THE MINOR PROPHETS
The Book of Hosea tells the story of the prophet by that name who was commanded by the Lord to marry Gomer, a prostitute. Hosea married Gomer and she proved unfaithful to him. But, Hosea took her back and forgave her. Hosea’s marriage is a symbol of God’s love for Israel. Even though Israel turned away from God, God will always love her, take her back and forgive her.
“I will heal their defection,/I will love them freely;/for my wrath is turned away from them.” Hosea 14:5
Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II (786-746 BC).
A plague of locusts is used by the prophet Joel as a lesson for Israel. The Day of the Lord is coming, the end of time. The people must turn from their sin and come back to the Lord. The Lord will forgive them!
“Rend your hearts, not your garments,/and return to the LORD, your God./For gracious and merciful is he,/slow to anger, rich in kindness,/and relenting in punishment.” Joel 2:13
The Lord hears their prayers and turns the locusts away, promising:
“I will pour out/my spirit upon all mankind.” Joel 3:1
The Book of Joel is dated to around 400 BC.
The prophet Amos reminds Israel that God gave us His law to follow. If we refuse to follow God’s law, we will receive His judgment. We cannot simply show up for worship and think we have done our duty. No! We must live God’s law every day, especially in how we treat the poor. Some in Israel have sinned, and God will give judgment.
“For see, I will give the command/to sift the house of Israel among all the nations,/as one sifts with a sieve.” Amos 9:9
For the faithful who are left, God will restore the kingdom of David. Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II of Judah (786-746 BC).
The people of Edom were related to the people of Judah through Jacob’s twin brother, Esau. In a way, they were cousins. Even still, when Israel was attacked by Babylon, captured and forced into exile, the Edomites refused to help them, and even gloated over their horrible fate. Because of this, Obadiah prophesied that Edom would be punished by God.
“For near is the day of the LORD/For all the nations?/As you have done, so shall it be done to you,/Your deed shall come back upon your own head.” Obadiah 15
Obadiah was written in the fifth century BC.
The Book of Jonah is easily the most familiar of the minor prophets. Jonah is given the mission by God of going to Nineveh to tell them that they will be destroyed because of their sins. Instead, Jonah runs in the opposite direction, catching a boat to Joppa, then another one en route to Spain. God sees Jonah running and causes a terrible storm to rock the boat on which he sails. Jonah knows it is the Lord causing the storm, upset at Jonah for disobeying Him. Jonah instructs the sailors to throw him overboard. At first they refuse, not wanting to be responsible for drowning an innocent man. But when the storm grows worse, they do as Jonah told them. Immediately, the storm stops and the sea becomes calm. A great fish swallows Jonah and spits him out on the beach. Again, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh with His message. This time Jonah obeys. He preaches God’s judgment against Nineveh, and the people of the great city repent, so the Lord does not punish them. Is Jonah happy about the success of his mission? Far from it! He is angry with God for not punishing Nineveh. In fact, it seems the reason he ran from the mission in the first place is that he was afraid that Nineveh would repent when they heard of God’s plans for them. He knew God was merciful and would relent from punishing Nineveh if they did so. Jonah wanted God to strike the people of Nineveh with thunderbolts. Instead, God forgave them, so Jonah became angry. God makes a plant grow and die before Jonah. Jonah is angry about this, too. He liked the plant and felt sorry for it when it died. God asks Jonah, since he feels so sorry for a simple plant that grew up in one day and died the next, should God not feel sorry for Nineveh?
The Book of Jonah is a classic of world literature. It has been represented in art and poetry for centuries and remains one of the most endearing biblical stories. This story of a man running from his godly mission, being chased down by God to finally carry out his mission, only to become angry when his mission actually succeeds is a marvelous example of how we often have a different set of priorities than God, and how angry and disappointed we can be when God fails to live up to our terms. Even still, the Lord is patient with Jonah, as He is with us, lovingly teaching that God’s justice is mercy. The story of Jonah was likely composed in the fifth century BC.
Micah follows much the same pattern as the minor prophets before him. His message is simple: because the people of Israel and Judah have sinned, worshipping false gods, their kingdoms will be destroyed. But, God will restore His people and raise up a new leader out of Bethlehem.
“But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah,/too small to be among the clans of Juday,/From you shall come forth for me/one who is to be ruler in Israel;/Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times./ … He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock/by the strength of the LORD,/in the majestic name of the LORD, his God;/And they shall remain, for now his greatness/shall reach to the ends of the earth;/he shall be peace.” Micah 5:1, 3-4a
Micah prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (715-687 BC).
Unlike the story of Jonah, the great city of Nineveh does not fare well in the book of the prophet Nahum. The Lord is angry with the Assyrians, who have destroyed the kingdom of Israel and invaded Judah. Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, and God promises to bring His justice down on them.
“Before his wrath, who can stand firm,/And who can face his blazing anger?/His fury is poured out like fire,/And the rocks are rent asunder before him./The LORD is good,/A refuge on the day of distress;/He takes care of those who have recourse to him.” Nahum 1:6-7
Nahum’s message is clear: Do not mess with God’s people, or you will have God’s justice to face! Nineveh fell in 612 BC, and Nahum would have announced his prophecy just before.
Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does He allow the righteous to suffer, while evil people thrive? Habakkuk is a prophet who is not afraid to ask God the hard questions. He complains to God about the evil in the world, and the suffering of good people. Then he waits for God’s answer.
“Then the LORD answered me and said:/Write down the vision,/Clearly upon tablets,/so that one can read it readily./For the vision still has its time,/presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;/If it delays, wait for it,/it will surely come, it will not be late./The rash man has no integrity;/but the just man, because of his faith, shall live.” Habakkuk 2:2-4a
When all is said and done, Habakkuk understood, we must trust that God will keep His promises.
“For though the fig tree blossom not/nor fruit be on the vines,/Though the yield of the olive fail/and the terraces produce no nourishment,/Though the flocks disappear from the fold/and there be no herd in the stalls,/Yet will I rejoice in the LORD/and exult in my saving God.” Habakkuk 3:17-18
Habakkuk prophesied from 605-597 BC.
The message the Lord gave to the prophet Zephaniah is one of destruction and punishment. Yes, God is angry again that His people have turned from Him to worship false gods.
“Therefore, wait for me, says the LORD,/against the day when I arise as accuser;/ … For in the fire of my jealousy/shall all the earth be consumed.” Zephaniah 3:8
Yet, the promise remains. God will change the hearts of people, so they will worship Him and only Him. Then will there be a time of rejoicing.
“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!/Sing joyfully, O Israel!/Be glad and exult with all your heart,/O daughter Jerusalem!/The LORD has removed the judgment against you,/he has turned away your enemies;/The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,/you have no further misfortune to fear” Zephaniah 3:14-15
Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC).
When God’s people returned to Palestine from exile in Babylon, they were eager to rebuild their homes. But, God gave a message to his prophet, Haggai, that they should rebuild the Temple. “Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). The prophet explains that the reason the people have not enjoyed good harvests is because they have put their own needs before God. Rebuild the Temple, God says. The people do as the Lord asks, and the Lord blesses them. Haggai prophesied during the second year of King Darius I of Persia (522 BC).
The Book of Zechariah is in two parts. The first part, chapters 1-8, is recognized as the work of Zechariah and tells of a series of visions the prophet had, each vision’s meaning interpreted by an angel. The visions speak of God’s preparing the world for rebuilding the Temple and for the restoration of Jerusalem. At last, people of every nation will come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord.
The second part of Zechariah, chapters 9-14, were written by a different prophet, sometimes called Deutero-Zechariah (meaning “Second Zechariah”). These chapters introduce us to a great king who comes in triumph, yet humbly riding on a donkey. He will destroy the weapons of war, and:
“The warrior’s bow shall be banished,/and he shall proclaim peace to the Nations./His dominion shall be from sea to sea,/and from the River [the Euphrates] to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10b
The book closes with the victory of God and His people over their enemies, when all people will worship the true God: “The LORD shall become king over the whole earth; on that day the LORD shall be the only one, and his name the only one” (Zechariah 14:9). Zechariah prophesied during the second and fourth years of the reign of King Darius I of Persia (522, 520 BC).
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, but it repeats themes that are familiar among the prophets, and in all of the history of Israel’s relationship with God. The priests of Israel have been unfaithful by offering sacrifices that are not worthy of God, and by failing to teach the “true doctrine” of God (Malachi 2:6). As well, the men of Judah have been unfaithful to God by divorcing their wives and marrying women who worship false gods. The Lord will come to judge His people and condemn those who practice magic, who cheat their employees, or exploit widows, orphans and foreigners. Yet, as always, God promises mercy to those who turn back to Him.
“Surely I, the LORD, do not change,/nor do you cease to be sons of Jacob./Since the days of your fathers you have turned aside/from my statutes, and have not kept them./Return to me, and I will return to you,/says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 3:6-7
Malachi was composed just prior to Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem in 445 BC.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.