When you’re looking at a new book, what do you do?
Do you read the fly leaf, all about the author?
How about the reviews?
Or the column that tells you what the story is about?
I often flip to the back few pages, I want to find out how the book brings everything together, whether the people I’m about to fall in love with, whose lives I am about to invest in, are going to survive this story. And if they don’t, why not? If it’s a satisfying ending, then I know I want to read the rest of the story.
I wonder if the prophets whose books ended up in the Bible knew that about people.
When I started this series, I listed the prophets in the order the appear in the Christian version of the Hebrew Bible. But now, after we’ve had a chance to settle in with Hosea (who is listed first, and who also came first), it would be great to see who were contemporaries, who were probably having conversations with each other, and which prophets wrote about the same theme but ended their books very differently. (Much of what I’m going to write about in the next section comes from a great site called “My Jewish Learning.”)
Let’s start with Joel, who is difficult to place chronologically
Joel is next in the list of minor prophets in a typical Christian Bible, but he may actually have prophesied dead last to all the others. Some theologians place him in the reign of the good king Joash, 835-796 BC, who sadly ended his reign doing evil. However, there are no clear historical details to link Joel to that era.
Joel also references material written by Amos, Isaiah, Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Malachi, and refers to the Greeks, which would seem to place his prophetic ministry in the Persian era, 539-333 BC.
Joel is remindful of the locust, as this insect features large in his prediction of a devastating cloud of locusts descending upon Judah, bringing ruin and disaster. Yet, God would one day restore them.
However, Hosea, Amos, and Jonah all have clear historical markers
All three of these prophets composed their books in the second half of the eighth century B.C, in the northern kingdom of Israel, during the reign of Jeroboam II (the son of Joash).
To get a feel for that king’s reign, read through 2 Kings 14:23-29. He reigned from 788-747 BC, just about sixty years, and built Israel into a wealthy trading empire by controlling the trade routes to Damascus on both sides of the Jordan. Nevertheless, both Hosea and Amos condemned Jeroboam for the social injustices he permitted (and probably promulgated) during his reign.
Hosea, guided by God, prophesied as the heartbroken husband of a faithless and wayward wife.
Amos approached matters from a completely different point of view. He lit into the wealthy in a manner very like what we are hearing today—denouncing the top 1% for hoarding 80% of all the wealth in the land, leaving the rest of the nation to struggle and die destitute.
Jonah has a single mention in Israel’s history, found during Jeroboam’s reign, but what he wrote about had little to do with Israel or Judah. Instead, Jonah took up for the Assyrians—how about that for a crazy way to end a Bible book!
Hosea has been likened to a dove, with God’s words of peace, restoration, and gentle, patient love.
Amos has been connected to the sheep, a social prophet, and a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden.
Jonah is associated with the giant fish, a reluctant prophet of hope to the enemies of his people.
Next comes Micah
Micah was the next prophet, historically speaking. He spoke the words of God towards the end of the eighth century, from 740-687 BC, in the southern kingdom of Judah, during the reigns of good king Jotham, evil king Ahaz, and good king Hezekiah. Micah was a contemporary with Isaiah, prophet to the north.
During Micah’s ministry, the Assyrian empire had risen to power and posed a serious threat to both Israel and Judah.
Yet, whereas Isaiah had a more universal, “End of the World” approach to this impending calamity, Micah took the practical and nationalistic approach. He promoted the simple equation of immediate repentance promising lasting prosperity.
Micah has been likened to a horse, thinking of the warhorses of Assyria pounding towards Judah. However, I see Micah more associated with the cow, because this prophet talked about banging swords into plows.
Horses and mules were pretty scarce in Judah, but there were plenty of bulls and cows, so the farmer usually had his plow pulled by oxen. There was not too much out of the ordinary about Micah, except that he loved the Lord, he loved people and he persevered in telling the truth about God.
Four prophets were contemporaries, Obadiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Nahum
All four of these prophets spoke forth the Word of the Lord during the time of Judah’s destruction, at the end of the seventh and beginning of the sixth centuries BC. Although some theologians tentatively place Obadiah during the reign of Jehoram, in 848-841 BC, Jewish scholars place Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah as contemporaries of Jeremiah and Ezekiel during the reigns of the evil kings Jehoiakim and Joiachin in Judah, reigning from 608-597 BC.
Nahum, prophet to the northern kingdom,had already been dragged into captivity by the Assyrians, along with the rest of Israel.
Obadiah saved the wrath of God for the people of Edom, who joined in on the looting and destruction of Jerusalem.
Habakkuk focused on the social injustice now rampant in Judah and predicted total destruction by the Babylonians.
Zephaniah, on the other hand, spoke of the complete transformation God would bring about in His people, from sin-filled and sin-loving to purified and glorified, from earth-bound to heaven-bound.
For Nahum, God likened the Assyrians to cruel lions, strangling and dragging their prey into their bloody city. Now the righteous lion, the lion of Judah, would put right all the wrong that Assyria had committed.
Obadiah perhaps can be best remembered as the eagle with which he opened his book. Though lofty in its flight, God would bring the soaring eagle of Edom down.
Habakkuk evokes the deer which nimbly “tread upon the heights,” escaping, in the end, the trampling horses of Babylon.
Zephaniah is associated with the butterfly, iconic for the transformation of God’s people.
Nahum has been likened to the lion, symbol of Judah.
Three more prophets were also contemporaries, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
All three prophets, along with Jeremiah, were hauled into captivity by the Babylonians when Judah fell, and Jerusalem was leveled to the ground. They experienced the heart-wrenching destruction of their beloved holy city, stared in horror as God’s holy house was looted and pillaged, and felt the heat of the blazing inferno the Babylonians made of Zion, God’s holy mountain. The unthinkable had happened.
Three prophets, three very different stories.
Haggai working in concert with the prophet Ezra, was part of the first wave of exiles who were permitted to return to the rubble of Jerusalem. He encouraged the people to rebuild the temple, despite their grinding poverty.
Zechariah, the longest of these three prophetic books, concentrated on the theme of God choosing and desiring Israel, of His promise to dwell among His beloved people forever.
Malachi spoke about the immediate social and religious ills that accompanied those who had returned to Zion—neglect and misuse of the Sabbath, and their sin of intermarriage.
Haggai can best be remembered with the bee, for bees build their home for their queen, honey was a symbol of God’s blessing, and as a swarm would do, God promised to drive their enemies away.
Zechariah is remindful of the donkey, bringing to mind his famous prophecy of the Lord coming in peace, riding on a donkey.
Malachi may be associated with the jackal, which appears early in his book, for God had left Edom to jackals, yet now His own people were acting like jackals.
[Scroll and table in antiquity | courtesy needpix.com]