Micah | Nahum | Habakkuk | Zephaniah | Obadiah | Ezekiel | Joel
In the preceding historical survey we have passed by several books which can better be considered in separate sections:
1. PROPHETICAL BOOKS
There are seven of these, and we shall name them in the order of time as nearly as that can be determined.
The ministry of this prophet ran through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; and he was therefore a contemporary of Isaiah, who prophesied under the same kings. He called his book "The word of Jehovah that came to Micah the Morasthite, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem." He predicts the downfall of both these cities and rebukes the people sharply for the sins which are bringing destruction upon them. He also predicts the restoration of the people, and it is he who uttered the plain prediction respecting the birthplace of our Lord, which was quoted to Herod by the scribes when the wise men appeared in Jerusalem. As he prophesied for so long a time, it almost certain that his small book contains but a very small part of his prophetic utterances.
This writer does not tell us when he prophesied; but his book is called "The burden of Nineveh," and it is a prediction of the downfall and desolation of that ancient city. It was uttered after the Assyrians, whose capital Nineveh was, had invaded Judah for the last time (i: 9- 15); and this was done by Sennacherib in the reign of Hezekiah. Between this time and the fall of Nineveh, which occurred twenty years later (B. C. 625), Nahum prophesied; and this is as near as we can come to fixing his date. His little book opens with a magnificent tribute to the majesty and power of Jehovah, and his description of the battle scenes at the final siege of Nineveh is so vivid as to seem that of an eyewitness.
This prophet, like Nahum, fails to tell us when he prophesied; but his opening sentences show that it was in a time of general lawlessness, and when the Chaldean invasion, which he predicts, would take place in the days of those to whom he spoke. This agrees with the wicked period near the close of Manasseh's reign or the early part of that of Josiah, for this was a period of lawlessness, and it was separated from the Chaldean invasion not less than twenty-five years nor more than forty. At this time the Chaldeans were still under the dominion of the Assyrians, and there was no human prospect of their coming into supreme power. The prayer of Habakkuk, which occupies the latter half of his book, is one of the grandest and most devout effusions in the whole Bible.
This prophet traces his genealogy back four generations to Hezekiah; and as the only noted man of that name was king Hezekiah, it is supposed that he belonged to the royal family. He prophesied in the reign of Josiah (i: 1); but in what part of his reign is not stated. If it was in the first thirteen years, he preceded Jeremiah (Jer. 1: 2), and that it was is almost certain when we consider the contents of his book; for he represents the people of Jerusalem and Judah at the time as engaged in various forms of idolatry (i: 4-6), all of which were abolished by Josiah in the twelfth year of his reign. The first two chapters and part of the third are devoted to denunciations of Jerusalem for its iniquities, and predictions of destructive judgments to be brought upon her therefore. Adjacent nations are also included, especially those who had been enemies to the Jews. The last half of the third chapter is devoted to a prediction of the final deliverance of Israel from the impending calamities, and of the prosperity which was to follow. As this rousing prophetic appeal was sounded in the ears of the people in the early part of Josiah's reign, and came from the lips of a kinsman of the king, there can be little doubt that it greatly influenced the latter to undertake the reformation for which his reign is distinguished. The book should be read just after reading the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, and before reading that of Josiah. It gives an inside view of the state of society when Josiah, at twelve years of age, came to the throne, and it helps to account for the surprising fact that though his father and his grandfather had been given to idolatry, and to all manner of wickedness, he took the opposite course in overthrowing the idolatry which they had established, and in bringing the people back to the worship of Jehovah.
This very short book is entitled, "The Vision of Obadiah." Of the personal history of this prophet we have no information. The first part of the book (i: 1-16) is a denunciation of Edom for the animosity which it had shown towards the Jews when Jerusalem was overthrown by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar, and a prediction of punishment for this unnatural enemy toward a kindred people. It was written then, after that event, and before the predicted punishment. A similar denunciation of Edom by Jeremiah (xlix: 7-22) contains some of the same sentences employed by Obadiah, showing that one of these prophets copied from the other. As they wrote nearly at the same time, it can scarcely be determined which did the copying. The rest of the book is devoted to predicting a more complete overthrow of Edom by the Jews (17-21), and this was fulfilled after the return of the latter from the Babylonian exile. Ezekiel, who was also a contemporary of Obadiah, has a similar prediction (xxv: 12-14). There is nothing said of this hostility of Edom in any of the historical books; but it crops out only in the writings of these three prophets, but also in the 137th Psalm, written in the captivity, or soon after its close, in which the author says: "Remember, O Lord, against the children of Edom The days of Jerusalem; Who said, Rase it, rase it, Even to the foundation thereof."
This prophet, like Jeremiah, was a priest (i: 3). He was called to be a prophet in the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity, which corresponds with the fifth year of the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Jerusalem. He was at the time among the captives in the land of the Chaldeans (i: 3), and he was doubtless one of those who were carried away with Jehoiachin by Nebuchadnezzar. When he began to prophesy, Jeremiah had already been engaged in the work about thirty years; and as Ezekiel was now thirty years old (i: 1), he had been brought up from infancy under the teaching of Jeremiah. He continued to prophesy until the 27th year of Jehoiachin's captivity (xxix: 17), and perhaps longer. His first six or seven years lapped over the last six or seven of Jeremiah, and during that period they were fellow workers, the one in Jerusalem and the other in the vicinity of Babylon, both foretelling the speedy downfall of the kingdom of Judah, and exhorting the people to repentance. The first half of Ezekiel's book, or twenty-four of its forty-eight chapters, is devoted to these topics. He employs a great many very strange symbols, both in word and action, some of which are very difficult of interpretation; but he also teaches with great plainness of speech many lessons of extreme importance, not for his own age only, but for all generations of men. The reader will readily distinguish the chapters containing these lessons, and he should study them until they become very familiar. The latter half of the book contains predictions respecting the restoration of Israel and Judah, and their subsequent career in their own country. In this part there are descriptions and symbols still more mysterious than those in the first part, some of which have never been satisfactorily interpreted. Like the other prophets, he gives very little information about his personal history, and nothing is now known respecting the time or place of his death. Had he lived to be one hundred years old, he would have seen the end of the captivity; but as that is improbable, he most probably died in Babylon.
Nothing is known of the personal history of Joel except that he was the son of Pethuel (i: 1). He does not say, like the majority of the prophets, in what reign or reigns he prophesied, and the indications of date in his book are so indefinite that commentators have differed very greatly as to the time in which he wrote, some placing him among the earliest, and some among the latest of the prophets. Fortunately, the value of the book to us does not depend upon its exact date. The first part of the book (i: 1-11, 17) contains a prediction of a visitation of locusts such as had not been known to previous generations in the land of Israel (i: 2, 3). The description is wonderfully vivid, made so in part by speaking frequently as if the scene were passing before the eyes of the prophet. The language employed in parts of the description is such that some interpreters have understood the whole as a symbolic representation of desolating armies of men. Next, after this visitation, the prophet foretells a prosperous condition of the country (ii: 18-27), and then he predicts the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost quoted the prediction as being then in part fulfilled (ii: 28-32; Comp. Acts 2: 16-21). This is the most notable feature of Joel's prophesying. It was given to him among the prophets to make the most distinct prediction of the great event which inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth. The rest of the prophecy is taken up with a prediction of God's judgments on the nations surrounding Judah for the cruelties which they had visited on his people. It makes no mention of the kingdom of Israel; and this circumstance, together with the fact that all its local allusions have reference to Judah, shows that the prophet lived in the southern kingdom. There is no particular part of the history with which the book has any special connection, or on which it throws light.
Questions on Chapter 9
1. What was the date of Micah? (See the list of prophets in the appendix).
2. What were the subjects on which he spoke?
3. Against what city did Nahum speak?
4. Date and theme of Habakkuk's prophecy?
5. The subject of his prayer?
6. Date of Zephaniah and his relation to the reformation of Josiah?
7. Against what people did Obadiah speak, and for what crime?
8. Where and when did Ezekiel live?
9. Name some of symbols and visions of this book.
10. With what especially does the closing part deal?
11. What kind of a scourge does Joel describe?
12. What beautiful prophecy does he record?