Laying a Foundation

Today we are beginning a brand new sermon series called “The Hidden Prophets.” In this series we are going to be exploring the books that are sometimes called “the minor prophets,” and are called so because of their length. They are far shorter than the so-called “major prophets” which are simply bigger books like, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. And, unfortunately, because they’ve received this title of “minor,” I think maybe our western ears hear “less important.” We think surely Isaiah is more important than Obadiah, but, yet, all of these books are essential. In Judaism, though, these prophetic writings are referred to as “The Book of the 12.” That’s because in the Hebrew Bible, which is what we call the Old Testament, the 12 minor prophets were historically all collected onto one scroll. That’s how short these books are lengthwise. They can all fit on one scroll. Whereas a book like Samuel could not fit on just one scroll, which is why we have 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. 

Chances are, you are not familiar with these books, expect maybe one, the book of Jonah. And, as you will see, Jonah is, in many ways, a very different book than the rest of them. I think that part of the reason why we don’t know these as well is because these are, primarily, works of prophecy. And prophecy is notoriously difficult to read and understand. It’s also difficult to preach and teach. This is especially true for the minor prophets because virtually none of them were prophesying about the distant future or about, say, the end times. Instead, they were declaring the word of the Lord as it related to the contemporary Hebrew world they were living in at the time. Sometimes we think that prophecy is about telling the future, but for the Old Testament prophets, it was about declaring God’s words to the people no matter what they were. So, in order to understand them, it’s essential that you have a sense of the history surrounding the time and the place in which they lived. 

So, before we jump into these books we are going to take a few weeks to do a couple of things that will help lay a foundation of understanding. First, we are going to do a quick survey of the timeline of the Old Testament because many people, including people who have been in the church their whole lives, do not know even the major milestones within the history of Israel, even though that is more than half of the content of the Bible. The Minor prophets lived in a roughly 300 year span that was after the time of King David and King Solomon but before Jesus. So, what was happening in those 300 years, that’s a key to understanding things. 

The second thing we will do is talk specifically about prophecy and prophetic literature because, like I said, we often don’t know what to do with this stuff. It can be highly symbolic and metaphorical…and sometimes even literal. So, we’ll address just how to approach prophecy and the prophets themselves. What was their role in ancient Israel…and do we still have prophets today? There are certainly people who call themselves prophets or who claim the gift of prophecy. Is that the same thing? We’ll talk about all of that. 

From there, we will dive into these books, and we will take them not in the order that we find them in the Bible, but, instead, we will look at them chronologically because I think that will help us better understand what is going on. 

So, a question you may have is, why are these books worth reading and studying? First, we believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God and that it is His self-revelation to us. So, in that sense, why would we not want to read these books? But also, I think the minor prophets were actually living in a time period that was not all that different from our own. Unlike us, in their time Israel was dealing with multiple aggressive outside military invaders…that’s not a position we are necessarily in. But, much like us, the minor prophets lived in a deeply politically divided world where the nation literally split in two, and they were living in a time where many of the political leaders and most of the people had forgotten God and abandoned Him in pursuit of either secular ideologies or immoral lifestyles or pagan gods. To me, that actually sounds a lot like America in 2021. So, then, these prophets turn a mirror on us. Many of the things that they called out Israel for, we are also guilty of. So, in the face of these books we see ourselves and just as Israel was in desperate need of a Savior, so are we. Left to our own devices, we are incapable of saving ourselves, and we are quick to make other things our god. In light of these accounts, I think we actually see Jesus and the beauty of the gospel. 

So, to get us going, let’s go to the book of 1 Kings 12. 

1 Kings 12:12-20

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

16 And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah. 18 Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 20 And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.

Our text today is primarily about two people…Rehoboam and Jeroboam. And whether we realize it or not, we are witnessing, in this text, a major turning point in the nation of Israel known as the division of the kingdom. This is not a turning point for the better, by any stretch, and the minor prophets all come in the wake of this event.

But how did we get here? Let’s start at the beginning of Israel and do a quick overview of the timeline of the Old Testament. 10 key milestones in the Old Testament are the following:

  • Patriarchs 
    • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Covenant
  • Slavery in Egypt 
  • The Exodus 
  • Canaan 
  • The Judges 
  • Monarchy
    •  Saul, David and Solomon
  • Divided Kingdom 
    • Israel – Jeroboam – Northern 
    • Judah – Rehoboam – Southern 
  • Exile
    • Israel Destroyed 
    • Judah Carried to Babylon
  • Return
  • 2nd Temple

That brings us up to where we are in 1 Kings. Roughly 930 years before the time of Jesus, Rehoboam, the son of Solomon is the King of all Israel. And while his grandfather David and father Solomon have presided over a golden age of Israel, their reigns have been complicated. David ushered in a time of peace and prosperity for Israel, but Solomon expanded their influence even farther. Known for his great wealth and wisdom, Solomon fulfilled the call from God to build a temple, and he built this incredible, awe-inspiring place of worship. Solomon, however, also took on many wives…some from other places and other faiths, and he ends up becoming more of a poly-theist, worshipping many Gods. Even though he had built the center for Hebrew worship, he had done so on the backs of his people…with forced labor. When his son Rehoboam takes the throne, the people appeal to him for a reprieve. However, Rehoboam not only denies their request, as we see in our text, he says, “my father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke.” So, most of the people of Israel revolt, and make a man named Jeroboam their king. Jeroboam had at one time been a high official in the court of Solomon before he was forced into exile. So, most of the tribes split off into a Northern Kingdom of Israel (sometimes called Samaria) and Rehoboam is left in what is known as the southern kingdom of Judah. (MAP)

This begins a real descent because Israel is now two countries, and neither of them is all that interested in following God. The Holy City, Jerusalem, the seat of Hebrew worship is in the Southern kingdom of Judah, and Jeroboam will not allow his people to go worship in Jerusalem out of fear that they will defect back to the house of David. So, the northern kingdom becomes thoroughly pagan and Jeroboam begins setting up pagan sites of worship throughout the land.

A theme we will see here is that all of this comes from an abandonment of wisdom. Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And, Solomon, at one point was known for his wisdom. But all of that changes when Solomon turns away from fearing the Lord and wisdom begins to go by the wayside in Israel. So, when the people appeal to Rehoboam for a reprieve from their forced labor, Rehoboam consults with two groups of people…the old men and the young men. The old men are the elders, the ones who have the wisdom of years. Here’s what they said:

“If you will be a servant to these people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.”

That’s pretty good advice. The young men, on the other hand, are brash, arrogant and inexperienced, and that is who Rehoboam listens to, and, in doing so, he abandons wisdom. Notice, by the way, he doesn’t appeal to God. He doesn’t ask God what he should do in light of the people’s request. Instead, he tries to find his answers elsewhere. And he chooses to display his power instead of his mercy. 

God responds in two ways. One, he sends punishment in the form of outside aggressors. Second, he sends prophets to call the people to repentance and turn back to him. So, the prophets that we will be studying fall into three distinct time periods based on who the invading army is. 

First, the Assyrians come. This is roughly 785-690 BC. So, like 800 years before Christ. God sends five prophets during this era. Three are sent to Israel and two are sent to Judah. 

  • Prophets to Israel 
    • Jonah
    • Amos 
    • Hosea
  • Prophets to Judah
    • Isaiah
    • Micah

So, this is where we’ll begin in a couple of weeks, with the book of Jonah. 

Let me close with this. As the kingdom divides, it begins this long line of kings in both Israel and Judah, nearly forty different kings. And, while there are a few good ones in Judah, most of them either don’t care about God or they outright worship other gods. This is the common denominator, though, no king is perfect and no king is actually capable of truly securing and saving the people. The people looked back to the time of David wishing he would return, but even David had major issues. He was an adulterer and a murderer. His children were a complete mess and some of his wives hated him. His son Solomon was no better, nor was any other king that followed. And, that is part of the point. None of these human kings were sufficient to give the people what they needed most. But, eventually, there was a king coming who would be called the new and better David, and he will take the advice of the elders: “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” Guys, this is exactly who Jesus is and what he does. He listens to his Father and only does what he sees his Father doing. He is the one who truly becomes a servant to the people, even to the point of death. He is the one who speaks good words in the form of his gospel. And, he is the one who goes to the cross so that we might actually have the ability to be servants of God forever. None of the so-called kings who came before him had the ability to do this, and in their inadequacies and incompetencies, they remind us that, praise God, we have a king who is actually good and true. 

This is something we must remember in today’s world as well because we are inclined to give our allegiance to other, lesser things. We’re happy to give the proverbial title of king to other people and other things in our lives. We are inclined to put our hope in political leaders, just like Israel. We are inclined to abandon wisdom in search of power. We are inclined to do whatever we think is best without seeking the Lord. And, surprise surprise, we reap what we sow. The message of the minor prophets is that we,too must turn back to God, not as a one time thing, but as a daily endeavor. Not by giving him lip service or just by going to church or affiliating with religious things, but by giving him the whole of our lives. By becoming the servants of this servant king, the real king of Israel, the new and better David, the king of kings…Jesus Christ. 

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