Biblical commentary the Old Testament/Volume VI. Lesser Prophets/Introduction to The Twelve Minor Prophets

Biblical commentary the Old Testament  (1884)  by Franz Delitzsch
Introduction to The Twelve Minor Prophets


In our editions of the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ezekiel is followed by the book of the Twelve Prophets (twÌn dwÂdeka profhtwÌn, Sir 49:10; called RVFˆF „YN˜Ši by the Rabbins; Chaldee, e.g., in the Masora, RSAYR˜Ti = RVFˆF YR˜ti), who have been called from time immemorial the smaller prophets (qêtanniÝm, minores)on account of the smaller bulk of such of their prophecies as have come down to us in a written form, when contrasted with the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.[1]
On the completion of the canon these twelve writings were put together, so as to form one prophetic book. This was done “lest one or other of them should be lost on account of its size, if they were all kept separate,” as Kimchi observes in his Praef. Comm. in Ps., according to a rabbinical tradition. They were also reckoned as one book, monoÂbibloj, toà dwdekaproÂfhton (see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung in d. A. T. § 156 and 216, Anm. 10ff.). Their authors lived and laboured as prophets at different periods, ranging from the ninth century B.C. to the fifth; so that in these prophetic books we have not only the earliest and latest of the prophetic testimonies concerning the future history of Israel and of the kingdom of God, but the progressive development of this testimony. When taken, therefore, in connection with the writings of the greater prophets, they comprehend all the essentials of that prophetic word, through which the Lord equipped His people for the coming times of conflict with the nations of the world, endowing them thus with the light and power of His Spirit, and causing His servants to foretell, as a warning to the ungodly, the destruction of the two sinful kingdoms, and the dispersion of the rebellious people among the heathen, and, as a consolation to believers, the deliverance and preservation of a holy seed, and the eventual triumph of His kingdom over every hostile power. In the arrangement of the twelve, the chronological principle has so far determined the order in which they occur, that the prophets of the pre-Assyrian and Assyrian times (Hosea to Nahum) are placed first, as being the earliest; then follow those of the Chaldean period (Habakkuk and Zephaniah); and lastly, the series is closed by the three prophets after the captivity (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi), arranged in the order in which they appeared.[2]
Within the first of these three groups, however, the chronological order is not strictly preserved, but is outweighed by the nature of the contents. The statement made by Jerome concerning the arrangement of the twelve prophets — namely, that “the prophets, in whose books the time is not indicated in the title, prophesied under the same kings as the prophets, whose books precede theirs with the date of composition inserted” (Praef. in 12 Proph.) — does not rest “upon a good traditional basis,” but is a mere conjecture, and is proved to be erroneous by the fact that Malachi did not prophesy in the time of Darius Hystaspes, as his two predecessors are said to have done. And there are others also, of whom it can be shown, that the position they occupy is not chronologically correct. Joel and Obadiah did not first begin to prophesy under Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel, but commenced their labours before that time; and Obadiah prophesied before Joel, as is obvious from the fact that Joel (in Joe 2:32) introduces into his announcement of salvation the words used by Obadiah in 1:17 [[[Bible_(King_James)/Obadiah|Oba 1:17]]], “and in Mount Zion shall be deliverance,” and does so with what is equivalent to a direct citation, viz., the expression “as the Lord hath said.” Hosea, again, would stand after Amos,a nd not before him, if a strictly chronological order were observed; for although, according to the headings to their books, they both prophesied under Uzziah and Jeroboam II, Hosea continued prophesying down to the times of Hezekiah, so that in any case he prophesied for a long time after Amos, who commenced his work earlier than he. The plan adopted in arranging the earliest of the minor prophets seems rather to have been the following: Hosea was placed at the head of the collection, as being the most comprehensive, just as, in the collection of Pauline epistles, that to the Romans is put first on account of its wider scope. Then followed the prophecies which had no date given in the heading; and these were so arranged, that a prophet of the kingdom of Israel was always paired with one of the kingdom of Judah, viz., Joel with Hosea, Obadiah with Amos, Jonah with Micah, and Nah. the Galilean with Habakkuk the Levite. Other considerations also operated in individual cases. Thus Joel was paired with Hosea, on account of its greater scope; Obadiah with Amos, as being the smaller, or rather smallest book; and Joel was placed before Amos, because the latter commences his book with a quotation from Joe 3:16, “Jehovah will roar out of Zion,” etc. Another circumstance may also have led to the pairing of Obadiah with Amos, viz., that Obadiah’s prophecy might be regarded as an expansion of Amo 9:12, “that they may possess the remnant of Edom.” Obadiah was followed by Jonah before Micha, not only because Jonah had lived in the reign of Jeroboam II, the contemporary of Amaziah and Uzziah, whereas Micah did not appear till the reign of Jotham, but possibly also because Obadiah begins with the words, “We have heard tidings from Judah, and a messenger is sent among the nations;” and Jonah was such a messenger (Delitzsch). In the case of the prophets of the second and third periods, the chronological order was well known to the collectors, ad consequently this alone determined the arrangement. It is true that, in the headings to Nah. and Habakkuk, the date of composition is not mentioned; but it was evident from the nature of their prophecies, that Nahum, who predicted the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, must have lived, or at any rate have laboured, before Habakkuk, who prophesied concerning the Chaldean invasion. And lastly, when we come to the prophets after the captivity, in the case of Haggai and Zechariah, the date of their appearance is indicated not only by the year, but by the month as well; and with regard to Malachi, the collectors knew well that he was the latest of all the prophets, from the fact that the collection was completed, if not in his lifetime and with his co-operation, at all events very shortly after his death. (16) The following is the correct chronological order, so far as it can be gathered with tolerable certainty from the contents of the different writings, and the relation in which they stand to one another, even in the case of those prophets the headings to whose books do not indicate the date of composition:

1. Obadiah: in the reign of Joram king of Judah between 889 and 884 BC
2. Joel: in the reign of Joash king of Judah between 875 and 848 B.C.
3. Jonah: in the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel between 824 and 783 B.C.
4. Amos: in the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah between 810 and 783 B.C.
5. Hosea: in the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel, and from Uzziah to Hezekiah of Judah between 790 and 725 B.C.
6. Micah: in the reign of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah between 758 and 710 B.C.
7. Nahum: in the second half of the reign of Hezekiah between 710 and 699 B.C.
8. Habakkuk: in the reign of Manasseh or Josiah between 650 and 628 B.C.
9. Zephaniah: in the reign of Josiah between 628 and 623 B.C.
10. Haggai: in the second year of Darius Hystaspes viz.
11. Zechariah: in the reign of Darius Hystaspes from 519 B.C.
12. Malachi: in the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus between 433 and 424 B.C.

Consequently the literature of the propehtic writings does not date, first of all, from the time when Assyria rose into an imperial power, and assumed a threatening aspect towards Israel, i.e., under Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, and Uzziah king of Judah, or about 800 B.C., as is commonly supposed, but about ninety years earlier, under the two Jorams of Judah and Israel, while Elisha was still living in the kingdom of the ten tribes. But even in that case the growth of the prophetic literature is intimately connected with the development of the theocracy. The reign of Joram the son of Jehoshaphat was one of eventful importance to the kingdom of Judah, which formed the stem and kernel of the Old Testament kingdom of God from the time that the ten tribes fell away from the house of David, and possessed in the temple of Jerusalem, which the Lord Himself had sanctified as the dwelling-place of His name, and also in the royal house of David, to which He had promised an everlasting existence, positive pledges not only of its own preservation, but also of the fulfilment of the divine promises which had been made to Israel. Joram had taken as his wife Athaliah, a daughter of Ahab and of Jezebel the fanatical worshipper of Baal; and through this marriage he transplanted into Judah the godlessness and profligacy of the dynasty of Ahab. He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as the house of Ahab did. He slew his brethren with the sword, and drew away Jerusalem and Judah to idolatry (2Ki 8:18-19; 2Ch 21:4-7, 2Ch 21:11). After his death, and that of his son Ahaziah, his wife Athaliah seized upon the government, and destroyed all the royal seed, with the exception of Joash, a child of one year old, who was concealed in the bed-chambers by the sister of Ahaziah, who was married to Jehoiada the high priest, and so escaped. Thus the divinely chosen royal house was in great danger of being exterminated, had not the Lord preserved to it an offshoot, for the sake of the promise given to His servant David (2Ki 11:1-3; 2Ch 22:10-12). Their sins were followed by immediate punishment. In the reign of Joram, not only did Edom revolt from Judah, and that with such success, that it could never be brought into subjection again, but Jehovah also stirred up the spirit of the Philistines and Petraean Arabians, so that they forced their way into Jerusalem, and carried off the treasures of the palace, as well as the wives and sons of the king, with the exception of Ahaziah, the youngest son (2Ki 8:20-22; 2Ch 21:8-10, 2Ch 21:16-17). Joram himself was very soon afflicted with a painful and revolting disease (2Ch 21:18-19); his son Ahaziah was slain by Jehu, after a reign of rather less than a year, together with his brethren (relations) and some of the rulers of Judah; and his wife Athaliah was dethroned and slain after a reign of six years (2Ki 9:27-29; 2Ki 11:13ff.; 2Ch 22:8-9; 2Ch 23:12ff.). With the extermination of the house of Ahab in Israel, and its offshoots in Judah, the open worship of Baal was suppressed in both kingdoms; and thus the onward course of the increasing religious and moral corruption was arrested. But the evil was not radically cured. Even Jehoiada, who had been rescued by the high priest and set upon the throne, yielded to the entreaties of the rulers in Judah, after the death of his deliverer, tutor, and mentor, and not only restored idolatry in Jerusalem, but allowed them to stone to death the prophet Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, who condemned this apostasy from the Lord (2Ch 24:17-22). Amaziah, his son and successor, having defeated the Edomites in the Salt valley, brought the gods of that nation to Jerusalem, and set them up to be worshipped (2Ch 25:14). Conspiracies were organized against both these kings, so that they both fell by the hands of assassins (2Ki 12:21; 2Ki 14:19; 2Ch 24:25-26; 2Ch 25:27). The next two kings of Judah, viz., Uzziah and Jotham, did indeed abstain from such gross idolatry and sustain the temple worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem; and they also succeeded in raising the kingdom to a position of great earthly power, through the organization of a powerful army, and the erection of fortifications in Jerusalem and Judah. But the internal apostasy of the people from the Lord and His law increased even in their reigns, so that under Ahaz the torrent of corruption broke through every dam; idolatry prevailed throughout the entire kingdom, even making its way into the courts of the temple; and wickedness reached a height unknown before (2Ki. 16; 2Ch. 28). Whilst, therefore, on the one hand, the godless reign of Joram laid the foundation for the internal decay of the kingdom of Judah, and his own sins and those of his wife Athaliah were omens of the religious and moral dissolution of the nation, which was arrested for a time, however, by the grace and faithfulness of the covenant God, but which burst forth in the time of Ahaz with terrible force, bringing the kingdom even then to the verge of destruction, and eventually reached the fullest height under Manasseh, so that the Lord could no longer refrain from pronouncing upon the people of His possession the judgment of rejection (2Ki 21:10-16); on the other hand, the punishment inflicted upon Judah for Joram’s sins, in the revolt of the Edomites, and the plundering of Jerusalem by Philistines and Arabians, were preludes of the rising up of the world of nations above and against the kingdom of God, in order, if possible, to destroy it. We may see clearly of what eventful importance the revolt of Edom was to the kingdom of Judah, from the remark made by the sacred historian, that Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah “unto this day” (2Ki 8:22; 2Ch 21:10), i.e., until the dissolution of the kingdom of Judah, for the victories of Amaziah and Uzziah over the Edomites did not lead to their subjugation; and still more clearly from the description contained in Obad. 1:10-14, of the hostile acts of the Edomites towards Judah on the occasion of the taking of Jerusalem by the Philistines and Arabians; from which it is evident, that they were not satisfied with having thrown off the hateful yoke of Judah, but proceeded, in their malignant pride, to attempt the destruction of the people of God.
In the kingdom of the ten tribes also, Jehu had rooted out the worship of Baal, but had not departed from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Therefore even in his reign the Lord “began to cut off from Israel” and Hazael the Syrian smote it in all its coasts. At the prayer of Jehoahaz, his son and successor, God had compassion once more upon the tribes of this kingdom, and sent them deliverers in the two kings Joash and Jeroboam II., so that they escaped from the hands of the Syrians, and Jeroboam was able to restore the ancient boundaries of the kingdom (2Ki 10:28-33; 2Ki 13:3-5, 2Ki 13:23-25; 2Ki 14:25). Nevertheless, as this fresh display of grace did not bear the fruits of repentance and return to the Lord, the judgments of God burst upon the sinful kingdom after the death of Jeroboam, and hurried it on to destruction.
In this eventful significance of the reign of Joram king of Judah, who was related to the house of Ahab and walked in his ways, with reference to the Israelitish kingdom of God, we may doubtless discover the foundation for the change which occurred from that time forward in the development of prophecy: — namely, that the Lord now began to raise up prophets in the midst of His people, who discerned in the present the germs of the future, and by setting forth in this light the events of their own time, impressed them upon the hearts of their countrymen both in writing and by word of mouth. The difference between the prophetae priores, whose sayings and doings are recorded in the historical books, and the prophetae posteriores, who composed prophetic writings of their own, consisted, therefore, not so much in the fact that the former were prophets of “irresistible actions,” and the latter prophets of “convincing words” (Delitzsch), as in the fact that the earlier prophets maintained the right of the Lord before the people and their civil rulers both by word and deed, and thereby exerted an immediate influence upon the development of the kingdom of God in their own time; whereas the later prophets seized upon the circumstances and relations of their own times in the light of the divine plan of salvation as a whole, and whilst proclaiming both the judgments of God, whether nearer or more remote, and the future salvation, predicted the onward progress of the kingdom of God in conflict with the powers of the world, and through these predictions prepared the way for the revelation of the glory of the Lord in His kingdom, or the coming of the Saviour to establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace. This distinction has also been recognised by G. F. Oehler, who discovers the reason for the composition of separate prophetical books in the fact, that “prophecy now acquired an importance which extended far beyond the times then present, inasmuch as the consciousness was awakened in the prophets’ minds with regard to both kingdoms, that the divine counsels of salvation could not come to fulfilment in the existing generation, but that the present form of the theocracy must be broken to pieces, in order that, after a thorough judicial sifting, there might arise out of the rescued and purified remnant the future church of salvation;” and who gives this explanation of the reason for committing the words of the prophets to writing, that “it was in order that, when fulfilled, they might prove to future generations the righteousness and faithfulness of the covenant God, and that they might serve until then as a lamp to the righteous enabling them, even in the midst of the darkness of the coming times of judgment, to understand the ways of God in His kingdom.” All the prophetical books subserve this purpose, however great may be the diversity in the prophetical word which they contain, — a diversity occasioned by the individuality of the authors and the special circumstances among which they lived and laboured.
For the exegetical writings on the Minor Prophets, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, p.273ff.

  1. Augustine (De civit. Dei, xviii. 29) observes: “Qui propterea dicuntur minores, quia sermones eorum sunt breves in eorum comparatione, qui majores ideo vocantur, quia prolixa volumina condiderunt.” Compare with this the notice from b. Bathra 14b, in Delitzsch on Isaiah, p. 16, translation.
  2. Compare Delitzsch on Isaiah, p. 16.