The common title for these twelve books of the English Bible is “minor prophets.” Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. This title originated in Augustine’s time (late fourth century A.D.), but they are minor only in that they are each much shorter than the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (called “major prophets”). In Old and New Testament times, the Old Testament was called “The Law and the Prophets.” This title looked at the Old Testament from the standpoint of its divisions, but it also included the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, which constituted a 24-book division.
The books written by the 12 Minor Prophets may have been shorter, but their messages had a major impact on the New Testament. Many of their prophecies are dual, with an initial fulfillment as well as an end-time fulfillment. What do the Minor Prophets mean for you today?
The story of Jonah is perhaps the best known of the Minor Prophets. Through its drama we also learn more about our just and merciful God and His purpose for prophecy. The lessons bothered Jonah and others who think of prophecy as vindictive and unchangeable.
At the time of Jonah, the people of Assyria and its major city of Nineveh were known as brutal warriors and were feared enemies of Israel. No wonder Jonah was shocked when God told him to go warn Nineveh. He tried to run away, but there’s no way to hide from the all-seeing God.
God sent a storm that threatened the ship Jonah was on, and finally he told his shipmates that he was to blame for the grave danger they faced. He said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me” (Jonah 1:12). Finally, as a last resort, they did throw him overboard.
God saved Jonah in the belly of a great fish He specially prepared. After three days and three nights (picturing Christ’s time in the tomb), Jonah was vomited onto dry land.
This time, Jonah reluctantly headed for Nineveh and gave them God’s message of warning.
Then, to Jonah’s dismay, the people and the king actually fasted and humbled themselves, and God changed His mind. Jonah’s prophecy didn’t come to pass. Jonah was angry and discouraged.
Then God used a miracle to teach Jonah a lesson about His love. An amazing plant grew rapidly to provide Jonah shade from the scorching heat. Jonah was “very grateful for the plant” (Jonah 4:6)—until a worm killed it! Then he became bitterly angry.
“Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ And he said, ‘It is right for me to be angry, even to death!’
“But the Lord said, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?'” (Jonah 4:9-11).
God’s love extends to all, and even the terrible warnings of prophecy are evidence of that love. If only we all would heed God’s warnings as Nineveh did!
Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel in the troubled 40 years just before the country was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. “Rejection of God and the wholesale adoption of pagan religious practices brought about a moral and political landslide” (Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, 1973, p. 438).
Much of Bible prophecy has dual application, and this is true of Hosea. Hosea not only predicted the impending captivity of his people, but he also foretold the end-time punishments yet ahead of us. For example, Jesus Christ quoted Hosea concerning the coming Tribulation (Luke 23:30; Hosea 10:8).
“What Israel’s idolatry meant to God—how he continued to love and long for his people’s return to him—Hosea learnt through bitter personal experience, as his own wife betrayed and deserted him. His message comes straight from the heart” (ibid.).
The New Living Translation’s introduction to Hosea calls it “a tragic love story with a happy ending.” God’s jealousy and warnings are out of enduring, loyal love. God deeply desires for everyone to see the evil of our ways that lead to destruction and to turn from them.
What were the people doing that was destroying them?
Hosea 4:1-2, 6
Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land.
“By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed…
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
The knowledge humanity has rejected is the knowledge of God’s law and His way of life. God’s way leads to blessings and good, but rejecting it inevitably leads to suffering and destruction. God wants us to choose His knowledge—to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).
The prophet Joel powerfully warns about the “day of the Lord” when God will judge the world for our sins. The Bible Commentary on Joel introduces chapter 1 this way:
“Joel pictures the inhabitants of the land as being concerned only with eating and drinking (verse 5), and so it will be that the fields will be wasted, and the wine will be dried up (verses 10-12). Joel also admonishes the priests to lament and mourn, as the necessary sacrifices have been withheld from the house of God (verse 13)…
“Of course, this warning should strike home today as well—and even more so, as we are fast approaching the primary time described in Joel’s prophecies. We too must be concerned about the work of God. If our priorities are directed toward personal pursuits and pleasures, God will take those away from us. ‘Alas for the day,’ Joel writes, ‘for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?’ (verse 15). Terrible times are ahead. That is why Christ wants us to have the same sense of urgency that He had while here on earth.”
What does God call on His people to do?
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.
The prophecy of Joel was on the apostle Peter’s mind during his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Not only did he call on his hearers to repent, he also quoted from Joel’s prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21, 38). The giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church was a forerunner of the time when God’s Spirit will be made available to all who repent and turn to God.
Amos prophesied during the prosperous reign of King Jeroboam II of the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos himself was from the southern kingdom and seems to have been a poor shepherd who also took care of “sycamore fruit,” a labor-intensive cousin of the fig. His rustic agricultural life contrasted with the luxury-loving people he was sent to warn.
Israel at the time also “seemed very religious. However, Amos condemned their hypocrisy. The poor were oppressed, religion was insincere. It took a brave man to denounce the nation in God’s name. He called for justice to ‘flow like a stream.’ Thirty years later the Assyrians had destroyed Samaria and taken the people into exile” (Eerdmans’ Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1978, p. 88).
What agricultural examples did God use for Israel’s sins and eventual restoration?
And He said, “Amos, what do you see?” So I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me: “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.”
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.
“I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
“I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.
The basket of ripe summer fruit represented the fact that Israel’s sinful fruit made them ripe for punishment. But God promises that when they repent, they will be blessed with good fruit and never uprooted again.
Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, and it contains prophecies against the Edomites for their sins, both in ancient times and in the end times. “Indeed, the prophecy of Obadiah is clearly for the end time, as the reference to the ‘day of the Lord’ shows (verse 15; compare Joel 2:1-2)—as well as the references to the return of all Israel, the ultimate defeat of Edom and the establishment of the Kingdom of God (verses 17-21)”.
Why would Edom be punished?
“You should not have entered the gate of My people in the day of their calamity. Indeed, you should not have gazed on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity.
“You should not have stood at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped; nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained in the day of distress.”
Obadiah shows God’s justice in the face of treachery and that His way wins in the end (verse 21).
The well-known story of Jonah was discussed at the beginning of this lesson.
What was the conclusion of Jonah’s prophecy?
“And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”
God explained to Jonah that He loved everyone—even these enemies of Israel. He wants those who have no spiritual discernment now to someday understand His truth, repent and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Jonah is the story of mercy triumphing over judgment and, in a way, of prophecy failing or, more correctly, being delayed (James 2:13; 1 Corinthians 13:8). God wants people to take warning and repent so He can withdraw the punishment. The people of Nineveh, however, were a rare example of people who actually did listen and repent.
The Bible Commentary on Micah introduces the book this way:
“During Jotham’s days, God sent yet another prophet in addition to Hosea and Isaiah. Micah, who prophesied during the days of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, seems to have preached in Judah as well, but his message involves the northern kingdom more directly than Isaiah’s work did (compare Micah 1:1). And unlike Isaiah, who apparently grew up with connections to royalty, Micah grew up far from the court life of Jerusalem—in the rural village of Moresheth Gath (verses 1, 14), also known as Maresha (verse 15), in the Judean lowlands near Philistia.
“Nevertheless, many of his themes, actions and examples echo those of Isaiah. Compare, for example, Micah 1:8 with Isaiah 20:2-4—and Micah 1:9 with Isaiah 1:5-6. Micah also gives important details about the coming Messiah, as Isaiah did. And Micah 4:1-5 is nearly identical to Isaiah 2:1-4. Whether Micah borrowed this passage from Isaiah or vice versa, or both of them wrote it independently of the other, one thing is certain: God inspired both of them in any case.”
How did Micah sum up the message of the prophets and the whole Bible?
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
In the preceding verses, God contrasted sacrifices and offerings with these godly characteristics He is looking for. God’s purpose has always been to help us think and act as He does, in the way that would be most beneficial for us. The sacrifices were meant to be a reminder of sin and a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ—the only sacrifice that can wipe away our past sins. The people of Israel had come to focus on the sacrifices as if they were primarily what God wanted, so God makes clear that what He really wants much more than sacrifices is righteous, merciful and humble behavior. The perfect example of this behavior was the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Micah also prophesied that Bethlehem would be the place of the Messiah’s birth (Micah 5:2; fulfilled in Matthew 2:1-12).
What is the theme of Nahum?
The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; the Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; the Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked…
The Bible Commentary on Nahum says:
“Little is known of the prophet Nahum, whose message concerns the coming destruction of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire. The time of his prophecy is ascertained from two key facts. The fall of the Egyptian city of Thebes (No Amon), which occurred in 663 B.C., is mentioned as a past event (3:8). And the fall of Nineveh, which occurred in 612 B.C., was yet future. So Nahum must have written between these dates…
“The name Nahum means ‘Comfort,’ and his words—foretelling the destruction of Israel and Judah’s terrible enemy—were certainly of great comfort. Assyria, portrayed as a den of ravaging lions feeding on the blood of the nations, was brutal beyond imagination (2:11-13). Though Nineveh had temporarily repented at Jonah’s preaching around 150 years before and had been spared, the capital city of Assyria is now marked for destruction. And God will bring infinitely more power and finality than Assyria had brought upon her enemies.
“We should not miss the duality of this warning. There are clear indications that it is also an end-time prophecy. First is the mention of the ‘day of trouble’ (1:7), which signifies the future Day of the Lord. Then there’s the fact that God’s people will be afflicted no more (verse 12), the wicked enemy never again allowed to pass through their land (verse 15)—which has not been true of the Jewish people in the more than 2,600 years since the fall of ancient Nineveh. And finally, the description of Nineveh as the great harlot of sorceries (3:4) ties it directly to other prophecies of end-time Babylon (see Isaiah 47; Revelation 17-18). At the end, modern Assyria will once again arise as the foe of Israel (see Isaiah 10:5-6). As explained in the Bible Reading Program highlights on Isaiah 10, it is the people of Central Europe who are, in large part, descended from the ancient Assyrians. Nineveh may represent the seat of power of a future Central European nation or of the empire this people will come to dominate. For modern Assyria will be the foremost nation of the coming Beast power, end-time Babylon, which will once again enslave Israel and then fight against Christ at His second coming (see Revelation 13; 17; 18). And once again she will be brought to utter destruction!
“Thus, the book of Nahum is a book of stern warning—to the peoples of Central Europe yes, but in a larger sense to the entire European empire they will be part of and, in an even larger sense still, to all who will oppose God and His people. However, it is a book of blessing and great comfort to all who will stand with God and put their trust in Him (Nahum 1:7)—including any of Assyrian descent who will forsake the ways of sin and pursue God’s Kingdom and righteousness. Ultimately, under the rule of Christ, the Assyrian nation will repent and serve God alongside the Israelites (Isaiah 19:23-25). But dark times will precede this wonderful future.”
“The Book of Habakkuk contains two prophetic laments (1:2-4, 12-17) in which Habakkuk questions God’s righteousness. The Lord responds by explaining His plans to judge (1:5-11; 2:1-4). This is followed by five woes that taunt those who have committed evil with their certain doom (2:6-20), as if to say, ‘Don’t worry, Habakkuk—God is righteous; He will judge.’ The book ends with the prophet’s prayer of praise and his acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty over all outcomes” (Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Habakkuk).
What message from Habakkuk did the apostle Paul refer to?
“Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Though Habakkuk asked sincere questions about what God was doing and why, his book conveys a message of faith in the sovereign God.
The Bible Commentary on Zephaniah says:
“The prophet Zephaniah prophesied during the days of King Josiah. We have no knowledge of his background except for what is given in verse 1 regarding his lineage. He was a fourth-generation descendant of Hezekiah. Most sources believe this refers to Hezekiah the king, which would make him a cousin of Josiah, though others correctly maintain that we can’t know for sure. In favor, however, is the fact that his lineage is traced back four generations. Commentator Charles Feinberg remarks, ‘No other prophet has his pedigree carried back so far’ (The Minor Prophets, 1990, p. 221). Thus, the Hezekiah mentioned would seem to be someone of distinction.
“Zephaniah’s theme is the Day of the Lord, the time of God’s intervention and punishment on the nations. ‘He uses the expression more than any other prophet of the Old Testament’ (p. 221)…
“Indeed, Zephaniah’s utterances have dual application. The Day of the Lord was a warning to seventh-century-B.C. Judah that God would punish them when their sins came to a climax—but, more directly, the words of the prophet mainly allude to the coming great Day of the Lord that is in the future. The language of 1:15 is identical to the description of the Day of the Lord as described in Joel 2:2: ‘A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.’ The prophet Ezekiel will later use language similar to Zephaniah 1:18, describing the time of the end when a man will deem his wealth (silver and gold) as totally worthless because it provides no shield against the terrible wrath of God (Ezekiel 7:19).”
On what note does Zephaniah start, and how does it end?
“I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land,” says the Lord…
“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Even God’s jealous anger, provoked by the destructiveness of sin, is evidence of His love. His mercy will ultimately lead to a time of joy.
“Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three books of the Old Testament, come from the time when the Jews returned from exile… After their first efforts to rebuild the temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., the Israelites gave up. The Book of Haggai is a collection of short messages ‘from the Lord’ through the prophet, delivered in 520 B.C. Haggai calls on the people to get their priorities right. Finish rebuilding the temple. God will bring peace and prosperity if his people turn from their own selfish concerns and put first things first” (Eerdmans’ Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1978, p. 89).
Part of what Haggai and Zechariah are addressing is the need to rebuild the physical temple in Jerusalem. But some of what they preached also applied prophetically to the future need to build God’s spiritual house, the Church, after Christ came to earth and established it. This is especially obvious in passages like Haggai 2:1-9 and Zechariah 4:6-10.
Did the people obey Haggai’s message?
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the Lord.
How did God respond?
Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s message to the people, saying, “I am with you, says the Lord.”
Three weeks after Haggai’s first message, the people were busy working on the temple—a wonderful example of prophecy having its intended effect. And so God blessed them for their obedience.
Zechariah, like Haggai, prophesied to the Jews who were rebuilding the temple.
“Zechariah is frequently called the ‘prophet of hope’… [His] book is filled with references to Christ. Messianic references include mentions of Christ’s lowliness and humanity (6:12). They describe His betrayal by Judas (11:12-13), His deity (3:4; 13:7), His priesthood (6:13), and His kingship (6:13; 9:9; 14:9, 16). Zechariah also speaks of the Messiah’s being struck down by the Lord[‘s command] (13:7), His second coming (14:4), His glorious reign (9:10; 14), and His establishment of world peace (9:9-10; cf. 3:10). In few Old Testament books do we find such constant attention given to the coming Saviour” (Bible Reader’s Companion, introduction to Zechariah).
What are some of Zechariah’s prophecies about Christ’s first coming?
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” [fulfilled in Matthew 21:4-5].
And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter [fulfilled in Matthew 27:9-10].
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” [fulfilled in John 19:37].
The Nelson Study Bible points out, “In fact, chs. 9-14 of Zechariah are the most quoted section of the Prophets in the narratives of the Gospels.”
What are some of Zechariah’s prophecies about Christ’s second coming?
Zechariah 14:3, 9, 12
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle…
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be “the Lord is one,” and His name one…
And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, and their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths [fulfilled in Revelation 19:11-16].
After Jesus Christ puts down all rebellion and establishes the Kingdom of God, holiness will spread and all will worship God on His Holy Days and always (Zechariah 14:16, 20-21).
“By the time of Malachi the temple had been rebuilt after the exile, but people had become disillusioned. Times were hard; and people were still badly off. They felt let-down by God.
“The prophet Malachi reminds them of God’s love. He calls the priests and the people to respect and obey him. They were not giving God his due in sacrifice, worship or right living. God will judge and destroy all evil, but will bless those who repent. He will send his messenger before him to prepare the way” (Eerdmans’ Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1978, p. 89).
What does Malachi prophesy about coming messengers?
“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
“My messenger” refers to John the Baptist and “the Lord…the Messenger of the covenant” points to Jesus Christ.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
“And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
Here Malachi refers to an end-time messenger who will come in the spirit and power of Elijah and John the Baptist (Luke 1:17).
Malachi’s prophecy thus set the stage for both Jesus Christ’s first and second comings.