Major and minor (prophets and tonalities)

Almost always, I draft my posts days or even weeks before they become public.  This one, however, was conceived, drafted, revised, finalized, and published all within a couple of hours on the same day.  That is speedy for me.  And it may be good, or it may be bad. . . .

As one comes to understand harmony, s/he grows to perceive that not all major-key musical works are “happy.”  Furthermore, although few minor-key works are effervescent or jubilant, minor harmonies can certainly carry a variety of moods.  They may sometimes be mournful or ominous, yes, but also yearning, or plaintive, or resolute, or even annunciatory—and more.  Minor keys are often used in a transitional or modulatory manner, within a larger structure that shifts its mode to major—such as in the 18th-century horn concerto I’m listening to now.  It also bears mention that a minor key (which wasn’t conceived of per se as “minor” until a relatively late time in music history) in the Middle Ages or Renaissance is a different animal than the minor of, say, the German High Baroque, the early 20th century for a Scandinavian composer, or the current era.¹

The “minor prophets” of the Hebrew Bible are so labeled because of the size of the written work that remains.  Not all of them are minor in terms of significance—even speaking relatively.  Yes, Isaiah is a major prophet in anyone’s literary analysis, but Micah also left an important message, and so did many of the others, as far as I can tell.

I often like music in minor keys, but I don’t like to read prophecy, regardless of whether the prophet is considered minor or major.  Sometimes I forget (or try to forget) this aversion, and then I read prophecy again.  Invariably, I regret it.  It makes me upset—not because I identify with the people of Judah or Israel and feel harshly criticized to the point of self-defensiveness.  No, I get upset because I simply don’t get prophecy.  The tenor often seems to be one of stern criticism or mournful repentance or hopeless doom—and I do understand those, in general terms—but so many of the multiplied words are lost on me that I become wistful at best . . . and irritated or disenfranchised or hopeless at worst.  Maybe an early 20th-century blues song (in a major key, mind you) or a hippie folk song would be good about now.

“Why not read a commentary?” you ask . . . “You know, something that could help you understand, you ignorant wretch who must repent, or something worse will befall you?”  Although I have some at my disposal, I have come to believe that there more authors who misunderstand the import of Old Testament prophecy than is the case with any other type of literature.  A lot of the problem, at least in the western world, has to do with the silly enterprise of trying to apply Israelite prophecies of, say, the 7th century BC to modern-day Syria and Iraq or the USA.  Many gullible people have bought into that kind of garbage, and more off-base books on prophecy have sold than better-conceived ones.  I suppose I feel I know just enough about prophecy to know when a preacher or author is full of baloney (deserving true prophetic condemnation in some cases!), but that’s roughly where my knowledge and insight leave off.

And it’s frustrating, because I want to understand Israel’s history during the centuries that led up 20161208_210607.jpgto the birth of the Messiah.  John Bright’s book The Kingdom of God has lately drawn me to the prophecy of Amos.  Aside:  I’m confident in saying that Bright, who died a couple of decades ago, was not one of those careless, pop-theology authors who merely wanted to sell books . . . no, I infer that he really “gets” Amos.  The prophet Amos, as Bright painted him, was a man of the old ways.  A man who deeply “got” God’s original covenant with the people.  A man who was deeply distressed with the state of Israel under the kings and who called the people back to God as King.  With that vision in mind and heart, I started reading Amos this morning.  And I hated almost every minute of it.  The message is redundant at best.  I can’t hear much of the message I suspect the people of Israel would have heard.

So I think I’ll listen to some minor-key music from the Renaissance.  Or maybe a folk tune in the Mixolydian or Dorian mode.  Those are nice, and I can understand more of them.

P.S.  I wrote this post after having read the first four chapters of Amos.  I almost quit in a minor fit of frustration.  Much of the material in the last five chapters was much more understandable for me.  Finishing Amos today was not a major accomplishment, but one I wanted nonetheless to document!

¹ All of this pertains to “Western music,” i.e., it does not speak to music of the Arabian desert, Tibet, India, etc.


12 thoughts on “Major and minor (prophets and tonalities)

  1. navcad56Bob Lewis-CWP member 01/22/2017 / 6:22 pm


    Your observations on Bright are prompting me to drive to my storage unit where my library is stored, dig through dozens and dozens of cartons to locate this old volume.


    Whenever I read the Prophets, major or minor, I read them with Matthew 21:43ff in mind, along with–Paul who said that “… For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Rom. 15:4 KJV) and

    1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.1 (1 Cor. 10:11 KJV)

    From the prophets, major and minor I learn God says what he means and means what He says.

    In my readings, I find myself “comforted” by my outline of Habakkuk’s work:

    Chapter 1…NO!

    Chapter 2…OH?!

    Chapter 3…Ahh!

    I have found this “outline” instructive as I read broadly in history seeing, I think, His hand!!!


    • Brian Casey 01/25/2017 / 11:16 am

      Bob, the word “ensamples” befuddles, but your practical faith inspires. 🙂 I looked up Matt 21:43 and found that inclusion here provocative and on target! I also like your Habakkuk outline very much. Seems to me that several of the prophets could be outlined just that way. I just have trouble getting through all the verbiage that does not resonate in me since I am neither agrarian nor shepherd nor ancient Jew. But I keep trying to “get” prophets, at about the rate of 1 or 2 texts per year. Maybe next I should try a shorter one — Obadiah? Jonah is one I get, and I think it’s because it doesn’t fit the norm.


  2. John Eoff 01/23/2017 / 6:56 am

    Brian, Josephus states his perception that the Jews of his days (he was born just after Jesus’ death) there for 22 books regarded as authoritative and these included some of the prophets. He also stated there were other books whose authority was quested. He didn’t list the accepted books; however, he did say the doubtful ones were doubted for the reason that there was no continuation (without gaps) showing the true prophets of God. In other words if one did not immediately follow the last known prophet, his words were taken with a grain of salt. (That’s the way I understand Josephus, anyway). Fulfilled prophecy is our modern day one and only guarantee of the truth of the words written by the prophet. The whole theme of the entire Bible is God’s Eternal Kingdom, which is shown only by the words of the prophets. That kingdom matured only after every word about it had been written, and was yet future, but the immediate future, when the last of out Bible was written. The words of the prophets are therefore extremely important.


    • Brian Casey 01/25/2017 / 11:20 am

      John, your emphasis on the prophets compels me, but that doesn’t make them any easier for me to read or understand. I hope you know that I I wasn’t suggesting the words of the prophets are unimportant. Far from it. I simply abhor the feeling of getting lost in the verbiage and not seeing either the trees or the forest — or the bark or the lichen, either. Maybe I should try the advice found in a chapter of a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work: lower my standards. Not expecting myself to understand a lot of prophecy might make the larger messages come clearer?

      Our shared interest in Kingdom topics takes different paths, but they are related. I tend strongly to agree with you that the theme of all of canonical scripture can be put in terms of the Kingdom, the Kingship, the Reign of God, but I would take exception to the notion that Kingdom “is shown only by the words of the prophets.” Far from it: so much of the nature and iterations of the Kingdom are seen in Judges, Samuel-Kings-Chronicles, Matthew, and more.

      With that said, I think if I understood even 1/4 of prophetic literature, my grasp of the Kingdom would skyrocket. That is not to say that I think the Kingdom has matured (as you have written here). I am holding to a hope that something entirely new will yet happen.


    • John Eoff 01/25/2017 / 12:09 pm

      Brian, my comment about the prophets was in reference to the prophets, themselves, not the books we call the prophets. I don’t think a lot of prophecy can be understood until one comes to embrace the promises of the times of fulfillment. A preteristic approach is compulsory.


    • Brian Casey 01/25/2017 / 12:20 pm

      John, that seems slightly more attainable — getting the prophets, not necessarily the writings we have. I don’t lean toward preterism in general, because I think it is too absolute and has its own set of hermeneutic issues (like other schemes), but I do lean toward something of the same ilk (or at least I see it that way) — that the Kingdom is spiritually based and is here and now. In saying that, I am intending it to contrast with notions of Jesus setting up a physical kingdom in Jerusalem in the future.


    • John Eoff 01/25/2017 / 1:04 pm

      Brian, of course you are right on target that the kingdom is here now and is spiritually based. Being spiritual makes it both unseen and eternal. Its presence with us personally is in the new creature within us, born from above, of God, a spirit being that is not yet set free to join Jesus in the air to be forever with him—–where perfection exists. Try viewing prophecy from the preterist standpoint, whether you believe it that way or not, and see how much more sense it makes. Several passages of scripture substantiate that all prophecy was fulfilled by 1290 days following the termination of the daily sacrifices. Try it; you’ll like it.


    • Brian Casey 01/26/2017 / 8:13 pm

      Thanks, John. I wish it were that simple for me, but I don’t think it ever will be.

      I have thought of you as I’ve been working through some pages that relate Hebrew prophetic messages to Israel as “state” and Israel as “Kingdom.”

      On a related note: I have an anonymously authored preterist book. I can’t remember the title, but I think it’s something like “Behold! I am Coming Quickly” Were you or Ron McRay involved in such a book’s writing and publication?


    • John Eoff 01/26/2017 / 8:24 pm

      “Behold, I Come Quickly”. I thought Ron told me years ago that he was one of a number of men and women who colaberated in writing the book. In a conversation with him recently he said that he wrote it himself. I read it and bought a number of copies from the source listed in the book, a woman named Shirk who lived in upstate Pennsylvania; Uleses, I think. It is very well written.


  3. Anne 01/23/2017 / 8:46 am

    Brian, I feel your pain! You always give us food for thought.
    ~~ Anne


    • Brian Casey 01/25/2017 / 11:22 am

      Thank you for the kind word, Anne. Here is something further that struck me yesterday, based on readings in John Bright’s The Kingdom of God: perhaps more of the ones we identify as OT prophets weren’t specifically designated as such. With Amos and Micah, for instance, they seem to have come out of nowhere and simply spoke a God-message, a Kingdom-message. In that sense, more of God’s people could be prophetic….


  4. Brian Casey 01/23/2017 / 3:23 pm

    John, Bob, and Anne, thank you for the comments. Will reply later with a little substance. As I type this, I realize something interesting: all three of you who’ve commented are in the same decade of your earthly existence. How encouraging that you all care about these things and try to speak to me, as well.


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