The books of the Bible known as the “minor prophets” are probably the least known about books by most Christians in the entire Bible. They are shorter books of the Bible made up of confusing poetry and imagery and seem pointless to most readers. When we actually take a look at these books in their historical context, we start to see a huge role these prophets played in Israel. Let’s dig in.
There are actually three different groups the prophets fall into. Prophets that addressed the north (that is, Israel), the south (that is, Judah), and foregin nations other than Israel or Judah. The prophets address these different nations to pronounce God’s judgment and hope to the nations. We will start with the northern tribes’ prophets first.
For northern Israel, they have not had a single king who did what was right in the eyes of God. All of them have dug Israel deeper and deeper into sin which eventually led to their exile by the Assyrians. These prophets write and teach prior to this exile, warning them of the fate that lies ahead. The first prophet we will look at, Amos, is an interesting prophet. He is warning the nations and Israel of the coming fate of exile and the people and the leaders of Israel as well. Then Amos ends with visions that Amos has. The whole point of this prophet is that God is letting his people know that punishment is inevitable but there is hope. God’s true hope is that His people will be reunited together again and He will be their God again. All pointers back to how the garden was and what it will be like when Jesus comes again.
The other prophet that was for Israel was Hosea. Hosea is much like Amos in that punishment is coming for the tribes of Israel but there is hope. Hosea is a major pointer to the Messiah. In Hosea 13:14 which is quoted again in 1 Corinthians. God is pointing His people to a time of restoration when death will have no power over them. This is a direct link to Jesus who conquered death through his resurrection. Hosea promises a time of restoration for the people of Israel.
For the southern tribes, Joel, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk and the major prophets were their prophets. These prophets call for repentance of Judah and God will once again bless them and Jerusalem will be their stronghold. The prophet Joel calls for repentance and only after repentance will blessing come to them. Micah has similar themes but directly points to a Messiah that will come and be the “shepherd” of his flock. Zephaniah is a prophet who prophecies the coming judgment of Yahweh. However, Yahweh will leave a remnant in Israel as the hope for a future. Zephaniah also prophecies against other nations as well. Habakkuk is a prophet who calls to God in chapter 1 and God responds. God gives the promise that Babylon is coming but that the “righteous will live by faith”. This is a glorious promise that a remnant will be left who will live by faith.
The foreign nation prophets are Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah. Jonah is an interesting prophet who is instructed to go to the enemy city of Nineveh and preach repentance. Instead, Jonah runs away from God and despises going there. Jonah is then swallowed by a giant fish that God sent to save Jonah. Jonah eventually goes to Nineveh and they repent and Jonah is so angry about this. God then sends a plant that Jonah likes and then it withers and this makes Jonah even more angry but God is making a point. Jonah is the anti prophet image. He runs away from God, which prophets aren’t supposed to do and doesn’t want to do what God tells him. You see, we are just like Jonah sometimes, running from God and so was Israel. It is a great little story of how we should listen to God that leads to life instead of listening to the voice of the serpent that leads to death. It is all garden imagery and pointers to the Messiah.
Nahum and Obadiah may not have the interesting storyline that Jonah has but they are still important. Nahum actually, in a way, is a continuation of the story of Jonah. The whole point is that the fall of Nineveh is an example of how God will bring justice to the nations who do evil and how the faithful remnant will endure. Obadiah is a prophet who prophecies to the nation of Edom. This is all about the bigger picture in the world. Edom’s pride and unjustness is a symbol of all the evil in the world. All of these nations who do not follow God is like a seed of the snake all the way back in Genesis 1. We then have to look for that seed of the woman to crush the snake. Edom can be used as this example of the human brokenness in the world and their downfall is an example of God’s kingdom being established and ruling forever.
The next three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are all based post-exile. These books have a different theme to them as we will explore. Let’s look at haggai first.
The prophet Haggai is one of passion and conviction. Haggai’s whole message is that true repentance and faith will lead to the bright future that the Isaralites hope for. The whole point is that God’s kingdom is coming, but whose side will they be on? It is a question even we have to answer today.
Zechariah is another prophet who can be bewildering at times. The book is full of visions, dreams, and imagery all leading up to the Messianic kingdom. The whole point is that the rejection of God by the people and leaders will not last forever. God’s kingdom coming is inevitable and so is His judgement. The people must choose to obey God and participate in His kingdom.
Malachi is the last prophet we read of in the Old Testament and it is the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi is a book that points out the sins of the people of Israel but also gives hope of the Messiah that is coming. John the Baptist is foreshadowed here as the “messenger who will prepare the way”. It’s a prophecy that causes us to look at our hearts and find where our true love resides.
All of these prophets have main themes in common. They point out Israel’s flaws in the people, priests, and leaders of Israel. They talk about the punishment and judgment that is coming on the nation and other nations. They also give hope to the future of the Messiah who will restore all things. So even though they don’t directly advance the storyline of the Bible, the prophets are a good summary of what has happened so far in the Biblical narrative, why things are happening, and what is to come. They are so important for understanding what is happening in the Bible.