Nestled in the middle of our Bibles are twelve short books commonly referred to as the Minor Prophets.
Perhaps it’s the designation "minor" that has led some Bible readers to neglect these sacred works. Or maybe it’s because several of the books are rarely preached from Sunday morning pulpits, a reality that has led many to conclude they must not be all that important.
But remember what the New Testament teaches us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). That includes these twelve short books stuck at the back of the Old Testament.
This short guide is a primer on the Minor Prophets, providing you with a few key details to help you open each one up and take hold of its message.
So, let’s start with the name Minor Prophets. Contrary to popular belief, this label has nothing to do with the importance of these books. Rather, it’s a statement about their size. In the ancient world, each of these books could be recorded on a single scroll. That sets them apart from books like Isaiah or Ezekiel, which required several scrolls.
The position of these books at the end of the Old Testament in most Protestant Bibles has to do with a traditional arrangement by genre. The Law comes first, followed by Historical Books, Poetry, and then Prophets, Major and Minor.
But it’s not their size or position in the canon that matters. It’s what each one tells us about God.
Author/Date: The book of Hosea was written by “Hosea son of Beeri” (1:1), a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel, who prophesied during the eighth century BC
What it’s all about: Hosea can neatly be broken into two parts. The first three chapters tell the story of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, an unfaithful wife, which is symbolic of Israel’s “adultery” in chasing after foreign gods. The final eleven chapters contain accusations, warnings, and promises for God’s people.
Themes: Hosea deals primarily with the subjects of sin, judgment and salvation. Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is a picture of God’s love for Israel and, seen through a New Testament lens, Christ’s love for the church.
Author/Date: Written by “Joel son of Pethuel” (1:1), the book’s date is likely post-exile, though scholars have offered suggestions ranging from the ninth to the fourth centuries BC. It is addressed to the people of Judah and, at times, specifically to the people of Jerusalem.
What it’s all about: A locust plague has decimated the wine and grain supplies of Judah, and the prophet calls God’s people to return to the Lord.
Themes: Joel has much to say about the Day of the Lord, which spells judgment for both Israel and the nations. But there is hope of restoration for those who repent. In the book of Acts, Peter quotes Joel to explain that the events of Pentecost are a fulfillment of God’s promise: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (2:29).
Author/Date: We know nothing about Amos outside of this book, in which he is introduced simply as “one of the shepherds of Tekoa” (1:1). The book was written during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel (roughly the first half of the eighth century BC).
What it’s all about: The northern kingdom of Israel was living under the false belief that their prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing. In reality, as Amos tells them, the peace and prosperity the people were experiencing were the last gasps of a nation that had turned its back on God and was about to be toppled by the Assyrians.
Themes: Amos is about the universal and righteous justice of the Lord.
Author/Date: Obadiah may be the same Obadiah mentioned in 1 Kings 18:3–16, but that is far from certain. If the writer is a different Obadiah, nothing outside of this book is known about him. It was likely written in the mid-sixth century BC, after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC) but before the fall of Edom (553 BC).
What it’s all about: Obadiah is a prophecy against the people of Edom, a nation with connections to the family of God, in that it descended from Isaac’s son Esau. Obadiah also predicts restoration for the people of Judah and the coming of God’s kingdom.
Themes: The book of Obadiah deals with the judgment and salvation of our God.
Author/Date: Probably the most well-known of the Minor Prophets due to its Sunday school fame, the book of Jonah is technically anonymous. However, certain portions of the story would have only been known to Jonah, so he likely penned the book or served as its primary source. It is difficult to pin down a date for the composition of the book, but Jonah prophesied in the mid-eighth century BC.
What it’s all about: Jonah was called by God to deliver a message of judgment to the people of Nineveh in Assyria, the sworn enemies of God’s people. Fearing the people might repent and be spared by the Lord, Jonah hitches a ride to the other side of the world. But God humbles Jonah inside the belly of a great fish, and Jonah completes his mission.
Themes: Jonah is ultimately a short book about a big topic: God’s compassion.
Author/Date: Micah, whose name means “Who is like Yahweh?” prophesied in the eighth century BC.
What it’s all about: Micah brings a “lawsuit” against God’s people in Samaria, the capital of Israel, and Jerusalem, the capital in Judah. Their sins will bring destruction at the hands of the Assyrians (the northern kingdom of Israel) and the Babylonians (the southern kingdom of Judah). Micah also prophesies that God’s people will again be gathered by the Shepherd.
Themes: Micah puts the judgment and forgiveness of God on full display.
Author/Date: Nahum’s oracle was likely written in the mid- to late-seventh century.
What it’s all about: Despite Jonah’s successful preaching to the people of Nineveh decades earlier, the Ninevites returned to their sinful ways, and the city became filled with violence, lust, and greed. Nahum writes to declare God’s coming, irrevocable judgment on the city.
Themes: God is sovereign over nations. While He used Nineveh (and the Assyrian Empire as a whole) to fulfill His purposes, no one escapes the judgment of God.
Author/Date: Habakkuk, a contemporary of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, likely wrote in the late seventh century.
What it’s all about: The book of Habakkuk is a conversation between the prophet and God, centering on the question of how God can use extremely wicked nations (Babylon) to punish less wicked nations (Judah). Essentially, Habakkuk questions the righteousness of God, a theme similar to the one found in the book of Job. As in Job, Habakkuk learns to trust God’s ways, even though he cannot fully understand.
Themes: Habakkuk is a lesson in trusting the Lord.
Author/Date: Zephaniah, who may be a descendant of King Hezekiah, wrote during the reign of Josiah (640–609 BC).
What it’s all about: The people of Judah had witnessed the destruction of Israel just a few decades prior, yet they continued in their idolatry and sinfulness. Zephaniah offers Judah a choice between two paths—the road of continued sin with judgment at the end, or the road of repentance, with forgiveness and restoration ahead.
Themes: Every generation must decide to follow God and walk in His ways. God has no grandchildren. And yet it is God’s desire to show grace and bless all people.
Author/Date: Haggai wrote to the people who had returned from the exile in Babylon between August and December of the year 520 BC.
What it’s all about: Following Cyrus’ edict, which permitted the return of Jews to the promised land, Haggai encourages the people of God and their leaders to complete the construction of the new temple in Jerusalem.
Themes: God’s promises stand, no matter what. The temple was still part of God’s plan for Judah, so it must be rebuilt. As He promised to Abraham, God would still bless the whole world through His people, and ultimately through the Messiah.
Author/Date: Zechariah was a priest and a member of a prominent Jewish family. He returned from exile in Babylon with Zerubbabel in 538 BC. His prophetic ministry began in 520 BC.
What it’s all about: The first half of the book contains visions that are apocalyptic in nature. These need to be interpreted in much the same way as the book of Revelation. In the second part of the book, the focus turns to the coming King. The Gospel writers quote this section of Zechariah more than any other book in the Old Testament during their retellings of the events of Holy Week.
Themes: There is hope, because Jesus is coming!
Author/Date: Apart from this book, we know nothing of the prophet Malachi. In fact, Malachi may not even be his real name, as the word simply means “my messenger.” It was written during the last half of the fifth century BC.
What it’s all about: The people of Malachi’s day were experiencing a spiritual malaise. They were home from exile, but times were tough. While they were not given to blatant idolatry like their ancestors, they compromised on God’s laws. Malachi wrote to tell them to return to ways of God and to look ahead to the coming of the Messiah.
Themes: Malachi is an invitation to repentance and hope. The Gospel writers look back to Malachi 4:5 to describe John the Baptist’s arrival in the spirit of Elijah.
Over to you
Now that you know a little bit about each of these short but beautiful gifts from the Lord, where will you start your reading?