Lecture 13: The Book of the Twelve (Part 1)
Course: Understanding the Old Testament
Lecture: The Book of the Twelve (Part 1)
We now come to the last book in the Prophets and for us, this is the most unusual book of all, because it is the Book of the Twelve; that is, it is 12 prophets conceived as one book. We are used to calling these the Minor Prophets, that is the shorter books, the shorter prophets. Oddly enough, in the ancient world, the Minor Prophets size books were more normal than the prophetic books like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which are quite long. Shorter prophetic texts were what were written in other ancient countries. The Book of the Twelve was considered in Hebrew tradition as one book. I am going to ask you to take the unusual step of looking at them as one book, and to see them as a united prophetic testimony. How can we do that?
Structure of the Book
I think we can do that by seeing that the Book of the Twelve emphasizes sin, punishment, and restoration, the great themes of prophecy in some unique and creative ways. Let’s note the structure of the Book of the Twelve. In my opinion, the first six prophecies describe Israel and the nations’ sins. The next three books stress the punishment of sin on the Day of the Lord, and the last three emphasize the restoration of Israel and their neighbors. Now of course, all three themes are found in several of the books. But I am asking you to see what each one emphasizes.
That is, the first six prophecies, all of which pre-date the destruction of Jerusalem, emphasize the sins that lead to destruction. The next three pre-date the destruction of Jerusalem as well, but are much closer in time and they are looking to the destruction of Judah and other nations, but also starting to ask about renewal. The last three emphasize renewal, though they note what Israel and the nations have done to bring judgment on themselves. So that is the structure of the Book of the Twelve.
Characters, Historical Details, and Theological Themes
I also want you to realize that like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Book of the Twelve has some fascinating characters. In the Book of the Twelve, you will find Yahweh appearing as father, husband, king, and judge. You will see obedient prophets like Hosea, a rebellious prophet Jonah, and an intellectual prophet Habakkuk. Israel emerges both as a God-figuring minority and as a callous, perverse majority. The nations are both wicked and repentant, depending on which book you are reading.
The Twelve also has historical details and theological themes that are important. For instance, Hosea and Amos describe Israel just before Isaiah’s time. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi address the people after the exile, a new subject for us. Jonah shows that God’s love extends even to the Assyrians. Habakkuk questions how God can allow the wicked to prosper. So clearly, the Book of the Twelve has a literary and theological richness as a group that it would not have as separate books.
Overview of the Structure
I want to give you an overview now of the structure of the Book of the Twelve and the emphases that are found there. I will do this by mentioning each of the 12 prophets that make up the Book of the Twelve. The first six prophets highlight sin, the covenant breaking that Judah and Israel do, but also the sins that other nations have committed. In Hosea the text highlights Israel’s general spiritual adultery. In many ways, in very general ways, the people have committed what Hosea considers spiritual adultery. This theme reminds you of Ezekiel 16, 20, and 23 and Jeremiah 2 to 6.
Then the book of Joel emphasizes Israel’s sins and mentions the nations’ general wickedness. In the book of Amos the specific sins of Israel and the nations are recounted. Whereas Joel and Hosea are more general, Amos is very specific, mentioning oppression, sexual immorality, and all manner of particular wickednesses. Obadiah then talks about Edom’s hatred of Israel. Edom was a neighboring country and had a long-term animosity towards Israel.
In Jonah we see Israel’s hatred of Assyria; that is, Jonah the prophet does not want these people in Nineveh, one of the major cities of Assyria, to repent. So there is equal distaste between Israel and the nations as they sin against one another. Then in Micah we have the solution for sin; that is, the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Day of the Lord and God’s plans to give a future for his people. But the sins are still recounted in many, many ways in Micah; but we begin to see the solution for sin coming.
The next three books highlight punishment. The book of Nahum emphasizes a serious destruction by Babylon in 612 to 609 B.C. Even the great and powerful nation of Assyria could not sin and do as they wished forever. God judges them. The book of Habakkuk highlights the punishment that God brings on both Israel and Babylon. Habakkuk, a very intelligent prophet, wonders why God has not judged the wicked in Israel. God responds by telling him he will send Babylon to defeat the wicked people in Israel. But Habakkuk knows that still leaves the Babylonians, wicked people themselves, prospering. What will God do about that? God promises to judge Babylon as well. The book of Zephaniah begins with God punishing the entire world, but it ends with promises that God will renew all nations. Still, the emphasis is on judgment on the Day of the Lord.
The last three books highlight restoration. Haggai emphasizes the restoration of the temple. Zechariah stresses restoration of Jerusalem and the nations through the work of the Messiah. And Malachi stresses restoration of the Israelites as the return to the land.
So this is the structure of the Book of the Twelve. These are the 12 prophets that are part of the Book of the Twelve and the general emphases that they highlight in their book. So we will spend just a few minutes talking about the books themselves, giving you a bit of setting and a little bit of the outline of each. You will want to go back and study these books yourselves, using what you have learned in 1 and 2 Kings and what you have learned in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel as a baseline for understanding what you find in these books.
A few words on Hosea, the book that stresses Israel’s general spiritual adultery. According to the first verses of the book, Hosea’s ministry lasts from 750 to 725 B.C. In general, these were good years for the northern and southern kingdoms. Both nations enjoyed political security due to long-term, successful kings. Traditionally powerful countries like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were temporarily weak, so the Israelites could extend their borders. Unfortunately, as we know, good times do not always produce good worship. Israel has become what Yahweh calls “spiritual prostitutes.” They chase after idols of all kinds and thereby break the covenant. When Hosea informs the people of God’s displeasure, they are amazed. After all, if Yahweh is so angry, why is the nation so blessed. Hosea’s preaching sounds like nonsense.
We need to remember that military success and financial ease is not evidence of God’s pleasure. Indeed, it is only faithfulness to him in all of our ways that pleases God. Riches will come and go, according to the Scriptures. They are not sure signs of God’s blessing and providence on us. Rather, it is only our faithfulness to him based on our faith that pleases him. He will bless us as he wishes, but riches are no sure guarantee of spiritual power.
Israel’s Adultery Dramatized (1–3)
In Hosea 1-3, the first major section of the book, we have Israel’s adultery dramatized. God uses Hosea’s marriage in these chapters to illustrate Israel’s sin. It is a very painful and difficult passage to read, for the Lord asked Hosea to go and marry a prostitute and have children, who were born out of prostitution. So he takes a wife to himself and she soon strays away from him; and yet, he loves her and takes her back.
God says in chapter 2 that this is a picture of what Yahweh has been doing with Israel all along. He has called Israel to himself, he has married her and yet she has gone away from him repeatedly. And so, God pursues Israel, brings her back to himself, and makes plans for a brighter future. We have seen this pattern throughout the Scripture, whether it was in the law, when Israel went away from God and worshiped the golden calf and the Lord forgave them through the intercession of Moses and through prayers of the people; or whether as in the book of Judges, the people constantly went away from the Lord and he took them back because of their pleading with him; or whether it is in Jeremiah 2–6, or whether it is in Ezekiel 16:20 or 23, this is a common picture. It is amazing that God forgives Israel. It is amazing that God forgives us for all the times that we stray away from him and yet repent.
Chapters 1-3 show us that Hosea suffers more personal humiliation than perhaps any other prophet. Twice he has to love an adulterous woman. There is no doubt that his obedience to God cost him dearly. Still, he does not suffer alone, for Israel sins like Hosea’s wife. Yahweh experiences the humiliation of the covenant people worshiping idols. Both God and prophet then pay a huge price to redeem their straying spouses. Few other Biblical tests combine divine and human pain so keenly.
Israel’s Adultery Detailed (4–14)
In Hosea 4–14 Israel’s adultery is detailed. God states that there are several sins that the people have committed. In Hosea 4:1-3 God mentions five sins that are in the Ten Commandments with adultery included in the list. Yahweh denounces priests in chapter 4:6-9, prophets in chapter 4:5, the people in 4:9-14. They are all lovers of adultery and prostitution. They all love Baal worship. They all love mixing God’s religion with other religions. And prior to the days in which Samaria was destroyed by Assyria, the people are told by Hosea that their actions will lead to defeat and to death. But they do not listen.
Hosea describes this descent into sin in chapters 5–10 as a spirit of prostitution, of giving birth to illegitimate activities that can only lead to death. But in chapter 11 the Lord says he cannot give the people up. He will continue to reach out to them. He will continue to find ways to bring some of the people to himself. So the prophet concludes the book with a heartfelt call to return to the Lord: “Return O Israel to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity,” chapter 14:1 says.
Verse 2 continues, “Take with you words and return to the Lord. Say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity. Accept what is good and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us. We will not ride on horses and we will no more say ‘our God’ to the work of our hands. For in you the orphan finds mercy.’”
And God’s response as they return to him is as follows in 14:4: “I will heal their apostasy. I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel. He shall blossom like the lily. He shall take root like the trees of Lebanon. His shoots shall spread out. His beauty shall be like the olive and his fragrance like Lebanon.” The Lord asked finally in verse 9, the last verse of the book: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things. Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” God loves his straying people and calls them back to himself with a love that cannot be denied. God’s love is unquenchable and he will draw his people to himself.
The book of Joel is impossible to date with precision; but in the Hebrew tradition, it is linked with other books from the 8th century B.C. The book of Joel in chapter 1 threatens the people with a great invasion of locusts. God will use natural causes to bring the people to himself, to try to show them about their sins. In 1:13-20 Joel calls on the people to repent and fast and pray and change their hearts. For, according to chapter 2, the Day of the Lord is coming. God is sending his judgment.
So, in 2:12 the text says that, “Even now declares the Lord, Return to me with all of your heart with fasting, with weeping and with mourning and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God.”
You should hear in 2:12-14 echoes of Exodus 34:6-7. God is gracious, compassionate. He is willing to forgive. But the warning is there, he will not clear the guilty. The day of the Lord is coming. But there is good news about this day of the Lord in a passage cited in Acts 2 that reminds us of Ezekiel 34 and 36. The Lord promises to pour out his Spirit through the day of the Lord.
In Acts 2:28: “It shall come to pass afterwards that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your old men shall dream dreams. Your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants on those days I will pour out my Spirit.” The Lord will pour out his Spirit on his people. Again, they will be faithful to him and again, they will take his word to the nations.
Now I want to remind you that when I say he will redeem his people and he will pour out his spirit on his people, I don’t mean every Jewish person alive in the time of the book of Acts. It is always a smaller number on earth of people who follow the Lord. But he will pour out his Spirit on Israelites and the Israelites are Jesus’ disciples, according to the book of Acts; and they take his words to the ends of the earth. All of this happens because of God’s power and as part of God’s judgment.
Worldwide Lack of Justice and Love (1–2)
Speaking of judgment and justice, the book of Amos is all about justice, because the Lord mentions several sins that the people have committed. As we look at the book of Amos, in chapters 1-2 there is a worldwide lack of justice and love. Amos 1–2 mentions several places in the ancient world and he talks about violence done by one nation to another. In fact, he says in 1:3 that Damascus has threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron; that is, they have brutalized people with their war machines.
We look in 1:6 at Gaza, part of the Philistine nation – in fact, it is where the Gaza strip is today – that they have exiled a whole people and sold them into slavery, and God will judge them for this. It says in 1:13-15 that the Ammonites have committed atrocities in war, they have ripped open pregnant women who were part of the lands they were invading. Such atrocities continue to this day.
In Judah meanwhile, there is immorality. The text says that the immorality is of such nature that a father and son will lie down with the same prostitute and tells us in Israel Baal is alive and well and that Judah has rejected the law of the Lord. So there is a worldwide lack of justice and love.
The Injustice in Israel (3–6)
Chapters 3-6 highlight the injustice that is in Israel. All this has occurred despite the fact that Yahweh has chosen Israel, according to 3:1-2. What are they doing? According to chapter 4, Samaria’s women oppress the poor and crush the needy. Why do they do this? So they can have enough wine. They are sleek and well-fed cows while the poor lack food and shelter. These women love to brag about what they give to God, according to 4: 4-5. This sort of false worship will not be tolerated. Chapter 4 tells us that these people will go into exile at the hands of the Assyrians. Israel’s men are no better.
According to chapter 5 they visit pagan worship centers. They corrupt the judicial system. They trample the poor. They give bribes to keep the poor from receiving justice. According to chapter 6, they are rich and complacent. They lie on luxurious beds and eat choice meats. They enjoy playing and improvising harp music and they drink wine by the bowlful. It is a constant party for these people. Despite their ease or perhaps because of it, they don’t care about their nation’s spiritual condition. What will God do? By now you should know the answer. The Day of the Lord will punish these oppressors. According to chapter 5, this day will be a day of darkness and terror. It will be a day in which judgment will fall and God will take sin from the land.
Visions of the Coming Destruction (7:1–9:10)
In fact, Amos 7:1 to 9:10, the next section of the book, gives us visions of this coming destruction. God has measured out the people. They will be judged. They are like a basket of ripe fruit that is ripe for judgment. God will wait no longer. He will judge. But this is not the entirety of Amos’ message. Though the book does emphasize the injustice that comes from a worldwide lack of justice and love in chapters 1 and 2, the injustice in Israel and Judah in chapters 3-6 will lead to destruction, according to 7:1–9:10.
Statement of Restoration (9:11-15)
The book ends with a statement of restoration that is quoted in Acts 15 as the early church is thinking about its future. Amos 9:11 says, “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that has fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name ‘declares the Lord who does this.’”
In other words, God is going to restore the line of David. The Messiah will come. And when the Messiah comes, he will rebuild David’s people. He will rebuild Abraham’s descendants and they will have all the blessings that the Lord gives them. And all nations will benefit from what they do on behalf of the Lord.
So Amos 9 ends with emphases we have heard before. He stresses the covenant that Noah mentioned, that God has made with all the nations. He emphasizes Abraham, blessing all nations through his descendants. He emphasizes the Davidic covenant and he emphasizes the covenant made with Israel through Moses. All of these things are connected images. They come together in the day of judgment, on the Day of the Lord, as the Lord sets all things right in the future.
Obadiah is the shortest book of the Hebrew Bible and its message is simple. Israel’s neighbors have done violence to them and hated them. And the Lord will judge their pride on the Day of the Lord.
The book of Jonah is quite frankly the most unflattering portrait of a prophet that we have in the Bible. Jonah is a true prophet. He ministers in the 8th century B.C. As I mentioned, Hosea serves about 750 to 725 B.C. We are not sure when Joel ministers. But we think that because he is placed in the 8th century, it is probable that he is placed with the other 8th century prophets in the Book of the Twelve, and he may well have written in the 8th century.
Amos serves about the time of Hosea, that is 750 to 725 B.C. Obadiah, we are not certain when this book was written. There are many times that Jerusalem was under siege and in difficulty; but again, it is placed alongside other prophets from the 8th century B.C. Jonah is a prophet roughly from the time of Hosea and Amos. So again, he ministers before the fall of Israel in 722 B.C. Not only that, it is probable that he ministers even earlier. He probably ministers before Assyria becomes a great, conquering nation under the leadership of Tiglath-pileser III, who became king of Assyria in 745 B.C.
God Calls Jonah to Go to Nineveh (1–2)
In chapter 1 Jonah is given the command to go and to preach to Nineveh. He is to take God’s word to this foreign nation before they ever become the terrible, destroying, sinning nation that they become later. But as is well known, Jonah does the opposite of what he is commanded and he flees in the direction of Tarsus, that is Spain, rather than going north and east to what we know as Iraq today.
God is angry with this. He causes a great storm to toss the ship on which Jonah is fleeing, and the sailors throw him into the sea and he is swallowed by a great fish, which is God’s way of preserving him and chastising him. And while he is in the fish, he repents and agrees to go to Nineveh. The fish, according to chapter 2:10, vomits Jonah out on dry land, and he has plenty of time to think about what he has done as he goes overland to Nineveh.
Jonah Preaches Repentance in Nineveh (3)
In chapter 3 Jonah preaches repentance in Nineveh. Much to his anger, the people repent. They believe his word and there is a great revival. Chapter 4 tells us that God confronts Jonah about the fact that Jonah is upset that God has forgiven these people.
God is Concerned about All Nations (4)
It becomes clear to us in Jonah 4 that God is very, very concerned about all nations, about all people. He said, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh? They don’t know their right hand from their left because of their great sins.” So the Lord is having his prophet reach out to these foreign people and giving them his word. By 612 B.C., as we will see when we come to he book of Nahum, the people of Nineveh have forgotten all about what God has done. In the century that passes, the people who follow these who repent, do not turn to the Lord, but they turn to money and power and military as their gods.
Micah concludes the section on sin by reminding the people of the danger they are in. In chapters 1 and 2 the prophet announces judgment on Israel and Judah. This announcement of judgment comes about 705 to 700 B.C. So Micah ministers during the same time as Isaiah. Both of them warn Judah and Israel of Assyria’s march against their lands. The judgment is coming because of all the abuses in the land.
Chapters 3-5 stress the present injustice, but also the future prospect of glory in Israel. This glory will come for one very simple reason. God will send the Messiah. The passage is often cited at Christmas-time in my country. Micah 5:1 and following: “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be a ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”
What is their hope, according to chapters 3-5, in the midst of all of this injustice, in the midst of all of this sin? The hope is that God will send a descendant of David, a Messiah, a Savior, who will be born in Bethlehem, who will give them peace and who shall rule to the ends of the earth over all nations. The Messiah is their best hope for the future.
Then chapters 6 and 7 conclude with yet another indictment of the Lord against the people. According to chapter 6, the people have been involved in all sorts of covenant violations and corruptions. There have been many breaches of relationship, including oppression, which have led to social upheaval. But according to chapter 7, God will come and judge all of this sin. But through this judgment, according to the last verse of the book, God will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as he has sworn to our fathers from days of old. That is, even though he will send the day of judgment, he is not through with his people. As we have said many times, he will restore them through the work of the Messiah. He will restore them through the day of judgment. And they will be to him a people who will share his word to the ends of the earth.
Once again, I say, the New Testament claims that the early followers of Jesus, the first century Jewish Christians, fulfill these promises, just as Jesus himself fulfills the promise of a savior being born in Bethlehem. So these first six books remind us of the emphases, particularly on sin and covenant breaking and injustice and international wickedness, that we have already heard about in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.