This article is an introduction to an upcoming series that will examine the messages from God delivered by each of the twelve so-called minor prophets. Each month during 2003, Lord willing, we will look at one of the prophets, beginning with Hosea in January, and concluding with Malachi in December.
Why Read the Minor Prophets?
These prophets are minor because of their small size, not because of their messages. Their messages were just as important to Israel, Judah, and to us now, as those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the so-called major prophets. All of these books, whether large or small, have been included in the canon of Gods Word and therefore, we must approach them with the same keen attention that all Gods Word demands.
For a number of reasons, these passages of Scripture are not read and very seldom are their messages ministered to us. The reasons these books receive little attention include what some Christians perceive to be depressing messages applicable only to Israel, a convoluted language, and a basic unfamiliarity with the historical backgrounds of the books. These reasons are most unfortunate because these prophets are a goldmine of truth about God and His dealings with His people, with great relevance to the world in which we live today. Many passages have beautiful descriptions of the glory and promise of Christ. Christians need to be conscious that whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through [the] patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom 15:4). From that point of view, a major author, guided by the Spirit of God, has written each word in Scripture!
What is a Prophet?
When we hear the word prophet, our minds immediately imagine predictions about future events. While future predictions were certainly a part of the prophets task, it was not his only concern. In fact, prophets were men chosen by God to speak His mind about three topics, only one of which deals with the future:
1. Gods Precepts:
A prophets primary task was to remind people who God is – a righteous, just, and loving God who is sovereign over history and the world.
2. Gods Promises:
A prophet must also remind the people that Gods covenant promises would govern the way that He related to His people. The prophets most scathing words were reserved for those who ignored Gods historical dealings with them.
3. Gods Predictions:
A prophet also predicted the future, either about impending judgment as a result of sin, or by offering sparkling messages of hope. Many of the hope messages revolve around the beauty of the promised Messiah who would be born into the world and His yet future installation as the Ruler of all. Only a small percentage of the prophets time was spent on prediction; the majority was spent on Gods precepts and promises.
The precepts, promises, and predictions of all prophets, whether major or minor, can be summarized in the following broad topics:
- Gods grace in choosing Israel (Gods election)
- Gods deliverance from slavery (Gods redemption)
- Gods promises to bless or curse, depending on obedience (Gods covenants)
- Gods provision of a civil, criminal, and religious legal system to govern human behavior (Gods law)
- Gods provision of a land for an inheritance (Gods real estate).
We will see that all of these topics continue to be of interest to Christians today.
Who are the Twelve Angry Men?
In the Hebrew Bible, the words of the twelve Minor Prophets are contained in one book, appropriately called The Book of The Twelve. In our Bible, they are divided into twelve separate books that are ordered approximately chronologically. The circumstances in which these prophets spoke Gods word varied greatly. They lived over a span of three centuries (from approximately 760 to 460 BC) before, during, and after the exile of their nations to Babylon and Persia. They preached in Israel, Judah, Samaria, Nineveh, and Edom. They came from varied backgrounds – among them we will find a businessman (Amos), a poet (Nahum), a shepherd (Amos), and a temple singer (Habakkuk). But beyond these short biographical details, we know little about them as individuals. Rather than being diverted to examine their differences, we will focus on the unity of their messages. These twelve prophets shared charismatic personalities and fearlessness in proclaiming the Word of the Lord. While there were twelve separate men, there was one God who dealt with, and spoke through, each of them, producing a single message about God: His claims on His people and what He will perform.
I refer to them as angry men since they state strong opinions in strong words about the sorry state of the faithfulness of their audiences to God. These men were God-intoxicated preachers who fulminated in righteous anger because their audience had collectively and continually violated the covenants that God had established with them, ignoring Gods claims upon them.
What are the Goals of Each Book Study?
We will look at the particular life and times of each prophet in each book as we proceed in the months ahead. We will also note that these books still speak the words of God. We, like Israel and Judah, need the messages of warning, repentance, and promises of hope for the day when the kingdom of God will be revealed in its fullness. Therefore, in each individual book studied in the coming months, I will focus on three goals:
- Summarize the background and environment in which each prophet served and spoke,
- Describe the primary thrust of each message about the Lord and His claims on His people then and now, and
- Relate the teaching to today’s Christian living in our post-modern world.
Timothy read the prophets and profited! Paul commended Timothys understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, insisting that they are profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (I Tim 3:15-17). We are no less needy of the same profitable teaching of the prophets today! I trust that our study of these twelve messages in the coming months will lead to introspection in each of our lives regarding the manner in which we represent Christ, and that Gods Word will have the same impact on our lives as it did for Timothy.