Building an Old Testament Library: Hosea — Malachi

J. Andrew Dearman

The earliest reference to the twelve Minor Prophets as a group occurs in Sir 49:10, dated 2nd century BCE: “May the bones of the Twelve Prophets send forth new life from where they lie, for they comforted the people of Jacob and delivered them with confident hope” (NRSV). May they (and their interpreters) indeed continue to send forth life!

Typically, modern interpreters have analyzed each of these prophetic books as a stand-alone enterprise, but in recent years some of them have also asked whether (or if) their early collection on one scroll may have influenced the way they were intended to be read. Take, for example, Hosea, the first of the Twelve. Does his opening chapter, which points out the flagrant failure of Israel, set a beginning tone for the collection as a whole or just for the readers of his book? Similarly, Malachi, the last of the Twelve, concludes with a rousing claim that the prophet Elijah is coming again before the great and terrible day of the Lord (4:5). Does this claim simply conclude Malachi’s brief book; or is it also a final comment about reading the prophetic books together?

For interpreters interested in how the books’ collection on one scroll may signal larger thematic and theological designs, the two-volume work by James Nogalski is a good introduction: The Book of the Twelve (Smyth and Helwys, 2011). The first volume covers Hosea through Jonah and the second Micah through Malachi. They are fine commentaries for patient study of each of the prophets, but he also offers comments about their larger thematic and theological concerns. The two volumes are intended for seminary students and teachers of biblical interpretation.

There is, of course, a long history of interpreting the biblical text. One of the best places to explore the riches of patristic biblical interpretation is The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (InterVarsity). The Twelve Prophets (2003), edited by Albert Ferreiro, connects comments by patristic authors with relevant texts among the Minor Prophets. InterVarsity also is beginning another series based on the classic biblical interpreters from a historical period, The Reformation Commentary Series. Stay tuned for volumes on the prophets.

InterVarsity has yet a third series, The Bible Speaks Today, with solid fare from evangelical authors representing several countries. Titles begin with the phrase The Message of…, and are based on a close reading of a biblical book in light of modern theological concerns. For the Minor Prophets, only Haggai is missing. Volumes and authors are: Hosea (Derek Kidner); Amos (J. A. Motyer); Obadiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah (Gordon Bridger); Jonah (Rosemary Nixon); Joel, Micah and Habakkuk (David Prior); Zechariah (Barry Webb); and Malachi (Peter Adam).

The Minor Prophets are treated ably for preaching and teaching concerns in four volumes in Zondervan’s NIV Application Commentary. Subsections of a prophetic book are analyzed in three different categories: Original Meaning, Bridging Contexts, and Contemporary Significance. These categories bring the reader from the reconstructed historical context of the book, through the interpretive options assessing the text, to presentations on applying the text in a contemporary setting. The series employs the NIV text as a base, but authors make reference to the original Hebrew, etc., along the way. The authors and volumes are: Gary V. Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah (2001); James Bruckner, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (2004); David W. Baker, Joel, Obadiah, Malachi (2006); and Mark J. Boda, Haggai, Zechariah (2004).

Pastors are asked frequently about the prophets and the “end times.” This a broader concern than resources for the Minor Prophets, but a recent volume nevertheless deserves mention here, as reliable resources on this subject are difficult to find. J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, and C. Marvin Pate have produced a user-friendly volume, An A-to-Z Guide to Biblical Prophecy and the End Times (Zondervan, 2007). It is arranged like a dictionary, with brief entries on such subjects as “Book of the Twelve,” “Great Tribulation,” and “Day of the Lord.” The authors generally take a conservative approach to matters, but do not follow a particular interpretive scheme such as dispensationalism or amillennialism. They seek instead to explain them and their implications for interpreting prophecy.

Concerning Hosea and Amos, Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman have coauthored a volume on each prophet in The Anchor Yale Bible Series (AYBS; formerly Anchor Bible). Hosea (1980; 700 pp.) and Amos (1989; 1024 pp.) are packed with historical-critical observations and comments regarding compositional and philological analysis. Ditto for Shalom Paul, Amos (Hermeneia; Fortress, 1991) and A. A. Macintosh, Hosea (International Critical Commentary; T. & T. Clark, 1997). Persons looking for the most detailed work on textual analysis, word and phrase studies, and historical-critical reconstruction will often find volumes in these three series as the best options. John Barton, an esteemed scholar from Oxford, England, has recently published The Theology of Amos (Cambridge University Press, 2012), which deals with various aspects of the book as a whole and interacts widely with modern interpretive concerns.

Commentaries on the short book of Joel are typically packaged with treatments of one or more of the Minor Prophets. David Hubbard’s brief treatment in Joel and Amos (InterVarsity, 1989) is a fine combination of attention to the ancient context and modern concerns. James L. Crenshaw devotes 230+ pages to the book in the AYBS (2007). His approach combines attention to historical-critical concerns with a keen interest in the literary structure and theological claims of the book.

Obadiah, the shortest of the Minor Prophets, receives a brief, but penetrating analysis in T. Desmond Alexander, David W. Baker, and Bruce K. Waltke’s volume, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (InterVarsity, 2009). The little book is interpreted against the background of the persecution of God’s people by the Edomites and the concern for vindication of the oppressed by the God of justice. Paul R. Raabe has a stand-alone treatment of 300+ pages (AYBS, 1996), fully covering the 21 verses of the text!

Desmond Alexander offers a helpful discussion of the perennial issue of the genre of Jonah in “Jonah and Genre,” Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985): 35-59. The brief commentary in his, D. W. Baker, and B. Waltke’s study (above) pays close attention to the book’s literary qualities (scene analysis, humor), while noting its claim to reveal the work of Israel’s God in the historical process. The longest recent treatment of the book, which concludes that it is fictional, is by Jack M. Sasson (AYBS, 1990).

Andersen and Freedman (see above) also have a 636-page volume on Micah (AYBS; 2000). Bruce Waltke has a thorough volume published by Eerdmans (2007), taking a conservative, Reformed approach in expositing the book’s message and dealing carefully with the Hebrew text.

For detailed analysis of the literary and structural elements of Nahum, readers should consult Duane Christensen’s volume (AYBS; 2009). Marvin Sweeney’s work (Hermeneia, 2003) has the kind of detailed historical and philological approach expected of the series. He places the vast majority of the book’s contents in the reign of Josiah and provides a valuable backdrop to its claims. Francis Andersen has a full treatment of Habakkuk in a stand-alone volume (AYBS; 2001). John Goldingay and Pam Scalise offer brief, but insightful guidance on Nahum, Habakkuk, Zechariah, Haggai, Zephaniah, and Malachi, in their volume Minor Prophets II (New International Biblical Commentary; Hendrickson, 2009).

Haggai and Zechariah are frequently commented on together. David Peterson’s Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (Westminster John Knox, 1984) and Eric M. Meyers and Carol L. Meyers, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (AYBS, 1987) are two examples, as is the volume by Goldingay and Scalise (above). George Klein offers a full treatment of Zechariah in a stand-alone volume (New American Commentary; Holman, 2008), including chs. 9-14, which are sometimes described as Deutero-Zechariah. He treats the book as a unified work.

Malachi, the last of the Minor Prophets, gets a full historical and literary treatment by Andrew Hill (AYBS, 1998). The most recent addition to the Bible Speaks Today series, The Message of Malachi by Peter Adam (InterVarsity, 2013), is a model of succinct theological interpretation.

Posted Apr 23, 2014