“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved ” Joel 2:32
Having looked a the Law, History, Wisdom and the Major Prophets, we come to the final section of the Old Testament—the Minor Prophets. In Hebrew the Minor Prophets are referred to as ‘The Twelve’, or, sometimes, as ‘the Book of the Twelve.’
When looking at the Major Prophets, we noted that the terms ‘major’ and ‘minor’ did not refer to the relative importance of the prophets, but to the length of their writings. The books collected together as the Minor Prophets run from just one chapter in length to fourteen chapters, much shorter than the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. It is not known when the Minor Prophets were collected together as a single scroll, but the writings of Jesus ben Sirach c.190 BC suggest they were a single collection by the time he was writing and the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that the order of the books that we now have was established by 150 BC. Scholars believe that that initially the first six were collected, and then later the second six were added. There seems a logical flow in the thinking of the books: the first six books, with Hosea through to Micah raise questions of human sinfulness, while Nahum through to Malachi suggest ways in which the situations facing the people might be resolved.
The books generally include similar types of writing: autobiographical information in which the prophet writes about himself; biographical details about the prophets, where they are talked about in the third person, showing that the collection and editing of the books was carried out by someone other than the prophets; and words or speeches from the prophets, usually in a poetic form.
Comparison of different ancient manuscripts shows that while the Twelve remained constant, the order in which their books appeared could change from manuscript. The order they now appear in our bibles is roughly their historical order. The first six books come from the early Assyrian period, the time when the Northern Kingdom, Israel was threatened with invasion and then fell to the Assyrians in 740-730 BC. When we looked at the major prophets, we saw the role of the prophet was to be God’s spokesperson in the history of the times. The prophets cannot be divorced from history. Appointed as God’s spokespersons, they are to speak God’s words to the situations in which the people were living.
Hosea, the first of the Twelve, ministers in days that were a very dark time in Israel’s history. Its opening verse gives a historical reference point: during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel.’ Hosea’s task is to declare that the people have behaved towards God as an unfaithful wife would behave towards her husband. The people having turned away from God in order to serve the golden calf of Jeroboam II and Baal, a Canaanite god
During Hosea’s lifetime, the kings, the leading members of society, and the priests have led the people away from the Law. As well as idolatry, their sins have included murder, lying, theft and immorality. Hosea declares that unless they turn away from their ways, God will allow their nation to be destroyed, and the people will be taken into captivity by Assyria, the greatest nation of the time.
Hosea speaks of God’s unending love towards his people, despite their failure and wrongdoing. God is pained by Israel’s behaviour towards him, in Hose Chapter 13 Verse 4 he declares to his people, ‘I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no saviour.” Hosea’s task is to remind the people of the unfailing nature of God’s love.
The book of Joel is difficult to date because it does not contain clear historical references. Joel prophesies a time of judgement and then a time of restoration after the people have repented. Judgement and restoration are prophesied in terms of the culture of the time. Locusts are the instrument of God’s judgement—and the recovery of agricultural productivity is the sign that the people have been restored to God’s favour.. The most famous lines from Joel are those spoken by Peter on the Day of Pentecost and recorded by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles; Joel’s prophecy of the great day to come that is fulfilled that morning in Jerusalem.
Amos was a contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah active around 750 BC. If he predates Isaiah, then he his is the first biblical prophetic book to be written. Amos comes from Tekoa in the southern kingdom of Judah but he goes north preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. The main themes of Amos are social justice, God’s power, and the judgment that will befall those who ignore God’s warnings. The themes Amos pursues become the main themes of much of prophecy. God does not want the outward rituals of religion, he wants people with changed hearts. In Amos Chapter 5, Verse 21-24, the Lord declares, ‘’I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’
Obadiah is the shortest of the Minor Prophets—the book is just twenty-one verses long. Obadiah is a prophecy of judgement upon those who have been oppressors, but God’s judgement is not limited to treatment of particular tribes, it is a judgement upon all people who have acted unjustly. Obadiah Verse 15 says, ‘he day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head’. Obadiah concludes with confidence that the Lord is sovereign over all lands, ‘And the kingdom will be the Lord’s’, he declares in Verse 21.
Like Amos, Micah is from Judah, the southern kingdom. The prophecy of Micah, like that of Amos, is an attack on the injustice of the leaders, and a defence of the rights of the poor against the rich and powerful. Micah Chapter 6 Verse 8 says, ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’.
Micah looks forward to a world where the Lord brings peace, Chapter 4 Verse 3 says, ‘He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore’. This new world will be ruled by one who comes from the city of David and the line of David, Chapter 5 Verse 2, declares, But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel’. Jesus is the fulfilment of the hopes in Micah for justice and peace.
The first six of the Minor Prophets, the earlier of the Twelve concludes with the book of Jonah. The story of Jonah is familiar to anyone who has ever been at Sunday School. It is a tale of human disobedience and God’s mercy in the face of repentance; God has mercy on Jonah, but, much to the disgust of Jonah, he shows mercy also to the people of Nineveh when they repent of their former ways.
The persistent voice of the prophets is God’s word against wrongdoing; his contempt for religious ritual that is not matched by action; his concern for the poor and the oppressed; and his promise of new times if the people will only repent.