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The Minor Prophets - Introduction

Preface

These are my notes from a series I taught on the minor prophets for my church. After we started the web site, I converted all these notes to HTML. Since the study was originally intended just for teaching in a local church and not for publishing, I was not as careful to note my sources as I should have been, but I still want to give credit where credit is due. Many of the major outlines of the books come from class notes taken from classes on the minor prophets taught by Dr. Charlie Dyer and Dr. Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary. Material taken from books in print are noted in the footnotes.

Introduction

What do you think about when you think of a prophet? Do you think of someone who tells what is going to happen in the future?

Prophets do some foretelling. They warn the wicked and encourage the righteous.

In fact the prophets are not primarily interested in the future. The majority of their sermons dealt with the present and the past. Very little revelation was given about the future. They were more concerned with the past and present failings of the nation in their relationships to God and man. They focused on the lack of morals in society which pointed to the problems. They focused on people's failure to keep the law. They constantly exhorted the people to an internal righteousness rather than an external adherence to the law. Perhaps one of the most famous passages is Micah 6:8 which says

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (NRSV)

Do you think that their writings are obscure and difficult to understand?

Prophets were traditionalists who proclaimed a doom and gloom message. They wrote to remind the Israelites of the covenants and their responsibilities. They also reminded the people of the results of disobedience. They assume that the Israelites remember the covenants and laws in Deuteronomy and make many references to them. In fact, unless you understand Dueteronomy 28-30 you cannot appreciate or perhaps even understand what the prophets are talking about.

The Mosaic covenant of Deuteronomy follows the same structure of the Susserain-Vassal Treaty which was popular in that day between a king or lord and his subjects. He would lay down the law and then promise to protect them if they were loyal and promise to destroy them if they were not loyal. God just uses a format that they were familiar with to give them the law. Let us read Dueteronomy 28:1-6 and 15-18, 48-50 and 30:15-20. God makes it very clear what would happen if they were not faithful to Him.

What the prophets did was come along and say, "Because you broke the covenant, the covenant curses have fallen ... or are about to fall on you." (Just like Deut 28-30 warned) The prophets messages of sin and judgment must be seen in this light.

The prophets also proclaimed a salvation message. Most of the prophets include a “promise of future deliverance” section. Modern scholars often claim that these positive messages are later additions by some scribe. They say that it doesn’t make sense that some guy would come along and pronounce judgment and then turn right around and promise deliverance. But that is because they don’t believe the Bible is the inspired word of God which contains the promises of God. The prophets would usually give a message of doom and gloom and then tell the people about the light at the end of the tunnel to give them hope. Sometimes these salvation messages were "crystal ball" visions describing a particular event which they had seen in a vision (e.g. Dan 9: and the 70th week), but sometimes they were just claiming and proclaiming the promises of God to Abraham and David that he would make the nation great, send the Messiah and bring the Gentiles into the kingdom.

God had made promises to Abraham that he would make his seed into a great nation, that he would give him the land of Israel and that through his seed the nations of the world would be blessed. God’s promises were unconditional and He would eventually keep them. But the individual’s welfare and the nation’s immediate welfare depended on the people’s faithfulness.

Goals Of The Study

  • We are going to study the minor prophets by examining their historical context to determine what their situation is (The fancy name for this among scholars is the Sitz im Leben)
  • We are also going to see if we can break the literary code so we will understand why they said what they did and so we can appreciate some of the beauty in the way they said it.
  • And of course we want to find out how the message of the books applies to us. The goal of Bible Study is not head knowledge. The goal is to make it relevant and see how it applies to us. That is sometimes difficult, because we are reading about events that took place 3000 years ago.

Let’s look at these three goals in a little more detail.

History

Show Chronology of Prophets OH

This chart also shows the chronological order in which the books were written. It is a little confusing because in the Bible the prophets are arranged according to the Major and Minor prophetic books. The only difference between the two is the number of pages written. The Minor Prophets were not less important than the Major prophets, they were just more concise. There is also some debate about when various books were written. For example, some think Obadiah was written first, others think it was one of the last books written. My order of presentation is that of one of my professors and is certainly not inspired.

It is important to understand what is going on in the nation’s history, which enemy nations are threatening Israel’s borders (Assyria, Babylon, etc.), what is happening politically, etc.

You might have heard the terms: pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic prophets. These names are a reference to when the prophets spoke in relation to the Babylonian captivity.

  • The preexilic prophets came to warn of impending judgment.

      Obadiah wrote to or about Edom.

      Amos, Hosea and Joel wrote to the northern kingdom.

      Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakkuk, Zephaniah and Jeremiah wrote to warn Judah.

  • The exilic prophets wrote to assure the people that God would restore them to the land.

      Ezekiel and Daniel wrote from Babylon to encourage the people that God would restore the nation.

  • The post exilic prophets wrote to assure the people that God would deal with the restored community according to the same principles. They might have been tempted to think that because Babylonia had defeated Israel, the Babylonian gods were superior to Yahweh. One of the postexilic prophet's jobs was to point out that Yahweh was superior and the only reason Israel was defeated was because Yahweh was disciplining them.

      Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were writing to the people who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon.

Literary Structure

The prophets were eloquent writers. Many of their works are literary masterpieces. They proclaimed God's message with style, and if we can uncover and decipher their style, it makes the reading that much more enjoyable.

What if each prophet showed up and said to the people,

OK folks, you are sinning again so God is going to have to judge you again. You are worshipping other gods, spending all your money on yourself, being dishonest in the marketplace, etc. God is going to send the Babylonians to destroy you unless you change your ways. But, oh yeah, after a while, God will restore the nation to the land, destroy all our enemies and will reign over us in righteousness and there will be peace in the land forever.

I guess the Bible would be a lot shorter. It wouldn't be very interesting to read either. I'm glad they wrote the way they did. The short way would only appeal to our intellect. But the way they have written has emotional impact as well. I think it makes it more convicting.

Organizing a book:

Many of the prophetic books are anthologies. They are the accumulation of several years of messages and they are not always a cohesive unit with a distinct pattern. Sometimes we can find a macro structure or argument to a book. But it is not always present. Hosea is a good example.

From 4:-13: there is a cyclical pattern of sin, judgment and restoration and it is difficult to find a distinct movement through the book.

When you outline the prophets you find that they all have the same basic ingredients:

  • Warning of impending judgment because of the nations sinfulness
  • Description of the sin
  • Description of the coming judgment
  • A call for repentance
  • A promise of future deliverance

If you want to outline a prophetic book how do you recognize where one unit begins and ends?1

  • They use introductory or concluding formula—"This is what the Lord says..."
  • They use inclusio—begin and end a section with the same word or phrase.
  • They use several common literary forms:

      A Judgment speech which is made up of two parts:

      Part One—Accusation

      Part Two—The judgment

      A Woe oracle—like a judgment speech, except that it starts with "Woe..."

      Exhortation/ call to repentance—consists of appeal with motivation (in the form of a promise and/or threat). (Amos 5:4-6; Joel 2:12-14)

      Salvation announcement—often alludes to a lamentable situation and focuses on the Lord's saving intervention (Amos 9:11-12)

      Salvation oracle—introduced by the exhortation "fear not" (Isa 41:8-16)

      Salvation portrayal—a description, often idealized and in hyperbolic terms, of God's future blessings on his people (Amos 9:13).

Relevance

Here are some bad examples of teachers making the prophets relevant. Hopefully we can do a better job of it. OOPS! someone pointed out that it looks like the prophetic telescope below is a bad example.... see the powerpoint for the cartoons I was referring to.

The Prophetic Telescope:

Another thing we need look at is how the prophets looked at the future. For most of the prophets, their eschatology (or view of the future) was divided into now and then. What we have learned through the progress of revelation is that there are actually long periods of time between some of the future events predicted by the prophets. I think it was Chrysostum, a 4th century scholar, who first proposed this model, but this is what is often what is going on when a prophet tells of future events. Although he sees the details as part of the same event, there may in fact be separate events. When people fail to recognize this fact, they end up confusing the first and second coming of Christ and other important events.


1 Notes from Hebrew class, Dr. Robert Chisholm, Spring 1993.