Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
The Hebrew OT
Canon had three divisions: The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings. The
second division -- The Prophets -- included both the historical and
prophetical books (the historical books being called "The Former Prophets" and
the prophetical books being called "The Latter Prophets").
It is important to see the close connection between these two sections, for without a knowledge of the historical setting, the prophetic writings will not be properly understood; while, on the other hand, the prophetic writings are Divine commentaries on the times in which the prophet exercised his ministry. For this reason, in our study of the prophets we shall not follow the order of books in our Bible, but a chronological arrangement.
"The Latter Prophets" were made up of the three "Major" Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and the twelve "Minor" Prophets (reckoned by the Hebrews as one book). Daniel, for various reasons, was placed with "The Writings." The terms "Major" and "Minor" do not imply greater or lesser authority and importance, but refer only to the length of the books. Of the "Minor" Prophets the Talmud says: "Our fathers made them one book, that they might not perish on account of their littleness." In the synagogue service, the "Major" and "Minor" Prophets constituted one book which was divided into 21 sections for public reading, without regard to chapter or verse divisions.
The five books of the "Major" Prophets and six of the books of the "Minor" Prophets are "dated; " that is, the names of the kings in whose reigns they prophesied are given in the book. However, six prophecies are not "dated. " They are: (1) Joel, (2) Jonah, (3) Nahum, (4) Habakkuk, (5) Obadiah, and (6) Malachi.
We are dependent for the proper dating of these (1) either upon other Scripture (as, e.g., Jonah - see 2 Kings 14:25), (2) or upon internal evidence (as, e.g., Habakkuk, in which the Babylonian captivity is clearly imminent), (3) or upon secular history or tradition (as, e.g., Malachi, whom the Talmud declares was a member of the Great Synagogue in the restored Jewish community after the captivity).
Through this means we can approximate the time of these undated prophecies, but we cannot prove an absolutely exact date. For this reason, great and good men have differed as to the exact date of a few of these, especially *0badiah and Joel. The placing of these undated books in the chronological scheme here used is, therefore, not dogmatic but presumptive and suggestive. Learn the following list of prophets in their order:
Isaiah, Micah, Nahum
Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk
Daniel, Ezekiel, *0badiah *[Whitcomb places Obadiah before Joel]
Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
Observe that the names are given in the order in which they begin their ministry. Because a name follows another, it does not necessarily indicate that the previous prophet has completed his ministry before the next named prophet begins his ministry. The prophets may be contemporaneous. For instance, look at Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Daniel, Ezekiel, Obadiah. We are not to conclude Jeremiah finished his ministry before Habakkuk began, for not only Habakkuk, but Daniel, Ezekiel, and Obadiah as well prophesy at one time or another during Jeremiah's ministry. The order is only the beginning, not the ending, of the period of ministry.
The captivity has generally been made the pivot: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are clearly after the captivity (post-exilic); Daniel, Ezekiel, and Obadiah prophesy mainly during the captivity (exilic); and the remainder of the prophets exercise all, or the bulk of their ministry before the destruction of Jerusalem (pre-exilic).
Another system of grouping which many Bible scholars prefer is as follows:
ASSYRIAN Period: Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum
Prophets of BABYLONIAN Period: Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Daniel, Ezekiel, Obadiah
Prophets of PERSIAN Period: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
This is the grouping we shall follow.
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