prophet

The Story of the Bible: The Minor Prophets

Today’s post is the fifth installment in a series that breaks the story of the Bible down into ten ‘chapters’. Read Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and chapter four.

The fifth chapter in the story of the Bible continues the theme of chapter four, the ministry of the prophets. Christians customarily refer to these books as the “Minor Prophets.” In Jewish tradition, they are called “The Twelve.”

Although all of the writing prophets were men, there were women also who represented and spoke for God. We recall the ministry of Deborah in the time of the judges and the prophetess Hulda in the time of Josiah. There was Anna who was among the first to announce the coming of the Messiah to Israel (Luke 2:36-38). And Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9).

Readers of Scripture often find the prophets confusing because they don’t understand the historical context in which they ministered. Many students of the Bible have found it helpful to study the prophets in the chronological order in which they ministered rather than the canonical order in which they appear in Scripture.

The first of the writing prophets was probably Obadiah who announced God’s judgment on Edom, the descendants of Esau, for their pride and sins against Judah. Obadiah is followed by Joel who had recently witnessed a devastating locust plague on Judah. He used imagery of the locust swarm to illustrate the coming Day of the Lord – a day of judgment on the wicked and a day of deliverance for the righteous. Jonah was a reluctant prophet, but he eventually had a ministry beyond the borders of Israel. He carried a message of God’s mercy and compassion to the people of Nineveh, fierce enemies of Israel! His ministry was intended to show that God’s mercy extends even to the heathen nations on the condition of repentance.

Readers of Scripture often find the prophets confusing because they don’t understand the historical context in which they ministered. Many students of the Bible have found it helpful to study the prophets in the chronological order in which they ministered rather than the canonical order in which they appear in Scripture.

Amos was a shepherd who tended a grove of sycamore figs before God called him to the prophetic ministry. He was called of God to go to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and announce God’s righteous judgment on those who had broken the covenant.

Hosea, the next prophet to appear on the scene, is remembered for his tragic marriage and unhappy family circumstances. But God used Hosea and Gomer to demonstrate that God’s love for His people was unceasing in spite of Israel’s sin and apostasy. Isaiah, the major prophet, and Micah ministered during the same period. Micah has the distinction of being the only minor prophet who addressed his prophetic messages to both Israel and Judah. He announced coming divine judgment on both kingdoms and predicted Israel’s ultimate deliverance through the coming of the Messiah.

Like Jonah, the prophet Nahum had a message for Nineveh. Sadly, the Ninevites had fallen back into their sinful ways and God spoke through Nahum to announce the judgment and destruction of Nineveh, the defiant capital of the Assyrian empire. Zephaniah appeared on the prophetic scene in Judah shortly before the time of Jeremiah to announce the coming Day of the Lord, a message of universal judgment and deliverance for a repentant remnant. Habakkuk ministered alongside Jeremiah around 600 B.C. near the end of the Judean Monarchy. Habakkuk was perplexed as he wondered why the holy God had not undertaken more serious discipline against the people of Judah for breaking the covenant. God informed him that judgment was coming soon through the invading Chaldeans (Babylonians).

The ministry of Habakkuk was followed by Judah’s exile to Babylon. There the people spent the next seventy years, hundreds of miles away from their Promised Land and beloved city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel and Daniel were God’s spokesmen during the long and difficult years of exile. But God wasn’t through with His people. In 539 B.C. the Babylonians were overthrown by the Persians. And in the first year of his reign king Cyrus announced that the Jews in Babylon could return to their homeland and rebuild the temple of the Lord.

The return to Judah was an exciting time for the exiles who returned. Most of those who returned were born in Babylon and had never seen Jerusalem. But they knew that the Promised Land was a land of blessing and they were anxious to raise their families in the homeland of their ancestors. However, things didn’t go quite as planned, and the purpose for which they returned to Jerusalem was forgotten. Around 500 B.C. God raised up the prophet Haggai to remind the people of their spiritual priorities and call them to rise up and rebuild the temple. The prophet Zechariah joined him about two months later, calling the people to repent and not be like their ancestors who were judged for breaking the covenant.

Malachi was the last of the prophets to speak God’s word to the restoration community. He addressed such issues as divorce, intermarriage with unbelievers, and the neglect of tithing, calling people to repentance as a prerequisite for blessing. After Malachi’s final prophecy – the coming of Elijah – the Judeans entered into a period of 400 years without a prophetic voice.

 

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).