Perhaps it’s always been this way but in society today it’s the big and boisterous that always get the attention.
In sports it’s the pro athlete who does the best dancing after a score that gets most of the camera time. In politics it’s the person who makes the most speeches or social media posts or slams the other side that gets the most publicity.
You’ve heard the old line – “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Works for wheels, and too often it works for people as well.
And it’s the same for the Bible as well. In the Old Testament it’s the LONG books that usually get quoted most often.
Let’s take a quick quiz (don’t cheat!) What’s the longest book in the Bible?
(cue the Jeopardy music – DON’T PEEK! Don't look down!)
Of course it’s the Book of Psalms, all 150 of them. So who’s number two on the list?
This might be tougher. It’s actually the very first book of the Bible, Genesis. Fifty chapters, over 1,500 verses.
Folks who know their Bible well know that Jeremiah and Isaiah both had a LOT to say. Both of those books are around 1,300 verses.
Numbers, Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, Exodus – all of them are pretty long. And they all tell plenty of stories and are quoted frequently in church services and in written devotionals.
But what about the opposite end of the spectrum? What about the shortest books of the Bible?
These are books that almost never get quoted. In fact most people who’ve forgotten memorizing the books of the Bible in Catechism or Sunday School end up missing these titles entirely.
Ever notice the end of the Old Testament? From Joel to Malachi these writers wrote books that you could read all in one sitting, each 10 chapters or less. And the really short ones might only take up two or three pages in your Bible
Yet there is wisdom to be found in EVERY book. Let’s jog your memory on these interesting texts, or perhaps you’re really hearing about them for the first time.
There’s the Book of Obadiah. His book, only ONE chapter, details Obadiah’s vision from God on the Kingdom of Edom, next door neighbor to Judah and Jerusalem. When the Babylonians came and trashed the old southern kingdom of Israel, taking many Jews into captivity, some Edomites decided to move into the vacated area.
But of course many of the Israelites eventually moved back to Judah and that meant someone had to go. Obadiah’s vision was bad news for the Edomites. And in some translations it uses Jacob for Israel and Esau for Edom.
Remember Sunday School? Jacob and Esau were brothers, sons of Isaac. Esau was the eldest but sly Jacob tricked him out of his father’s inheritance. They parted company for good. Jacob became Israel and Esau was left wanting.
Maybe Esau/Edom saw moving into Judah as ancient revenge. But ultimately it didn’t go well…
Jacob will be a fire and Joseph a flame;
Esau will be stubble, and they will set him on fire and destroy him.
There will be no survivors from Esau.”
The Lord has spoken. – Obadiah 18 NIV
Next comes Jonah, and everyone remembers him, right? The Jonah and the whale story is one of the most famous of the Bible, but Jonah tells his story in just two pages and four chapters.
Think it couldn’t happen? Perhaps you missed the news story from last month of a man diving off the coast of Massachusetts. A huge humpback whale surprised him and the man was lodged in his mouth for perhaps 40 seconds before he spit him back out. He lived to tell the tale.
Yes, Jonah’s tale went for three days inside the fish. Gives you that sardine feeling, doesn’t it?
Why was Jonah gobbled up? He was ordered by God to go to the city of Nineveh to pronounce judgment there. Instead Jonah went the other direction – big mistake. After the whale coughed him up at God’s insistence, Jonah saw the wisdom of listening to His word.
The book of Micah has a whopping seven chapters, a big boy of this collection. The prophet dishes out the doom and gloom on the towns of Judah after they turned their backs on the Lord, and chastises their leaders who helped create the destruction.
But those who know the Christmas story well may remember a famous quote from Micah although it’s usually just one verse at Christmas. Let’s go a little longer…
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.
He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. – Micah 5:2-4 NIV
You already know who was born in Bethlehem. Micah foresaw the birth of Christ and the implications centuries before it happened, all written in this small book.
Next is Nahum, all three chapters. The city of Nineveh is at it again but the capital of ancient Assyria is about to get clobbered by the Lord.
And Nahum was quite the storyteller even when brief. Many modern novelists would love his pace…
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses… - Nahum 3:2-3 NIV
Habakkuk is another three chapter vision, this time about the Babylonians and why God is allowing them to destroy Jerusalem and Judah. The prophet has two complaints for God and God has two answers for him.
Then Habukkuk has a long prayer which is to be sung; the very last verse even has instructions for the choir director. As you read it see if you can find a tune to sing it to or make one up. Most Christian prayers are just recited while those of other religions are usually sung. Go ahead, give it a try.
Apparently everything here goes in three’s as the book of Zephaniah again has just three parts. And once again the Lord metes out his judgment but this time against seemingly everyone – Judah, the Philistines, Moab and Ammon, Ethiopia and Assyria, and finally Jerusalem.
But Zephaniah isn’t all fire and brimstone. Toward the end he offers the Israelites redemption and hope…
At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord. – Zephaniah 3:20 NIV
Can you pronounce the next book? It’s Haggai – HAH-guy. Just two pages and two chapters but enough to get a recent story in a prominent political magazine (https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/07/enduring-lessons-from-the-very-short-book-of-haggai/.)
Read over the material, see if you agree…
These books are all short and can literally be read all in one sitting. But together they offer fascinating views of ancient biblical life in difficult times.
We’ll let you be the judge if our current episodes perhaps mirror those times. But along with the big books of the Bible, let’s not overlook these.
From George Churchgoer