THE MINOR PROPHETS
Hosea lived in the tragic final days of the northern kingdom, around the middle of the eighth century BC during which six kings reigned within 25 years. His ministry began during or shortly after that of Amos. Hosea was the only one of the writing prophets to come from the northern kingdom.
The first thee chapters of the book are biographical, narrating the family life of Hosea as symbolic of God’s message to His people. God told the prophet to marry Gomer, who turned out to be a prostitute. Her three children were given names that symbolised God’s relationship to Israel.
Although she landed up in the slave market, Hosea was commanded to buy her back and reinstate her as his wife after a period of isolation. This was God’s message to His people: after judgment comes restoration.
The second part of the book gives details of Israel’s involvement in Canaanite religion and Hosea’s call to repentance, to return to the Lord which was the alternative to destruction. In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and the unavoidable judgment which would follow, the purpose of the book was to proclaim God’s compassion and love that cannot – finally – let Israel go.
Joel is not mentioned outside of the books of Joel and Acts (Acts 2:16) and his father, Pethuel, is also unknown. Because of his concern with Judah and Jerusalem, he may have lived in the area. The date of his prophecy is also difficult to determine since the book makes no reference to any datable historical events.
Joel sees a massive locust plague and drought in Judah as the forerunner of the “great and terrible day of the Lord”. He calls on everyone to repent: Old and young (1:2-3); drunkards (1:5); farmers (1:11); and priests (1:13).He describes the locusts as the Lord’s army and sees in their coming a reminder that the day of the Lord is near, a day of punishment for unfaithful Israel. Restoration and blessing will only come after judgment and repentance.
Amos was from Tekoa, a small town 11 miles from Jerusalem. He earned a living taking care of sheep and sycamore trees, not a priest like Jeremiah or a man of the royal court like Isaiah. He was knowledgeable although he was a peasant. He lived in Judah but he was sent to announce God’s judgment on the northern kingdom (Israel). He probably ministered mostly at Bethel which was Israel’s main religious sanctuary where the upper echelons of the northern kingdom worshipped.
Amos prophesied during the reigns of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam ll of Israel. His dominant theme was a call for social justice as the expression of true piety. He condemned those who made themselves powerful or rich by exploiting the poor.
God’s judgment was not just to punish but to destroy. He would uproot His people at the hands of a pagan nation, but there was still hope if they would repent, that the Lord would have mercy on the remnant. There was still a future for His people beyond judgment. The house of David would again rule over Israel and even over many nations. God would still fulfil His plan for His chosen people and His chosen program of redemption.
But God is more than just Israel’s God. He rules the nations. He brought them into being and He will call them to account. He uses one against another to carry out His purposes. Israel has a unique but not exclusive claim on God. She needed to remember not only His covenant commitment to her but her covenant obligations to Him.
Nothing is known about Obadiah except that he may have been a contemporary of Jeremiah – see Ob vs2-4 and Jeremiah 49:15, 16.
Obadiah’s theme is that Edom, proud over her own security, gloated over Israel’s devastation by foreign powers. Although she was related to Israel (through Esau, father of the Edomites), she refused Israel safe passage on their way from Egypt after the exodus. Her participation in Israel’s defeat will bring on God’s wrath. She will be destroyed but Mount Zion and Israel will be restored and God’s kingdom will triumph.
The book is named after its main character, Jonah the son of Amittai, although it may not have been written by him.
Jeroboam ll, king of Israel, took advantage of Assyria’s defeat of Damascus, capital of Syria and an age-old enemy of Israel, to throw off the yoke of Damascus and recover territory lost to the king of Damascus. Although Jeroboam was able to expand his kingdom even further by recovering more territory, the Assyrians remained a real threat to Israel from the north.
During this time God sent Amos to Israel to warn them that He would send them into exile “beyond Damascus”, i.e., to Assyria because of their unfaithfulness to Him. He also sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn the Assyrians of the imminent danger of divine judgment because of their wickedness…
Although many scholars have questioned whether the book of Jonah is historical because of the miraculous, there is no doubt that it recounts real events in the life and ministry of the prophet himself. The writer may have used his material to achieve his purpose but it cannot be said that it is a work of fiction.
The message of the book is consistent with the character and purpose of God. The book reveals God’s bigger purpose for Israel; that she would rediscover the truth of God’s concern for the whole of creation and that she would understand her part in carrying out God’s concern
Little is known about Micah except for what we learn from the book itself. He was from Moresheth, probably Moresheth Gath in southern Judah. He prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. He was therefore, a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea.
He predicted the fall of Samaria in 722 BC which would place his early ministry during the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz. Israel has abandoned their worship of God for Canaanite gods. Micah predicted the fall of Israel’s capital, Samaria and the inevitable destruction of Judah.
“Micah’s message alternates between oracles of doom and oracles of hope. The theme is judgment and deliverance by God. Micah also stresses that God hates idolatry, injustice, rebellion and empty ritualism, but He delights in pardoning the penitent. Finally, the prophet declares that Zion will have greater glory in the future than ever before. The Davidic kingdom, though it will seem to come to an end, will reach greater heights through the coming Messianic deliverer.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1370).
Nothing is known about Nahum except his home town, Elkosh, and even its location is uncertain. He prophesied during the reign of Josiah which makes him a contemporary of Zephaniah and Jeremiah
His name means “comfort” and his message was about the fall of Nineveh, which would bring comfort to Judah. The Assyrians were brutally cruel; they had already destroyed Samaria and they were threatening Judah and Jerusalem. In about 700 BC King Sennacherib had made Nineveh the capital of Assyria.
Jonah had been sent announce Nineveh’s destruction but the king and the people had repented, averting God’s judgment. However, Nineveh reverted to its cruelty, wickedness and pride and its brutality reached a peak under its last king, Ashurbanipal. Nineveh was overthrown in 612 BC.
“The focal point of the entire book is the Lord’s judgment on Nineveh for her oppression, cruelty, idolatry and wickedness. The book ends with the destruction of the city.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1380).
Nothing is known about this prophet except that he was a contemporary of Jeremiah and “a man of vigorous faith rooted deeply in the traditions of Israel.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1386).
The prediction of the coming invasion by the Babylonians (Chaldeans – ch1:6) show us that Habakkuk lived in Judah towards the end of Josiah’s reign or at the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign.
“Habbakuk” is unique in that it is a dialogue between God and the prophet rather than prophetic utterances directed at God’s people or their enemies. In the first two chapters Habakkuk questions God about His seeming inactivity when His people are living wickedly.
God’s surprising response is that He is sending the Babylonians to deal with His people. Habakkuk protests! How can God use wicked people to punish His own people? Once again God’s reply is surprising.
He reveals His timeless way – every person takes responsibility for his own choices. Both Paul (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11) and the writer to the Hebrews (10:38) quote this timeless principle, “The righteous shall live by his faith…”
Although God uses even ungodly people to fulfil His purposes, in the end the destroyer will be destroyed. “In the end, Habakkuk learns to rest in God’s appointments and to await His working in a spirit of worship.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1386).
Zephaniah was the fourth-generation descendant of King Hezekiah, apart from which we know nothing about his background. He must have been a man of considerable social standing and, in his writings he shows familiarity with royal court circles and current political issues. His book reflects a familiarity with the writings of Isaiah and Amos. He may also have been aware of the ministry of the young Jeremiah.
He prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-601 BC), making him a contemporary of Jeremiah, Nahum and possibly Habakkuk.
Zephaniah’s intention was to announce to Judah God’s coming judgment when God will severely punish the nations, including Judah. He describes the terrible horror that it will be in the same graphic imagery found in the works of other prophets. Yet, like many of the other prophets, he also makes it clear that God will be merciful to His people. He ends his prophecy, like the other prophets on the positive note of Judah’s restoration.
Haggai, along with Zechariah, was a prophet who encouraged the exiles to rebuild the temple. After Cyrus, king of Persia, and the conqueror of Babylon, issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, they went back home led by Zerubbabel and began to rebuild the temple. After two years and amid much rejoicing they completed the foundations.
Opposition from the Samaritans and other neighbours brought the building to a halt until Darius the Great became king of Persia in 522 BC. Under his supportive rule, Haggai and Zechariah began to arouse the Jews from their lethargy and encourage them to complete the temple which was finished and dedicated in 516 BC.
Haggai, the shortest book in the Old Testament next to Obadiah, shows the consequences of obedience and disobedience. Obedience brings the encouragement and strength of the Spirit of God.
Chapter 2 speaks of the coming of the Messiah, “the desired of all nations” who would fill the rebuilt temple with glory. When He comes again, the nations will be shaken and kingdoms overthrown.
Zechariah’s ministry took place at the same time Haggai’s. Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Zechariah was also a priest. He was born in Babylon and returned to Judah under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest. Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai but continued his ministry long after Haggai.
Zechariah’s situation was the same as Haggai’s. His main purpose was to rebuke the people of Judah for their lethargy and to encourage and motivate them to complete the rebuilding of the temple, although both prophets were interested in spiritual renewal as well.
The purpose of Zechariah’s eight night visions (1:7-6:8) is explained in 1:3, 5-6. God said that if Judah would return to Him, He would return to them. His word would be fulfilled.
The name “Malachi” means “my messenger” which could refer to the theme of the book rather than the name of the author. However, it is still likely that Malachi was the name of the author.
The similarity of the sins denounced in Nehemiah and in Malachi suggests that these two people were contemporaries. Malachi may have been written after Nehemiah returned to Persia in 433 BC. Malachi was most probably the last prophet of the Old Testament era.
After the completion of the temple and the initial energy of the returning exiles, the promises that their prophets has made regarding the glorious future they announced, the return of the Lord to His temple with majesty and power to exalt His kingdom in the sight of the nations, nothing was happening.
The people doubted God’s love, and no longer trusted His justice and they began to lose hope. “Their worship degenerated into a listless perpetuation of forms and they no longer took the law seriously.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1423).
Malachi rebuked their doubt in God’s love, and the faithlessness of the priests and the people. He announced that the Lord, whom they seek will come. He will come “like a refiner’s fire” to judge, but He will come to judge His people first.
“Because the Lord does not change His commitments and purpose, Israel has not been completely destroyed for her persistent unfaithfulness (3:6). But only through repentance and reformation will she again experience God’s blessing (3:16-18). Those who honour the Lord will be spared when He comes to judge.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1424).
Malachi concludes with a warning that the day of the Lord is coming and that “it will burn like a furnace” (4:1). In that day the righteous will rejoice and trample down the wicked. To prepare His people for that day, He will send the prophet Elijah to call them back to the godly ways of their forefathers.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!
THE GOSPELS AND ACTS