6 Things Every Christian Should Know about the Minor Prophets
- Jean E. Jones Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2017 19 Jan
Many Christians find the last 12 books of the Old Testament—known as the Minor Prophets—well, boring! Why? First, they don’t see how the books relate to today. Second, they don’t know what was going on at the time. And third, the prophets address a lot of unfamiliar people and places.
Some Christians even skip reading the Minor Prophets, which is a shame because they tell us a lot about social injustice and what God thinks about the rich and powerful taking advantage of the poor and weak—a topic certainly relevant to our times! Plus, they give us insights into what everyday life was like during Old Testament times and show us how God deals with evil—then, now, and still to come.
Here I’ve put together some interesting facts about the Minor Prophets that will help you make sense of them.
1. “Minor” means short, not unimportant.
In ancient days, the books of the Bible were copied onto scrolls. The longer Prophetic Books required their own scrolls, but the 12 shorter Prophetic Books fit together on a single scroll. So the Major (“long”) Prophets were grouped together first, and the Minor (“short”) Prophets followed them.
2. The Minor Prophets are also called the Book of Twelve.
Twelve writers wrote the books in the Minor Prophets, the same number as there were tribes of Israel and apostles of Jesus. Four writers wrote the five books in the Major Prophets, the same number of writers who wrote the Gospels.
3. A prophet prophesies prophecy.
“Prophesy” is a verb meaning to communicate a message from God. “Prophecy” is a noun referring to a divine message.
4. The Minor Prophets are clustered around three events.
The Minor Prophets are basically chronological except for Joel and Obadiah (although some scholars think they are, too). Here’s the background to them that every Christian needs to know.
The Old Testament is the story of God calling the Israelites to be his people so they could show all nations how to come to him. When Moses rescued the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement and brought them to the Promised Land, he warned them that if they ever forsook God, God would drive them out of the land into exile.
The kingdom was at its greatest under the reigns of David and his son, Solomon. But after Solomon died, the united kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms: Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel abandoned God right away, descending into violence, injustice, oppression of the poor, sexual promiscuity, idolatry, and child sacrifice (horrific, but true). Judah had times of faithfulness but eventually turned to the same corruption.
When the nations abandoned him, God sent prophets to warn the people to return to him lest he drive them out. When they refused to repent, the prophecies changed to judgments: Now it’s too late and exile is coming. Yet the prophets also promised restoration.
Chronologically, the Minor Prophets come after the reforms of Elijah and Elisha (which ended about 800 BC). They’re clustered around three time periods:
- The time leading up to and surrounding Israel’s exile (722 BC): The first six books (except perhaps Joel and Obadiah)
- The time leading up to Judah’s exile (586 BC): Books seven to nine
- The time after Judah’s restoration (538 BC) until the end of Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s reforms (430 BC): Last three books
5. The Minor Prophets call Israel and Judah by many names.
Most of the prophecies in the Minor Prophets are poems that use figures of speech, including large doses of synecdoche. Synecdoche is using a part of something to represent the whole or vice versa (for example, newscasters saying “Moscow” may be referring to all of Russia). Here are names the Minor Prophets use for Israel and Judah:
Names that refer to Israel
- Samaria (capitol)
- Ephraim (major tribe)
- Bethel (temple site)
- Jacob, Joseph (prominent people)
- House of Jeroboam, Omri, Ahab, Jehu (prominent kings)
Names that refer to Judah
- Jerusalem (capital)
- Judah (major tribe)
- Zion (temple site)
- House of David (prominent king)
After the northern kingdom fell in 722 BC, the prophets sometimes used the names “Israel” and “Jacob” to refer to both kingdoms. After Judah fell, neither kingdom existed—only provinces under various foreign emperors—and the names “Israel” and “Jacob” often referred to all Jews.
6. Here are interesting facts about the Minor Prophets.
Every Christian should know at least one interesting fact about the Minor Prophets! Here are 12 from which to choose.
In Hosea, God commands the prophet to marry a prostitute and likens their relationship to his relationship with Israel.
Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (2:28-32) was fulfilled on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on Jesus’ followers (Acts 2:17-21).
Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted Amos 5:24 in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
Obadiah is the shortest Old Testament book (292 Hebrew words).
Jesus likens his temporary burial in the earth to Jonah’s temporary burial in the belly of a huge fish (Matthew 12:40). Bonus fact: the huge fish that swallowed Jonah is never identified as a whale.
The U.S. Library of Congress uses Micah 6:8 over its religion alcove: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
In Jonah’s day, the Ninevites (Assyrians) repent, but by Nahum’s time they’ve returned to cruelty and so God tells them through Nahum that their destruction is certain and imminent.
Habakkuk asks why God allows evil and God tells him punishment is on the way; Habakkuk initially protests the means, but then understands God’s plan to eradicate evil and responds by rejoicing in the Lord.
Zephaniah was probably written by a black Jew (his dad’s name is Cushi, suggesting dad’s mom was from Cush—modern day Sudan).
Haggai encouraged rebuilding the temple, which ushered in the time period known as Second Temple Judaism (that era ended when Rome destroyed the second temple in ad 70).
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death quote Zechariah six times (that’s second only to Psalms): Jerusalem’s king riding on a donkey; 30 pieces of silver; looking at him whom they pierced; strike the shepherd and the sheep scatter.
- Malachi reads like a courtroom trial about broken contracts: The people restored to the land after exile are still breaking their contracts with God and shouldn’t expect God’s blessings till they hold up their part of the agreement.
A prayer to learn from the Minor Prophets:
Lord, may we learn from your Word the importance of following you closely and embracing your ways. May we comprehend how you are ending evil and bringing your people into your Kingdom, where evil cannot exist. Thank you for the Minor Prophets that teach us these things. May we learn to respond to your plans as Habakkuk did:
“Though the fig tree does not bud And there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habukkuk 3:17-18)
Jean E. Jones is co-author of the upcoming, Discovering Hope in the Psalms, from Harvest House. She’s written for Today’s Christian Woman and HomeLife. She authored Zondervan’s #1 recommended free resource for The Story curriculum: The Story: Personal Journal & Discussion Guide. She resides in southern California, where she writes Bible studies for churches and is research assistant to her husband, Clay Jones, Associate Professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. She blogs at www.jeanejones.net.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 19, 2017