‘Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets’, Amos 3. 7.’
The Minor Prophets come after the major prophetic books in the Old Testament and are a collection of twelve books. The books are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, and follow the order that is found in the Masoretic Text (MT).1 The Septuagint (LXX)2 has a slightly different order but nonetheless includes all twelve books. In Jewish tradition the collection is known as ‘The Book of the Twelve’, and they were generally placed in one continuous scroll.3 The whole collection is called tere asar, which is Aramaic for ‘the twelve (prophets)’. Later, the Patristic writer Augustine of Hippo used the term ‘The Minor Prophets’ (prophetae minores) to describe the twelve, and this has been the conventional title used by Christians ever since.4 In many ways, this is an unfortunate title because Augustine and other writers were simply referring to the relatively small size of each book. By using the word ‘Minor’ it can also imply that the books are in some way or other not that important compared with the major prophets.5As Craigie wrote, ‘The division between major and minor prophets does not refer in any sense to the significance, or otherwise, of the prophets so designated, but only to the length of the books bearing their names’.6 To relegate these books to the shadows of biblical studies is an indication that many do not see the relevance of these prophecies to today’s world. While these books do contain historical narratives contributing to our understanding of God’s dealings with various nations in the ancient world, especially Israel and Judah during critical periods of their history, they also contain important prophecies relating to the person of Christ, and the end times.
Moreover, they have many practical lessons to teach us as believers today, Rom. 15. 4.7 As McComiskey states, ‘Anyone who turns from reading the Minor Prophets hearing only words of recrimination and judgment has not read them fairly. Within the dismal events these prophets describe lurks the hand of God, and beyond these events is the bright prospect of a kingdom inaugurated by One whom Zechariah portrays as suffering betrayal, piercing, and eventual death. The Minor Prophets are not time-bound as we may think’.8 There is, therefore, tremendous profit to be gained in studying these prophetic books even if, at times, the various forms of texts may be difficult to understand and interpret!
The Twelve Prophets are not based upon any chronological scheme or consideration, but generally represent God’s dealings with Israel and Judah during the period of the kings, and the post-exilic period covering the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. In simple terms, these twelve prophetic books divide into three units of history: before, during, and after the Babylonian exile. A grasp of the historic background to these prophecies is consequently critical in interpreting the text of each prophecy. Stock reading for the background to these prophetic books of the Old Testament should encompass 1 Kings chapter 12 to 2 Kings chapter 25.
The chart included below assigns each of the twelve prophets, plus the major prophets, to a specific historical period and includes the dates of the kings who were prominent in these periods.9There is, however, considerable uncertainty over the dating of some of these prophecies. For example, at some time or other, scholars have dated the prophet Joel to as late as the fourth century BC, and to as early as the ninth century BC with other dates in between! The prophet Obadiah has also been subjected to similar treatment, so the charts should be read with caution because one cannot be certain about the chronology of some of these prophets.
Each of the twelve prophets begins with its own superscription, a short narrative introducing the prophet’s identity, and in most cases, the historical background to the prophecy. Additional information is provided about the genre of the writing, and the major concern of the prophet. Some of the themes that are developed throughout these prophecies are:
In several of these books, the personal history/circumstances of the individual prophet are used to illustrate the salient point of the prophecy. For example, in seeking to restore a backsliding nation, God uses a metaphor depicting the marital relationship between the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer. Again, by narrating the story of the prophet Jonah, God’s patience and long-suffering towards humanity is explained.
What is interesting to note in the conventional order is that it begins with Hosea, which portrays God figuratively as the husband and Israel as the wife whom He divorces because of her infidelity to the Mosaic covenant. In the last book, Malachi, God condemns divorce and encourages Israel to hold firm to the Mosaic covenant. The importance of the law is then re-emphasized to close off the prophetic ministry of the twelve, ‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel’, Mai. 4. 4 NIV.10 But even when this collection of prophetic books ends there is a positive statement made about the future hope of a coming Messiah, v. 2. The prophetic word then lies silent for 400 years before another prophet arises in accordance with Malachi chapter 4 verse 5, who makes a two-fold declaration, ‘Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’, Matt. 3. 2. The first aspect is the call to repentance, which resonates with the Old Testament prophets, encouraging the people to return to the Lord. The second aspect stresses the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, linking this with the expectation in these twelve prophets of the coming of the reign of God in Christ.
|PROPHETS BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER THE EXILE|
|Kings of ISRAEL||Kings of JUDAH||Prophets|
ASSYRIAN PERIOD OF CONQUEST
Jeroboam II 786-746
Northern Kingdom Destroyed by the Assyrian King Shalmaneser [2 Kings 17; 18. 9-12]
ASSYRIAN PERIOD OF CONQUEST
Judah taken into Babylonian Captivity by Nebuchadnezzar [2 Kings 25]
BEFORE BABYLONIAN EXILE
Reign of Nebuchadnezzar 605-562
Reign of Amel-marduk (Evil-Merodach) 562-560
Reign of Neriglissar 560-556
Reign of Nabonidus 556-539
Belshazzar co-regent 549-539
DURING BABYLONIAN EXILE
Babylon captured by Cyrus the Persian 539
Reign of Cyrus after capture of Babylon 539-530
Reign of Cambyses 530-522
Reign of Darius 1 Hystaspes 522-548
|Judah Returns from Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 2)||POST-EXILE PERIOD Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi Joel(?)|
The articles that will follow in this series will provide a brief exposition of each book focusing on their historical significance as they relate to God’s dealings with Israel and Judah. They will also show the corelation with future events and their relevance to us as believers today.
Most English translations of the Old Testament are based upon the MT. The MT was developed between the seventh and the tenth centuries AD and is still the basis of all modern critical texts of the Old Testament. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave in Qumran in 1947, many of the Old Testament texts were found to be around 1, 000 years earlier than the MT, i.e., 100 BC. When these texts were then compared by scholars with the MT, it was shown that the MT was an accurate and reliable translation of the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
The Septuagint (LXX), otherwise known as the Greek Old Testament, is the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament. According to tradition it was translated in Alexandria, Egypt, around 285-247 BC, by 70 (or 72) Hebrew elders, hence its name and symbol. This translation had a major influence on New Testament writers, especially the Apostle Paul, who quotes extensively from the Septuagint in his use of Old Testament texts.
One of the findings at Qumran were fragments of a Hebrew scroll that when pieced together revealed a scroll of the Twelve Prophets. It was thought that the scroll dated back to 50 BC. (Wadi Wadi Murabba’at (Mur88, MurXII)).
City of God, Civ. 18. 29.
In Judaism the major prophets are only identified as Isaiah (sixty-six chapters), Jeremiah (fifty-two chapters), and Ezekiel (forty-eight chapters). Although Daniel is included in English Bibles as a major prophet, Jews do not regard Daniel as a prophet but as a seer or sage. This is because in Judaism the definition of a prophet is one who has direct communication with God, and they believe that Daniel received divine inspiration from the Spirit of God without actually seeing or hearing God.
PETER C. CRAIGIE, Twelve Prophets, John Knox Press, pg. 1.
What Paul is doing here is validating the ongoing importance of the Old Testament text and narrative. Amid the exigencies of life, hope is realized through the scriptures. It is of great comfort to know that others have experienced similar problems to us and learnt from their mistakes.
T. E. McCOMlSKEY, The Minor Prophets, Volume One, Baker, pg. ix.
These charts are based principally on the findings of several scholars, including JOHN BRIGHT (History of Israel) and GORDON MCCONVILLE (Exploring the Old Testament -The Prophets (volume 4)). It does not mean, however, that they are definitive in any way, as scholars differ quite considerably in this area of biblical dating.
The famous medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides quoted this verse in the Mishnah Torah as proof that prophets are not supposed to bring a new law (Torah), but to warn people not to trespass the law (Torah).