Exploring the Major Messages of the ‘Minor’ Prophets

Posted on June 25, 2018

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By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length.  

minor prophets webIs it really appropriate to apply the word “minor” to any book of the Bible? Obviously the proper response is an unequivocal “no!” There is nothing “minor” about any book of the Bible, including those referred to as the “Minor Prophets.” The books of the Bible that fall into this category are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

These twelve “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) books are referred to as “minor” only in comparison to their longer counterparts, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Indeed, those are long books! Of the 66 books of the Bible, Jeremiah is the second longest, while Ezekiel and Isaiah are the third and fifth longest, respectively. (Lengths are determined by English word count according to the King James Version – though the New King James version is used for this study ­­– and not chapter length. For example, Isaiah has 66 chapters, Jeremiah 52, and Ezekiel 48, but word counts total 42,654 for Jeremiah, 39,401 for Ezekiel, and 37,036 for Isaiah. The longest book, Psalms, has 42,704 words, squeaking past No. 2 Jeremiah by a measly 50 words!) By contrast, among the “minor prophets,” four books are among the shortest in the Old Testament: Obadiah, Haggai, Nahum, and Jonah.

Interestingly, the Book of Daniel is given “major prophet” status despite having only 11,606 words. Though this is far fewer words than the largest of the major prophetic books, it significantly exceeds the 6,444 words of Zechariah, the largest of the 12 “Minor Prophets.” Daniel’s designation as “major” no doubt results from the enormity of its message: the stunning panorama of future world history it presents, as well as its marvelous chapter 9, often referred to as the “bedrock of prophecy.”

But what about the messages of the “Minor Prophets”? Are they not enormous and marvelous? They are; they are simply presented in fewer words than their lengthier counterparts.

Hard-hitting Topics
Despite the “minor” moniker, the topics covered by the 12 prophets are anything but. Look at the Book of Hosea, for instance. The prophet addresses the issue of national and individual condemnation of sin. And, in chronological terms, he’s just the tip of the prophetic iceberg. Here’s a sampling of the “fire-and-brimstone” issues addressed by the next 11 prophets (in the order they appear in the English Bible):

  • Joel: Locust invasions, worldwide judgment at the end of the age, and the redemption of the nation Israel.
  • Amos: National and personal corruption, punishment, and redemption.
  • Obadiah: Pride, cruelty, and paying the ultimate price for both.
  • Jonah: Disobedience, intolerance, and stubbornness.
  • Micah: The pursuit of evil, lying spiritual leaders, and the coming of the King.
  • Nahum: God’s righteous indignation and destruction of the wicked.
  • Habakkuk: God’s strange workings, the questioning of His will, and His sovereignty.
  • Zephaniah: The Day of the Lord, a call to repentance, and God’s salvation of His people.
  • Haggai: Self-centeredness, neglecting God’s work, and promised blessings for obedience.
  • Zechariah: Fighting indifference, devastating destruction, and future glory.
  • Malachi: Robbing God, religious corruption, and fear of the Lord.

Minor prophets covering minor topics? I think not.

Current Relevance

earth

Though written well over two millennia ago, the words of the “Minor Prophets” speak to us today. In fact, there are some portions of Hosea, Amos, and Micah which are so relevant for us today they seem as if God’s orators are addressing Western nations. For instance, Hosea tells the unabashedly sinful Jewish pagan-worshippers of Israel’s Northern Kingdom: “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” (4:1-2).

Sound familiar? In regard to the West, we cannot accurately say there is no knowledge of God, but we certainly cannot argue with the fact that godlessness is increasing at a frightening pace.

Not to be outdone, Amos has this to say to the iniquitous ancient Israelites:
Woe to you who … cause the seat of violence to come near; who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall. Who sing idly to the sounds of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; who drink wine from the bowls, and anoint yourselves with the best ointments, but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph [i.e., the northern Israel] (6:3-6).

Of course, some of this requires a little creative interpretation on your part. Perhaps “beds of ivory” can become “king-sized bed with satin sheets”; “eat lambs … and calves” can be “gorge yourselves on the most expensive food”; and “sing idly to the sounds of string instruments” can be read, “you surround yourselves with computers, flat screens, smart phones, and all other forms of entertainment.” The important thing to keep in mind is Amos’ main point, that the people are not grieved over their sin and corruption. The eras – ancient Israel and modern-day Western society – are technologically light-years apart, but the disease is the same.

The prophet Micah says this:
Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and take them by violence, also houses and seize them. So they oppress a man and his house, and man and his inheritance (2:1-2).

Indeed, Micah’s words describe the wickedness we see all around us today. Reading the book authored by Micah is not too different than reading the stories posted on your favorite news website. Hosea, Amos, and Micah lived approximately 2,800 years ago, but their words resonate with relevance and authenticity for us today. Their messages reach into our hearts and souls as if speaking fresh warnings and calls to repentance for the first time. 

Don’t Forget the Context
A word of caution here …

bible tableThough it is productive to apply some of the lessons of the “Minor Prophets” to your lif today, you must guard against the idea of merging ancient Israel with the 21st century West and missing the historic and prophetic implications and consequences intended specifically for the nation of Israel. Israel was a “covenant” nation, meaning she and God had an agreement: God would bless Israel in return for her obedience to Him, and would punish her for her disobedience. America and the West, on the other hand, are not covenant peoples; God never summoned them to a giant, burning, and quaking mountain to bestow upon them a set of laws by which they should live (Exodus Chapters 19 and 20). On the other hand, God has given every nation His Word, the Bible, as its ultimate guidebook. In other words, the same standards and principles of obedience and disobedience apply.

Also, keep in mind the time period when the individual books of the Bible were written and what their cultures were like. Hence, when Amos writes about those “Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments,” though this may sound like strange behavior to 21st century ears, a generous application of logic can help the reader attain the sense of what is being said. In this instance, Amos is condemning those who mindlessly seek a life of ease and indulgence while all around them their nation is a cauldron of sin.

Remember that not every word and sentence necessarily has a direct, modern-day correlation, but most do. With this in mind, may I suggest that you simply read the text slowly and thoughtfully, doing your best to “get at” the heart of the prophet’s message. Ask yourself, “What does the passage mean in its time-frame context? Does this passage have any relevance today? Can the message of this passage be related to my life and my country and culture? What is God trying to tell me? Are there important prophetic implications for Israel’s future I can learn about?” Though the words of the passage may seem foreign, the message is as current as the moment you read it.

No Minor Assignment
I now invite you to begin your journey through the “Minor Prophets” of Israel. The books are short and will not take you long to read. I have provided you with a brief overview of each of the 12 books, designed to be read beforehand. Sometimes having the background of the time in which a given Bible book was written goes a long way in helping illuminate its primary message.

If you truly love the Bible ­– the inspired Word of God ­– you will surely find your pilgrimage into these fascinating landscapes intellectually stimulating, worldview altering, and life-changing.

Up next: “Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace”

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