The minor prophets

The Minor Prophets: Biblical Analysis and Applications

The minor prophets are twelve in number and their message appeared towards the last chapters of the Old Testament. They are also called the twelve prophets and include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The minor prophets are twelve in number and their message appeared towards the last chapters of the Old Testament. They are also called the twelve prophets and include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The Minor Prophets

The Minor Prophets are fascinating Bible studies into the working of God in the world.  There is nothing more intriguing in the history of the people of God from Genesis to Revelation than the prophetic utterances that often came forth through man in times of desperate need.  Isaiah walked through the land naked and barefoot. Ezekiel laid on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 more.  Hosea married a harlot to illustrate the love of God.

Although the warnings of the prophets were often scorned or ignored, they nevertheless dynamically challenged the attitude and behavior of the people.  So, it was also with the Minor Prophets as we will see in our Bible studies of the twelve lesser prophets.  The utterances of God through the prophets will always arouse the curiosity of the people.



The minor prophets had no specific qualifications other than being moved upon by God as a vessel, a medium, whereby a specific word could be given. They came forth to speak there, “Thus, saith the Lord . . .,” from many walks of life. They were shepherds, farmers, priests, and princes.  As God so moved upon His chosen vessel, so He moved each of the Minor Prophets, the prophet so spoke. We shall briefly discuss the books of Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah.

The Book of Joel

Author

The Book of Joel states that its author was the Prophet Joel (Joel 1:1).

Date of Writing:

The Book of Joel was likely written between 835 and 800 B.C.

Purpose of Writing:

Judah, the setting for the book, is devastated by a vast horde of locusts. This invasion of locusts destroys everything—the fields of grain, the vineyards, the gardens, and the trees. Joel symbolically describes the locusts as a marching human army and views all of this as divine judgment coming against the nation for her sins. The book is highlighted by two major events. One is the invasion of locusts and the other the outpouring of the Spirit. The initial fulfillment of this is quoted by Peter in Acts 2 as having taken place at Pentecost.

Key Verses:

Joel 1:4, “What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.” Joel 2:25, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” Joel 2:28, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Brief Summary

A terrible plague of locusts is followed by a severe famine throughout the land. Joel uses these happenings as the catalyst to send words of warning to Judah. Unless the people repent quickly and completely, enemy armies will devour the land as did the natural elements. Joel appeals to all the people and the priests of the land to fast and humble themselves as they seek God’s forgiveness. If they will respond, there will be renewed material and spiritual blessings for the nation. But the Day of the Lord is coming. At this time the dreaded locusts will seem as gnats in comparison, as all nations receive His judgment.

The overriding theme of the Book of Joel is the Day of the Lord, a day of God’s wrath and judgment. This is the Day in which God reveals His attributes of wrath, power, and holiness, and it is a terrifying day to His enemies. In the first chapter, the Day of the Lord is experienced historically by the plague of locusts upon the land. Chapter 2:1-17 is a transitional chapter in which Joel uses the metaphor of the locust plague and drought to renew a call to repentance. Chapters 2:18-3:21 describes the Day of the Lord in eschatological terms and answers the call to repentance with prophecies of physical restoration (2:21-27), spiritual restoration (2:28-32), and national restoration (3:1-21).

Foreshadowing:

Whenever the Old Testament speaks of judgment for sin, whether individual or national sin, the advent of Jesus Christ is foreshadowed. The prophets of the Old Testament continually warned Israel to repent, but even when they did, their repentance was limited to law-keeping and works. Their temple sacrifices were but a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice, offered once for all time, which would come at the cross (Hebrews 10:10). Joel tells us that God’s ultimate judgment, which falls on the Day of the Lord, will be “great and terrible. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11). The answer is that we, on our own, can never endure such a moment. But if we have placed our faith in Christ for the atonement of our sins, we have nothing to fear from the Day of Judgment.

Practical Application

Without repentance, judgment will be harsh, thorough, and certain. Our trust should not be in our possessions but the Lord our God. God at times may use nature, sorrow, or other common occurrences to draw us closer to Him. But in His mercy and grace, He has provided the definitive plan for our salvation—Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and exchanging our sin for His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is no time to lose. God’s judgment will come swiftly, like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2), and we must be ready. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.

Book of Amos

Author

Amos 1:1 identifies the author of the Book of Amos as the Prophet Amos.

Date of Writing:

The Book of Amos was likely written between 760 and 753 B.C.

Purpose of Writing:

Amos is a shepherd and a fruit picker from the Judean village of Tekoa when God calls him, even though he lacks education or a priestly background. Amos’ mission is directed to his neighbor to the north, Israel. His messages of impending doom and captivity for the nation because of her sins are largely unpopular and unheeded, however, because not since the days of Solomon have times been so good in Israel.

Key Verses:

Amos 2:4, “This is what the LORD says: ‘For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, …” Amos 3:7, “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants…” Amos 9:14, “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in…”

Brief Summary

Amos can see that beneath Israel’s external prosperity and power, internally the nation is corrupt to the core. The sins for which Amos chastens the people are extensive: neglect of God’s Word, idolatry, pagan worship, greed, corrupted leadership, and oppression of the poor. Amos begins by pronouncing a judgment upon all the surrounding nations, then upon his nation of Judah, and finally, the harshest judgment is given to Israel. His visions from God reveal the same emphatic message: judgment is near. The book ends with God’s promise to Amos of the future restoration of the remnant.

Foreshadowing:

The Book of Amos ends with a glorious promise for the future. “’ I will plant Israel in their land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the LORD your God” (9:15). The ultimate fulfillment of God’s land promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 15:7; 17:8) will occur during Christ’s millennial reign on earth (see Joel 2:26,27). Revelation 20 describes the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, a time of peace and joy under the perfect government of the Savior Himself. At that time, believing Israel and the Gentile Christians will be combined in the Church and will live and reign with Christ.

Practical Application

Sometimes we think we are a “just-a”! We are just-a salesman, farmers, or housewives. Amos would be considered a “just-a.” He wasn’t a prophet or priest or the son of either. He was just a shepherd, a small businessman in Judah. Who would listen to him? But instead of making excuses, Amos obeyed and became God’s powerful voice for change. God has used “just-a’s” such as shepherds, carpenters, and fishermen all through the Bible. Whatever you are in this life, God can use you. Amos wasn’t much. He was a “just-a.” “Just-a” servant for God. It is good to be God’s “just-a.”

Book Of Obadiah

Author

Obadiah verse 1 identifies the author of the Book of Obadiah as the Prophet Obadiah.

Date of Writing:

The Book of Obadiah was likely written between 848 and 840 B.C.

Purpose of Writing:

Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament, is only 21 verses long. Obadiah is a prophet of God who uses this opportunity to condemn Edom for sins against both God and Israel. The Edomites are descendants of Esau and the Israelites are descendants of his twin brother, Jacob. A quarrel between the brothers has affected their descendants for over 1,000 years. This division caused the Edomites to forbid Israel to cross their land during the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. Edom’s sins of pride now require a strong word of judgment from the Lord.

Key Verses:

Obadiah verse 4, “Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the LORD.” Obadiah verse 12, “You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” Obadiah verse 15, “The day of the LORD is near for all …”

Brief Summary

Obadiah’s message is final and it is sure: the kingdom of Edom will be destroyed completely. Edom has been arrogant, gloating over Israel’s misfortunes, and when enemy armies attack Israel and the Israelites ask for help, the Edomites refuse and choose to fight against them, not for them. These sins of pride can be overlooked no longer. The book ends with the promise of the fulfillment and deliverance of Zion in the Last Days when the land will be restored to God’s people as He rules over them.

Foreshadowing:

Verse 21 of the Book of Obadiah contains a foreshadowing of Christ and His Church. “Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, And the kingdom shall be the LORD’s” (NKJV). These “saviors” (also called “deliverers” in several versions) are the apostles of Christ, ministers of the word, and especially the preachers of the Gospel in these latter days.

They are called “saviors,” not because they obtain our salvation, but because they preach salvation through the Gospel of Christ and show us the way to obtain that salvation. They, and the Word preached by them, are how the good news of salvation is delivered to all men. While Christ is the only Savior who alone came to purchase salvation and is the author of it, saviors and deliverers of the Gospel will be more and more in evidence as the end of the age draws near.

Practical Application

God will overcome on our behalf if we will stay true to Him. Unlike Edom, we must be willing to help others in times of need. Pride is sin. We have nothing to be proud of except Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.

Book Of Jonah

Author

Jonah 1:1 specifically identifies the Prophet Jonah as the author of the Book of Jonah.

Date of Writing:

The Book of Jonah was likely written between 793 and 758 B.C.

Purpose of Writing:

Disobedience and revival are the key themes in this book. Jonah’s experience in the belly of the whale provides him with a unique opportunity to seek a unique deliverance, as he repents during this equally unique retreat. His initial disobedience leads not only to his revival but to that of the Ninevites as well. Many classify the revival which Jonah brings to Nineveh as one of the greatest evangelistic efforts of all time.

Key Verses:

Jonah 1:3, “But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish…” Jonah 1:17, “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 2:2, “In my distress, I called to the LORD, and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”

Brief Summary

Jonah’s fear and pride cause him to run from God. He does not wish to go to Nineveh to preach repentance to the people, as God has commanded because he feels they are his enemies, and he is convinced that God will not carry out his threat to destroy the city. Instead, he boards a ship for Tarshish, which is in the opposite direction. Soon a raging storm causes the crew to cast lots and determine that Jonah is the problem. They throw him overboard, and he is swallowed by a great fish.

In its belly for 3 days and 3 nights, Jonah repents of his sin to God, and the fish vomits him up on dry land (we wonder what took him so long to repent). Jonah then makes the 500-mile trip to Nineveh and leads the city in a great revival. But the prophet is displeased (actually pouts) instead of being thankful when Nineveh repents. Jonah learns his lesson, however, when God uses wind, a gourd, and a worm to teach him that He is merciful.

Foreshadowing:

That Jonah is a type of Christ is clear from Jesus’ own words. In Matthew 12:40-41, Jesus declares that He will be in the grave the same amount of time Jonah was in the whale’s belly. He goes on to say that while the Ninevites repented in the face of Jonah’s preaching, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who rejected Jesus were rejecting One who is far greater than Jonah. Just as Jonah brought the truth of God regarding repentance and salvation to the Ninevites, so too does Jesus bring the same message (Jonah 2:9; John 14:6) of the salvation of and through God alone (Romans 11:36).

Practical Application

We cannot hide from God. What He wishes to accomplish through us will come to pass, despite all our objections and foot-dragging. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that He has plans for us and will see to it that we conform to those plans. How much easier it would be if we, unlike Jonah, would submit to Him without delay!

God’s love manifests itself in His accessibility to all, regardless of our reputation, nationality, or race. The free offer of the Gospel is for all people at all times. Our task as Christians is to be how God tells the world of the offer and to rejoice in the salvation of others. This is an experience God wants us to share with Him, not being jealous or resentful of those who come to Christ in “last-minute conversions” or who come through circumstances dissimilar to our own.

Conclusion

The author Joel is mentioned only in this book and Acts. It may have been written in the ninth century B.C. but possibly as late as the postexilic period. He sees a locust plague and drought in Judah as a harbinger of a day of judgment and punishment to come and calls for repentance. Restoration and blessing will come only after judgment and repentance, even for Israel. 

Amos calls himself a shepherd and raiser of fig trees from Judah who was sent to prophesy God’s judgment on the northern kingdom, Israel. He wrote in the reign of Uzziah (792 – 740) in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel and was a contemporary of Hosea and Jonah. He emphasizes social justice as the true expression of piety and prophesies great destruction to come. 

Obadiah like Jeremiah (possibly his contemporary), prophesies against Edom and predicts the restoration of the house of Jacob. Jonah is called by the Lord to go to and preach against the wicked enemy city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria [representing the Gentiles]. But instead, Jonah flees west for Tarshish [Spain] by ship. The ship is threatened by a storm and the sailors throw him overboard. He is swallowed by a great fish where he stays for three days and nights. He offers to God a prayer of thanksgiving for his deliverance and acknowledges that “Salvation comes from the Lord.” The Lord commands the fish to vomit him onto dry land.

References

Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Minor Prophets I. New International Biblical Commentary. (Hendrickson, 1999)

Baker, David W. Joel, Obadiah, Malachi. NIV Application Commentary. (Zondervan, 2006)

Barton, John. Joel & Obadiah: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. (Westminster John Knox, 2001)

Birch, Bruce C. Hosea, Joel & Amos. Westminster Bible Companion. (Westminster John Knox, 1997)

Busenitz, Irvin A. Commentary on Joel and Obadiah. Mentor Commentary. (Mentor, 2003)

Calvin, John. Joel, Amos, Obadiah. Calvin’s Bible Commentaries. (Forgotten Books, 2007)

Finley, Thomas J. Joel, Amos, Obadiah: An Exegetical Commentary. (Biblical Studies Press, 2003)

Ogilvie, John Lloyd. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah. Communicator’s Commentary 20. (Word, 1990)

Pohlig, James N. An Exegetical Summary of Joel. (SIL International, 2003)

Simundson, Daniel J. Hosea–Micah. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. (Abingdon, 2005)

Sweeney, Marvin A. The Twelve Prophets, Vol.1: Hosea–Jonah. Berit Olam – Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry. (Liturgical Press, 2000)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: