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TMP The Minor Prophets.

The Minor Prophets.

Before any study of the contents of the twelve books that have become known as the "Minor Prophets", it is necessary to look at the background of these men who were called to become prophets to the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

To understand their ministries and something of the message that they presented to their people, it is therefore essential that one understands something of the "prophetic Office."

1.The Normative Prophet.

The first person that the Bible calls a prophet (nabi) was Abraham. (Gen. ch.20:7) The Old Testament prophecy recieved its normative form in the life, person and ministry of Moses who constituted a standard comparison for all the future prophets. ( Deut.18:15-19. and see Messiah Deut.34:10.)

Every feature which characterised a prophet of the most high God (YHWH) in classical tradition of the Hebrew or Old Testament prophecy was first found in Moses. Moses was first called by God and his calling is found alone in God. (Exodus 3:1-4, Isaiah 6., Jeremiah 1:4-9., Ezekiel 1-11, Hosea 1:2). It is only the false prophet who decides himself to become a prophet, all prophets are called by God and by him alone.

The object of God`s call to specific men was given to introduce that person to the intimate presence of God or to the counsel of the Lord. ( 1 Kings 22:19, Jeremiah 23:22, Amos 3:7). The prophet stood before men as a man who had first stood before God. (1 kings 12:1, 18:15). It also needs to be understood that the prophetic awareness of history stemmed from Moses. when Isaiah makes his tremendous polemic statments against idolatry, one of the most potent contentions is that God (YHWH) alone is the author of all prophecy and that idols are at best wise after the event stems directly from Moses and the Exodus.

Moses was sent by the Lord God to enter into the land of Egypt and within his heart he carried revelation which would eventually be worked out through the history of the children of Israel. the great events that were to take place in the life of the Hebrew people were already known to Moses.

History became revelation because there was added to the historical situation a man prepared beforehand to say what it meant. Moses was not left to struggle to understand the meaning of events as they took place, he discerned them before hand for they had been revealed by God to him.

So it was with every Old Testament Prophet, those who were specially called by God were also forewarned of coming events that would change and shape the nation`s future. Many of the Old Testament prophets found themselves confronting kings and also carrying out an active political role in the affairs of the nation.

Moses was the first prophet to explain the laws of God to the children of Israel. On at least one occasion his influence was such  that he was refered to as a king. (Deut.33:5) It is also interesting to note that the first two kings of Israel were prophets but this role did not continue long for God began to call men who would work along side the kings of Israel.

In Moses that sense of prediction and proclamation of the message was clearly seen, his ministry always brought the children of Israel close to their God through the prophecies he gave. All the other prophets had similar traits concerning their ministries.

Moses established a norm here, namely that in the interest of speaking to the present situation the prophet often undertakes to enlarge upon events yet to come. It is the interlocking of proclamation ad prediction which distinguishes the true prophet from the mere prognosticator. Even when Moses uttered his great prophecy concerning the coming prophet (Deut 18:15) he was dealing with the very pressing problems of the relationship of the people of God to the practices and allurements of pagan idols and cults.

The two other characteristic features which can be seen in the life of the prophets as well as in Moses`s ministry are the use of "Symbols" in the delivery of their message. (Jeremiah 19:1, Ezekiel 4:1)  Moses himself used uplifted hands (Exodus 17:8) and the uplifted serpent (Numbers 21:8) not to mention the highly symbolic cultus which he mediated to the nation. Finally the intercessory aspect of the prophetic task was also seen in his ministry. He was, " for the people Godward" (Exodus 18:19, Numbers 27:5) and on at least one noteable ocasion Moses literally stood in the breach as a man of prayer. (Exodus 32:30, Deut 9:18, 1 Kings 8:6, 2 Kings 19:4).

2. The titles of the Prophets.

"The man of God" seems to describe how the children of Israel saw and understood the prophets and their ministries. This special title was used by Moses in Deuteronomy 33:1 and it seemed to continue right to the end of the monarchy. (1Samuel 2:27, 29, 9:6. 1 Kings 8:1). It was a title that differienciated the prophets from all other men, (2 kings 4:9) the speaker says, " I percieve that this is a Holy man of God." The other general title that is used is, " His servants, thy servants, My servants."

In the Old Testament we don`t have any reference to the prophets being addressed as the "servants of God", on the other hand God addresses His prophets as my servants, this can be seen in 2 Kings 17:13, 23, 21:10, 24:2, Ezra 9:11 and Jeremiah 7:25.

There are three Hebrew words that are used to describe the prophets, "nabi, ro`eh and hozeh". The word "nabi" is always translated prophet. While the Hebrew word "ro`eh" which is an active participle of the verb "to see" is translated "seer". the third Hebrew word is also an active psarticiple and has no English equivilent and is simply translated "prophet or seer". (Isaiah 30:10, 1 Chronicles 29:29).

The Hebrew word "nabi" may have come from an Akkadian root giving us two possible meanings. There is first of all the idea of a person who is being called to become a prophet and also the idea of someone who is doing the calling. Either meaning suits the word "nabi" and also suits the nature of the prophets ministry as seen in the Old Testament.

3. Foretelling and Forthtelling.

The prophet is primarily a man of the "word" of God. Even though he has other functions, his life and ministry is surrounded by the word of God. His main task was to bring the word of God to men so that they might respond accordingly. The prophets word would change the course of the nations history. Isaiah 28-29 is a good example of this. In those chapters we read of a group of people struggling to cope with a certain problem, also we see them searching frantically for the answer to a pressing political problem of political expediency and in the process, rejecting God`s word.

Chapter 20 onwards reveals a situation that transpires, the problem is no longer one of political balance of power between Judah, Assyria and Egypt but one of spiritual relationship between Judah, Assyria and Egypt on the one hand and the word of God on the other.

The word of God is an active ingrediant added to the situation, which is henceforth impelled foward in terms of the word spoken. It would seem that the prophets spoke to their people through a series of warnings and encouragements concerning the future. Almost every prophet appears as a foreteller. (Amos 1:2)

There are three main reasons for this, firstly, it is necessary if people are to exercise moral responsibility in the present that they should be aware of the future. This immediately lifts the Old Testament prophecy out of the realm of prognostication and carnal curiousity. Often we see the prophet calling people to repentance (Isaiah 30:6-9) and also to practical holiness (Isaiah 2:5), these calls are equally based on a word concerning the future.

The vision of wrath and judgement to come is made on the basis of a present seeking of the mercy of God. the vision of bliss to come calls to a walking in the revealed light.

Secondly, one of the predictions that arise from the fact that prophets speak in the name of YHWH, the Lord God who rules all history and so through the prophets knowledge of the word of God sprang an awareness of what he would do, as he guided history according to the unchangeable principles of His most Holy nature.

Thirdly, prediction belongs to the very nature of the prophetic office. In Deut 18:9 Israel is seen entering the land of Canaan and they are forewarned about the abominations of the Canaanite cults, such as infant sacrifice, also Canaanite religious practitioners, such as diviners.These diviners used their occult powers to look into the future, this according to the scripture was a curse in the sight of the Lord.

On the other hand the prophets always came speaking in the name of the Lord God. (YAHWEH) The message that these prophets brought was always judged by the accuracy of their forecasts, a clear proof that Israel expected prophetic predictions in the life of the nation. So foretelling and forthtelling  was very much  a way of life for the nation of Israel. Israel thrived and grew strong as a nation when they followed carefully all that God revealed to them through prophetic utterance.

Prophetic inspiration & Methods.

1.Modes of Inspiration.

Often in the prophetic books we read that the "word of the Lord came", it would seem that the word of the Lord became actively present to the one who recieved it. There was tremendous personal awareness that the prophet  was actually hearing the voice of God. It would seem that often the prophet would recieve the exact words from God, which had to be preached and taught to Israel and not only Israel but many of their surrounding heathen neighbours.

We also see that God used dreams and visions to inspire His prophets or to give them some very important message. Jeremiah 31:26 reveals that the word of God can be known through such a method. the experience of seeing visions is best exemplified in the prophet Zechariah. On the other hand it would seem that the word of God was also perceived through symbols, (Amos 7:7, Jeremiah 18).

It is amazing to realise that God is not tied to any one method when it comes to the revealing of His will to His creation. direct word, visions, dreams, symbols etc. these are jsut a few of the ways God choses to reveal himself to His prophets in the Old Testament period.

Of course from these methods that God uses to reveal Himself to mankind, the question of the Holy Spirit in prophetic inspiration needs to be raised. There are at least 18 passages which associate prophetic inspiration with the activity of the Holy Spirit. Numbers 24:2 (Balaam), 1 Samuel 10:6, 10, 119:20,23 (Prophetic Ecstacy), 1 Kings 22:24, Joel 2:28,29, Hosea 9:7, Nehemiah 9:30, zechariah 7:12 (prophecy arises from the Spirit of God), Micah 3:8, (prophets directly inspired by God).

In the light of this the prophets were led by the Spirit, inspired by the spirit, so that they became a mighty weapon in the hand of God.

2.Modes of Communication.

The prophets came before their contemporaries as men with a word from God. The spoken oracle is the form in which the word of God is expressed. Each prophet stamped the marks of his personality and experience upon that word. The message that Jeremiah and Amos delivered are as different as their personalities. So there must be an awareness of the fact that God gave words to men, exact words, specific instructions which were to be delivered complete and without any change in their meaning.  

God used the prophet as a mouth piece but having said that it also needs to be realised, the words that the prophets spoke were the words of a certain man at a certain time under certain circumstances. Some modern thinkers concluded that the prophet` s words became somewhat imperfect because they were falliable creatures.

this is of course a modern interpretation, but proof of the authenticity of the messages of the prophets stand on the fact that no where in their writings do they suggest that they themselves have interpretated what God revealed to them. They all spoke "thus saith the Lord."

The message and the mode of communication will later be examined in a little more detail.What had the old Testament prophets to say to Israel and to all the nations? The programmes that follow will briefly look into the ministry and messages of the twelve minor prophets, using the Old Testament order beginning with Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephanian, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

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