down each session and choose someone to read the prayer.
PRAYER: O God, throughout history you have made covenants with your people. Because we find it easy to forget the covenant, you have raised up prophets to remind us. Forgive our forgetfulness and help us to discover what it means to be faithful to the covenant in our time. Amen.
1. To understand that Amos, a poor person himself, was God's spokesperson for the poor and oppressed.
2. To discover ways that we can bring about justice in today's world.
3. To discuss some modern day prophets who exhibit some of Amos' characteristics.
1. Read Amos and today's session.
2. Gather materials listed below.
1. Gather a costume for "Amos" to wear: towel, bathrobe, sandals, scarves. Remind the person whose prophet is to be studied to come dressed as the prophet. Do this each session. Be sure that each person wears his/her prophet name tag during each session.
2. Collage materials: newsprint (large sheet) or several pieces of construction paper taped together, scissors, markers, glue and old magazines.
3. Candle and Bibles.
1. Have everyone put on their prophet name tags.
2. Gather the family together. Ask each person to share the best thing that has happened since the last meeting. Encourage brevity.
Let the person who is Amos read the following:
I was tending my sheep in the hill country of Judah (sometimes called the "Southern Kingdom") when the Lord called me across the border to Israel (the "Northern Kingdom") to prophesy. I told God that I wasn't a prophet, but only a shepherd and farmer. Oh, I knew what things were like over there, and I didn't like it. But what could I do?
I didn't even know the words I would say as I walked toward Bethel that day in 850 B.C. It was a feast day and everybody would be at the ancient altar. People looked at my dirty sheepskin clothes as I entered town and could tell I was a stranger. The rich people were all dressed up in their best clothes. I didn't see many poor people. Since they didn't have money to buy animals to sacrifice at the altar, they stayed away. I could see some of them looking at me from darkened doorways, wondering who I was and why I was out in the streets with the rich. They looked hungry and fearful.
I came to a corner not far from the altar where a lot of people were standing around talking and laughing. They all looked at me when I began to speak in a loud voice that God would punish Israel's old enemies, and I named them one by one. Some of the people even began to cheer. But when I said that God was also angry with them and would punish them because they mistreated the poor, they became very silent. Their silence turned to boos when I suggested that all of their sacrifices and worship at the altar didn't make God happy. The crowd had grown quite large and I was getting scared. I could see that Amaziah, the high priest of the altar, had joined the crowd. I could also see that he was angry. When I continued and said that God cared a lot more about how they treated the poor than how they worshipped, Amaziah came through the crowd and told me to stop speaking. He told me to go back home. They didn't want to hear what God had sent me to say.
Divide the family into two groups: the "rich group" and the "prophet group." Explain that in Israel at the time of Amos the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer. The rich were taking advantage of the poor people. Explain that the problem of being rich is not in having money, but in being unconcerned, uncaring and uninvolved with the poor.
Let the "rich group" read and act out Amos 4:1 and Amos 6:4-6. Then let the "prophet group" give Amos' response to the rich by reading aloud Amos 5:11-12 and Amos 8:4-7.
Then ask "How did it feel to be rich?" "How did it feel to be a prophet?" "What are some ways that those of us who have money can become more concerned for and more involved with the poor?"
1. Explain that Amos was calling the people back to justice, which means having a right relationship to God as well as with their neighbors (especially the poor and oppressed). Read Amos 5:24. Explain that the family will make a rolling water collage. Each person is to cut out magazine pictures of water and people making justice happen: worshipping, praying, feeding the poor, protecting the weak, helping the sick or handicapped, or any other acts of justice one might find. Glue the pictures onto the large sheet of paper and write the biblical verse Amos 5:24 at the top. Discuss the pictures with the children as they cut and glue. You may want to hang this picture in a visible spot during the week.
2. Explain that Amos probably gave only one sermon and was then run out of town because he made those in power very angry. They liked things the way they were. Ask, "What did Amos say that made the people so mad? Why do you think they chased him out of town?" Explain that prophets were often unpopular because they disturbed and challenged the ways that people were living. Ask: "Who are some modern day prophets who have challenged people by calling for justice? What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? Gandhi? Sojourner Truth? Others? Why were they so unpopular with many people? What happened to them?"
LIGHT THE CANDLE: Turn the lights down, light the candle and let the person who was Amos read Amos 4:13. Sit quietly for a minute or two.
PRAYER: O God, it must be very lonely being a prophet. You must have' given Amos a lot of courage to go by himself to Bethel and speak your word to those like "well-fed cows", who mistreat the weak and oppress the poor. Give us the courage to hear the words you speak to us through your prophet Amos. Amen.
To understand Hosea's message that God continues to love and pursue us in spite of our unfaithfulness.
1. Read Hosea and today's session.
2. Gather materials listed below.
1. Costume for Hosea and name tags.
2. Clay or play dough (recipes for home-made salt and flour clay are easily available)
1. Have everyone put on their prophet name tag.
2. Name a person that has been kind and loving to you the past week and say how it made you feel.
INTRODUCTION: Let the person dressed up like Hosea read the following paragraphs to the family.
I can't honestly say that I remember the prophet Amos. When he came up from Judah to prophesy here in Israel, I would have been a small boy. I know about him because people still tell the stories about the day he came. He prophesied that Israel would be destroyed because of its sins. Although it hasn't happened yet, I believe that it will. The people haven't changed. They still mistreat the poor. They worship idols.
To tell you the truth, until a few weeks ago I didn't care much about what was happening to my people. The tragedy in my family over the past few years hurt me so that I didn't think about anything else. Several years ago my wife, Gomer, ran away from home and became a prostitute. Of course, I was ashamed for our family, but the real cause of my pain was that she was the love of my life. I missed her and wanted her back, even after I learned that she had given birth to children who were not mine. I decided that if I really loved her I would go and find her and bring her back home. I found her and she came back with me.
Then, a few weeks ago, I began to think that God must feel the pain I felt about Gomer when our people run off after other gods and don't do the things God wants us to do. I began to feel that God was giving me a message to speak, just like Amos, except that I would also tell the people how much God cared about them in spite of the bad things they had done. Like my going to find Gomer, God will bring the people back again. Like the words I spoke to Gomer when I found her, God will speak through me to the people: Israel, I will make you my wife; I will be true and faithful; I will show you constant love and mercy; I will keep my promise and make you mine, and you will acknowledge me as Lord ... I will say "You are my people" And they will answer, "You are our God." (2:19-20, 23b)
- Leader says, "Like Gomer, the Israelites were being unfaithful to God by worshipping Baal, an idol. They relied on the strength of other countries and military might for their security, instead of looking to God. They served God formally by observing religious practices but not in their hearts." Ask: "If you had been God, how would you have felt?"
- Ask everyone to look up the following passages. Let different people look up and read the passages aloud:
- Hosea 11: 1-5 To what is Israel compared? What did Israel do when God called them? From this reading, what kind of relationship did God want with the people? How was God's love shown?
- Hosea 6:4-6 What was Judah and Ephraim's love like? What did God desire of the people?
- Hosea begged the people to return to God. Read Hosea 14:4-7 to see how God's love would be shown when they returned.
1. Ask: "What did Hosea mean by 'idols' when he said that the people were 'burning incense to idols'?" Say, "Today, we don't worship idols in the way the ancient peoples did, but that doesn't mean we don't have idols. For the prophets, whatever became more important than God became an idol." Suggest that each person close their eyes, then ask: "Are there things (money, jobs, status, security, a person) that are so important to you that doing what God wants becomes secondary? Could they become idols for you? What are the things that seem to be most valued by our society? Could they be idols? When you have thought about these questions, open your eyes." Give each person some clay and ask them to make a representation of a 20th century "idol". When all have finished, invite persons to talk about the idol they made. "How can this idol get in the way of doing what God wants? How could it keep me away from God?"
2. Ask: "Can you remember a time when your parents got angry because you disobeyed them? (Ask adults to remember events from their own childhoods.) Pause a minute. "Can you remember making up? How did you feel when your parents forgave you?" Go around the family and let each person tell what happened (if they feel comfortable doing so).
3. Say, "God is like a parent. God will not stay angry with us because of the great love he/she has for us. No matter how far we travel away from God, God will hold us in loving arms upon our return."
LIGHT THE CANDLE: Turn the lights down and sit quietly for a minute.
PRAYER: O God, whose heart aches when we act foolishly, thinking only of ourselves, our idols, and forgetting you and what you want us to do and be, forgive us the pain we cause. We are glad that you are a God who cares in spite of our foolishness. Help us to be faithful. Amen.
1. To discover specific ways to love tenderly, act justly, and walk humbly with God.
2. To understand that Micah was calling people away from empty religious ritual back to justice.
1. Read Micah and the lesson for today.
2. Gather materials below.
1. Costume for Micah and prophet name tags.
2. Have one flower for each member of the group (or a picture of one)
3. Gather paper and pencils for writing letters and a box in which to store the letters.
4. Candle and Bibles.
1. Ask each person to wear his/her name tag. Let Micah dress as the prophet for the day.
2. Gather the family together. Ask each family member to say the name of an animal that describes their mood, briefly.
Read Micah's introduction aloud.
Even though we are both people of the covenant that God made with Abraham and Sarah centuries ago, here in Judah - where Jerusalem and the temple are - we have always felt superior to the people in Israel. Some here in the southern kingdom even laughed about the fate of our brothers and sisters in the north when the Assyrian armies swept over the land in 721 B.C., feeling that they were being justly punished by God.
It's funny how we can see the wrongs of others so much easier than we can see our own. We should have learned something from the experience of our brothers and sisters in the north, but even now, as the same mighty Assyrian army is not far from our borders, my people do not understand what is happening. They continue to offer sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem, expecting that they will somehow make God happy and keep the Assyrians away.
I have gone to them with God's message that God is judging them because of their injustices. I spoke as clearly as I could to our rulers: "You are supposed to be concerned about justice, yet you hate what is good and love what is evil." (3:1-2) But they didn't appear to listen. They told me not to preach any more. They have others they consider to be prophets who tell them that everything is going to be all right.
But then, yesterday, I heard that King Hezekiah has decided to honor the Lord and the covenant God made with our people. I think it is too late to avoid the same fate as our brothers and sisters in the north. But just as God will allow us to be scattered like they were, so will the Lord bring us back again. Maybe in all of this my people can learn what it is that God expects of us.
1. Read aloud Micah 6:6-8. Explain that in those days the Israelites brought animal sacrifices to God as a part of their worship. In Micah's time, worship had become less God-centered and was more of a public display. There was competition over who could bring the best sacrifice. The poor were excluded from worship because they couldn't afford sacrifices. The rich worshipped on the Sabbath and then cheated the poor during the week. Micah was saying that their worship was empty and not from the heart, because they were not doing acts of justice during the week.
2. Have the person dressed as Micah ask the questions from Vs. 8, "What does God ask of us?" Have the family respond with the rest of the vs. 8. Do this several times.
1. The poor were excluded from worship. Let's see what it's like. Give every person but one a flower. Tell the group to imagine a church behind you and that you are standing guard at the door. You let everyone pass through the door but the person without the flower. Tell him/ her that he/she must wait outside while the others lay their flowers on the altar and hug one another. Change characters and do the scene again.
Be seated and ask, "How did it feel to be allowed into the church, to be left out? How would you change the scene if you could? What are some things in your church that like the flowers have become 'rituals without substance'? that are more for show than for God? How do they exclude other people?"
2. Tell the children, if present, that you are going to walk around the room and that God is going to walk with you. Explain that as you take your walk you will try to figure out how God would like us to be. Have the whole family walk to one corner of the room. Stop and say, "In this corner God is telling us to act justly - to treat all people equally. What are some ways we can do this during the week?" Walk to another corner and say, "Here God is telling us to love tenderly. What are some ways that we can do this is in our family, at school or play." Say, "Here God is telling us to walk humbly when we're in God's presence. What does it mean to be humble?" Walk back to the starting point and thank God for accompanying you.
3. Ask each family member to think of one thing they could do during the next week that would be acting justly, lovingly or humbly. Encourage specificity. Have each person write a letter to God, telling God what they have decided to try to do in the next week. Put the letters in a box and save for the next session.
LIGHT THE CANDLE:
PRAYER: O God, how many times will you have to tell us what you want from us before we listen and obey? Help us to understand what it means for us to do justice today, to love mercy today and to walk in humility with you today. And then, Lord, help us to do what we know to do. Amen.
To understand that all nations on Earth are accountable to God.
1. Read Zephaniah and today's session.
2. Gather necessary materials.
3. Cut out a large circle (15-20 inches in diameter, if available) representing the earth. Cut the circle into pieces representing puzzle pieces. Mark the back of each piece with a small penciled x. Cut out another circle the same size.
1. Previously prepared circles.
2. Marking pens.
3. Writing paper, envelopes, stamps, pens.
4. Costume for Zephaniah and name tags.
5. Current newspaper or news magazine.
1. Put prophet name tags on.
2. Bring out the box of letters from the previous week and ask each person to tell what they told God they would do the past week as well as what they actually did.
Let Zephaniah tell his story aloud.
I come from a royal family. Let me tell you about three members of our family that were kings of Judah. Our family has always taken pride in being descendants of King Hezekiah. He listened to the prophet Micah and tried to lead our people to be faithful to the covenant with God. I don't know whether it was because of what Hezekiah did, but the Assyrians did not destroy us.
We have not been proud, however, of Manasseh, Hezekiah's son, who became king when Hezekiah died in 687 B.C. His becoming king was a disaster. Probably because he wanted to stay in favor with the Assyrians who were still not far away from our borders, Manasseh rejected our faith and tried to get us to adopt the religion of the Assyrians. During the time he was king, he did away with all of the good things that Hezekiah had tried to do.
The third king in our family was Josiah. He was Manasseh's grandson and people didn't expect him to be different from Manasseh. But he surprised everyone. His thirty-year reign was one of the greatest since the time of David. He insisted that we return to follow the covenant God made with our forefathers and foremothers, like Abraham and Sarah, and Moses. After Josiah's death, however, our leaders and the people have forsaken the covenant and gone their own ways. What's even worse, the people believe that because God made a covenant with us that we will not be punished.
There is an old belief among our people in "the day of the Lord." It is to be the time when God judges the earth, when the evil are punished and God's rule is established. I hear our leaders, as well as the people on the streets, saying that when "the day of the Lord" comes, our enemies will be defeated and our nation will be made great again.
How foolish they are! They forget that all nations will be judged on that day, including our own. I might have been a king, but God called me to be a prophet. God has called me to tell the people that when the "day of the Lord" comes, God's judgment will also be on us because our nation has not lived according to the covenant. Our nation will be destroyed. But I will also tell them that God will be merciful to us again.
1. Let Zephaniah read Zephaniah 2:1-3 aloud to the group. Leader says: "God was angry because the Hebrew nation thought that they were the best nation in the world. They thought that since God had blessed them and made a covenant with them that God would never punish them. Zephaniah warned them that their wishful thinking was pure folly. He called for the people to be obedient to God and live according to the covenant. There are those who say that God has especially blessed our nation. Do you think that Americans, like the people Zephaniah was speaking to, are tempted to think that we do no wrong and won't be punished by God?"
2. Read Zephaniah 3:11-13. Ask: "What kind of people does Zephaniah say will be removed from the land? What kind will be left? How does he describe those who will be left?"
Getting Started: Before people are asked to write, you may want to recall concerns of prophets from earlier sessions. From the front page or editorial section of the newspaper, find and read aloud headlines about both international and domestic affairs.
1. Give each member of the group one piece of the puzzle and ask them to write on the back of their piece (the side with the "x") some things that nations do that they think make God angry. What are the things our nation does that make God angry?
After everyone has written on their piece of the puzzle, talk about the different things that have been mentioned. Do not put the puzzle together yet.
2. Now ask members of the group to write on the front side of the puzzle pieces what the nations could do to correct the things that make God angry. Put the puzzle together and glue the pieces down. Talk about the different suggestions and how nations might work together to accomplish those things. Say: "Since God loves all nations and people, God expects all of us - instead of quarreling and fighting with each other - to work together."
3. Ask each person to write a letter to the President or their Senator stating what they think the United States should do to make the world a better place to live. (Encourage members to be as specific as they can and, if possible, to relate their concerns to particular issues and bills currently before the Administration and Congress. This will be easier if you use the newspaper as part of the preparation for the puzzle exercise.)
4. Sing, "Jesus Loves the Little Children."
LIGHT THE CANDLE
PRAYER: O God, you are Lord of all the nations and all people. You know how foolish we can be. Save us from imagining that you love us and our nation more than your other children and nations. And, Lord, save us from thinking that because you love us you will overlook the bad things we do. We are all your children. Help us to act like it and do the things you want us to do. Amen.
1. To understand Habakkuk's message that God calls us to a faithfulness that involves listening and action.
2. To discern ways to bring about changes in our lives and in the world.
1. Read Habakkuk and the lesson for today.
2. Draw and cut out a large hand from posterboard or cardboard.
3. Collect materials.
2. Costume for Habakkuk and prophet name tags.
4. Construction paper, crayons (or markers), glue, scissors.
1. Put on name tags. Allow the person who wears the Habakkuk tag to put on the prophet costume.
2. Ask each person to talk briefly about a time when they were waiting for someone/ something.
Let Habakkuk read the paragraph to the family.
I didn't understand why God called me to be a prophet. I didn't have a message, I just had questions. I couldn't understand why so often good people suffer at the hands of bad people. Nothing ever seems to happen to the bad people.
I don't know how long I pleaded with God for an answer to my questions, but for a long time God was silent. I was not prepared for the answer when it came. The Lord said,
"Keep watching the nations around you, and you will be astonished at what you see. I am going to do something that you will not believe when you hear about it. I am bringing the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to power, those fierce, restless people. They are marching out, across the world to conquer other lands. They spread fear and terror, and in their pride are a law to themselves." (1:5-7)
Was this a trick answer? Was God making fun of me? Why would God bring to power such a cruel and fierce people?
I decided that God had not finished with me, so I climbed the watchtower to wait for the answer. It was quiet up there. From that vantage point, I could see the distant horizons in all directions. I determined that I would be patient and wait for God to speak again.
While I was waiting, I had a vision. In the vision God told me to write the message down because it would not come true for some time. Because God was not simply answering my questions but giving me a message for the people, I knew that I was being called to be a prophet. This is the message I wrote down:
"Those who are evil will not survive, but those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God." (2:4)
I still do not understand the ways of God. That is no longer as important to me as it once was. God showed me that being faithful is what really matters, even when I don't understand everything.
1. Read Habakkuk 1:2,3,13 with much expression. Ask, "What questions does Habakkuk ask of God? Have you ever asked similar questions?"
2. Read Habakkuk 2:1-4. Ask, "In verse 1, what was Habakkuk doing? In verse 4, what did God answer?" State, "When God asks us to be faithful, God wants us to listen for guidance, but also to do the things we know God wants us to do. Faith involves listening and action."
1. Ask the children, if any are present, "What is a watchtower?" Have everyone close their eyes, relax, and listen. Say, "Pretend you are climbing the steps to a watchtower to talk to God. It is dark and cold and you can see the stars clearly above you. When you get to the top, think about something that you have asked or would like to ask God to change in yourself/family/school/work/the world. In your mind, ask God why the situation you are concerned about hasn't changed. Sit quietly and listen for God's answer."
2. Open your eyes slowly and stretch. Ask each person to pick a partner and talk for five minutes about what both of you want God to change. Then come back to the larger group and ask if anyone is willing to share what they talked about with their partner.
3. Explain the following ideas to the family: In answer to all Habakkuk's questions, God answers by saying that human beings must live in faithfulness. In other places in the Old Testament, this word means "living in integrity," "living according to the covenant." Faithfulness involves listening, trusting and doing what we know to do to bring about wholeness to our own lives and to the world.
Ask, "What can you do to begin to take a hand in bringing about changes in the situation you described to your partner?" Think quietly for a minute. Then give each person a piece of paper and ask them to trace their hand and cut out the shape. On one side of the hand, write a sentence, or draw a picture, indicating how you can be faithful to God in the situation you thought needed changing.
4. Sometimes the things we want to change don't change. Habakkuk reminds us that even then, God's hand will continue to comfort and sustain us. Ask the person dressed as Habakkuk to read Habakkuk 3:17-19 aloud. Take the large posterboard and glue the smaller hands onto it. Remind the family that even when the changes don't happen like we want them to, God's hand is still lovingly holding us. Hang the large hand on the wall that week for the family to view each day.
LIGHT THE CANDLE:
PRAYER: O God, your ways are mysterious to us. We do not understand how you work in the world and in our own lives. Help us to understand that neither your mystery nor our questions are bad. Teach us, Lord, in the midst of our questions, to be faithful to you by doing the things we know to do. Amen.
1. To understand the situation of the Jewish people after they returned from exile in Babylon.
2. To comprehend the Biblical concept of Shalom.
1. Read Haggai and look over the materials for this family session. Read Ezra 4:24-5:2 to see the role Haggai played in rebuilding the temple.
2. Gather materials.
1. Costume for Haggai and prophet name tags.
3. Newspapers and masking tape.
1. Put on name tags and let Haggai dress in costume.
2. Ask each person to talk briefly about the room in the house that is his/her favorite and why.
Let Haggai read the introductory paragraph.
For me to be able to explain to you why I, as a prophet, go out every day encouraging the people to continue their efforts to rebuild the temple, you will have to understand what has happened to my people since Habakkuk prophesied.
The disaster, revealed by God to Habakkuk and the other prophets long ago, finally happened. In 587 B.C. the Babylonians burned and pillaged their way across the land of Judah. The temple was destroyed and many of the people were taken in captivity all the way to Babylonia. Our land was left ravaged and desolate.
In Babylon our people were treated well enough. Unlike the Assyrians when they took our brothers and sisters of the Northern Kingdom into exile, the Babylonians let our people stay together near the capitol, make their livings and worship as they pleased. But they were still in exile away from our homeland. Many feared that since they were so far from the temple where they used to worship that God could not hear their prayers in Babylon.
But like the prophets have always said, the most powerful nations are not invincible, even Babylonia. just fifty years after our people were taken into exile, the armies of a new powerful empire - the Persians - conquered the Babylonians. To our great surprise, their King Cyrus said that our people in Babylon could return home.
Some of our people in Babylon were not so sure they wanted to return home. Many had never seen their homeland, having been born in Babylon. They had all heard the stories of how our homeland, Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed. But, after the great prophet Isaiah said that God was calling our people to return home, many of those in Babylon packed up their belongings and set out across the desert for Jerusalem.
When the people arrived they found things in a terrible state. The fields had been left idle for many years and were filled with weeds. The walls of the city of Jerusalem and the temple were just as they were after the Babylonian invasion, piles of rubble.
Even though King Cyrus had allowed our people to return and encouraged the rebuilding of the wall and the temple, our people were terribly depressed. The desolation of the place was so overwhelming that they just didn't seem to have the heart to rebuild the temple.
I know that Amos, Micah and many of the other prophets have been very suspicious of the temple and the worship there. But they were prophesying in a different time in different circumstances. Me people then were prosperous and were trying to make worship a substitute for what God wanted them to do. It's different now. Our land is poor and desolate. Just as it was necessary for our people to rebuild the wall for protection, so we need to rebuild temple to kindle their spirits. So every day I go out and urge the people to continue their work on the temple. Sometimes I am pretty hard on them: I remind them that they have found time to work on their own houses but not the temple. Most of all, they need to be reminded that rebuilding the temple, like treating all people fairly as the covenant requires, is part of God's plan to bring shalom to the land again.
1. Read Haggai 1:2-9 aloud. Ask, "What was the people's excuse for not rebuilding the temple? What were they doing instead? Were the people happy and satisfied?"
2. Read Haggai 2:9. Ask, "In your translation, what word is used in Verse 9 to mean 'peace?'" Explain, "In the original Hebrew, the word used was 'shalom. ''Shalom' means peace with justice, creating a society where everyone is whole, both spiritually and physically. In Haggai's time rebuilding the temple was a part of God's plan for bringing 'shalom'. What else do you think may be part of God's plan for bringing 'shalom'?"
1. Ask the family to act out a scene where Haggai comes to the twentieth century. Before you begin, ask the group if they remember the meaning of the word 'shalom.' Then tell the person who is dressed as Haggai to knock on an imaginary door and enter the room. Have the other family members act surprised and frightened. Let Haggai explain who he is and that he has come to tell the family that God wants them to do something to bring about 'Shalom' in the world. Take a few minutes and brainstorm.
2. Ask: "What excuses would you probably give to Haggai to explain why you couldn't do 'shalom building' right now?" Let them all tell Haggai their excuses. Then ask: "What similarities do you see between your excuses about shalom-building and the people's excuses about temple building?"
3. Have the family work together to "build a temple". Each person is to make a contribution to building it. Use old newspapers and masking tape to create the structure. Roll the paper into pillars and tape so they won't unroll. Then tape the pillars together to build the temple. Be creative ... there is no right way to do this activity.
LIGHT THE CANDLE: After lighting the candle, sing:
Shalom my friends
Shalom my friends
Till we meet again
Till we meet again
PRAYER: O God, you know us well. You know when we are unfaithful and need to be corrected. You know when we are in danger and need to be warned. You know when we are weary and need to be encouraged. Through your prophets you speak to all our needs. Let us hear your words so that we may cooperate in your plan to bring shalom into the world and into our lives. Amen.
1. To understand how sometimes even those God calls to be prophets resist doing and saying what God wants.
2. To understand that God's love and redemption is for all people.
1. Read Jonah and the family lesson for today.
2. Gather all materials.
3. Cut paper the size of name tags and tape or glue yarn or string to both ends to make necklaces. Write nothing on the name tags at this point.
2. Prophet name tags and costume for Jonah.
3. Neck pieces and crayons.
1. Have everyone put on prophet name tags and let Jonah dress in the prophet costume.
2. Ask each person to tell his/her favorite memory of a water experience (beach, lake, swimming pool).
Have the person dressed as Jonah read the following aloud:
I should have stayed in the belly of that fish. Sure, I would have died there. But that would have been better than letting God make a fool out of me.
When God called me to go and preach in Nineveh, I knew that God was up to something that I didn't like. Why should I be sent to the Ninevites, the scum of the earth who are descendants of the terrible Assyrians who tortured and killed so many of our people? I was supposed to tell them that they were going to be destroyed for their wickedness. God could have simply destroyed them. They didn't need to be told, unless God had some secret plan to save them.
I tried to run away from God. I got on a boat going to Spain. I wasn't going to be part of saving those wicked people in Nineveh. But when we were at sea, a terrible storm came up. The sailors could see that it was not just an ordinary storm and that, unless something happened, we would all drown. The sailors were superstitious and decided that someone on board must have done something terrible to cause such a fierce storm. And they decided that it was me. I also knew it was me, and that there was no reason that the sailors should drown because of me. So I jumped overboard and assumed that I would drown.
But God wouldn't stop chasing me. A big fish swallowed me and I stayed in its belly for three days. It was so terrible in there that I prayed to God and said that I would go to Nineveh after all. The fish spit me out onto the beach and I set out for Nineveh.
When I got there and preached my message of destruction, the king and the rest of the people repented of all the evil they had done. Then, just as I feared, God forgave them and spared their nation. I was so angry, I didn't know what to do. How could God even consider saving such people? I knew. It is because God is merciful and loving and takes no pleasure in punishing people. But those are not worth loving or sparing!
I went outside the city and sat down under a little shelter to shield me from the hot sun. I wanted to die. During the night a plant grew up that gave me more shade. But in the morning God sent a worm to destroy the plant. That made me even angrier than I was already. God asked me why I was more concerned about the plant than I was about the fate of all the people of Nineveh? The worst thing about the whole thing is to think that God loves the people of Nineveh as much as me and our people.
1. Have the group form a circle around Jonah. This circle represents the fish that swallowed Jonah. Ask Jonah to stand inside of the fish and read Jonah 2:3- 10. The rest of the group can sway together to represent the movement of the fish through the water. Ask, "Before he got inside the belly of the fish was Jonah willing to do God's will? Did Jonah change his mind because of his distress? Have you even been in difficult circumstances and made promises to God you wouldn't ordinarily make ("0 God, if you will just let me pass this test, I will . . ." or 640 God, if you will just let me get this job, I will . . .")?"
2. Have the whole group sit down and read Jonah 4:5-11 aloud. Ask the family to act out the scene with this cast of characters: Jonah, God, the sun, the worm, the castor oil plant. Then explain, "Jonah was more concerned about the plant than about the whole nation of Ninevah. Jonah did not want God to save the Ninevites, because they were his enemies."
1. Ask, "If Jonah were here today what country would he think did not deserve God's love? What country would he resist going to?" Go around the room and ask each person to respond. Then ask, "What group in America might Jonah not want to carry God's love to?" Allow time for each person to speak.
2. Give each person a name tag necklace and crayons. Tell them to write the name of the group of people or nations mentioned in the previous exercise. Some may wish to draw a picture of a person from the chosen nation or group instead of writing the name only.
3. Ask each person to put on their name tag and pretend they are this person. Ask, "How does it feel to be a________________?" Then say, "God's love is for every person in this room no matter what country you're from, what color you are, what organization you belong to, what sex you are, or how much money you have." Then have the group respond to each person by saying, "God loves and forgives you, ______________," using the name of the nation or group of people on the name tag. Then ask, "What was this experience like for you? What did you learn?"
LIGHT THE CANDLE.
O God, we are all like Jonah sometimes. We don't want to do some of the things you want us to do. We don't want you to love others as much as you love us, especially our enemies. Forgive us when we act like Jonah. Help us to be glad that your love is wide enough to include everyone. Help us to love like you do. Amen.
1. To understand Malachi's call for a return to covenant living.
2. To plan what this family or group will do after this study.
1. Read Malachi and today's lesson.
2. Gather materials.
3. Cut out the shape of a large shield from paper.
1. Shield shape.
2. Three large sheets of paper.
4. Crayons or markers to decorate shields.
5. Costume for Malachi and prophet name tags.
1. Put on prophet name tags and let Malachi put on the prophet's costume.
2. Explain that this is the last session on the prophets. Ask each person to tell briefly which activity they enjoyed most in the study and why.
Let Malachi read the following:
The Lord must get tired of my people's complaints. God brought us back from exile. The city of Jerusalem and the temple have been restored. Compared with what our people have experienced over the past 100 years, we have it pretty good now in the middle of the fifth century B.C. Yet, the people are not content. They complain that God doesn't love them. They say that those who do evil prosper, questioning the justice of God.
I know that times are not easy, but they complain in order to justify their failure to live up to the covenant. God expects us to give our best, but the people give God the left-overs. The priests in the temple have not helped. They, like the people, have not lived according to the covenant.
I have prophesied to the people and the priests alike that God is coming to judge us. It will not be to destroy, but to purify our people, like a metalworker refines silver and gold. Before that time God will send a messenger to prepare the way and to proclaim again the covenant.
1. Say. "The exile is over. The temple has been rebuilt. But there are still problems." Ask everyone to look up Malachi 1: 13, 3.5, and 3:6-10 and read them silently. Ask: "What are the people doing still to displease God?"
2. Look up Malachi 3:1-4. Have several read it if there are a number of translations. Ask: "Who do you think Malachi is referring to when he speaks of the messenger? What does Malachi say the messenger will do? Do you think it will be an easy time?"
1. Say: "I would like each of you to think a minute about what are some of the most troublesome things in your life. What do you complain most about? Did you ever use those problems to avoid not doing what you know you should have done? Close your eyes and when you've thought about it, open your eyes." When all eyes are open, go around the group and invite each person to tell about his or her complaint and how they might have used it as an excuse not to do what they should have done. (The tone for this part of the exercise should be light and humorous. Some honest "confession" by the adults present will help the children open up.)
2. Say: "God expects us to be faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Looking back over this time we have spent with the prophets, what have we learned about being faithful? If we are like the people the prophets spoke to, there are probably some things we are doing that we need to stop doing and some things we need to start doing that we are not yet doing. There are probably some other things that we are already doing that we need to continue to do."
3. Take three large sheets of paper. Write on the first sheet "To be faithful to God these are the things our family should stop doing." On the second sheet write, "To be faithful to God these are the things our family should continue doing." On the third sheet write, "To be faithful to God these are things our family could start doing."
Working on one sheet at a time, let different people write their ideas on each page. For ideas on the third page (if any are needed), look at item 5 below. After everyone has written, let each person share their responses.
4. Get the previously prepared shield. At the top of the shield write the family surname in large letters with markers. If there is more than one surname to include, link them with hyphens. Using ideas from the sheet with the heading "What our family could start doing," let family or group members write words or ideas that express what they individually or as a group want to do.
5. The suggestions below are things you may want to "start" doing.
a. ALLEVIATE WORLD HUNGER
Get in touch with your denominational hunger program and find out what you can do. Presbyterians contact the Presbyterian Hunger Program (800/334-0434) 100 Witherspoon St. #3412, Louisville, KY 40202-1396).
Get involved in an existing soup kitchen, food bank or food pantry.
Deliver meals on wheels.
For information on how to set up a food pantry, soup kitchen or food bank, write Seeds of Hope (254/755-7745) 602 James Ave., Waco, TX 76706-1476.
Become an active member of Bread for the World, a Christian citizen's movement for responsible public policy on hunger-related issues. For more information, contact 425 3rd St. SW, Ste 1200, Washington, DC 20024; phone: (202) 639-9400; toll-free: (800) 822-7323; fax: (202) 639-9401; Bread.org.
b. MAKE PEACE
Get in touch with your denominational office on peacemaking for information about what you can do. Presbyterians contact your Peacemaking Program in Louisville (addresses same as above).
Start a group that meets regularly to pray for peace.
Become better informed about national peace-related issues (e.g., the defense budget, the arms race, foreign aid) and express your views to your elected representatives.
c. PROVIDE HOSPITALITY
Work at a hospitality center for homeless people or write to Seeds of Hope (address above) for information on how to start one.
Help resettle refugees in this country. Contact your denominational office to see what you can do. Presbyterians contact Office of World Service in Louisville (addresses same as above).
Become an advocate on public policy issues related to homelessness in this country, immigration and asylum.
d. VISIT PRISONERS
Visit in prisons or write prisoners on a regular basis.
Contact your denominational office that deals with criminal justice issues to find out what else you can do. Presbyterians contact these offices at the addresses listed above.
e. CARE FOR THE ELDERLY
Spend time with elderly people in your neighborhood.
Become informed about the issues facing the elderly. Contact your denominational office that deals with aging to find out what you can do.
f. RESIST CULTURAL IDOLATRY
Learn about the tension between prevailing cultural values and faith. For more information, visit SimpleLivingWorks.org, an organization providing resources on responsible living and celebrating.
Learn ways to live and celebrate with less.
LIGHT THE CANDLE:
After lighting the candle, ask someone to read Malachi 4:2.
O God, your word is still spoken through your prophets. Their stem judgment has made us uncomfortable: let them make us uncomfortable enough to change our lives. Their confidence in your enduring love gives us hope: let that hope be strong enough to lift us above despair and cynicism as we seek to be bearers of your Shalom in a broken world. Amen
Jan Adams-Williams, a family therapist presently working with Catholic Family Services planning and leading workshops for blended families; elder in local church; has written Lenten "household resources" for Alternatives.
Judy McMillan, former Alternatives staff member; specialist in middle childhood education and has worked extensively with children ages 7 - 14; deaconess in local church and active in church school leadership; has written Alternative Advent and Lenten "household resources."
Milo Thornberry, former director of Alternatives; United Methodist minister; husband and father.
Get to know Milo at Post #181.
Cover design by Kathie Klein, Alternatives staff.
Simple Living Works! extends the mission of Alternatives, a not-for-profit organization providing resources to support, encourage, inform and inspire the effort to live and celebrate responsibly.
Prepared by Alternatives for the Office of Women, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
©Creative Commons (originally 1984, 2001 Alternatives for Simple Living - All rights reserved)
To conserve resources, please do not make multiple copies of this study.
SimpleLivingWorks.org E-mail: SimpleLivingWorks@Yahoo.com.
This page last updated 27 Jan. 2015
Simple Living Works! * SimpleLivingWorks@Yahoo.com
BLOG: SimpleLivingWorks.WordPress.com | Blog INDEX
PODCAST | Podcast INDEX
MISSION: Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly // An all volunteer educational organization.