Chapter 1

“Minor” Prophets

There is really nothing minor about the Minor Prophets! Like the so–called Major Prophets, they have important messages from God for their contemporaries that also speak to us today. The reason why tradition has assigned the title “minor” to these twelve books is because the books that contain their prophetic word are much shorter than Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. While the major prophets are sixty–six, fifty–two, and forty–eight chapters respectively, the longest of the twelve, Hosea and Zechariah, are fourteen chapters long and the shortest, Obadiah, is one chapter! Sometimes the collection of these books is called “the book of the Twelve” in order to point out that, while there are twelve books here, there are many similar themes that reverberate through the collection (the land, judgment, Day of the Lord, justification of God’s ways in the world).

With the exception of Jonah, which we will examine below, these minor prophets are similar in most ways to the major prophets. They, like the major prophets, are God’s messengers, commissioned to deliver a special type of message for special times, and these books, like those, are collections of prophetic speeches. Most of the minor prophets, like the major prophets, were sent by God to warn his people that they risked judgment because they were violating the covenant. We will see that there are exceptions to this rule in that Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah, are exclusively announcements of judgment not the God’s people, but on their foreign oppressors. Even these books are similar to the parts of the Major Prophets that we call “oracles against the foreign nations” (see Isaiah 13–23; Jeremiah 46–51; Ezekiel 25–32). The first two chapters of Amos are also directed toward the foreign nations. God, after all, is the God not just of Israel, but also of the whole world.

Like the major prophets, when it comes to their message of judgment toward God’s people, it was their hope, as well as God’s, that the people would repent and avoid judgment. But they also, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, came with a message of restoration after the judgment even if they did not repent. But since there is the possibility of repentance, the prophetic announcement about the future was often conditional. “You will be judged unless you repent.” At other times the prophetic word is unconditional, “You will be judged!” Interestingly, though Jonah tries to repress it, his message “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” Is conditional and when the Ninevites repented, they avoided the punishment much to Jonah’s disappointment. On the other hand, Nahum will around a century later deliver an unconditional prophecy to the same city.

When it comes to their message of judgment toward God’s people, it was their hope, as well as God’s, that the people would repent and avoid judgment.

Organization of the Twelve Minor Prophets

Why do the twelve appear in the order that they do? There is no definite answer to that question and indeed ancient manuscripts vary somewhat in the order. However, the order that we are familiar with in our Bibles is roughly, but not perfectly, chronological. The earliest books in the collection were first written in the 8th century BC leading up to the Assyrian defeat of the northern kingdom (Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah). The last books were written in the 7th century BC in anticipation of the Babylonian defeat of the southern kingdom (Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah). The last three books (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) were written in the period after the Babylonian exile (late 6th–5th century BC). It’s a roughly chronological order since we don’t know when to date Joel exactly and Obadiah seems better placed in the middle group than with the first.