The Message of the Minor Prophets
Since coming to understand and embrace redemptive-historical hermeneutics my love for the Old Testament has grown exponentially. Part of my growth in Old Testament studies has been an intrigue and appreciation for the “minor prophets.” I am not entirely comfortable using the terms “minor prophets” in contrast with the “major prophets,” but the terms are helpful in distinguishing between larger and smaller prophetic works. All the prophets play a key role in the history of Israel and her need for repentance and God’s promise of restoration. I think some difficulty people have when learning the message of the prophets is the key themes and ways in which each book points to Christ. Thus, I would like to focus on the twelve minor prophets and provide a summary statement along with Scriptures of how each book points to and finds its fulfillment in Christ.
I think a helpful way of grasping the message of the minor prophets and their significance in the storyline of Scripture is to understand when they prophesy in relation to the Babylonian exile. In other words, does the prophet prophesy before (pre-exilic), during (exilic), or after (post-exilic) the Babylonian exile? With that said, let us look at the minor prophets.
The message of the pre-exilic prophets was a message of hope despite impending judgment. Despite the judgment that God was preparing to bring through the Assyrians and Babylonians it was within the context of God’s great acts for Israel in the past that become the hope for God’s restoration of Israel in the future.
1.) Amos. The singular theme of Amos as it relates to Christ is that God will reunite and rebuild the house of David (Amos 9:11-12). The rebuilding of David’s house includes security in the land, which includes protection from enemies and great abundance in contrast to the time of desolation (Amos 9:13-15). James makes it very clear that with the coming of Jesus and the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant promises of Israel David’s house is being rebuilt in Christ (Acts 15:1-21).
2.) Joel. In spite of impending judgment God will restore his people and dwell with them. The primary way this message of hope is conveyed is with the promise of the Spirit (Joel 2:2:28-32). God’s presence with his people will be so great that his presence will fall on all people, both great and small. Furthermore, God’s presence will usher in a new time of abundance in contrast to the impending desolation (Joel 2:18-27; 3:18-21). Peter makes it clear that the events at Pentecost fulfill the prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:1-36). With the coming of the Spirit, God is dwelling with his people and ushering in a new time of abundance and salvation.
3.) Micah. The book of Micah announces the coming Deliverer despite impending doom. Most notably the book highlights where the Messiah will come from (Bethlehem), which ties this future kingly figure with David and the covenant found in 2 Samuel 7:8-17 (Micah 5:1-5). With this coming king will come a future kingdom. This kingdom will be like a great mountain in which all the peoples will find security and salvation (Micah 4:1-8; cf., Dan 2:1ff). Matthew clearly connects this future king from Bethlehem to Jesus and goes on to demonstrate how Jesus is bringing in the kingdom that Micah foretold (Matt 2:6; 4:17; 5:3ff).
4.) Hosea. Hosea is commanded to take the prostitute Gomer to be his wife to demonstrate Israel’s idolatry and God’s faithfulness. Despite impending exile and judgment God promises that he will restore his people to himself once again (Hos 1:8-11; 2:14-23; 14:1-9)). God’s great love for his people is demonstrated in his past actions (i.e., Exodus), which becomes an assurance of his future deliverance (Hos 11:1ff). God’s restoration of his people includes believing Jews, but also believing Gentiles, which Paul makes clear in the New Testament (Rom 9:19-33). Furthermore, the basis upon which salvation is secured and God’s people are restored to himself is by the faithful Son who does not fail, but does God’s will (Matt 2:15; 4:1-11).
5.) Habakkuk. The great message of Habakkuk is that God will not allow evil to continue. We see a powerful picture of God as a divine warrior taking vengeance on evildoers (Habb 2:1-17). The promise of God to his people is that despite evil men prospering God will exalt his people one day (Habb 3:1-7). Those who wait on this visitation of God will do so by faith. It is by faith that God’s people will be delivered. In other words, God people must trust him and believe his promises despite the evildoers that surround them. Paul makes it very clear that the righteous live by faith (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; cf., Heb 10:38). The object of our faith is Christ. He will return and deliver his people as a great divine warrior and only those who wait by faith will be saved (Rev 19:11-19).
6.) Zephaniah. Despite impending exile God promised to Israel that he would judge the nations and rescue his people. Zechariah foretells of a day when God will purge creation of sin and redeem his people (Zeph 1:18; 3:8, 12-20). However, God’s promise of deliverance will extend past the borders of Israel and include all those who are outcasts and lame. Paul clarifies these promises in the New Testament to show that in Christ, both Jew and Gentile comprise the remnant people of God (Eph 2:11-3:21) and that the promises of God were not meant for every Jew regardless of belief in Christ, but only for those Jews who trusted in Jesus (Rom 9:1ff).
The exilic prophets consist of Ezekiel and Daniel, which are usually considered “major prophets.” So instead of writing about Ezekiel and Daniel, I will write about the three minor prophets who prophesied to foreign nations even though their message came prior to captivity.
1.) Jonah. Jonah is commanded to call the Assyrians to repent of their sin (Jon 1:2). We all are familiar with the story of Jonah and how he did not want to go to Assyria and do as the Lord commanded. However, we often miss the point of this important book; namely that God’s purpose to save people from all nations is clearly demonstrated even the Old Testament, for the entire city of Nineveh repents (Jon 3:1ff). The message is not about Jonah running from God, but God’s mercy on sinners. Christ as the true Jonah, fulfills this book by making atonement for sin (3 days idea), but also carries forth the message of hope and restoration to all the peoples of the world (Matt 12:39-41). However, Jesus does not grumble at God’s mercy to Gentiles, but instead rebukes those who fail to understand God’s forgiveness and mercy to pagan nations.
2.) Nahum. Nahum is a prophet to the Assyrians. Much like Jonah he is to call the nation to repentance. Although the people of Nineveh repented under Jonah’s preaching, the people quickly reverted to their evil ways. Nahum calls them to repent and reminds them that God is sovereign over the nations, even theirs (Nah 1:1ff). Two major themes arise in the book of Nahum that connects to the New Testament and Christ. First, like we read in the book of Jonah, God is bringing his salvation to all peoples of the earth. This picture of salvation to the nations fully blooms with the work of Jesus and the gospel spreading all over the world. Second, we see God as a warrior who will judge the nations, particularly Assyria. As we will see with Obadiah this divine warrior is Christ who will judge all the nations in righteousness.
3.) Obadiah. Obadiah prophesies against Edom. Edom was the descendants of Esau who were a source of conflict for the Israelites. The Edomites rejoiced over the destruction of Israel by foreign invaders, but God rebukes them and assures them of their destruction, while promising Israel deliverance and peace (Oba 1:1-21). Much like we see with many nations in the Old Testament (e.g., Egypt, Babylon; Gog-Magog), Edom represents those who stand against God’s people, which in the New Testament is represented by the evil world standing against Christ and his church. The final judgment of Edom is fully realized when Christ, as a great warrior, comes to smite the nations and rescue his people (Rev 19:11-19; 20:7-10).
Although the Israelites returned to the land, the promises revealed prior to exile did not come to fulfillment quite like the pre-exilic prophets foretold. The final three prophets of the Old Testament remind the people that the promises of restoration and renewal are still to be fulfilled by God’s chosen servant.
1.) Haggai. Haggai’s message is quite clear: encourage the builders of God’s new temple. Many of the older men and women of Israel had seen Solomon’s temple and realized that this new temple seemed very insignificant in comparison to the previous temple; thus, they wept at its construction (Ezra 3:12-13; Hagg 2:3). However, through the prophet Haggai God was going to encourage the people that their work on this second temple was a type of a greater temple to come. This future temple would be a place of God’s glory and a sanctuary of peace (Hagg 2:6-9). Haggai further develops the promise of a future temple stated in the book of Ezekiel (Ezek 40-48). With the construction of this second temple it shows that the promises found in Ezekiel remained unfulfilled in Haggai’s day and that their still remained a future temple to be built well beyond the days of the post-exilic prophets. We know this future temple is God’s people built up into a holy dwelling place for God. Jesus begins this work as the true temple and chief cornerstone (John 2:13-25; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-6). The work of building this temple is continuing in the present age by the work of the Spirit (Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:5) and will be completed in the new heavens and new earth where God’s redeemed from every nation will comprise this new city-temple (Rev 21:1-22:5).
2.) Zechariah. Much like Haggai the message of Zechariah is about God’s protection and restoration of his people. Through the prophet Zechariah God tells of a day when he will bring the office of king and priest together as one in future individual who will build the temple of the Lord (Zech 3:8-10; 6:11-15). This future priestly-king is Jesus, who not only makes atonement for his people, but presently rules as king on David’s throne (Acts 2:1ff; 15:1ff; Heb 2-9). Zechariah calls this future priestly-king Branch. Jesus is also compared to as a branch in many other Old Testament passages (Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15). As the branch that comes from the line of David he is the holy olive branch spoken about in Romans eleven where both Jews and Gentiles find salvation and restoration. Contrary to what the dispensationalist would have us think, Jesus is the fulfillment and recipient of the promises given to Abraham (Gal 3:16), which makes him the reference point as to who is considered inheritors of all the Old Testament promises.
3.) Malachi. Like Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi proclaims that the promises of God remain unfulfilled despite returning to the land. Speaking out against the injustice and evil of his day Malachi speaks of a forerunner who will come before the Lord’s visitation (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6). The forerunner is John the Baptizer who calls the children of Israel to repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. The dispensationalist would contend that this Elijah figure is literally Elijah resurrected to preach during the seven-year tribulation (cf., Rev 11:1ff); however, Jesus makes it quite clear that John is the prophet in the spirit of Elijah who prepares the way for the Lord (Matt 11:7-19; 17:1-13). With the preaching of John, the coming of the Lord has began with the incarnation; however, we await the final consummation of the present age when Christ will return to rescue his people and judge the nations.
I would recommend the following books if you want to understand the prophets from a redemptive-historical perspective.
The Christ of the Prophets, by O. Palmer Robertson.
The Prophets Speak of Him, by Anthony Selvaggio.
My Servants the Prophets, by Edward Young.