Reading the minor prophets

17 Dec

I have been most days following the lectionary in the US version of The Book Of Common Prayer, and lately this has brought me to the Minor Prophets (the short books) of the Jewish Bible. It is also currently leading me through the fascinating pages of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, that one making much sense in its context, but a happy hunting ground for all sorts when that context is ignored.

Those old prophets were more people who spoke truth to power in their day, rather than predicters of future events. Sometimes, indeed, the “predictions” seem to have been written after the events, sometimes they were rather obvious anyway, and sometimes they were uncanny. But the main thing was telling rulers, leaders, and people where they were going wrong. They were working, too, within a cultural context and in a spoken/written genre not every aspect of which is transferable to our 21st century world.

Take The Book of Amos, which dates back some 2,750 years. Clearly there are aspects of the theology in that book that no longer work for us. I don’t think the idea of God bringing on storms and earthquakes and plagues of locusts is particularly useful for us today; it strikes us as antiquated, very much of its time and place. However, there is some sonorous poetry indeed in this book, even in translation — and for ease of understanding I have selected the rather unpoetic Contemporary English Version — and passages that still resonate:

You people hate judges
and honest witnesses;
you abuse the poor and demand
heavy taxes from them.

You have built expensive homes,
but you won’t enjoy them;
you have planted vineyards,
but you will get no wine.

I am the LORD, and I know
your terrible sins.

You cheat honest people
and take bribes;
you rob the poor of justice.

Times are so evil
that anyone with good sense
will keep quiet.

If you really want to live,
you must stop doing wrong
and start doing right.

I, the LORD God All-Powerful,
will then be on your side,
just as you claim I am.

Choose good instead of evil!
See that justice is done.

One can easily see how people like Jim Wallis (or even Kevin Rudd, and that will be replayed on Compass tonight) still find such words inspiring.

The LORD said:
I will punish Israel
for countless crimes,
and I won’t change my mind.

They sell honest people for money,
and the needy are sold
for the price of sandals.

They smear the poor in the dirt
and push aside
those who are helpless.

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Posted by on December 17, 2006 in Faith and philosophy, Israel, Kevin Rudd, Politics, Reading, Religion



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