Moving Along (Again!)
Our daily reading plan is moving us again. That much is obvious. We completed one book and now transition to another book, just as we have done multiple times this year.
What our daily reading plan is moving us to, though, is not as obvious. We could say we are going from Daniel to Hosea, which is certainly true. But we are also leaving one section for another, which is equally true. With our move from Daniel to Hosea, we go from the section Christians regard as “the Prophets” or “the Major Prophets” to a section (or maybe “sub-section”) they regard as “the Minor Prophets”.
A Collection of Prophets
And we could also say we now move from individual prophets to a collection. That is true, too, though we may not recognize it as true. We may not recognize it as true because the Minor Prophets are not presented as a collection in our English Bibles. They are instead presented as individual books. They are presented as Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc., the same as all the other books of the Old Testament.
But it is completely different in the ancient Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew arrangement, the Minor Prophets are presented not as individual books but as a collection of books. This collection is known as “The Twelve”. Which, incidentally, gives us yet another “twelve”. We have the twelve tribes, the twelve apostles, the twelve books of Old Testament history, and now we have the twelve minor prophets.
What’s a “Minor” Prophet?
There are two reasons why the Minor Prophets were collected as The Twelve in this way. The first is their length. The Minor Prophets are much shorter than the Major Prophets. This in the only reason they are considered minor prophets. They are minor only in the sense that they are shorter, not in the sense that they are lesser. They are so short that they could be copied on a single scroll. So that’s what the ancient scribes did. They gave Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel their own scrolls, but they put the twelve Minor Prophets on one scroll.
Twelve Prophets, One Story
The second reason, though, and the more important one, is that The Twelve tell a single story. What we have when we look at The Twelve as a whole is not twelve individual stories but twelve parts of one centuries-long story. Each of these prophets relates one part of this story. He reveals as much of it as he can based on his time and location. Then he releases it and lets the next prophet reveal a different part of it. When these parts are put together, which is what the ancient Hebrew scribes did when they recorded them on one scroll, the whole story can be seen.
What’s the Story?
So what is this story? Well, it is the story of God allowing the Jewish nation to fall to the Assyrians and Babylonians as punishment for their sin. But it is also His promise to restore them from both that punishment and that sin.
By now we should be familiar with this story. It is the same story we saw in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. It is the what I consider to be “the third major story” in the Old Testament. The Old Testament revolves around three major stories: the Exodus, David’s kingship, and the Assyrian/Babylonian Exile.
But it is the Minor Prophets who give us the fullest picture of this story. They tell us more of this story than anyone else because they witnessed more of it than anyone else. These prophets saw the growth of sin in Israel and Judah, the buildup of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the final fall of Jerusalem, and the return of exiles to rebuild Jewish society. None of the Major Prophets saw all these things (at least not physically; they may have seen them in visions), but the Minor Prophets did. They saw them and they tell us about them.
What’s the Story About?
But the story is not all we see in these books. We also see the meaning of the story. Actually, we see the meanings of this story. There is more than one.
I believe, in fact, that the arrangement of these books that we have in our English Bibles reveals one meaning of this story. The English arrangement follows the Hebrew arrangement, with Hosea being the first. The interesting thing about that is that Hosea was not the chronological first of these prophets. He wasn’t even the second. He was the fifth, coming sometime after Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, and Amos.
But whatever unknown person set the arrangement of these books in our Bibles put him first. Why? Because of his message. Hosea’s message is about God’s love for His people. That being the case, this unknown person set that book first to emphasize that love. He shows that what happens in all twelve chapters of this story was (and still is) ultimately an expression of that love. And I think he was right to do this. I think God’s love is one meaning of this story.
Turning Away from Violence
But that’s not the only meaning of this story. Another meaning is the vileness of what I call either violence or cruelty. The sin of the Israelites which brought about this punishment was not just a rudimentary sin. It wasn’t just that they cussed or got drunk or didn’t go to church or any of the things we regard as sin today. It is that they were violent. They were systemically violent.
They continually took what they wanted from other people without caring how that affected these other people. Habakkuk mentions this violence in the beginning of his book. Nahum mentions this cruelty at the end of his. Amos gives a long list of violence and cruelty in his first two chapters.
The Major Prophets had mentioned cruelty as well; one of the final things Ezekiel said to us was, “Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right” (Ezekiel 45:9). And Jesus acted against it. Jesus’ submission to crucifixion was the preeminent example of a righteous man choosing to overcome violence by non-violence.
So the indictment of violence and the importance of turning from it is a big element of the Bible and The Faith. And in my opinion, nobody demonstrates that element better than these Minor Prophets.
The Coming Kingdom
Yet another meaning of this story is what I call the coming Kingdom. Almost all of the Minor Prophets predict that the violence problem in Israel would be partially solved by the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions but more fully solved by the arrival of a new Israelite king.
The new king would somehow overcome violence without using violence and thus usher in a new kingdom in which violence would be replaced by prosperity. I imagine you know who this new king is. If you don’t, let me tell you: it is Jesus. Jesus who, interestingly enough, was always talking about a Kingdom, the same Kingdom the Minor Prophets are always talking about.
There is a whole lot of other things we are going to find in this collection of books. For example, a pretty well-known story about a whale. We’ll find man statements that are quoted repeatedly in the New Testament. There are characters unlike any others in the Bible. The birthplace of Jesus is named. In fact, there is more to enjoy and be encouraged by than I can list here.
But above it all there is this story and these messages. In this collection, these twelve prophets are joining together to tell us that God’s love is intent on eliminating violence and will ultimately bring in a Kingdom without violence. It’s a Kingdom I want to live in. It’s a lifestyle I want to have. And these prophets are going to tell us all about it.