Isaiah to Malachi: The Prophets
We do not often study the prophets in our Sunday schools. The books of the Divine Word from Isaiah to Malachi are even to some extent neglected in home reading. They are regarded as hard reading, unsuitable for teaching to young people.
It is true that the prophets make considerable use of metaphors and symbols and parables; still there is very much—the greater portion, indeed—that is a clear statement of truths that require little explanation to make them telling and forcible. These books are especially strong in their picture of the times in which they were written. No history depicts the course of the decline and fall of a great nation more perfectly. The prophets take us to the very roots of all degenerations in humankind. We have only to study their writings to understand our own times better, and to know what to do to stop the degeneration of the human race. What study could be more interesting! What more instructive and enlightening! With a little earnest cooperation in class work, there is no doubt that "The Prophets" will be found to be more interesting than we had ever imagined, and better suited to our young people than we could have believed. They are living documents.
The books of the Prophets are not arranged in our Bibles chronologically as will clearly appear later. The order in which they are given is that provided by the Lord. The Divine Word is not given to us primarily to teach us history, but to guide us on our way to heaven. Therefore, there is a spiritual reason why the books follow in a series from Isaiah to Malachi.
The Hebrew Bible is divided into three parts:
1. The Law, consisting of the five books of Moses;
2. The Prophets, which includes Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and the books in our Bible from Isaiah to Malachi (excepting Daniel and Lamentations);
3. The Writings, which take in the other twelve books printed in our Bible, Ruth, Chronicles, etc.
We have specially to deal with the Law and the Prophets. The latter is divided into two great divisions, Former Prophets and Latter Prophets, and this last section is again divided into two, the greater prophets and the twelve minor prophets.
At the head of the Law we place the name of Moses. The first of the former prophets is Joshua, the first of the greater Isaiah, and the first of the minor Hosea. Thus, we have one name representing the law, and three representing the different divisions of the prophets.
There is a reason why these latter three names, Joshua, Isaiah, and Hosea stand first in their respective divisions. Isaiah undoubtedly was later than Hosea; and Hosea, as we shall see, wrote at a later date than Amos. Yet the Lord superintended the order in which they appear in the Divine Word, and in that order Isaiah is the first of one series, and Hosea first in another.
The law comes first as a separate division. It represents the instruction in the laws of heavenly life, the ideal. Then follows the practical working out of that ideal, as described for us in the prophets. First, the gift of heaven in childhood, and then the winning of that gift "in hell's despite" in later life. Consequently, the names Joshua, Isaiah, and Hosea head the three departments of the prophets. These three names all mean the same thing; they are three different forms of the Greek name Jesus, which means, "He (Jehovah) shall save His people from their sins." The prophets describe the Lord's work of salvation.
The former prophets unfold the test that is put upon the love of our neighbor as much as ourself; and the latter prophets, the test put upon the love of the Lord—the love of the neighbor more than ourselves. The major prophets unveil the saving power of faith, the minor prophets the saving power of love.
It is hard to grasp such generalizations as these otherwise than theoretically. It is useful, however, to bear them in mind; particulars will fall into line more readily afterward. Undoubtedly the whole of the Divine Word is intended for every angel in heaven, and person on earth. Yet it is equally true that all angels in their own societies have a particular part of the Word that carries a particularly clear message to them—it appears to theirs, to be their life from the Lord. Thus all in the heavens live in orderly relation to each other; which order is reflected in the Divine Word in its letter. (See T. 235, 272.)