Minor Prophets (12 Books)
Twelve Minor Prophets wrote works that in pure content are smaller than the Major Prophets. These prophets range from the times of the divided kingdom, what we call the pre-exilic period, the time leading up to, and even during the exile to Babylon, and also the post-exilic times after Israel had begun to return in the land.
The subject matter is quite varied, and each of the prophets used the symbols and customs of their culture to communicate the people's need to return to God and be faithful to Him. A true prophet can indeed predict the future when God calls His shots, but moreso a prophet seeks to call people to repentance out of sin and into God's glorious light.
We call them the “literary prophets” because we know more about the prophecy they wrote than their lives. When we read about the earlier prophets like Elijah and Elisha, we know more about their lives and battles than their written prophecy.
Some of these prophets lived in prophesied after the return of the people to the land from exile. They dealt with apathy of the people in building the Temple and living right before God. The people wondered when the promised Messiah would come to save them. Other prophets lived right before the exile and prophesied God’s coming judgment.
These prophets did not have to deal with idolatry, since God stamped that out during the exile. The returning Jews got the message loud and clear. They became very legalistic about idolatry, wanting to avoid losing the land again.
Many of these prophets spoke about the Messiah, describing him as the perfect King sent from God. Others dealt with matters concerning right living now. As with all the prophets, they spoke to the issues and culture of their day. The people must live lives that please God and honor His laws.
The genre of prophecy often uses vivid images, poetry, object lessons, narrative, and apocalyptic imagery to get the point across. Prophetic writings contain sections called “oracles against the nations” that proclaim God’s judgment on Israel, Judah, and the Canaanite nations around them.
Date: 725 BC
Purpose: To describe how Israel through idolatry has become the prostitute God still loves.
Key People: Hosea, Gomer
Key Passages: Hosea 1:10; 8:7; 11:7-8
I. Hosea’s Family (1-3)
II. Israel’s Corruption (4-5)
III. God’s Love Rejected (6-8:6)
IV. Coming Judgment (8:7-10)
V. Repentance Is Possible (11-14)
Hosea uses his rocky marriage with Gomer, a prostitute he married by God’s command, to describe Israel’s relationship with God. Every time Israel turns to idols she commits spiritual adultery against the Lord.
Hosea spent much of his marriage buying his wife back from people who enslaved her sexually to take advantage of her. Even though she kept running away, Hosea still loved her and wanted to show her he was her provider, not her “lovers.”
God forgave Israel over and over for her continued lusting after the gods of the kingdoms around her. He was willing to buy her back from slavery to these idols. He wanted her to love Him.
Date: 835 BC
Purpose: To describe the day of judgment in the coming Day of the Lord
Key People: Joel
Key Passages: Joel 2:28-32
I. Plague of Locusts (1)
II. God Threatens Judgment (2:1-17)
III. Outpouring of the Spirit (2:18-32)
IV. Judgment of the Oppressor (3:1-16)
V. God Restores His People (3:17-21)
Joel uses the image of an army of locusts that attacks Judah’s fields to describe the day of the Lord, God’s coming judgment. These locusts don’t just destroy the crop of Judah. They destroy their future and livelihood. But this is nothing like what will happen on the Day of the Lord. God will judge the wicked and the oppressor. But He will also pour out His Spirit on all flesh.
Date: 752 BC
Purpose: To preach against the opulence and arrogance of the northern kingdom, which was fooled into thinking God will not judge it.
Key People: Amos
Key Passages: Amos 4:12-13; 5:14
I. Prophecies against Northern Israel (1-2)
II. The Land Is Corrupt (3-6)
III. Visions of Doom and Gloom (7-8:3)
IV. Judgment Day (8:4-9:10)
V. God’s Restoration (9:11-15)
Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah, but he prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel. He reveals he was a shepherd before Don called him to be a prophet. Amos went to the northern kingdom to preach against the arrogance and affluence that made the people think they would escape God’s judgment.
Amos preaches against the idolatry and injustices of the people against their neighbors. When he addressed the injustices of the people, the priest at Bethel kicked him out of the country. Amos had to return to the southern kingdom and prophesy against the north from there.
Date: 845 BC
Purpose: To prophesy God’s righteous judgment against the Edomites for their many violations against the Israelites in battle.
Key People: Obadiah
Key Passages: Obadiah 21
I. Prophecy of Edom’s Fall (1-9)
II. Edom’s Sins (10-14)
III. God Judges Edom and Saves Israel (15-21)
This is the shortest prophecy, and the shortest book, of the Old Testament. Obadiah writes to prophesy God’s judgment of the Edomites. Obadiah is one of the most common names in Israel. It means “servant of the Lord.” Because the Edomites have many historical examples of their ruthlessness against the Israelites, it is hard to pinpoint a historical example.
Consequently, many scholars have assigned both an early and late date to the prophecy. It is so short that it’s practically impossible to know anything about the prophet or the event that triggered the prophecy. He had faith to see God’s kingdom despite this horrible experience.
Date: 755 BC
Purpose: To show God’s mercy toward wicked and sinful people, and to teach His prophet to have compassion. To show God’s sovereignty over people and nations.
Key People: Jonah, the Ninevites
Key Passages: Jonah 3:2, 4-5; 4:11
I. God Commissions Jonah but Jonah Runs the Other Way (1)
II. Jonah Prays in the Belly of a Big Fish (2)
III. Jonah Preaches God’s Judgment, but Nineveh Repents (3)
IV. God Teaches Jonah about His Sovereignty to Save Others (4)
More than most Minor Prophets, you get a real sense of Jonah’s story. He is unusual among the prophets because he does not want to do what the Lord tells him to do. God sends him to his arch enemy, the Ninevites, to preach God’s message of judgment. But he knows God will relent from judgment if the Ninevites turned to Him.
So Jonah goes the opposite direction, finds himself in the belly of the big fish, and right on the shores of Nineveh. He preaches God’s judgment on them, but he finds God judges him. Scholars still debate the ending of the book and whether or not this prophet ever gets it.
Date: 735 BC
Purpose: To make the people of Judah understand God’s wrath is coming to them as it came to the northern kingdom of Israel.
Key People: Micah
Key Passages: Micah 5:2; 6:8
I. Judgment against Israel and Judah (1-3)
II. Hope for Israel and Judah (4-5)
III. God’s Case against Israel (6)
IV. Micah’s Sadness and a Hopeful Future (7)
Micah prophecies to the southern kingdom of Judah shortly before the northern kingdom falls to the Assyrians and goes into exile. The people do not listen to his message. They think they are safe. They are living on the blessings of yesterday, unable to see the looming, disastrous judgment of God coming soon.
Micah lives in the town of Moresheth, about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. He has several contemporary prophets, Amos and Hosea in the northern kingdom, and Isaiah ministering to Judah.
Date: 650 BC
Purpose: To prophesy God’s judgment against the city of Nineveh and its fall.
Key People: Nahum
Key Passages: Nahum 1:6-7
I. The Divine Avenger Is Coming to Nineveh (1)
II. Description of the Siege and Fall of Nineveh (2)
III. “Woe to the City of Blood” (3)
Nahum prophesies against the city of Nineveh in the Assyrian Empire. While Jonah saw revival in the city years before, Nahum predicts the fall of Nineveh about 38 years before its demise. He says God’s judgment is coming against the city for its great wickedness. The Assyrian Empire had little allies in the world and was known as the bully of the nations. It was the arch enemy of Israel, which it would pass through to fight with Egypt.
Nahum’s name means “Comfort.” It comes from the Hebrew verb for comfort and mercy that bears the image of a mother’s womb. Although his name suggests comfort, the book that he wrote is a surging and flaming indignation against Nineveh. His graphic poetry and spine-tingling analogies show no hope of compassion for the violent enemies of the world. In fact, the senses join in the image as the imagination is taken to vivid images of death and destruction when Babylon takes Nineveh. With great accuracy Nahum describes the fall of the great city.
Date: 609 BC
Purpose: Habakkuk’s prophecy asks why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, and why God uses we could nations to punish the righteous.
Key People: Habakkuk
Key Passages: Habakkuk 2:4;, 14
I. Habakkuk Argues with God (1:2-4)
II. God Replies (1:5-11)
III. Habakkuk Protests (1:12-17)
IV. God Replies (2:1-20)
V. God’s Judgment and Salvation (3:1-16)
VI. Confidence of the Godly (3:17-19)
God tells Habakkuk that He will use the wicked nation of Babylon to punish Judah. He can’t wrap his head around the idea of God using one nation against another, and a wicked one against what he considers to be a righteous one. This tiny book asks the age-old question of why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper.
God answers that the righteous will live by faith, that He takes care of those who belong to Him despite the circumstances around them. This book has a profound effect on the apostle Paul, who quotes Habakkuk 2:4 throughout his writings.
His name means “embraced.” Indeed, this prophet is embraced by God when asking some of the hardest questions that we still ask today concerning pain and suffering. Why would a good God allow such suffering? God embraces him by answering his questions, and the prophet finally offers a prayer unto the Lord for His goodness and how He protects those who trust in Him.
Date: 630 BC
Purpose: To prophesy God’s coming judgment against Judah because of its wicked kings and people.
Key People: Zephaniah
Key Passages: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:14-15
I. Zephaniah Announces God’s Judgment (1)
II. Judah Must Repent (2:1-3)
III. Oracles against the Nations (2:4-15)
IV. Judah Will Not Escape Judgment (3:1-8)
V. The Promise to Restore a Remnant (3:9-20)
Zephaniah prophesies God’s judgment coming against Judah soon because of the wicked kings and the corrupt people. It is so corrupt God would rather destroy the people. He probably prophesied this before King Josiah’s reforms.
The name means “The Lord hides me.” The implication in some of the Psalms where the verb his name is built off of is hiding from evil or disaster. This is a fitting name considering he prophecies that Judah’s payment of disastrous judgment is coming, and yet speaks of the safety of those who are faithful to the Lord, the remnant. His message seems to line up with this name well.
Date: 520 BC
Purpose: To prophesy God’s blessing for the completion of the Temple after the Israelites return from the exile.
Key People: Haggai
Key Passages: Haggai 1:7-8; 2:9
I. First Prophecy: Begin Rebuilding the Temple (1:1-11)
II. Second Prophecy: Encouraging the Jews in Their Work (1:12-15)
III. Third Prophecy: Message of Encouragement (2:1-9)
IV. Fourth Prophecy: God Promises Blessings (2:10-19)
V. Fifth Prophecy: Haggai’s Message to Zerubbabel (2:20-23)
Haggai is the first of the post-exilic prophets, those returning from exile. Work on the Temple had stalled because of outside opposition and apathy. Haggai preaches four messages in the book that focus on the theme that God will bless personal and professional endeavors when God’s house is our first priority. God must be our first priority or we will not see His blessing in our lives.
Haggai appears in Ezra 5:1. His name, Haggai, means “feast, festival.” We know from Ezra’s account in Ezra 6:14-15 that Haggai stayed in contact and involvement with the temple until it was finished four years later, although his writing covers only four months in the beginning of the second initiative. The book does not talk about the finishing of the temple but focuses on his initiation and encouragement of finishing the temple. He was a contemporary of Zechariah who also focused on finishing the temple in his prophetic writings.
Date: 480 BC
Purpose: To describe eight apocalyptic visions, the future of Israel, and the coming Messiah.
Key People: Zechariah
Key Passages: Zechariah 1:3; 7:9-10; 9:9
I. Call to Repentance (1:1-6)
II. Eight Night Visions (1:7-6:8)
III. Crowning of Joshua (6:9-15)
IV. Fasting (7:1-3)
V. Zechariah’s Four Messages (7:4-8:23)
VI. Zechariah’s Burdens (9-14)
Zechariah’s eight night visions happen in one night. They are full of apocalyptic imagery, which is sometimes hard to understand. Apocalyptic imagery refers to the end times, like the book of Revelation. It is full of symbolic numbers and images. The prophecy has verified dates, unusual for the prophets.
We can learn much from Ezra and Nehemiah that might help us piece together Zechariah’s life. He is mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 as the son of Iddo, who was actually his grandfather. Nehemiah 12:4 and 16 have a man named Iddo who was one of the priests who returned with the exiles in 536 BC. Most scholars suggest that Berechiah, his father, died early on and Zechariah was raised by Iddo.
This would mean that Zechariah was of a priestly line. He knows priestly matters well in his prophecies, and it is most likely that he fulfilled a priestly role once the temple was finished. This would have also given him incentive to see the project through with Haggai and the others. His name means “The Lord remembers” and he was a contemporary with Haggai.
Date: 432 BC
Purpose: To prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah by shoring up all the loose parts of their lives that did not conform to the biblical standard.
Key People: Malachi
Key Passages: Malachi 3:1-2; 4:2
I. The Lord Loves Israel (1:1-5)
II. The Lord Rebukes the Priests (1:6-2:9)
III. Israel’s Faithfulness (2:10-16)
IV. The Lord’s Day of Justice (2:17-3:5)
V. The Lord Blesses Giving (3:6-12)
VI. The Righteous and the Day of the Lord (3:13-4:6)
Malachi lived in a time unprecedented in history. He was the last prophetic voice before God was silent for 400 years during the Intertestamental Period before John the Baptist and Jesus appeared. He taught on everything from divorce to tithing. We know him well for his teaching about robbing God by not tithing.
The people had a finished temple for around 100 years and the walls of the city were built and they were safe, but they were also apathetic in their waiting for the Messiah. We must be people who are eagerly and energetically and correctly serving the Lord until He returns! Essentially, Malachi served in the same world that we have right now, an apathetic and lethargic world that doesn’t care about serving God with excellence despite the dreary surroundings. So his final words before the silence of God for the Intertestamental Period speak directly to us today!