by Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. and Gary E. Yates
We offer this work on the Book of the Twelve (or the Minor Prophets as they are known in the English Old Testament) with the conviction that the message of these prophets is especially relevant for the church in the turbulent times in which we live. The Minor Prophets offer a compelling portrayal of God through vivid and dramatic metaphors. In judgment, the God of Israel is like a fierce warrior, a roaring lion, a raging whirlwind, and a consuming fire.
And yet, the same prophets who employ these frightening images also assure us that in his work of salvation, the Lord is a faithful husband, a loving Father, a healer who restores, and a compassionate shepherd. David Wells wrote some time ago,
It is one of the defining marks of Our Time that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable. He has lost his saliency for human life. Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgments no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertiser’s sweet fog of flattery and lies.
The prophets remind us that God cannot be pushed to the margins of our lives or trivialized and manipulated into fulfilling our personal agendas. The prophets restore a vision of God’s immensity and challenge us to worship and revere him above all else.
Popular approaches often treat the prophets primarily as prognosticators and search their messages for connections to current events or for predictions about the end times. The prophets often spoke of the last days and enlarge our vision of the future kingdom of God, but they concentrated their preaching on confronting the sins of their culture and instructing the people about how to live in faithfulness and obedience to the Lord.
In speaking to the crises and moral dilemmas of their day, the prophets addressed ethical issues that remain crucially important in the contemporary world, including the proper use of wealth, treatment of the poor, legal justice, war, violence, and the responsibilities of leadership. Just like Israel and Judah, the church must take to heart the prophets’ call to reject religious formalism and spiritual apathy and to return to a vibrant relationship with the living God.
The prophets also help to inform a faith-filled perspective on world events in our troubled times. The God of the prophets is not a nationalistic deity merely presiding over his own people and territory but is One who judges both Israel and the nations. If the Lord exercised his sovereignty over the nations as the Assyrians and Babylonians led his people into exile, then he is equally able to accomplish his purposes in the midst of current global unrest and the threat of international terrorism. The prophets advocate trust in the Lord instead of military power and political alliances as the ultimate source of peace and security. The prophets’ vision of the nations beating their swords into plows and streaming to Zion to worship the Lord offers real hope in place of empty political rhetoric that offers no real solutions for the world’s problems.
We have written this overview of the Book of the Twelve for students, pastors, and all who seek to understand this neglected segment of God’s Word. This part of Scripture remains obscure and unfamiliar for many Christians, and in teaching the prophets over the years, we have learned that many of our students would agree with Luther’s assessment that the prophets
have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at.
Yet the message of the Twelve is extremely relevant, and its material, while challenging, is quite approachable with a little direction. Sermons and lessons from the Old Testament Minor Prophets are not common in our churches today, and we find this to be shortsighted, keeping the people of God ignorant about a significant portion of the Word of God. This is a tragedy. The Minor Prophets present unique interpretive challenges, but the blessings that come from careful and diligent study of this part of Scripture are worth the time and effort.
In this new 7-minute video Fuhr and Yates give a behind-the-scenes look at their book on the minor prophets and explain how it brings the messages of the prophets to life for students of Scripture today.
Request a faculty review copy here.