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A Study of The Minor Prophets: ...

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Posted on CCPC's website 2022

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

The Minor Prophets, through the lens of “the 5 W's”.

The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the 12 books of “The Book of the Twelve”
     Except for clarity, we're going to change the order of the traditional "Five W's" slightly and begin with two "What"s, and along the way, we have two "Why"s.

WHAT? One: “what are the 'minor prophets'?
     This is the easiest of the answers. Everybody agrees on which twelve books are included, the only difference is the order in a couple of cases. We'll go with the order as presented in the 1560 Geneva Bible and was later adopted by every other Western translation:
     Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

     It is interesting that the Christian churches adopted the Jewish Book of the Twelve from the Nevi'im as it was, there are no Apocryphal books in the section of the Old Testament that is broken out as the "Minor Prophets". Books such as Baruch, a friend of Jeremiah's whose own work comes just after the Major Prophet, and those like Tobit and the Maccabees (which we will look at later) don't break up the twelve. They are taken as a group, and are even listed in some tables of contents as "the Minor Prophets".
     Which brings us neatly to those two words as a title for the group.
"And of the twelve prophets let the memorial be blessed, and let their bones flourish again out of their place: for they comforted Jacob, and delivered them by assured hope."
Ecclesiasticus 49: 10 (another apocryphal book, see link below)

     Augustine of Hippo also referred to the group as Minor Prophets in his epic work "City of God", link below.

     So it is well established that the group of twelve books have been identified together, and, indeed, on some Nevi'im (the Prophets) they come all together as, essentially, one book, since at least a couple of hundred years before Christ.

     Part of the 'what' is what they are about.

     Some, as we'll see are a specific foretelling that are aimed at a specific time and place, as we'll see in a moment with Nahum. Others are, as it seems Old Testament Prophets are required to do in their job descriptions, a general condemnation of everything and everybody:

"'I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,' declares the Lord." Zephaniah 1 : 2.

     Some of the most spectacular prophecies of the coming Messiah are found in these books. We'll pick on two and move on.

     Micah 5 : 2 talks about how the ruler from ancient times will be born in Bethlehem. And...

"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9 : 9).

     These same books have extensive prophecies that are then later reflected in the Apocalypse of the Apostle John, such as several passages in Zechariah, and those in Amos and Joel, and others, which we will highlight as we go through them.

"'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the Lord Almighty."

     Sorry, couldn't resist. That was Malachi 4 : 1.

WHAT? 2: “What's a prophet?”
     This one is harder to answer, because there are several answers. But we'll start with what the word means: A prophet is an 'inspired teacher', or 'one with divine insight'. This is more than being a weather forecaster based on special knowledge and training and the observation of the wind and clouds. The term implies that the person has somebody whispering to them from 'upstairs'.
     In our context, a prophet is a 'proclaimer of the Word of God'. But that changed over the time scale involved in the Bible. For an example, we'll hold up Moses. Yes, he 'proclaimed the Word of God', but he was also a political leader, and where those two roles overlapped, he was a 'tour guide' for several years. Another set of prophets on that scale were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they 'proclaimed' and they led their people, whereas Noah proclaimed the word and built a boat. Later, the Judges occupied that niche in society. Then during the period of the kings, the leading prophet, such as Samuel and Elijah, alternated advising and condemning the king.
     One of the reasons the people regarded John the Baptist as a prophet was that he spent a good deal of his time telling the 'king' what he was doing wrong, as well as "making straight the way of the Lord".

     And then you have this: The Bible is up to its covers in prophets. Some wrote books, and some didn't. And in fact, there are others in the Bible that were not “Prophets of God”, remember the 450 prophets of Baal and their 400 friends that worked for Asherah (nature idols), who all came to a bad end on Mr. Carmel in 1 Kings 18? And we hear about False Prophets in Revelation and elsewhere in the New Testament.
     But we're talking about the “Good Guys” here, so we'll look at them. Like the 100 prophets of God that Jezebel was trying to kill and Obadiah hid a couple of chapters before the showdown on the mountain. And there was a 'group of prophets' led by Samuel in 1 Samuel 10. As well as the Prophet Micaiah 1 Kings 22, who is NOT the one that wrote the book with a similar name in the Minor Prophets. And while we just called them the 'good guys', not all were 'guys', for the class of the field of women prophets we'll have Huldah stand up and take a bow for how she replied to the king in 2 Kings 22. There was also the Prophet Anna mentioned in Luke 2 : 36, who was over 100 years old (another mis-translation, she had been a widow for 84 years after having been married 7 years).

     So, there were a lot of prophets throughout Biblical times who didn't get their name attached to a book, like Gad (see 1 Chronicles 21), or who made as big of a splash as Elijah.

WHY 1: "why are they called 'minor prophets'"?
     Simple, and it really is this simple. The length of their books, and to some degree, the style of their writing.
     While Hosea has more chapters than Daniel, his book is poetry, as is a lot of Zechariah's, while Daniel is mostly prose and relates an epic historical story in with the prophecies. The others follow the same format, and are all more or less the same length. Which makes them easy to lump together.

     This gets complicated as with some of them we're really not even sure that the name in the title is actually the name of the writer. Such as Nahum 1 : 1. It says that it is "An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the El-koshite." Which is wonderful, it is Nahum's vision, and an interesting vision it is, but that doesn't tell us who wrote it down. It is a similar story in the following book, we have Habakkuk the prophet, and that's all we have in the text. In other cases, such as Zephaniah, we have a pedigree and a tribal affiliation, in his case, Judah.
     They appear to all be Jews, although at least Obadiah may have been a convert, and some of their affiliations, such as being an "El-koshite" are somewhat obscure. And, as far as we can tell, they were all male, although in some cases that is based on the forms of the names in Hebrew instead of direct evidence from the text, "... the son of...."
     Also, only a few were known to be priests, or at least of the priestly tribe of Levite such as Habakkuk, those that were priests include Zechariah for certain and possibly Haggai. Of the others, Ezekiel was one and Samuel was 'sort of' a priest,

     There's a bit of dispute about the finer points of this one (and some discussions they swap centuries like they're playing 'go fish'), but overall, it somewhat accepted that of the twelve, either Obadiah, or Joel, or perhaps Amos (which shares some wording with Joel) were the first of the group, somewhere around 800 BC, which is dated by when the kings named in the books reigned. From there they range through the next three or four hundred years, including the exile to Babylon, until Malachi, who most authorities agree worked somewhere around 450 BC. After which came the infamous 'silent period' of about 400 years until John the Baptist turned up on the scene.
     That being said, some of the names and dates of the kings are in doubt, and in three of the books, no monarch is directly named. Which forces us to look into textual evidence and Jewish mythology and history.

     In general, Israel post-division of the kingdom: with Hosea, Amos and Jonah in the North, and the rest in Judah. Although some addressed their message to the world at large, such as Obadiah, while a couple lived in one realm and wrote to 'the other' Jewish Kingdom.
     As far as can be told, none of the twelve wrote in Babylon during the exile like Ezekiel and Daniel.

WHY 2? “Why study the minor prophets?”
     There are several answers here, and most of them we've already seen. Like their somewhat longer and more famous brother prophets they talk of the coming of the Messiah who quotes several of them, such as Micah 7 : 6 which was quoted by Christ and documented in Matthew 10 and Luke 12.
     They also foretell parts of the Apocalypse, and later their parts were made into a cohesive vision by the Apostle John (such as Zephaniah 3: 13 seen in Revelation 14: 5).
     Also, there's history in the books, sometimes it is couched in poetry, sometimes not, like Hosea 5 that describes the Northern Kingdom making entreaties to Assyria, but it is there nonetheless.

     We'll do what we do. Book by book, chapter by chapter, in some cases, word by word. Looking at what is known of the individual prophets and their times, the subject(s) of their prophecies, and what is referenced in the New Testament, and elsewhere, from their book.
     And in doing it that way, we'll see that with some of these books, all we have is the message, many of these "W"s, for some of them, is lost to history. The writer of the book, and indeed, the individual prophet who delivered the message, may be forgotten, but the Word of the Lord is still here.

References and outside links:

The 1560 Geneva Bible:

the Geneva Bible downloadable

Ecclesiasticus, by Jesus ben Sira, about 190 BC:
The reference is in chapter 49 verse 10, not what is listed on the other webpage.

Augustine's City of God, book 18.

A look at Huldah: Jewish Women's Archive

It is what it says it is:

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.

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