Minor Prophets: Three Things to Know

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The final group of books in the Old Testament according to the Christian canon are twelve short books frequently referred to as the minor prophets. These books trace the history of prophetic voices in and around Israel from the period of the kings through the return from exile. These important books do not read as easily as your favorite Harry Potter book, though they do contain a lot of similar odd language and strange characters throughout the books. One minor prophet in particular has become as well known as nearly any Bible story: Jonah. While they may be difficult to interpret, they are well worth your best attempt. Here are three quick things that may help you as you read through the minor prophets:

1. "Minor" refers to length, not importance

Have you ever seen a large book prominently displayed on someone's bookshelf and thought "That must be the most important book on that subject otherwise why would any write or read a book that long." This is large book prejudice and it is an issue in our world today as well as in the biblical studies world. The minor prophets are distinguished as such because they are shorter in length, not because they are less important than other prophetic books, or other books in the Old Testament in general. When Old Testament books were first written, they were written on scrolls. The higher the word count of a book, the longer the scroll needed to be to accommodate the script. The result: an appearance of longer books having the appearance of greater importance than smaller books.

2. The Day of the Lord's Judgment... but for whom?

There is this phrase that appears again and again as you read through the minor prophets: "the day of the Lord." Amos is the first to use the term. By the way he writes about the Day of the Lord it was already a popular phrase. To the people of Israel, it meant the day when Yahweh would intervene to put Israel at the head of the nations, irrespective of Israel's faithfulness to him. Amos, however, uses this phrase not to speak of Israel's enemies, but of the covenant people themselves.

Throughout the minor prophets this theme of Israel breaking the covenant God made with the twelve tribes prior to entering the Promised Land. Despite the fact God gave clear moral and spiritual directives to Israel, the people had disobeyed. Most of what is written in the minor prophets is calling attention to ways Israel has broken their part of the covenant and the judgement that is due to them for their transgression. 

3. God promises a future salvation for His people

The minor prophets may often speak of doom for Israel, but they also contain a silver lining. There is a future salvation God promises for his people. The details are unclear, but the prophets point to a future hope for God's people. At times, this hope is realized in the not-so-distant future, and at other times it is pointing to a hope that will come generations later.

As you read the minor prophets, may God use the Word to have a major impact on your life!

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Michael McAfee is the president and co-founder of Inspire Experiences, a teaching pastor at Council Road Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, and an ethics and public policy PhD student at The Southern Theological Seminary.  Michael is happily married to his Sunday-school sweetheart, Lauren Green McAfee. Together, they co-authored Not What You Think.  They have a daughter, Zion.  You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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