We recently featured The Message of the Twelve by Gary Yates and Al Fuhr, Jr. as our Book of the Week. Gary was kind enough to answer some interview questions, some of them clarifying questions I raised in my feature of their book, such as what they mean by “inspired editors” and what a canonical reading of the Twelve might look like.
First, a softball question: what is your intended audience for this book, and how do you intend it to be used?
We’ve designed the book as an introductory textbook for classes on the Twelve at the graduate and seminary level. We’ve also written the book to help pastors and lay people who will be teaching these books in the church. In addition to providing background information and overviews of each of the books, we’ve tried to pay attention to key theological themes and application issues that are relevant for teaching and preaching.
The book is also for people who have an interest in learning more about a part of the Bible that is often neglected in our churches today. We’ve provided transliterations of Hebrew words and tried to avoid technical jargon so that the book is accessible for Bible students at all levels.
One of the things that students in classes on the Old Testament prophets constantly communicate to us is that they were not aware how much the messages of these books inform the New Testament or resonate with the spiritual issues in their own lives—we want to help a wider audience make that same discovery for themselves.
In my review of your book, I noted that I would have enjoyed hearing you expand on your claim that the composition of the prophetic books “likely included “inspired editorial activity within the scope of the prophet’s time . . . or even shortly afterwards” (26). Would you care to elaborate on what that process might have looked like, and who would have been the editors?
Since the prophets were primarily preachers who orally communicated their message, the recording of their messages in book form was a later stage in the process. The prophets themselves likely had a significant role in this writing process, but inspired scribes and editors also appear to have also helped in composing these books. We know from the book of Jeremiah that his scribe Baruch was involved in transcribing and preserving Jeremiah’s words (see Jer 36, 45), but unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of information regarding the composition of other books in the prophetic canon.
We would see the role of these editors to have included providing historical notations, structuring the prophet’s oracles, composing narratives of the prophet’s life, and possibly making connections with other prophetic works that would help to more fully bring out the implications of the prophet’s message. In the final stages of the Twelve coming together as more of a literary unity, we would see a figure like Ezra or editors/scribes who worked with the postexilic prophets helping to arrange the Twelve and making more explicit connections between individual books. It’s hard to speculate but we believe that God was the one ultimately directing this process.
Your fourth chapter focuses on reading the Twelve as one book or work, in line with recent scholarship. How does that affect the meaning of an individual passage in, say, Micah? How might Micah 6:8 interpret differently if we read it as part of the entire Book of the Twelve, rather than simply with regard to Micah’s authorial intention in his context?
We’ve taken what we hope is a balanced perspective on reading the Book of the Twelve as a canonical unity. Our primary focus is on the message of the individual prophetic books, and we have not taken an approach that seeks to find redactional activity that has crafted or reworked the message of the individual prophets into a single work. At the same time, we also recognize that catchwords that link the books and recurring themes that serve as unifying threads invite us to read these books as some type of unified corpus or anthology.
The book of Joel has numerous connections to other books in the Twelve, and there are recurring themes like the Day of the Lord that led the Jews to recognize these books as a single “Book of the Twelve” from before the time of Christ. Recognition of this unity doesn’t change the meaning of a text like Micah 6:8, but it does inform the reader that the problems of social justice and formalism in worship is a recurring issue in the prophets as a whole.
The canonical unity of the Twelve also enables us to read the twelve books more as a story of the Lord’s relationship with Israel. The Lord sent prophets warning of the day of the Lord in the Assyrian and Babylonian periods, and judgment came because there was minimal response to the prophetic word. Even in the postexilic period, there are more warnings of a coming day of judgment because the people are still unresponsive to the prophets.
Recognition of literary unity also allows for thicker readings of texts in places—for example, it’s interesting to see that the closest thing to the type of response that God wants from Israel in Joel 2:12-17 is found in Jonah 3:5-10, and that response comes from the pagan Assyrians.
Lastly, reading the books collectively often provides a balancing perspective on the message of a single prophet. If we look only at what Joel, Obadiah, or Nahum have to say about the nations, we end up with a fairly bleak picture of their future, but the picture of the sailors and Ninevites in Jonah or the promises of how Gentiles will take part in the future worship of God (see Mic 4:1-4; Zech 8:20-23; 14:12-15) are needed to give us the full picture of God’s plan for the nations.
What was the most inspiring or devotional lesson you’ve taken from your time teaching and studying the prophets? (Maybe it’s a passage that you come back to often as you life out your faith?)
In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” Studying the Book of the Twelve has given me a fresh appreciation of God’s enduring love for his people and the tenacity of his faithful commitment to his covenantal promises and relationships.
The Book of the Twelve is framed by references to God’s “love” for his people. He loves them at the beginning of this era of judgment during the days of Hosea and he is still committed to them in the postexilic period after all of the judgment they have endured. He loves them in spite of the fact that they even defiantly ask him, “How have you loved us?” Though the people have angered him with their flagrant sin and idolatry, the Lord says, “How can I give you up” and promises not to destroy them in Hosea 11.
The central confession about the Lord in the Old Testament is found in Exodus 34:6-7, which states that the Lord is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” Some form of that confession appears at least four times in the Twelve (see Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Mic 7:18-20; Nah 1:3). The Lord is a God of judgment and wrath, but his grace and mercy is ultimately what prevails.
Israel needed this kind of God when they had sinned by worshipping the golden calf at the beginning of their covenantal journey with Israel; they needed this same kind of God in the closing days of the Old Testament as well. Amazingly, the prophets Jonah and Nahum inform us that God deals with the nations in the same ways as with his own people.
This book is incredibly useful in many ways and eminently readable. What works can we look forward to seeing from both of you in the future?
My co-author Al Fuhr has another book with B&H coming out this Fall that he co-authored with Dr. Andreas Köstenberger entitled, Inductive Bible Study, that walks readers through the three-step process of observation, interpretation, and application in some new ways.
I recently published two articles in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and Themelios on the Minor Prophets that are related to canonical readings of the Twelve.
Gary has a devotional book on Jeremiah and Lamentations (30 Days to Jeremiah/Lamentations) coming out early next year and is working with Dr. David Croteau on Urban Legends of the Old Testament that will complement the NT version of that series.
Both Al (Ecclesiastes) and I (Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, and Nahum) are contributing to the Kerux commentary series, and they have each contributed to a forthcoming volume from Kregel on Biblical Foundations for Leadership: Exegesis for the Everyday Leader. Both have also done video teaching presentations for the biblicalelearning.org site—Al on Ecclesiastes and Gary on Jeremiah and the Minor Prophets.
Thank you, Gary and Alan, for contributing your time to help us better understand your new book, The Message of the Twelve, and to better understand the prophetic texts we have in our Scriptures. Blessings on your future endeavors.
Read more about The Message of the Twelve at our Book of the Week post.
Preview or buy it here on Amazon.