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Underaged Prophets

August 11, 2016

The last twelve books of the Old Testament are known as the minor prophets. They are not minor in their content or their importance. They are called minor because of their relative brevity when compared to the major prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These books of the Old Testament can be rather daunting to read. The people and places described are unfamiliar to us. The extensive use of symbolism can be confusing. Some of the prophecies seem to have a dual fulfillment, finding immediate fulfilment in their near future and later fulfillment in the Messiah.

Despite the challenges studying the minor prophets is well worth the time and effort. Here are some guiding principles to help you better understand these little books:

  • Historical context is crucial. All the minor prophets were written after the division of the nation of Israel that followed Solomon’s death. Some were written to the northern Jewish nation of Israel and some were written to the southern Jewish nation of Judah. Some were written before Israel’s destruction by Assyria and some after. Some were written before the Babylonian captivity and some after the return of Jews to Jerusalem. The time of writing, the people being written about and the people being written to are crucial facts for a proper understanding of each minor prophet.
  • The minor prophets are filled with Hebrew poetry. English poetry is dominated by rhyming words or rhythmic meter. Hebrew poetry is not. Hebrews poetry is mostly concerned with structure. It uses things like acrostics where each verse in a section begins with the next letter of the alphabet. A then B then C and so on. Hebrew poetry relies heavily on parellelisms where a fact is stated and the next line repeats the truth in a different fashion (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.”), or the next line presents a contrast (“The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit”). Another major component of Hebrew poetry is symbolism. English readers may be more familiar with the use of symbolism from Psalms. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer.” The minor prophets rely heavily on symbolism but the reader is not always told the meaning of the symbols. Understanding the minor prophets requires the reader to develop some understanding of Hebrew poetry.
  • Elements of the Messiah’s first and second coming are prophesied in the minor prophets. From the minor prophets we learn the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. These are not the only two promises about Jesus in the minor prophets. Rely on the New Testament to point out minor prophets references to the promised Savior and King.
  • The message of all the minor prophets, though the particulars of each book are different, revolves around calling the Jews to repentance and obedience. The minor prophets were not written to America or to the church. They were written to exhort the Jews to return to their Lord. Only when the message to the Jews is properly understood can certain principles be applied to American Christians.

Aside from the book of Jonah and a few individual verses the minor prophets seem to be largely ignored. Significant themes in the minor prophets- like the character of God, the promises of God, the salvation of Israel and the redemption of men- are profitable for all Christians. The minor prophets give us a better understanding of God’s dealings with peoples other than Israel and help us better see how God may be at work in America and the nations of the world today. They show God’s Sovereignty over all the nations and point to His future judgment of all nations.

The minor prophets remind of the faithfulness of God to bless His chosen people and to judge sinful men keeping forever His promise to Abraham, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” The minor prophets may require more work to understand and apply but they can be a source of rich instruction to Christian readers today.

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