Archives For Minor Prophets

I am a huge baseball fan and so this post will resonate with some and miss the boat with others. The 1994 Montreal Expos were a team that was poised to win the National League East. They had an all-star team with the likes of Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Mike Lansing, Pedro Martinez and Cliff Floyd to name a few. This team was getting it done even against my Atlanta Braves who were unreachable in the previous years. 114 games into the season the Expos were 74-40 and 6 games ahead of the Braves. They were the best team in baseball at the time. The problem is they never got to finish the season because of the 1994 MLB strike. It ruined the season and ultimately sealed the fate for the Expos as eventually the team never could recover and was later moved to Washington, D.C. (2004) to become the Nationals (who are ahead of the Braves right now coincidentally). I say this only to highlight that numerous times I have seen articles and TV shows highlighting the Expos of what “could have been” if the strike never happened. They talk about how good they were, how fast they were, how strong they were and it was not fair what happened.

I thought about this and how it related to youth ministry. I hear of youth ministers talking about the “good old days” when they had everything going smooth until “that” happened. “That” can range from a number of things like a church split, a death in the youth group, a youth minister getting fired, disagreement among philosophies or other tragic events. Tragic events are hard on a ministry and I am no expert in dealing with them but something I do know is that if a church is not careful the event can be a festering wound for years to come. Bitterness, anger and a lack of forgiveness can stymie any ministry no matter how brilliant the vision and organization. If a youth minister is smart he or she will concentrate on the climate of a ministry before they start thinking about nuts and bolts.

This can be done in the interviewing process where questions are asked about the nature of the ministry.  Beware of toxic youth cultures that hinder growth and quite frankly quench the Spirit. Take time for healing, mending but then move on to what God has in store next. Remember God stated there would be a remnant in Israel even after many were killed and all hope seemed lost.

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:15-17)


“The Prophets” Oil Painting by Angelico

Share this verse in a class with teenagers…

“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hosea 1:2).

That is a verse a sneaky little junior-high kid would come across to share with his friends and laugh and snicker. But how do you teach stuff like that to teenagers? Let me assure you that some of the stuff you come across in Scripture is graphic and would be considered R-rated material in movies. Yet if we are to declare the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27) then teaching difficult sections is part of it. If you ignore the sections that are difficult to explain then teenagers will feel cheated if not led astray.

One of those sections in Scripture is the section called the Minor Prophets (Hosea-Malachi). Typically these books were called “The Twelve” and are labeled “minor” not because of theology but because of length. There are 1,050 total verses in the minor prophets where as Jeremiah (1,364), Isaiah (1,292) and Ezekiel (1,273) each have more verses than the minor prophets (Source). The twelve are filled with judgments of doom on different nations yet they are also filled with hope for God’s steadfast love (chesed). So how do you teach these books to teenagers?

Place them in their historical context

These books were written during the period of history among God’s people known as the Monarchy or United/Divided Kingdom. It would do the teacher well to read 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles and pay attention to the different kings of the Northern and Southern kingdoms. Also understanding the outside influences of Assyria, Philistia and other nations is very important for placing the books in a context. I will caution you to do some major studies on this so that you can understand where the writer is coming from but please do not go overboard in sharing this information with your teenagers. They do not have to read all of 1-2 Kings to understand a minor prophet. Introduce the context so they can understand where the prophet is coming from.

Take some time to explain the prophetic role.

Teenagers (and adults too!) think prophecy means predicting future events yet most of the prophet’s role was to declare judgment on a nation for its rampant disobedience (usually idolatry). Again, don’t go overboard with this but simply introduce the role of the prophet even tying in the idea that maybe God (in a different but similar way) is calling us to be prophetic today.

Think big picture instead of verse-by-verse

I am not against a verse-by-verse approach but it seems that there are some common threads throughout the prophets that can be taught instead of going through the entire twelve books. Threads like:

  • God’s Judgment
  • Disobedience
  • Idolatry
  • Apathy
  • Entitlement (bad and good)
  • Covenant Love
  • Justice and Injustice
  • Forgiveness
  • Repentance
  • God’s mercy and grace
  • Law (i.e, Torah)

Threads like that will allow teenagers to see the forest through the trees.

Finally, place HEAVY emphasis on God’s redemptive plan among the mess of his people

Whether it is talking about outright rebellion like Jonah or the people of God filled with an insatiable greed (Hag. 1:6) God always had a desire to first discipline but with the purpose of bringing his people towards righteousness. And when the people went towards righteousness God would restore them to waves and waves of his steadfast love. The life of a teenager is weird, complex, difficult and confusing. They are going through so many changes physically, mentally and emotionally. Their lives, more often than not, are messy. They need to understand God’s redemptive purposes and covenantal love despite their sinful and rebellious tendencies. A relationship with God is messy and they need to understand God is in the mess. Tie the cross in as God’s ultimate work of redemption and restoration for his people.

What are your suggestions/methodologies?

The Old Testament is filled with stories of forgiveness both from God (David and Bathsheba) and forgiveness between man (Joseph and his brothers).  The concept of forgiveness as Christians perceive is not the sense in which the Hebrew Scriptures portrays it.  The Hebrew word (verb) meaning to forgive (calach) actually undergoes no change throughout the Old Testament and basically carries the same meaning throughout (Vine’s Dictionary).  Calach is the primary word for forgiveness in the Old Testament but other words (e.g. ‘awon, naca’ and kapar) can convey the meaning of forgiveness but the primary word throughout is calach.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary states that most of the occurrences of the word are found in the sacrificial laws of Leviticus and Numbers.  If a person (or, persons) sinned then they would go to the priests with animals (a bull)  to make an offering.  The priests (acting as mediators) would offer up the animal and this would be atonement (a price paid) for sin (see Lev. 4:1-35).  So you could imagine the priests were very busy killing animals and offering up sacrifices to God because of the sin of the community.  If you have your New Testament lenses on then this is all familiar to you as the Hebrew author said there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:20).  Not long after this the temple was destroyed and sacrifices were impossible but God still said he would bring Israel out of exile and would forgive them of their sins (Jer. 31:34).

This would apply even if people sinned against each other.  They still were to go to the priest (Lev. 5) and offer up animals as atonement for their sin.  If they couldn’t afford a bull they would get a lamb.  If they could not afford a lamb get two doves or pigeons.  If they could not afford two doves then they would get a “tenth of an ephah of the finest flour” so the priests could burn it on top of the altar.   There are different aspects of forgiveness that Psalmists share with the readers:

  • Forgiveness can happen even with the deepest of sins. “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12; cf. 25:11).
  • With forgiveness comes peace of mind. “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1).
  • There is totality in God’s forgiveness. “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3).
  • Forgiveness is a starting point for a relationship of God. “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” (Psalm 130:4).

The Old Testament picture of forgiveness, by way of summary, is something only God can do.  The priests were nothing more than mediators of something that God was doing.  Forgiveness is something FREELY done by God to those who are genuinely seeking him.  The Old Testament seems to point to a time where forgiveness could be realized in its fullest sense where restoration, peace and a return to the Garden of Eden is inevitable.  It points to Jesus.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).