The Minor Prophets
Twelve Shorter Books
The History of the Chosen People Continues
As far back as we know in the Bible, the Jewish people were God's chosen ones, destined for the promised land that they now occupy. But it didn't come easily to them. The "minor" prophets, so called because they wrote less than the major ones, existed from around 840 BC to 400 BC. These were times, as always, when Israel wasn't the most powerful kingdom in the Middle East region where they are situated. Following the Egyptian Empire, came the Assyrian Empire (based in Damascus, Syria) from 934 to 605 BC, followed by the Babylonian Empire from 605 to 540 BC, and the Persian Empire from 540 to 330 BC. All of these kingdoms ruled Israel and its primary metropolis Jerusalem in Judah, from time to time, usually, if not always, when the people of Israel forsook their God and started worshiping idols. It was a punishment from God.
Where do the minor prophets fit in the Old Testament? The term "Old" Testament is a Christian term. In the Jewish religion only the first five books of the Bible are stressed, along with various books of Hebrew intellectuals called the Talmud, which is unknown to most Christians but which covers a lot of laws and wise practices that we recognize as good policies in most nations around the world. In what the Jews call the Torah, we have the story of Adam and Eve, Moses, and the journey to the Promised Land of Israel, given to the chosen people by God. These are the Bible's first five books. After that there are 12 books of history of the Jewish people, after they got settled in the Promised Land, which unfortunately came about mostly by conquering and destroying the people who already were living there, a sore point when it comes to mutual understanding or misunderstandings among religions. Then there were great books of wisdom, poetry, and praise of God. These are in many ways the bedrock of the Bible because people all over the world respect the teachings. Following that, there were the major prophets who seemed to zero in on the Babylonian conquest of Israel more than anything else. Next came the minor prophets, who still continued the theme of punishment for lack of faith. The King James version of the Old Testament leaves off here and begins the New Testament of Jesus' time. The older Douay version continues on with two or three more books coming up close to the time of Jesus, but giving more history of the Jewish people and their rulers.
In the minor prophets' books are continual words of wisdom regarding the importance of maintaining faith in God as opposed to secular, worldly values. Hosea is the first published in the King James version of the Bible. In the Douay Bible, it's written as the Book of Osee (with the pronunciation accent on the first syllable). His book was written between 750 and 730 BC. Symbolically, he made religion correlate to his own unhappy marriage. Hosea predicted the defeat and destruction of Israel because of lack of faith. But he always emphasized God's potential mercy toward those who would repent and regain their faith.
Hosea starts his book with shocking words. "Take yourself a wife of harlotry...Bring charges against your mother...for she is not My wife...Let her put away her harlotry...and her adulteries." But these words are the words of God addressing the entire Hebrew nation and accusing them of being like harlots for forsaking God in favor of other gods. (Ch 1 and 2) To Hosea, God reveals His disappointment with the children of Israel, saying, "Love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods." (Ch 3) The Israelis are advised by God, through the prophet Hosea, that they must first "acknowledge their offenses" before God will help them. (Ch 5) God warns of destruction: "Woe to them, for they have fled from Me." (Ch 7) Predicting further destruction, God and Hosea say that "Israel is swallowed up" by their enemies, and "now they are among the Gentiles" because they have "forgotten" their "Maker." (Ch 8) Noting that Israel is "deeply corrupted," God through Hosea says, "You have played the harlot against your God...The days of punishment have come." (Ch 9) Israel is personified. "When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (Ch 10) But the Book of Hosea ends on a hopeful note. "Return to the Lord...I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily." (Ch 14)
The second book of the minor prophets is that of Joel. He predicts in the future that there will come a "teacher of justice," a reference some Christians take as a prediction of Jesus. While Hosea preached in the Northern Kingdom (called Israel at the time) Joel resided, wrote, and preached in the Southern Kingdom (called Judah, where the City of David, Jerusalem, was located). Joel is thought to have written his book in the Eighth Century BC (the 700's BC) because other prophets of that era make references to him. An invasion of locusts took place at that time and is mentioned in Joel's book. Afterward there was a severe drought, bringing hard times upon the people of Judah. As always, these calamities are taken as punishment for forsaking God. The only way out is to repent and turn back to worshiping the one true God of Israel, an invisible God, unlike the false gods and idols worshiped sinfully by others. Repentance, penance, and atonement are necessary before God will help afflicted people. Once there's atonement, people are back in grace again. At the beginning of the Book of Joel, everything is depicted as broken down because "destruction from the Almighty" is at hand. (Ch 1) This is an emergency situation. "Sound the alarm...return to the Lord your God...whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Ch 2) Like other books of the Bible, the Jews in the end are predicted to triumph. "Prepare for war...beat your plowshares into swords...Egypt shall be a desolation...because of violence against the people of Judah...but Judah shall abide forever." (Ch 3) The Book of Joel is short and sweet, and often relied upon by the first Christians and apostles in their writings in the New Testament. In fact most of the books of the "Old" Testament seem to exist in the Bible mainly because they are groundwork for the "New" Testament of Christianity. It has to be remembered that the Bible itself is a creature of Christianity, although borrowing heavily upon Judaism. Also, it's important, especially modernly in times of terrorism and misunderstandings, to remember that the Muslim leader Mohammed believed in the principles of both Judaism and Christianity, as well as the Bible.
Next comes Amos, the third of the twelve minor prophets. He felt the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were living too high on the hog, and had forgotten about God. He mentions a great earthquake that took place, which also was cited in Hosea. For transgressions of the Hebrews and other nations, God was always meting out appropriate punishments. (Ch 1) The Israelis are depicted, in Amos' book, as ungrateful for the many times God has helped them in the past. God is depicted as a very demanding God who requires constant adoration. (Ch 2) "I punish Israel for their transgressions," says God. (Ch 3) Natural disasters, plagues, and devastation from war are all seen as God's punishments for transgressions (sins) occurring due to a fundamental lack of faith. (Ch 4) "Seek Me and live," says God. "Seek good not evil." (Ch 5) People must always be on guard, warns Amos. "Woe to you who are at ease in Zion." God is mightier than all things mankind has built. (Ch 6) The faithless and those worshiping false gods "shall fall and never rise again." (Ch 8) God will destroy a "sinful kingdom" from the face of the earth, predicts the prophet Amos. He will "bring back" his people (Jews) and they will rebuild and inhabit their promised land. (Ch 9)
The tiny little Book of Obadiah is only one chapter, about one page. It talks about the destruction of Edom, a long-time enemy of the Hebrews. It also discusses the return of the Hebrews from captivity in Babylon, an ally of Edom.
The Book of Jonah contains the fairytale-like version of Jonah and the whale, which swallowed him up. Jonah was disobedient toward God. A "great fish" swallowed him up when he was cast into the sea. Inside the fish, he prayed and finally was delivered. Later he became a preacher in a wicked city in Assyria. The people there repented and were saved by the Lord's great mercy.
Micah is the next Minor Prophet. He wrote about the destruction of Jewish people for their sins, but the later re-establishment of their kingdom through God's mercy. "Bethlehem...though you are little...out of you shall come forth...the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting." These words in Chapter 5 of Micah seem to describe Christ.
The short Book of Nahum comes next. Nahum predicts destruction in Ninive, Assyria, where Jews were held captive. Assyria occupied part of modern Syria, but also spread into what is now part of Turkey and Iraq.
Habakkuk, in his book, despairs that God seems to have forsaken His people, and predicts sadness for those who are proud and profit by violence and greed in their conquests. Habakkuk declares his faith in the great power of God.
Zephaniah predicts doom for Jerusalem due to its inhabitants' loss of faith in the power of the Lord. But Zephaniah predicts that they who keep the faith will be spared, and the warrior enemies of God's chosen people eventually will perish. Later, the Lord will "rise up for plunder" and "all the earth shall be devoured with the fire" of God's "jealousy." (Ch 3) After that, "the remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness." Are Christians the "remnant" of Israel?
Haggai tells Hebrews they should rebuild the temple because God wants this. It is wrong for them only to rebuild their own houses and not the temple. God chooses the son of the governor of Judah to lead His people.
Zechariah, in preaching encouragement to trust in God, has optimistic, symbolic visions of good things happening for Judah, Jerusalem, and Israel. Israel is the "apple of His eye." (Ch 2) The Lord "has chosen Jerusalem." (Ch 3) Zechariah's symbolic visions are in the same style as St. John's Apocalypse in the New Testament. According to Zechariah, there are "two anointed ones who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth." (Ch 4) The word "Christ" means "anointed one." Jesus is one. Is the other Moses? Is it Mohammed? God speaks through Zechariah, referring to His "branch," (Ch 3 and 6) arguably a prediction of Jesus. Zechariah tells us that God Himself predicts that "ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'" (Ch 8)
Finally, Malachi starts his book by insisting on respectful sacrifices to be offered to the Lord and predicting that the Lord will be "magnified beyond the border of Israel" and His "name shall be great among the Gentiles." (Ch 1) Malachi strongly condemns divorce. All this is spoken by the Lord, through Malachi, in words constantly rebuking the Jews for not being religious enough. The message is clear: one must fear God, being afraid not to show devotion.
Thus, the Minor Prophets have written their books in the Bible. From here, Gideons Bible of 1,217 pages moves into the New Testament of Christianity.