|Topical Bible Study||May 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part V
Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah
IN PART 4 we summarized briefly the principal thoughts set forth by some of the Old Testament prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. These are customarily referred to as the ‘major prophets’ of the Old Testament, in contrast to other prophets whose writings are much less voluminous. There is still another major prophet, namely, Daniel, and the twelve chapters of the prophecy which bears his name are among the most interesting and informative of the Old Testament.
Daniel was one of the captives of Judah taken to Babylon when the nation was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar. He was very young at the time, but thoroughly devoted to the God of Israel. By Divine providence he soon gained favor with the king and was exalted to a high position in the Babylonian government. He was greatly used by God as a prophet.
Many who are not especially familiar with the Bible as a whole are at least partially acquainted with some of the incidents recorded in this remarkable book. Most people, for example, have heard the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, even though they may not be familiar with the circumstances which caused the prophet to be placed there. (Dan. 6) Many have heard of the unchangeableness of the laws of the Medes and Persians, but probably few realize what bearing this had on Daniel’s being cast into the lions’ den.
In the second chapter of Daniel’s prophecy we are told about the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in which he saw a humanlike image, with head of gold, breast and arms of silver, thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron and clay mixed. In this dream Nebuchadnezzar also saw a “stone” cut out of the “mountain” without hands. This stone smote the image on the feet, causing it to fall. Then the stone grew until it became a great mountain which filled the whole earth.
It was in connection with this dream that Daniel first found special favor with the king, for by Divine help he was able to recall the dream for Nebuchadnezzar, and to interpret it for him. Daniel explained to the king that the gold, silver, brass, and iron of the image represented four “kingdoms,” beginning with Babylon. Historically, the others have proved to be Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
The feet and toes of the image, Daniel explained, were of iron and clay mixed. This he interpreted to mean the ultimate weakening of the Roman Empire, with the toes representing its division. Thus the prophecy is seen to be remarkably true to the facts of history as all now are able to see them.
In keeping with one of the great theme songs of the entire Bible, Daniel prophesied that the stone which smote the image, and destroyed it, then grew to be a great mountain which filled the whole earth. This ‘mountain,’ Daniel explained, represented the kingdom of God. The fact that already we have witnessed virtually the complete destruction of the old Roman Empire should give us confidence that the kingdom of God which was to take its place and be the next successive world power is now near at hand.
In the Book of Daniel we are told about the three Hebrew children who were cast into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down and worship an image which the king had set up. In this instance also the king was Nebuchadnezzar.—Dan. 3
In the fifth chapter of Daniel there is recorded the account of a great feast given by Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, during which he saw the “handwriting on the wall.” This writing was those famous words, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting”—“Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”—vss. 24-28
This feast was held in Babylon, capital city of the Babylonian Empire. While it was in progress, King Cyrus of the Medes turned aside the waters of the river Euphrates which ordinarily flowed under the walls of the city. Then, together with his army, he marched through the riverbed into the city, and captured it.
In the Lord’s providence, Daniel became an important figure in the government of the Medes. It was during this time that the Lord gave him a vision in which he saw four great beasts. These were interpreted to represent four kingdoms, or empires. Thus the same empires are pictured as Nebuchadnezzar saw them, in the gold, silver, brass, and iron of the humanlike image of his dream. What to a heathen king seemed glorious and glamorous, Daniel, the servant of God, saw to be beastly and repelling.
Just as Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream forecast the history of humankind down to the time that the kingdom of God would exercise its authority and power in the earth, so Daniel’s prophecy does likewise. The fourth ‘beast’ of Daniel’s vision represents Rome, even as does the iron of the legs, feet, and toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The government which succeeds these in both prophecies is the kingdom of the Lord.—Dan. 2:44; 7:26,27
The last chapter of the Book of Daniel prophesies some of the major developments of our day. Verse four speaks of an increase of knowledge, and forecasts much running ‘to and fro.’ This seems clearly to be descriptive of the great advance the world has made in education and science during the last two hundred years. This, in turn, has resulted in much, and rapid, travel, implied by the expression, “Many shall run to and fro.”—vs. 4
Even more remarkable is the prophecy contained in the first verse of this chapter, where Daniel forecasts a “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.” Daniel indicates that this ‘time of trouble’ would result from the standing up of “Michael.” This is one of the Biblical titles given to Jesus, and the reference is to the time of his return. His ultimate objective is to exercise his governmental authority in the earth.
Jesus quoted this prophecy and applied it to the time of his Second Presence on the earth. (Matt. 24:21,22) Jesus said that this prophetic time of trouble, or of “tribulation,” would be so severe that unless those days were shortened “no flesh” would survive. We are undoubtedly living in the very time when this prophecy is being fulfilled, and even now the wise men of the world are warning us of the possible destruction of the human race through the misuse of nuclear and biological weapons.
Surely Daniel was right when he said that it would be ‘a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation!’ Nevertheless, we can take courage from Daniel’s prophecy, for he mentions the increase of knowledge, the running to and fro, and the great time of trouble only incidentally, and in order to identify for us the time when we could expect the speedy manifestation of Christ’s kingdom, when, he said, that those who “sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”—ch. 12:2
Thus does this prophet, even as the other writers of the Bible, keep before the reader God’s purpose to restore the human race to life during the time of the Messianic kingdom. The fact that Daniel so clearly sets forth this hope of restoration stamps him as one of God’s ‘holy prophets,’ for in the New Testament the Apostle Peter tells us that “the times of restitution of all things” had been spoken “by the mouth of all his [God’s] holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:19-21
The Book of Hosea
There are twelve “minor prophets.” Their writings appear as the concluding books of the Old Testament. Hosea was the first of these. His prophecy was written before Daniel’s. He was contemporaneous with certain kings of Judah and with Jeroboam, king of Israel. (Hos. 1:1) This places him chronologically after the separation of the ten tribes of Israel from the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and prior to the overthrow of the nation and their being taken into captivity.
Hosea’s prophecy is almost altogether directed against the sins of the nation—the ten tribes and also the two tribes—and a warning of the dire results the people could expect from their worship of false gods, and their disregard for the laws of Jehovah. This prophet forecast the downfall of the nation, as it was represented both in the ten-tribe and two-tribe kingdoms, and foretold their respective captivities in Assyria and Babylon.
Hosea’s prophecy is not wholly one of doom, however, it also promises the ‘restitution’ of Israel in the “latter days.” (Hos. 3:5) In this prophecy, the transgression of Israel against the covenant, into which they had entered with God at Mt. Sinai, is compared with Adam’s transgression of God’s law in the Garden of Eden. The marginal translation of verse seven in chapter six reads, “They like Adam have transgressed the covenant.”
Because of their unfaithfulness, Hosea prophesied that the children of Israel would abide “many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image [pillar, Marginal Translation] and without an ephod, and without teraphim.” (Hos. 3:4) Each of these, in the experience of Israel, was an evidence of God’s blessing upon the nation, and to be without them all was Hosea’s graphic manner of emphasizing that for ‘many days’ God’s favor would be withdrawn from them.
The fifth verse declares that “afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear [reverence] the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.” In the testimony of God’s ‘holy prophets’ pertaining to the great hope of restitution we are assured that there is to be a resurrection of the dead, which means, of course, that King David will himself return from death and once more be associated with his people.
However, there is to be a much larger fulfillment of this prophecy, for David is used in the Bible as a type of Jesus, the Messiah of promise, and the One who is to be the great King over Israel in the ‘latter days.’ Jeremiah says, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”—Jer. 23:5,6
Thus we see that although the major portion of the Book of Hosea is a denunciation of the sins of God’s people Israel, this prophet, like all the others, was used by God to give assurance of an ultimate return of Divine favor. The fulfillment of these promises will mean rich blessings of prosperity and life for Israel under the rulership of the antitypical David. This prophet reminds us, just as all mankind lost life through Adam’s transgression, so in the latter days this larger family, even the human family itself, shall also be restored.
The Book of Joel
Joel was the second of the minor prophets. His prophecy was written at approximately 800 B.C. Like a number of the other prophets, Joel calls attention to the sins of Israel, and to the calamitous events which were to come upon the nation as a result. Specifically, he forecast a period when there would be a damaging shortage of water, and a plague of locusts.—Joel 1:3-13
The purpose of Joel’s message to Israel was to bring about a repentance of the nation, which in turn would lead to an averting of the calamities which he prophesied. But the nation did not repent, and therefore suffered the judgments of God, and was finally taken into captivity.
Careful students of the Bible, however, discern that Joel’s prophecy only incidentally mentions the calamities which were then to come upon the nation of Israel. Quotations from the book by Jesus and Peter in the New Testament, reveal its much larger application to events which were to occur at the beginning and end of the present age.
Speaking on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter quotes from Joel 2:28,29, explaining that the promised pouring out of God’s Spirit upon his servants and handmaidens was being fulfilled in the Pentecostal experience.
The disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of his return and of the end of the age. In his reply, Jesus quoted from Joel 2:30,31 indicating it to be a prophecy which would be fulfilled at the time of his Second Advent. We call attention here to Jesus’ application of these verses merely to prove that the prophecy of Joel as a whole has a much wider application than merely to the troubles which were at that time shortly to come upon Israel.
It is in keeping with this broader aspect of the prophecy that we find the third chapter referring to the final return of Israel from her captivity among all nations. (vs. 1) The second verse of this chapter informs us that when the time should come that the Lord would “bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem” he would also “gather all nations.” It has been given to the present generation to witness both these events, and also the fact of their simultaneous development, just as Joel prophesied.
In chapter three, verses 9-15, a graphic prophecy of the mad armament race is recorded, and other feverish preparations for war which have been characteristic of our times. But this, the prophet shows, is merely leading up to the time when the “mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.” (vs. 18) Comparing this language with that of Isaiah 25:6-9, it becomes clear that Joel, even as the other prophets, is assuring us of the rich blessings of Christ’s kingdom which will be enjoyed by the people immediately after the present time of national and international distress.
The Book of Amos
Amos, another of the minor prophets, served Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II, between 825 and 850 B.C. With the exception of very short periods of time, the course of the nation was almost continuously wicked, and it was this which eventually led to its overthrow, and to the captivity of the people in Assyria and Babylon. It was also because of this that so large a portion of many of the Old Testament prophecies is devoted to warnings of coming punishments.
Through Amos the Lord explains why Israel had to suffer so severely because of her sins. He said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:2,3) God had especially selected this nation. He had entered into a covenant with his chosen people, and the only basis upon which they could hope to have him walk with and bless them was faithfulness to that covenant.
Although Amos graphically foretold the results of the coming of God’s judgment upon the nation, he proved himself to be one of the holy prophets by also prophesying their future restoration. He wrote, “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, … and I will build it as in the days of old.”—Amos 9:11
In Acts 15:13-17 the Apostle James quotes this prophecy and explains that it was to be fulfilled after the Second Advent of Christ and after a people for the Lord’s name had been called out from the Gentiles during the intervening age. Thus we see that the prophecy of Amos has a much wider application than might at first appear.
While each of these prophecies served to warn Israel of her sins, by the providence of God each one also helps to amplify the great theme of Divine love and mercy as revealed in his plan of restitution. The many books of the Bible are indeed parts of one great whole, revealing to us the many and thrilling details of God’s loving plan of redemption and restoration through Christ.
The Book of Obadiah
Obadiah is the fourth of the twelve minor prophets. His short prophecy of only one chapter is unlike the others, in that it is not particularly directed against the sins of Israel, but is a denunciation of the Edomites, the descendants of Esau.
Toward the close of its one chapter, the prophecy begins to call attention to God’s purpose to restore Israel. The last verse reads, “Saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” The ‘saviours’ will be Christ and those associated with him who have been faithful in suffering and dying with him.
In Revelation we have a New Testament presentation of these saviors on mount Zion. John wrote, “I looked, and, lo, a Lamb [Jesus] stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” John further explains, “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”—Rev. 14:1,4
The Book of Jonah
This book is largely in story form. In brief, the story is this: The Lord asked Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and “cry against it” for, as he explained to Jonah, “their wickedness is come up before me.” (Jon. 1:2) Jonah’s prophecy was to be one of doom against this wicked city.
However, the prophet was disinclined to obey the Lord’s command, and instead of starting on the journey to Nineveh, boarded a ship which was sailing in another direction. A storm arose. The story states, “The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.”—vs. 4
The sailors became very much alarmed. They were seemingly a superstitious people, and suspected that someone aboard was responsible; and they cast lots to determine who it was. The lot fell upon Jonah. He had told them previously that the purpose of taking the journey in this ship was to get away from his God, and, of course, from obeying God’s command to curse Nineveh.
They quickly decided that Jonah’s God had brought the storm upon the ship, and that their only safety was to cast the prophet overboard, which they did. Instead of being drowned, however, God had prepared a ‘great fish’ to swallow Jonah. After three days he was cast upon the shore. After such an experience Jonah was ready to obey the Lord’s command to curse the city.
The authenticity of this story is vouched for by no less an authority than Jesus, who at the same time reveals the importance of the Book of Jonah in connection with God’s revelation of his plan of restoration. He said that as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, “so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”—Matt. 12:40
Jonah himself, relating his experience in the interior of the great fish, wrote, “out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou [Jehovah] heardest my voice.” (Jon. 2:2) The Hebrew word here translated ‘hell’ is sheol. It is the death state or condition. Symbolically, Jonah was in the death state, for he was as good as dead, and would have died had not the Lord delivered him.
Inasmuch, then, as Jesus referred to Jonah’s experience as being illustrative of his own death and resurrection, we may conclude that the Lord designed it to foreshadow the resurrection, not only of Jesus, but of all who have died.
Afterward, when Jonah presented the message of the Lord to the wicked city of Nineveh the people repented, and they were not destroyed. In this we are reminded that although all mankind are now under condemnation to death, and dying, they are to be given an opportunity to repent, and those who do shall live.Go to Part VI