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In the later chapters, Ezekiel records his vision of this scheme. It seems to be a vision dimly seen, seen as through a glass darkly, but no less certain.
Though the complicated imagery in which it is set forth is not clear to us, and possibly it was not very clear to him; nevertheless, the essence of the matter is not doubtful, and the confidence of the prophet is unshaken, for he knew that he was speaking the word which God gave him to deliver.
THE MINOR PROPHETS
HE prophetic element is distributed through all the books of the Bible. The history and poetry and law have each the forward look, and the everlast
ing covenant forms the basis of their hopes, the well spring of their aspiration.
From the very beginning of the national life of Israel there was a place for the prophet, a right of free speech and a privilege of criticism and exhortation that is very remarkable.
In the days of Moses when, Eldad and Medad began to prophecy in the camp, and Joshua, jealous for the authority of his great chief, reported the fact to Moses as an unwarranted assumption on their part, the wise law-giver distinctly approved of their zeal, and said, “Envieth thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that God would put his spirit upon them.” The liberty of prophesying from that day was never called in question.
And this liberty was very much more than mere freedom of speech. The gift of prophecy was recognized as being a special inspiration of God, a sacred commission to be held in honor, and not to be restricted by any human authority.
The ritual of their worship and the whole structure of their political and social order were conservative, and might easily harden into such rigid forms as to prevent all progress and become a yoke that could not be endured. The need of some provision for development, some channel for further revelation to be given as their changed circumstances and increased knowledge might make them able to bear it, some voice which might speak for God without the consent of any human authority,
was necessary if there was to be any development of their religious life. This provision was made by the institution of the prophetic office.
In the nature of the case, such an office could not be regulated, could not be organized or defined, since its very purpose was to reveal new truth, to see visions of things unseen before, to protest against the outgrown truth, and criticise existing customs, and lead on and up to better things.
We cannot trace the steps by which the office of the prophet was developed into a distinct profession; but it was certainly not the outgrowth of a mere humanism. It was not the gradual evolution of a rational system of instruction out of a crude and primitive superstition, dealing with sooth-saying, divination, and witchcraft, as some would have us believe.
Like every other good thing, it was sometimes counterfeited, sometimes degraded and abused; but, from the time of Moses and from the founding of their national institutions, the prophetic function was a most honorable and influential office. Indeed, it was so much a part of the recognized order that it is taken for granted, and its duties and activities are mentioned in the historic books as though perfectly familiar.
Moses had no superior as a prophet. Samuel's place and authority needed no explanation or apology. Nathan speaks to David in tones that presuppose a right of long standing and assured authority.
And from the time of David there can be no question as to their recognition as the spiritual advisors of the people and the state.
In the books which we call prophetic, we have examples of their work; but in estimating their influence on the history of Israel, we must remember that we have in these books only a small fragment-mere specimens of their work. The great bulk of their deliverances were oral, and addressed to the specific needs of the time and place, and circumstances of the people
to whom they spoke.
We shall not be far wrong in thinking of the prophets as the preachers of their time; and of their messages as sermons, aiming to do just what sermons in all ages try to do; that is, to instruct in religious truth and incite to righteous life; to comfort, to encourage, to exhort, to rebuke, and admonish, and warn.
It was a high office, full of great opportunity and charged with grave responsibility.
From the respect in which the prophet was generally held, and from the high, heroic character of the few that are named in history-e. g. Nathan, Elijah and Elisha—we gather that on the whole they were “a goodly fellowship,” though at some times they degenerated, and as a class became venal and corrupt.
We have some of the words and deeds of the prophets recorded in the historic books; e. g. i Kings XIII, and xxI1:7-28; but we have no writings of the prophets until about the middle of the eighth century—760 B. C.-when Amos wrote his great little book.
A very few years later—744 B. C. Hosea wrote, and in 742 B. C. Isaiah began his sublime works. And so on, in almost unbroken succession for about four hundred years, the Holy Spirit spake by the mouth of prophets the words of God for our instruction.
These prophetic writings are classified in two groups, on the rather insignificant ground of their length.
Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are called the Major Prophets, and the others Minor Prophets.
As the minor prophecies are small books they were collected into one roll or volume, and this was known as “The Book of the Twelve Prophets.” These are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
The chronological order of these books is not perfectly known, and the place of some of them is a problem for critics; but for our present purpose there is no reason to depart from the order in which they are arranged in Our English Bible.
Our object shall be to find and appreciate the chief message of each prophet, and to consider just what contribution each of these men made to the great revelation given to us at sundry times and divers manners.
The prophecy of Hosea is remarkable for tenderness and zeal.
It represents God as pleading with man as a father pleads with his wayward son.
Nowhere in Holy Scripture is the love of God more beautifully revealed. He is gentle and patient, infinitely loving, but infinitely just.
In the New Testament the fatherhood of God is more explicitly taught, but in this prophecy it is implied and illustrated.
The whole spirit of the book is love, love unquenchable and long suffering, but sorely tried and wounded by the sullen stubbornness of the object of its affection.
The sublime justice of God is the more impressive when contrasted with the yearning tenderness of the divine compassion. Israel is incorrigible, but Jehovah is long suffering. The people are rebellious but God is still waiting to be gracious.
The book is composed of two sections—Chapters I-III, and Chapters IV-XIV.
These sections differ so much in style and point of view, that critics think they were probably written at different times, separated by an interval of some ten or fifteen years.
Probably during this interval King Jereboam II died, and the northern nations began that period of decline that hastened to its end, in little more than twenty years,