These twelve books, which we typically call “The Minor Prophets,” were written by different authors to different audiences and span about 400 years of time. Even so, I found it incredibly enlightening to read through all twelve in one day. After all, at one time, these twelve books were actually all part of a single scroll, “The Book of the Twelve.” And when you read them together, they tell a story that leaves you asking the question, “When will God keep his promises?”
The Arrangement of the Minor Prophets
The first set of six books are the books that came from the period of Assyrian power. About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the Assyrian Empire destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took captives away into exile. These are the books of:
The second set of books spans the time period of Assyria’s decline and Babylon’s rise to power. The Empire of Babylon destroyed the Southern Kingdom of Judah and took captives to Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, after a long siege, in the year 586 B.C. These are the books of:
And finally, the third set of books were written after the Empire of Babylon fell to the Medo-Perian Empire and a trickle of Jews began to return to Jerusalem to start to rebuild their home. These are the books of:
The Wages of Sin is Death
These twelve books tell us that God is the sovereign judge, he takes sin seriously, and the people of every nation are brought before his throne to answer for their crimes. But what are the sorts of things God condemns? What makes God angry?
The answer to that question is what has really struck me hard during this particular journey through the Bible. Growing up, I thought God felt the same way about religious ceremonial laws as he did moral laws. I thought God was as likely to punish someone for accidentally failing to worship him in the right way as he would for killing someone. That comes, I believe, from giving more weight to a handful of passages rather than giving weight to the bulk of Scripture.
It seems to me, God brings down judgment primarily when people mistreat others and when they sit idly by and allow others to be mistreated. Over and over again, he tells his people that their religious ceremonies—even when carried out faithfully—mean absolutely nothing to him when they allow justice to be perverted under their noses. That isn’t to say the religious ceremonies were unimportant, but they were less important to God than how people treated their neighbor.
But in a nation, like Israel or Judah, where justice is being perverted, idols and being worshiped, and sexual immorality is running rampant, everyone is defiled. Every person in the nation is stained with sin. God knows the difference between the righteous and the wicked, but the sins of the wicked have even defiled the righteous and they all suffer the consequences of sin together.
Death comes to them all, without distinction. Israel and Judah are massacred, carried off into captivity, and scattered all over the earth. Their punishment isn’t some spiritual separation from God. Their punishment has nothing to do with the afterlife. It is the here-and-now, they suffer and die because the land, the earth, and their own hands are polluted by sin. They are a cursed people. All the nations of the earth are cursed people.
The Promise of a Golden Age
Throughout these prophetic books, there is a promise of a new golden age for Jerusalem. It will be a time of peace and prosperity. A time when the nations of the earth will come to the people of Israel and be joined together into a single people. A time when there will be no more conflict or war. A time when justice and righteousness will reign forever and ever.
We even see glimpses of a King who will come. Some call the coming king David, some call him “the Branch,” and some refer to him in other ways. But the idea is that a King will come, who will separate the righteous from the wicked and lead God’s people in following the Lord. Finally, the remnant of people who love the Lord will no longer have to suffer the consequences of sin.
The remnant of Israel and people of every nation will be filled with love and faithfulness. They will learn to do what is right. The land will yield its produce as it was in the Garden. And there will be peace.
You might suppose the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi would be joyful books. After all, these are the books that cover the period after the return from exile. But these are actually the saddest books of all. When the people return from exile, their hands are still stained with sin and everything they touch is stained with sin.
Even though a few Jews have returned and the temple gets rebuilt, the vast majority of Jews are dispersed all over the Persian Empire. The rag-tag group of refugees who have returned to the land is hardly the fulfillment of the grand promises God had made.
And so the people must continue to wait…
- They must wait for their coming King.
- They must wait for the curse to be lifted.
- They must wait for the land to become like the Garden of Eden.
- They must wait for their sins to be forgiven.
- They must wait for their enemies to be defeated.
- They must wait for the nations to come to them, seeking salvation.
And that’s where we must end…waiting for the King.
I love you and God loves you,
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