Last month we revived our Tour of the Bible series to examine the Major Prophets. Today, we’ll take a look at the so-called Minor Prophets—and we’ll conclude our tour of the Old Testament while we’re at it. In case you missed them, here are the previous installments of our Tour of the Bible:
- Part 1: the Books of Moses
- Part 2: the Historical Books
- Part 3: the Wisdom Books
- Part 4: the Major Prophets
There are twelve Minor Prophets, each of whom is given a separate book in Protestant and Catholic Bibles. In order of their appearance in the Bible, they’re Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. They’re described as “minor” not because they’re less important than the books of the Major Prophets, but because they’re shorter in length (most of them can easily be read in a single sitting). Together, their indictments of Israel’s drift away from God set the stage for the New Covenant that will be ushered in with the person of Jesus Christ.
Let’s take a brief look at each of the Minor Prophets in turn.
Hosea had the dubious honor of having his life used as a living moral object lesson for Israel—instructed by God to marry an unfaithful wife, he spoke movingly and earnestly about God’s sorrow at Israel’s “adulterous affairs” with false gods and His willingness to forgive.
Joel’s recorded prophecies are short but direct. He described God’s coming judgment as an “invasion of locusts”—a clear and terrifying image for Iron Age Israelite society. However, Joel is best known for predicting the “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit which would occur hundreds of years later at Pentecost, as described in Acts 2.
Amos was a simple shepherd called to deliver a message nobody wanted to hear: Israel had grown complacent, spiritually lazy, and hypocritical. Injustice, in the form of slavery, greed, and mistreatment of the poor, was commonplace. Amos’ criticisms still strike home two thousand years later:
Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land, saying,
“When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”–
skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
Obadiah consists of just one chapter. Obadiah’s message is quite specific to his time, describing the judgment that awaited the nation of Edom, which had done nothing to help Judah in her hour of need. Edom’s actions would be revisited upon them: their land and wealth would be lost just as Judah’s had been.
The most famous of the Minor Prophets, Jonah was famously swallowed by a whale while attempting to flee God’s call. Jonah’s prophetic message is directed not at Israel, but at the sin-choked foreign city of Ninevah—a reminder that God’s love and forgiveness was not limited to one nation or ethnic group. God’s endless compassion could reach even the Assyrians, whose cruelty and military power had made them the terror of the ancient world.
Micah’s was a familiar message: Israel and Judah had turned away from God to follow false prophets and hypocritical religion, and disaster was coming if they did not repent. Micah tried to remind his audience that what God truly desired from men and women was not religious ritual, but faithful living. What God wanted wasn’t hard to understand:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
One of the more obscure prophets, Nahum foretold the ruin of the mighty Assyrian empire, which had hauled Judah into slavery and exile. His words were a warning that no city or nation was so powerful as to be beyond the reach of God’s judgment.
Habakkuk strikes a markedly different tone than many of the other prophets. Instead of preaching judgment, he asked questions—tough questions, like “Why does God allow evil to exist?” and “If God is sovereign, why do wicked people prosper?” He brought these questions to God in prayer and found consolation in God’s strength and power. Habbakuk shows us that ancient believers wrestled with the same difficult questions about sin, evil, and suffering that Christians ask today.
Prophecying during the reign of king Josiah, Zephaniah warned Judah that if they did not turn away from false religion and pagan practices, God’s judgment would fall on them. But God’s day of judgment is portrayed not just as a day of suffering, but as a time of rejoicing, when God would return to rescue the oppressed and restore the broken. The wicked had cause to fear judgment, but the faithful could look ahead to it with hope.
Haggai served as a prophet while a small remnant of Jews, returning from exile, were struggling to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. His message was one of encouragement and hope—God was still with His people, even though they had fallen far from the glorious days of David and Solomon:
“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,” declares the LORD. “Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the LORD, “and work. For I am with you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”
Zechariah was a post-exile prophet like Haggai, and also directed his message to the surviving remnant returned from exile in Babylon. Zechariah stands out as an Old Testament messenger who spoke clearly about the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Christians believe that this unusual prophecy was fulfilled on Palm Sunday.
Also preaching to the returned exiles, Malachi offered a less happy mesage: after all they’d been through, God’s people still fell into disobedience. Israel’s priests and leaders were leading their flock astray, and only a faithful few remained who lived in accordance with God’s law. The book of Malachi concludes the Old Testament with a reminder of humanity’s need for a Saviour—and a promise that “for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.”
And so ends our review of the Old Testament. The prophetic books that conclude the Old Testament set the stage perfectly for the New: although there is hope mingled with the messages of judgment, the overall picture they paint is of a people desperately in need of a divine mediator to save them from their sin. It’s easy to get lost in all the “doom and gloom,” but a careful reading of the prophets shows that God’s desire in every situation was for His people to renounce evil and return to Him. Things look grim for God’s people—but something marvellous is on the horizon.
When our Tour of the Bible resumes with the New Testament, we’ll see the Good News that God has in mind for his lost and wandering children.