This year our Come, Follow Me study concludes with a dozen prophetic books—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. They are sometimes called the “minor prophets” because they are short compared to the much longer books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, but they are just as full of eternal truths.
If you want to dive into the historical, cultural, and linguistic details in these books, I recommend investing in a good study Bible. But it’s even more important to take a step back and see the big picture, and for the Israelite prophets, that big picture is God’s covenant with Israel.
To better understand that covenant picture, I highly recommend President Russell M. Nelson’s article “The Everlasting Covenant,” which appeared in the October 2022 Liahona magazine. President Nelson describes the everlasting covenant as “the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the relationship we have with God that “includes all ordinances and covenants necessary for our salvation.” This covenant “existed even before the foundation of the world,” and Adam and Eve entered that covenant path through the ordinance of baptism. President Nelson also describes the covenant that God made with Abraham and Sarah, promising that “in thy seed”—the covenant family known as Israel—“shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” The everlasting covenant and the Abrahamic covenant, he explains, “are essentially the same—two ways of phrasing the covenant God made with mortal men and women at different times.” Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants received the same everlasting covenant that Adam and Eve received and were sent “among the nations of the world to bless those nations” with that same covenant and all its promises, up to and including “eternal life and exaltation.” These astounding blessings are available “because of the Atonement of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” who is “at the center of the Abrahamic covenant.”
As we study the Minor Prophets, this covenant understanding from our modern prophet can help us make better sense of their ancient messages.
For example, President Nelson explains an important doctrinal concept that the Israelites described using the Hebrew word hesed. There is no adequate English equivalent, and the King James Bible translates it in a variety of ways, including “lovingkindness” and “mercy.” President Nelson explains that “hesed is a special kind of love and mercy that God feels for and extends to those who have made a covenant with Him …. Because God has hesed for those who have covenanted with Him, He will love them. He will continue to work with them and offer them opportunities to change. He will forgive them when they repent. And should they stray, He will help them find their way back to Him.”
► You may also like: Have you paid attention to the Hebrew word President Nelson keeps teaching about?
This special covenant love and covenant loyalty that President Nelson describes is mentioned several times in the minor prophets, including Hosea 2:19; 4:1; 6:4, 6; 10:12; 12:6; Joel 2:13; Jonah 2:8; 4:2; Micah 6:8; 7:18, 20; and Zechariah 7:9—in English translation, look for the words “lovingkindness,” “mercy,” “goodness,” or “kindness” to recognize where hesed is mentioned in the Hebrew.
After you study President Nelson’s teachings about hesed and know where to find this doctrine in these prophetic books, you will have a much greater appreciation for what these prophets were saying. For example:
- After trying to run from the Lord and being swallowed by the great fish, Jonah learned that “they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy [hesed]” (Jonah 2:8). This means that as we pursue empty things of no worth we eventually abandon our own blessings that were promised to us through our covenants with God. However, Jonah learned that even when we forsake our covenant promises, God remains loyal to us and encourages us come back to the covenant path. Jonah received a second chance to fulfill his mission. Later, when Jonah was upset that God spared the people of Nineveh, God gave Jonah “yet another chance” to see those people the way He did. Jonah observed firsthand that Jehovah is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness [hesed]” (Jonah 4:2).
- Israelite prophets wrestled against the attitude that participating in priesthood ordinances was by itself enough for people to have a good relationship with God—even if they were worshipping other gods or treating other people unjustly. Through Hosea, the Lord complained to these people that “your goodness [hesed] is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away …. [But] I desired mercy [hesed], and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4, 6). When Micah accuses the people of being unfaithful to Jehovah, they offer “thousands of rams” and “ten thousands of rivers of oil,” but the prophet responds that what God really wants is for them “to do justly, and to love mercy [hesed], and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:7–8). Covenants are fundamentally about relationships, and healthy relationships are based on love and loyalty, not checking off boxes or offering empty affirmations.
In addition to explaining hesed, President Nelson’s article can help us make better sense of several other teachings from the minor prophets:
- “God wants to connect all people to the covenant He made anciently with Abraham.” When we understand how “universally inclusive” Israel will be, it makes sense why “the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered” (Hosea 1:10).
- The special relationship we forge through our covenants with God is comparable to marriage relationships where both spouses covenant “to be loyal and faithful to each other” and thus “share a unique … bond that creates a special love.” When we understand that comparison, it makes sense why Jehovah would use that same analogy when promising covenant Israel that “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, … I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:19, 23).
- “God wants everyone, on both sides of the veil, to enjoy the blessings of His covenant.” When we understand the role of temple work, it makes sense why the Lord would send Elijah to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:6).
- When we covenant with God, “we take the Lord’s name upon ourselves as individuals … [and] as a people. Being passionate about using the correct name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a vital way that we as a people take His name upon us.” When we understand God’s name to be part of our covenant identity, it makes sense why the covenant people promise to “walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever” (Micah 4:5) and why they are promised that “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32).
- When we stray off the covenant path, God will “help [us] find [our] way back to Him…. He will do everything He can, without infringing on our agency.” When we understand that God’s doing “everything He can” includes inviting us, warning us, and even humbling us, it makes sense why He punished rebellious Israel through actions such as “withhold[ing] the rain” (Amos 4:7) and why He lamented so much when even then “ye [have] not returned unto me” (Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11).
I encourage everyone to carefully study President Nelson’s message in the October 2022 Liahona and to keep his teachings in mind as we continue to feast upon the Old Testament prophetic books. Latter-day Saints have the unique and rich opportunity to study the words of both ancient and modern prophets and see how each sheds light on the other.