|Minor Prophets: Major Messages
|Before we begin our study,
it will be helpful to learn some background information about the books of
the prophets and their approximate dates.
Major and Minor Prophets
Let’s begin with a brief description of what the terms “Major Prophets” and “Minor Prophets” mean. In the Old Testament, there are 16 books referred to as the books of the Prophets. Biblical scholars have divided the 16 books into two categories. Augustine was the first person to use the terms “Major” and “Minor” to indicate the size of the books, not their relative importance. The Minor Prophets contain fewer chapters than those of the Major Prophets.
Scholars do not agree on the timeline of the prophets. I found at least ten different timelines. None of them agree completely on dates. If I were to simplify the research information I would say there are essentially two timelines that seem to have the acceptance among the scholars. So I offer both for your consideration.
The Minor Prophets
The Major Prophets
742-687 BC *
Who was this man called Amos?
Amos was a shepherd in a region called Tekoa, about six miles south of Bethlehem. Commentaries describe the area as somewhat rugged, rocky, and with sparse grazing fields. Shepherds in that region had to make extensive trips to feed their flocks.
In the book of Amos, we find two uses Amos performed: he kept sheep (Amos 1:1), and he cultivated sycamore trees (Amos 7:14). One translation says that he was a “pincher” of the sycamore tree blossom. This means he was a pruner. The sycamore tree in that region produced a low quality fig. Its taste was not as exquisite as that of other fig trees, so it was called a poor man’s fig tree. When overwhelmed by hunger, the poor availed themselves of the sycamore tree’s abundance.
Unlike the “sons of the Prophets” or the priests, Amos had no training or preparation prior to his call to bear a message from the Lord to the ten Northern Tribes of Israel. Amos appeared to the people, spoke the message, and then departed, never to be heard of again. It is interesting to note that his name is not mentioned anywhere else in the Word except for Luke 3:25 and most biblical scholars think that this verse actually refers to Amoz, the father of the prophet Isaiah.
Amos’ name means “burden bearer.” That seems quite appropriate for the task at hand. When we study Amos, our burden is to think from essence and not person. Rather then getting caught up in Amos himself, we need to get caught up in what his prophecies represent. How can we find ourselves in his text? Where does each lesson challenge us as members of the New Church?
We can learn more about who Amos was in the Word by considering his two uses—shepherd and pruner of sycamore trees. In Arcana Coelestia (AC) 343, we are told that a shepherd represents a person who exercises charity. Someone who leads and teaches is called a shepherd, and those who are led and taught are called a flock. This shepherd tended sycamore trees, the “poor man’s fig trees.” A sycamore tree denotes external truth, and a fig tree represents external good (AC 7553).
Putting the two uses of Amos together may help us understand why he was chosen to go to the Northern Tribes. They had fallen on spiritually hard times. The people as a flock, and their priests as shepherds, were in a wilderness state, and their external lives were about as tasteless as the figs on the sycamore tree. Genuine obedience to the Lord was at a low point. The Lord always seeks to improve, or lift, the quality of His children. He sought to help the people shun evils as sins so they might do the work of repentance. Until the external part of a person is willing to be put in order, the person resists the ways of the Lord. Because the Israelites in the Northern Tribes were in this state, hard prophecies had to be spoken to them. The Lord chose Amos to reveal serious spiritual disorders.
Fear, predictions of doom, and hard sayings about spiritual disorder are not topics people enjoy. We prefer happier themes. But when the Word says the Lord “roars from Mount Zion,” we need to remember the “roaring” speaks of His zeal and love, not anger. The Lord doesn’t get angry. He holds up a mirror so that His people may see what they are doing to themselves. He wants us all to shun evils as sins to keep from losing our souls. “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matt. 16:26)
What are some of the characteristics of the Prophets?
To learn more about prophets, read AC 2534. Essentially, the Writings teach us four things about the prophets in the Word.
1. They delivered the words of the Lord and not their own.
2. The messages they gave to the people often came to them in dreams or visions.
3. Often, the prophets had no idea what the prophecies meant.
4. The prophets had to memorize or write down their prophecies in order to pass them on.
Biblical scholars think that Amos wrote his prophecies down.
What conditions in the Northern Tribes made Amos’ prophecy necessary?
The Oxford Annotated Bible prefaces the book of Amos with a useful summary, excerpted here:
This description highlights the main problems in the Northern Tribes:
All of these problems show us why the Lord needed to “roar out of Zion.” The Northern Tribes had failed to pursue eternal values. Instead, they longed for the things that thieves, rust, and moths could take from them. We can also see why many of Israel’s neighbors received warnings in the prophecy of Amos. The Lord wanted Israel to see in others what was so deeply involved in their hearts.
Israel thrilled at hearing the prophecy against others but resented the prophecy when the Divine light exposed their own dark motives. The Oxford summary continues:
With this information in mind, let’s begin the study of Amos. Remember to use a notebook. Write out impressions, questions, and insights for your own reflection or to share in the group with whom you are studying.