Introduction to the Minor Prophets

Exploring a lesser-known, but still vital segment of the Bible

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One of the important things to remember about the Bible is that it's more than a single book. It's actually a collection of 66 individual books written over several centuries by around 40 separate authors. In many ways, the Bible is more like a portable library than a single book. And in order to make the best use of that library, it helps to understand how things are structured.

I've written previously about the different divisions used to organized the biblical text.

One of those divisions involves the different literary genres contained in the Scripture. There are several: the books of the law, historical literature, wisdom literature, the writings of the prophets, the gospels, epistles (letters), and apocalyptic prophecies.

This article will provide a brief overview of the Bible books known as the Minor Prophets -- which is a sub-genre of the prophetic books in the Old Testament.

Minor and Major

When scholars refer to the "prophetic writings" or "prophetic books" in the Bible, they are simply talking about books in the Old Testament that were written by prophets -- men and women chosen by God to deliver His messages to specific people and cultures in specific situations. (Yes, Judges 4:4 identifies Deborah as a prophet, so it wasn't an all-boys club.)

There were hundreds of prophets who lived and ministered in Israel and other parts of the ancient world throughout the centuries between Joshua conquering the promised land (around 1400 B.C.) and the life of Jesus.

We don't know all of their names, and we don't know everything they did -- but a few key passages of Scripture help us understand that God used a large force of messengers to help people know and understand His will. Like this one:

Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.)
1 Kings 18:2-4

Now, while there were hundreds of prophets who ministered throughout the Old Testament period, there are only 16 prophets who wrote books that were eventually included in God's Word. They are: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Each of the books they wrote are titled after their name. So, Isaiah wrote the Book of Isaiah. The only exception is Jeremiah, who wrote the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations.

As I mentioned earlier, the prophetic books are divided into two sections: the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. This does not mean that one set of prophets was better or more important than the other. Rather, each book in the Major Prophets is long, while the books in the Minor Prophets are relatively short. The terms "major" and "minor" are simply indicators of length, not importance.

The Major Prophets are made up of the following 5 books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. That means there are 11 books in the Minor Prophets, which I'll introduce below.

The Minor Prophets

Without further ado, here is a brief overview of the 11 books we call the Minor Prophets.

The Book of Hosea: Hosea is one of the more outrageous book of the Bible. That's because it sets up a parallel between Hosea's marriage to an adulterous wife and Israel's spiritual unfaithfulness to God in terms of worshiping idols. Hosea's primary message was an indictment of the Jews in the northern kingdom for turning away from God during a period of relative safety and prosperity. Hosea ministered between 800 and 700 B.C. He primarily served the northern kingdom of Israel, which he referred to as Ephraim.

The Book of Joel: Joel ministered to the southern kingdom of the Israelites, called Judah, although scholars are unsure exactly when he lived and ministered -- we know it was before the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem. Like most of the minor prophets, Joel called the people to repent of their idolatry and return in faithfulness to God.

What's most notable about Joel's message is that he spoke about a coming "Day of the Lord" in which the people would experience God's judgment. This prophecy was initially about a horrendous plague of locusts that would damage Jerusalem, but it also foreshadowed the greater destruction of the Babylonians.

The Book of Amos: Amos ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel around 759 B.C., which made him a contemporary of Hosea. Amos lived in a day of prosperity for Israel, and his primary message was that the Israelites had abandoned the concept of justice because of their material greed.

The Book of Obadiah: Incidentally, this was probably not the same Obadiah mentioned above in 1 Kings 18. Obadiah's ministry occurred after the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem, and he was effusive in pronouncing judgment against the Edomites (a hostile neighbor of Israel) for helping in that destruction. Obadiah also communicated that God would not forget His people even in their captivity.

The Book of Jonah: Probably the most famous of the Minor Prophets, this book details the adventures of a prophet named Jonah who was unwilling to proclaim God's message to the Assyrians in Nineveh -- that's because Jonah was afraid the Ninevites would repent and avoid God's wrath. Jonah had a whale of a time trying to run from God, but eventually obeyed.

The Book of Micah: Micah was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos, ministering to the northern kingdom around 750 B.C. The main message of the Book of Micah is that judgment was coming for both Jerusalem and Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom).

Because of the unfaithfulness of the people, Micah declared that judgment would come in the form of enemy armies -- but he also proclaimed a message of hope and restoration after that judgment had taken place.

The Book of Nahum: As a prophet, Nahum was sent to call for repentance among the people of Assyria -- particularly their capital city of Nineveh. This was about 150 years after Jonah's message had caused the Ninevites to repent, so they had reverted to their previous idolatry.

The Book of Habakkuk: Habakkuk was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah in the years right before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. Habakkuk's message is unique among the prophets because it contains a lot of Habakkuk's questions and frustrations directed toward God. Habakkuk couldn't understand why the people of Judah continued to prosper even though they had abandoned God and no longer practiced justice.

The Book of Zephaniah: Zephaniah was a prophet in the court of King Josiah in the southern kingdom of Judah, probably between 640 and 612 B.C. He had the good fortune to serve during the reign of a godly king; however, he still proclaimed a message of Jerusalem's imminent destruction. He urgently called for the people to repent and turn back to God. He also laid the groundwork for the future by declaring that God would gather a "remnant" of His people even after the judgment against Jerusalem had taken place.

The Book of Haggai: As a later prophet, Haggai ministered around 500 B.C. -- a time when many Jews began returning to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon.

Haggai's primary message was intended to stir up the people to rebuild God's temple in Jerusalem, thereby opening the door for spiritual revival and a renewed worship of God.

The Book of Zechariah: As a contemporary of Haggai, Zechariah also pushed the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and begin their long journey back to spiritual faithfulness with God.

The Book of Malachi: Written around 450 B.C., the Book of Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament. Malachi served around 100 years after the people of Jerusalem returned from captivity and rebuilt the temple. Sadly, however, his message was similar to those of the earlier prophets. The people had once again become apathetic about God, and Malachi urged them to repent. Malachi (and all of the prophets, really) spoke of the people's failure to keep their covenant with God, which makes his message a great bridge into the New Testament -- where God established a new covenant with His people through the death and resurrection of Jesus.