The Prophetical Books
The prophets assert that God has spoken through them. They clearly considered themselves God’s messengers and heralds, for they repeatedly preface their messages with the phrase, “Thus says Yahweh.” The prophets affirm that God chose Israel for covenant relationship, the prophets most often report that the majority of Israel has sinned against their God and his standards for their relationship, the prophets warn that judgment will eradicate sin, the prophets promise that renewal lies beyond the day of punishment and beyond the coming day that will bring history as we know it to a close.
The Four Major Prophets
This book, as is true of all the prophetical books, derives its name from the prophet whose messages it records. The message of the book is twofold: judgment upon Judah for her sins (1-39), and comfort and hope for an exiled people (40-66). In these messages of encouragement are found some of the most graphic portrayals of the Messiah in the Old Testament.
Jeremiah was God’s spokesman during the decline and fall of the southern kingdom, Judah. Among the Prophets not one had a more difficult task than that of standing alone for God in the midst of the renunciation of his own people. Although Jeremiah announced the coming destruction of Judah, he looked beyond this judgement. A new kind of religion (individual and spiritual) would result from God’s new covenant with His people.
The book is composed of five poems, lamenting the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.). The poet also makes sincere confession of sin on behalf of the people and leaders, acknowledges complete submission to the will of God, and finally prays that God will once again smile upon His people and restore them to their homeland.
Ezekiel was carried into exile in Babylon, where he received his call and exercised his prophetic ministry. The book contains 48 chapters, divided at the halfway point by the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s prophecies before this event are chiefly messages of condemnation upon Judah for her sin; following the city’s fall, the prophet speaks to helpless people of the hope and certainty of restoration to their homeland and of worship again in the Temple.
Scholars classify the book as an apocalypse. In a series of events and visions, the author presents a view of history in which God rules and prevails over men and nations to achieve ultimate victory for the saints of God.
The Twelve Minor Prophets
The "Prophet of Divine Love," Hosea was called to be God’s spokesman during that kingdom’s darkest hour. Hosea bore a heavy cross in his own life - his wife had proved unfaithful. The rejection of his own people was enough to break Hosea’s heart. In this bitter experience Hosea came to understand God’s love for his children that have strayed and pleads with his people to repent and make use of God’s divine compassion and love.
The "Prophet of Pentecost," his prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit (2:28) is quoted by Peter (Acts 2:16) as being fulfilled at Pentecost. His message was a devastating locust plague, which he interpreted as foretelling the Day of the Lord when God would act directly to punish His people for their sins. Joel calls upon the people of Judah to repent, promising that repentance will bring God’s blessings.
Amos denounced sin with countrified boldness, a shepherd called by God to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel. Sparing no one, Amos fearlessly announced the impending judgment of God. Although the dominant distinction of the book is judgment, the final words promise the restoration of a righteous remnant.
This shortest of the prophetic books, containing only 21 verses, it is a denunciation of the Edomites, descendants of Esau, who from the beginning had been hostile to Israel. Its message is primarily one of destruction and doom for Edom. The latter part of the prophecy is concerned with the Day of the Lord when God’s judgment will be upon other nations as well as Edom and concludes with the promise that the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.
This book declares the universality of God’s love embracing even pagan nations. The author relates how Jonah refused God’s call to preach to the people of Nineveh, his punishment for this disobedience, his response to a second summons, and his bitter complaint at God’s sparing the city following her repentance.
Micah’s messages are strikingly similar to those of Amos: many of the same sins are denounced and the same rugged, direct, indignant, and convincing language is used. While announcing God’s certain judgment upon sin, he also spoke of a sure deliverance to come through the Messiah whose place of birth he predicts.
This book is a prediction of the approaching downfall of Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, one of the most warlike of the ancient heathen nations. His purpose was to comfort his people, long harassed by Assyria, with the promise that this cruel and oppressing people would soon meet destruction at God’s hand.
This book contains the prophet’s complaints (questions) and God’s reply to them. In God’s answers Habakkuk discovers the doorway leading from questioning to affirmation, through which he enters into a faith that enables him to affirm, "I will rejoice in the Lord… God, the Lord, is my strength."
This book embraces the two great themes of prophetic teaching: judgment and salvation - extending to all nations. In some great catastrophe of his day, Zephaniah sees God’s terrible judgment upon the nations, including Judah. He exhorts the people to repent and assures them that God will dwell in the midst of a righteous remnant following repentance.
This book consists of four prophecies delivered some 15 years after the return of the first exiles to Jerusalem. Work on the second Temple has begun shortly after the exiles’ arrival, but had been delayed for almost two decades. Haggai comes forward with a series of timely and vigorous messages challenging the people to respond wholeheartedly to a noble task - rebuilding the House of God.
Sometimes called the "Apocalypse of the Old Testament”. The first eight chapters are primarily concerned with the rebuilding of the Temple. The language used is highly symbolical. Chapters 9 to 14 deal with "last things", the "end time". Many Messianic references are found.
Two themes are dominant: the sin and renunciation of Israel (1-2); and the coming judgment upon the faithless, with blessings promised for those who repent (3-4). The growing Messianic expectation in the Old Testament is apparent in Malachi by whose coming Israel will be purified and judged; and of the return of the Prophet Elijah who will proclaim the Day of the Lord.