Who Were the “Minor Prophets”? Part Two: Nahum-Malachi

In our last post, I introduced you to a section of the Bible known as the Minor Prophets, also known as The Twelve.[1] We discussed the difference between the Major and Minor Prophets, while noting the great importance that the Minor Prophets have. The first entry also discussed the Minor Prophets Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Amos, Jonah, and Micah. This post will look into the lives of Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Nahum

Little is known about Nahum outside of the fact that he was an “Elkoshite” (Nahum 1:1).[2] Elkosh is thought by some to be around modern day Mosul, Iraq. However, the more likely identification of Elkosh is in Galilee around the Capernaum area. Even if Nahum was from Capernaum, it is apparent that he lived in Judea at the time of his writing.[3] Nahum writes to Israel during the difficult days of Assyrian oppression. Israel had allowed syncretism to sway them away from the foundations of their trust in God. While God had allowed the Assyrian take over, many Israelis began to wonder if God had completely forsaken them. Does God still love us? Nahum would answer their inquiries. As Barker and Kohlenberger note, “To the suffering remnant, there was little question that God would and did punish his own covenant people,”[4] but through Nahum God would show that He would also bring other nations into judgment also. Judgment would not last forever for God’s people on earth. The people of God would be elevated and robed in righteousness. Due to the fall of Assyria to Babylon, Nahum must be dated some time before 612 B.C.[5]

Habakkuk

Habakkuk is a unique prophet in that he does not speak for God, but rather speaks to God for the people. Habakkuk is dated around the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the hands of the Babylonians. Jerusalem was overtaken and the people were taken into exile in 586 B.C. Thus, Habakkuk must have prophesied sometime between 626 and 590 B.C. The book of Habakkuk is quite interesting. The prophet asks God, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?…Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2, 4). God answers by saying that He is “raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:6). Habakkuk replies, “Lord, we’re bad, granted; but they’re worse!” God replies that He is going to judge every person and every nation for his/her actions. God says, “The LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). Habakkuk provides an interesting and unique answer to the theodicy issue. That is, why does a loving and powerful God allow evil on the earth? The answer in part is due to free will. The people chose to rebel against God. Yet on the same token, God is in control. Thus, all evil will be ultimately judged by the sovereign power of God Almighty.

Zephaniah

Zephaniah prophesies after the time of the wicked kings Manasseh and Amon. King Josiah would bring reform to the land. However, it was during this time of reform (640-609 B.C.) that Zephaniah would warn the people of impending judgment. Josiah befriended enemy nations for hope of assistance. Josiah would trust in politics over the power of God which would later prove problematic. Zephaniah’s primary focus is on a time called the “Day of the LORD.” Zephaniah used the phrase more than any other prophet. The Day of the LORD would be a time of great judgment. However, God would provide shelter and hope for those who were faithful to Him. Zephaniah looked ahead to a time where God would glorify Israel for the remnant of the faithful. Zephaniah, speaking for God, says, “On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:16-17).

Haggai

The prophet Haggai is a post-exilic prophet (see the section Zechariah for more details on the post-exilic period). The exiles returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C., thus many commentators feel that Haggai prophesies around 520 B.C.[6] Haggai is the contemporary of Zechariah. Both the prophets appeal to the exiles to take up the task of rebuilding the temple despite the opposition they face by their adversaries. Haggai’s key theme is simply put in the opening chapter, “‘Go up into the mountains and bring down the timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8).

Zechariah

The book of Zechariah holds tremendous importance to the New Testament Church. Zechariah is second only to Isaiah in being the most quoted Old Testament prophet by the New Testament writers. Jesus quoted Zechariah quite often (e.g. Matthew 26:31). Zechariah is different than most of the prophets in that he lived in what scholars call the post-exilic time. The post-exile refers to a period of time when Persia released the Jews from bondage and allowed them to return to Israel after having been in exile for 70 years. While Babylon was responsible for exiling the Jewish people, Persia had conquered Babylonia and was responsible for their release. Zechariah, serving as a prophetic priest, prophesies as the temple failed to be built 16 years prior. The first attempt had been squelched by Jewish enemies who convinced the Persian authorities that the Jews would become a threat if the temple were to be rebuilt. However, God taught the people through Zechariah that the temple would be finished if they trusted God and continued to do what they were called to do. Four years later, the temple was finished. Zechariah prophesied in Jerusalem from August 29th, 520 B.C. to 480 B.C.[7]  This writer agrees with Barker and Kohlenberger that “Zechariah is probably the most Messianic, apocalyptic, and eschatological of all the OT books.”[8] It is for this reason that one could call Zechariah the Old Testament Book of Revelation. Zechariah sees a time when God’s Messiah would redeem all people who trust in Him. He also seeks to encourage the people by reminding them that God ultimately holds victory over all their enemies. It is quite interesting and appropriate that Zechariah’s name means “Yahweh remembers.”

Malachi

The last of the Minor Prophets also serves as the last book of the Old Testament. It is the book of Malachi. Malachi, which means “My Messenger,” most likely prophesied between 515 through 458 B.C. This would have been between the completion of the temple and the ministry of Ezra in Jerusalem. Israel would face another period of social and moral decline after the temple was completed. Ezra and Nehemiah would help correct this issue. Malachi calls out the people on several issues. The people were guilty of breaking the covenant through blemished sacrifices (Malachi 1:6-14), through a lackluster attention to marriage (Malachi 2:10-16), through injustice (Malachi 2:17-3:5), and by withholding their tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:6-12). It is in Malachi that one learns about the forerunner to the Messiah. Malachi writes, “‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare he way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 3:1).

The Minor Prophets were fantastic and bold preachers for the Lord. They all met distinct difficulties in getting their message across. All of them faced perilous times. Some may have even been martyred.[9] But through it all, the Minor Prophets remained true to the task that God had called them to accomplish. They trusted more in God Almighty than in the political powers of the day. I think the Minor Prophets poignantly direct our attention to what really matters: faithfulness and trust in God rather than trust in government and manmade traditions.

Look for a future article addressing the main themes of the Minor Prophets coming soon.

Minor Prophets Cartoon.png
From get.Bible. 

 

Sources Cited

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Walton, John H., and Craig S. Keener. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.

 

© September 27, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Because there are 12 Minor Prophets.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[3] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1529, fn 1.1.

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1482.

[5] Just for clarification: 612 B.C. is the date that Babylon conquered Assyria.

[6] Walton and Keener, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, 1548.

[7] This writer holds to the unity of Zechariah as a prophetic work. Some commentators feel that two Zechariahs are responsible for the content of the book. But, this writer feels no reason to accept such a claim as the book holds literary unity.

[8] Barker and Kohlenberger, EBC, 1515.

[9] Jewish tradition holds that Zechariah was killed.

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