The commentary on Joel starts by helping us to visualise the plague of locusts and the devastating effect they would have had on Joel’s community. We have almost no historical background on Joel, but his call to repentance for a nation that had lost its spiritual life is as relevant today as ever. Prior provides an overview of the teaching on “the day of the Lord” from the prophets – a day of decisive judgement on which the people were naively assuming they would be vindicated and saved. Nothing less than a genuine and heartfelt repentance from the whole community was required if they were to escape calamity. In response to the people’s repentance, Joel prophesies blessing restored in the near future, the Spirit’s outpouring (fulfilled at Pentecost) and then finally the “day of the Lord” would arrive. In the third chapter Prior draws parallels with modern day nations as judgement is pronounced.
Micah writes to an affluent society who were sidelining God and growing richer at the expense of the poor. It was also a time of political upheaval with the Assyrian empire invading Samaria during his ministry. Prior follows most commentators by dividing the book into three cycles of threat and promise. He does a good job of filling in a lot of the background details (such as the significance of the places) and pointing out where allusions to other Old Testament books are being made. This allows the essence of the prophetic message to be seen in passages that most Bible readers will skip over quite quickly as a generic list of judgement prophecies. As he comments on Micah’s indictment of the pride, greed and injustice of his day, Prior himself takes on a prophetic edge speaking forthrightly into modern political and cultural situations.
Habakkuk is introduced to us as a man zealous for God living in a society filled with violence. Again we are encouraged to see contemporary parallels. Prior spends most time on chapter two as Habakkuk asks the difficult questions of God boldly and yet reverently and waits for his response. He is rewarded with his answer in the form of a vision, but it wasn’t necessarily what he wanted to hear. Finally, Prior argues that Habakkuk has matured through the course of the book, demonstrated as he comes to a place where he rejoices in God purely because of who he is, irrespective of his own personal circumstances.
Prior has provided a helpful resource on these three Old Testament books. It took me longer than I expected to read, perhaps because it is a bit heavy-going in places. In many ways it is like reading the biblical books themselves – there are sections that can seem hard and dry interspersed with some real high points. Its best feature is the way that Prior gives us a feel for what issues these three men might address were they preaching today.