This is it, folks, the Big Finish! Part one of The Book of Books Book Club comes to a close with the reading of the Minor Prophets (meaning short in length, not low in importance) – and thus we finish the Old Testament/the Hebrew Bible. In whatever capacity you've participated, whether reading it all or reading portions when you could, thanks for joining me and being companions in Bible reading.
Remember that we will hold our final meeting, 7:00-8:30pm, on Thursday, May 2, in Room 105 of the Rubin Building of Saint Ann's School - enter at 124 Pierrepont Street.
Some quick thoughts:
Hosea is famous for his opening chapters, in which the image of Israel as having prostituted itself with other gods is given a painful personal parallel as Hosea himself marries a prostitute. The facts of Hosea's life are actually largely unknown, so the particulars of this marriage cannot be made certain; it is hard to tell whether it is real or whether he is blurring the distinction between his life and Israel's as a whole for poetic purposes. The image was one of great shame and condemnation when used by Ezekiel; here, I find those elements undercut by a sense of overwhelming pain: God loves his people and is hurt by their abandonment just as Hosea loves his wife and is hurt by her promiscuity.
Amos' calls for justice and economic equality are stirring and certainly thought-provoking in our own time. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., frequently quoted the final verse of the great passage, 5:21-24, in which Amos proclaims that religious ritual is meaningless without right behavior in daily life: "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
As to Jonah: most of us know the story of the whale, but the rest of the tale, with Jonah relenting and going to Nineveh as God asks, is less well known. I find the faith of the other figures in the story – the sailors, the king and people of Nineveh – to be touching and significant, as it contrasts with God's calling the less-than-faithful Jonah to be his prophet. There is much humor and irony in this small but important work.
[If you have time and interest, I recommend you take a look at the sermon found in chapter 9 of Moby Dick – truly one of the great sermons in all of fiction, and a marvelous look at the story of Jonah! You don't have to read the whole novel to enjoy the sermon…]
Micah rewards careful reading, with his condemnations of bribery, corruption, and general oppression of the poor by Israel's own leaders – a condemnation, however, that also leads to extraordinary passages of hope and faith. Don't miss chapter 4′s vision of the Lord's house to which nations shall stream (and beat swords into plowshares) – an echo of Isaiah 2, and scholars are uncertain about which prophet the passage really belongs to. Note also the reference to the "one who is to rule in Israel" coming from "little" Bethlehem in chapter 5. But above all, 6:1-8 is one of the most powerful statements of the basic truth of our faith: that God does not "require" anything of us but "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Simple yet exceedingly difficult challenges for us all.
The other prophets deserve moments of looking for such nuggets of hope and faith amidst the otherwise rather repetitive condemnations of Israel's bad behavior and the aggressiveness of other nations. Treat yourself to some greatest hits in Joel 2:1-17; Obadiah 18-21; Nahum 1:12-15; Habakkuk 3; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Haggai 2:20-23; Zechariah 9:9-17; and Malachi 3:1-4.