For so many years I’ve heard that the Bible is a collection of 66 books written by over 40 authors over a period of 1500 years. Yes we talk about the two Testaments—Old and New, and yes sometimes there is a reference to the different genres: the law, the writings, the gospels and the epistles, but something is still lacking. Even when there is a reference to the Prophets, they are quite frequently divided into two groups, The Major Prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah; or the Minor Prophets, Malachi, Haggai, Zephaniah, and others.
And when we talk about the Prophets, so often most of the information we get about them is under whose reign they served, and whether they were prophesying to the Northern or the Southern kingdom. They all have different messages, and that seems to be what most authors focus on, the differences rather than the similarities.
So I was excited that a new book about the Minor Prophets was about to be published, A book that promised to talk about some of the similarities. I was not disappointed with The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets by Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. & Gary E. Yates (B&H Academic, 2016). In this Book, Fuhr and Yates look at the twelve individual books bearing the names of the prophets as one book. In doing so they are able to compare how they proclaim God's Word in a number of ways – but it’s still God's Word.
Part I offers background on the prophets and their times. It consists of four chapters covering a number of important concepts that are crucial to understanding the Twelve as individuals, and as a whole. The first chapter offers insight into the prophets within their historical context. This chapter contains information of the two kingdoms and on the issues with the Babylonian and Assyrian kingdoms, and the fears, the challenges, and the hopes of the exiles.
Chapter 2, The Role of the Twelve, explains the role of the prophets as God's messengers. Although this may seem to be unnecessary, there are so many people who see prophets not so much as God's messengers, but rather as seers, as people with ESP, or people with a gift for divining, or telling the future: think tarot cards or OUIJA Boards. In the preface the authors remark that this chapter offers a theological context for understanding the prophetic books. They also remark that the prophets’ role was not an innovative condemnation of Israel’s idolatry, or to bring about social justice (both things that they did) but to call people to obey the Mosaic Law and learn to love God and love others.
Chapter 3, the Words of the Prophets, helps the modern day reader interpret the words, after all most of them are nothing like we typically hear today. How many of us would get the nuances of the condemnations of Egypt. One problem that most people have today is that we tend to look at the biblical texts through a 21st century lens, not through the lens of the chosen people several centuries before Christ.
And finally in chapter 4, the authors examine themes that are found throughout each of the twelve books. Common themes, which makes it easier to justify suggesting that the twelve books can easily be considered as one larger opus. They point out that repentance is not often found in these books—a documentation of Israel’s unbelieving response to God. In fact one of the few examples of repentance comes not from the people of Israel of Judah, but rather from the Ninevites in response to Jonah’s preaching. Other unifying themes include “the Day of the Lord”, “the broken, and restored, covenant”, and “the promise of a New David”. There are Messianic prophecies to be found here, and an overarching theme is that God remains committed to his covenantal promises, even though the chosen people have repeatedly broken their side of the bargain. Judgement is an important part of who God is, but even more important to remember is that salvation is also a major of component of God's desire for the nations.
Most of the remainder of the book, chapters 13-16, deals with the individual prophets. Each has a dedicated chapter which follow a similar format. First is an introduction to the book, not just a recap of the themes, and the story line of each book but something that brings it into today’s world, that makes it contemporary for today’s readers. For example, as I write this today, the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and review some notes, I see that in introducing the book of Joel, the authors comment that in the aftermath of that attack Church attendance went up considerably. Joel tells of a turning to God after a different type of national calamity: a severe locust plague. How different things would have been for Israel, how different they would be for us, if that turning to God had remained a constant.
Following the introduction is a section devoted to the structure of the book in which the authors break the book down for the reader. Major breaks in the writing are identified, common themes within the sections are enumerated. For example in the book of Jonah, the 2 sections are chapters 1 and 2 in which Jonah flees rather than obey God, and ends up in the belly of a fish from which the Lord delivers him. Section 2, chapters 3 & 4, details how Jonah obeys the Lord and goes to preach to the people of Nineveh…they repent and God spares them. Chiastic structures and other literary techniques are identified.
The next section of each of these chapters is an exposition of the text. As in expository preaching, the story is recounted with explanatory details included. When terms are used metaphorically, the authors explain what they stand for in the context of the book. Hebrew terms are often defined, and explained, and throughout there are footnotes explaining how passages fit into the culture and context of the day.
Each of the twelve chapters ends with a ‘theological message and application” For example Micah is a reminder to the covenant people that being in covenant with the Lord, involves both a blessing and an obligation. It’s not an entitlement philosophy, nor prosperity gospel. Covenant is two-sided, and in order to reap the benefits, we’re expected to fulfill our side of the bargain.
Although it’s brief, I want to stress the importance of reading the conclusion. The authors point out how much the reader of scripture misses out on by skimming over or skipping completely these twelve books, or as they prefer, the Book of the Twelve. They write that there are four specific ways in which these twelve authors continue to bless Jesus’ church today. The Book of the Twelve enriches, challenges, informs and comforts the church. And in our tumultuous world, the church certainly needs comfort.
Granted when entire volumes are dedicated to each of the Minor Prophets so much more can be said, but those books have been written and are available for those who need more information that was provided here. But even as more information can be provided, in most of those commentaries, the focus is on the individual books, not the entirety of the twelve books. Parallels are missed, and the reader is left thinking that there are twelve different messages relayed by twelve different prophets at twelve distinct periods in the history of Israel.
I would recommend this book as a text for a class on the Minor Prophets in Seminary, or as a resource for the pastor, Sunday school teacher, or bible study leader in preparing a class, or even a sermon series. The information provided in this book is a stark reminder that God calls His people to respond to Him, and that the church today should be seeking to join God where he is, and seeking the relationship for which God created us.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.